25th day of the Time of Flowers – 1481 DR
For the moment, all was quiet. As Flint stowed the various items found on the alter, he noted that Kaster was holding the wounds he had suffered after the attack from the goblin disciples of Maglubiyet. The dwarf uttered words of divine power and laid hands on the wounded man. Kaster felt a wave of restorative energy flow through his body. The sorcerer felt revitalized and was eager to press on.
The sun had fully set by this time and there were no torches lit in the castle. Ered had Flint imbue his shield with light and moved towards the door on the west side of the northern tower and opened it. On the other side was what appeared to be a storeroom. In addition to the door Ered had just opened, there were also doors leading further westward as well as to the south. Old casks of salted meat and sacks of rotting grain filled the area. Among the supplies, he found a bloody suit of chain mail, a heavy crossbow, and an unsheathed sword with the emblem of Neverwinter worked into the hilt.
“I know this to be Sildar’s…look!” Ered ran further into the chamber and reached for the sword. “The weapon bears the emblem of his home city,” he said, holding the hilt towards Kaster who had entered the room behind him. Ered had been earnestly gathering up Sildar’s armor and weapons when his eyes fell on an object in the corner. Kaster saw the grave warrior’s deportment shift suddenly as a mischievous grin came over the large man’s face. Ered had spotted a small cask which he recognized as the container for an exceptional dwarven brandy. He quickly stood up and walked over, excitedly slapping his large hands around the wooden vessel. As he lifted it, he looked up at his friends, as if for approval. He knew that there were more pressing matters, but he thought it an absolute shame to leave this prize to the likes of goblins.
“If you will carry it, I will help you drink it,” said Flint with a chuckle.
Ered spent a few moments rearranging his gear and, after ensuring that his comrades were ready to continue, moved towards the door along the west wall. As he held his gleaming shield in front of him, he noticed four plain straw pallets and bedrolls lined up on the floor. Brackets on the walls held a number of weapons – spears, swords, morningstars, and more. The north wall showed signs of damage, but the floor was swept clean of rubble. It took a moment for Ered to realize that this makeshift barracks was occupied. Staring back at him from the dark were four large, ruddy-skinned goblinoids. They drew their weapons and charged at him. Encumbered as he was, Ered thought it best to back out of the doorway in order to give his companions a chance to engage the creatures. As he did so, he hurled a spear towards the nearest enemy. A loud clang sounded as the spearhead glanced off the hobgoblin’s shield. It lunged at Ered, but he deflected the strike with his own shield.
Quick to act, Thalia advanced to Ered’s ride side while drawing her shortsword. She wielded her blade with precision and, lunging diagonally to her left, she managed to find an exposed region in the creature’s chain mail. Her blade sunk deep, wounding the monster.
Kaster positioned himself in the doorway to the barracks and hurled forth a trio of fiery rays. One of them struck a hobgoblin, engulfing the creature in flames and bringing it to the brink of death.
Flint loosened the strap securing his warhammer while rushing the hobgoblin Thalia had wounded. He wheeled back with his weapon and swung it in a rising arc, smashing the hobgoblin directly in the face. Its lifeless body flew back and fell to the floor, a gory mess where its grimace had been.
His nearest foe having been vanquished by Flint, Ered ran through the western doorway, squeezing past Kaster. He drew Talon and rushed towards the hobgoblin Kaster had scorched. He swung his blade, but the creature just barely managed to raise its shield to protect itself. Ered retreated back through the door. The creature, barely clinging to life, followed. Kaster, who was still sidled up against the wall on the opposite side of the doorway, loosed his dagger in its sheath and raised it in preparation. Ered came backing out of the doorway first, and the hobgoblin came recklessly charging after him. The sorcerer quickly brought down his dagger, stabbing the monster repeatedly in the groin. It clutched at its wounds and collapsed in a heap, blood pooling rapidly around the body. Ered looked at Kaster and gave a quick nod of gratitude.
The two remaining hobgoblins could plainly see Kaster standing in the doorway. One of them was close enough to swing a weapon, but the sorcerer managed to duck out of the way. The other creature fired off an arrow from the back of the room, but Kaster was lucky to avoid that strike as well. Meanwhile, Thalia had moved towards the doorway to help. The hobgoblin facing Kaster felt a convulsive tug. The elf had reached for the bottom of the creature’s mail shirt and pulled it out towards her. With her other hand, she jammed her blade under the creature’s armor, sliding it effortlessly between ribs. Its vital organs perforated, Thalia’s foe fell dead to the floor. Kaster, eyes wide, gestured to the elf in appreciation, then outstretched his palm towards the archer. He spoke words of power and four glowing red darts of magical force streaked from his hand towards it. It screamed as each of the florid barbs ripped violently through its body. It’s contorted face suddenly relaxed, then it crumpled to the floor dead.
With no other immediate threats apparent, Ered began to investigate the hobgoblin corpses and the contents of the barracks. His eyes scanned the array of weapons on the wall. There were spears, a variety of swords, morningstars…and one item that seemed a bit out of place. A fine quarterstaff engraved with stylized feathers. Ered reached for it and found it to be quite light. Easily half the weight of a normal staff that size. Probably less. He added it to his already extensive inventory.
As Ered was perusing the barracks, Kaster and Flint moved through the door on the south wall of the storeroom. They found themselves back in the main hall of the castle. There was another door to their right which Kaster opened. Two bleary eyed goblins who had apparently been having a bit of a nap looked up at the sorcerer and drew their scimitars. Thalia, who had been standing alone in the storeroom, heard trouble and sprang into action. The nimble elf rushed past her comrades and into the small room, immediately stabbing at one of the goblins, wounding it gravely. Ered, who had also heard the snarls of the goblins as they were discovered, came charging in behind her. He swung Talon at the other goblin, removing its head from its shoulders in one clean cut. The warrior then faced the wounded goblin and let loose a yowl. The creature lashed out at Ered with its scimitar. The light from Flint’s spell still shone brightly from the man’s shield and he directed it straight into the goblin’s eyes, temporarily blinding the creature and staving off the attack. Flint took a swing at the wretch with his warhammer, but the goblin managed to unwittingly avoid the attack as it stumbled around blindly. Finally, Kaster let loose a fire bolt straight into the creature’s face, killing it.
Ered investigated the room. It seemed to him that these goblins had been meant to stand watch over the terrace outside the main gate of the castle ruin. The arrow slit offered a prime vantage point for defense. Along with the dead goblins and their meager belongings, the room contained naught but a bit of scattered debris. Ered moved out of the archers’ post, followed by Flint, Kaster, and Thalia. They headed east through the door where they had discovered and disarmed the tripwire earlier. They passed back through the chapel again. To their left, off in the gloom, they could barely discern the tentacled creature which lay dead and oozing. A goblin corpse hung next to it, still tangled in one of the curtains. They moved through the room to a doorway. Ered took a moment to listen. He could hear movement of some kind, but whether it was more goblins or simply the wind slipping through the drafty ruin, he could not say. He opened the door and observed yet another doorway in front of him and, to his right and left, curtains at either end of the intersecting passageway. Judging from the location, Ered deduced that behind the curtain to the south was the doorway through which they had entered the castle. Ered turned back over his shoulder and whispered a quick accounting of the area to the others.
The group quietly deliberated their next move. Ultimately, it was decided that Thalia should sneak ahead to see what might be behind the curtain to their left. Ered motioned for the elf to come forward. She scampered past her companions and moved northward through what was left of the crumbling passageway. She stealthily moved into position and drew back the curtain ever so slightly. Beyond, she saw that the passageway opened up into another of the castle’s towers. The structure was almost completely collapsed. What inhabitable space remained was filled with the rotting crates and barrels that may have provisioned the castle in years past. There was a door on her right that led to the east. Further north, a short passageway led to a hanging screen of canvas that was flapping gently in the breeze. The northern exterior of the castle occasionally visible on the opposite side. The elf slinked back to the south and reported her findings to the rest of her party.
Kaster urged the group to venture through the door where Ered had stopped. Flint nodded in agreement. Leading the way, Ered moved forward and swung the door wide. The room appeared to be set up as a small barracks with more straw pallets lining the floor along the east wall. The wall to the south had collapsed, but a path to a barred wooden door in that direction was still clear. A curtain hung in the archway to the north. A stone brazier full of coals glowed in the middle of the room. Jabbing at the coals in the brazier with his back to the door was a hobgoblin. Another hobgoblin kept watch through the arrow slit along the eastern wall. The one by the brazier wheeled around in surprise as Ered opened the door.
Thalia was the first to react. She rushed past Ered and into the room, drawing her shortsword as she went. She sliced at the nearest hobgoblin, hitting it between the neck and shoulder and leaving a nasty wound. The light-footed elf gracefully maneuvered away from her foe to avoid a retaliatory strike. As Thalia fell back, Flint moved forward, warhammer in hand. He swung his weapon wildly, dealing a fatal blow to the creature’s skull.
This had all happened so quickly, the remaining hobgoblin had barely turned around in time to see its comrade dispatched. Ered rushed towards the creature with Talon raised. The monster diverted the assault with its shield. Almost immediately, Kaster followed with a bolt of fire towards the enemy, but the hobgoblin managed to narrowly avoid the incoming blast. It decided to make a break for it and sprinted for the for the curtain at the north of the room. A second later, the hobgoblin vanished behind the curtain. On the other side, a door could be heard opening and slamming shut. Thalia carefully pulled back the curtain enough to see that, while the chamber on the other side was vacant, there were two closed doors…one to the left which, presumably, led to the provisions room the group had seen earlier. Another door leading to some unexplored eastern chamber was on the right. Once they realized nothing was waiting in ambush, Ered threw back the curtain and headed for the door on the right.
The large man firmly planted his boot on the door and thrust it open, taking a defensive stance in the doorway. He quickly surveyed the occupants on the other side. To his right, laying on the floor, was an unconscious dwarf that seemed like Gundren. It was difficult to tell for certain as badly beaten and covered with filth as he was. The retreating hobgoblin was directly in front of Ered with its back to the door. To its left and a bit further into the room, a large bugbear with a wolf at its side looked up at Ered, a sneer on its face. Even further to the left, Ered spotted what appeared to be a female elf, but her skin was as black as Ered had ever seen on a humanoid creature, and her hair was as pale as her complexion was dark. What Ered found most striking about this elf were her blazing red eyes. Under different circumstances, he might have been inclined to be more cordial. However, given her austere expression and the quality of the company she kept, he knew their association would be brief and tumultuous.
As Ered stood dumbstruck for a moment, Kaster eagerly crowded past the rest of his companions to get to the doorway. He clasped Ered’s shoulder and gently nudged him to the side before letting loose a fire bolt towards the hobgoblin. The creature was still facing its confederates, informing them of the intruders, when it took the brunt of the sorcerer’s attack in the back. It was charred and hurt, but still alive.
At the bugbear’s signal, the wolf charged Ered who was still in the doorway. The beast latched onto his sword arm and shook violently. Ered felt as though his arm was about to be ripped from his body, but he managed to wriggle free long enough to bash his lupine opponent on the nose with the hilt of his sword and deter the onslaught. Thalia, who was furthest back, saw what was happening and nocked an arrow. As the elf released her bowstring, a gust of wind caused the curtain in the doorway where she was standing to billow. The surging fabric caught the arrow as it was being released and thwarted her shot.
Seeing that the wolf had chosen an opponent that would not be easily defeated, the dark elf engaged Ered. She came at him with multiple strikes of her scimitar. Blow after blow rained down on him. He managed to parry a few of the incoming thrusts, but he did sustain a few as well. This dark elf was a capable fighter, to be sure. Flint, who was just behind Ered, gestured and uttered praise to his god as a flash of radiant light streaked towards the dark elf, engulfing her in lustrous energy. She cried out in pain, but she stood firm and cast a malevolent glare at the dwarf. Ered moved in to finish her off, but she fended off the warrior’s advance. Failing to penetrate the dark elf’s armor and having sustained injuries himself, Ered felt it a fine time to partake of some refreshment. He dropped back from the engagement into the old storeroom and quickly downed a draft of the dwarven brandy.
The remaining hobgoblin, still smarting from Kaster’s fire bolt, rushed out of the room towards the sorcerer. The creature swung its longsword in a wide arc in an attempt to cleave the magic user in two, but Kaster’s agility saved him. He bent at the waste, allowing the blade to sweep harmlessly through the space he had just occupied. As he avoided the hobgoblin’s stroke, he extended his hand towards the dark elf standing behind it and pelted her with red darts of magical energy. She winced at the pain, but maintained a fighting stance. Kaster fell back to stand beside Ered, but as he did, the wolf came lunging forward. It grasped Kaster’s leg in its teeth and clamped down with a vice-like grip.
As Flint prepared another attack on the dark elf, the bugbear plodded towards him. It grunted as it heaved its weapon into the dwarf. The impact to shield and mail sounded as loud as a thunderclap and the bugbear sent Flint reeling. As the dwarf tried to maintain his footing, he saw an arrow pass overhead and pierce the drow’s armor. Thalia, who had been behind him, fired off the shot. The shaft protruded from the dark elf’s chest, yet she did not falter. She raised her scimitar and struck Flint down. The dwarf lay on the floor, motionless.
The hobgoblin then turned its attention to Thalia.
She tried to lunge away from the incoming jab, but she wasn’t quite fast enough. The sound of tearing leather and cloth filled her elf ears as the blade penetrated her armor. The searing pain of the wound was followed quickly by a warm wet sensation. Her tunic became soaked and red.
The chaos that had broken out in the small chamber was nearly impossible to navigate. Seeing his companions in peril, Ered came rushing back into the chamber with a pot of the dwarven brandy at the ready. Thalia gestured to the dwarf as Ered approached her. He knelt down by Flint and quickly poured the brandy down the unconscious dwarf’s throat. Flint sputtered and coughed as he came to. Ered smiled as a wave of relief came over him. It was short lived. The drow and the bugbear advanced on them. The dark elf deftly avoided a swing from Talon just as the bugbear attempted to bring its morningstar down on top of Ered. Fortunately for him, the quarters were too tight and the bugbear’s weapon was impeded by the stone wall as the brute attempted to bring it around. All the while, a series of orange flashes and snarling filled the doorway to the adjacent chamber as Kaster attempted to deal with the wolf.
Thalia, wounded though she was, still had plenty of fire left in her belly. The wood elf had not spent much time among her own kind, but she had heard enough about the dark elves to know that they were the mortal enemy of the other elf races. The stories of how drow raiding parties came to the surface to massacre the innocent came to mind as she drew her shortsword and rushed at her ebony skinned foe. Still distracted by Ered and Flint, the drow failed to avoid Thalia’s attack. The rogue ran her blade straight through the dark elf’s abdomen, piercing the liver. The drow fell to the floor and lay dying. As Thalia looked down upon her fallen enemy, she wasn’t sure if what she was seeing was the result of some fleeting illusion or her own exhaustion. The dark elf’s pronounced features began to fade, melting into a shadowy, undefined visage. Her stark white hair disappeared altogether, leaving a bare, gray scalp. The fiery red eyes turned cold and steely. The creature was not a drow at all. Through some spell or disguise, it had merely taken on the appearance of a dark elf. Thalia, lingering for a just a moment to puzzle over this creature, snapped back to the task at hand and rushed to Kaster’s side as he continued to struggle with the wolf.
Flint had been inching towards death just moments ago, but the brandy had done enough to rouse him. If anyone in the group had doubted the hardiness of dwarves before, they did so no longer. Though he could not yet stand under his own power, he did manage to crawl far enough to make it into the chamber where his kinsman was being held. Flint propped up his shield bearing the holy symbol of Marthammor Duin. He waved his free hand towards the hobgoblin. An overwhelming brilliance from overhead briefly lit up the room followed immediately by a booming hail of radiant energy. The hobgoblin was caught up in the blast, but just barely managed to avoid taking the brunt of it. As it stumbled away from the impact, it managed to take a swipe at Ered. The warrior raised his shield and spun around in time to repel the creature’s sword. He continued to rotate with Talon in his other hand, landing a blow on the bugbear as he twisted round. This maelstrom continued for bit between Ered and the bugbear. The hobgoblin was advancing on Ered from behind when Flint, still in the bedchamber, stood up and once again appealed to his god. The cleric opened the door, gestured towards the hobgoblin, and once again brought down radiant beams of light, this time, hitting their mark directly and ending the miserable creature’s life. Ered turned in time to see the thing burn away before his eyes. Flint, feeling he’d expended more energy than may have been wise, shut the door.
Meanwhile, Kaster and Thalia were with the wolf in the ruined tower. Kaster backed away towards the canvas covered doorway to the north. The wolf stalked him as he went. The sorcerer let loose a pair of fire bolts in quick succession. One hitting the beast, another going just wide. It yelped and snapped at Thalia, who was standing nearby. The wood elf stabbed the creature at the base of the neck, wounding it, but failing to land a killing blow. As Thalia withdrew her sword, the wolf clamped down on her arm, sinking in its fangs. She jerked her limb from the beast’s jaws and made her way towards Ered who was still tangling with the bugbear.
As Thalia passed through the antechamber where the others were fighting, she took a swing at the bugbear. It avoided the strike, but this served as enough of a distraction to allow Flint to peak out from behind the door and send another volley of sacred flame. The bugbear cried out as the holy light seared into its flesh. Thalia flitted past and ducked into the bedchamber behind Flint. The bugbear, racked with pain from the holy fire, did not see Ered who was also moving towards Flint and the doorway. As the warrior backed towards the dwarf, he swung Talon down at the monster’s foot, nearly severing its toe completely before slamming the door behind him. Foaming with rage, the bugbear decided to pursue the easiest target. It hobbled into the ruined tower to see who its wolf had cornered.
Kaster’s blood ran cold as he saw the bugbear come lumbering into the ruined tower. He wasn’t sure what fate had befallen his companions in the antechamber, but the odds appeared to be suddenly stacked against him. An evil grin came over the bugbear’s face as it approached the sorcerer. Kaster turned to run but as he shifted his feet, he felt them suddenly leave the ground under a guidance other than his own. He felt the air leave his lungs as the blunt force of the bugbear’s morningstar crashed into him. Doubled over, his mouth gaping like a fish out of water, Kaster brought his hand up and managed to wheeze out an invocation. A fire bolt streaked towards the bugbear and landed harmlessly into the head of the brute’s morningstar. The sorcerer clambered through the canvas curtain and found himself outside under the night sky. He managed to catch his breath and dart off to his right in an easterly direction. Behind him, he heard the bugbear shout a command in goblin, followed closely by the scratching claws and growling of the wolf as it chased after him.
Kaster’s heart throbbed in his chest as he ran. He had all but cleared the northeast tower of the castle, and just as his hope of making the turn reached its apex, he heard the animal off to his left somewhere in the dark. He drew his dagger and swiped blindly as a shadowy shape leaped out of the brambles and planted itself in his path. The wolf bared its teeth and slowly inched towards him.
As the bugbear waited in the ruined tower for its pet to return, the others had slipped out of the bedchamber and back towards the tower. Thalia positioned herself in the doorway without being noticed and sunk an arrow into the bugbear’s back. Flint followed quickly with a barrage of holy flame which again ignited the creature’s fur and skin. Finally, Ered ran at the bugbear, screaming and raising Talon for a strike. The edge of the blade cut into the monster’s hide armor. In spite of all of this, the creature still stood. Ered managed to dart out of the way of the retaliatory blow from the bugbear’s weapon.
Kaster backed up to the canvas covered passageway. Behind the curtain, he could see Ered struggling to take down the bugbear. He could not see the others, but he heard Thalia’s bow singing and he had seen Flint’s flames. His courage was bolstered by the fact that all of them were alive and continuing the fight. He looked back at the wolf just in time to see it spring towards him with an explosion of kinetic energy. He swiftly discharged another fire bolt at the beast and immolated it completely.
Within the ruined tower, the fighting continued. The bugbear batted away an incoming arrow from Thalia, but Flint hit it with another blast of radiant flame. As the cleric’s attack struck the bugbear, Ered lifted his shield to protect his eyes from the blinding light. With a fortuitous thrust, he sent Talon’s tip between the creature’s ribs and into its heart. The thing exhaled its final breath and Ered labored to avoid being crushed by its weight as the lifeless hulk slumped forward.
The party reassembled and headed back to the bedchamber, but stopped to consider the corpse of the gray creature. Ered had heard of beings such as this that could take on the appearance of others. It was unclear who its disguise was meant to deceive or what role it played in the events surrounding Gundren’s capture.
They continued to investigate the surrounding area to see if they could find anything useful. Flint rushed on to tend to Gundren. Ered retrieved his pot and followed. As they entered the bedchamber once more, Ered knelt down and poured some of the brandy into the pot, then held the back of the unconscious dwarf’s head. Flint assisted in pouring the draft into Gundren’s mouth. He sputtered and coughed and slowly opened his eyes and gazed up at Ered. A look of recognition came over his face. He turned to Flint who smiled at the sight of his kinsman awake and breathing.
“Ah, Flint! I knew you’d come!” His head dropped back into Ered’s hand, weary from the effort. Gundren looked at Ered inquisitively. “What’s that you gave me, Lad? Sure is tasty.”
“Would you like another drink?” asked Ered. He looked to Flint, who nodded. “I would,” replied Gundren eagerly. Once again, Ered held the pot to the dwarf’s lips and he took a long quaff. With that, Gundren fell back into unconsciousness.
“We must find a way to get him out of here,” said Ered.
To be continued…