QUEST TO THE KOBOLD CAVES
A Dungeon Adventure
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...