PBeM report 3: Long Winter Shadows – A Single Step

The adventure continues as Marlin Tyrell, wizard and adventurer, presses onward into The Kobold Lair

Scene 2: The Guardroom

The tunnels were rough-hewn stone passageways that were clearly created for Kobolds and other similarly sized wretches, forcing me to take the (always dangerous) “put the wizard in the middle of the party,” advancing manoeuvre – but this time on all fours; one hand ahead to avoid colliding with Daddy Foulmouth’s posterior in the darkness. As we crouched/crawled south-easterly pausing only to contemplate the safety of the shoring of the walls and the river above, the Dwarves had naught but disparaging comments to make of Kobold architecture and my mind was quickly left blank as they whispered a heated exchange of mining techniques and engineering methods. The outcome though, was that if it was safe enough for the Kobolds it should hold for them, despite the added weight of armour and a hapless human wizard.

The tunnel eventually opened into a large nexus of tunnels, small and large, going off in all directions, roughly hewn from the living rock. It was dark, but at least I could stand up here. Daddy Foulmouth gestured for silence as he gauged the next step. I took advantage of the moment, drawing on the last trailing edge of the nearby ley line to cast my senses out seeking any points of arcane unnaturalness, avoiding as before the ley line behind me and the bloody hammer before me, but to no avail; I could sense no other arcane forces at play within a considerable distance. That could only be for the good though. Deeming it safe, Daddy Foulmouth okayed the use of another Globe of Daylight and I could see this nexus clearly for the first time. The tunnels seemed to me as if they would lead to storage chambers and likely to small individual dens for the less-well-to-do Kobolds of this lair. There was, however, one large, properly-cut (at least in comparison to previous experience, but by no means up to Dwarven standards) tunnel due south of us. Daddy commented that while the flooring and walls were at least (somewhat) smooth it was still shoddy work at best. I admit to not knowing anything about what he was mumbling; that is until he called for the light to be doused as he had spied a door a ways down the tunnel. Plunged once more into darkness, I was left to blindly follow the Dwarven lead as they have better dark-sight, better than me by factors higher than I care to admit. As we approached the doorway, a flickering light was seen deeper within the room. On the visible wall of which were pegs with bits of armour and other sundry clothing items. It was a guardroom, but where were the guards?

Daddy Foulmouth, no coward he, took a silent, deep breath and charged into the room, his deadly hammer whirling aloft. I scrambled behind, at once to follow him and also to get out of the way of his son who was threatening to stave in my skull if I didn’t get my scrawny world-endin’ arse out of his way. In what can only be construed as proof in the existence of the Dwarven gods of battle, three Kobold guards, waiting in ambush, fired three deadly crossbows nearly point-blank at the howling, bloody, and enraged Dwarven mass, and all three missed! A miracle made manifest.

As the bolts slammed into the stone walls to either side of us, I shouted “Blink!” again. Daddy closed on them, and thankfully, even in his full battle rage he listened, as I suddenly lit the room with another Blinding Flash, sending two of the guards reeling and clutching their burning eyes. One retained his wits and drew a blade to meet the Dwarf, but paid for it in a heavy price of blood. I cut to my left to get a better angle of attack as Sonny charged into the fray. One Kobold guard went down, his head resembling a smashed grapefruit, if grapefruit had faces and bad breath, and another was sorely injured as Daddy Foulmouth laid into them, swinging his hammer in a deadly dance of destruction. Sonny flailed ineffectually at the third guard and took a stinging cut to the midriff, the Kobold blade finding a gap in the armour there somehow. From my vantage point I dared not spew my arcane fire so, with naught else to do, I brought down the head of my staff on the noggin’ of Sonny’s opponent, utilising my height advantage, but offering what amounted to a mere fleabite in the midst of a killer bee swarm. Daddy Foulmouth took a bad cut from his wounded and desperate opponent, while Sonny clashed, mace on sword, with his Kobold. Daddy Foulmouth grunted as the blade found his flesh, and as I have later learned, a grunt from a Dwarf in battle is a scream for a Human, but don’t tell him I told you that. Having taken a big Human-sized step to my right, I could see the Kobolds’ backs clearly, and after twisting the world to my will once more, breathed the words that bring forth fire, blasting twin bolts at the two Kobold guards. Daddy Foulmouth’s guard screeched and died, a blackened pile of blood, shit, and burnt leather; the other bolt left a great blackened scar along the wall to my left as Sonny and the Kobold danced out of the way. Sonny took another slash from the wild-eyed Kobold (at least I assume he was wild-eyed, having seen his compatriots bashed and burned to death before him, but I was behind him at the time) and staggered back. Daddy turned, free from other entanglements and crushed his wild-eyed skull in a shower of gore. Silence fell on the guardroom once more; silence, marked by the heavy breathing of the now battered invaders.

Father looked at son across the corpses and blood spatter, and jerked his head toward the three quarrels sunk deep in the stone of the wall.

“I wan’ you t’acknowledge it!” he growled.

Sonny painfully shifted feet and gestured wordlessly at the quarrels, mouth slowly opening while deep thoughts threatened to surface on his dour face – perhaps about the nature of miracles, and the difference between them and the merely miraculous, but before whatever debate they were about to have could come to full boil, I tactfully, though breathlessly, interjected.

“There were ten of them, you estimated?” I asked through ragged breaths. “That accounts for nine, I think.”

“I may ha’ been a bit cautious in ma estimatin’” muttered Daddy Foulmouth. “We’ve naught to do but press on. How many more could there be?”

Famous last words, second only to “How bad could it be?” in their ability to presage how much worse indeed things would get. This room had two exits, an opening going south in the south-east corner, and a door facing west in the south-west corner. There were scattered bits of Kobold armour and weapons here and there, but no time to collect them. Once we had cleaned this place of its denizens, then we could gather up and divide these valuable prizes. As I bent forward, hands on knees trying to catch my breath, it occurred to me, albeit briefly, that Kobolds were people too. Small, smelly, and thoroughly foul people, and that to them I was naught but a raving maniac who has burst into their home and brought them to a most untimely death, me and my companions. Pushing those thoughts aside though, we had business to attend to and these Kobolds were far from innocent, preying as they did on truly innocent river-folk. One has to keep the Greater Good in mind at all times.

The doorway to the left opened to a long corridor with torches along the walls and seven cell doors, scrawny, filthy hands – Human hands for the most part – thrust out between the intricately woven metal bars. As Daddy had suspected, we had indeed entered the warren by way of the prison. And by the gods, what a horrible place it was; too many men to a room, lolling about in their own filth and stench, nearly lifeless eyes staring out at me as I passed down the corridor. Some men, seeing not a dreaded Kobold jailor but another Human called out weakly, begging for release. As much as it tore my heart, I knew that we could not release these men, or what was left of them, until the threat had passed. In their state, were they to encounter any more of this lair’s denizens then they would never again see the light of day. I told them that we were searching for the keys and asked them to wait – begged them to wait – just a little while more. As the voices rose in a desperate clamour, I vowed to free them all, vowed by my name and honour that they would soon be free. A vow that, later, I was sure I would regret. But I digress.

At the end of the corridor were two great oaken doors, banded and barred with iron, and scrawled on them in many tongues was the dire, yet somehow cliché notice: “Abandon hope, all who enter here.” One man nearest the door explained that it was some sort of arena, where some of their men were dragged in and never returned, their deaths accompanied only by the roar of beasts and Kobolds alike. A gruesome fate indeed, and a hint that warren was indeed much larger, and better equipped that the Dwarves had been led to believe. Promising once more to find a way to free them, I made my way back toward the guardroom only to hear Daddy Foulmouth’s voice raised in battle once more. Immediately to the right of the entrance to the guardroom, in the southern wall of the prison corridor, was another door which now stood open and inside was the scene of an epic battle.

Daddy Foulmouth was face to face with the biggest, meanest Kobold I had ever seen. His armour was intricately designed and decorated in red. Sonny was trying to help his father but dared not step too close as that deadly hammer swung to and fro. This could only be the Captain of the Guard, and this room, as one quick glance afforded me, was the most opulent we had seen so far. The Captain had a glittering, finely-wrought sword that he swung, even in these cramped environs, with skill and deadly accuracy. Tired as he was, I could see Daddy Foulmouth was having the worst of it. One great kick sent him reeling back into a desk, smashing some wooden work of art to the floor, and that offered me the chance to help. Muttering the words to bring fire to hand once more, I sent two bolts of fire that played across his magnificent armour once, and he howled, twice, and he howled more. Not fatal were these wounds I inflicted, but not to be ignored either. Rushing forward from the ruins of the desk, Daddy Foulmouth swung his mighty hammer, catching the blade of the Captain’s sword, both turning aside, but then be brought it around again, and this time to full effect. The Captain staggered back and brought his blade up to block the following swing, but the hammer (and my flame) had done its work. Once again the hammer fell, and blood splashed the walls (covered incidentally in very lovely tapestries belying once more the artistic, possibly even sensitive, nature of the now-dead Captain of the Kobold Guard).

Daddy Foulmouth leaned on his hammer and fought for his breath through even more wounds and rents in his armour. Sonny moved in to help staunch the bleeding. I too would have helped, but my knowledge of battle aid is limited by my own ability to heal near points of magic; points I make a point to never stray far from, for obvious reasons. Battle wounds hurt. Or at least, so I had been told by some very reliable sources. On the wall of this chamber I noticed a fantastically detailed map of the world, obviously painted by someone with great prowess in geography and artistry; a very valuable piece indeed. I took it down from the wall and rolled it up as well as gathered such unused bits of parchment as I could lay my hands on. These simple goods are the lifeblood of a near-penniless wanderer such as myself. As I moved toward the fallen Captain to examine his arms and armour I heard a deep, growling voice from just below my elbow, and I recognised the menace in that tone.

“What, ye lootin’ the body o’ MY kill right in front o’ me eyes now, are ya?”

I dropped the sword with a clang and looked innocently at my much worse-for-wear companion and decided not to mention my own part, such as it was, in bringing down this once-great warrior. “Just… umm… admiring the craftsmanship,” I offered lamely. “And looking for these!” I said triumphantly as I found the ring of keys, presumable to the cells in the corridor outside. I don’t think Daddy Foulmouth bought it though and he glowered at me quite fiercely.

“Just you remember tha’ we’re here on a mission t’avenge our fallen comrades ‘n pu’ a stop once in fer all to the foul plots ‘n plans o’ lesser creatures on this river! Hear me?”

It was definitely time to move on. I was tired and I could feel the mystical energies that had so sustained me of late beginning to ebb and as we moved farther and farther from the ley line, the use of such powers was becoming more and more delicate. Even a great wizard such as I can get tired from too much activity.

There were no apparent exits from this room, and as Sonny wrapped a bit of torn bed sheet around the cuts his glorious father had received, I explained what I had seen down the prison corridor. I suggested we head back into the guardroom when Daddy Foulmouth snorted at me again. He is a prolifically derisive snorter, I would not hesitate to say.

“What, ye cannae see the doors hidden in those walls there and there, ye blind bastard? Me ol’ ma could find them in the dark wi’ her hands tied behind her back, and blind drunk ta boot!” This of course led to a further diatribe of sub-par Kobold craftsmanship between father and son whose details I neither understood nor will bore you with here. Looking down at the bloody and battered Dwarven fighters I chose, wisely, to hold my tongue. While I was tired, and somewhat dirty, I was not about to argue with Daddy Foulmouth over the existence of said doors; I just assumed he was correct. Wisdom is truly the wife of having witnessed worldly wonders.

To be continued tomorrow in Of Caverns, Creatures, and Cooks

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