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...

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