PBeM Report 7 ~ Long Winter Shadows – A Single Step

The Kobold Lair (continued)

(Based as before on notes taken by Player the first and revised by the GM and his near-eidetic memory)

This is a recounting of, what to my recollection, is the first great encounter of my young life as a wandering practitioner of the mystical arts. Please forgive the ramblings of an old, old man.

-Marlin

Part the Second

A moment’s respite

As Sonny lay dying on the Captain of the Guard’s bed, he kept trying to grab my arm, to cough out some word or other (I say ‘word” as he rarely spoke more than one an hour at the most verbose of times) but he was too weak to make much success of it. The dousing in the cistern had indeed saved his life, but for how long?

The prisoners were mostly quiet now, surely suffering from even more depravation than was usual as those who looked after them (such as they had) were now dead, but there were a few voices, insistently, though weakly, calling out for rescue. The room was a mess, and the bodies of the Captain of the Guard and the Hetman did little to improve either the décor or the stench. The great world map I had removed from the wall lay curled up on the floor against the bed. There were two small lamps from atop the desk that had surprisingly not leaked their fuel out over the floor and were waiting patiently to be relit. As we surveyed the room and its grim contents, Daddy Foulmouth and I met eyes and he held up a hand to forestall what he felt I was sure to say.

“Ah know… it appears tha’ there may be a wee bit more’n the nine or ten guards Ah mentioned. Let’s just say Ah was misinformed an’ leave it at tha’, shall we?” It didn’t sound much like an apology, but it might have been. Or at least it might have been had the words actually been aimed at me. I am sure they were spoken in my direction but for the ears of his dying son.

“Agreed,” I replied if for no other reason than to provide conversation to distract us. “And yet, several decisions await us.” I closed the door to the guardroom, both to shut out the piteous cries from beyond and to keep our voices from their ears and demoralizing them further. “”We cannot leave those men in there much longer, with neither food nor water, and I do not want to assume the mantle of gaoler to provide such. Nor can we simply let them out and have them leave the way we entered or wander through these halls. There must be another way out of this pit, one that we have yet to find.”

The words only seemed to emphasize the weariness I was feeling and it was only by leaning on the staff that I was able to keep to my feet. I crossed to the desk and righted the lamps, looking for an easy way to light them. “I am drained and can wield but few spells. I need rest, and you both need medical attention. Should the fighting continue, I would suggest you don yon Kobold chief’s armour, but I warn you, I am all but useless for a while. On the other hand, there may be a few in there who can help us find a way out of here. There are some weapons in the guardroom that they could use…” But even as I said that, I knew it would be near hopeless to find anyone, and by opening one cell we would be unleashing a torrent.

Using the Captain’s keys, I opened the drawer of the desk to find the sought-for flint and taper. With the lamps lit the situation seemed marginally better, but being able to now clearly see the charred corpses on the floor was a heavy price to pay. Quickly sifting through the other drawers revealed a duty roster (I supposed) for the Kobold guards, a chest that held their pay (more gold pieces than we cared to count at the moment; we could have all the gold we wanted now and it would do nothing to save our lives). There was a bottle of something surely alcoholic that might prove useful to kill the pain.

As I searched through the desk the elder Dwarf spoke quietly, clearly in great pain, “Aye… if we let them go now, they’ll jus’ git into trouble… or steal my ponies. Not only tha’ but there are terrible things afoot in this section o’ the valley, an’ a man armed with nought but his fists, is nothing but a meal on legs… but, Ah fear that we are in no’ much better a shape our own selves… the trouble with priests, ya know is tha’ they are always aroun’ when you don’t need them, but never aroun’ on those few occasions when you do. Bastards.”

I couldn’t help but smile to myself at the grim cheer that the elder Dwarf was showing in the face of an increasingly desperate fate before us. I offered Daddy Foulmouth the whisky and wine and checked out the wooden cabinet on the other wall, which as it turned out was a weapons locker, containing a bow and some arrows – no use to us here but very handy if we were to make it outside again. There were also several useful pieces of travel gear, pouches, sheathes, straps, cords, and backpacks, as well as some carefully packed rations. The late Captain seemed a fastidious one and it was likely that these rations would still be edible, at least for a Kobold.

As I bent to pick up the map, I noticed a large trunk under the cot and opened it as well. Inside were all the tools a foraging soldier might need: metal implements, folding camp chair, cloths, bandages, cleaning alcohol, blankets, flint and tinder, etc. There was also a waterproof leather scroll case, and within that was a sealed scroll marked with an alchemist’s sigil: a scroll of healing!

“Ahh, now that is more like it!” I exclaimed with a renewed sense of purpose offering me a needed boost of energy. “More of this wirld endin’ magic, but this time ‘twill save your son!” I couldn’t help but flash Daddy Foulmouth a grin as I teased him. “There are three spells of healing enscrolled here that should be enough to bring your son back from the brink and fix you up as well. That is if you are not opposed to it…” Then an idea hit me. “I know that it is possible for a wizard to learn a spell from a scroll, but it is hard… and dangerous. With three here…” Aye it was a dangerous thing to ponder; too dangerous I decided. I would use the scroll to help the Dwarves.

The elder Dwarf swallowed whatever he was planning to say and merely waved me over to his son. Slitting the seal with my thumb, I unrolled it only slightly; the lessons Kadmius had beaten into me coming to mind immediately. Even his dry, contemptuously up-tight voice seemed to ring in my ears and I unrolled it further and began to read the first spell enscrolled therein. Taking a deep breath and clearing my throat to avoid any mispronunciations, I focused my attention on the younger Dwarf, holding his image clearly in my mind and began to read from the first inscription in a steady, even tone.

I should note here that the use of an alchemist’s scroll has never ceased to be an act that seems oddly unnatural to me; I wield the mystic arts with my own sense, but to read them as written by another and to merely channel the flow, so to speak, is, for lack of any better term, bizarre. That is how non-practitioners must feel. It is a shame that that is as close to feeling the euphoria of warping the world to my will as they can get. A weak substitute to be sure. However, I digress…

The effect of the scroll was immediate. His crisped flesh took on a lighter tone, blood welled up into the flesh and sores and scrapes began to knit together. This was surely to the good, but more was needed if the son was to survive the next few hours. Taking another deep breath and letting the mystical energy flow through me without distraction I read the second incantation. The effect was the same and the son looked much more likely to survive now, the burns fading and his skin looking more like a Dwarf’s and less like that of a well-cooked potato.

I turned to his father and gestured for him to sit, “I dare not risk this last inscription by trying to learn the spell, for such is at best a risky procedure and one most likely to doom us all. I would indeed rather use it to help you and thereby save us all.”

“Tha ends justify the means, lad?” he said enigmatically as he sat on the narrow foot of the bed. “Give thanks tha span o’ years your race has been allotted is so short, for that is how it always begins.” While there was no malice in his words, the near permanent frown on his face always seemed to make even the most jovial comments like “Eat!” seem like pronouncements of doom.

I unrolled the scroll to the bottom, and read the third and final inscription therein, feeling the successful release of the imprisoned curative effect pass over and around me and into the Dwarf. The nasty burns on his chest lost their ferocious redness, and the myriad welts, scratches, and cuts about his arms and chest clotted and closed. The scroll in my hands was now, apart from the title, as blank as the day it was made; pristine and powerless.

But for me, the momentary surge of hope had drained what was left of my energy. “Rest, lad. I’ll keep watch…” the elder Dwarf rumbled and turned to face the door. “You are no coward, and can be relied on in a fight. For any man… Dwarf or Human, to be that, is no shame to his family, or the name of his father. Rest easy, and prepare to see this to the end with me.”

I could do nothing but bow at the compliment from the elder Dwarf. Such words have carried me often in times of distress and I owe him for that at the very least. I curled up in the travel blankets to meditate and open myself to the mystical energies of the world around me, holding them within that part of me that separated wizard from non-wizard. The ley line was tantalizingly within reach, but I dared not sleep alone in a chamber closer and could not bring myself to move the son from the bed. It was here that I must recuperate.

Questions, Answers, and More Questions

After what was far too short a time, a mere two hours by my calculation, my meditations were interrupted by a hand on my shoulder. Before I could speak, the elder Dwarf simply whispered, “Listen…”I sat up and did as he bid. He seemed to have found bits of Kobold armour that would fit him well enough, for sadly, neither the Hetman’s nor the Captain’s gear would do. A quick glance to the son showed him still asleep but nearly fully recovered it seemed.

What I did hear though, was the sound of cautious footsteps approaching, but approaching from which direction, I could not discern. My lack of discernment clearly showed on my face as the exasperated elder Dwarf angrily pointed to the guardroom door. I pointed to the erstwhile secret door that led to the “liver room” and mimed circling around them from behind. The elder Dwarf seemed momentarily surprised by the audaciousness of the idea but readily agreed.

We stepped through the secret doorway and over the bodies of the Hetman and Captain that the elder Dwarf had dragged from the room after removing their armour and other belongings. As quietly as we could, we snuck down and around to peer into the guardroom only to see (and smell) four Kobolds preparing to douse a pile of wood at the foot of the Captain’s door with oil and set it ablaze. Before any action could be taken on our part, they had done so, and in the blaze of light and waft of smoke that followed, we hurriedly backed down the tunnel the way we had come. The Kobolds, still unaware of us, turned and ran down the same tunnel. There was a moment of shock on both sides: them of seeing us not being burnt alive in the Captain’s room, and us looking somewhat guiltily at having spied on them and backing away. (At least, that is how I felt at the time.) Daddy Foulmouth was by far the fastest to recover his wits, and hammer swinging, stepped forward to engage the Kobolds as they ran at us, two abreast.

His hammer came down glancing off the leather padding of one on the right as the left-hand guard cut him sharply with his axe. Swallowing my momentary discomfort at being discovered skulking in the hallway, I let loose some of my wizard’s fire to splash across the right-hand attacker. Daddy brought his hammer up and around and down on the right-hand Kobold again, a serious blow that staggered him while twisting to take the second Kobold’s attack on the meat of his newfound leather protection, scoring it badly. With a howl, the elder Dwarf brought the hammer down once more, pulping the face of the first guardsman to face him, and he turned to the other. I stepped up and decided that defence was required and I reached out to touch the elder Dwarf’s back as I uttered the words within words that Kadmius had taught me to summon the famous mage armour of Ithan. A soft blue glow flickered momentarily as the incantation’s imparted energies encased the enraged Dwarf in a very protective field, which would only last for a minute or so, but would hopefully make all the difference. I was drawing my energy from the staff in my hands at this time, as my meditations had done little to replenish my powers. I was less weary than before certainly, but far, far from my full potential.

Daddy turned his full attention to the second Kobold and I splashed more fire from my staff over him. My growing suspicion that these had been the bastards that had tried to kill us by the main gates with their pour-boiling-oil-on-their-heads trick was given more credence, for though my mystic fire did not but catch the Kobold’s armour, it lit him up like a squealing, stinking torch. Turning, squealing and stinking, he fled back down the hall.

Daddy turned immediately to the third Kobold and caught him with a hard, well-placed hit with that magical hammer that tore long gashes in his feeble armour. His retaliatory strike bounced harmlessly off the mystical armour and one more devastating blast of fire set him ablaze as well. His screams were short; however, as Daddy Foulmouth ended his pain in one more massive strike to the head.

The fourth guardsman, suddenly the last to be left standing there, quickly backed away, speaking in a very worried tone. He dropped his weapon and raised his hands. The Dwarf replied in the Kobold dialect and the Kobold fled. I wanted to debate the issue of letting him escape, but the now burning doorway to the Captain’s room, and our sleeping companion within, were of a more pressing nature.

We returned and roused the son. There was no way to stop the fire, so we could only do what we could to salvage the room. We pulled down all the tapestries that hung on the walls, pulled back the carpet and moved the wooden cabinet out of harm’s reach. Smoke was curling up under the door and it was only a matter of time before things in here became unbearable. A quick discussion held by passing glances indicated that we were going to head out the other secret doorway. It opened to a sharply inclined passage. Sonny, with naught but his shield to protect him, went up first. “It levels off” he said in a fit of loquaciousness and indeed it did. I followed behind him and Daddy covered our rear. It then began to curve back downwards only to end in “A little drop” he essayed.

Sonny stepped through to the left, me to the right, and Daddy in the middle. As soon as we breached the tunnel’s mouth though, I felt the unmistakeable twinge of released mystical energies, although not in any form I was very familiar with. My initial response was to wall off part of my inner self, using what little energy I had in me to counter whatever was being done to me, but it was not enough.

The room before us was a large natural cavern and we found ourselves sitting comfortably on the floor, our eyes ignoring the small fortune in glittering crystals and diamonds that were embedded in the walls to fix devotedly on the figure in front of us: a tall, gaunt Kobold in a long robe, standing behind a natural rock cropping with a wooden table laid atop it. On the table was a mesmerizingly large, tear-drop shaped diamond cut into a classic sixteen-faceted form, held upright by a metal holder with two handles on either side. Behind the Kobold were two symbols, wards to be sure, painted on the wall, confirming in the nether regions of my mind still unaffected by his magic, that this indeed was the diabolist of the warren.

Slightly stunned by the effects of what had clearly been a warded entrance to his chamber, it took me a moment to realise that I had only suffered some of the effects of this diabolist trap, but that my companions had taken the full brunt of them. We could only smile beatifically on the diabolist who calmly began to speak in his guttural dialect. His words flowed smoothly and calmly as he explained in great detail something I could make neither heads nor tails of.  To my surprise, the elder Dwarf, calmly from his place on the floor began to reply and then even argue – calmly and serenely argue. (It was much later as I recalled these events that it occurred to me that the two were speaking in differing dialects. It also occurred to me that before, when we had fought the Hetman, they had spoken briefly in Kobold dialect and that Daddy Foulmouth seemed to have known the Hetman personally. These however, are merely details that have arisen after much contemplation.)

I turned to the son to ask what was going on. Without taking his eyes off the diabolist he said, “The past,” by way of explanation. Even further exasperated by this most cryptic of answers I demanded more information, to which I received “Betrayal,” as a means to allay my ignorance. It was infuriating. Then, to my horror, I realized that as the long, convoluted conversation was taking place, what little of my mystical energies I had regained were being siphoned off and there was nothing I could do about it but smile at the Kobold who had caused it. The glamour of devotion that had been placed over us began to wear down and the elder dwarf had made it to his feet to argue with ever-increasing fervour about whatever betrayal it was that had evidently led him down the road to this point. As the glamour eased, my rage rose until, just as the final effects were wearing off, I leapt to my feet and charged the diabolist intent on crushing his skull with my staff, having spent all its power in the fight earlier.

I am no fighter, that is certain, and my attempt was deftly dodged as he stepped back to reach for the wards written on the walls behind him. Both the Dwarves, free of their beatitude were fully in the grips of a killing rage. (The philosophical implications of the intensity of one emotion leading to the intensity of its opposite, I leave to you to discuss among yourselves at a time of your convenience later.) I barely had a moment to scream out, “Don’t let him touch that wall!” but my words were lost on the Dwarves in their battle frenzy.

Daddy Foulmouth, true to the moniker I had given him roared as he charged, “Fuck you! I’ll bash his head into that fucking wall!” and proceeded to try and do so. The elder Dwarf’s hammer smashed into the diabolist’s arm, breaking it in the process. It was not enough however to stop him from engaging the other ward. His eyes rolled back in his head as he sought to free the power trapped within.

The younger dwarf’s flail bashed off the simple robe the diabolist wore, giving off the unmistakeable ring of metal on metal, betraying that he wore some form of Cloth of Iron. The elder Dwarf gave into his rage and flailed madly at the Kobold, striking the Cloth of Iron once, and then a devastating blow to the head, breaking the diabolist’s concentration and sending him to his knees. The son stove in his head, and that was the end of that.

Between our ragged breaths, and shuddering rage we took in, in detail, what was in this magnificent chamber. Once calmed, the Dwarves seemed entranced by the great diamond on the table, with the son even exclaiming “Look!” in a mouthful of mystification. As it turned out, the table was painted with scenes portraying the lands around the Kobold warren, and by staring into the great diamond, one could see from a bird’s eye perspective a scrying of what was going on outside. By turning the diamond with the handles on the metal socket one shifted the view to match what was described on the table. Ingenious magic this was indeed! An ancient artifact, I surely believe, dating back to Age of Elves. So this was how they knew who and what was coming down the river at them!

As much as I wanted to take the great diamond with me, removing it from the metal socket would surely ruin the enchantment, so for the time being, we let it be. With study it might be possible to learn how to remove it without ruining it, but that was a job for later. Much later.

In the calm that settled after this last fight, I tried, unsuccessfully, to pry from the elder Dwarf’s terse lips what had transpired between him and the Kobold diabolist but he refused to discuss it, in typical Dwarven brusqueness, saying only that it was all in the past now, and done with. Given that the leaders of the Kobold warren were now all dead, there was not much I could put forth to bring this matter to light. He did reveal though that this warren was indeed a mine wherein the Kobolds produced goodly amounts of platinum, copper, and nickle. The rivermen they had captured, and their cargoes of white granite and gemstones were still unexplained.  Perhaps the rivermen were one means to augment the food that kept them going?

I was able to determine that the only other entrance to this chamber was warded, and the wards intact, so we must perforce go back the way we had come. The smoke from the Captain’s room indicated the fire was still an active danger so we stayed holed up in that wondrous cavern for several hours while the son kept watch and his father caught some much needed sleep. I was able to meditate undisturbed and regain some of my exorcised mystical energy.

Closing the Warren

Upon returning to the Captain’s room we found the door all but gone, the smoke faded and everything covered in soot. I can only imagine how terrible that fire and the smoke must have been to the poor men trapped in those cells, but we still could not release them until we had made sure the warren was clear and that there was a way out. We returned to the mess hall, using a lantern pilfered from the diabolist’s chamber and down the long hallway that led east. This eventually led us to the “king’s box” that overlooked the “arena”.

It was no arena as defined by any sport other than utter barbarism. Scattered on the arena floor were torture devices of the most heinous nature, testifying to what utter horror those rivermen had had to endure (as opposed to being simply mauled by the wild beasts we could hear growling somewhere below) before eventually being served up on the Kobolds’ plates as a meal. A rage filled us that demanded answering. By all my powers, I vowed then and there that no single Kobold I found in this warren would see the light of day again, surrender or no surrender. No such mercy was deserved.

Further investigation uncovered a gemstone craftsman shop with many a partially and unfinished piece of raw treasure scattered about. We collected as many of the gems, cut, partially cut, and uncut, as we could find and stuffed them into one of the former Captain’s backpacks. We also found the Hetman’s well-furnished rooms, his meagre bags of gold, and several more, highly valuable, alchemist scrolls. We also found the smithy and the weapons armoury, wherein lay many, many Kobold-crafted weapons. Some surely enchanted, but many more than we could take out ourselves. The Kobolds it seemed, had fled the warren to the mines below, and the Dwarves assured me that there must be ways out at the far ends.

We made sure that there were no others within the confines of this part of the warren, found the access corridor to the murder holes and the mechanism for opening the front gates, and still no other Kobolds about. Then standing before the Kobold chief’s room, the elder Dwarf turned to me and stated, “In tha mines below, there will be many more Kobolds, and slaves as well. If they choose fight over flight we are in poor shape to handle them. We need a solid plan – as you have so rightly pointed out.” He looked up, meeting me eye to eye and somehow seeming to be of a height with me, such was his confidence. “I propose we collapse the shafts leading to the mines.”

“I have come to the same conclusion. Lock everything in the armoury, collapse the entrances to the mines, and see the river-men to freedom and safety. Then it is but for us to return with river transport and claim what we can from here. How difficult would it be to seal off the mines?”

“Well…” the elder dwarf stated, looking surreptitiously at his close-mouthed off-spring as that worthy inspected a roof support a few metres away. “There is the easy way and the hard way. These might also be known as the permanent and temporary ways. Ah have ma own preference, but Ah will lay them both out fer you to ponder, seein’ as how you were so instrumental in getting us this far.” He paused momentarily for effect, studied the walls himself and continued.

“With just a little work, we can collapse the tunnels to the mines, after diverting the water supply to flood them. I have doubts that anyone could safely dig here again for anything of worth, and eventually, I suspect most of this complex would collapse from below. This is the easy, and permanent way.” He takes a deep breath, “Alternately, we can collapse the roof of this hallway at two points a bit further on. With luck, no harm will come to the armoury, but it will effectively seal off the mines from the rest of this complex. Skilled miners would be able to clear it out, rebuild, and shore it up, but tha would likely take a month or so. There is a chance the armoury would collapse. This is the hard way, also to be thought of as the temporary way.” He looks directly up into your eyes as he concludes, “It is the method Ah prefer.”

“Well,” I said after a moment’s pondering. “I think it would be a shame to close off this mine permanently. I mean, I believe that the evil of the Kobolds’ ways here could be turned to the good of all if this mine were to be re-established under competent leadership. It would provide jobs, income, and increased safety along the river. This idea, would, I am sure find great support among the civil leadership of Luna Beach, especially, if from here in the not-so-distant future, some sort of patrol could be stationed here to make the area safer from the likes of other Kobolds or Trolls.”

I stared a bit wistfully down the hallway toward the armoury. “I also suggest that we try to make the temporary collapse before we seal up the armoury. In fact, ‘twould be better, methinks, to empty the armoury first, just in case. If the armoury is damaged then maybe we can make do with another place to… to… um… stash the loot, as it were. The diabolist’s room perhaps? I am sure you could do wonders with those secret doors.” I smiled broadly at the elder Dwarf to show my sincere belief in his superior craftsmanship and secret-door making skills. “Hopefully, we can come back and claim what is now ours before the Kobolds break back in and claim the mine again. I would… dislike… having to come back in here and clear it out again.”

“Good. We are agreed.” He held out his powerful hand and spat a mixture of phlegm and blood into it.

“We will collapse the access to the mines, temporarily. We will free the prisoners and marshal them to safety if they so desire, equipping each able man to fend for himself, regardless of his desire to travel with us or apart from us. We shall set a date to return here after I have finished reporting to the Stone Quarry representative in Luna Beach and collecting the pay for this…work, and you have finished delivering your package. Once here, we shall divide the spoils between us.”

Slightly nauseated by the ritual but cognisant of its necessity, I too spat (bloodlessly I should add) in my palm and shook the elder Dwarf’s hand. “Agreed. We head to Luna Beach. And then I’ll take ship for Wisdom. We can discuss our return date on the way. I’ll see to the armoury first if you two want to begin preparations for the collapse.”

“Done.”

It was tedious work that put me in mind of the long hours of seemingly irrelevant labour Kadmius used to have me do as a boy. Unlike then, however, I had no trouble enduring the tedium and mindless repetition. As someone much wiser than I once said, “After all is said and done, the road to being a wizard is paved in tedium and fenced by boredom.”

Shifting all the gear and valuables into the King’s chamber took several hours, but I was still able to rest for almost four hours once done, before the dwarves returned.

“We are ready.”

Setting off the collapse, according to the dwarves, would not endanger the prisoners, although they had ensured there will be collateral damage to the arena. That was cleverly done, I thought. We talked a bit more about the situation and decided that the best way to deal with this situation was to release the prisoners, arm them with what we could find in the guardroom, escort them out the main gates (with the son remaining behind to lock them behind us, only to catch up later), ferry them with ropes and coracles across the river, then head to the Troll pass to recover our horses and other gear. After that would begin the long trek to Luna Beach, a trip we estimate would take three to four days, through wild lands filled with tangle vines, Trolls, and gods knew what else. If we survived the trip, the Dwarves and I agreed to divvy up most of the gold and raw gems we had discovered amongst the rivermen to avoid setting loose 40-odd starving, desperate men on the town. That is assuming we make it that far.

Here ends this scroll of the early adventuring of the wizard, Marlin Tyrell.

Look for more… here.

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