“That was too easy,” Revafour said, voicing what they were all thinking. “These things were just fodder.”
“So now it’s just us and the master, and whatever he’s got waiting for us,” Weimar chimed in. “Somehow, I don’t think he’ll be in a welcoming mood.”
“You never know,” Amyalla quipped as they made their way into the cavern. “Perhaps he’ll be pleased that we decided to deliver his next meal.”
So far, so good, Amyalla thought to herself as she returned to
the camp they’d set up. Now we just need
to decide how we’re going to do this…
and Weimar hadn’t had much trouble finding the trolls’ lair after speaking to
the Oakdale foresters about where they had found signs of the trolls’ passage.
Nor had the two-day journey been at all hazardous, fortunately enough. Once
they’d set up camp in a suitable place, they’d sent Amyalla to scout the
trolls’ lair. That wasn’t at all difficult for the halfling, who had spent a
day and night watching the cavern to try and determine what the trolls might be
hailing Airk as she marched back into camp, their human friends immediately
looked up expectantly, eager for her news.
had some of the tea Luna had prepared, Amyalla began explaining what she’d seen
at the trolls’ lair.
a score of the wretched things,” she explained, “and there’s always at least
two of them standing guard at the entrance. They’ve cleared most of the area
around the entrance, so they get a good look at the area around them. They hunt
once the moons are high in the sky, always in the same circling routine, just
like the tracks confirmed. So, how shall we pursue this?”
pondered that for several moments, before a thin smile crossed Seline’s face.
they’re expecting us to come to them, aren’t they?” she asked.
Most likely, Ma’non’go signed back, an intrigued look on his
face. What do you have in mind?
a stick, Seline began to outline her idea, tracing it in the dirt.
Gods, I love this, she thought to herself. We shouldn’t come to the trolls…they’ll be ready for us.
Instead, we need the trolls to come to us…
even a mother could love,” Weimar muttered to his companions as he folded up
his telescope. “There’s just the two of them gathered there, neither one
inclined to leave his post. You’re ready, Seline?”
I am,” the wizard smiled, as she raised her free hand. Holding up her free
hand, she winked to her companions as she faded from sight, the sapphire stone
in her silver ring twinkling brightly.
Quietly…quietly…Seline thought to herself, as she approached
the cavern. Despite herself, she shuddered at the sight of the wretched trolls,
who thankfully hadn’t noticed her. They seemed nervous and on edge, peering
intently at the woods ahead of them as if expecting an attack. They shook and
twitched, constantly muttering to themselves as if eager for a fight.
of her wands out of her pocket, she began chanting softly, praying that she
wouldn’t attract the trolls’ notice. Fortunately, the trolls were too intent on
the woods ahead of them to notice Seline’s chanting, only realizing what was
happening when the thick fog cloud surrounded them. Raising their voices in alarm,
they didn’t hear Seline’s next chant.
In just a
few seconds, the air was filled with the sounds of clanking metal and angry war
cries, the signs of a war party come to beard the trolls in their lair. Already
alarmed by the fog cloud surrounding them, one of the trolls ran back into the
cavern, even as the other moved to guard the entrance. The troll who had
re-entered the cavern began ringing a loud bell to alert its fellows, who
snapped awake and came charging to his aid.
Seline had hoped, the noise and the fog made the perfect cover for Seline’s
friends to join her, and she quickly fell back to join them. Luna’s companions
held their ground as she stepped forward, her intent chant masked by the sound
of the trolls’ angry footsteps and cries.
A flurry of
debris emerged from the fog cloud as the trolls tossed everything from tree
stumps to giant rocks at their apparent attackers. Smiling to herself, Seline
shifted her spell to cries of despair and pain, as the trolls’ missiles
apparently crushed their victims. The missiles were soon replaced with cries of
delight and eagerness as the trolls rushed out of the cloud, eager to tear
apart what was left of their invaders. Drool ran down many of their faces,
mixing with the dried blood and gore all over their claws and hides. Murder was
in their eyes as their hunger and blood lust overcame them.
cries were replaced with howls of pain as Luna’s spell now took effect. Thorns
sprouted from the grass beneath the trolls’ feet, piercing them and knocking
the monsters off balance. Howling in pain, the trolls quickly regained their
bearings, knowing their regeneration would heal the wounds they suffered.
Heedless of the injuries they suffered, they continued pressing through the
field of thorns Luna had conjured, determined to kill the humans they now saw
spread out in front of them.
was the first to meet them, goring one troll on his trident and hurling the
wretched creature back into two of its fellows. All three creatures rolled back
through the field of spikes, crying out in pain as their bodies were further
torn. Revafour chopped one troll down in a single strike, tossing it back at
another troll even as Airk hamstrung yet another one with his military pick and
forced it back.
A few of
the trolls tried to make their way around the warriors, but one of them
immediately fell dead, his head consumed by the flask of flaming oil that
exploded in his face. The other trolls stared askance at their dead companion,
before they too cried out in pain, scorched by the fiery arrows Weimar shot at
them, even as Amyalla prepared a second flask of oil.
assault was now bogged down. Badly torn and wounded by the thorn field, and
further wounded by the warriors, the creatures were too wounded to move. Forced
to regenerate, they were helpless to avoid Seline’s flaming sphere as it rolled
towards them, striking them in their faces and hearts and slaying them
instantly. The rest of the adventurers joined in, hurling bottles of acid and
flaming oil to ensure that the creatures stayed dead.
was all over, as Luna dispelled the field of spikes she had conjured. Despite
their victory, the adventurers’ faces were grim as they regrouped.
too easy,” Revafour said, voicing what they were all thinking. “These things
were just fodder.”
it’s just us and the master, and whatever he’s got waiting for us,” Weimar
chimed in. “Somehow, I don’t think he’ll be in a welcoming mood.”
know,” Amyalla quipped as they made their way into the cavern. “Perhaps he’ll
be pleased that we decided to deliver his next meal.”
fortunate that Amyalla was leading the way down the passage, and that she
spotted the tripwires before they were triggered. It was a simple matter to
disconnect them-trolls were not known for their mechanical skills, after
all-but the spears they had been poised to shoot, now visible from the entrance
to the larger cave chamber, were no laughing matter. No troll would have had to
worry about them, but they would have easily run any of the adventurers through
if they’d been released.
adventurers were even more fortunate as they made their way into the cavern,
knowing to dodge the hurled rocks and logs that came their way. That was where
their luck ran out, however, as they were forced to scatter and split up to
avoid being struck down. That was just as their hosts expected, as the monsters
leapt down to greet their new guests.
Four of the
trolls were just as nauseating and horrible as they’d expected, but they paled
in comparison to the fifth. The towering monstrosity was an even more
disgusting shade of green than his underlings, if that was even possible, and
two heads sprouted from his broad shoulders. One of them chattered eagerly in
the mishmash language the trolls used to communicate, while the other one was
laughing wildly. None of the adventurers could understand what the troll leader
was saying, but his words were all too clear as the trolls struck.
scored first blood on one of the trolls, tearing a long gash across its chest,
but the creature merely laughed and responded in kind. Crying out in pain, the
large man stumbled back, the momentum of his attack broken as he was knocked
off balance. Soon, it was all he could do to block the troll’s blows as he
struggled to strike back.
other side of the large log separating them, Seline shuddered as the troll
crashed into the protective barrier she’d cast between them. Backing up hastily,
she chanted frantically, releasing a series of magical bolts into the
creature’s face. The troll howled in pain, but simply shrugged off the bolts’
effects as he advanced once again. Lunging forward with his claws, he soon
found the limits of Seline’s barrier as one of his arms struck the barrier’s
top and the wizard was forced to duck the second. Lunging in to bite her, the
troll howled in pain as a burst of flame exploded in his face from Seline’s
hands. Stumbling back, the troll held its face, screaming in pain, as Seline
raised her wand. Another burst of what seemed like fog emerged from the wand,
but the troll screamed in pain at the painful burns the steam inflicted on him.
The troll sank to its knees, writhing in pain, before Seline threw a vial of
acid in its face, ending its misery.
hissed in pain as the troll he was fighting bit into his shoulder, but the
silent warrior grimly endured the pain. Taking advantage of the troll’s
proximity, Ma’non’go drove his fingers into the creature’s eyes, forcing it
back. Raising his trident, Ma’non’go repeatedly drove his trident into the
creature, tearing long, jagged wounds in its body. Frustratingly, however, the
creature just kept on coming, even as its wounds regenerated. One of its arms
lashed out and slashed his with its clawed hand, even as one of its legs lashed
out and slashed his with its taloned foot.
around, Ma’non’go saw another option. Raising his trident, he threw it forward,
sending the troll crashing headfirst into one of the nearby boulders the
creatures had thrown. Its head cracked open from the wound, the creature lay
there for several seconds before it managed to rise to its feet. Tearing
Ma’non’go’s trident out of its chest, the creature tossed the weapon aside,
before looking for his opponent. It soon caught sight of Ma’non’go, and more
particularly of the ignited flask of oil that struck it in the chest,
splattering burning oil all over its wounds.
facing Revafour was a cunning thing, constantly ducking and dodging and forcing
him to block its attacks from every angle. Unable to mount an effective
counterattack, Revafour could only manage minor strikes, most of which were
already healing from the troll’s regeneration anyway. Gritting his teeth, he
cursed in pain as the troll fastened its jaws on his arm, making him lose his
grip on his sword.
began to lash out with its claws at Revafour’s torso, but before it could it
suddenly released his arm. Crying out in pain, the troll stumbled off to the
side as Revafour saw the long burn mark down his back. He also saw Luna, who
smiled at him as she raised the mace-shaped flame in her hand.
only smiled back as they finished the wretched thing off.
thankful indeed for his shield, which shuddered as it took another blow from
the huge troll. While he’d managed to inflict several blows on the creature, it
hardly seemed to care about that, brutally striking at Weimar without even
trying to block his attacks. So far he’d been able to dodge or block all of its
attacks, but he knew his luck wouldn’t last forever.
The wretch is strong, but he’s not too fast, Weimar realized. Perhaps…
around quickly, he soon saw what he was looking for. Jumping back, he turned as
if to flee, the blood-crazed troll howling gleefully as it pursued him. It was
so consumed by bloodlust that it failed to notice the log Weimar deftly hopped
over, and fell flat on its face as it tripped.
around, Weimar tore a vicious gash in the side of the creature’s right head as
it tried to get up. The blow made it shudder and collapse on the ground again,
and Weimar moved to strike again. He stopped short at the sight of Amyalla
appearing as if out of nowhere, nimbly making her way up the troll’s back with
a vial in her hand. The troll’s left head turned around as if to bite her, but
she tossed the vial into its mouth, causing the troll’s mouth to slam shut on
began crying out in agony, smoke pouring from its mouth as it involuntarily
began swallowing the acid Amyalla had been carrying. The troll began to shudder
dreadfully, its neck and face turning a disgusting black in color, as the acid
began to melt it.
hardened adventurers, but even Amyalla and Weimar couldn’t help but shudder.
no sympathy for the troll as it writhed in agony, the flames consuming its
torso. He had more experience battling trolls than Amyalla or the humans-as his
older brother Tarnek had taught him, the best way to slay a troll was to take
out its joints, and gouge out its eyes, and then burn it while it was helpless.
His pick had served admirably in that regard, piercing the troll’s knee and
allowing him to slash its eyes, blinding it and leaving it wide open to the
flask of burning oil he struck it with.
around as the troll finally expired, Airk’s mood brightened as he saw that his
friends seemed mostly unscathed. Luna was already healing Revafour and
Ma’non’go, while the others were already searching the cavern. The cave was
smaller than Airk expected, being simply one large chamber filled with dozens
of the stinking nests the trolls made for themselves. There was a pile of
supplies haphazardly thrown into one corner by the largest nest, and Amyalla
was now digging through it. Airk went over to join them as Amyalla dragged a
large iron chest out of the pile, a wide smile on her face.
to search through the lead troll’s filthy nest for the key to the chest,
Amyalla had little trouble dealing with the padlock. Her smile was wide as she
considered the large pile of copper and silver coins, and Airk could see a few
jewels sparkling among the coins. To his surprise, there was also several
sheets of parchment, which he could see were written in the gnomish tongue.
“Let me see
those,” he asked, as Amyalla passed the parchments along to him. He read
through them intently as Revafour, Luna and Ma’non’go came up to join them,
ignoring the humans and halfling as they began gathering up the coins. So
focused was the gnome on his reading, that it was a long moment before he
realized that his friends were all staring at him expectantly.
sure you don’t want your share of this treasure?” Amyalla finally asked him,
raising an eyebrow.
reply, his eyes narrowing.
all…” he muttered.
we do?” Luna asked, concern evident in her voice.
Nothing,” Airk replied. “These parchments show why the trolls were rampaging
and attacking the people of places like Oakdale.”
What do you mean? Ma’non’go signed curiously.
were being paid to raid and plunder the surrounding communities,” Airk explained,
“and bring the treasure to their masters. These parchments give directions to
where they were to meet their employers.”
trolls were able to read that?” Seline asked incredulously.
two-headed trolls are cross-bred with ettins,” Airk explained. “Believe it or
not, they’re smarter than your average troll. What I find strange, though, is
why this was written in gnomish?”
should find out,” Luna said quietly. “Who’s to say they might not attack the
Flan and the other goodly people of the hills once again?”
deal with them, won’t we?” Weimar replied, a wicked grin crossing his face. “I
have to admit, I like the sound of that.”
brother,” Dennine said solemnly as he and Revafour clasped hands. “We cannot
thank you enough for all that you’ve done for us.”
only as we should,” Revafour replied with a nod. “Take care, and may Pelor’s
blessings continue to shine upon you.”
back, Revafour turned to join his companions, who had already mounted the
horses and ponies they’d bought from the residents of Oakdale. Soon, the
adventurers rode off, the waves and calls of gratitude of the Flan villagers
following them down the hill.
sighed as he watched Revafour and the others go, wondering what the future held
for the younger Flan. They had had their final conversation in their ancestral
language, and Dennine had not failed to notice how much more relaxed and at
ease Revafour seemed to be in speaking the old Flan tongue. Even with his
fellow adventurers, Revafour was somewhat withdrawn and on edge, uncomfortable
with fully opening up.
How many of us have such feelings still? Dennine thought to himself. We cannot change the past, but we cannot
help but be shaped by it.
How do we stay true to who we are, while still
moving forward, in this new world?
thought back to the last time the dwarves of the citadel of Greysmere had
visited Oakdale. The dwarves had told Dennine about a bitter feud between two
of the clans who once lived there, a conflict that had ended with both of them
driven out of the mountain fastness they called home. Now forced to wander,
they had eventually found new homes, but the pain and bitterness they’d endured
from their banishment had taken deep roots among them.
there was Dennine’s nephew Belden, who had left Oakdale to find his own way in
the world because he found village life intolerable. Dennine’s brother had been
less than pleased with his son’s choice, and he’d bluntly accused Belden of
abandoning his people and community. Belden had been less than pleased with the
accusation, and he’d left in a bitter acrimony, swearing that he would never
thought long about Belden, the dwarves and Revafour, wondering what to make of
long and hard, but he could not find an answer.
place, then?” Weimar whispered to Amyalla as she handed his telescope back to
Airk described from the documents,” Amyalla nodded, confirming Weimar’s own
suspicions. Two days of travel had brought the adventurers to where Airk said
the directions they’d found in the trolls’ lair were meant to lead the
monsters. Now, while the rest of the company prepared back at their campsite,
Weimar and Amyalla had gone ahead to scout out the area.
they set off through the woods to get a better look at the cavern up close. As
they walked, Amyalla noticed Weimar glancing all around him, searching for any
sort of signs of what might be passing through these woods. Focusing her ears,
Amyalla herself could hear little but the winds and the occasional twittering
of birds. They heard something rustling in the bushes ahead, but they could see
that it was simply a moose looking for food. The large beast began munching
contentedly on a nearby bush, causing Amyalla to smile briefly as she and
Weimar passed by it.
It doesn’t look like there’s much going on
thought to herself. Perhaps-
Weimar, Amyalla frowned with concern as she saw the grim look on his face.
Clearly, he was seeing something that she wasn’t, but she could not imagine
what it was.
have much time to ask about it, as they were soon at the edge of the clearing
Airk had mentioned. Taking care to remain concealed in the bushes, Weimar and
Amyalla caught sight of the dilapidated stone cabin at the base of the hill.
They could also hear the roar of a waterfall off in the distance, and knew that
they were in the right place. According to the directions, the way into the
dungeon ruins the creatures were based in was in the basement of the cabin. The
trolls were instructed to wait only in the main entrance, and the “masters”,
whoever they were, would come to them.
one another, Weimar and Amyalla were about to return to camp when Weimar froze.
Turning around and glancing back at the cabin, he and Amyalla saw a group of
cloaked figures emerge from the building and set off in another direction.
Amyalla did well to muffle her gasp of surprise as she recognized the figures
as gnomes. She couldn’t imagine what they would be doing consorting with
trolls, and by her glance at Weimar she could see that he was no more
enlightened than she was.
off once more, decidedly grimmer than when they’d first come out.
expected, Airk was not pleased to hear their news.
demanded to himself, as he finished concealing his pony along with the rest of
their mounts. “Why would they be consorting with trolls, of all things? What
would they have to gain from all that murder and looting?”
they were disguised as gnomes,” Seline offered to him as she handed him his
backpack. “They could be anything-goblins, magically altered humans, something
didn’t have the effect she’d hoped, as Airk only shook his head.
wrote those instructions wrote like a gnome,” he frowned. “We can usually tell
when humans or dwarves write in the gnomish tongue because they construct their
words and sentences in a way that’s more in line with their ancestral
languages. I imagine that’s how you and Luna probably sound to the Flan when
you speak their language?”
slightly embarrassed look on Seline’s face told him all he needed to know.
gnomes, all right,” Airk fumed, “and blood is on their hands. That’s not so
easily forgiven among gnomekind, any more than it is among any other race. What
kind of treachery…” he trailed off, before getting a faraway look in his eyes.
an increasing sense of alarm at the look on Airk’s face. He was clearly
thinking of something else, something clearly very unpleasant from the looks of
it. He flinched at her touch, shaking his head as if trying to shake something
he muttered, clearly trying to forget something. “Different peoples…new
blood…but always on their hands…”
Seline exclaimed, shaking his shoulder harder.
snapped back to reality, before looking around in a daze, as if he’d awoken
from a dream.
alright?” she asked, genuine concern in her voice as their friends approached.
memories,” Airk muttered absently. “They…it’s nothing. Come, let’s be off,” he
reached out and grabbed Airk’s shoulder as he passed by. As the gnome turned to
look at him, he began signing.
Your words say one thing, your features say
said, a pointed expression on his face. Are
you certain you’re capable of doing this?
deep breath, Airk nodded.
am,” he said. “Suffice to say that I have no tolerance for any among my own
people who consort with murder and robbery. I’ve experienced more than enough
of that to last a lifetime, and not among humans or humanoids,” he continued
Airk was calm as he led the way, but in his mind he could still hear the sounds
of axes clashing on shields, the retching of gnomes dying from poisonous fumes,
the laughter of the Steelheart dwarves…
them often, but all the more clearly now.