As Derek watches,
That Belly is smarter than he lets on. Look at him escaping with his life. I should have spent most of the fight playing dead. Of course the one time I act all heroic and shit, Lord Kokurl is not here to see it. Oh well, I guess you learn from your mistakes. Except I don’t think I’ll have a chance to put that learning to any use, seeing as how this cut is bleeding out quick. Doesn’t hurt as much as I thought, although the sound of those Redcaps is giving me a headache…
As Derek drifted into unconsciousness, his limp body slid to an abrupt halt in the thick grass. He distinctly remembered Belarus looking over his shoulder yelling something back before affixing his eyes away from Derek and continuing out the room.
Belarus escapes with his life, just.
Staggering through the dirt-warren, hobbled by bloody gashes dealt by powrie and redcap blades, Belarus struggled to keep hold of the dowsing rod, which was their only means of finding their way in the underground.
Well, it was their only means; now it was his only means. He had seen each of them cut down, all but Derek; he was lost from sight and had stopped responding to Belarus’s calls to retreat down the hallway. Which could only mean that he’d been felled.
He was in only slightly better shape. The dowsing rod was slick with his blood and was difficult to keep hold of; snatches of laughter in the dark of the tunnel let him know that he was not alone. There was no time to rest or to get his bearings. He was just trying to get away from the scene of carnage.
And where was his bodyguard? The dwarf Kokurl often waded into the thick of fights, leaving Belarus to fend for himself. He was nowhere to be seen. He’d probably gotten lost in the tunnels along with Cedric.
He didn’t fault the two of them so much as he did himself. So much time he had spent attempting to hide is arcane nature from the group, throwing useless vials of liquid at those hellish imps in an attempt to distract from the spells he wove. He failed to unleash his full potential when the group needed it most. But his brief encounter with the zealot Jon Reese back in Boldstone reminded him that he must ever play the cowardly bookish scholar, so as not to give credence to Reese’s wild claims of black magic.
He was making his way by feel; though the dowsing rod would direct him, it would only lead him back to the room where his friends lay dead among the sawgrass. He used the thing to keep him oriented away from that awful place, and took pains to listen at each branching point, though the sounds he heard were of the wicked red caps, giggling and chortling just out of view.
The audacity of it galled him. These imps no doubt capered just beyond his sight, still wet with his blood and that of his friends, laughing all the while as he stumbled through the darkness.
“Come for me, then! You foul impish destards! I’ll burn you all to ash, I swear it!”
The circlet hanging by his horns turned black as he began to summon eldritch energies, like the halo of some dark fallen angel. He narrowed his eyes and peered into the black depths of the tunnel ahead.
There was only silence. Belarus thought that they would indeed come and answer his challenge, the time for games had passed.
“Ach, there ye are, yah horned hominid! Ah was afreed we’d lost yeh!”
Kokurl sauntered into view, with Cedric just behind him.
“This stout one got…lost. I had attempted to turn him aright, but as you can see…” Cedric stopped as he saw Belarus was clutching his side and gasping for breath. Looking closely, he saw in the luminescent dark the blood that coated his hands. “What… what happened?”
Belarus looked around the tunnel, there were no redcaps around. “We were attacked. No one survived.”
“Eh? Ow issat possible? What of Roland and Del? What of Eammon? An’ lil’Benji?”
“All gone. I did not see Derek fall, but as we were escaping he was calling out to me and then suddenly he stopped.”
“Well we’ll ’afta git them! We ’afta get ’em back!”
“No, Dwarf! For once, listen to me. They are dead. We need to get out of here.”
“There may be a way.”
Cedric looked pensive for a moment. “Here, let me at least heal you…” At this, he began to examine the wounds and describe them in calm, encouraging detail. He reminded Belarus of wounds much more severe suffered in previous battles, and that these would heal without much help at all. With that, Belarus found a renewed vigor inside and an intense urge coursed through him.
Escape, however, is not a word known to Dwarfs.
Suzie Too and I are sick and tired of this Shite!!! That stoopid rod has been nuttin but trouble and we are no closer to findin tha’ bastard’s heart. You poofs do wha’ you’d like but I am headin’ this way…” Sayin’ my peace, I turned abruptly and stormed off the opposite direction that wobbly stick indicated. The luminescent glow of the overgrown grass bathed the tunnel in a spoooky green light. The noisy clatter of plate armor interspersed with painful grunts indicated that a member of the group had followed my lead. Smart bastard! A glance over the shoulder showed Cedric carefully inchin’ down the tunnel, arms outstretched, awkwardly wavin’ about as to avoid crashin’ face first into an obstruction concealed in the darkness. Smilin’, I winked at Suzie Too and blurted, “Oy! Over here boy . . .” With his head shiftin’ toward the sound of my voice, the warlord stammered, “Mr. Kokurl, it’s not wise to go off alone in the dark.” “Yes . . . Agreed boy. It is not wise for YOU to go off alone in the dark.” Grabbin’ his tunic by the back, I pulled the warlord forward. “Follow closely and stay alert.” After a minute of walkin’ in silence, the warlord, after seemin’ly tryin’ summon up the nerve, said, “Mr. Kok . . . I mean Kokurl . . . we should probably go back . . . don’t you think?” “Har . . . why is that? Because the rest decided to follow that stoopid rod rather than their own wits? . . . Besides . . . I do not trust those Eladrin people. They’re even more shifty that the peck . . . damn fey people . . . you shake those pricks’ hands and ya got to make sure you has all your fingers afterwards . . . No, no . . . I am gonna keep goin’ tha’ way . . . feel free to . . . wha? You here that?” All of a sudden loud maniacal laughter reverberated throughout the tunnels. A quick glance around the dimly-lit area yielded no evidence of the laughter’s source. “Tha’s not good. Stay on me like my shadow and keep your eyes open.” Cedric nodded in response.
We continued down the tunnel readyin’ our arms for any signs of an ambush. After a brief respite from the laughter, we heard an anguished voice, scream, “Come for me, then! You foul impish destards! I’ll burn you all to ash, I swear it!" After turnin’ the corner, I saw Horney gazin’ into the darkness defiantly. He looked injured and was surrounded by a energy halo, powered by some hocusy pocusy arts. So that is his game . . . well we all have secrets and I had too much shite to deal with at the time anyways. As long as he doesn’t touch me with the hocus pocus and his gold still buys me some ale, he is fine by me. Walkin’ up to him, I uttered, “Ach, there ye are, yah horned hominid! Ah was afreed we’d lost yeh!” Cedric chimed in “this stout one got…lost. I had attempted to turn him al’righ, but as you can see…” Shootin’ a challengin’ glare his way we decided to inspect Horney’s wounds more closely. Curious. Echoin’ the thoughts in my head, the warlord interjected worriedly, “What . . . what happened?” Lookin’ jumpy, Horney glanced around as if lookin’ for somethin’ in the darkness . . . “We were attacked. No one survived.” Enraged, I said “Eh? Ow issat possible? What of Roland and the pansy? What of the old man? An’ the peck?” Avoidin’ eye contact, Horney practically whispered . . .“All gone. I did not see Derek fall, but as we were escapin’ he was callin’ out to me and then suddenly he stopped.” No longer able to contain my anger I bellowed, “Well we’ll ’afta git them! We ’afta get ’em back!” In typical cowardly fashion, that pansy had the audacity to say “No, Dwarf! For once, listen to me. They are dead. We need to get out of here."
Angry I stormed off and began to pace. Suzie Too tried to console me, but I cannot believe this pussy ran while the others died. Feelin’ the rage boil up inside me, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cedric use his gifts to heal the coward. Pictures of ASSel’s lifeless body struck me like a gong. Disoriented, I back-pedaled a step and was struck again by painful images . . . this time poor liddle Benji’s pathetic dead frame. Twitchin’, blinded by the images of my slain friends I peddled even further back until I hit the tunnel wall . . . Benji . . . ASSel . . . Benji . . . ASSel . . . Benji . . . ASSel . . . dead!!! The images stopped with a thunderclap . . . My eyes popped open and I saw Cedric pamperin’ Horney like some babe who skinned his knee. My anger boiled over at this moment. With face red, eyes bulgin’, I approached Horney with a tense menacin’ gate and bellowed, “YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE TO HELP . . . BUT YOU THOUGHT TO SAVE YOUR OWN SORRY HIDE RATHER THAN HELP THOSE WHO HAVE SPILT BLOOD FOR YOU!!!” Swingin’ with all my might I slammed Suzie Too into the tunnel wall beside Horney with a massive thud. I tried to make another swing only to find the axe firmly embedded into the wall. Swearin’ and leavin’ my axe hangin’ in place, I glared at Horney, “WHY?” Shieldin’ his face from the spittle accompanyin’ my angry words, Horney replied, “Kokurl, why throw my life away to no benefit? The battle was lost . . . I could do nothing. If we flee we live and we can get help!” Without a beat I rambled, “Oh you have found help! Cedric, Suzie Too, and I will carve up each and every one of those devious liddle red-capped ankle biters. Not to mention I have not enjoyed me a good salad in quite a while. And YOU will be right on are arses throwin’ yer vials. Either that or we will be draggin’ ya!”
Turnin’ my attention to the axe hangin’ from the wall, I finally retrieved Suzie Too and began pacin’ and swearin’ to myself. Cedric also chimed in, “Mister Kokurl . . . perhaps you should keep your voice down . . . we have already attracted enough attention to ourselves. Besides we might be able to save those that fell.” Calmin’ down, but still frustrated I uttered, “He said they were all dead Cedric!!!” Respondin’ in an uneven tone tempered by a seemin’ly endless supply of patience, the Warlord, said, “Yes that is true Master Dwarf but he also said that he did not see Del fall . . . Which means that he might still be alive and need our help. And the others can also be saved as well!” That glimmer of hope smothered my rage like water dowsin’ a flame. “Well let’s go get em then! AND THAT MEANS YOU TOO HORNEY . . . no runnin’ away this time!”
Cedric then began to prod Horney with questions tryin’ to get an idea of what evil was in store for us down those tunnels. As if to add emphasis to our forebodin’ situation, our adversaries would sprinkle in occasional bouts of maniacal gigglin’ seemin’ly from everywhere. After recountin’ the events that unfolded Cedric confirmed his understandin’ with Horney, “So if I understand you, there was about one large mound of plantlife, and 4-6 evil gnomes that like to trip people and attack them on the ground? You saw Eammon, Benji, and Roland fall, but Del could be around and need our help? We could fight our way in to save them but those are not great odds. Not to mention it would be difficult to fight our way back out again while carryin’ bodies. I will need to think on this.” Frustrated I mentioned . . . “Well we should go in anyway . . . I say we find the pansy, revive him if we can. Then we can fight our way in . . .” At this Horney with renewed determination interjected, “I have four healing vials we can use to revive Dell and the others if when find them. ” Noddin’ along, I continued, “. . . and I have a few vials myself. When we reach them, I can put the wee peck in my bottomless bag here. Then we can carry the rest of them between us and fight our ways back out again.” We continued the discourse over our different options while Cedric watched on attentively . . . no doubt hatchin’ one of his fancy plans. Lookin’ at both Horney and Cedric in turn, I said, “Al’righ . . . unless anyone else has somethin’ to chime in I say we get goin’ . . . time is awastin’. Let’s move!”
Derek’s thoughts were dark as he slept.
Lost cause. Saw it in his eyes. Seems to be the feeling down here. Fucking fey…
When Derek first opened his eyes he could not immediately process the situation. He was surrounded by several Redcaps feverishly gibbering to each other in Elven. One was quickly removing Derek’s boots, taking several long, deep smells in through his nose and out his mouth as if he were sampling a glass of wine. Another had taken a liking to his bow and was pretending to use it as some kind of saw, dragging the bowstring across one of Derek’s legs, snapping his vision back to Derek’s face each time to check for a reaction. A third had dumped out several quivers and was using the arrows as stakes to pin down clothing, not that Derek felt like moving. He noticed that the other bodies had their boots removed as well, but they were otherwise undisturbed. Perhaps their lifelessness was less than amusing. They had not seemed to notice his eyes open until the one sawing his leg yelled something in Elven and the rest all jumped back. After the initial start their amusement doubled and they all descended upon Derek’s head. Two began to braid his hair while another pair took turns forcing his jaw open with their boney fingers and playing with his teeth. Occasionally a reflex cough or gag from Derek would send the Redcaps scattering, laughing maniacally all the while.
Alive, I guess. I can’t imagine being in a worse situation, though. Surrounded by psychopathic lawn gnomes who might gut me at any moment just for a laugh. No good way out of this. Can’t fight back. Looks like the others, well, considering they ain’t being fucked with like I am, I guess they’re past the point of return. God damn fucking heroes…
The Redcap braiding Derek’s hair noticed a tear slide from a bloodshot eye. He quickly licked it off of his face with a bulbous tongue and then began to cackle and roll around in the grass in apparent disgust with the saltiness. The others took a second to process the reaction and then simultaneously descended on Derek’s face, ravenously licking in the hopes of repeating the experience. Derek shut his eyes tight, assuming the worst and that he was about to be eaten alive. His mind so focused on the horrific death he was about to experience did not immediately register the all too familiar snap of several crossbows.
Right, lemme guess. There’s an army of Goblins, no, Hobgoblins here to save me. See, it’s all been one big misunderstanding and that the Bulls-eye feller is actually really nice once you get to know him. Actually, considering how long it took us to get here and how they were getting organized and whatnot…
Derek’s labored logic was cut short as he was bathed in warm blood. He reactively flinched but the movement was very slight as the Redcap who staked him down did a very thorough job. His senses snapped back into focus as the rancid smell of Redcap blood filled his nostrils and the crashes of battle surrounded him. He slowly cracked open an eyelid to gaze upon a fantastical scene. Several platoons at the least of very well armored and armed Hobgoblins had stormed the room. They were well organized and very aggressively making short work of the Redcaps. In the wings were goblins and bugbears skirmishing around the battle, letting loose crossbow bolts and darting in to catch Redcaps unaware. A mage-like figure was in the back as well, raining down dark fire on the Shambling Mound. The ferocity and efficiency was breathtaking. As his eye rolled through its extremes Derek noticed a Bugbear crouching next to him rifling through a much mangled Redcap at his feet. He was using his battleaxe to expedite the process, sending more blood flying onto Derek. After the Redcap was no more than a mound of flesh and bone, he yelled something in Goblin and turned to Derek. Their vision locked and Derek froze, gazing into those cold, lifeless eyes for what felt like minutes. The Bugbear seemed uninterested or convinced Derek was dead and sprinted away. Derek forcibly let out a slow breath and tried to slow the pounding pulse echoing in his ears. Moments later a loud cheer came forth from the band and Derek surmised they had won. The mage-like one produced a small box from the corpse of Mister MacGuff and held it aloft, producing even more cheers. He then yelled something in Goblin and the band exited in a quick, organized fashion.
Fuck me. I need to warn the others, er, the remainders. If they encounter that group there’s no chance of escape. Must pull it together!
Sometimes, rescue is a four letter word.
Shuffling through the sawgrass, Belarus followed behind the Dwarf Kokurl, whose eyesight was much more accustomed to the dark. The dowsing rod held out before him, Belarus quietly guided Kokurl by taps on the shoulder whenever the tunnel split. Bringing up the rear was Cedric, moving as quietly as he could in his hulking armor; they didn’t want to attract the attention of the redcaps that scampered about in the darkness just beyond their sight.
A howl pierced the stale underground air; it seemed to come from several directions at once. The trio looked at each other and Cedric pointed to the passage behind them. It had come from behind. Then the unmistakable sounds of battle reached their ears, and a low guttural tongue echoed through the hall.
“There’s something else in these tunnels,” Cedric warned.
“Aye,” said the Dwarf. “Let’s keep movin’.”
The followed the rod for what seemed like hours in the underground tunnels, every so often the sounds of weapons rang out in the halls and the same low voices would carry to them. While Belarus used the dowsing rod to guide them back toward their fallen friends, Cedric would often move them down an alternate passage in order to avoid running into the newcomers. Sometimes the sounds would come from behind, sometimes in front; but always they stopped and listened.
“What do you suppose they are?” Cedric ventured.
“Goblins? I dunno. Horney?”
Belarus looked at them in turn.
“I don’t speak Goblin. Do you? Do you?”
Kokurl shook his head emphatically. Cedric wordlessly pointed to his blade, indicating how he communicated with goblins.
“It seems as though we’ve been circling in here. I could have sworn we’ve passed this way before,” Cedric said as he touched one of the cavern’s dirt walls.
“Ah toldja that durn Elf rod could nae be trusted! We bein wandrin’ round ‘ere fer e’er!”
“Silence, Dwarf,” Belarus hissed. “We’re trying not to attract attention, as you may recall. At any rate, I don’t think this device is an exact science; after all, I don’t have the gifts that Eammon has.”
At this, they fell silent. No one corrected Belarus, but the word hung in the air unspoken: &had.
They rounded the next corner and stopped short. Several redcap bodies lay twisted and broken upon the floor. Their blood stained the sawgrass in thick, dark swathes. An horrendous stench hung about the air as well. They were approaching the room where their companions had fallen, Belarus was certain.
“Welp, whoe’er they are, I like ’em!” Korkurl declared.
“The enemy of my enemy may still yet be mine enemy,” Cedric offered.
“Yes. He is right; I don’t think we want to— wait!” The sounds of blade meeting blade and the low tongue met their ears again; this time, it sounded as if it were right on top of them. Belarus ducked into a nearby alcove, sliding on his belly under a fissure as the sawgrass tried to cling to him. Kokurl and Cedric followed quickly behind, the latter getting his pauldrons caught on the edges of the cracked earth, ripping dirt from the wall. Belarus shivered at the thought of getting trapped under the earth with no oxygen, but he held still. The anguished cries of the redcaps were clearly audible. The fight was not going well for them. Soon, the tromp of heavy boots filled the tunnels.
“Outta tha way, thar, I wannae see!” Kokurl protested.
Belarus hushed him and Cedric simply lay still on his back. Kokurl was trying to peer through Cedric to the tunnel beyond.
“Would that you had a beard, so that I might stuff it in your flapping mouth!” Belarus spat.
After a few tense moments, the footfalls passed by. Cedric was able to see very little, his view obscured by the fissure he was in, as well as the curve in the tunnel. All he could make out were shapes moving in the deep black and some slight glints of metal in the soft luminescence of the cave.
Once they were sure the creatures had moved off, Cedric dragged himself out, ripping the sawgrass with his armor in the process. Kokurl rolled out like a barrel, and Belarus scrambled quickly behind him.
“I think we’re close,” Belarus gestured back down the hall from whence the creatures had come.
Belarus stepped past Kokurl into the large room. More redcap bodies were strewn about the floor. A smoldering mound of leaves and grass the size of a bear lay off to one side. The shambling mound had swallowed Benji at one point during their fight. Now it looked as if it had met its end.
Their friends remained where they fell; Roland they saw first. The Paladin was just inside the room, lying on his back. He had valiantly tried to cover their escape route, pulling several of the redcaps to him, and had been felled. Cedric slung his shield over his back, then began hoisting him over his shoulder.
Benji was cast aside off to the right, broken like a ragdoll; Eammon was lying face down beside him, his clothes shredded and soaked with his own blood. Belarus regarded them silently. Benji was his old “childhood friend,” one he’d forgotten he even had. Oftentimes, the Tashkat infuriated Belarus, though he never let it show. Kokurl punished the lad enough for stealing from the group. Now that he was gone, Belarus found a splinter of himself missing the halfling.
Kokurl ambled over and unslung his backpack. He pulled out a smaller bag, humming to himself as if he were about some menial task like chopping wood. He opened the small bag wide, bent down and scooped Benji into it as if he were scooping a fish from a lake. He cinched the top, and then replaced the bag in his backpack and scampered off.
Eammon. The old man reminded Belarus of his own father. He didn’t remember much, only that his own father was a wealthy human. So was his mother, for that matter. When he was born, it ripped their marriage apart. Demonspawn. That’s what they said he was. It was only a miracle he wasn’t killed immediately. He was hid away in a brothel, until the monk had come and taken him away to the cloister. His own father never came looking for him. Not like Eammon; would he be happy now? Was he with his son? Would he want to be brought back? Could they even afford this? Belarus could only think of getting back to Stardust; he knew they would be able to do something, but at what price? What would have to be sacrificed to bring all these men back?
A groan reached out from the darkness to them.
“Ach! Del!” Kokurl hopped over a few redcap bodies toward the sound. He found Del near the ledge in the middle of the room. His shoes were missing, like all the others, but unlike them, he was breathing.
His arrows were scattered across the ground around him, his quiver upended no doubt by some mad powrie. He was pinned to the ground, the sawgrass gripping his sides and arrows staked through his clothes at random intervals. Some redcap had thought it funny to pierce his pants round the crotch as well.
“Laddie, yeh alive?!” Kokurl shouted as spittle flew into Derek’s face. His eyes were caked shut with blood from a nasty head wound, but he appeared to be alive. “Lemme git yeh outta this ’ere,” Kokurl began plucking the arrows from his clothes, then proceeded to gather up the rest scattered about the ground. Belarus came over and helped Derek to a sitting position against a wall.
“Can you walk?” Belarus did not know what they would do if he couldn’t. He handed Derek a waterskin, from which he drank deeply. He croaked an affirmative “Yeah,” but nodded his head just to send the point home. Belarus offered his arm, and Derek took it and stood. Kokurl handed him his quiver and bow.
“Where are my boots!?” Derek stammered. “The MaGuffaga! Curse their blasted eyes!”
All of their comrades’ boots were missing.
“We’ll just have to do without for the time being,” Cedric said pragmatically. “We can try and get them back later. For now, we have to try and get everyone out of here.”
Derek looked around; Cedric was hefting Roland, Belarus had Eammon slung over his shoulder, his lute case tied to his hip. “Where’s Benji?”
“In ’ere.” Kokurl patted his backpack and then offered an arm to support Derek. “C’mon. Let’s git on outta ’ere; worry aboot yer booties later!”
Belarus quietly took a deep breath. He held the dowsing rod and hoped again by moving away from where it pointed, he could guide them out of the tunnels, and avoid any unwanted attention.
Dwarves know how to make an exit.
“Ach . . . will these blasted tunnels never end! That wobbly stick is as useless as a milk bucket under a bull. We’ve been runnin’ in circles for hours.” Gruntin’, I turned my eyes away from Horney and they lingered upon the Old Man’s body for a moment. He was bein’ carried by Horney and Cedric on a makeshift stretcher we had constructed usin’ two javelins and a bedroll. Poor bastard! As frail as he appeared I never thought he would come to this end. His face had turned the ashen, pallid color of death. Despite this, one could almost think him asleep if it were not for the deep gashes coverin’ his body and the caked dried blood that matted his long brown curls to the side of his head. This was my failin’. I should have been there to protect them. I am built to take the abuse . . . everyone around me keeps dyin’. This is why it is better not to have friends . . . the pain of a dagger in the gut pales by comparison to that of the death of those . . . . Lost in a moment of thought, Horney brought me back to reality shoutin’, “Kokurl! This is no time to lose your wits. We cannot afford another attack by those redcaps!” Respondin’ as the Pansy and I picked up the stretcher carryin’ Roland’s lifeless corpse, “Aye, Horney I hear ya! Let’s get movin’”
He was right after all. Between that stoopid wobbly stick and the constant waves of attacks from those damned ankle biters it had been slow goin’. Each attack seemed more and more fierce. They no longer thought this liddle escapade a joke. Their playful laughter had long since turned to cries of hatred and their pranks had given way to vicious bloodthirsty attacks. Those bastards were determined not to let us escape . . . and truthfully, even I think they might succeed. Each of us had performed well . . . even the Pansy . . . err . . . Del. After downin’ a healin’ potion, he walked with a new sense of vigor . . . and thankfully so. He had even saved my arse a time or two over the last few hours. He loosed arrows with a ruthless efficiency and he seemed to hit everythin’ at which he shot. In fact, most of those little bastards had at least one arrow in them by the time each battle finished. I had long since given him my quiver and we collected those arrows that we could from the countless redcap bodies, but there never seemed to be enough. No less accomplished, Cedric performed his duties like a man possessed with the powers of Kord. He dispatched several of those gnome fuckers himself. Fightin’ next to him feels as natural as a beard on a dwarf. He seemed to expose each attacker’s weakness for me to exploit and fought in a way that complemented my fightin’ style. He positioned our liddle group in a manner to be most effective at killin’. My kinda guy! We formed a two man phalanx which halted the advance of the redcaps givin’ Horney and Del the time they need to release their magics and missiles. Even Horney began to redeem himself for his earlier cowardice. He kept up his pretense of throwin’ his silly vials at random gnomes which “mysteriously” caught on fire, or were struck by balls of energy. I honestly care not what he does; only that he takes out as many of those bastards as he can.
Anyway, we continued on our way down the corridor until we came to a fork in the path. Del nervously uttered, “Which way shall we choose?” Impassively Cedric responded, “Master Belarus, which way does the rod foretell?” Placin’ the stretcher carryin’ the Old Man on the cold stone floor, Horney clutchin’ the rod in front of him watched as it pointed to the right hallway. Statin’ the obvious Horney said, “It is pointing to the right and . . .” Interruptin’ I blurted, “Well obviously tha’ means we go left!” Lookin’ for but findin’ no argument I began to lead the lethargic group down the corridor I had chosen. After walkin’ several hundred meters a glorious beam of bright light wafted down the corridor like a gentle breeze. It was a thing of beauty. Walkin’ with a renewed store of energy we turned the corner to see the gapin’ mouth of the tunnel, which would lead us from this retched place. We took a few confident steps toward the openin’ when eight ankle biters sauntered from a side hallway just before the exit.
Clutchin’ their weapons in a menacin’ manner, the group formed an obstacle that we must pass in order to gain our freedom. Then the lead ankle biter took a few short steps forward and with a screechy voice bellowed, “You will all DIE!!!” Gently placin’ the stretchers carryin’ our friends on the moss-covered ground, our exhausted party made ready for one last fight. Lookin’ back, I saw Cedric drawin’ his sword without a flourish. It shone a dull grey-white with streaks of dark red blood smeared down the blade. He approached me with a look of grim determination. “Well Master Kokurl! We did not get all dressed up for nothin’. Let’s fight our way out of this place!” Movin’ with an efficiency honed by repetition and experience, Del and Horney placed Cedric and I between them and the redcaps with an air of confidence that implied that would be the only defense they needed. Del knocked and arrow and drew the string of his bow while takin’ aim at a very unfortunate redcap. The utter stillness in his hand beguiled the look of exhaustion that covered his face. Havin’ long exhausted his store of liquid vials, Horney began to prepare his spells with no pretense of hidin’ his dark powers. Drawin’ Suzie Too with my left hand and grippin’ her haft with white knuckles and then drawin’ a javelin, I walked out a few paces in front of Cedric. Drained though filled with defiance and inspired by my dwarven roots I began to sing,
Here I am loiterin’, invadin’ yer homes,
I’m just a dwarf lookin’ to kill me some gnomes,
Killin’ you arseholes Suzie and I have quite mastered,
Each and every one of you is such a bastard,
Yer pain and sufferin’ I hope to prolong,
I’m gonna beat yer heads like they’re a gong,
I cannot wait til you I do kill,
There is plenty of redcap blood I hope to yet spill,
I wanna introduce you to my great big axe,
From yer hides I will charge a very steep tax,
Ask around Suzie and I are quite feared,
When we are finished you will all be disappeared,
Fer my friends’ deaths I’m gonna pay ya back,
Deep into all of ya I’m gonna hack,
Ya better run, I hope you’ve gotten the clue
Or I’m gonna slice ya up and make me a stew,
If you hope to survive don’t hold yer breath,
All that awaits ya is a very quick death,
You are all detestable, despicable scum,
Brace yersleves for here we come . . .
With that I began to slam the javelin and the handle of Suzie Too onto the ground as our group shouted, “Ah … Hooo!, Ah . . . Hooo! Ah . . . Hoo!” Lustin’ in the palpable anticipation, I screamed, “Come and get it ya bastards!!!” As if headin’ my call, the redcaps began to charge. The leader quickly went down with two arrows to his face. Hesitatin’ . . . the remainin’ redcaps looked at their fallen leader and then resumed their charge. A second redcap seemed surprised as my javelin punctured his chest and he quickly was set on fire by Horney’s magics. A third redcap went down with arrows masterfully placed in his eye and throat. Cedric was bouncin’ on the balls of his feet anticipatin’ the moment when the gnomes came within the reach of his sword. Takin’ a few steps back, I joined Cedric’s left flank and waited. The redcaps continued to charge. We made quick work of the first two ankle biters that approached as the one in front of Cedric was hobbled by a ball of dark energy and the fucker approachin’ me sprouted an arrow from his chest shortly before Suzie Too deprived him of his head. The remainin’ three crashed into Cedric and I like a batterin’ ram. One struck me in the chest with a dagger drawin’ blood and hobblin’ my knees and a second followed up with a cudgel to my head. The world spun as I heard Cedric’s defiant screams. With pain and leanin’ on Suzie Too for support, the world came into a blurry focus. Seein’ another gnome at my feet felled by Cedric’s sword, I saw two redcaps slashin’ at Cedric in earnest. Instinctively and with little thought, I drove one of the ankle biters off my mate with a thrust to the face that knocked him on his back. I then ended his life with a second resoundin’ swing that cut through his sternum into the ground. Lackin’ any fear, the final redcap attacked as if he had an army at his back. Though recognizin’ his bravery, Cedric and I had liddle patience for this shite. In unison, we felled the last of the gnomes. Pantin’ heavily, and with a pile of redcap bodies surroundin’ us, our group shared a silent moment of victory and resumed the task of takin’ our friends from this place. “It is done,” Del said with finality. Quickly afterward, Horney said, “Let’s get out of this place!” Sheathin’ his sword, Cedric almost whispered, “No argument here. Let’s get going” Pickin’ up the stretchers, we finally made our way out of the tunnels into the wilderness. Despite my better judgment I actually preferred my fey surroundin’s to those of which we just left. We had liddle trouble makin’ it back to the precious Duke’s place. I need to have a word with him for sendin’ us on this stoopid mission to begin with . . .
Derek recalls the day with a tired mind.
It’s all a blur. Not half a day ago I was kissing my ass goodbye as the rest of the band fell beside me. Belly proved himself quite resourceful and got us back together, and by together, I mean all alive. Well, it wasn’t him that did the resurrections, or was it? I’m still not thinking too straight, to be honest. Dehydration, blood-loss and listening to the Dwarf prattle on about how we “…shoulda had our pansy arses wait a bit so he could kill thems God-Damn Fucking RedCap pussy gnome fuckers himself” has left me delirious. I swear I saw Lord Kokurl fight back a tear or two as he pulled Benji out of his bag and laid him on the altar – that was definitely my imagination!
I also am pretty sure that our Half-elf beneficiary is a better looking version of Eammon, not that Eammon is handsome or my type, but you know what I mean. He even talks like the old bugger, all indirect and flowery like someone delivering bad news or telling the history of a tragic event. Hell, as far as I know, all Half-Elfs look the same, except Eammon and LMJ don’t, but they could just be exceptions or something. He was blabbering about all his travels around the known and unknown world while he helped us get the materials for the resurrections, not that I was in a listening mood, nor any of us for that matter.
When he took care of the tab the Dwarf thought it was too generous and started to interrogate the bugger about ulterior motives. That Half-elf was a keen fellow and began to spin the Dwarf’s questions back at him in the form of veiled compliments; an amazing exchange to watch. Eventually the Dwarf concluded three concrete facts; one – this Half-elf is secretly skimming from the hands of bastardly, corrupt Eladrin Lords, two – this is a most noble and honorable task since the money goes back into the hands of the needy, three – this Half-elf is a boon to his race and welcome at the dinner table of Lord Kokurl any time. Best part is that he never said anything even remotely close to that! He just asked the Dwarf his own questions with different phrasing! If I didn’t have this splitting headache I’d have been taking notes.
I’m not quite certain why he paid for us either. He mentioned something about “paying towards the debt of suffering inflicted” whatever the hell that means. He was kinda shifty and never looked me in the eyes. He didn’t even stay for the resurrections, giving some fancy goodbye and quickly walking off as we hauled Eammon’s battered corpse onto the altar. Kok yelled after him to share a pint at the least but he did not seem to hear. Strange fella.
Anyhow, I need to get some rest and reflect on my memories. I’m almost certain that the reliquary had a small crack in it and was oozing some liquid. Considering I was oozing several liquids at that point I cannot be sure. I’ll run it past the rest of the band, but I’m fairly certain that it spells trouble.