PBeM report 4: Long Winter Shadows – A Single Step

The incredible adventure of Marlin Tyrell, wizard and adventurer, continues as he and his Dwarven allies press even deeper into The Kobold Lair

Scene 3: Of Caverns, Creatures, and Cooks

We chose the door that led further south in the south-eastern corner, figuring that it would best lead us to the great cave entrance, and possibly an alternative exit, should an unpropitious retreat be required of us. And that was looking more and more likely as this walkabout through a warren of “a bunch of measly, thievin’ Kobolds” was taking its toll on my companions.

We passed down a corridor heading more or less south of rough cut rock into a room that could best be described as “liver-shaped” although such a description I am sure does not do justice to the majesty of this natural cavern. The north-western end of “the liver” fell away to darkness and the south-eastern rose into similar darkness. As I stood there contemplating the dimensions of this great cavern, Daddy prodded me in the backside.

“Wha’cher waitin’ fer then?”

“By my estimates,” I said, all cool logic and reasoning. “Yonder path would most likely lead us to the gates of the cavern,” and I so indicated, choosing to ignore the “Ya don’t say?” looks of sarcasm mirrored on both Dwarven faces. “Therefore it would behoove us to head in that direction should we need to find an alternate exit.”

“Say ‘behoove’ agin’, I dare ye,” muttered Daddy Foulmouth. I was, however, too busy examining the route ahead of us to play into his little schemes.

The path ahead led down a long way, bending north-easterly (I was later to realise; at the time I thought it simply cut to the east but that is neither here nor there) and opening into a wide cavern that had a half-raised portcullis blocking the only other exit, and from beyond that portcullis came the hints of a truly foul odour. Closer examination showed that the portcullis was either permanently fixed or jammed in this position, making it unlikely that it would come crashing down on our bodies as we passed underneath it. To verify this theory, I volunteered to go first. (Other versions of this tale have circulated wherein it was said that Daddy Foulmouth gleefully said “If you think it’s secure by all means, g’on aheed then!” and dared me to test it since I suggested it might be a trap, but you should pay those no heed.)

Beyond lay a natural cave and I could hear the dripping of water ahead. However the stench was far worse, emanating as it did from a branching cave off to our left, winding its way south into the darkness. I could also feel the tingling warmth of the river’s ley line marking the return to proximity of the river. All that was necessary was a quick glance amongst us and it was decided to decide on the decision to investigate that noxious hole later – much later. We turned onward, Daddy Foulmouth once more in the lead and I in the middle, with a glowing Globe aloft to allow me to avoid bashing in my head on the cavern’s ceiling and the hanging stalactites. I kept my eyes looking forward, eagerly anticipating the approach of the intricately woven metal gates when my eyes beheld a sight that, to this day, still causes the hairs on the back of my neck to rise. Two great yellow eyes, above a raft of sharp, nasty teeth, suddenly appeared out of the edge of darkness the Globe held at bay, accompanied by the rasping sound of claws on stone.

“DIGGER!” both Dwarves yelled, although whether ‘twas in fear, anticipation, or joy I still cannot say. The brought up their weapons and prepared to face the monster. Picture if you will a giant mole, with claws the size of your arm, a snout lined with teeth each the length of your hand and a powerful, muscular body that was as easily prepared to dig through solid earth as we would walk through water, and it had its malevolent gaze focussed narrowly on you with but one thought on its mind: dinner. (Or in the Dwarves’ case, a snack.)

As I fought back a rising sense of panic (and the realisation of just what the portcullis was in place for!) I managed to mumble the secret words that brought my will to life and sent gouts of fire at the great hairy monstrosity, bathing its snout in mystic flame, the nearness of the ley line sustaining me. Daddy Foulmouth dashed to the left, Sonny to the right, each making room for the other to bring death to bear. The beast lashed out with tooth and claw, rending armour and tearing flesh, but the fire on its face clearly distracted it. Daddy bashed at its skull and Sonny cracked it behind the ears, but one more bath of arcane flames spelled its doom and in but a few brief seconds, the beast was no more.

“Want ta loot the body?” snorted Daddy.

“Indeed I shall lay claim to its lair, if I may,” I said proudly.

“Be ma guest, ‘tis likely in that wee cave yonder” he said and pointed to yonder wee cave. In retrospect that odd sound I heard, and dismissed at the time, was Sonny giggling. Dwarven giggles are not flattering, it should be noted. Inside the Digger’s Lair I found one of the truly most disgusting things I had ever encountered. Tales of travelers and heroes often speak of looting a great vanquished beast’s lair but they never truly do such a deed justice. There were the remnants of the digger’s last meals, and the meals of days, and years, gone by. Flesh, as it decays, offers up a most pungent odour, becomes soft and squishy to the touch, and falls off the bones in gobs and gibbets in a thoroughly repulsive manner. One hand over my nose, the other guiding the staff to sift amongst the remains, and with my mind firmly set on finding SOMETHING just to show the Dwarves that I was no coward (as well as focusing on not adding what was left of my breakfast to the contents of the lair), I searched. In the pockets of rotted clothes, under oozing slabs of lice-ridden, semi-liquefied, once-meat, and kicking aside piles of grey bones, did I indeed find the treasure I so desperately sought: coins! Such desperately needed money!

Upon returning to the cavern, and better lighting, my hands full of disgustingly slimy coins I was rather disappointed to add 82 copper bits to my accounts.

“Quite the haul ye got there. Don’t spend it all in one place now,” laughed Daddy Foulmouth. I glared at him (from the shadows) and put my winnings, with a grimace, into my coin pouch. Indeed, I might be able to buy half a rotten pigeon in Luna Beach, if ever I could get there.

“Shall we continue?” I asked, half-heartedly hiding my haughtiness.

“If ye like.”

The cavern wound on and on in a generally northerly (or north-westerly) direction, with water growing slowly deeper around our feet as we approached the river, until it gave way to cut, patterned walls and there, in front of us was the first (or last, depending on your point of view) of the three intricately woven metal gates. I strode forward to inspect them from this side, looking for a way to open the small Kobold-sized entrances while the Dwarves examined the walls and eventually the ceilings of the tunnel.

At once, they both yelled “Murder holes!” and turned to run, me simply turning and looking stunned, as four gushing streams of boiling oil rained down on our heads. Well, not quite our heads, but damned near close enough! We dived for the walls and ran back the way we had come but the oil had done its work, not a one of us emerging unscathed. I could now account first hand of the pain involved in being doused with boiling oil, and would only suggest it for my worst enemies. Drawing upon the wondrous powers inherent in the ley line at my feet, in but a moment I was healed, but that moment seemed to stretch on for hours. My companions were not so lucky however, and now, bloody, bruised, and burned we were a sorry lot indeed.

Either this was a trap of some sort or there were still more Kobolds afoot in the warren. Our work was still before us, the lure of prizes at its completion in the distance, and the hovering shadow of death over our heads. With no way to go but back, it was finally decided that the noxious hole would most likely lead to a less noxious location wherein we might find the cowardly bastard that dared affront our dignity with boiling oil. Within seconds of this decision, I was proud of my forethought to prepare cloth able to be stuffed up my nose to (at least partially) block the profound smell. We had found the other prophesied location: the abattoir. This long cavern was where the sorriest animals alive were kept, killed, and cast aside. A small fenced in sheep pen was being dutifully attended to by a small Kobold boy, who turned, at our appearance and froze.

The words that would bring down the power of the gods in an arcane blaze rose to my lips, but faltered. I could not kill this child. He posed no threat to us, this tender of sheep. Maybe he could be saved from this horrid life and led to a path of goodness and righteousness, using the sheep-tending skills he had garnered here to earn an honest living providing for the well-being of his fellow creatures. I lowered my arms and looked to my Dwarven companions for acceptance of this decision.

“Ye let ‘im get awee, ye stupid bastard!” yelled Daddy Foulmouth as the child, freed from his fright, fled, howling into the farther recesses of the cave. “He’ll be bringing the whole lotta the lousy, theivin’ Kobolds down on oor heeds now!”

“Ah, right… there is that…” I admitted, and with the Dwarves, gave chase.

The pens gave way to the abattoir itself, the source of the magnificently effluvious scent permeating this region of the warren, a room with a floor slanted to (theoretically at least) allow the blood, guts, and gore of the kill to slide out of sight, and that to a doorway and stairs that led thankfully upwards. We ran full tilt after this screaming child, taking great effort to not slip and lose our balance in the slimy congealed blood and assorted inedible bits of the insides of sheep that littered the floor and gained the stairs. These gave way to the kitchens themselves. A great hall lit by fires and chimneys on the left (eastern) wall, two great bubbling cauldrons of what one might judiciously call ‘soup’ and four large, tattooed, foul-tempered cooks. As we burst into the room, the child fled out one of two doors beyond, still howling like a banshee. The cooks turned to see what the ruckus was about, saw two

heavily armed and blood-covered Dwarves and one dirty and ill-dressed but otherwise intact Human, and reached for weapons. Now these were not the solid, practiced Kobolds of the guardroom below, but they were practiced with their cleavers and knives, have no doubt. Yet, warriors they were not, and one turned to flee, while two of his companions held him back. I brought up the heavy crossbow that had been hanging from my waist (and bruising my legs it should be stated) with its one bolt, and fired at the largest of the cooks. Universally it can be said that cooks are on the large side, and this Kobold was no exception. Yet it seems the Kobold gods, as with the Dwarven gods, frown upon the crossbow as an honourable weapon for the bolt flew past the immense Kobold chef and clanged off one of the great cauldrons, bending the bolt-head and making it, and the crossbow, useless. At least there would be some trade-in value for it later; assuming there was a later for us. The clang of my crossbow bolt did however have the desired effect (or maybe it was the howling, charging Dwarven warriors, it cannot be clearly stated) and the four cleaver-wielding cooks fled the kitchen.

Shaking his head in disbelief Daddy Foulmouth paused only a moment before he charged the largest of the bubbling cauldrons and started straining to up-end it after them. Sonny and I leapt to his assistance and soon the howls of the frightened cooks turned to squeals of pain as their feet were scalded in the very concoction that was meant but scant moments before to fill their bellies. We followed on their heels down a corridor that ran east and ignored the south-facing door in the southern wall. This short passage opened into a mess hall-turned-dormitory, and at first glance, there were over 40 sodden straw mattresses strewn about the floor. (“Ooch, there’s na likely ta be more’n ten of the lousy, theivin’ bastirds.”) The cavern widened out as it extended from the kitchens, with passages branching off to our left (north) further east and south. The cooks were nowhere to be seen but they could be heard howling off in the distance ahead. We slowed our run and stopped a moment to gather our wits and take stock of our situation. (Sorry, in light of our most recent activities, that is an unforgiveable pun.)

A form coalesced in the shadow to the east, becoming a tall (relatively speaking), ancient Kobold in burnished, spotless armour of white, a tall, plumed helm, and great staff with an enormous red crystal trapped in prongs at its head. He approached us in a most unconcerned manner, and that in itself was disconcerting enough to bring us all to our senses. Here before us must be the Chief of the Kobold Warren. We watched as he approached, calm, confident, and composed. It never occurred to us to charge this figure and we just stood there, dumbfounded, as he walked closer and closer, the heel of his staff thumping the stone. At a distance of maybe 10 metres, he stopped, looked at us one by one and then spoke disparagingly in Elvish, his voice reminiscent of the sound of rocks grating together.

“Turn and leave now, and I will let you live.”

“I think ye got yer fewkin’ math wrong!” snorted Daddy Foulmouth and moved to the left to take up a warrior stance; Sonny doing the same to the right. The figure shook his head fiercely, straightened his shoulders and prepared to face us, still apparently unafraid.

He called out a word, indecipherable to my ears, raised the staff high and brought it down with a crack that seemed to send ripples through the floor. The red crystal in the staff’s head detached itself and fell forward toward the floor, trailing a fiery wire that stayed connected to the staff’s head. Slowly the Chieftain began to whirl the arcane morning star and the fight was on.

“Blink!” I cried and burst an enormous ball of light right in front of his eyes as the Dwarves charged.

The Chieftain staggered back slightly, but regained his footing clearly disadvantaged by my arcane stunt. It was followed by a sizzling bolt of fire that bathed his face and helm, and the now familiar scent of burnt Kobold rose from the hideous wound. From the left, Daddy charged forward bringing the hammer down hard on the Chieftain’s breastplate, striking sparks in a most unlikely manner, Sonny brought his much shorter flanged mace to bear, but did no appreciable damage to the Chieftain’s brilliant armour. Another bolt of my word-wrought flame blasted across the Chieftain’s armour leaving but a black smear that I am sure would simply wipe off. Clearly there was some great enchantment on this magnificent suit, yet this only served to enflame us further. Daddy’s return swing went wide of its mark and the Chieftain leaned back to avoid it just the same, leaning back into a strong overhead smash from Sonny’s flanged mace. The Chieftain staggered slightly at this, blood running down the burnt ruins of his face. However, the Chieftain recovered quickly, stepping back forward in behind Daddy’s wild strike and swung his fiery flail once from right to left, scoring a spark-scattering blow to Daddy’s chest plate. The metal glowed an angry red in the wake of the attack and it can be easily presumed that inside Daddy Foulmouth’s armour, things were becoming uncomfortably hot. Daddy brought the hammer up and around, glancing off the Chieftain’s shoulder plate as he turned to bring the fire-star down on Sonny whose swing this time, went well wide of the mark. The Chieftain brought the flail down in an overhead strike that caught Sonny in a shoulder-smashing cross, driving him to his knees and setting his under-armour padding alight. He cried out and fell back, clearly in dire straits and out of this fight for good. Roaring defiance, Daddy brought the hammer down again in a great overhead smash that staggered the Chieftain but only served to spin him around and with it the deadly lash of fire. The Chieftain swung it wide, crosswise and the fiery chain wrapped itself around the chest plate of the valiant Dwarf, parting the metal like a hot knife through butter, the edges of the gash a molten, dripping nightmare. The smell of burnt Dwarf arose and Daddy howled in anger (and probably no little fear it must be said, and let there be no dishonour following the telling of it). Daddy returned the favour with a mighty bash that just bounced off the shoulder of the Chieftain’s plate mail, an insult to the injury Daddy must surely have been feeling now. Temporarily stunned by what I had seen, and with Sonny screaming and rolling to my right, I let out a mighty roar and drew on the last of my strength and even some from the precious staff in my hands to send two last gouts of fire at the Chieftain as he drew his arms back to deliver what would no doubt be a death blow to Daddy Foulmouth, whatever his real Dwarven name may be. I could not bear to see him die like this, the last of a party of six that set out from the quarries to stop this Kobold menace. Both fire bolts contacted the Chieftain, both bolts bathed his ruined face in burning arcane agony and with a guttural scream, he dropped the staff, clutched the agonizing ruins of his face and fell back to rise no more.

To be continued tomorrow in The Decision

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