Saturday, March 27, 2021

Quest to the Kobold Caves Part Four


A Dungeon Adventure

Part Four

Her eyes fluttered, then opened and she let out a low groan.  She was laying on something; it was firm, but not solid like rock.  She put her hands under her and lifted herself up.  She looked down into the dead face of Gray Dan, shrieked with fright and pushed herself up onto her haunches.
Padrelle looked around and saw the sea of spikes around her.  Among them, Gray Dan's impaled body floated like an island.  She looked up and saw the pit she had fallen through, illuminated by the torches in the tunnel above.  Two of the pendulum blades littered the floor of the pit, one laying flat between the spikes; the other landed blade-first and stood at a slanted angle.
The Halfling quickly ran her hands across her chest, stomach, up her arms, and down her legs.  Finding no injuries, she smiled.  "I really am unkillable!"  She looked down at the dead wizard she was sitting on and patted his cheek thankfully.  "If you tell anyone that you saved my life, I'll deny it!"
With the utmost care, she climbed down from the wizard's body to the rough cavern floor.  The surrounding spikes stood roughly as tall as she did, and she was able to walk between them with ease.  Padrelle waded through the forest of spikes and soon reached an open tunnel.  With a self-satisfied sniff, she straightened her tunic and walked into the tunnel.
Padrelle followed the cavern and quickly learned that even this deeper level had lit torches sticking out of the wall at regular intervals.  With this clue she deduced she was still in the caves used by the kobolds.  At this conclusion, she nodded with satisfaction and set out to find her companions.
She followed the winding tunnel for a few dozen yards when she came upon an intersecting tunnel.  She now had a choice of three paths to follow, and in one corner was a tall cylinder of smooth black stone.
The Halfling harrumphed.  "What's up with these Black Pillars?"  She turned to peer down one tunnel, then realization struck her and her eyes snapped back to the pillar.  She stepped closer and leaned in.
There was an arrow, scribbled in chalk, which pointed to the tunnel on the left. 
She peered into the dark tunnel on the left, but could see nothing.  The tunnel that went straight and the one to the right were both lit with torches.  But the one indicated by the arrow was dark.  Padrelle released an exasperated sigh.
She climbed up on a convenient rock and pulled a torch out of the wall.  Then, with a deep breath, she turned down the left tunnel.
She marched forward only a few dozen feet when she heard the screams from up ahead:  "Watch out!"  "It's horrible!" "Lookout, behind you!" "We're surrounded!" "It's got me!"
Padrelle drew a dagger and rushed down the tunnel.  It quickly opened into a wide cavern, an underground lake on the right-hand side.  On the narrow shore she saw seven Elves, dirty and ragged from their own adventures, all but two of them cowering between a pair of toads that were at least as large as the wild wolves of the forest.  Of the final two Elves, one was being pulled across the cavern floor by one toad's long tongue, wrapped around his ankle.  The last Elf brandished his rapier and hacked at the sticky lasso in an attempt to free his kinsman.
The toad released its catch, pivoted on the spot and shot its tongue at the Elf with the sword.  The Sword-Elf dodged and pulled his newly-saved companion to his feet.  Meanwhile, the second toad, squatting on the shore with its back to the Halfling, shot his tongue out at the throng of cowering Elves, and connected.
Hearing the Elf cry out in alarm, Padrelle raised her dagger and threw it.  The blade buried itself in the Toad's rump and with a croak of pain, it released its prey.  The Toad turned around, glared at the Halfling with angry eyes.  It issued a threatening croak and its tongue shot out.
Padrelle was not fast enough to avoid it.  The sticky lash hit her squarely in the chest and pulled her toward it.  She dug her feet into the rocky floor, but she slid along regardless.  The Toad's wide mouth grew closer, closer, and then all went dark as she vanished within its maw.
At first she wasn’t sure what had happened, or where she was.  It was like being inside a sack of slimy wet leather.  She found it difficult to move in the restrictive space, but managed to pull out two of her daggers anyway.  She could still hear the muffled screams of the panicky Elves outside. 
Suddenly she had the sensation of being lifted in the air, followed by an equally sudden jolt.  Padrelle looked around, but could see nothing.  The digestive juices of the Toad's stomach seeped in, and burned at her clothes, her flesh.  With a cry of agony, she lashed out with her twin blades, clawing over and over in an attempt to forge an exit.
Without warning, a shaft of silver steel was shoved through the slimy sack, missing her head by inches.  Padrelle gasped, continued to slice away from the inside as the needle-thin blade was withdrawn.  A moment later it was thrust in again, from another angle, this time catching the cloak draped over her shoulder.
"Quit helping me!" she cried and pushed the dagger blade into the fleshy sack surrounding her.  She leaned on the dagger and the sharp blade forced its way through.  Summoning all her strength, she forced the blade in a downward slice.  Suddenly she found air again as she spilled out onto the cavern floor.  The Toad, its belly ripped open from inside, flopped over to the side, dead.  She looked up into the startled face of the Elf with the rapier.  "I'm unkillable!"
The Elf grimaced down at the Halfling in a puddle of gore and blood.  "Urk!  That's utterly disgusting!"  The Elf looked up, his eyes wide with alarm.  "Lookout!" he cried and kicked the little Halfling aside. 
Padrelle landed in the water with a splash.  She scrambled to her feet, grumbling and spitting out water.  "What's the big idea, ya namby-pamby…where is he?"
The other Elves, cowering against the cave wall, pointed and stammered at the two dead toads laying side-by-side on the pebbly shore.  Padrelle frowned at the two bodies and saw the humanlike legs sticking out from one corpse. 
"Don't just stand there!" Padrelle barked as she waved them over, "Get him out from under there!  Quickly!"
Spurred to action by her order, the Elves rushed to the body of the giant toad and rolled it off their warrior.  His hands fell away from his rapier, buried to the hilt in the toad's blubbery bulk, and he inhaled a deep breath, then let out a content sigh.  "What a horrible smell that was," he commented as he sat up.
The Halfling chuckled derisively.  "You think they smell bad on the outside?"
The Elf pulled his rapier free from the body and smiled at her.  "Ah, hello there, little friend!  You are quite welcome!"
Padrelle frowned.  "For what?"
The Elf wiped his rapier against the corpse in an attempt to clean the blood off his blade.  "Why, for saving your life, of course!"
Padrelle was so flabbergasted that she struggled for a moment to find words.  "You nearly skewered me with that toadstabber of yours!"
The Elf raised one finger to indicate a noteworthy point:  "Ah, nearly, you say.  Therefore I did not."
"You also did not save me; I cut my own way out of the toad's belly!"
"Ah, but when the other toad leapt at us it would have crushed you flat," the Elf said as he sheathed his rapier and placed one foot on the carcass.  "It was I who saved you from that certain death, and got you a bath besides.  Egad!  am magnificent!"  He threw his long golden curls over one shoulder and stared up at a distant corner of the cave ceiling that showed her his best side.
Padrelle frowned at the Elves with disbelief.  "Who are you idiots?"
The Sword-Elf pointed at one of the non-combatants and said, "You, tell her."
The Elf stepped forward, waved an arm to indicate his fellows.  "We are a group of Arcanologists.  We've been sent out by the Elvenking to seek out the long lost Temple of Magic.  For its secrets are great and powerful, and must be retrieved and guarded against those who would use them for evil."
"Well, what makes you think the Temple of Magic is down here anywhere?" the Halfling asked.
"We believe the Black Pillars in these caves are the signs that indicate the path to the Temple We have been following them for months, and delved deep into the dark places in the earth where good Elves were never meant to go," the Arcanologist explained.  "We have found the path infested with terrible and powerful monsters, which our group was not strong enough to overcome.  Now, we are trying to return to the Greenwood, to the court of the Elvenking to tell him what we've so far discovered and to raise a larger force to return with and finish our quest."
"Wait a minute, you're a bunch of scholarly wimps and you didn't bring along any warrior types for protection?" Padrelle asked incredulously.
"Of course we did," the Arcanologist patiently explained.  "We had several protectors, but they were not strong enough to defeat the powerful monsters we found deeper in the caves.  For some weeks now we have only had Gladimenithas to protect us on our return journey.  So far, he has kept us all alive, for he is magnificent!"
"I told you," the Sword-Elf said with a smirk.  Then he turned to the Halfling as a thought occurred to him.  "Who are you?  What are you doing here?"
She sighed as she wondered where to begin.  "My name is Padrelle.  My…devout followers and I were asked to evict a pack of kobolds that recently moved into these caves."
"Kobolds?" Gladimenithas injected.  "There were no kobolds when we entered the cave complex."
"Well they're here now, and they're devious little boogers, setting up traps all over the place," the Halfling announced.  "Sadly, my clumsy followers have set off some of these traps.  Some of us died, and the rest got separated, but through my ingenuity and superior skill, I survived!  So if you guys come with me, we can find the rest of my fellows and we can make sure that you guys get out to the surface all right!  Sound good?"
The Arcanologists all looked to their sole protector to make this monumentous decision.  Gladimenithas shoved forth a friendly hand to seal the deal with and said, "It is agreed!"  Padrelle took his hand and the two shook.
*  *  *
Haldraginor lay on the floor of the cell, and his finger twitched.  A muscle spasmed in his arm, another in his leg.  He let out a low groan as the feeling returned to his body.
Mediphon approached and helped him into a sitting position on the cavern floor.  "Hal, are you all right?"
The Warrior sat for a moment in contemplation.  "I think so."
"Good!" the Cleric cried as he pulled the newly recovered man to his feet.  "We've got real trouble here!  Come and see!"
"We're in a cell, I know!" Haldraginor said as the Cleric walked him over to the thick wooden bars.
"Yes, but that's not all!" Mediphon told him.  He pointed out past the bars.  "What do you think locked us up in this cell?"
"Hobgoblins," Haldraginor answered.
"No, they were hobgob…" the Holy Man paused and frowned at him.  "How did you know?"
The Warrior shrugged.  "I was paralyzed, not unconscious.  I could see and hear everything that went on.  I just couldn't move."
"Oh," Mediphon said with disappointment in his voice. 
"Yeah, there are hobgoblins here," Haldraginor said flatly.  "They were sent by Ozbaddin, and they've somehow taken over these kobolds.  My guess is that the hobgoblins are using to kobolds to turn this place into an outpost, so that they may attack the King's armies from both sides in a classic pincer movement.  It would divide and weaken the King's forces just as the Aged Ranger feared it would."
"That's still not all!" Mediphon announced.  "Did you get a good look at those hobgoblins?"
"Well I did.  One of them was all cloaks and bone jewelry," the Holy Man told, "I'm certain he was some sort of shaman, and a potion maker by the sound of their conversation."
"I caught that part," the Warrior agreed.
"Yeah, well the other two…" the Cleric stared out at nothing for a moment.  "There was something wrong about them.  They didn't look like normal hobgoblins."
"Why should they be?" Haldraginor asked derisively.  "They certainly weren't normal kobolds!"
"That's it!" Mediphon exclaimed with a snap of his fingers.  "I was thinking they were sick in some way, and required the shaman's potions as some form of medicine…  But what if…"  He stared off into space again, pulling thoughtfully at his mustache.
"What if what?" the Warrior demanded.
"What if the shaman was experimenting on the kobolds, to somehow endow them with magical or supernatural abilities…"  He turned to look at his companion, the gravest of expressions on his face.   "And now he's trying to do it to his fellow hobgoblins."
The Warrior pursed his lips and his brow furrowed as he contemplated the thought.  The Cleric tugged and twisted his mustache with anxious worry.
"I think we'd better get out of here and find the others," Haldraginor said as he reached through the bars and fumbled with the chain that held the door closed.  It was closed with a thick metal lock.  The strong Warrior tugged at the lock, at the chain, but achieved nothing. 
"Sadly, I do not think we're going to get out of here without the key," Mediphon glumly admitted.  "The bars are made of that Elvish ironwood, which as you know, is nigh-unbreakable."
"There must be some way out of here!" Haldraginor insisted.  "This would be such a sorry ending for the hero of Haven Hills!"

To Be Continued...

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Quest to the Kobold Caves Part Three


A Dungeon Adventure

Part Three

Mediphon, tangled in the net, was dragged through the caves like a rabbit in a sack.  It took nearly a score of kobolds, but they pulled him through the tunnels to a wide chamber where a wall of wooden bars was constructed to block the opening of a bubble-like cul-de-sac.  The kobolds gave up; leaving him in the center of the chamber, then returned the way they came, panting for breath as some of them dragged an arm across their brows.  Three human-sized creatures entered from a second tunnel.
The Cleric looked up at them and saw three hobgoblins:  two had mottled orange skin and stringy gray hair, dressed in loose shirts and leather jerkins.  The third had ruddy red-orange skin and long reddish-brown hair cascading from the lizard skull that was the basis of its weird headpiece.  This one wore a poncho and breeches, and many bracelets and necklaces that rattled with the bones of small animals.
The three of them leaned down, their ugly faces regarding him with evil, yellow eyes.  The one in the red jerkin placed his foot on the prisoner and shook him.  "Hey there!  Why you ugly yoomins come here for?"
Mediphon, still in the net and surrounded by monsters, gulped.  "We…we were sent here."
"By your ugly yoomin king?" the one with the lizard skull accused.
"No!  By a ranger!" the Cleric corrected him.  "A…a sort of guardian of the forest."
The one in the yellow jerkin leaned down and snarled at him.  "We know what a ranger is!"
Mediphon gulped.  "Oh, good.  Well, he asked us to come here and make the kobolds go away."
The one in the red jerkin scratched his chin.  "And what of us?" he asked, waving his clawed hand to indicate the three of them.
The Cleric shook his head.  "He said nothing of you.  We all thought that all you hobgoblins were on the other side of the kingdom."
The one in the red jerkin issued a gravelly chuckle that devolved into a wheeze, and slapped the back of one hand against his comrade with the lizard-skull headpiece.  "There, you see, Horkrist?  The yoomins know nothing!  All goes according to the Chief's plan!"
"Hail Ozbaddin!" the one in the yellow jerkin exclaimed.
Horkrist, the one in the lizard-skull headpiece, wiped away the other's distasteful touch and cast a sideways glance at his two comrades.  "Well he knows now," he growled amid the rattle of bones.  "He must not be allowed to leave here, Razzam."
Razzam snorted through his crooked nose.  "He shall not leave."  He looked at the one in the yellow jerkin.  "Korzadub, place him in the cage with the others, and his companion as well!"
The third hobgoblin nodded in obedience, pulled out his sword and opened the net so the prisoner could crawl out.  Mediphon surrendered his flail and raised his arms.  Korzadub corralled him to the wooden bars just as a door was opened for him by Horkrist. 
Within the cul-de-sac he found ten other prisoners, all humans.  He tugged at his mustache with worry and wondered which of his other companions had been captured.  He was surprised when Korzadub picked up the inert body of Haldraginor from a shadowy corner of the chamber.  The monstrous jailers dumped his body in the cage without care, then bolted the door behind them.
The Holy Man stepped up to the bars and stared at the three hobgoblins.  He couldn’t help but notice the lighter color and pallid complexions of the two in the jerkins.  They seemed unhealthy to him, as though suffering from some disease.  Then, he turned to his fallen friend and began to bless his body with the rites of death.
One of the prisoners approached him, placed a hand upon his shoulder.  Mediphon looked up into the face of a middle-aged farmer.  "He is not dead," the man said.  "It is some foul magic, he cannot move at all.  But he is not dead!"
Mediphon stared down at the prone warrior with awestruck eyes.  "You mean…he is merely paralyzed?"
"Call it what you will," the veteran prisoner told him, "But it should wear off."
"But how…" the Cleric's voice trailed off.
The farmer shrugged and pointed at the hobgoblins. "Those two, and a third one like them.  I do not know how they do it."
Mediphon stared at them curiously, new theories percolating in his head.
At the sound of his name, the one in the yellow jerkin turned.  "Yes, Razzam?"
Razzam waved one clawed hand toward the prisoners in the cage.  "These are but two of a larger group, still running loose in our caves.  They must be found and killed.  Take a pack of kobolds and hunt them down!"
Korzadub nodded and saluted in acceptance.  "I shall need more of the potion."
"Of course you will," Horkrist said, his tone flat.  He gave a disinterested gesture toward the second tunnel.  "There is more to be had in my workshop."
Korzadub saluted again, then left.
                                                   *  *  *
Pamblyn wandered the tunnels alone.  She paused, leaned against the rock wall and pulled her helmet from her head.  Straining her ears, she could not hear anything to suggest the kobolds still pursued her.  She was confident that she had lost them. 
With one hand, she pulled a handkerchief from a pouch on her belt and dragged it over her forehead.  She exchanged it for a skin of water, which she held up to her lips and drank from as she accessed the situation.
By her reckoning, it was pretty bad.
True she'd lost the kobolds, but she also lost Mediphon, and the rest of her party as well.  She had witnessed the sudden deaths of Gray Dan and Haldraginor, and had no clue as to the well-being of her remaining companions.  The chances of completing the quest dropped significantly with the dwindling of the party.  She wasn't sure what to do, and desperately wanted a sign.
And then she saw it.  Down the tunnel, amid the flickering light of yet another torch was another Black Pillar. 
With a curious frown, Pamblyn turned and walked toward it, helmet cradled in her arm.  She returned her waterskin as she approached, and ran her hand along the smooth black stone.  With this cursory inspection, she surmised it was identical to the one the party had found earlier:  a simple column which bore no writing, no symbols.  The incongruity of its location was a mystery she was unable to fathom.  
Pamblyn heard the faint clang of metal-on-metal.  Straining her ears, she turned her attention down the ongoing tunnel.  There were grunts and barks, thuds and clangs.  They were the sounds of battle.
As if awaking from a trance, she turned away from the Black Pillar and started down the tunnel.  She took a single step and a spear erupted from the rocky wall beside the Pillar.  Pamblyn jumped at the sudden movement, and let loose a brief startled cry as the spear slammed against the shield she carried.
"Damn kobolds," she muttered as she grabbed the shaft of the spear.  She pulled, but it would not come out of the wall.  She pushed and felt some tension behind the spear, when she released her grip, it sprang forward again. 
She gave the surrounding cave a fleeting glance as she pulled the helmet back onto her head.  Spying no other traps, she rushed down the cavern and turned a corner, sword in hand.
"Kill the Elf!" the orange-red kobold commander ordered; his back to the human warrioress.  Beyond him, six rust-red kobolds charged at Sunthorn with their long knives and short maces.  The Elf parried, dodged, and danced around the midget monsters, deftly deflecting their bevy of blows.
Pamblyn seized the opportunity for a surprise attack of her own and crept up behind the orange-red kobold.  She raised her sword high for the killing blow when a sudden alarm was called out by one of Sunthorn's attackers:  "Watch out, Korzadub!"
The kobold leader side-stepped and Pamblyn's sword came crashing down, the blade biting into the cavern floor.  "Die yoomin!" Korzadub cried and reached out with his bare, scaly hand.
Pamblyn remembered the mysterious killing touch that Haldraginor suffered at the hands of the previous orange kobold, Drang.  With a backhand swing, she slapped the monster's hand away with her sturdy shield.  Korzadub yelped in pain and jumped away.
Sunthorn called out in distress, and Pamblyn charged the throng surrounding him.  A swing of her blade, a swipe with his scimitar, and kobolds fell to the cavern floor. 
"Quick!  This way!" Pamblyn ordered and raced back down the cavern from whence she came.  The Elf slammed his leaf-shaped shield against one canine head and followed her.
"After them, you dogs!" Korzadub bellowed, "Don't let them escape!"  His three remaining kobolds ran in pursuit, and he ran behind them.
Pamblyn ran back to the Black Pillar and screeched to a halt.  Sunthorn turned and leveled his scimitar at the onrushing kobolds.  A few quick swings with their flashing blades and the kobolds were dead.  Korzadub, madness glowing in his eyes, jumped over the kobold corpses and grabbed Pamblyn's shield.
The warrior woman shrieked in surprise, turned toward the spear that still jutted out from the rock wall and charged.  Korzadub jerked as he was skewered, a cry of pain only gurgled in his throat.  Pamblyn pulled away from him and he fell off her shield with no resistance, and landed on his feet.  He looked down at the head of the spear thrust through his torso, looked up at the pair of adventurers, then his body slumped with death.
The Elf and the Warrioress both sighed in relief.  They leaned against the cavern wall, and stared at the impaled kobold and the Black Pillar beside it as they regained their breath.
"It is good to see you," Sunthorn said at last.  "I feared the worst for all of you."
"Likewise," Pamblyn replied.  "I lost Mediphon in the caves; I fear he may have been captured."
The Elf nodded gravely.  "I lost Padrelle in the pit.  It seems she will torment Gray Dan for all eternity."
The Warrioress harrumphed.  "So much for being unkillable."  Then they both stared in muted wonder as a light flashed by Korzadub's doglike head.
A spark appeared in the air above the impaled kobold's shoulder.  Sparks burst in the thin air, obscuring the corpse with flashes of light and brief clouds of smoke.  Little burning embers appeared from nowhere, flew from the body, fell away and burned out before reaching the ground.  Streams of smoke marked the path of each spark, and quickly dissipated.  Then the brief spectacle was finished, the kobold body was gone, the larger corpse of a man-sized monster was impaled on the spear in its place.
"He's not a kobold at all!" Pamblyn exclaimed, "He's a hobgoblin!"
Sunthorn regarded the new body with one raised eyebrow.  "A rather sickly-looking hobgoblin.  His skin has a pallor, it should be a darker red, and his hair is gray.  There is something…wrong with this hobgoblin."
"But these are supposed to be kobolds, what was he doing here?" Pamblyn asked as she approached the body for a closer inspection.
"Don't you mean 'what are they doing here'?" Sunthorn asked.
Pamblyn's face snapped toward him and she stared for a moment with a puzzled expression.  Then realization exploded on her face.  "The other orange kobold!  Drang!  How many more of them are there?  What are they doing here?"
Sunthorn rubbed his chin.  "Perhaps they were driven out," he suggested.  "They could be infected, or diseased, or cursed…then driven out of Ozbaddin's horde.  And now they've taken over this pack of kobolds."
Pamblyn let out a thoughtful hum as she considered the theory.  "We need to know for sure," she said, "I wonder if he has any clues on him."  With a grimace on her face, she proceeded to check the pockets in the yellow jerkin and the pouches on Korzadub's belt.  She found a handful of silver and copper coins, a flint and stone used to light campfires and torches, a partially eaten rat, and two earthenware vials.  She pulled out the stopper of one vial and took an exploratory sniff.
"Healing potion?" Sunthorn asked.
The Warrioress shook her head.  "It doesn't smell like a healing potion to me."  She passed the vial to the Elf and pulled the stopper from the remaining vial.
Sunthorn sniffed at the bottle.  "I'm not sure," he said, "but it may be a polymorph potion.  This could be what gives them the shape of kobolds."
Pamblyn took another whiff and sneered in distaste.  "I suppose there's only one way to know for sure?"
The Elf nodded.  "To drink them, yes."
Pamblyn sighed.  "Well, it will certainly be easier to travel the cave-complex if we aren't attacked every few feet…and we may learn what happened to the others."
Sunthorn nodded in agreement and held his vial up as though proposing a toast.  "Shall we, then?"
Pamblyn clinked her vial against his, then they both drank.  Each of them was engulfed in sparks and smoke.  Once the magic had taken effect, they looked at one another's canine snouts and horned heads.  Then they looked down at their own scaly, clawed hands.  Pamblyn gasped with amazement.  "It worked!"
Sunthorn raised one eyebrow on his now-canine head.  "Indeed," he said, "Let's go see what we can see."

To Be Continued...

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Quest to the Kobold Caves Part Two


A Dungeon Adventure

Part Two

Unable to decipher the mystery of the Black Pillar, the stalwart party continued down the main tunnel.  The road they followed weaved back-and-forth like a drunken tavern-goer, and before long they could not see the Pillar when they looked back.  Then they came upon a strange stone outcropping.
It was about two feet square and stuck out from the wall like a drawer that was half-pulled out.  The rock was about two-and-a-half feet above the floor with a burning torch stuck in the wall above it.  On its top were a series of small colored crystals, arranged in even rows around a round clear crystal at the center that was easily as large as an apple. The cavern continued on another twenty yards before sharply turning to the right.
Without hesitation, Padrelle bounded up to the rocky console—sized perfectly for her—and looked over the wide assortment of crystals.  Blue, green, red, and yellow stones glistened in the dancing torchlight. 
"Oooh!  Check out that baby!" she cooed as she drew a dagger from beneath her cloak.  A quick flick of her wrist and the blade jabbed into the stone shelf, lodged under the great clear crystal in the center.  With the tiniest bit of leverage, the crystal popped out with ease.
Then, somewhere behind the rock wall, a pop sounded.  It was followed by a twang, and then a groan, and a series of clacks as though some ancient machine was reluctantly brought to life and set about its work. 
Then a long wooden arm slid out from a crack in the rocky wall.  It was suspended somewhere above the ceiling and swung across the width of the tunnel.  Behind it, another pendulum swung in the opposite direction.  Beyond that, was another, and another, spaced a few feet apart for the next fifteen yards.  They swung back and forth incessantly, obviously powered by the unseen, complaining mechanism.
The Wizard's face contorted with a scowl and thumped Padrelle on the head then pulled the crystal from her hands.  "Foolish Halfling!  Are you going to set off every trap that we come across?"  He pushed the stammering Halfling aside and pushed the round crystal back in place, but the bladed pendulums continued.
With a perplexed frown, Gray Dan scowled down at the crystals.  "Perhaps when Padrelle removed the large crystal it somehow disturbed the smaller ones…"  He reached out with two fingers and experimentally tapped a yellow crystal.  It glowed at his touch, then died when he pulled his hand away.  He tried one of each remaining color: red, green, and blue.  Each one glowed when he pressed his fingertips against them, then went dark when he ceased contact.
"Wait a minute!" Mediphon cried, one shaky finger pointing at the pendulum blades.  "I think they've slowed down."  The blades swung across the cavern and he started to count the seconds.  "One, two, three, four…" The blades swung again. 
"You're right!" Sunthorn agreed, "They were swinging faster than that when they first started."
"Too bad we didn't bring a Thief with us, to disarm all these dastardly traps," Haldraginor sighed.  "Even the hero of Haven Hills can't do that."

"We don't need a Thief," the Wizard said in an indignant tone.  He held his chin as he considered the console of jewels.  "Obviously, this crystal table controls the pendulum trap; we simply need someone clever to decipher how it works."

Padrelle gasped.  "We're doomed!"

Gray Dan scowled at her.  "Thank you for your confidence," he snarled.  Then he reached out for the crystals one more.  He lashed out at the crystals in a short sequence that appeared to do nothing.  A second sequence, longer than the last, caused the blades to swing more rapidly.  As his companions groaned behind him, the Wizard sneered and tried a six-color sequence.
As he pulled his fingers from the sixth stone, the blades swung into the side-walls of the tunnel and did not return.  Gray Dan stood and wiped his hands with a smug grin as the Cleric clapped him on the shoulder and exclaimed, "Well done!"
"I know," the Wizard said as he pulled away from the Holy Man's grasp.  He started down the cavern, spread his arms wide.  "Sooner or later, you will all learn that Gray Dan is always right!  Now lets g-o-o-oh!"
The cavern floor crumbled away beneath the Wizard's foot, and grew into a wide, deep pit that stretched from wall to wall for fifteen yards.  As for Gray Dan, he quickly vanished into the pit itself, and his fearful cry lasted for only a few moments before it was abruptly cut off.
The remaining five heroes stepped forward and peered down into the impassable pit.  The darkness prevented them from seeing anything.  With a shrug, Mediphon tossed his torch into the middle of the pit.  It was easily twenty feet deep, and the Wizard's body seemed to float just above the pit floor, held aloft by nearly a dozen of the needle-thin spikes that covered the bottom.  They stared down at his corpse in an awkward silence.
Without looking away from the body in the pit, Pamblyn asked, "You…uh…don't happen to have a resurrection spell handy, do ya?"
The Holy Man pulled at his blonde mustache.  "No, I'm not powerful enough to be granted such strong magic yet."  The Warrioress nodded and harrumphed in response.
Suddenly Haldraginor clapped his hands together and smiled at his surrounding companions.  "Well!" he exclaimed, "What do you say we go check out that side tunnel back at the pillar?" 
With a disjointed murmur of agreement, they started back up the cavern from whence they came.  Only the Cleric paused, staring down into the pit.  He waved his hand in the air, drawing a solemn sign over the corpse.  "Rest now," Mediphon said, "We may yet find some means of restoring you to life.  You just wait here.  …Um." He paused as though realizing what he just said.  Then he shrugged and rushed to catch up to his comrades.
*  *  *
They quickly backtracked to the Black Pillar and ventured down the side tunnel.  After the wider main cavern, this fissure seemed narrow.  Two of the humans could have walked down it side-by-side if they were pressed together, and still their shoulders would scrape against he rocky walls.  The floor was jagged and broken into tiers, slowly descending deeper into the ground.  Finally the steps ceased and the fissure widened into a wide, tall cave with ledges running along the walls just above the humans' heads.  But it was well-lit with several torches jutting from the rocky walls on both levels.  The far end of the cave had two tunnels branching off at opposite angles, giving the cavern a distorted Y-shape. 
They walked into the cavern, straining—and failing—to see up on the ledges.  With cautious strides and wary eyes they advanced to the center of the three-way intersection.
A short creature jumped to the edge of a rocky outcropping on the right-hand side of the cavern.  All of two-and-half feet tall, the scrawny human-shaped thing had a dog-like face with short horns on its head and its scaly skin was orange-red.  Its eyes glowing with hate, it pointed an accusatory clawed digit at the heroes and barked:  "Kill the invaders from the surface!  Take one of them alive for the experiments!  So Drang commands!"
As the order reverberated in the cavern, the ledges suddenly filled with similar little dog-men.  The foul little beasts had rough scaly hides that were rusty brown, clad in bright but ragged clothing.  Their canine snouts baring their sharp teeth, they hurled rocks at the trespassers in the lower tier of the cavern.
Sunthorn and Pamblyn raised their shields against the hail of stones.  The others tried to cover their heads with their arms.  A blood-chilling battle howl erupted from the tunnel at the right fork as a wave of kobolds charged in brandishing long daggers and short spears. 
Haldraginor saw the onrushing pack of kobolds and grinned.  "Ha-haa!" he cried, "At last!  This is what we've come for!"
"What?  To get pummeled in an ambush?" Pamblyn asked as stones bounced off her shield.
Heedless of the raining rocks, Haldraginor brought his sword around.  "Have no fear, my friends!  Remember, they're only kobolds!"  Issuing a battle cry of his own, he waded into the oncoming wave of kobold soldiers.  Pamblyn followed him, her gleaming sword in hand. 
The two fighters whipped their swords in strong, slashing arcs that snapped the kobolds' tiny spears, knocked their dagger-blades aside, and sliced into their tender flesh.  The kobolds pressed onward, relentless as the sea.  They struck at the human foes with their weapons, their claws.  Some of them got past the two warriors and charged the stragglers, still suffering in a rain of stones.
Sunthorn brought his shield around, and the kobolds slammed into him.  Surprised at their collective strength, he struggled to keep them from advancing.
On the ledge, the squad leader, Drang, sneered at the battle below.  He turned to a group of kobolds behind him and waved them forward as he barked, "Bring the net!" At his command, the four each grabbed a corner of a net and leapt off the ledge toward the Holy Man and the Halfling.
Padrelle pointed up at them, the net opening wide to engulf them.  "Look out!"
Mediphon looked skyward.  "Good God!" he exclaimed and lashed out with his flail.  The chain stretched to its length and the studded metal ball at the end caught the net and swept it aside, throwing it and its kobold carriers crashing into the rocky wall.
Drang slapped his own forehead in disbelief.  "Useless kobolds!" he snarled.  He glared down at the battle and saw the two warriors, the bodies of a half-dozen kobolds at their feet.  A growl started low in his throat, but it quickly matured into a scream as he leapt from the ledge.  He landed on Haldraginor—the nearer of the two human warriors—clambered gracelessly up his travelling pack and pulled at the man's helmet.
Haldraginor's winged helm clattered on the cave floor and Drang grabbed a clawful of the man's hair, pulled his head back.  "Prepare to die now, human!"  Then he pressed his free hand onto the warriors face.   With a gasp of breath, Haldraginor felt the heavy weight of the sword, of his arms, of his legs.  He fell to the cavern floor with a clatter and a clang.
The kobolds paused in their onslaught and Pamblyn cried out "Hal!", but the fallen warrior gave no response.
"What's happened?" the Halfling asked.
Sunthorn, still holding up his shield, looked over his shoulder at her and the Cleric.  "Hal's down!"
"What, how?" Mediphon asked as he pushed his way past the Elf.  He saw the Warrior's body lying still on the earthen floor.  "By the Bright Beams of the Sun!  What magic is this?"
"This one did it!" Pamblyn yelled as she brought her sword down in a great cleaving motion. 
Drang jumped back from her onrushing blade.  He landed a few feet away and smiled smugly at her.  Suddenly the metal ball of the Holy Man's flail knocked him off his feet.  He jumped up from the rocky floor, lifted his hand to issue a command, and the Elf's strong shield slammed him against he cavern wall. 
Sunthorn pressed against him with all the might he could muster.  Despite the Elf's efforts to crush him between the shield and the wall, Drang somehow managed to bark out another desperate order:  "Kobolds…attack!  Kill…them all!"
The kobolds barked and howled at their leader's command.  They leapt down from the ledges with weapons in their clawed hands.  Kobold after kobold jumped down to join the battle, their numbers seemed endless.
"Ye Gods!" Mediphon exclaimed, "If they all have that power…we're done for!"
"Quick!  Retreat and regroup!" Pamblyn ordered as she grabbed the Cleric's arm and started down the left-hand fork of the Y-shaped intersection. 
The Elf gawked at the continuous stream of kobold warriors coming down into the tunnel.  Suddenly he felt small hands pulling at him.  "Sunthorn, quick!  This way!" Padrelle pleaded as she pulled him back toward the fissure, the way they had come.
Sunthorn looked down at her, took one tentative step toward her and felt the tiny claws that reached over his shield to grasp his forearm.  He looked back into the doglike face of the orange-skinned kobold, Drang.  "Prepare to die, Elf!"
With a shriek of panic, Sunthorn slammed the kobold against the wall and its grip on him was lost.  The Halfling pulled him back the way they had come and the orange kobold fell to the floor.
Pamblyn charged down the tunnel, the Cleric following in her wake.  "Where are we going?" he cried.
"Away from here!" she huffed in response, "Then we'll have to find a way back to the others!  One of these side-tunnels ought to do it!"
Mediphon heard the growls and barks of their pursuers.  He paused and glanced over his shoulder just as Pamblyn darted down a side branch urging him to follow.  "Right behind you!" he assured her, as he turned around and charged forward with a sudden burst of energy.  "Where did you go?"
He received no answer, but quickly stumbled over a tripwire.  To his credit, he did not fall, but a sturdy rope net did.  Weighted with rocks, it fell from the tunnel ceiling and tangled around him as he struggled to continue his retreat.  But there was no escape, and the kobolds were soon upon him.
*  *  *
Padrelle and Sunthorn raced back up the natural steps in the fissure and up the side branch toward the cavern that led to the surface.  The Elf frowned and he asked, "Where are we going?"
"Outside!" the Halfling answered.
"We can't do that!" Sunthorn argued.  "These foul kobolds have taken down two of our comrades already!  We must complete the quest, to avenge the fallen!"
"No kidding?" Padrelle replied, her tone incredulous.  "Well to do that, we're going to need some help, and I don't think we're going to find any here in the kobold caves, do you?"  Then she cried in alarm and fell face-first on the tunnel floor.
Sunthorn paused long enough to pluck her up and place her back on her hairy feet.  "Be careful, you clumsy Halfling!"
She frowned up at him and barked, "It's not my fault that I tripped!"
"You didn't set off another trap, did you?"  His tone was accusatory as his keen eyes darted around the tunnel for some new sign of danger.
Padrelle heard their kobold pursuers growing louder and grinned up at the Elf.  "I sure hope so!  Whatever it is, it might slow them up!  Come on!"
The pair continued on and soon found themselves back at the Black Pillar.  A left turn soon revealed a wide net covering the cavern that led to the outside world. 
The Elf stared at the barrier with disbelief in his eyes.  "We haven't time to cut through this!  They'll be upon us!" He glared down at his companion.  "Who's side are you on, Halfling?"
Padrelle snapped her fingers, started back down the cavern waving Sunthorn to follow.  "We're not licked yet.  I got an idea, come on!"
The two ran down the cavern and quickly arrived at the edge of the pit.  Padrelle rushed to the console of crystals and drew her dagger as the Elf looked on in despair.
"Perfect," Sunthorn lamented, "Instead of an impassable net, we have an impassable pit."
"Uh-uh, not impassable," the Halfling said.  The large central crystal popped out of its socket and the swinging blades once again began their ceaseless swinging.  "And there's our way across!"
Sunthorn watched the blades swing one way, then back.  He glanced down at Padrelle with one eyebrow raised in doubt.  "You're mad."
"Will you just go!" the Halfling yelled.
"Why am I going first?  It was your idea!"
"Because I know I'm going to make it, I'm unkillable," Padrelle said matter-of-factly.  "But if you can't make it, this way I can save you as I go across, instead of having to come back for you.  Now go!"
"You're mad!" the Elf repeated.  The sounds of the approaching kobolds were growing louder behind them.  The Elf shrugged and said, "I must be mad, too."
He slung his shield onto his back and loosened up.  Then ran forward, jumped, and landed on the first swinging blade.  He held on to the shaft and was fast approaching the side wall.  Suddenly, the next blade emerged from the wall and he jumped to it.  With the supernatural grace and agility of his people, Sunthorn swiftly bounded from pendulum to pendulum and soon found himself on the far lip of the pit.
Padrelle watched him with awe.  "I'll be damned," she muttered beneath her breath.  "It actually worked!"
Drang's gravelly voice issued up the tunnel:  "There they are!  Get them!"
Padrelle let out a heavy breath, then ran forth and leapt.  To her own amazement, she landed on the swinging blade and scrambled for a hold of the shaft.  She leapt for the second blade just as the kobolds approached the pit. 
"They will not escape us!" Drang vowed as he approached the console. 
Padrelle jumped for the next blade and Sunthorn urged her on.  Drang pressed a series of crystals on the console, and each one glowed at his touch.  Then the first pendulum fell out of the ceiling and clattered into the pit. 
Wide eyed, the Halfling leapt for the next blade.  Drang's fingers danced across the crystals and the blade beyond Padrelle fell into the pit.  She eyed the gap to the next available blade, now twice as far, and was unsure she could make such a leap.  With no time to reconsider, she jumped back to the third blade. 
Drang finished another sequence and looked up at the acrobatic Halfling.  The blade Padrelle was riding fell away from the ceiling.  Padrelle jumped for the second blade, missed, and fell into the dark pit.
"No!" Sunthorn cried out in grief and frustration.  The Elf glared across the wide pit into Drang's cold eyes, the kobold grinned hungrily in response.  Sunthorn took one last mournful look into the dark pit, then turned and ventured around the corner.

To Be Continued...

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Quest to the Kobold Caves Part One


A Dungeon Adventure

Part One

Six brave souls trekked through the woods, searching for the caves that housed dangerous monsters.  Four of them were human:  a wizened, old graybeard in robes; two men in metal helms and chainmail shirts—one wore the Holy Sign of the Sun God on his tabard; and a dark-haired woman in bronze armor and a plumed helmet.  The final two members were not human:  one was a female Halfling, a child-sized humanlike creature in a plain tunic and breeches beneath her travelling cloak; and a golden-haired male Elf, who wore the green leathers that were typical of his forest-dwelling people.
The thick forest smelt of pine, and the chill air warned of the coming winter.  The leaves and needles rustled around the wanderers as animals went about their chores, oblivious to them.  Squirrels and chipmunks securing nuts for the winter stores, birds paused on their journey to the warmer climes of the south. 
Sunthorn the Elf led them through the woods, his keen eyes ever watchful for foes, hiding and ready to pounce upon his distracted travelling group.  He did his best to ignore the clumsy humans and the annoying Halfling in his wake, but failed.
The Wizard, a scrawny old man in sun-bleached blue robes and a wispy gray beard, was griping the loudest.  "We should be on the other side of the kingdom," he whined, "that's where things are really happening!  Ozbaddin the Hobgoblin Warlord is becoming a serious threat over there!"
"I agree with Gray Dan," the woman warrior in the shiny bronze armor announced.  "His raiders are giving the King's men a terrible time.  That means there are adventures to be had, and rewards as well!"
"Come now, Pamblyn," the Holy Man said as he pulled on his long mustache.  "You heard the words of the aging ranger.  This mission we're on will be of great benefit to the King's forces!"
"How big a problem can they be?" Padrelle the Halfling asked.  "After all, they're only kobolds!"
The Holy Man, Mediphon, replied:  "You know perfectly well how great a nuisance kobolds can become.  As the ranger said, if the King was forced to send some of his soldiers to deal with them, it would weaken his stance against the hobgoblins."
"It's true!  These kobolds don't stand a chance!" exclaimed the male warrior as he drew his sword and held it aloft.  "Especially because our team is led by me:  Haldraginor Hardhelm, the hero of Haven Hills!"
The Elf rolled his eyes.  Mediphon, the Cleric, slapped one hand over his eyes and slowly dragged it down his face. 
"Would you shut up about Haven Hills?" Padrelle insisted.
"It was not a dragon!" Gray Dan flatly stated.  "The villagers were ignorant farmers!  They thought it was a dragon, but they were wrong!"
Haldraginor lowered his sword.  "What's your point?"
"The point is that we should be doing something more important than wasting our time on kobolds!" Padrelle remarked.  She turned to the Holy Man and pointed an accusing digit.  "The only reason we're stuck doing this is because you agreed to the job so quickly!"
Mediphon shrugged in meager defense.  "It will be good experience…and he did promise us a chest full of treasure.  Surely you cannot be displeased with that?"
His companions grumbled in reluctant agreement as they trudged through the undergrowth.
"Besides, they're only kobolds!" Haldraginor pointed out.  "We'll kill them all in no time at all, or my name isn't Haldraginor Hardhelm, the hero of Haven Hills!"
"We don't have to kill them," the Cleric stated.
"That's true," Pamblyn said as she adjusted the helm on her head.  "The ranger merely said that we must drive them from the caves.  So the King's soldiers need not be divided to deal with them."
The male warrior's chainmail rippled as he shrugged in response.  "Very well, we shall evict them in no time at all, or my name isn't Haldraginor Hardhelm, the hero…"
"Oh shut up!" the Halfling barked.
The Elf came to a stop and turned to his companions.  "If you're all finished squabbling, I think I've found the cave the ranger told us about."  He narrowed his eyes and dryly added, "If you're not finished, I can wait."
The green, tree-covered hillock sported a wide rugged hole like a gaping wound.  The gray rocks and dark brown dirt seemed incongruous against the verdant tranquility of the forest.  The six heroes approached with caution and peered within.  The dark tunnel was wide enough that four of them could walk abreast and it descended into the depths of the earth at a gentle angle.
"So this is it," Pamblyn said as she peered into the tunnel.
"According to the directions the ranger gave us," the Elf explained, "this is it."
Padrelle looked into the dark tunnel, unimpressed.  She looked at the faces of her fellows, and saw trepidation.  She rubbed her hands together and jumped into the mouth of the cavern.  "Well!" she cried, "Let's go see what there is to see!"  As though her words awoke him from a trance, Haldraginor followed her in. 
The Halfling stepped into the throat of the hill, her hairy bare feet slapping against the packed earth, as her companions busied themselves with drawing their weapons and lighting torches.  Padrelle looked around with wide-eyed awe at the rough walls and the exposed tree roots.  Suddenly she felt a thin string-like root snap beneath her foot, and with a rush of air, something soared over her head and the warrior behind her cried out in pain.
"What was that?" Padrelle asked, dumbfounded.  She turned and saw an arrow lodged in Haldraginor's chest. 
The warrior was suddenly the center of attention.  "What's happened?"  "He's been shot!"  "What, how?"  They surrounded him, examined the wooden shaft that protruded through his chainmail shirt.  "An arrow!"  "Probably a kobold-trap!"  "Are you all right?"
"Of course I'm all right," he replied, "It's only a scratch to Haldraginor Hardhelm, the hero of Ha…"  His words trailed off into a scream of agony as Sunthorn pulled the arrow from his chest. 
Pamblyn winced at her companion's piercing scream.  "Would you please die quietly?  We're trying to sneak up on them."
Mediphon snapped his fingers, started searching for his holy sign of the Sun God.  "I can cast a spell…heal him up good as new!"
"No, not yet!" the Wizard argued.  "We're not even in the caves yet.  You should wait until he sustains more damage, or you'll just be wasting the spell!"
Haldraginor glared at the wizard crossly.  "Thanks, Dan, you're a pal!"
"Hey, don't blame me!" Gray Dan cried in defense, "Blame Padrelle!  She's the one who set off the trap!"
The Halfling placed her fists on her hips.  "Oh, so now this is my fault?  Hey, don’t blame me because I'm unkillable!"
"You're not unkillable," Sunthorn flatly stated as he pulled some bandages out of his pack.  "You're kobold-sized.  They obviously set the trap for intruders whom they expected would be taller than they are."   Pamblyn and Mediphon helped the wounded warrior remove his pack and his armored shirt.
Padrelle harrumphed indignantly, drew her cloak about her.  "I'll scout ahead," she said as she pulled the hood up over her dark hair and turned to march deeper into the tunnel.
Moments later, the warrior was bandaged and clothed.  His companions, weapons at the ready and torches lit, started into the cavern.  The tunnel went straight for two dozen yards then turned left into darkness.  They trudged halfway to the curve before the Elf's hand shot up commanding them to stop.
"I…think I hear something coming," Sunthorn said, straining his ears.  "Hard to tell…very quiet…not too fast."
Their sword-arms tensed, ready for the inevitable onslaught of the kobold horde.  Pamblyn and Sunthorn raised their shields as Mediphon and Haldraginor took up positions behind them.  Gray Dan stood behind them all, two fingers pressed against his temple as he considered the usefulness of the spells he'd memorized today.
The Halfling padded around the curve and her companions groaned with disappointment.  Nonplussed, Padrelle beckoned them to follow, "Hey, you'll never guess what I found!  Come see!" Then she turned and bounded around the curve.
The others followed her to a side-branch tunnel.  There, where the wall to the outside tunnel met the side-branch, stood a black pillar.  It was smooth black stone that stood the entire height of the cavern, easily nine feet.  It bulged wider at its halfway point, nearly a foot in diameter, than it did at its top or bottom.  Her companions gasped in befuddlement.
Sunthorn cocked one eyebrow.  "Well that certainly doesn't belong in a cave."
"I don't understand," Pamblyn said, reaching out to run one gloved hand down the smooth stone pillar.  "What is this?  What's it doing here?"
"How should I know?" the Halfling remarked.
"It must be a sign!" Mediphon stated in breathless reverence.
"A sign of what?" Haldraginor asked, with a confused frown.
"Good question!  Let's see if we can find out!" Gray Dan exclaimed.  He placed two fingers on his temple and recited the Magical Words, his other hand stretched out toward the ebon column.  His weird recital finished, he gawked at the pillar with an expectant grin.  After a moment, the grin left him.  "Well, it's not magical in any way."
"You want to see another sign?  One that's easier to interpret?" Padrelle asked.  Her companions turned to her with expectant faces and she pointed up at a torch sticking out of the earthen wall across from the mouth of the side tunnel.  "How's that?"
It took a moment to sink in.  Then, one by one, their faces lit with understanding.  They had initially failed to notice the torch, as its light was augmented by the torches they carried.  But soon, new questions occurred to them.
"Why would there be torches lighting the kobold caves?" Gray Dan asked.
"So the kobolds can see?" Haldraginor lamely suggested.
"No," the Elf shook his head, "Kobolds can see in the dark, like we Elves."
Pamblyn narrowed her eyes.  "They must be working with some…creature that cannot see without light."  She looked around at her companions, her expression grave.  "There may very well be more than just kobolds here."
Haldraginor nodded.  "That's all right, whatever is in here, we can defeat it.  Because we have something they do not have!"  He punctuated his statement with a short jab at the air.
"And what is that?" the Elf asked.
Haldraginor punched the air again.  "The hero of Haven Hills!"  His companions groaned in reply.
To Be Continued...