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...

No comments:

Post a Comment