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Shadows of Undrentide by Max

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1 Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:27 am

Maxduelantus

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Head Overseer
SHADOWS OF UNDRENTIDE

PROLOGUE

The sorceress stood in the cave deep below the Nether Mountains, clutching her staff nervously. She loathed dealing with this obnoxious and overly self-confident dragon, but her employer was adamant about using all necessary means to retrieve the artifacts.

The great white wyrm stood silently in the middle of the cave, listening intently to her offer. It was not too difficult to convince this oversized lizard to play along – dragons loved intrigue, after all – but she wondered just how exactly she would be able to steal the magical items once the events were set into motion. Her gnoll slaves were efficient killers, and fearfully loyal to her, but the dragon’s kobolds were sneaky little creatures, capable of treachery and theft at the slightest provocation. She would have to act decisively once the artifacts were acquired, and use brute force to get what she wanted.

“What’s in it for me, J’Nah?” the expected question came and the sorceress bowed politely. This fat lizard dared to make such petty bargains with her!
“You mean, besides the opportunity to wreak splendid havoc on that puny human village, great one?” she purred in reply.

The great dragon unfolded his huge wings, causing her to flinch more than once.
“I can do that any day, and without your help. You must come up with a better deal, sorceress.”
“There is an artifact among the items I seek,” J’Nah began tentatively.
“I’m listening.”
“It is a dragon tooth, a magical item said to contain much power.”
“You have piqued my curiosity, J’Nah. Do continue.”
“Perhaps a dragon of your stature and prowess…” the sorceress crinkled her nose in disgust, “may find such an artifact useful.”
“I see. I get to keep the dragon tooth, while you shall retain what, exactly?”
“The tower statue,” the sorceress replied without hesitation.
“The tower statue,” the great dragon repeated each word thoughtfully. “It must be an artifact of great power indeed for you to desire it so much.”

The sorceress stiffened and shifted nervously. In truth, she knew nothing of the item’s true powers, only that her wretched employer desired it badly, above all other items.
“Just a simple statuette of Netherese origin, nothing more, I assure you,” J’Nah replied a bit too hastily, causing the dragon to squint his large emerald eyes in suspicion. “Something I require for my magical studies.”
“Well then, my little scholar, if you are so adamant about keeping the statue, I shall allow it.”

The sorceress breathed a sigh of relief.
“But I want the other items,” the dragon continued. “All of them. A fair trade by all means, don’t you think?”
The sorceress tried hard to conceal her hatred. This orc-eating lizard dared to speak to her this way! Yes, she would enjoy finding a willing dupe to cut off that ugly head and bring it back to her to keep as a trophy. Yes, she would enjoy that greatly!
“It is a deal, great one,” she replied through gritted teeth. “Just be sure to provide the tower statue once your kobolds raid the human village.”
“Worry not, sorceress. I shall certainly be sure to do that. Now leave me be, for I much desire to get back to attending to other pressing matters.”

The sorceress forced herself to bow politely one last time, and with a flick of her wrist, her magically projected image winked out from view.

☼☼☼☼☼

J’Nah opened her eyes, and with a feral growl released a searing bolt of lightning, immolating one of her gnoll bodyguards. The other creature opened its eyes wide in terror, but dared not move, dared not breathe while its hated mistress paced the room. The sorceress calmed somewhat, her pent up rage played out. She clutched her staff until her knuckles turned white and kicked the kneeling gnoll squarely in the face.

“That fat, ugly son of a lizard!” she screamed and kicked out again.

The gnoll dared not make a sound, preferring the beating to the terrible fate that befell its comrade.
“I cannot wait until his head rests on my trophy wall!”
The sorceress bent low and slapped the kneeling gnoll hard across the hairy snout.
“Don’t just stand there, idiot! Tell me the poison is ready!”
“It is ready, mistress,” the gnoll replied hastily.
“Good. Take a small contingent of warriors and deliver the vial to the dragon. Go!”
“Yes, mistress,” the gnoll replied, bowing reverently and backpedaling out of the room before the volatile woman changed her mind.

“I do hope the lizard drinks it himself and dies a horrible death,” the sorceress grumbled.
SHADOWS OF UNDRENTIDE

PROLOGUE

The sorceress stood in the cave deep below the Nether Mountains, clutching her staff nervously. She loathed dealing with this obnoxious and overly self-confident dragon, but her employer was adamant about using all necessary means to retrieve the artifacts.

The great white wyrm stood silently in the middle of the cave, listening intently to her offer. It was not too difficult to convince this oversized lizard to play along – dragons loved intrigue, after all – but she wondered just how exactly she would be able to steal the magical items once the events were set into motion. Her gnoll slaves were efficient killers, and fearfully loyal to her, but the dragon’s kobolds were sneaky little creatures, capable of treachery and theft at the slightest provocation. She would have to act decisively once the artifacts were acquired, and use brute force to get what she wanted.

“What’s in it for me, J’Nah?” the expected question came and the sorceress bowed politely. This fat lizard dared to make such petty bargains with her!
“You mean, besides the opportunity to wreak splendid havoc on that puny human village, great one?” she purred in reply.

The great dragon unfolded his huge wings, causing her to flinch more than once.
“I can do that any day, and without your help. You must come up with a better deal, sorceress.”
“There is an artifact among the items I seek,” J’Nah began tentatively.
“I’m listening.”
“It is a dragon tooth, a magical item said to contain much power.”
“You have piqued my curiosity, J’Nah. Do continue.”
“Perhaps a dragon of your stature and prowess…” the sorceress crinkled her nose in disgust, “may find such an artifact useful.”
“I see. I get to keep the dragon tooth, while you shall retain what, exactly?”
“The tower statue,” the sorceress replied without hesitation.
“The tower statue,” the great dragon repeated each word thoughtfully. “It must be an artifact of great power indeed for you to desire it so much.”

The sorceress stiffened and shifted nervously. In truth, she knew nothing of the item’s true powers, only that her wretched employer desired it badly, above all other items.
“Just a simple statuette of Netherese origin, nothing more, I assure you,” J’Nah replied a bit too hastily, causing the dragon to squint his large emerald eyes in suspicion. “Something I require for my magical studies.”
“Well then, my little scholar, if you are so adamant about keeping the statue, I shall allow it.”

The sorceress breathed a sigh of relief.
“But I want the other items,” the dragon continued. “All of them. A fair trade by all means, don’t you think?”
The sorceress tried hard to conceal her hatred. This orc-eating lizard dared to speak to her this way! Yes, she would enjoy finding a willing dupe to cut off that ugly head and bring it back to her to keep as a trophy. Yes, she would enjoy that greatly!
“It is a deal, great one,” she replied through gritted teeth. “Just be sure to provide the tower statue once your kobolds raid the human village.”
“Worry not, sorceress. I shall certainly be sure to do that. Now leave me be, for I much desire to get back to attending to other pressing matters.”

The sorceress forced herself to bow politely one last time, and with a flick of her wrist, her magically projected image winked out from view.

☼☼☼☼☼

J’Nah opened her eyes, and with a feral growl released a searing bolt of lightning, immolating one of her gnoll bodyguards. The other creature opened its eyes wide in terror, but dared not move, dared not breathe while its hated mistress paced the room. The sorceress calmed somewhat, her pent up rage played out. She clutched her staff until her knuckles turned white and kicked the kneeling gnoll squarely in the face.

“That fat, ugly son of a lizard!” she screamed and kicked out again.

The gnoll dared not make a sound, preferring the beating to the terrible fate that befell its comrade.
“I cannot wait until his head rests on my trophy wall!”
The sorceress bent low and slapped the kneeling gnoll hard across the hairy snout.
“Don’t just stand there, idiot! Tell me the poison is ready!”
“It is ready, mistress,” the gnoll replied hastily.
“Good. Take a small contingent of warriors and deliver the vial to the dragon. Go!”
“Yes, mistress,” the gnoll replied, bowing reverently and backpedaling out of the room before the volatile woman changed her mind.

“I do hope the lizard drinks it himself and dies a horrible death,” the sorceress grumbled.SHADOWS OF UNDRENTIDE

PROLOGUE

The sorceress stood in the cave deep below the Nether Mountains, clutching her staff nervously. She loathed dealing with this obnoxious and overly self-confident dragon, but her employer was adamant about using all necessary means to retrieve the artifacts.

The great white wyrm stood silently in the middle of the cave, listening intently to her offer. It was not too difficult to convince this oversized lizard to play along – dragons loved intrigue, after all – but she wondered just how exactly she would be able to steal the magical items once the events were set into motion. Her gnoll slaves were efficient killers, and fearfully loyal to her, but the dragon’s kobolds were sneaky little creatures, capable of treachery and theft at the slightest provocation. She would have to act decisively once the artifacts were acquired, and use brute force to get what she wanted.

“What’s in it for me, J’Nah?” the expected question came and the sorceress bowed politely. This fat lizard dared to make such petty bargains with her!
“You mean, besides the opportunity to wreak splendid havoc on that puny human village, great one?” she purred in reply.

The great dragon unfolded his huge wings, causing her to flinch more than once.
“I can do that any day, and without your help. You must come up with a better deal, sorceress.”
“There is an artifact among the items I seek,” J’Nah began tentatively.
“I’m listening.”
“It is a dragon tooth, a magical item said to contain much power.”
“You have piqued my curiosity, J’Nah. Do continue.”
“Perhaps a dragon of your stature and prowess…” the sorceress crinkled her nose in disgust, “may find such an artifact useful.”
“I see. I get to keep the dragon tooth, while you shall retain what, exactly?”
“The tower statue,” the sorceress replied without hesitation.
“The tower statue,” the great dragon repeated each word thoughtfully. “It must be an artifact of great power indeed for you to desire it so much.”

The sorceress stiffened and shifted nervously. In truth, she knew nothing of the item’s true powers, only that her wretched employer desired it badly, above all other items.
“Just a simple statuette of Netherese origin, nothing more, I assure you,” J’Nah replied a bit too hastily, causing the dragon to squint his large emerald eyes in suspicion. “Something I require for my magical studies.”
“Well then, my little scholar, if you are so adamant about keeping the statue, I shall allow it.”

The sorceress breathed a sigh of relief.
“But I want the other items,” the dragon continued. “All of them. A fair trade by all means, don’t you think?”
The sorceress tried hard to conceal her hatred. This orc-eating lizard dared to speak to her this way! Yes, she would enjoy finding a willing dupe to cut off that ugly head and bring it back to her to keep as a trophy. Yes, she would enjoy that greatly!
“It is a deal, great one,” she replied through gritted teeth. “Just be sure to provide the tower statue once your kobolds raid the human village.”
“Worry not, sorceress. I shall certainly be sure to do that. Now leave me be, for I much desire to get back to attending to other pressing matters.”

The sorceress forced herself to bow politely one last time, and with a flick of her wrist, her magically projected image winked out from view.

☼☼☼☼☼

J’Nah opened her eyes, and with a feral growl released a searing bolt of lightning, immolating one of her gnoll bodyguards. The other creature opened its eyes wide in terror, but dared not move, dared not breathe while its hated mistress paced the room. The sorceress calmed somewhat, her pent up rage played out. She clutched her staff until her knuckles turned white and kicked the kneeling gnoll squarely in the face.

“That fat, ugly son of a lizard!” she screamed and kicked out again.

The gnoll dared not make a sound, preferring the beating to the terrible fate that befell its comrade.
“I cannot wait until his head rests on my trophy wall!”
The sorceress bent low and slapped the kneeling gnoll hard across the hairy snout.
“Don’t just stand there, idiot! Tell me the poison is ready!”
“It is ready, mistress,” the gnoll replied hastily.
“Good. Take a small contingent of warriors and deliver the vial to the dragon. Go!”
“Yes, mistress,” the gnoll replied, bowing reverently and backpedaling out of the room before the volatile woman changed her mind.

“I do hope the lizard drinks it himself and dies a horrible death,” the sorceress grumbled.
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2 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:28 am

Maxduelantus

avatar
Head Overseer
CHAPTER 1

HILLTOP

Yanny Fireblazer awoke in a cold sweat. Every night, for the past tenday, the same nightmare invaded his sleep. He dreamt that Master Drogan, his beloved mentor, was poisoned, collapsing on the floor of his very own hut and passing out from pain. Having no knowledge of how to use divine powers of healing, Yanny could do nothing for his teacher, whose facial features were quickly turning to shades of sickly pale color and whose breath was already coming in forced gasps.

Yanny did not know the meaning or the significance of this recurring nightmare, but with each night, every vivid detail of the dream was intensifying. Yanny could smell the stench coming from the kobold raiding party that invaded Master Drogan’s home, he could hear the shouts of battle and the clang of metal against metal as the apprentices were putting up a fight, and he could see the sparkling energies of a protective spell that Master Drogan was hastily conjuring up. Yanny could see the poisoned bolt swooshing past him in slow motion, flying unerringly towards its target. He was watching it all, frozen in motion, unable to help, unable to change the course of events.

He had told Master Drogan about his dream the first time it invaded his usually peaceful slumber, but the stocky dwarf only laughed heartily in reply, “Worry not, my boy! Aye, it would take more than a stinkin’ poisoned bolt to fell this Harper! And besides, you did not actually see me die in your dream, lad, and that in itself is meaningful.”

With that, Master Drogan would wink mysteriously at Yanny, pat the young lad on the shoulder, and go about his business, humming an old Harper tune.

Yanny sighed in frustration, for his numerous attempts to discover the meaning of his dream usually resulted in utter failures. Sometimes, during the divination sessions, he would see images of a great white dragon, a parched desert, and a mysterious hooded figure leaping through a portal… always in the same sequence.

Yanny ran his fingers nervously through his thick hair, offered a quick prayer to Mystra, and turned his attention to more pressing matters.

There was much to be done this day.

Yanny was a follower of Mystra, and he figured that the Lady of Mysteries was warning him of the impending attack, planting visions of battle into his dreams. While Yanny did not know the cause of the attack, he believed it would come very soon, and he planned to be ready for it.

The young apprentice looked at the luxurious pile of fluffy pillows that served as a bed to his pet familiar – a miniature red dragon – and smiled despite the ominous feelings that were weighing heavily on his chest. Dragosha was snoring contentedly, once in a while exhaling a small cloud of fiery vapor that dissipated harmlessly into the air.

Yanny remembered fondly how, many years ago, he had acquired at a great cost a dragon egg from a traveling merchant Szaren, a Red Wizard of Thay. It had cost him much gold, almost too much, swiftly draining a few years worth of his savings, the savings he worked so very hard to obtain though his apprenticeship to Master Drogan.

But Yanny couldn’t care less about material wealth, eagerly exchanging the gold for the egg that contained inside a life essence of a wondrous animal that would grow up to be his friend. Yanny went through great troubles tending to the needs of as yet un-hatched wyrmling, placing the egg in a small tub of water, constantly heating it up to comfortable temperatures and pouring soothing herbal mixtures into the “nest” to keep the life essence inside the egg safe and happy.

When the marvelous wyrmling finally hatched, Yanny readily assumed the role of a responsible parent, tending to the child familiar’s every need, feeding it tasty cow milk and sweet forest berries, changing the little fire-breather’s soiled sheets, and even singing nighttime lullabies.

The word “d’ra’go’sha” translated as “my dear dragon” in ancient Draconic, and Yanny thought it a fitting name for his pet familiar.

Presently, Dragosha had reached maturity, resembling a large bird, albeit with a somewhat scaly hide, leathery wings, and a barbed tail coated in an oily substance that could put a hill giant to sleep in a few heartbeats. Although pseudodragons never reached the gargantuan levels of physique inherent to true dragons, they did retain certain natural abilities of their ancestors – Dragosha had the ability to breathe fire, especially after eating large portions of spicy meals.

Seeing his pet familiar all grown up made Yanny smile again and he reached out to gently awake his friend, petting his leathery neck and whispering softly.

“Well met, oh noble dragon prince of Hilltop, who likes to sleep for many, many days. It is quite fortunate that Master Drogan does not require the services of Dragosha. Otherwise, the most magnificent red wyrmling would have a hard life in Hilltop, indeed.”

Dragosha immediately opened his emerald green eyes that lit up with recognition and sparkled with deep intelligence.

“Not so, master, not so,” he croaked in a sleepy voice. “Dragosha is awake and ready to serve, yes he is. Master needs only to feed Dragosha first, but after, Dragosha knows his duties. Dragosha is to accompany master on a scouting mission beyond the Hilltop farm in anticipation of a kobold raiding party.”

Yanny chuckled quietly and reached into his backpack, producing a few morsels for his pet familiar – dried strips of seasoned meat and sweet berries. Dragosha’s eyes lit up in excitement and he gulped down the tasty treats without even chewing.

“A much tastier meal awaits Dragosha once we make our way to the herbalist Farghan,” Yanny promised and began gathering his equipment.

Dragosha flapped his leathery wings and hooted in anticipation – Farghan cooked a fine dawnfry feast whenever Yanny stopped by to purchase wares.

The young apprentice strapped on his matching forest green breeches and leather vest – his signature ranger gear – and fastened his camouflaging cloak with a simple-looking gold coin brooch that contained an intricately etched design of seven purple stars in a circular pattern, his holy symbol of Mystra.

Yanny never traveled without it, for although Mystra did not grant any healing spells, the young apprentice believed that the brooch was a lucky charm of sorts. He had enchanted the brooch himself in Master Drogan’s alchemy lab a few years ago. First, he had asked the local smith Fiona to etch the intricate design onto the surface of a gold coin that was crafted into a brooch. Next, he had sprinkled a pinch of fluorspar dust upon the surface of the trinket to give it color. And finally, he had placed a permanent detection dweomer upon the item so that it would emit a soft blue glow whenever a presence of evil was detected.

Yanny moved methodically, putting on his soft-soled leather boots that were ideal for hiking long distances through the wilderness of Hilltop forests and mountains. After strapping on his belt, Yanny quickly examined the jeweled rapier and the parrying dagger – his weapons of choice for melee combat – before replacing them back into scabbards and strapping them to his belt.

The rapier had a fire agate embedded into the hilt and was also enchanted by Yanny to grant him the ability to incant many offensive spells through the weapon without the need for material components or complicated hand gestures, simply speaking the arcane words even while fighting in melee combat.

Next, Yanny decided it prudent to conceal a second dagger inside one of his boots, in case this day proved to be more eventful than the last. Finally, he belted the pouch that contained his spell components and grabbed his backpack that contained some dry food rations, a torch, a few healing potions, and his spellbook.

Satisfied, he smiled at Dragosha for the third time, for he truly loved his pet familiar and showed it at every opportunity, and they both quietly exited the room.
CHAPTER 1

HILLTOP

Yanny Fireblazer awoke in a cold sweat. Every night, for the past tenday, the same nightmare invaded his sleep. He dreamt that Master Drogan, his beloved mentor, was poisoned, collapsing on the floor of his very own hut and passing out from pain. Having no knowledge of how to use divine powers of healing, Yanny could do nothing for his teacher, whose facial features were quickly turning to shades of sickly pale color and whose breath was already coming in forced gasps.

Yanny did not know the meaning or the significance of this recurring nightmare, but with each night, every vivid detail of the dream was intensifying. Yanny could smell the stench coming from the kobold raiding party that invaded Master Drogan’s home, he could hear the shouts of battle and the clang of metal against metal as the apprentices were putting up a fight, and he could see the sparkling energies of a protective spell that Master Drogan was hastily conjuring up. Yanny could see the poisoned bolt swooshing past him in slow motion, flying unerringly towards its target. He was watching it all, frozen in motion, unable to help, unable to change the course of events.

He had told Master Drogan about his dream the first time it invaded his usually peaceful slumber, but the stocky dwarf only laughed heartily in reply, “Worry not, my boy! Aye, it would take more than a stinkin’ poisoned bolt to fell this Harper! And besides, you did not actually see me die in your dream, lad, and that in itself is meaningful.”

With that, Master Drogan would wink mysteriously at Yanny, pat the young lad on the shoulder, and go about his business, humming an old Harper tune.

Yanny sighed in frustration, for his numerous attempts to discover the meaning of his dream usually resulted in utter failures. Sometimes, during the divination sessions, he would see images of a great white dragon, a parched desert, and a mysterious hooded figure leaping through a portal… always in the same sequence.

Yanny ran his fingers nervously through his thick hair, offered a quick prayer to Mystra, and turned his attention to more pressing matters.

There was much to be done this day.

Yanny was a follower of Mystra, and he figured that the Lady of Mysteries was warning him of the impending attack, planting visions of battle into his dreams. While Yanny did not know the cause of the attack, he believed it would come very soon, and he planned to be ready for it.

The young apprentice looked at the luxurious pile of fluffy pillows that served as a bed to his pet familiar – a miniature red dragon – and smiled despite the ominous feelings that were weighing heavily on his chest. Dragosha was snoring contentedly, once in a while exhaling a small cloud of fiery vapor that dissipated harmlessly into the air.

Yanny remembered fondly how, many years ago, he had acquired at a great cost a dragon egg from a traveling merchant Szaren, a Red Wizard of Thay. It had cost him much gold, almost too much, swiftly draining a few years worth of his savings, the savings he worked so very hard to obtain though his apprenticeship to Master Drogan.

But Yanny couldn’t care less about material wealth, eagerly exchanging the gold for the egg that contained inside a life essence of a wondrous animal that would grow up to be his friend. Yanny went through great troubles tending to the needs of as yet un-hatched wyrmling, placing the egg in a small tub of water, constantly heating it up to comfortable temperatures and pouring soothing herbal mixtures into the “nest” to keep the life essence inside the egg safe and happy.

When the marvelous wyrmling finally hatched, Yanny readily assumed the role of a responsible parent, tending to the child familiar’s every need, feeding it tasty cow milk and sweet forest berries, changing the little fire-breather’s soiled sheets, and even singing nighttime lullabies.

The word “d’ra’go’sha” translated as “my dear dragon” in ancient Draconic, and Yanny thought it a fitting name for his pet familiar.

Presently, Dragosha had reached maturity, resembling a large bird, albeit with a somewhat scaly hide, leathery wings, and a barbed tail coated in an oily substance that could put a hill giant to sleep in a few heartbeats. Although pseudodragons never reached the gargantuan levels of physique inherent to true dragons, they did retain certain natural abilities of their ancestors – Dragosha had the ability to breathe fire, especially after eating large portions of spicy meals.

Seeing his pet familiar all grown up made Yanny smile again and he reached out to gently awake his friend, petting his leathery neck and whispering softly.

“Well met, oh noble dragon prince of Hilltop, who likes to sleep for many, many days. It is quite fortunate that Master Drogan does not require the services of Dragosha. Otherwise, the most magnificent red wyrmling would have a hard life in Hilltop, indeed.”

Dragosha immediately opened his emerald green eyes that lit up with recognition and sparkled with deep intelligence.

“Not so, master, not so,” he croaked in a sleepy voice. “Dragosha is awake and ready to serve, yes he is. Master needs only to feed Dragosha first, but after, Dragosha knows his duties. Dragosha is to accompany master on a scouting mission beyond the Hilltop farm in anticipation of a kobold raiding party.”

Yanny chuckled quietly and reached into his backpack, producing a few morsels for his pet familiar – dried strips of seasoned meat and sweet berries. Dragosha’s eyes lit up in excitement and he gulped down the tasty treats without even chewing.

“A much tastier meal awaits Dragosha once we make our way to the herbalist Farghan,” Yanny promised and began gathering his equipment.

Dragosha flapped his leathery wings and hooted in anticipation – Farghan cooked a fine dawnfry feast whenever Yanny stopped by to purchase wares.

The young apprentice strapped on his matching forest green breeches and leather vest – his signature ranger gear – and fastened his camouflaging cloak with a simple-looking gold coin brooch that contained an intricately etched design of seven purple stars in a circular pattern, his holy symbol of Mystra.

Yanny never traveled without it, for although Mystra did not grant any healing spells, the young apprentice believed that the brooch was a lucky charm of sorts. He had enchanted the brooch himself in Master Drogan’s alchemy lab a few years ago. First, he had asked the local smith Fiona to etch the intricate design onto the surface of a gold coin that was crafted into a brooch. Next, he had sprinkled a pinch of fluorspar dust upon the surface of the trinket to give it color. And finally, he had placed a permanent detection dweomer upon the item so that it would emit a soft blue glow whenever a presence of evil was detected.

Yanny moved methodically, putting on his soft-soled leather boots that were ideal for hiking long distances through the wilderness of Hilltop forests and mountains. After strapping on his belt, Yanny quickly examined the jeweled rapier and the parrying dagger – his weapons of choice for melee combat – before replacing them back into scabbards and strapping them to his belt.

The rapier had a fire agate embedded into the hilt and was also enchanted by Yanny to grant him the ability to incant many offensive spells through the weapon without the need for material components or complicated hand gestures, simply speaking the arcane words even while fighting in melee combat.

Next, Yanny decided it prudent to conceal a second dagger inside one of his boots, in case this day proved to be more eventful than the last. Finally, he belted the pouch that contained his spell components and grabbed his backpack that contained some dry food rations, a torch, a few healing potions, and his spellbook.

Satisfied, he smiled at Dragosha for the third time, for he truly loved his pet familiar and showed it at every opportunity, and they both quietly exited the room.CHAPTER 1

HILLTOP

Yanny Fireblazer awoke in a cold sweat. Every night, for the past tenday, the same nightmare invaded his sleep. He dreamt that Master Drogan, his beloved mentor, was poisoned, collapsing on the floor of his very own hut and passing out from pain. Having no knowledge of how to use divine powers of healing, Yanny could do nothing for his teacher, whose facial features were quickly turning to shades of sickly pale color and whose breath was already coming in forced gasps.

Yanny did not know the meaning or the significance of this recurring nightmare, but with each night, every vivid detail of the dream was intensifying. Yanny could smell the stench coming from the kobold raiding party that invaded Master Drogan’s home, he could hear the shouts of battle and the clang of metal against metal as the apprentices were putting up a fight, and he could see the sparkling energies of a protective spell that Master Drogan was hastily conjuring up. Yanny could see the poisoned bolt swooshing past him in slow motion, flying unerringly towards its target. He was watching it all, frozen in motion, unable to help, unable to change the course of events.

He had told Master Drogan about his dream the first time it invaded his usually peaceful slumber, but the stocky dwarf only laughed heartily in reply, “Worry not, my boy! Aye, it would take more than a stinkin’ poisoned bolt to fell this Harper! And besides, you did not actually see me die in your dream, lad, and that in itself is meaningful.”

With that, Master Drogan would wink mysteriously at Yanny, pat the young lad on the shoulder, and go about his business, humming an old Harper tune.

Yanny sighed in frustration, for his numerous attempts to discover the meaning of his dream usually resulted in utter failures. Sometimes, during the divination sessions, he would see images of a great white dragon, a parched desert, and a mysterious hooded figure leaping through a portal… always in the same sequence.

Yanny ran his fingers nervously through his thick hair, offered a quick prayer to Mystra, and turned his attention to more pressing matters.

There was much to be done this day.

Yanny was a follower of Mystra, and he figured that the Lady of Mysteries was warning him of the impending attack, planting visions of battle into his dreams. While Yanny did not know the cause of the attack, he believed it would come very soon, and he planned to be ready for it.

The young apprentice looked at the luxurious pile of fluffy pillows that served as a bed to his pet familiar – a miniature red dragon – and smiled despite the ominous feelings that were weighing heavily on his chest. Dragosha was snoring contentedly, once in a while exhaling a small cloud of fiery vapor that dissipated harmlessly into the air.

Yanny remembered fondly how, many years ago, he had acquired at a great cost a dragon egg from a traveling merchant Szaren, a Red Wizard of Thay. It had cost him much gold, almost too much, swiftly draining a few years worth of his savings, the savings he worked so very hard to obtain though his apprenticeship to Master Drogan.

But Yanny couldn’t care less about material wealth, eagerly exchanging the gold for the egg that contained inside a life essence of a wondrous animal that would grow up to be his friend. Yanny went through great troubles tending to the needs of as yet un-hatched wyrmling, placing the egg in a small tub of water, constantly heating it up to comfortable temperatures and pouring soothing herbal mixtures into the “nest” to keep the life essence inside the egg safe and happy.

When the marvelous wyrmling finally hatched, Yanny readily assumed the role of a responsible parent, tending to the child familiar’s every need, feeding it tasty cow milk and sweet forest berries, changing the little fire-breather’s soiled sheets, and even singing nighttime lullabies.

The word “d’ra’go’sha” translated as “my dear dragon” in ancient Draconic, and Yanny thought it a fitting name for his pet familiar.

Presently, Dragosha had reached maturity, resembling a large bird, albeit with a somewhat scaly hide, leathery wings, and a barbed tail coated in an oily substance that could put a hill giant to sleep in a few heartbeats. Although pseudodragons never reached the gargantuan levels of physique inherent to true dragons, they did retain certain natural abilities of their ancestors – Dragosha had the ability to breathe fire, especially after eating large portions of spicy meals.

Seeing his pet familiar all grown up made Yanny smile again and he reached out to gently awake his friend, petting his leathery neck and whispering softly.

“Well met, oh noble dragon prince of Hilltop, who likes to sleep for many, many days. It is quite fortunate that Master Drogan does not require the services of Dragosha. Otherwise, the most magnificent red wyrmling would have a hard life in Hilltop, indeed.”

Dragosha immediately opened his emerald green eyes that lit up with recognition and sparkled with deep intelligence.

“Not so, master, not so,” he croaked in a sleepy voice. “Dragosha is awake and ready to serve, yes he is. Master needs only to feed Dragosha first, but after, Dragosha knows his duties. Dragosha is to accompany master on a scouting mission beyond the Hilltop farm in anticipation of a kobold raiding party.”

Yanny chuckled quietly and reached into his backpack, producing a few morsels for his pet familiar – dried strips of seasoned meat and sweet berries. Dragosha’s eyes lit up in excitement and he gulped down the tasty treats without even chewing.

“A much tastier meal awaits Dragosha once we make our way to the herbalist Farghan,” Yanny promised and began gathering his equipment.

Dragosha flapped his leathery wings and hooted in anticipation – Farghan cooked a fine dawnfry feast whenever Yanny stopped by to purchase wares.

The young apprentice strapped on his matching forest green breeches and leather vest – his signature ranger gear – and fastened his camouflaging cloak with a simple-looking gold coin brooch that contained an intricately etched design of seven purple stars in a circular pattern, his holy symbol of Mystra.

Yanny never traveled without it, for although Mystra did not grant any healing spells, the young apprentice believed that the brooch was a lucky charm of sorts. He had enchanted the brooch himself in Master Drogan’s alchemy lab a few years ago. First, he had asked the local smith Fiona to etch the intricate design onto the surface of a gold coin that was crafted into a brooch. Next, he had sprinkled a pinch of fluorspar dust upon the surface of the trinket to give it color. And finally, he had placed a permanent detection dweomer upon the item so that it would emit a soft blue glow whenever a presence of evil was detected.

Yanny moved methodically, putting on his soft-soled leather boots that were ideal for hiking long distances through the wilderness of Hilltop forests and mountains. After strapping on his belt, Yanny quickly examined the jeweled rapier and the parrying dagger – his weapons of choice for melee combat – before replacing them back into scabbards and strapping them to his belt.

The rapier had a fire agate embedded into the hilt and was also enchanted by Yanny to grant him the ability to incant many offensive spells through the weapon without the need for material components or complicated hand gestures, simply speaking the arcane words even while fighting in melee combat.

Next, Yanny decided it prudent to conceal a second dagger inside one of his boots, in case this day proved to be more eventful than the last. Finally, he belted the pouch that contained his spell components and grabbed his backpack that contained some dry food rations, a torch, a few healing potions, and his spellbook.

Satisfied, he smiled at Dragosha for the third time, for he truly loved his pet familiar and showed it at every opportunity, and they both quietly exited the room.
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3 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:29 am

Maxduelantus

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Head Overseer
The second floor of the school housed Master Drogan’s private chambers, the apprentices’ quarters, and also contained a small library filled with books of arcane knowledge, an armory filled with weapons of all sorts, and an alchemy lab that Yanny often used to perfect his enchanting skills.

Three more apprentices, beside Yanny, were currently residing in Master Drogan’s house, all of them asleep at such an early hour.
Xanos Messarmos was a skilled, if somewhat arrogant half-orcish sorcerer apprentice who liked to boast a lot about his magical prowess.
Dorna Trapspringer was a sneaky dwarven woman who came to Hilltop a few years ago to study the divine magic.
Mischa Waymeet was a young human girl with a beautiful face, by far the least experienced student in Master Drogan’s service. She aspired to become a paladin of great skill, but she had much to learn about the virtues of kindness and forgiveness.

Yanny recalled how, just two moons ago, the apprentices were discussing amongst each other their respective training, wondering if Master Drogan deemed them ready to graduate.
“Tell me, Yanny,” Xanos was saying in his usual mocking voice, “surely you have heard how our dear Mischa fared in her last test?”
“I have had enough of your jibes, Xanos,” Mischa exclaimed, her face turning bright red. “You would have done no better.”
“On the contrary, dear lady, I tend to do exactly what Master Drogan asks me to do. If the good dwarf says to rescue the goblin child, then I rescue the goblin child! It is not so difficult.”
“I somehow doubt Master Drogan would ask you to rescue anything that he didn’t expect you to rob, first,” Dorna said with a chuckle.

Xanos laughed at that remark and replied, “You are the aspiring thief amongst us, little Dorna, not I!”
“But a goblin is an evil creature, child or no,” Mischa continued her reasoning, visibly frustrated. “How can I be expected to lend it aid? It was not a fair test of my abilities.”
“You would leave a child to die, Mischa?” Yanny asked incredulously. “That cannot truly be the way of a paladin…”
“You are not a paladin, Yanny. I would not expect you to understand. A creature of evil deserves no mercy!”
“Oh, and of course the child could not be raised differently, could it?” Xanos taunted the young lass. “It will always be an evil creature?”
“This is not about you, Xanos… and besides, you have human blood within to redeem you from your orcish heritage.”
“You humans are all the same,” Xanos replied angrily. “Sometimes I wonder just how redeeming my human blood really is.”
“Perhaps there is a lesson to learn in Master Drogan’s test that you have not thought of yet, Mischa,” Dorna said comfortingly. “Master Drogan tests us all, so that we reach the potential we came to his school to achieve. Although our tests may be different, the goal is the same. Master Drogan is a very wise dwarf.”

“It is said he was a great adventurer before he retired,” Xanos added, this time in a much calmer voice. “That is what I hope to benefit from – his wisdom.”
“I don’t know,” Mischa said, shaking her head. “Perhaps there is a lesson in Master Drogan’s test that I have not yet considered…”
“You have much to learn about the world, young paladin of Mystra,” Dorna said softly.
“And you should begin by throwing away your prejudices,” Xanos added. “I mean, when I first came to this town, I was shunned by the people because of my heritage… my orcish half was all they could see… except Master Drogan. You see, the people here are country folk and woodsmen. They have a harsh acceptance of the realities around them, and are very cynical of the good intentions of others. But I suppose I do not hold it against them any longer… In the years I have been here, they have grown on me, I guess.”
“Perhaps there is truth in your words, Xanos,” Mischa mused with a soft chuckle. “But I still consider you a loud-mouthed brute.”
“That I am, dear Mischa,” Xanos laughed heartily. “That I am!”

Yanny wondered again if Mischa could ever find it in her heart to rescue a goblin child. After all, a true paladin should always look beyond a creature’s heritage to discover positive traits within. It was possible that certain goblinoid creatures could be good-natured, just as it was possible for certain humans to be evil.

Yanny decided that she could find it in her heart to rescue a goblin child… eventually.

☼☼☼☼☼

The spacious main room downstairs served as a library of Faerûnian lore. The numerous bookshelves were filled with tomes that documented the entire history of the fair continent, describing in detail the long forgotten empires, the powerful magical items, and the wondrous artifacts. Some books described the concepts of planar travel while others contained detailed descriptions of every imaginable creature that inhabited Faerûn.
The library was bathed in soft warmth that emanated from the nearby fireplace. It provided a small source of light, but otherwise the room was sheathed in silent darkness at such an early hour.
The main room was amply furnished with a soft-cushioned sofa and a dozen of chairs. Master Drogan often gathered his apprentices around the cozy fireplace to tell breathtaking tales of valor and adventure from his glory days as a Harper.
The door near the stairs led into the dining hall that was furnished with a large hardwood table and enough chairs to accommodate all of the apprentices and more than a few weary travelers. A large globe atlas of Toril stood atop the table and numerous maps covered the walls.
Directly opposite from the dining hall, another door led into the kitchen, where the apprentices usually took turns to cook tasty meals.
A third door, between the kitchen and the fireplace, led into Master Drogan’s personal laboratory and was usually locked and warded against intrusion. Master Drogan’s faerie dragon familiar, Riisi, guarded the laboratory from within.
The fourth door, directly opposite from the fireplace, served as the entrance into the house. A large glass window next to it was kept draped ever since Mater Drogan had learned from Yanny about the impending attack.

Taking care not to make any noise, Yanny and Dragosha made their way down the stairs into the main room of the complex, and then outside into the early dawn.
The second floor of the school housed Master Drogan’s private chambers, the apprentices’ quarters, and also contained a small library filled with books of arcane knowledge, an armory filled with weapons of all sorts, and an alchemy lab that Yanny often used to perfect his enchanting skills.

Three more apprentices, beside Yanny, were currently residing in Master Drogan’s house, all of them asleep at such an early hour.
Xanos Messarmos was a skilled, if somewhat arrogant half-orcish sorcerer apprentice who liked to boast a lot about his magical prowess.
Dorna Trapspringer was a sneaky dwarven woman who came to Hilltop a few years ago to study the divine magic.
Mischa Waymeet was a young human girl with a beautiful face, by far the least experienced student in Master Drogan’s service. She aspired to become a paladin of great skill, but she had much to learn about the virtues of kindness and forgiveness.

Yanny recalled how, just two moons ago, the apprentices were discussing amongst each other their respective training, wondering if Master Drogan deemed them ready to graduate.
“Tell me, Yanny,” Xanos was saying in his usual mocking voice, “surely you have heard how our dear Mischa fared in her last test?”
“I have had enough of your jibes, Xanos,” Mischa exclaimed, her face turning bright red. “You would have done no better.”
“On the contrary, dear lady, I tend to do exactly what Master Drogan asks me to do. If the good dwarf says to rescue the goblin child, then I rescue the goblin child! It is not so difficult.”
“I somehow doubt Master Drogan would ask you to rescue anything that he didn’t expect you to rob, first,” Dorna said with a chuckle.

Xanos laughed at that remark and replied, “You are the aspiring thief amongst us, little Dorna, not I!”
“But a goblin is an evil creature, child or no,” Mischa continued her reasoning, visibly frustrated. “How can I be expected to lend it aid? It was not a fair test of my abilities.”
“You would leave a child to die, Mischa?” Yanny asked incredulously. “That cannot truly be the way of a paladin…”
“You are not a paladin, Yanny. I would not expect you to understand. A creature of evil deserves no mercy!”
“Oh, and of course the child could not be raised differently, could it?” Xanos taunted the young lass. “It will always be an evil creature?”
“This is not about you, Xanos… and besides, you have human blood within to redeem you from your orcish heritage.”
“You humans are all the same,” Xanos replied angrily. “Sometimes I wonder just how redeeming my human blood really is.”
“Perhaps there is a lesson to learn in Master Drogan’s test that you have not thought of yet, Mischa,” Dorna said comfortingly. “Master Drogan tests us all, so that we reach the potential we came to his school to achieve. Although our tests may be different, the goal is the same. Master Drogan is a very wise dwarf.”

“It is said he was a great adventurer before he retired,” Xanos added, this time in a much calmer voice. “That is what I hope to benefit from – his wisdom.”
“I don’t know,” Mischa said, shaking her head. “Perhaps there is a lesson in Master Drogan’s test that I have not yet considered…”
“You have much to learn about the world, young paladin of Mystra,” Dorna said softly.
“And you should begin by throwing away your prejudices,” Xanos added. “I mean, when I first came to this town, I was shunned by the people because of my heritage… my orcish half was all they could see… except Master Drogan. You see, the people here are country folk and woodsmen. They have a harsh acceptance of the realities around them, and are very cynical of the good intentions of others. But I suppose I do not hold it against them any longer… In the years I have been here, they have grown on me, I guess.”
“Perhaps there is truth in your words, Xanos,” Mischa mused with a soft chuckle. “But I still consider you a loud-mouthed brute.”
“That I am, dear Mischa,” Xanos laughed heartily. “That I am!”

Yanny wondered again if Mischa could ever find it in her heart to rescue a goblin child. After all, a true paladin should always look beyond a creature’s heritage to discover positive traits within. It was possible that certain goblinoid creatures could be good-natured, just as it was possible for certain humans to be evil.

Yanny decided that she could find it in her heart to rescue a goblin child… eventually.

☼☼☼☼☼

The spacious main room downstairs served as a library of Faerûnian lore. The numerous bookshelves were filled with tomes that documented the entire history of the fair continent, describing in detail the long forgotten empires, the powerful magical items, and the wondrous artifacts. Some books described the concepts of planar travel while others contained detailed descriptions of every imaginable creature that inhabited Faerûn.
The library was bathed in soft warmth that emanated from the nearby fireplace. It provided a small source of light, but otherwise the room was sheathed in silent darkness at such an early hour.
The main room was amply furnished with a soft-cushioned sofa and a dozen of chairs. Master Drogan often gathered his apprentices around the cozy fireplace to tell breathtaking tales of valor and adventure from his glory days as a Harper.
The door near the stairs led into the dining hall that was furnished with a large hardwood table and enough chairs to accommodate all of the apprentices and more than a few weary travelers. A large globe atlas of Toril stood atop the table and numerous maps covered the walls.
Directly opposite from the dining hall, another door led into the kitchen, where the apprentices usually took turns to cook tasty meals.
A third door, between the kitchen and the fireplace, led into Master Drogan’s personal laboratory and was usually locked and warded against intrusion. Master Drogan’s faerie dragon familiar, Riisi, guarded the laboratory from within.
The fourth door, directly opposite from the fireplace, served as the entrance into the house. A large glass window next to it was kept draped ever since Mater Drogan had learned from Yanny about the impending attack.

Taking care not to make any noise, Yanny and Dragosha made their way down the stairs into the main room of the complex, and then outside into the early dawn.The second floor of the school housed Master Drogan’s private chambers, the apprentices’ quarters, and also contained a small library filled with books of arcane knowledge, an armory filled with weapons of all sorts, and an alchemy lab that Yanny often used to perfect his enchanting skills.

Three more apprentices, beside Yanny, were currently residing in Master Drogan’s house, all of them asleep at such an early hour.
Xanos Messarmos was a skilled, if somewhat arrogant half-orcish sorcerer apprentice who liked to boast a lot about his magical prowess.
Dorna Trapspringer was a sneaky dwarven woman who came to Hilltop a few years ago to study the divine magic.
Mischa Waymeet was a young human girl with a beautiful face, by far the least experienced student in Master Drogan’s service. She aspired to become a paladin of great skill, but she had much to learn about the virtues of kindness and forgiveness.

Yanny recalled how, just two moons ago, the apprentices were discussing amongst each other their respective training, wondering if Master Drogan deemed them ready to graduate.
“Tell me, Yanny,” Xanos was saying in his usual mocking voice, “surely you have heard how our dear Mischa fared in her last test?”
“I have had enough of your jibes, Xanos,” Mischa exclaimed, her face turning bright red. “You would have done no better.”
“On the contrary, dear lady, I tend to do exactly what Master Drogan asks me to do. If the good dwarf says to rescue the goblin child, then I rescue the goblin child! It is not so difficult.”
“I somehow doubt Master Drogan would ask you to rescue anything that he didn’t expect you to rob, first,” Dorna said with a chuckle.

Xanos laughed at that remark and replied, “You are the aspiring thief amongst us, little Dorna, not I!”
“But a goblin is an evil creature, child or no,” Mischa continued her reasoning, visibly frustrated. “How can I be expected to lend it aid? It was not a fair test of my abilities.”
“You would leave a child to die, Mischa?” Yanny asked incredulously. “That cannot truly be the way of a paladin…”
“You are not a paladin, Yanny. I would not expect you to understand. A creature of evil deserves no mercy!”
“Oh, and of course the child could not be raised differently, could it?” Xanos taunted the young lass. “It will always be an evil creature?”
“This is not about you, Xanos… and besides, you have human blood within to redeem you from your orcish heritage.”
“You humans are all the same,” Xanos replied angrily. “Sometimes I wonder just how redeeming my human blood really is.”
“Perhaps there is a lesson to learn in Master Drogan’s test that you have not thought of yet, Mischa,” Dorna said comfortingly. “Master Drogan tests us all, so that we reach the potential we came to his school to achieve. Although our tests may be different, the goal is the same. Master Drogan is a very wise dwarf.”

“It is said he was a great adventurer before he retired,” Xanos added, this time in a much calmer voice. “That is what I hope to benefit from – his wisdom.”
“I don’t know,” Mischa said, shaking her head. “Perhaps there is a lesson in Master Drogan’s test that I have not yet considered…”
“You have much to learn about the world, young paladin of Mystra,” Dorna said softly.
“And you should begin by throwing away your prejudices,” Xanos added. “I mean, when I first came to this town, I was shunned by the people because of my heritage… my orcish half was all they could see… except Master Drogan. You see, the people here are country folk and woodsmen. They have a harsh acceptance of the realities around them, and are very cynical of the good intentions of others. But I suppose I do not hold it against them any longer… In the years I have been here, they have grown on me, I guess.”
“Perhaps there is truth in your words, Xanos,” Mischa mused with a soft chuckle. “But I still consider you a loud-mouthed brute.”
“That I am, dear Mischa,” Xanos laughed heartily. “That I am!”

Yanny wondered again if Mischa could ever find it in her heart to rescue a goblin child. After all, a true paladin should always look beyond a creature’s heritage to discover positive traits within. It was possible that certain goblinoid creatures could be good-natured, just as it was possible for certain humans to be evil.

Yanny decided that she could find it in her heart to rescue a goblin child… eventually.

☼☼☼☼☼

The spacious main room downstairs served as a library of Faerûnian lore. The numerous bookshelves were filled with tomes that documented the entire history of the fair continent, describing in detail the long forgotten empires, the powerful magical items, and the wondrous artifacts. Some books described the concepts of planar travel while others contained detailed descriptions of every imaginable creature that inhabited Faerûn.
The library was bathed in soft warmth that emanated from the nearby fireplace. It provided a small source of light, but otherwise the room was sheathed in silent darkness at such an early hour.
The main room was amply furnished with a soft-cushioned sofa and a dozen of chairs. Master Drogan often gathered his apprentices around the cozy fireplace to tell breathtaking tales of valor and adventure from his glory days as a Harper.
The door near the stairs led into the dining hall that was furnished with a large hardwood table and enough chairs to accommodate all of the apprentices and more than a few weary travelers. A large globe atlas of Toril stood atop the table and numerous maps covered the walls.
Directly opposite from the dining hall, another door led into the kitchen, where the apprentices usually took turns to cook tasty meals.
A third door, between the kitchen and the fireplace, led into Master Drogan’s personal laboratory and was usually locked and warded against intrusion. Master Drogan’s faerie dragon familiar, Riisi, guarded the laboratory from within.
The fourth door, directly opposite from the fireplace, served as the entrance into the house. A large glass window next to it was kept draped ever since Mater Drogan had learned from Yanny about the impending attack.

Taking care not to make any noise, Yanny and Dragosha made their way down the stairs into the main room of the complex, and then outside into the early dawn.

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4 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:30 am

Maxduelantus

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Head Overseer
It was wintertime in Hilltop, and with Selûne crying out her last tears, the farm was shrouded in darkness. Yanny took up a swift pace towards the main gate, with Dragosha sitting proudly on his master’s shoulder. Yanny hoped to finish his business with the always amicable Farghan quickly, before heading out of Hilltop to catch up with Fenran Valianheart, his elven friend and mentor in the ways of nature. Fenran was a ranger and an arcane archer of the High Forest wood elves, one of the select few who had dedicated themselves to the complete mastery of the bow, combining magic and archery into one discipline. It was a mysterious path that was closed to those who were not of elven heritage.

When Yanny was old enough to walk and talk, Fenran took him under his personal tutelage, teaching the young lad why it was important to love nature in all its glorious forms, how to empathetically communicate with animals, and how to effectively use weapons in melee combat. Yanny was a fine student and a fast learner, and he achieved great results as a ranger and protector of nature in a very short period of time. Having spent a major part of his teenage years honing his fighting skills and hiking the wilderness terrain of the Hilltop foothills, Yanny was possessed of excellent dexterity and vitality.

But when it was discovered that young Yanny also possessed a natural affinity for arcane magic, Master Drogan took personal interest in the lad, supervising the young student’s development as a spellcaster.

Yanny proved to be an ideal student in the apprenticeship of Master Drogan, absorbing the arcane knowledge at a breathtaking pace and quickly outshining the other students. And yet, even though Yanny technically completed his former training, the old mentor delayed giving Yanny his final test, essentially keeping the lad in service for well over a decade. Master Drogan claimed that such extended apprenticeship would allow Yanny to perfect his spellcraft and would teach him humility.

Yanny did not argue, for he appreciated everything that his teacher had done for him. And besides, he was quite content with his role as a protector of Hilltop community, and with the responsibilities that came with it.

It was at Master Drogan’s library that Yanny initially discovered the teachings of Mystra, among other things, that described in detail the continual battle waging between the forces of good and evil, the wondrous adventures of the famous Harpers, the Time of Troubles, and the Godswar.

Master Drogan, himself a retired Harper who had surely seen his share of glorious adventures, often told tales of valor and compassion, of great battles and even greater evil that seemed to lurk everywhere. Yanny certainly hoped to one day join the good cause as a Harper scout, but he knew he wasn’t ready.

Not yet, at least.

He would have to further perfect his spellcraft and his fighting technique before he would even be considered by the “meddlers” for such a prestigious profession. Presently, Yanny was making plans to spend a few minutes sparring with Fenran, after buying wares from the herbalist Farghan.

A painful jolt of electricity abruptly ended Yanny’s private thoughts and he grunted loudly, realizing almost immediately that he had let down his guard too much, inadvertently stepping into one of Dorna’s traps.

He heard a melodic but mocking laughter and the deep shadows of the early dawn spoke to him sarcastically: “A battle mage… aye, I can see you doing great there, Yanny, a ranger of middling powers, mayhaps, but you would have to learn a few trap detection and evasion techniques if you ever hope to become a Harper!”

Dorna Trapspringer continued to laugh heartily as she emerged from the shadows.

“Well met, Dorna,” Yanny answered as the pain in his head subsided, and he bowed in a mocking fashion, “and may Tymora smile brightly upon you this day for I assure you that you have greatly amused Lady Luck at my expense.”

Dragosha, who was napping at his master’s shoulder, took to the air, flapping his wings excitedly, and squeaked, “Oh, master! It appears this beardless dwarven lass, this sneaky rogue… has bested master once again. Dragosha thinks Dorna is quite cunning, master! Dragosha likes Dorna, yes he does!”

“And a good morn to you, oh most magnificent prince of dragons,” Dorna replied, bowing playfully, “for Dorna likes Dragosha as well! Care for a snack?” Dorna launched a tasty morsel of dried meat high into the sky and Dragosha promptly caught it in mid-flight with his powerful jaws, gulped it down without chewing, and landed carefully on his master’s shoulder in one swift motion. Dorna’s voice changed just as swiftly from playful to contemptuous as she turned to regard Yanny.

“Going somewhere, Yanny?” she asked, eyeing him through squinted eyes. “Going somewhere without first waking me up, without inviting your trusted companion to share the glories of adventure with you?”

“I…” Yanny stumbled, trying to come up with a believable explanation, “I thought you asked me not to bother waking you up if it wasn’t important…”

“Aye, so I did…“ Dorna replied in a much softer voice and sighed. “But this day is not going to be one of those uneventful days, I fear. I can feel it in the air, in the vibrations of the earth beneath my feet, and in my very bones, Yanny. I can feel what you have foreseen in your dreams. This day, we shall see battle.”

Dorna brandished her battle axe and banged it against her buckler, exclaiming, “And woe to those lizards, and all other foes, who dare to attack Hilltop!”

☼☼☼☼☼

The two friends stood in striking contrast to each other.

While Yanny stood tall and skinny, even by human standards, Dorna appeared short and stocky, with an ample bosom that always made Yanny blush.

While Yanny’s neatly trimmed hair was jet black, Dorna’s long flowing locks were of bright auburn color. Being naturally a sneaky lass and not wanting her hair to get in the way of her mischief, she covered her head with a black cloth.

While Yanny’s facial features were elegant, as if chiseled from marble, Dorna’s face was plump and often flushed, especially when she was angry.

While Yanny’s eyes were of gray color, sparkling with undeniable intelligence, Dorna’s dark hazel gaze hinted at a degree of wisdom beyond her years.

While Yanny had barely seen more than a score of winters, Dorna was twice his age although appearing just as youthful.

While Yanny was inexperienced in the ways of life, having lived all his life in Hilltop, Dorna had seen much of the wonders of the realms and was a wary and battle-toughened adventurer, although she preferred not to disclose her origins or the reasons as to why she came to live in Hilltop.

While Yanny would doubtfully live past a century, Dorna surely will have seen three or four, as a consequence of her dwarven heritage.

While Yanny was susceptible to poison, disease, and magical effects, Dorna was highly resistant to toxic substances and magical spells that would otherwise have a negative effect on a person’s body and mind.

While Yanny was curious by nature, striving to discover the many wondrous secrets scattered across the face of Faerûn, Dorna was always cautious and suspicious of other races, especially if these “outsiders” were duergar.

Indeed, Yanny and Dorna were quite different from each other, and not only because of the racial standards that separated them. They thought differently, they dressed differently, they pursued their goals differently, and they fought differently.

While Yanny preferred the light but sturdy camouflage vest of a ranger to the richly adorned robes of a wizard, Dorna preferred to wear brightly colored garments beneath her own leather armor.

While Yanny was all about finesse in melee combat, preferring to complement his jeweled rapier with a parrying dagger, Dorna used brute force to accomplish victory, supplementing her dwarven-made mithril battle axe with a large shield that protected her upper body from ranged attacks.

While Yanny would dance around his opponents like some sort of a dandy swashbuckler, issuing witty comments and waiting for an opening to poke at, Dorna would simply clench her teeth and charge into the fray, slashing at her targets with wild abandon until her foes turned into nothing more than bloody piles of flesh at her feet.

And finally, while Yanny was a skillful spellcaster and a follower of Mystra, the Mother of All Magic, Dorna was a devotional follower of Vergadain, the dwarven god of luck and happy dealings. On a silver chain around her neck, she wore a gold coin pendant with an intricately etched design of a smiling dwarf, her holy symbol. She never traveled without it and would never sell it for profit for she truly believed that Vergadain loved her dearly and protected her at all times.

And thus, while Yanny could evoke balls of searing flames to deal with his problems, Dorna called upon the divine powers of the Merchant King to smite all evil in her path.

But even though they were different in many ways, Yanny and Dorna were also very similar to each other.

Both of them were good-natured individuals who would eagerly help all those in need of help.

Both of them would eagerly donate a portion of their wealth to the needy.

Both of them were strong-willed, kind, and highly intelligent individuals.

Both of them were excellent students in Master Drogan’s service and both of them hoped with all their hearts to one day join the famous Harpers.

Both of them would bravely rush to their friends’ rescue and laugh in the face of danger.

And most importantly, Yanny and Dorna truly believed that good will ultimately prevail against evil.

But, then again, perhaps they were both truly naïve…

And so they stood now, facing each other, both of them smiling, both completely unaware of the perils that awaited them.
It was wintertime in Hilltop, and with Selûne crying out her last tears, the farm was shrouded in darkness. Yanny took up a swift pace towards the main gate, with Dragosha sitting proudly on his master’s shoulder. Yanny hoped to finish his business with the always amicable Farghan quickly, before heading out of Hilltop to catch up with Fenran Valianheart, his elven friend and mentor in the ways of nature. Fenran was a ranger and an arcane archer of the High Forest wood elves, one of the select few who had dedicated themselves to the complete mastery of the bow, combining magic and archery into one discipline. It was a mysterious path that was closed to those who were not of elven heritage.

When Yanny was old enough to walk and talk, Fenran took him under his personal tutelage, teaching the young lad why it was important to love nature in all its glorious forms, how to empathetically communicate with animals, and how to effectively use weapons in melee combat. Yanny was a fine student and a fast learner, and he achieved great results as a ranger and protector of nature in a very short period of time. Having spent a major part of his teenage years honing his fighting skills and hiking the wilderness terrain of the Hilltop foothills, Yanny was possessed of excellent dexterity and vitality.

But when it was discovered that young Yanny also possessed a natural affinity for arcane magic, Master Drogan took personal interest in the lad, supervising the young student’s development as a spellcaster.

Yanny proved to be an ideal student in the apprenticeship of Master Drogan, absorbing the arcane knowledge at a breathtaking pace and quickly outshining the other students. And yet, even though Yanny technically completed his former training, the old mentor delayed giving Yanny his final test, essentially keeping the lad in service for well over a decade. Master Drogan claimed that such extended apprenticeship would allow Yanny to perfect his spellcraft and would teach him humility.

Yanny did not argue, for he appreciated everything that his teacher had done for him. And besides, he was quite content with his role as a protector of Hilltop community, and with the responsibilities that came with it.

It was at Master Drogan’s library that Yanny initially discovered the teachings of Mystra, among other things, that described in detail the continual battle waging between the forces of good and evil, the wondrous adventures of the famous Harpers, the Time of Troubles, and the Godswar.

Master Drogan, himself a retired Harper who had surely seen his share of glorious adventures, often told tales of valor and compassion, of great battles and even greater evil that seemed to lurk everywhere. Yanny certainly hoped to one day join the good cause as a Harper scout, but he knew he wasn’t ready.

Not yet, at least.

He would have to further perfect his spellcraft and his fighting technique before he would even be considered by the “meddlers” for such a prestigious profession. Presently, Yanny was making plans to spend a few minutes sparring with Fenran, after buying wares from the herbalist Farghan.

A painful jolt of electricity abruptly ended Yanny’s private thoughts and he grunted loudly, realizing almost immediately that he had let down his guard too much, inadvertently stepping into one of Dorna’s traps.

He heard a melodic but mocking laughter and the deep shadows of the early dawn spoke to him sarcastically: “A battle mage… aye, I can see you doing great there, Yanny, a ranger of middling powers, mayhaps, but you would have to learn a few trap detection and evasion techniques if you ever hope to become a Harper!”

Dorna Trapspringer continued to laugh heartily as she emerged from the shadows.

“Well met, Dorna,” Yanny answered as the pain in his head subsided, and he bowed in a mocking fashion, “and may Tymora smile brightly upon you this day for I assure you that you have greatly amused Lady Luck at my expense.”

Dragosha, who was napping at his master’s shoulder, took to the air, flapping his wings excitedly, and squeaked, “Oh, master! It appears this beardless dwarven lass, this sneaky rogue… has bested master once again. Dragosha thinks Dorna is quite cunning, master! Dragosha likes Dorna, yes he does!”

“And a good morn to you, oh most magnificent prince of dragons,” Dorna replied, bowing playfully, “for Dorna likes Dragosha as well! Care for a snack?” Dorna launched a tasty morsel of dried meat high into the sky and Dragosha promptly caught it in mid-flight with his powerful jaws, gulped it down without chewing, and landed carefully on his master’s shoulder in one swift motion. Dorna’s voice changed just as swiftly from playful to contemptuous as she turned to regard Yanny.

“Going somewhere, Yanny?” she asked, eyeing him through squinted eyes. “Going somewhere without first waking me up, without inviting your trusted companion to share the glories of adventure with you?”

“I…” Yanny stumbled, trying to come up with a believable explanation, “I thought you asked me not to bother waking you up if it wasn’t important…”

“Aye, so I did…“ Dorna replied in a much softer voice and sighed. “But this day is not going to be one of those uneventful days, I fear. I can feel it in the air, in the vibrations of the earth beneath my feet, and in my very bones, Yanny. I can feel what you have foreseen in your dreams. This day, we shall see battle.”

Dorna brandished her battle axe and banged it against her buckler, exclaiming, “And woe to those lizards, and all other foes, who dare to attack Hilltop!”

☼☼☼☼☼

The two friends stood in striking contrast to each other.

While Yanny stood tall and skinny, even by human standards, Dorna appeared short and stocky, with an ample bosom that always made Yanny blush.

While Yanny’s neatly trimmed hair was jet black, Dorna’s long flowing locks were of bright auburn color. Being naturally a sneaky lass and not wanting her hair to get in the way of her mischief, she covered her head with a black cloth.

While Yanny’s facial features were elegant, as if chiseled from marble, Dorna’s face was plump and often flushed, especially when she was angry.

While Yanny’s eyes were of gray color, sparkling with undeniable intelligence, Dorna’s dark hazel gaze hinted at a degree of wisdom beyond her years.

While Yanny had barely seen more than a score of winters, Dorna was twice his age although appearing just as youthful.

While Yanny was inexperienced in the ways of life, having lived all his life in Hilltop, Dorna had seen much of the wonders of the realms and was a wary and battle-toughened adventurer, although she preferred not to disclose her origins or the reasons as to why she came to live in Hilltop.

While Yanny would doubtfully live past a century, Dorna surely will have seen three or four, as a consequence of her dwarven heritage.

While Yanny was susceptible to poison, disease, and magical effects, Dorna was highly resistant to toxic substances and magical spells that would otherwise have a negative effect on a person’s body and mind.

While Yanny was curious by nature, striving to discover the many wondrous secrets scattered across the face of Faerûn, Dorna was always cautious and suspicious of other races, especially if these “outsiders” were duergar.

Indeed, Yanny and Dorna were quite different from each other, and not only because of the racial standards that separated them. They thought differently, they dressed differently, they pursued their goals differently, and they fought differently.

While Yanny preferred the light but sturdy camouflage vest of a ranger to the richly adorned robes of a wizard, Dorna preferred to wear brightly colored garments beneath her own leather armor.

While Yanny was all about finesse in melee combat, preferring to complement his jeweled rapier with a parrying dagger, Dorna used brute force to accomplish victory, supplementing her dwarven-made mithril battle axe with a large shield that protected her upper body from ranged attacks.

While Yanny would dance around his opponents like some sort of a dandy swashbuckler, issuing witty comments and waiting for an opening to poke at, Dorna would simply clench her teeth and charge into the fray, slashing at her targets with wild abandon until her foes turned into nothing more than bloody piles of flesh at her feet.

And finally, while Yanny was a skillful spellcaster and a follower of Mystra, the Mother of All Magic, Dorna was a devotional follower of Vergadain, the dwarven god of luck and happy dealings. On a silver chain around her neck, she wore a gold coin pendant with an intricately etched design of a smiling dwarf, her holy symbol. She never traveled without it and would never sell it for profit for she truly believed that Vergadain loved her dearly and protected her at all times.

And thus, while Yanny could evoke balls of searing flames to deal with his problems, Dorna called upon the divine powers of the Merchant King to smite all evil in her path.

But even though they were different in many ways, Yanny and Dorna were also very similar to each other.

Both of them were good-natured individuals who would eagerly help all those in need of help.

Both of them would eagerly donate a portion of their wealth to the needy.

Both of them were strong-willed, kind, and highly intelligent individuals.

Both of them were excellent students in Master Drogan’s service and both of them hoped with all their hearts to one day join the famous Harpers.

Both of them would bravely rush to their friends’ rescue and laugh in the face of danger.

And most importantly, Yanny and Dorna truly believed that good will ultimately prevail against evil.

But, then again, perhaps they were both truly naïve…

And so they stood now, facing each other, both of them smiling, both completely unaware of the perils that awaited them.It was wintertime in Hilltop, and with Selûne crying out her last tears, the farm was shrouded in darkness. Yanny took up a swift pace towards the main gate, with Dragosha sitting proudly on his master’s shoulder. Yanny hoped to finish his business with the always amicable Farghan quickly, before heading out of Hilltop to catch up with Fenran Valianheart, his elven friend and mentor in the ways of nature. Fenran was a ranger and an arcane archer of the High Forest wood elves, one of the select few who had dedicated themselves to the complete mastery of the bow, combining magic and archery into one discipline. It was a mysterious path that was closed to those who were not of elven heritage.

When Yanny was old enough to walk and talk, Fenran took him under his personal tutelage, teaching the young lad why it was important to love nature in all its glorious forms, how to empathetically communicate with animals, and how to effectively use weapons in melee combat. Yanny was a fine student and a fast learner, and he achieved great results as a ranger and protector of nature in a very short period of time. Having spent a major part of his teenage years honing his fighting skills and hiking the wilderness terrain of the Hilltop foothills, Yanny was possessed of excellent dexterity and vitality.

But when it was discovered that young Yanny also possessed a natural affinity for arcane magic, Master Drogan took personal interest in the lad, supervising the young student’s development as a spellcaster.

Yanny proved to be an ideal student in the apprenticeship of Master Drogan, absorbing the arcane knowledge at a breathtaking pace and quickly outshining the other students. And yet, even though Yanny technically completed his former training, the old mentor delayed giving Yanny his final test, essentially keeping the lad in service for well over a decade. Master Drogan claimed that such extended apprenticeship would allow Yanny to perfect his spellcraft and would teach him humility.

Yanny did not argue, for he appreciated everything that his teacher had done for him. And besides, he was quite content with his role as a protector of Hilltop community, and with the responsibilities that came with it.

It was at Master Drogan’s library that Yanny initially discovered the teachings of Mystra, among other things, that described in detail the continual battle waging between the forces of good and evil, the wondrous adventures of the famous Harpers, the Time of Troubles, and the Godswar.

Master Drogan, himself a retired Harper who had surely seen his share of glorious adventures, often told tales of valor and compassion, of great battles and even greater evil that seemed to lurk everywhere. Yanny certainly hoped to one day join the good cause as a Harper scout, but he knew he wasn’t ready.

Not yet, at least.

He would have to further perfect his spellcraft and his fighting technique before he would even be considered by the “meddlers” for such a prestigious profession. Presently, Yanny was making plans to spend a few minutes sparring with Fenran, after buying wares from the herbalist Farghan.

A painful jolt of electricity abruptly ended Yanny’s private thoughts and he grunted loudly, realizing almost immediately that he had let down his guard too much, inadvertently stepping into one of Dorna’s traps.

He heard a melodic but mocking laughter and the deep shadows of the early dawn spoke to him sarcastically: “A battle mage… aye, I can see you doing great there, Yanny, a ranger of middling powers, mayhaps, but you would have to learn a few trap detection and evasion techniques if you ever hope to become a Harper!”

Dorna Trapspringer continued to laugh heartily as she emerged from the shadows.

“Well met, Dorna,” Yanny answered as the pain in his head subsided, and he bowed in a mocking fashion, “and may Tymora smile brightly upon you this day for I assure you that you have greatly amused Lady Luck at my expense.”

Dragosha, who was napping at his master’s shoulder, took to the air, flapping his wings excitedly, and squeaked, “Oh, master! It appears this beardless dwarven lass, this sneaky rogue… has bested master once again. Dragosha thinks Dorna is quite cunning, master! Dragosha likes Dorna, yes he does!”

“And a good morn to you, oh most magnificent prince of dragons,” Dorna replied, bowing playfully, “for Dorna likes Dragosha as well! Care for a snack?” Dorna launched a tasty morsel of dried meat high into the sky and Dragosha promptly caught it in mid-flight with his powerful jaws, gulped it down without chewing, and landed carefully on his master’s shoulder in one swift motion. Dorna’s voice changed just as swiftly from playful to contemptuous as she turned to regard Yanny.

“Going somewhere, Yanny?” she asked, eyeing him through squinted eyes. “Going somewhere without first waking me up, without inviting your trusted companion to share the glories of adventure with you?”

“I…” Yanny stumbled, trying to come up with a believable explanation, “I thought you asked me not to bother waking you up if it wasn’t important…”

“Aye, so I did…“ Dorna replied in a much softer voice and sighed. “But this day is not going to be one of those uneventful days, I fear. I can feel it in the air, in the vibrations of the earth beneath my feet, and in my very bones, Yanny. I can feel what you have foreseen in your dreams. This day, we shall see battle.”

Dorna brandished her battle axe and banged it against her buckler, exclaiming, “And woe to those lizards, and all other foes, who dare to attack Hilltop!”

☼☼☼☼☼

The two friends stood in striking contrast to each other.

While Yanny stood tall and skinny, even by human standards, Dorna appeared short and stocky, with an ample bosom that always made Yanny blush.

While Yanny’s neatly trimmed hair was jet black, Dorna’s long flowing locks were of bright auburn color. Being naturally a sneaky lass and not wanting her hair to get in the way of her mischief, she covered her head with a black cloth.

While Yanny’s facial features were elegant, as if chiseled from marble, Dorna’s face was plump and often flushed, especially when she was angry.

While Yanny’s eyes were of gray color, sparkling with undeniable intelligence, Dorna’s dark hazel gaze hinted at a degree of wisdom beyond her years.

While Yanny had barely seen more than a score of winters, Dorna was twice his age although appearing just as youthful.

While Yanny was inexperienced in the ways of life, having lived all his life in Hilltop, Dorna had seen much of the wonders of the realms and was a wary and battle-toughened adventurer, although she preferred not to disclose her origins or the reasons as to why she came to live in Hilltop.

While Yanny would doubtfully live past a century, Dorna surely will have seen three or four, as a consequence of her dwarven heritage.

While Yanny was susceptible to poison, disease, and magical effects, Dorna was highly resistant to toxic substances and magical spells that would otherwise have a negative effect on a person’s body and mind.

While Yanny was curious by nature, striving to discover the many wondrous secrets scattered across the face of Faerûn, Dorna was always cautious and suspicious of other races, especially if these “outsiders” were duergar.

Indeed, Yanny and Dorna were quite different from each other, and not only because of the racial standards that separated them. They thought differently, they dressed differently, they pursued their goals differently, and they fought differently.

While Yanny preferred the light but sturdy camouflage vest of a ranger to the richly adorned robes of a wizard, Dorna preferred to wear brightly colored garments beneath her own leather armor.

While Yanny was all about finesse in melee combat, preferring to complement his jeweled rapier with a parrying dagger, Dorna used brute force to accomplish victory, supplementing her dwarven-made mithril battle axe with a large shield that protected her upper body from ranged attacks.

While Yanny would dance around his opponents like some sort of a dandy swashbuckler, issuing witty comments and waiting for an opening to poke at, Dorna would simply clench her teeth and charge into the fray, slashing at her targets with wild abandon until her foes turned into nothing more than bloody piles of flesh at her feet.

And finally, while Yanny was a skillful spellcaster and a follower of Mystra, the Mother of All Magic, Dorna was a devotional follower of Vergadain, the dwarven god of luck and happy dealings. On a silver chain around her neck, she wore a gold coin pendant with an intricately etched design of a smiling dwarf, her holy symbol. She never traveled without it and would never sell it for profit for she truly believed that Vergadain loved her dearly and protected her at all times.

And thus, while Yanny could evoke balls of searing flames to deal with his problems, Dorna called upon the divine powers of the Merchant King to smite all evil in her path.

But even though they were different in many ways, Yanny and Dorna were also very similar to each other.

Both of them were good-natured individuals who would eagerly help all those in need of help.

Both of them would eagerly donate a portion of their wealth to the needy.

Both of them were strong-willed, kind, and highly intelligent individuals.

Both of them were excellent students in Master Drogan’s service and both of them hoped with all their hearts to one day join the famous Harpers.

Both of them would bravely rush to their friends’ rescue and laugh in the face of danger.

And most importantly, Yanny and Dorna truly believed that good will ultimately prevail against evil.

But, then again, perhaps they were both truly naïve…

And so they stood now, facing each other, both of them smiling, both completely unaware of the perils that awaited them.

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5 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:31 am

Maxduelantus

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Head Overseer
The first streaks of sunlight were beginning to pierce through the gloomy darkness when the three friends reached the town proper. The inhabitants of Hilltop were still asleep and all was quiet, except for the chirping of birds and an occasional howl of a wolf, coming from the not so distant Nether Mountains.

As the friends approached Farghan’s humble abode, Yanny encountered the local guard dogs that were busily sniffing the ground and digging in seemingly random places. Yanny recognized one of the curious beasts as Bim, a guard dog belonging to the town smith. As Yanny approached, Bim’s ears perked up and the animal wagged its tail in recognition, for the young ranger was well known to the local wildlife as a friend and protector of nature.

Yanny reached out to pet Bim’s coarse brown fur and emphatically sent his warm and sincere greetings, imparting visions of a good hunt upon the animal. He then attuned his senses and experienced feelings of friendship and trust coming from Bim.

Yanny was curious about the odd behavior of the guard dogs and he emphatically communicated his feeling of confusion to Bim. Almost immediately, he experienced visions of a beautiful female wolf – Yanny recognized it to be Farghan’s companion, Bethsheva – hiding a shiny trinket somewhere in the vicinity of the town proper. The next empathetic emotion coming from Bim was one of determination to find the bauble and there was also something else… powerful feelings of love and a strong desire to court Bethsheva.

Yanny was knowledgeable enough in the ways of nature to understand that Bethsheva had probably hidden the shiny trinket to test the local suitors. Being a creature of harsh and unforgiving wilderness, Bethsheva would select a suitor carefully, making sure that the potential father of her pups would be able to efficiently care for them.

In order to gain Bethsheva’s companionship, the potential suitor would have to be a skilled hunter and a fierce fighter, among other traits.

Yanny reached inside his backpack and produced a few strips of dried meat, offering Bim the treats. The guard dog politely sniffed the tasty morsels, gulped them down and the young ranger experienced emotions of gratitude and friendship and a desire to help should the need arise. Yanny emphatically sent an emotion of confidence in Bim’s hunting abilities and with that, he regarded the guard dog and spoke out loud.

“Good hunting to you, Bim, for Bethsheva is a fine companion, indeed.”

Bim perked its ears, wagged its tail in understanding, and bounded away happily, occasionally sniffing the ground. “What are you about?” Dorna asked, squinting her eyes in suspicion.

“Oh, nothing important, my dear Dorna,” Yanny replied and smiled. “It appears that Bim is deeply in… interested in Farghan’s animal companion. You know… the lad and lass things…” he continued, blushing.

“You know, Yanny…” Dorna said with a confused expression on her plump face, “I will never understand how you are able to do this… to communicate with the animals. I mean… they don’t actually speak! They just stare at you!”

“I know…” Yanny said, laughing. “And sometimes I don’t understand certain things about you either, Dorna. You know… being able to sense the vibrations of the stone… or discovering gold coins seemingly out of thin air.”

The friends shared a laugh at that last statement, just as they approached Farghan’s hut. Even at such an early hour, the herbalist was already awake and the smell of the flavorful dawnfry caused Yanny’s stomach to growl. Before mischievous Dorna was able to make an attempt to pick Farghan’s lock, thinking it would be fun to play a prank on the old man, Farghan’s voice materialized out of nowhere and projected a cheerful message.

“I never lock my door, Dorna. Do come in, my dear lass, and please find me in the kitchen where I am busily preparing your dawnfry. You too, lads… I mean… Yanny and Dragosha.”

Dragosha hooted in anticipation of a great meal, Yanny and Dorna smiled at each other, and the friends entered Farghan’s shop.

Inside, they were greeted by Bethsheva, Farghan’s female snow wolf companion, its large, jet black eyes glistening with a deep level of intelligence. Yanny marveled at the beauty of the magnificent beast and approached, attuning his ranger senses.

The animal regarded Yanny with a mild amusement and sent out an empathetic greeting. Yanny reached out to pet the beautiful creature and sent out visions of Bim and Bethsheva running alongside each other, hunting together. In response, the wolf empathetically communicated a polite explanation that when the time came, her master would assist her with choosing a suitable mating partner, if the guard dogs were unable to pass the test. Yanny then experienced visions of a shiny trinket, secreted behind a human building that smelled of iron and fire.

In response, Yanny expressed his gratitude with the Bethsheva’s apparent trust in him. The wolf empathetically sent out feelings of being pleased with the young ranger’s manners and bid him and the friendly dwarven female luck in their hunt. Yanny bid the magnificent animal farewell and the friends continued on their way to the kitchen.

Herbalist Farghan, a well-aged human druid with wolf-like facial features, was busily cooking a meal while chatting happily with Dragosha. He turned to regard the companions with kind and knowledgeable emerald green eyes and exclaimed, “Well met, friends! I was just telling Dragosha here, that I was cooking a special meal for you, for this day may prove to be challenging.”

“Well met, Farghan,” the companions answered in unison, and Dorna asked with an innocent smile on her face, “Let me guess, eggs and mushrooms again?”

“Yes,” replied Farghan, ignoring the jibe, “but with a little twist. My friends, behold ‘Farghan’s Special Recipe’ - a splendid egg and mushroom dawnfry seasoned with helmthorn berries, fenberries, garlic, a hint of belladonna, and a bit of tree bark.”

Dragosha hooted in glee and the companions sat around the small wooden table while Farghan served the food. The herbalist dispensed generous portions of the steaming meal, giving Dragosha a double helping of it, and sat down afterwards.

Upon swallowing the first bite, Yanny felt lightheaded and his vision clouded for a heartbeat. The disorienting sensation subsided almost immediately, and Yanny felt great strength and vitality begin flowing into his muscles. The young ranger also noticed that his reflexes sped up, his vision and hearing became as keen as a hunting arrow, and his skin became as hard as a bark tree.

He spared a glance at Dorna, and by the curious look on her face, he determined that she was similarly affected by the meal’s special ingredients.

“This is delicious, Farghan,” Yanny said. “We would be wise indeed to stock up on these wondrous ingredients for our future meals. Don’t you agree, Dorna?”

“Aye, I agree,” Dorna replied with a hint of awe in her voice. “I feel as strong as a bull and could probably outrun a scared deer!”

Dragosha did not say anything, busily gulping down the meal, but Yanny’s pet familiar visibly grew in size and his leathery wings began to glow softly.

“You like it then!” Farghan laughed. “Worry not, friends, for I have already taken care to add the necessary ingredients to your wares, free of charge.”

Almost immediately, the smile disappeared from the herbalist’s face, and he added grimly, “Gods know you will need all the help you can get, my friends, for the upcoming days may prove to be quite challenging, indeed.”

“You think we shall see a fight this day?” Yanny asked, stuffing a spoonful of the dawnfry into his mouth and rubbing his belly.

“I do not think, Yanny,” Farghan replied, “I know it to be true for I have been communicating with a particular owl that resides in the Nether Mountains. The kobolds are marching to Hilltop as we speak!”

“This is it, then!” Dorna exclaimed. “Our first real fight! It is so exciting! We must set out to the foothills without delay to set up a favorable ambush.”

Dragosha, done with his tasty meal, hooted loudly in anticipation of an exciting adventure, and squeaked in glee.

“Dragosha is ready for a fight, master! Dragosha will teach the lizards a valuable lesson, yes he is! If the little monsters are fortunate enough to survive, that is, which is highly unlikely!”

“I couldn’t agree with you more, my dear Dragosha,” Yanny replied, “but remember that your concealment tactics in the beginning phase of the battle shall be of utmost importance. You are to scout the approaching force from above, reporting to us their numbers.”

“Yes, master,” Yanny’s intelligent familiar replied, “Dragosha remembers his duties, yes he does, and plans to execute them to perfection!”

“Farghan, you should notify the town guards of the impending attack as soon as we leave,” Yanny said. “After some spectacular fireworks by yours truly, Dragosha, Dorna, and Fenran will engage the main force in the foothills, using the element of surprise to destroy as many of them as possible. The remaining attackers will undoubtedly continue their attack, pressing towards Master Drogan’s house. While Fenran remains in the foothills to pick off the fleeing kobolds with his arrows, with assistance from Dragosha, Dorna and I shall teleport directly to Master Drogan’s side to defend the school from within.”

Yanny and Dorna meant to use the power of their magical rings – Master Drogan had given each new apprentice such a ring to ensure the safety of his students. The rings were said to be imbibed by the priests of Mystra and would instantly teleport the wearer to a specially attuned location should the student be badly injured. The rings also responded to a direct command by the wearer to teleport them safely away from a potentially dangerous situation.

“And do you have a plan to protect Master Drogan?” Dorna asked.

“Yes, I believe so,” Yanny said. “There will be kobolds wielding crossbows, I have seen them in my dreams, and they shall need to be taken out quickly.”

“Not much of a plan, by my own guess,” Dorna said. “But it will have to do.”

“Go with all haste, then,” Farghan said. “And may the gods smile brightly upon you, my friends.”

The companions quickly gathered their gear, purchased the necessary wares from the herbalist, and bid him farewell.

☼☼☼☼☼

With renewed strength in their step, Yanny and Dorna trekked towards the foothills while Dragosha flew above their heads, covering vast distances with mighty swoops of his leathery wings. The two friends exited the town proper, traveling east to meet up with Fenran, while Dragosha flew high up into the sky and disappeared in the direction of the Nether Mountains, beyond the snow-covered foothills.

It did not take long for the two friends to meet up with Fenran Valianheart, who was waiting for them near the large stone bridge that was erected over a shallow river and served as an entrance to Hilltop. The bridge connected the small community with three roads – one leading to the Nether Mountains, another leading to Blumberg which was another small community not unlike Hilltop, and the third leading to the High Forest.

Fenran was a middle aged elven ranger and Yanny’s fencing instructor. He was of a tall and slender stature, with large almond shaped brown eyes and flowing blond hair that covered his pointy ears. His facial features were sharp and delicate and he appeared to be in a top physical form, having lived in the harsh wilderness of the Cold Marches for most of his life.

He was dressed in a camouflage outfit and was geared for battle, carrying a longbow in his hands and wearing a long sword and a parrying dagger on his belt. A quiver of arrows was strapped to his back and he wore gloves of archery that allowed for increased accuracy of his shots.

“Well met, Fenran,” Yanny said, approaching the elven ranger. “Have you any news about the kobold raiding party?”

“Well met, my friends,” Fenran replied, displaying a warm smile on his face. “There has been a commotion near the Nether Mountains and the animals appear to be restless, as if sensing the impending attack.”

“What are your plans for ambushing the kobolds?” Dorna asked.

“I have chosen this bridge for our initial attack,” Fenran said. “The two large hills on either side of it should provide a tight passage into Hilltop, effectively bottlenecking our opponents. The main formation of the invading force will undoubtedly cross the bridge, with smaller formations crossing over the river. We shall conceal ourselves on the higher ground, hiding among the thick canopy over there –“ he pointed in the direction of a nearby pine tree-covered hill that was overlooking the bridge, providing a fine tactical position for ranged attacks –“where we can use an element of surprise.”

“I shall rig the bridge with several traps,” Dorna said, reaching into her backpack.

“And I shall provide the fireworks when the kobolds begin crossing the bridge,” Yanny said, smiling impishly.

“In that case, I shall have to offer the foul creatures a rain of arrows,” Fenran laughed. “May the gods smile brightly upon us this day, my friends. Let us begin our preparations.”

The three defenders immediately set about their business, with Dorna busily rigging the entire length of the bridge with devious contraptions while Fenran and Yanny began examining the nearby hills for the most advantageous hiding spots.

The winter sun was lazily climbing into the sky and the crisp snow was glistening like a diamond-studded blanket, covering the entire region in its cold embrace. A few deer were foraging in the nearby hills, perking up their ears from time to time, as if sensing the approaching danger.

Just as Dorna was finishing with her last trap, Dragosha appeared from the direction of the High Forest and flew towards the impromptu bridge ambush. He landed on a nearby log and flapped his wings excitedly.

“What news?” Yanny and Fenran asked in unison.

“A six score of lizard attackers, approaching from the Nether Mountains, master,” Dragosha said, without a hint of nervousness in his voice. “Most are wielding swords but there is a small contingent of crossbow wielders, about a score of them. And there is something else, master.”

“The kobolds are bringing allies?” Yanny ventured a guess.

“Perhaps,” Dragosha replied. “It is strange, master. A two-score force of gnolls is approaching from the High Forest, but they are moving cautiously, sending out many scouts in the direction of the Nether Mountains. It is as if they are shadowing the kobolds, master.”

“A raiding party to intercept another raiding party…” Dorna said.

“But why?” Yanny asked, referring to nobody in particular.

“Perhaps the kobolds are in the possession of something that the gnolls want,” Fenran ventured a guess.

“Or perhaps both parties are searching for something…” Dorna added.

“Something that is hidden in Hilltop,” Yanny concluded, and the defenders shared a confused look.

Hilltop was a small farming community, hidden deep in the wilderness of the Cold Marches, and it did not hold any value for military conquest. Indeed, the nearby city of Silvermoon would appear to be a much better target, if the attackers were actually seeking to sack the place.

Yanny was growing more and more convinced that the kobolds were sent to Hilltop by their masters to retrieve something. It simply did not make any sense to send such a large raiding party to assassinate Master Drogan…

“In any case,” Fenran said, “being more numerous, the kobolds present a more immediate threat, and we should focus our attack on them.”

“How long before the kobolds reach the bridge, Dragosha?” Yanny asked.

“In less than a half-hour, master,” Dragosha answered. “They are almost upon us.”

“In that case, “Yanny said, “a few defensive spells would be prudent.”

“Aye,” Dorna replied, “I agree with you, mage.”

Yanny turned to face Dorna, produced a thin slice of cured bull hide from his belt pouch, and began incanting a spell, tracing the glowing magical runes with his fingers. When he finished the last syllabus, rings of magical energies surrounded Dorna, absorbing into her clothes. She was literally being sheathed in a suit of magical armor that would deflect many attacks from the kobold weapons.

Next, Yanny repeated the same incantation, directing the spell on himself. When the spell was completed, he whispered a quick prayer to Mystra under his breath and began positioning himself between the pine trees, blending easily into the thick canopy.

Dragosha flew towards the tallest tree and disappeared into the canopy.

Dorna positioned herself near Yanny, while Fenran chose a vantage point on another hill across the way. The kobolds would be met with attacks from two directions, and the defenders were hoping to quickly send the main force into disarray, forcing the kobolds to fight defensively.
The first streaks of sunlight were beginning to pierce through the gloomy darkness when the three friends reached the town proper. The inhabitants of Hilltop were still asleep and all was quiet, except for the chirping of birds and an occasional howl of a wolf, coming from the not so distant Nether Mountains.

As the friends approached Farghan’s humble abode, Yanny encountered the local guard dogs that were busily sniffing the ground and digging in seemingly random places. Yanny recognized one of the curious beasts as Bim, a guard dog belonging to the town smith. As Yanny approached, Bim’s ears perked up and the animal wagged its tail in recognition, for the young ranger was well known to the local wildlife as a friend and protector of nature.

Yanny reached out to pet Bim’s coarse brown fur and emphatically sent his warm and sincere greetings, imparting visions of a good hunt upon the animal. He then attuned his senses and experienced feelings of friendship and trust coming from Bim.

Yanny was curious about the odd behavior of the guard dogs and he emphatically communicated his feeling of confusion to Bim. Almost immediately, he experienced visions of a beautiful female wolf – Yanny recognized it to be Farghan’s companion, Bethsheva – hiding a shiny trinket somewhere in the vicinity of the town proper. The next empathetic emotion coming from Bim was one of determination to find the bauble and there was also something else… powerful feelings of love and a strong desire to court Bethsheva.

Yanny was knowledgeable enough in the ways of nature to understand that Bethsheva had probably hidden the shiny trinket to test the local suitors. Being a creature of harsh and unforgiving wilderness, Bethsheva would select a suitor carefully, making sure that the potential father of her pups would be able to efficiently care for them.

In order to gain Bethsheva’s companionship, the potential suitor would have to be a skilled hunter and a fierce fighter, among other traits.

Yanny reached inside his backpack and produced a few strips of dried meat, offering Bim the treats. The guard dog politely sniffed the tasty morsels, gulped them down and the young ranger experienced emotions of gratitude and friendship and a desire to help should the need arise. Yanny emphatically sent an emotion of confidence in Bim’s hunting abilities and with that, he regarded the guard dog and spoke out loud.

“Good hunting to you, Bim, for Bethsheva is a fine companion, indeed.”

Bim perked its ears, wagged its tail in understanding, and bounded away happily, occasionally sniffing the ground. “What are you about?” Dorna asked, squinting her eyes in suspicion.

“Oh, nothing important, my dear Dorna,” Yanny replied and smiled. “It appears that Bim is deeply in… interested in Farghan’s animal companion. You know… the lad and lass things…” he continued, blushing.

“You know, Yanny…” Dorna said with a confused expression on her plump face, “I will never understand how you are able to do this… to communicate with the animals. I mean… they don’t actually speak! They just stare at you!”

“I know…” Yanny said, laughing. “And sometimes I don’t understand certain things about you either, Dorna. You know… being able to sense the vibrations of the stone… or discovering gold coins seemingly out of thin air.”

The friends shared a laugh at that last statement, just as they approached Farghan’s hut. Even at such an early hour, the herbalist was already awake and the smell of the flavorful dawnfry caused Yanny’s stomach to growl. Before mischievous Dorna was able to make an attempt to pick Farghan’s lock, thinking it would be fun to play a prank on the old man, Farghan’s voice materialized out of nowhere and projected a cheerful message.

“I never lock my door, Dorna. Do come in, my dear lass, and please find me in the kitchen where I am busily preparing your dawnfry. You too, lads… I mean… Yanny and Dragosha.”

Dragosha hooted in anticipation of a great meal, Yanny and Dorna smiled at each other, and the friends entered Farghan’s shop.

Inside, they were greeted by Bethsheva, Farghan’s female snow wolf companion, its large, jet black eyes glistening with a deep level of intelligence. Yanny marveled at the beauty of the magnificent beast and approached, attuning his ranger senses.

The animal regarded Yanny with a mild amusement and sent out an empathetic greeting. Yanny reached out to pet the beautiful creature and sent out visions of Bim and Bethsheva running alongside each other, hunting together. In response, the wolf empathetically communicated a polite explanation that when the time came, her master would assist her with choosing a suitable mating partner, if the guard dogs were unable to pass the test. Yanny then experienced visions of a shiny trinket, secreted behind a human building that smelled of iron and fire.

In response, Yanny expressed his gratitude with the Bethsheva’s apparent trust in him. The wolf empathetically sent out feelings of being pleased with the young ranger’s manners and bid him and the friendly dwarven female luck in their hunt. Yanny bid the magnificent animal farewell and the friends continued on their way to the kitchen.

Herbalist Farghan, a well-aged human druid with wolf-like facial features, was busily cooking a meal while chatting happily with Dragosha. He turned to regard the companions with kind and knowledgeable emerald green eyes and exclaimed, “Well met, friends! I was just telling Dragosha here, that I was cooking a special meal for you, for this day may prove to be challenging.”

“Well met, Farghan,” the companions answered in unison, and Dorna asked with an innocent smile on her face, “Let me guess, eggs and mushrooms again?”

“Yes,” replied Farghan, ignoring the jibe, “but with a little twist. My friends, behold ‘Farghan’s Special Recipe’ - a splendid egg and mushroom dawnfry seasoned with helmthorn berries, fenberries, garlic, a hint of belladonna, and a bit of tree bark.”

Dragosha hooted in glee and the companions sat around the small wooden table while Farghan served the food. The herbalist dispensed generous portions of the steaming meal, giving Dragosha a double helping of it, and sat down afterwards.

Upon swallowing the first bite, Yanny felt lightheaded and his vision clouded for a heartbeat. The disorienting sensation subsided almost immediately, and Yanny felt great strength and vitality begin flowing into his muscles. The young ranger also noticed that his reflexes sped up, his vision and hearing became as keen as a hunting arrow, and his skin became as hard as a bark tree.

He spared a glance at Dorna, and by the curious look on her face, he determined that she was similarly affected by the meal’s special ingredients.

“This is delicious, Farghan,” Yanny said. “We would be wise indeed to stock up on these wondrous ingredients for our future meals. Don’t you agree, Dorna?”

“Aye, I agree,” Dorna replied with a hint of awe in her voice. “I feel as strong as a bull and could probably outrun a scared deer!”

Dragosha did not say anything, busily gulping down the meal, but Yanny’s pet familiar visibly grew in size and his leathery wings began to glow softly.

“You like it then!” Farghan laughed. “Worry not, friends, for I have already taken care to add the necessary ingredients to your wares, free of charge.”

Almost immediately, the smile disappeared from the herbalist’s face, and he added grimly, “Gods know you will need all the help you can get, my friends, for the upcoming days may prove to be quite challenging, indeed.”

“You think we shall see a fight this day?” Yanny asked, stuffing a spoonful of the dawnfry into his mouth and rubbing his belly.

“I do not think, Yanny,” Farghan replied, “I know it to be true for I have been communicating with a particular owl that resides in the Nether Mountains. The kobolds are marching to Hilltop as we speak!”

“This is it, then!” Dorna exclaimed. “Our first real fight! It is so exciting! We must set out to the foothills without delay to set up a favorable ambush.”

Dragosha, done with his tasty meal, hooted loudly in anticipation of an exciting adventure, and squeaked in glee.

“Dragosha is ready for a fight, master! Dragosha will teach the lizards a valuable lesson, yes he is! If the little monsters are fortunate enough to survive, that is, which is highly unlikely!”

“I couldn’t agree with you more, my dear Dragosha,” Yanny replied, “but remember that your concealment tactics in the beginning phase of the battle shall be of utmost importance. You are to scout the approaching force from above, reporting to us their numbers.”

“Yes, master,” Yanny’s intelligent familiar replied, “Dragosha remembers his duties, yes he does, and plans to execute them to perfection!”

“Farghan, you should notify the town guards of the impending attack as soon as we leave,” Yanny said. “After some spectacular fireworks by yours truly, Dragosha, Dorna, and Fenran will engage the main force in the foothills, using the element of surprise to destroy as many of them as possible. The remaining attackers will undoubtedly continue their attack, pressing towards Master Drogan’s house. While Fenran remains in the foothills to pick off the fleeing kobolds with his arrows, with assistance from Dragosha, Dorna and I shall teleport directly to Master Drogan’s side to defend the school from within.”

Yanny and Dorna meant to use the power of their magical rings – Master Drogan had given each new apprentice such a ring to ensure the safety of his students. The rings were said to be imbibed by the priests of Mystra and would instantly teleport the wearer to a specially attuned location should the student be badly injured. The rings also responded to a direct command by the wearer to teleport them safely away from a potentially dangerous situation.

“And do you have a plan to protect Master Drogan?” Dorna asked.

“Yes, I believe so,” Yanny said. “There will be kobolds wielding crossbows, I have seen them in my dreams, and they shall need to be taken out quickly.”

“Not much of a plan, by my own guess,” Dorna said. “But it will have to do.”

“Go with all haste, then,” Farghan said. “And may the gods smile brightly upon you, my friends.”

The companions quickly gathered their gear, purchased the necessary wares from the herbalist, and bid him farewell.

☼☼☼☼☼

With renewed strength in their step, Yanny and Dorna trekked towards the foothills while Dragosha flew above their heads, covering vast distances with mighty swoops of his leathery wings. The two friends exited the town proper, traveling east to meet up with Fenran, while Dragosha flew high up into the sky and disappeared in the direction of the Nether Mountains, beyond the snow-covered foothills.

It did not take long for the two friends to meet up with Fenran Valianheart, who was waiting for them near the large stone bridge that was erected over a shallow river and served as an entrance to Hilltop. The bridge connected the small community with three roads – one leading to the Nether Mountains, another leading to Blumberg which was another small community not unlike Hilltop, and the third leading to the High Forest.

Fenran was a middle aged elven ranger and Yanny’s fencing instructor. He was of a tall and slender stature, with large almond shaped brown eyes and flowing blond hair that covered his pointy ears. His facial features were sharp and delicate and he appeared to be in a top physical form, having lived in the harsh wilderness of the Cold Marches for most of his life.

He was dressed in a camouflage outfit and was geared for battle, carrying a longbow in his hands and wearing a long sword and a parrying dagger on his belt. A quiver of arrows was strapped to his back and he wore gloves of archery that allowed for increased accuracy of his shots.

“Well met, Fenran,” Yanny said, approaching the elven ranger. “Have you any news about the kobold raiding party?”

“Well met, my friends,” Fenran replied, displaying a warm smile on his face. “There has been a commotion near the Nether Mountains and the animals appear to be restless, as if sensing the impending attack.”

“What are your plans for ambushing the kobolds?” Dorna asked.

“I have chosen this bridge for our initial attack,” Fenran said. “The two large hills on either side of it should provide a tight passage into Hilltop, effectively bottlenecking our opponents. The main formation of the invading force will undoubtedly cross the bridge, with smaller formations crossing over the river. We shall conceal ourselves on the higher ground, hiding among the thick canopy over there –“ he pointed in the direction of a nearby pine tree-covered hill that was overlooking the bridge, providing a fine tactical position for ranged attacks –“where we can use an element of surprise.”

“I shall rig the bridge with several traps,” Dorna said, reaching into her backpack.

“And I shall provide the fireworks when the kobolds begin crossing the bridge,” Yanny said, smiling impishly.

“In that case, I shall have to offer the foul creatures a rain of arrows,” Fenran laughed. “May the gods smile brightly upon us this day, my friends. Let us begin our preparations.”

The three defenders immediately set about their business, with Dorna busily rigging the entire length of the bridge with devious contraptions while Fenran and Yanny began examining the nearby hills for the most advantageous hiding spots.

The winter sun was lazily climbing into the sky and the crisp snow was glistening like a diamond-studded blanket, covering the entire region in its cold embrace. A few deer were foraging in the nearby hills, perking up their ears from time to time, as if sensing the approaching danger.

Just as Dorna was finishing with her last trap, Dragosha appeared from the direction of the High Forest and flew towards the impromptu bridge ambush. He landed on a nearby log and flapped his wings excitedly.

“What news?” Yanny and Fenran asked in unison.

“A six score of lizard attackers, approaching from the Nether Mountains, master,” Dragosha said, without a hint of nervousness in his voice. “Most are wielding swords but there is a small contingent of crossbow wielders, about a score of them. And there is something else, master.”

“The kobolds are bringing allies?” Yanny ventured a guess.

“Perhaps,” Dragosha replied. “It is strange, master. A two-score force of gnolls is approaching from the High Forest, but they are moving cautiously, sending out many scouts in the direction of the Nether Mountains. It is as if they are shadowing the kobolds, master.”

“A raiding party to intercept another raiding party…” Dorna said.

“But why?” Yanny asked, referring to nobody in particular.

“Perhaps the kobolds are in the possession of something that the gnolls want,” Fenran ventured a guess.

“Or perhaps both parties are searching for something…” Dorna added.

“Something that is hidden in Hilltop,” Yanny concluded, and the defenders shared a confused look.

Hilltop was a small farming community, hidden deep in the wilderness of the Cold Marches, and it did not hold any value for military conquest. Indeed, the nearby city of Silvermoon would appear to be a much better target, if the attackers were actually seeking to sack the place.

Yanny was growing more and more convinced that the kobolds were sent to Hilltop by their masters to retrieve something. It simply did not make any sense to send such a large raiding party to assassinate Master Drogan…

“In any case,” Fenran said, “being more numerous, the kobolds present a more immediate threat, and we should focus our attack on them.”

“How long before the kobolds reach the bridge, Dragosha?” Yanny asked.

“In less than a half-hour, master,” Dragosha answered. “They are almost upon us.”

“In that case, “Yanny said, “a few defensive spells would be prudent.”

“Aye,” Dorna replied, “I agree with you, mage.”

Yanny turned to face Dorna, produced a thin slice of cured bull hide from his belt pouch, and began incanting a spell, tracing the glowing magical runes with his fingers. When he finished the last syllabus, rings of magical energies surrounded Dorna, absorbing into her clothes. She was literally being sheathed in a suit of magical armor that would deflect many attacks from the kobold weapons.

Next, Yanny repeated the same incantation, directing the spell on himself. When the spell was completed, he whispered a quick prayer to Mystra under his breath and began positioning himself between the pine trees, blending easily into the thick canopy.

Dragosha flew towards the tallest tree and disappeared into the canopy.

Dorna positioned herself near Yanny, while Fenran chose a vantage point on another hill across the way. The kobolds would be met with attacks from two directions, and the defenders were hoping to quickly send the main force into disarray, forcing the kobolds to fight defensively.The first streaks of sunlight were beginning to pierce through the gloomy darkness when the three friends reached the town proper. The inhabitants of Hilltop were still asleep and all was quiet, except for the chirping of birds and an occasional howl of a wolf, coming from the not so distant Nether Mountains.

As the friends approached Farghan’s humble abode, Yanny encountered the local guard dogs that were busily sniffing the ground and digging in seemingly random places. Yanny recognized one of the curious beasts as Bim, a guard dog belonging to the town smith. As Yanny approached, Bim’s ears perked up and the animal wagged its tail in recognition, for the young ranger was well known to the local wildlife as a friend and protector of nature.

Yanny reached out to pet Bim’s coarse brown fur and emphatically sent his warm and sincere greetings, imparting visions of a good hunt upon the animal. He then attuned his senses and experienced feelings of friendship and trust coming from Bim.

Yanny was curious about the odd behavior of the guard dogs and he emphatically communicated his feeling of confusion to Bim. Almost immediately, he experienced visions of a beautiful female wolf – Yanny recognized it to be Farghan’s companion, Bethsheva – hiding a shiny trinket somewhere in the vicinity of the town proper. The next empathetic emotion coming from Bim was one of determination to find the bauble and there was also something else… powerful feelings of love and a strong desire to court Bethsheva.

Yanny was knowledgeable enough in the ways of nature to understand that Bethsheva had probably hidden the shiny trinket to test the local suitors. Being a creature of harsh and unforgiving wilderness, Bethsheva would select a suitor carefully, making sure that the potential father of her pups would be able to efficiently care for them.

In order to gain Bethsheva’s companionship, the potential suitor would have to be a skilled hunter and a fierce fighter, among other traits.

Yanny reached inside his backpack and produced a few strips of dried meat, offering Bim the treats. The guard dog politely sniffed the tasty morsels, gulped them down and the young ranger experienced emotions of gratitude and friendship and a desire to help should the need arise. Yanny emphatically sent an emotion of confidence in Bim’s hunting abilities and with that, he regarded the guard dog and spoke out loud.

“Good hunting to you, Bim, for Bethsheva is a fine companion, indeed.”

Bim perked its ears, wagged its tail in understanding, and bounded away happily, occasionally sniffing the ground. “What are you about?” Dorna asked, squinting her eyes in suspicion.

“Oh, nothing important, my dear Dorna,” Yanny replied and smiled. “It appears that Bim is deeply in… interested in Farghan’s animal companion. You know… the lad and lass things…” he continued, blushing.

“You know, Yanny…” Dorna said with a confused expression on her plump face, “I will never understand how you are able to do this… to communicate with the animals. I mean… they don’t actually speak! They just stare at you!”

“I know…” Yanny said, laughing. “And sometimes I don’t understand certain things about you either, Dorna. You know… being able to sense the vibrations of the stone… or discovering gold coins seemingly out of thin air.”

The friends shared a laugh at that last statement, just as they approached Farghan’s hut. Even at such an early hour, the herbalist was already awake and the smell of the flavorful dawnfry caused Yanny’s stomach to growl. Before mischievous Dorna was able to make an attempt to pick Farghan’s lock, thinking it would be fun to play a prank on the old man, Farghan’s voice materialized out of nowhere and projected a cheerful message.

“I never lock my door, Dorna. Do come in, my dear lass, and please find me in the kitchen where I am busily preparing your dawnfry. You too, lads… I mean… Yanny and Dragosha.”

Dragosha hooted in anticipation of a great meal, Yanny and Dorna smiled at each other, and the friends entered Farghan’s shop.

Inside, they were greeted by Bethsheva, Farghan’s female snow wolf companion, its large, jet black eyes glistening with a deep level of intelligence. Yanny marveled at the beauty of the magnificent beast and approached, attuning his ranger senses.

The animal regarded Yanny with a mild amusement and sent out an empathetic greeting. Yanny reached out to pet the beautiful creature and sent out visions of Bim and Bethsheva running alongside each other, hunting together. In response, the wolf empathetically communicated a polite explanation that when the time came, her master would assist her with choosing a suitable mating partner, if the guard dogs were unable to pass the test. Yanny then experienced visions of a shiny trinket, secreted behind a human building that smelled of iron and fire.

In response, Yanny expressed his gratitude with the Bethsheva’s apparent trust in him. The wolf empathetically sent out feelings of being pleased with the young ranger’s manners and bid him and the friendly dwarven female luck in their hunt. Yanny bid the magnificent animal farewell and the friends continued on their way to the kitchen.

Herbalist Farghan, a well-aged human druid with wolf-like facial features, was busily cooking a meal while chatting happily with Dragosha. He turned to regard the companions with kind and knowledgeable emerald green eyes and exclaimed, “Well met, friends! I was just telling Dragosha here, that I was cooking a special meal for you, for this day may prove to be challenging.”

“Well met, Farghan,” the companions answered in unison, and Dorna asked with an innocent smile on her face, “Let me guess, eggs and mushrooms again?”

“Yes,” replied Farghan, ignoring the jibe, “but with a little twist. My friends, behold ‘Farghan’s Special Recipe’ - a splendid egg and mushroom dawnfry seasoned with helmthorn berries, fenberries, garlic, a hint of belladonna, and a bit of tree bark.”

Dragosha hooted in glee and the companions sat around the small wooden table while Farghan served the food. The herbalist dispensed generous portions of the steaming meal, giving Dragosha a double helping of it, and sat down afterwards.

Upon swallowing the first bite, Yanny felt lightheaded and his vision clouded for a heartbeat. The disorienting sensation subsided almost immediately, and Yanny felt great strength and vitality begin flowing into his muscles. The young ranger also noticed that his reflexes sped up, his vision and hearing became as keen as a hunting arrow, and his skin became as hard as a bark tree.

He spared a glance at Dorna, and by the curious look on her face, he determined that she was similarly affected by the meal’s special ingredients.

“This is delicious, Farghan,” Yanny said. “We would be wise indeed to stock up on these wondrous ingredients for our future meals. Don’t you agree, Dorna?”

“Aye, I agree,” Dorna replied with a hint of awe in her voice. “I feel as strong as a bull and could probably outrun a scared deer!”

Dragosha did not say anything, busily gulping down the meal, but Yanny’s pet familiar visibly grew in size and his leathery wings began to glow softly.

“You like it then!” Farghan laughed. “Worry not, friends, for I have already taken care to add the necessary ingredients to your wares, free of charge.”

Almost immediately, the smile disappeared from the herbalist’s face, and he added grimly, “Gods know you will need all the help you can get, my friends, for the upcoming days may prove to be quite challenging, indeed.”

“You think we shall see a fight this day?” Yanny asked, stuffing a spoonful of the dawnfry into his mouth and rubbing his belly.

“I do not think, Yanny,” Farghan replied, “I know it to be true for I have been communicating with a particular owl that resides in the Nether Mountains. The kobolds are marching to Hilltop as we speak!”

“This is it, then!” Dorna exclaimed. “Our first real fight! It is so exciting! We must set out to the foothills without delay to set up a favorable ambush.”

Dragosha, done with his tasty meal, hooted loudly in anticipation of an exciting adventure, and squeaked in glee.

“Dragosha is ready for a fight, master! Dragosha will teach the lizards a valuable lesson, yes he is! If the little monsters are fortunate enough to survive, that is, which is highly unlikely!”

“I couldn’t agree with you more, my dear Dragosha,” Yanny replied, “but remember that your concealment tactics in the beginning phase of the battle shall be of utmost importance. You are to scout the approaching force from above, reporting to us their numbers.”

“Yes, master,” Yanny’s intelligent familiar replied, “Dragosha remembers his duties, yes he does, and plans to execute them to perfection!”

“Farghan, you should notify the town guards of the impending attack as soon as we leave,” Yanny said. “After some spectacular fireworks by yours truly, Dragosha, Dorna, and Fenran will engage the main force in the foothills, using the element of surprise to destroy as many of them as possible. The remaining attackers will undoubtedly continue their attack, pressing towards Master Drogan’s house. While Fenran remains in the foothills to pick off the fleeing kobolds with his arrows, with assistance from Dragosha, Dorna and I shall teleport directly to Master Drogan’s side to defend the school from within.”

Yanny and Dorna meant to use the power of their magical rings – Master Drogan had given each new apprentice such a ring to ensure the safety of his students. The rings were said to be imbibed by the priests of Mystra and would instantly teleport the wearer to a specially attuned location should the student be badly injured. The rings also responded to a direct command by the wearer to teleport them safely away from a potentially dangerous situation.

“And do you have a plan to protect Master Drogan?” Dorna asked.

“Yes, I believe so,” Yanny said. “There will be kobolds wielding crossbows, I have seen them in my dreams, and they shall need to be taken out quickly.”

“Not much of a plan, by my own guess,” Dorna said. “But it will have to do.”

“Go with all haste, then,” Farghan said. “And may the gods smile brightly upon you, my friends.”

The companions quickly gathered their gear, purchased the necessary wares from the herbalist, and bid him farewell.

☼☼☼☼☼

With renewed strength in their step, Yanny and Dorna trekked towards the foothills while Dragosha flew above their heads, covering vast distances with mighty swoops of his leathery wings. The two friends exited the town proper, traveling east to meet up with Fenran, while Dragosha flew high up into the sky and disappeared in the direction of the Nether Mountains, beyond the snow-covered foothills.

It did not take long for the two friends to meet up with Fenran Valianheart, who was waiting for them near the large stone bridge that was erected over a shallow river and served as an entrance to Hilltop. The bridge connected the small community with three roads – one leading to the Nether Mountains, another leading to Blumberg which was another small community not unlike Hilltop, and the third leading to the High Forest.

Fenran was a middle aged elven ranger and Yanny’s fencing instructor. He was of a tall and slender stature, with large almond shaped brown eyes and flowing blond hair that covered his pointy ears. His facial features were sharp and delicate and he appeared to be in a top physical form, having lived in the harsh wilderness of the Cold Marches for most of his life.

He was dressed in a camouflage outfit and was geared for battle, carrying a longbow in his hands and wearing a long sword and a parrying dagger on his belt. A quiver of arrows was strapped to his back and he wore gloves of archery that allowed for increased accuracy of his shots.

“Well met, Fenran,” Yanny said, approaching the elven ranger. “Have you any news about the kobold raiding party?”

“Well met, my friends,” Fenran replied, displaying a warm smile on his face. “There has been a commotion near the Nether Mountains and the animals appear to be restless, as if sensing the impending attack.”

“What are your plans for ambushing the kobolds?” Dorna asked.

“I have chosen this bridge for our initial attack,” Fenran said. “The two large hills on either side of it should provide a tight passage into Hilltop, effectively bottlenecking our opponents. The main formation of the invading force will undoubtedly cross the bridge, with smaller formations crossing over the river. We shall conceal ourselves on the higher ground, hiding among the thick canopy over there –“ he pointed in the direction of a nearby pine tree-covered hill that was overlooking the bridge, providing a fine tactical position for ranged attacks –“where we can use an element of surprise.”

“I shall rig the bridge with several traps,” Dorna said, reaching into her backpack.

“And I shall provide the fireworks when the kobolds begin crossing the bridge,” Yanny said, smiling impishly.

“In that case, I shall have to offer the foul creatures a rain of arrows,” Fenran laughed. “May the gods smile brightly upon us this day, my friends. Let us begin our preparations.”

The three defenders immediately set about their business, with Dorna busily rigging the entire length of the bridge with devious contraptions while Fenran and Yanny began examining the nearby hills for the most advantageous hiding spots.

The winter sun was lazily climbing into the sky and the crisp snow was glistening like a diamond-studded blanket, covering the entire region in its cold embrace. A few deer were foraging in the nearby hills, perking up their ears from time to time, as if sensing the approaching danger.

Just as Dorna was finishing with her last trap, Dragosha appeared from the direction of the High Forest and flew towards the impromptu bridge ambush. He landed on a nearby log and flapped his wings excitedly.

“What news?” Yanny and Fenran asked in unison.

“A six score of lizard attackers, approaching from the Nether Mountains, master,” Dragosha said, without a hint of nervousness in his voice. “Most are wielding swords but there is a small contingent of crossbow wielders, about a score of them. And there is something else, master.”

“The kobolds are bringing allies?” Yanny ventured a guess.

“Perhaps,” Dragosha replied. “It is strange, master. A two-score force of gnolls is approaching from the High Forest, but they are moving cautiously, sending out many scouts in the direction of the Nether Mountains. It is as if they are shadowing the kobolds, master.”

“A raiding party to intercept another raiding party…” Dorna said.

“But why?” Yanny asked, referring to nobody in particular.

“Perhaps the kobolds are in the possession of something that the gnolls want,” Fenran ventured a guess.

“Or perhaps both parties are searching for something…” Dorna added.

“Something that is hidden in Hilltop,” Yanny concluded, and the defenders shared a confused look.

Hilltop was a small farming community, hidden deep in the wilderness of the Cold Marches, and it did not hold any value for military conquest. Indeed, the nearby city of Silvermoon would appear to be a much better target, if the attackers were actually seeking to sack the place.

Yanny was growing more and more convinced that the kobolds were sent to Hilltop by their masters to retrieve something. It simply did not make any sense to send such a large raiding party to assassinate Master Drogan…

“In any case,” Fenran said, “being more numerous, the kobolds present a more immediate threat, and we should focus our attack on them.”

“How long before the kobolds reach the bridge, Dragosha?” Yanny asked.

“In less than a half-hour, master,” Dragosha answered. “They are almost upon us.”

“In that case, “Yanny said, “a few defensive spells would be prudent.”

“Aye,” Dorna replied, “I agree with you, mage.”

Yanny turned to face Dorna, produced a thin slice of cured bull hide from his belt pouch, and began incanting a spell, tracing the glowing magical runes with his fingers. When he finished the last syllabus, rings of magical energies surrounded Dorna, absorbing into her clothes. She was literally being sheathed in a suit of magical armor that would deflect many attacks from the kobold weapons.

Next, Yanny repeated the same incantation, directing the spell on himself. When the spell was completed, he whispered a quick prayer to Mystra under his breath and began positioning himself between the pine trees, blending easily into the thick canopy.

Dragosha flew towards the tallest tree and disappeared into the canopy.

Dorna positioned herself near Yanny, while Fenran chose a vantage point on another hill across the way. The kobolds would be met with attacks from two directions, and the defenders were hoping to quickly send the main force into disarray, forcing the kobolds to fight defensively.

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6 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:31 am

Maxduelantus

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Head Overseer
The companions did not have to wait long before they heard the clumsy footsteps of the approaching attackers. Yanny tensed up when the first group of the small, lizard-like creatures with slender tails appeared in the distance, undoubtedly the scouts from the main force.

Behind them, the main contingent began emerging from the bushes, carrying daggers, short swords, bucklers, occasional spears, and crossbows. Most of them wore ragged leather vests that were strapped haphazardly upon their skinny bodies. The crossbow attackers were randomly scattered through their ranks, surrounded by the main contingent of forces. The kobold leaders, dressed in small leather vests painted white, were shouting commands in high-pitched, squeaky voices, ordering the main force to cross the bridge.

It was a curious sight for Yanny.

Kobolds were not known to be overly fond of engaging in military campaigns, unless they were being forced into such actions by other, more powerful races. Even when kobolds were being used as fodder, the main forces of the real attackers would usually be flanking them. No such forces were present now, and Yanny wondered again if the gnolls, marching from the High Forest, were supposed to supplement the kobold raiding party.

And something else bothered Yanny…

About a dozen kobolds were carrying wands strapped at their belts. If the attackers were able to afford such expensive magic, it meant that they were being directed by powerful allies indeed. It also meant that the hardwood entrance into Master Drogan’s house would not likely impede their attack.

The kobolds appeared to be scared by their own actions, visibly shaking and nervously clutching their small weapons. When they reached the bridge, the kobolds split their ranks and engulfed the stone bridge from both sides, crossing through the shallow waters, while the main contingent strode blindly into Dorna’s traps.

The angry sounds of electrical discharge and the pained cries of the little creatures filled the air, amplified by the foul stench of burning flesh. The kobolds broke ranks immediately, fleeing towards Hilltop without even putting up a fight. The main contingent did not even slow down as they ran through the traps. As the jolts of electricity stalled their progress, they began jumping over the bridge.

Most of them were trampled to death in the ensuing frenzy.

Yanny produced a pinch of sulphur and a tiny ball of bat guano, quickly incanting the words to a spell.

With the exercise of his will, he tapped into the raw energy of the Weave to increase the potency of the spell, pointed his finger at the stalling kobold force, and a small bead of fire flew unerringly towards the bridge entrance where it detonated in a devastating blast of searing flames. The screams of agony were deafening and the smell of burning flesh became almost unbearable.

The remaining kobold forces that initially avoided the bridge were fleeing through the shallow river when Fenran’s arrows began piercing through their ranks.

Those fortunate enough to die instantly were spared the pain of being trampled to death by their fleeing comrades.

When the smoke from Yanny’s fireball cleared somewhat, the defenders found the main contingent of kobolds almost completely destroyed. The remaining score of the badly burned creatures was attempting to organize into some semblance of a defensive formation when Dragosha flew over their heads and exhaled a cloud of searing flames into their midst, effectively ending their miserable survival attempts.

With the main contingent destroyed and the remaining force fleeing towards Hilltop, Yanny and Dorna called upon the power of their rings and teleported away.

Meanwhile, Fenran and Dragosha took up the pursuit, flanking the fleeing kobolds from behind. Many of the creatures fell dead before reaching Hilltop, either pierced by the arrows or incinerated by the flames. Yet many of them escaped unharmed, quickly reaching the locked town gate.

Although Hilltop was a small community, the few town guards that resided within were nervously brandishing their swords, ready to meet the charge should the kobolds breach the gate.

To their credit, the remaining contingent of kobolds quickly organized into a wedge formation in front of the gate. With the apparently rehearsed and efficient movements, the little creatures split into groups of three and began catapulting each other over the gate, with two of the creatures swinging the third to gain enough momentum before releasing their grip.

One of the groups miscalculated their swings and the unfortunate intruder flew backwards and into the midst of the formation, impaling itself on a spear. The rest of the kobolds continued hopping over the gate in this manner, landing nimbly on their feet and engaging the town guards.

In the span of a few heartbeats, half of the kobold attackers breached the town and hastily began opening the gate while fending off the attacks of the town guards. When the gate finally opened, the remaining attackers flooded through it.

Overwhelmed, the town guards broke ranks, and the kobolds continued their wild charge through the town.

They were fleeing towards Master Drogan’s farm.
The companions did not have to wait long before they heard the clumsy footsteps of the approaching attackers. Yanny tensed up when the first group of the small, lizard-like creatures with slender tails appeared in the distance, undoubtedly the scouts from the main force.

Behind them, the main contingent began emerging from the bushes, carrying daggers, short swords, bucklers, occasional spears, and crossbows. Most of them wore ragged leather vests that were strapped haphazardly upon their skinny bodies. The crossbow attackers were randomly scattered through their ranks, surrounded by the main contingent of forces. The kobold leaders, dressed in small leather vests painted white, were shouting commands in high-pitched, squeaky voices, ordering the main force to cross the bridge.

It was a curious sight for Yanny.

Kobolds were not known to be overly fond of engaging in military campaigns, unless they were being forced into such actions by other, more powerful races. Even when kobolds were being used as fodder, the main forces of the real attackers would usually be flanking them. No such forces were present now, and Yanny wondered again if the gnolls, marching from the High Forest, were supposed to supplement the kobold raiding party.

And something else bothered Yanny…

About a dozen kobolds were carrying wands strapped at their belts. If the attackers were able to afford such expensive magic, it meant that they were being directed by powerful allies indeed. It also meant that the hardwood entrance into Master Drogan’s house would not likely impede their attack.

The kobolds appeared to be scared by their own actions, visibly shaking and nervously clutching their small weapons. When they reached the bridge, the kobolds split their ranks and engulfed the stone bridge from both sides, crossing through the shallow waters, while the main contingent strode blindly into Dorna’s traps.

The angry sounds of electrical discharge and the pained cries of the little creatures filled the air, amplified by the foul stench of burning flesh. The kobolds broke ranks immediately, fleeing towards Hilltop without even putting up a fight. The main contingent did not even slow down as they ran through the traps. As the jolts of electricity stalled their progress, they began jumping over the bridge.

Most of them were trampled to death in the ensuing frenzy.

Yanny produced a pinch of sulphur and a tiny ball of bat guano, quickly incanting the words to a spell.

With the exercise of his will, he tapped into the raw energy of the Weave to increase the potency of the spell, pointed his finger at the stalling kobold force, and a small bead of fire flew unerringly towards the bridge entrance where it detonated in a devastating blast of searing flames. The screams of agony were deafening and the smell of burning flesh became almost unbearable.

The remaining kobold forces that initially avoided the bridge were fleeing through the shallow river when Fenran’s arrows began piercing through their ranks.

Those fortunate enough to die instantly were spared the pain of being trampled to death by their fleeing comrades.

When the smoke from Yanny’s fireball cleared somewhat, the defenders found the main contingent of kobolds almost completely destroyed. The remaining score of the badly burned creatures was attempting to organize into some semblance of a defensive formation when Dragosha flew over their heads and exhaled a cloud of searing flames into their midst, effectively ending their miserable survival attempts.

With the main contingent destroyed and the remaining force fleeing towards Hilltop, Yanny and Dorna called upon the power of their rings and teleported away.

Meanwhile, Fenran and Dragosha took up the pursuit, flanking the fleeing kobolds from behind. Many of the creatures fell dead before reaching Hilltop, either pierced by the arrows or incinerated by the flames. Yet many of them escaped unharmed, quickly reaching the locked town gate.

Although Hilltop was a small community, the few town guards that resided within were nervously brandishing their swords, ready to meet the charge should the kobolds breach the gate.

To their credit, the remaining contingent of kobolds quickly organized into a wedge formation in front of the gate. With the apparently rehearsed and efficient movements, the little creatures split into groups of three and began catapulting each other over the gate, with two of the creatures swinging the third to gain enough momentum before releasing their grip.

One of the groups miscalculated their swings and the unfortunate intruder flew backwards and into the midst of the formation, impaling itself on a spear. The rest of the kobolds continued hopping over the gate in this manner, landing nimbly on their feet and engaging the town guards.

In the span of a few heartbeats, half of the kobold attackers breached the town and hastily began opening the gate while fending off the attacks of the town guards. When the gate finally opened, the remaining attackers flooded through it.

Overwhelmed, the town guards broke ranks, and the kobolds continued their wild charge through the town.

They were fleeing towards Master Drogan’s farm.The companions did not have to wait long before they heard the clumsy footsteps of the approaching attackers. Yanny tensed up when the first group of the small, lizard-like creatures with slender tails appeared in the distance, undoubtedly the scouts from the main force.

Behind them, the main contingent began emerging from the bushes, carrying daggers, short swords, bucklers, occasional spears, and crossbows. Most of them wore ragged leather vests that were strapped haphazardly upon their skinny bodies. The crossbow attackers were randomly scattered through their ranks, surrounded by the main contingent of forces. The kobold leaders, dressed in small leather vests painted white, were shouting commands in high-pitched, squeaky voices, ordering the main force to cross the bridge.

It was a curious sight for Yanny.

Kobolds were not known to be overly fond of engaging in military campaigns, unless they were being forced into such actions by other, more powerful races. Even when kobolds were being used as fodder, the main forces of the real attackers would usually be flanking them. No such forces were present now, and Yanny wondered again if the gnolls, marching from the High Forest, were supposed to supplement the kobold raiding party.

And something else bothered Yanny…

About a dozen kobolds were carrying wands strapped at their belts. If the attackers were able to afford such expensive magic, it meant that they were being directed by powerful allies indeed. It also meant that the hardwood entrance into Master Drogan’s house would not likely impede their attack.

The kobolds appeared to be scared by their own actions, visibly shaking and nervously clutching their small weapons. When they reached the bridge, the kobolds split their ranks and engulfed the stone bridge from both sides, crossing through the shallow waters, while the main contingent strode blindly into Dorna’s traps.

The angry sounds of electrical discharge and the pained cries of the little creatures filled the air, amplified by the foul stench of burning flesh. The kobolds broke ranks immediately, fleeing towards Hilltop without even putting up a fight. The main contingent did not even slow down as they ran through the traps. As the jolts of electricity stalled their progress, they began jumping over the bridge.

Most of them were trampled to death in the ensuing frenzy.

Yanny produced a pinch of sulphur and a tiny ball of bat guano, quickly incanting the words to a spell.

With the exercise of his will, he tapped into the raw energy of the Weave to increase the potency of the spell, pointed his finger at the stalling kobold force, and a small bead of fire flew unerringly towards the bridge entrance where it detonated in a devastating blast of searing flames. The screams of agony were deafening and the smell of burning flesh became almost unbearable.

The remaining kobold forces that initially avoided the bridge were fleeing through the shallow river when Fenran’s arrows began piercing through their ranks.

Those fortunate enough to die instantly were spared the pain of being trampled to death by their fleeing comrades.

When the smoke from Yanny’s fireball cleared somewhat, the defenders found the main contingent of kobolds almost completely destroyed. The remaining score of the badly burned creatures was attempting to organize into some semblance of a defensive formation when Dragosha flew over their heads and exhaled a cloud of searing flames into their midst, effectively ending their miserable survival attempts.

With the main contingent destroyed and the remaining force fleeing towards Hilltop, Yanny and Dorna called upon the power of their rings and teleported away.

Meanwhile, Fenran and Dragosha took up the pursuit, flanking the fleeing kobolds from behind. Many of the creatures fell dead before reaching Hilltop, either pierced by the arrows or incinerated by the flames. Yet many of them escaped unharmed, quickly reaching the locked town gate.

Although Hilltop was a small community, the few town guards that resided within were nervously brandishing their swords, ready to meet the charge should the kobolds breach the gate.

To their credit, the remaining contingent of kobolds quickly organized into a wedge formation in front of the gate. With the apparently rehearsed and efficient movements, the little creatures split into groups of three and began catapulting each other over the gate, with two of the creatures swinging the third to gain enough momentum before releasing their grip.

One of the groups miscalculated their swings and the unfortunate intruder flew backwards and into the midst of the formation, impaling itself on a spear. The rest of the kobolds continued hopping over the gate in this manner, landing nimbly on their feet and engaging the town guards.

In the span of a few heartbeats, half of the kobold attackers breached the town and hastily began opening the gate while fending off the attacks of the town guards. When the gate finally opened, the remaining attackers flooded through it.

Overwhelmed, the town guards broke ranks, and the kobolds continued their wild charge through the town.

They were fleeing towards Master Drogan’s farm.

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7 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:32 am

Maxduelantus

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Head Overseer
When Yanny and Dorna teleported into the main room of Master Drogan’s house, they encountered Xanos and Mischa talking nervously to a strange elven lady. She was dressed in purple traveling gear and appeared to be weary, as if she had been running for many hours. Her beautiful face was smudged in several places and her cloak was torn in more than one place. Yet she appeared composed and her deep blue eyes sparkled with determination. A long sword was strapped to her belt, and judging by her coordinated movements and calm demeanor, she was probably quite proficient with it.

Master Drogan was not in the room.
“Well met, friends,” the mysterious stranger said, bowing respectfully but with an air of confidence and authority. “You must be Drogan’s apprentices. I have traveled from afar to aid you in these dire times.”
“Thank you for your help, lady,” Mischa answered, nervously clutching a crossbow in her hands. “But… who are you?”
“I find it more than a little suspicious that some helpful stranger would show up just as these lizards are about to attack us, eh?” Xanos added before the traveler could reply, clutching the handle of his dagger.
“How rude,” Mischa exclaimed and glared at Xanos. “This lady aids us without asking for anything in return. Would you repay her with suspicion?”
Dorna took a step forward and decided that she was also a little perturbed by the sudden appearance of a stranger.
“Rude or not,” she said, “I’d like an answer, as well. You have remarkable timing, my lady.”
The strange traveler bowed again and said, “Of course you are suspicious. I would be, as well, were I in your shoes. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ayala Windspear. I have been following the tracks of these kobolds for almost two days, now. I thought it odd that they would range so far from their home caves in the Nether Mountains. As soon as I realized they were headed for Hilltop, I came as swiftly as I could.”
“And why were you tracking the kobolds in the first place?” Xanos asked, still more than a little suspicious.
“I was just passing through this area, to be perfectly honest with you. It is my responsibility to take note of strange occurrences and investigate them, however.”
“What do you mean it’s your responsibility?” Dorna asked.

“I am a Harper, as is Drogan,” Ayala replied, throwing back her cloak to reveal a small silver harp pendant, pinned to collar of her tunic.

Before any of the apprentices could voice a reply, Master Drogan emerged from his laboratory and exclaimed, “Ayala! So good it is to see a fellow Harper come to aid us in these dangerous times.”

Master Drogan was an old dwarf by all accounts, having seen more than a few centuries of life that were filled with adventures. He was equally skilled as a cleric and as a wizard, and could certainly dish out enough pain with his sturdy punches to leave a hill giant feebleminded. He was short and stout, with a bald head and a silvery-gray beard that reached all the way to his round belly.
A pair of circular glasses in a silver frame adorned his plump face. He wore the flowing robes of a wizard and carried a rune inscribed staff of power, said to contain much magic.
The good dwarf spent much of his career as a Harper and possessed much knowledge and wisdom. He had retired to Hilltop in the hopes of passing on his legacy by developing the students in his service into good-natured, kind, and caring adults.

The good dwarf rushed up to embrace Ayala and then turned to regard his apprentices.
“Yanny, Dorna, my dear students, you are unharmed! Mystra be praised!”
“Well met, Master Drogan,” Yanny said. “The kobolds are upon us. We were able to deal with the main contingent, but the remaining forces are likely breaching the town gate as we speak.”
“There is no time to waste,” Dorna added, brandishing her battle axe. “We must act decisively.”
“My dear students,” Master Drogan said, his eyes glinting with tears. “Never did I want to put you all in such dire circumstances. But it seems that dark times are upon us and we must protect ourselves. I can only hope that our preparations will prove to be sufficient. Quickly, we must organize our defenses!”

☼☼☼☼☼

The sounds of battle outside of the house could already be heard, and everyone scrambled to take up their defensive positions.
Master Drogan remained in the middle of the room, while Yanny and Xanos took up positions near the door leading to the dining hall, affording themselves a clear view of Master Drogan at all times during the upcoming combat.
Dorna, Ayala, and Mischa organized into a wedge formation near the entrance.
The dwarven cleric of Vergadain hastily whispered a prayer and all of the defenders in the room experienced a feeling of divine exaltation. Their senses became as keen as hunting arrows and their hearts filled with hope.
Master Drogan quickly spoke his own prayer and a globe of protective magic sheathed his body. Next, he produced from his robes a leather glove, and began articulating the words to an arcane spell.

A blast of magical energy splintered the hardwood door and the kobold attackers rushed inside. At the same time, the remaining intruders proceeded to throw themselves not very gently through the draped window.
The kobold attackers were pouring into the room with horrifying efficiency, charging in all directions with wild abandon. In a matter of three heartbeats, the library was filled with a score of attackers, with more pouring through the blasted door and the broken window.
To Yanny’s surprise, most of the kobolds did not engage in melee, opting instead to rush towards Master Drogan’s laboratory.
One group of attackers engaged Yanny and Xanos, while another group charged towards Dorna, Ayala, and Mischa. The kobolds were wielding short swords, but it was the crossbow-wielding creatures that Yanny was looking for.

With the words of a spell ready on his lips, Yanny drew his melee weapons and assumed a defensive posture.
Xanos, standing nearly two heads taller than Yanny and holding a dagger in his muscled hand, incanted his own spell and released a hail of magic missiles, felling the first three attackers.
Mischa fired her crossbow, dropping another kobold, threw the unloaded weapon at the charging creatures and drew her sword.
Yanny nimbly danced around the three kobolds that engaged him, poking at their defenses and taunting them all the while. With a quick flick of the wrist, he pierced a neat hole into the neck of one of kobolds.

The foul creature went down with a wet gurgle, and then Yanny was facing only two attackers.

Xanos decided to take a more brutal approach against the three kobolds that engaged him. With a roar, he leaped at the creatures and sank his dagger deep into the eye of one of the kobolds while punching out with his fist, connecting solidly with the face of another.
The creature flew across the room and landed on the hardwood floor, never to rise again. The third kobold issued a horrified shriek and decided to flee.
But Xanos would have none of it. With the swing of his muscled arm, he let fly the bloodied dagger, catching the fleeing monster in the back. The force of the blow threw the creature a few paces across the floor where it lay very still.

When Master Drogan finished his spell, a glowing disembodied fist the size of a young bull materialized above the heads of the charging kobolds and crushed five of the unfortunate creatures into bloody pulps, dissipating afterwards.
Dorna, Ayala, and Mischa engaged the rest of the charging kobolds. Dorna hacked with her battle axe, felling one creature, while Ayala and Mischa swung with their long swords, felling two more.
One of the kobolds saw a flaw in Dorna’s defense and plunged its sword at her heart, squeaking in glee. Its charge was deflected harmlessly by the field of force that Yanny had cast on her previously, and before the kobold could realize its folly, Dorna’s battle axe plunged into its scaly head, splitting it neatly down the middle.
A distant magical blast rocked the entire building, and Yanny realized that the kobolds had breached the hardwood door, if not the protective wards, of Master Drogan’s laboratory.

He did not have time to ponder the meaning of it.

The kobolds simultaneously plunged their swords at Yanny, but their attacks were easily deflected by his magical armor. With two flicks of his wrist, Yanny poked at the eyes of the closest monster, and suddenly blind creature went into a slashing frenzy, loping off the head of its closest companion.
“Mystra be praised,” Yanny said, snickering under his breath.
And then Yanny did not have time to laugh.
While three more kobolds charged him, the crossbow wielders began creeping cautiously towards Master Drogan.

The good dwarf saw them, too, and began to incant another prayer as hastily as he could.

He would not finish it in time.

Yanny needed to act quickly. He knew that Master Drogan’s protective magic could absorb a few bolts, but he doubted it would withstand a score of them, all released at the same time.
While continuing his parrying maneuvers, he quickly incanted the words to a spell.
Xanos, also realizing Master Drogan’s peril, echoed the words of Yanny’s spell.
The kobold crossbow wielders lowered their weapons, aiming…
Yanny did the only thing he could think of.

While parrying with his dagger, he pointed his jeweled rapier at Master Drogan, and a bead of fire flew from the tip of the weapon, exploding around the dwarf just as the kobolds fired a volley of poisoned bolts.
Time seemed to stop for Yanny.
The fireball engulfed Master Drogan, destroying his protective wards, singeing his ample beard, and… incinerating the bolts.
Then Xanos unleashed his own fireball, making sure the crossbow wielders would never have another chance to fire.

The devastation was complete. Charred bodies of the little monsters were strewn all over the place and the remaining kobolds began their retreat. The raging fires consumed many of the bookshelves, and much knowledge would be lost.
When Yanny and Dorna teleported into the main room of Master Drogan’s house, they encountered Xanos and Mischa talking nervously to a strange elven lady. She was dressed in purple traveling gear and appeared to be weary, as if she had been running for many hours. Her beautiful face was smudged in several places and her cloak was torn in more than one place. Yet she appeared composed and her deep blue eyes sparkled with determination. A long sword was strapped to her belt, and judging by her coordinated movements and calm demeanor, she was probably quite proficient with it.

Master Drogan was not in the room.
“Well met, friends,” the mysterious stranger said, bowing respectfully but with an air of confidence and authority. “You must be Drogan’s apprentices. I have traveled from afar to aid you in these dire times.”
“Thank you for your help, lady,” Mischa answered, nervously clutching a crossbow in her hands. “But… who are you?”
“I find it more than a little suspicious that some helpful stranger would show up just as these lizards are about to attack us, eh?” Xanos added before the traveler could reply, clutching the handle of his dagger.
“How rude,” Mischa exclaimed and glared at Xanos. “This lady aids us without asking for anything in return. Would you repay her with suspicion?”
Dorna took a step forward and decided that she was also a little perturbed by the sudden appearance of a stranger.
“Rude or not,” she said, “I’d like an answer, as well. You have remarkable timing, my lady.”
The strange traveler bowed again and said, “Of course you are suspicious. I would be, as well, were I in your shoes. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ayala Windspear. I have been following the tracks of these kobolds for almost two days, now. I thought it odd that they would range so far from their home caves in the Nether Mountains. As soon as I realized they were headed for Hilltop, I came as swiftly as I could.”
“And why were you tracking the kobolds in the first place?” Xanos asked, still more than a little suspicious.
“I was just passing through this area, to be perfectly honest with you. It is my responsibility to take note of strange occurrences and investigate them, however.”
“What do you mean it’s your responsibility?” Dorna asked.

“I am a Harper, as is Drogan,” Ayala replied, throwing back her cloak to reveal a small silver harp pendant, pinned to collar of her tunic.

Before any of the apprentices could voice a reply, Master Drogan emerged from his laboratory and exclaimed, “Ayala! So good it is to see a fellow Harper come to aid us in these dangerous times.”

Master Drogan was an old dwarf by all accounts, having seen more than a few centuries of life that were filled with adventures. He was equally skilled as a cleric and as a wizard, and could certainly dish out enough pain with his sturdy punches to leave a hill giant feebleminded. He was short and stout, with a bald head and a silvery-gray beard that reached all the way to his round belly.
A pair of circular glasses in a silver frame adorned his plump face. He wore the flowing robes of a wizard and carried a rune inscribed staff of power, said to contain much magic.
The good dwarf spent much of his career as a Harper and possessed much knowledge and wisdom. He had retired to Hilltop in the hopes of passing on his legacy by developing the students in his service into good-natured, kind, and caring adults.

The good dwarf rushed up to embrace Ayala and then turned to regard his apprentices.
“Yanny, Dorna, my dear students, you are unharmed! Mystra be praised!”
“Well met, Master Drogan,” Yanny said. “The kobolds are upon us. We were able to deal with the main contingent, but the remaining forces are likely breaching the town gate as we speak.”
“There is no time to waste,” Dorna added, brandishing her battle axe. “We must act decisively.”
“My dear students,” Master Drogan said, his eyes glinting with tears. “Never did I want to put you all in such dire circumstances. But it seems that dark times are upon us and we must protect ourselves. I can only hope that our preparations will prove to be sufficient. Quickly, we must organize our defenses!”

☼☼☼☼☼

The sounds of battle outside of the house could already be heard, and everyone scrambled to take up their defensive positions.
Master Drogan remained in the middle of the room, while Yanny and Xanos took up positions near the door leading to the dining hall, affording themselves a clear view of Master Drogan at all times during the upcoming combat.
Dorna, Ayala, and Mischa organized into a wedge formation near the entrance.
The dwarven cleric of Vergadain hastily whispered a prayer and all of the defenders in the room experienced a feeling of divine exaltation. Their senses became as keen as hunting arrows and their hearts filled with hope.
Master Drogan quickly spoke his own prayer and a globe of protective magic sheathed his body. Next, he produced from his robes a leather glove, and began articulating the words to an arcane spell.

A blast of magical energy splintered the hardwood door and the kobold attackers rushed inside. At the same time, the remaining intruders proceeded to throw themselves not very gently through the draped window.
The kobold attackers were pouring into the room with horrifying efficiency, charging in all directions with wild abandon. In a matter of three heartbeats, the library was filled with a score of attackers, with more pouring through the blasted door and the broken window.
To Yanny’s surprise, most of the kobolds did not engage in melee, opting instead to rush towards Master Drogan’s laboratory.
One group of attackers engaged Yanny and Xanos, while another group charged towards Dorna, Ayala, and Mischa. The kobolds were wielding short swords, but it was the crossbow-wielding creatures that Yanny was looking for.

With the words of a spell ready on his lips, Yanny drew his melee weapons and assumed a defensive posture.
Xanos, standing nearly two heads taller than Yanny and holding a dagger in his muscled hand, incanted his own spell and released a hail of magic missiles, felling the first three attackers.
Mischa fired her crossbow, dropping another kobold, threw the unloaded weapon at the charging creatures and drew her sword.
Yanny nimbly danced around the three kobolds that engaged him, poking at their defenses and taunting them all the while. With a quick flick of the wrist, he pierced a neat hole into the neck of one of kobolds.

The foul creature went down with a wet gurgle, and then Yanny was facing only two attackers.

Xanos decided to take a more brutal approach against the three kobolds that engaged him. With a roar, he leaped at the creatures and sank his dagger deep into the eye of one of the kobolds while punching out with his fist, connecting solidly with the face of another.
The creature flew across the room and landed on the hardwood floor, never to rise again. The third kobold issued a horrified shriek and decided to flee.
But Xanos would have none of it. With the swing of his muscled arm, he let fly the bloodied dagger, catching the fleeing monster in the back. The force of the blow threw the creature a few paces across the floor where it lay very still.

When Master Drogan finished his spell, a glowing disembodied fist the size of a young bull materialized above the heads of the charging kobolds and crushed five of the unfortunate creatures into bloody pulps, dissipating afterwards.
Dorna, Ayala, and Mischa engaged the rest of the charging kobolds. Dorna hacked with her battle axe, felling one creature, while Ayala and Mischa swung with their long swords, felling two more.
One of the kobolds saw a flaw in Dorna’s defense and plunged its sword at her heart, squeaking in glee. Its charge was deflected harmlessly by the field of force that Yanny had cast on her previously, and before the kobold could realize its folly, Dorna’s battle axe plunged into its scaly head, splitting it neatly down the middle.
A distant magical blast rocked the entire building, and Yanny realized that the kobolds had breached the hardwood door, if not the protective wards, of Master Drogan’s laboratory.

He did not have time to ponder the meaning of it.

The kobolds simultaneously plunged their swords at Yanny, but their attacks were easily deflected by his magical armor. With two flicks of his wrist, Yanny poked at the eyes of the closest monster, and suddenly blind creature went into a slashing frenzy, loping off the head of its closest companion.
“Mystra be praised,” Yanny said, snickering under his breath.
And then Yanny did not have time to laugh.
While three more kobolds charged him, the crossbow wielders began creeping cautiously towards Master Drogan.

The good dwarf saw them, too, and began to incant another prayer as hastily as he could.

He would not finish it in time.

Yanny needed to act quickly. He knew that Master Drogan’s protective magic could absorb a few bolts, but he doubted it would withstand a score of them, all released at the same time.
While continuing his parrying maneuvers, he quickly incanted the words to a spell.
Xanos, also realizing Master Drogan’s peril, echoed the words of Yanny’s spell.
The kobold crossbow wielders lowered their weapons, aiming…
Yanny did the only thing he could think of.

While parrying with his dagger, he pointed his jeweled rapier at Master Drogan, and a bead of fire flew from the tip of the weapon, exploding around the dwarf just as the kobolds fired a volley of poisoned bolts.
Time seemed to stop for Yanny.
The fireball engulfed Master Drogan, destroying his protective wards, singeing his ample beard, and… incinerating the bolts.
Then Xanos unleashed his own fireball, making sure the crossbow wielders would never have another chance to fire.

The devastation was complete. Charred bodies of the little monsters were strewn all over the place and the remaining kobolds began their retreat. The raging fires consumed many of the bookshelves, and much knowledge would be lost.When Yanny and Dorna teleported into the main room of Master Drogan’s house, they encountered Xanos and Mischa talking nervously to a strange elven lady. She was dressed in purple traveling gear and appeared to be weary, as if she had been running for many hours. Her beautiful face was smudged in several places and her cloak was torn in more than one place. Yet she appeared composed and her deep blue eyes sparkled with determination. A long sword was strapped to her belt, and judging by her coordinated movements and calm demeanor, she was probably quite proficient with it.

Master Drogan was not in the room.
“Well met, friends,” the mysterious stranger said, bowing respectfully but with an air of confidence and authority. “You must be Drogan’s apprentices. I have traveled from afar to aid you in these dire times.”
“Thank you for your help, lady,” Mischa answered, nervously clutching a crossbow in her hands. “But… who are you?”
“I find it more than a little suspicious that some helpful stranger would show up just as these lizards are about to attack us, eh?” Xanos added before the traveler could reply, clutching the handle of his dagger.
“How rude,” Mischa exclaimed and glared at Xanos. “This lady aids us without asking for anything in return. Would you repay her with suspicion?”
Dorna took a step forward and decided that she was also a little perturbed by the sudden appearance of a stranger.
“Rude or not,” she said, “I’d like an answer, as well. You have remarkable timing, my lady.”
The strange traveler bowed again and said, “Of course you are suspicious. I would be, as well, were I in your shoes. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ayala Windspear. I have been following the tracks of these kobolds for almost two days, now. I thought it odd that they would range so far from their home caves in the Nether Mountains. As soon as I realized they were headed for Hilltop, I came as swiftly as I could.”
“And why were you tracking the kobolds in the first place?” Xanos asked, still more than a little suspicious.
“I was just passing through this area, to be perfectly honest with you. It is my responsibility to take note of strange occurrences and investigate them, however.”
“What do you mean it’s your responsibility?” Dorna asked.

“I am a Harper, as is Drogan,” Ayala replied, throwing back her cloak to reveal a small silver harp pendant, pinned to collar of her tunic.

Before any of the apprentices could voice a reply, Master Drogan emerged from his laboratory and exclaimed, “Ayala! So good it is to see a fellow Harper come to aid us in these dangerous times.”

Master Drogan was an old dwarf by all accounts, having seen more than a few centuries of life that were filled with adventures. He was equally skilled as a cleric and as a wizard, and could certainly dish out enough pain with his sturdy punches to leave a hill giant feebleminded. He was short and stout, with a bald head and a silvery-gray beard that reached all the way to his round belly.
A pair of circular glasses in a silver frame adorned his plump face. He wore the flowing robes of a wizard and carried a rune inscribed staff of power, said to contain much magic.
The good dwarf spent much of his career as a Harper and possessed much knowledge and wisdom. He had retired to Hilltop in the hopes of passing on his legacy by developing the students in his service into good-natured, kind, and caring adults.

The good dwarf rushed up to embrace Ayala and then turned to regard his apprentices.
“Yanny, Dorna, my dear students, you are unharmed! Mystra be praised!”
“Well met, Master Drogan,” Yanny said. “The kobolds are upon us. We were able to deal with the main contingent, but the remaining forces are likely breaching the town gate as we speak.”
“There is no time to waste,” Dorna added, brandishing her battle axe. “We must act decisively.”
“My dear students,” Master Drogan said, his eyes glinting with tears. “Never did I want to put you all in such dire circumstances. But it seems that dark times are upon us and we must protect ourselves. I can only hope that our preparations will prove to be sufficient. Quickly, we must organize our defenses!”

☼☼☼☼☼

The sounds of battle outside of the house could already be heard, and everyone scrambled to take up their defensive positions.
Master Drogan remained in the middle of the room, while Yanny and Xanos took up positions near the door leading to the dining hall, affording themselves a clear view of Master Drogan at all times during the upcoming combat.
Dorna, Ayala, and Mischa organized into a wedge formation near the entrance.
The dwarven cleric of Vergadain hastily whispered a prayer and all of the defenders in the room experienced a feeling of divine exaltation. Their senses became as keen as hunting arrows and their hearts filled with hope.
Master Drogan quickly spoke his own prayer and a globe of protective magic sheathed his body. Next, he produced from his robes a leather glove, and began articulating the words to an arcane spell.

A blast of magical energy splintered the hardwood door and the kobold attackers rushed inside. At the same time, the remaining intruders proceeded to throw themselves not very gently through the draped window.
The kobold attackers were pouring into the room with horrifying efficiency, charging in all directions with wild abandon. In a matter of three heartbeats, the library was filled with a score of attackers, with more pouring through the blasted door and the broken window.
To Yanny’s surprise, most of the kobolds did not engage in melee, opting instead to rush towards Master Drogan’s laboratory.
One group of attackers engaged Yanny and Xanos, while another group charged towards Dorna, Ayala, and Mischa. The kobolds were wielding short swords, but it was the crossbow-wielding creatures that Yanny was looking for.

With the words of a spell ready on his lips, Yanny drew his melee weapons and assumed a defensive posture.
Xanos, standing nearly two heads taller than Yanny and holding a dagger in his muscled hand, incanted his own spell and released a hail of magic missiles, felling the first three attackers.
Mischa fired her crossbow, dropping another kobold, threw the unloaded weapon at the charging creatures and drew her sword.
Yanny nimbly danced around the three kobolds that engaged him, poking at their defenses and taunting them all the while. With a quick flick of the wrist, he pierced a neat hole into the neck of one of kobolds.

The foul creature went down with a wet gurgle, and then Yanny was facing only two attackers.

Xanos decided to take a more brutal approach against the three kobolds that engaged him. With a roar, he leaped at the creatures and sank his dagger deep into the eye of one of the kobolds while punching out with his fist, connecting solidly with the face of another.
The creature flew across the room and landed on the hardwood floor, never to rise again. The third kobold issued a horrified shriek and decided to flee.
But Xanos would have none of it. With the swing of his muscled arm, he let fly the bloodied dagger, catching the fleeing monster in the back. The force of the blow threw the creature a few paces across the floor where it lay very still.

When Master Drogan finished his spell, a glowing disembodied fist the size of a young bull materialized above the heads of the charging kobolds and crushed five of the unfortunate creatures into bloody pulps, dissipating afterwards.
Dorna, Ayala, and Mischa engaged the rest of the charging kobolds. Dorna hacked with her battle axe, felling one creature, while Ayala and Mischa swung with their long swords, felling two more.
One of the kobolds saw a flaw in Dorna’s defense and plunged its sword at her heart, squeaking in glee. Its charge was deflected harmlessly by the field of force that Yanny had cast on her previously, and before the kobold could realize its folly, Dorna’s battle axe plunged into its scaly head, splitting it neatly down the middle.
A distant magical blast rocked the entire building, and Yanny realized that the kobolds had breached the hardwood door, if not the protective wards, of Master Drogan’s laboratory.

He did not have time to ponder the meaning of it.

The kobolds simultaneously plunged their swords at Yanny, but their attacks were easily deflected by his magical armor. With two flicks of his wrist, Yanny poked at the eyes of the closest monster, and suddenly blind creature went into a slashing frenzy, loping off the head of its closest companion.
“Mystra be praised,” Yanny said, snickering under his breath.
And then Yanny did not have time to laugh.
While three more kobolds charged him, the crossbow wielders began creeping cautiously towards Master Drogan.

The good dwarf saw them, too, and began to incant another prayer as hastily as he could.

He would not finish it in time.

Yanny needed to act quickly. He knew that Master Drogan’s protective magic could absorb a few bolts, but he doubted it would withstand a score of them, all released at the same time.
While continuing his parrying maneuvers, he quickly incanted the words to a spell.
Xanos, also realizing Master Drogan’s peril, echoed the words of Yanny’s spell.
The kobold crossbow wielders lowered their weapons, aiming…
Yanny did the only thing he could think of.

While parrying with his dagger, he pointed his jeweled rapier at Master Drogan, and a bead of fire flew from the tip of the weapon, exploding around the dwarf just as the kobolds fired a volley of poisoned bolts.
Time seemed to stop for Yanny.
The fireball engulfed Master Drogan, destroying his protective wards, singeing his ample beard, and… incinerating the bolts.
Then Xanos unleashed his own fireball, making sure the crossbow wielders would never have another chance to fire.

The devastation was complete. Charred bodies of the little monsters were strewn all over the place and the remaining kobolds began their retreat. The raging fires consumed many of the bookshelves, and much knowledge would be lost.

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8 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:38 am

Maxduelantus

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[size=12][size=12][size=12]Master Drogan was lying on the floor, stunned from the blast, but otherwise unharmed. As Yanny rushed towards him, the good dwarf stirred, opened his eyes and regarded his student with unconcealed respect.
“Master Drogan,” Yanny exclaimed, “you are unharmed! Tymora smiles brightly upon us.”
“Come back here and fight, you smelly lizards!” Xanos was yelling, possessed by the emotions of a powerful battle rage.
But the smelly lizards did not oblige, opting instead to flee the house. They cleared out of the place in a matter of three heartbeats and retreated from Hilltop, running towards their smelly caves.

When the billowing cloud of smoke dissipated through the blasted door, it revealed the charred and maimed kobold carcasses strewn all over the floor. The defenders were all covered with black soot, but appeared to be otherwise unharmed.
The victory was apparently complete. The defenders gathered near Master Drogan, embracing each other and sharing a few laughs.
Their smiles were short-lived, though. Master Drogan got up to his feet with a grim face and said, “Well done, my dear students, well done, indeed. And I thank you, Ayala, for aiding us in these dire times.”
“What’s the grim face for then, Drogan?” Ayala asked, still clutching her sword and breathing heavily.
“Well, it depends on whether the pesky little creatures breached the magical wards I have placed in my laboratory. Yanny, my dear boy, would you go check up on Riisi, while we clean up this mess?”
“Certainly,” Yanny answered and headed towards the door leading into Master Drogan’s laboratory.

Upon entering, Yanny could immediately tell that the magical wards Master Drogan spoke of have been dispelled. Even from a distance, he could see that the large room was in disarray. Planks of splintered hardwood littered the place and Yanny noticed a few kobold tracks leading beyond the wards.
Master Drogan’s magnificent faerie dragon familiar was flapping her green butterfly wings agitatedly and moaning repeatedly.
“What a mess! Me-oh-my, what a mess!”
Riisi was visibly shaken and squeaking so quickly that Yanny could barely understand the words.
“Oh my,” Riisi exclaimed, noticing Yanny. “Is it another kobold come to wreak havoc on Master’s things? Well, Riisi will fight them, yes she will. She will protect her master’s things this time. No, no, no, it is someone I recognize! Yanny! Gladdens my heart, yes it does.”

“How are you, Riisi?” Yanny asked with concern in his voice.
“I am still being Riisi, oh yes. I am not dead, that is a good thing. But you should be knowing that kobolds stole Master’s stuff, yes they did! Please, oh please, Yanny, tell me that Master is unharmed!”
“Master Drogan is fine, Riisi.”
“Oh, Riisi is very glad to hear that. I was worried, oh yes I was. But you have put my mind to rest, yes you did.”
“What happened here, Riisi?”
“Oh, it was terrible, yes it was. I was just having a nap and dreaming about a lovely meadow filled with flowers and butterflies. It was wonderful, Yanny, yes it was. Well, I was woken by a dreadful noise and I immediately turned invisible. When I saw that dreadful kobolds were in the house, I though Master Drogan was surely in danger. I saw them coming to the laboratory and I knew they could not get across, and I thought it was going to be such fun watching them from behind the magic wards. I was about to appear to them and taunt them, yes I was, but then they stopped and you would not believe what they did, no you would not. They threw dust on the wards! It must have been magic dust, oh yes, or it would not have worked, no, no, no. Stupid ugly kobolds walked right through the wards and looted all of Master’s magic. Oh, shame on Riisi, shame, shame, shame. I hid. I was so scared and thought they were powerful kobolds, for they were the first to pass Master’s magic wards. Now Master will never trust Riisi again, oh no, he will not! Now Master will dismiss Riisi and she will have to leave and return to her home in disgrace. Except that Master is very loving, and maybe Riisi can earn back his trust by never letting anyone in ever again! Yes, yes, yes, that is it. Riisi will be the best guard ever! I will do a good job for dear Master. No more kobolds can enter here, no, no, no.”

“I am sure you will be the greatest guard ever, Riisi,” Yanny said and sighed.

The laboratory has been breached and something belonging to master Drogan was stolen.

☼☼☼☼☼

When Yanny exited the laboratory, Master Drogan was talking with Ayala in hushed tones. They both looked at him questioningly.
“The kobolds made off with some magical items, Master Drogan,” Yanny announced and the old dwarf groaned loudly.
“The Harpers have many enemies,” Ayala said thoughtfully. “I suspect one of them is responsible for this attack. I hope I am wrong.”
“I believe I can shed some light on that,” Master Drogan answered, nervously pacing the room. “It was the artifacts they were after. They are stolen, all four of them!”
“I thought as much,” Ayala said. “How could anyone have found out you even had them? This is terrible news.”
“What are you two about?” Dorna asked.
“When Drogan retired to Hilltop, the Harpers entrusted four dangerous artifacts to his care. We thought this area remote enough that they would be safe.”
“I do not know how they were discovered,” Master Drogan added. “But we shall have to find out. These artifacts are too powerful and can be put to dangerous use.”

Master Drogan sighed.
“Yanny, my eldest student. It is up to you. It is vital that you find these items and bring them back.”
There it was then, Yanny’s first opportunity to adventure, the first voyage beyond Hilltop, the true way to discover the wondrous magic hidden all across the realms.

Perhaps Yanny’s adventures would even take him to Waterdeep, the fabled City of Splendors!

“You can count on me, Master Drogan,” Yanny replied with undisguised excitement in his voice. “I shall not fail you.”
“Such courage, dear boy,” Master Drogan said, embracing Yanny. “You make me proud.”
“This shall be your final test. I know that you are ready! So much relies on you now. I know in my heart you will not let me down. Ayala and I shall remain here and guard the school, with the help of Mischa.”
Master Drogan turned to regard the promising young paladin of Mystra.
“You have fought valiantly, my dear lass, and I am proud of you.”
“Thank you, Master Drogan,” Mischa replied, blushing profusely.
“One more apprentice shall remain,” Master Drogan continued, “and another shall accompany Yanny.”

“I shall go with you, Yanny,” Dorna said determinedly. “Our skills will complement each other… and besides, I expect you’ll need some muscle to back you up.”
“Muscle?” Xanos huffed teasingly. “Eh? All I see is a little dwarf with very big mouth.”
“Better than a half-orc with an oversized ego,” Dorna countered, smiling.
“You make fun of Xanos, but you shall see,” Xanos parried, laughing heartily. “Yanny will pick Xanos gladly and then Xanos will laugh at you.”
“Should we make a little bet, then?” Dorna winked at Xanos, and everybody in the library shared a laugh despite the ominous situation they were currently in. “Fifty gold coins should settle this nicely. What say you?”
“My little dwarven friend,” Xanos said, dangling his bulging belt pouch in front of Dorna’s plump face. “I shall gladly accept your gold and add it to mine.”

Yanny made his decision quickly.
“I believe I shall ask Dorna to accompany me as her sneaky skills could prove to be useful.”
“Well, you know me,” Dorna laughed, producing two magic wands from the folds of her leather vest and waving them playfully before the half-orc’s face.
“If you need sharp eyes to watch for ambushes, or a nasty trap dealt with, I am your girl. Worry not, Xanos. You can purchase one of these from me, for fifty gold pieces.”
“Where did you get these?” Yanny asked, with admiration in his voice.
“Oh, I swiped them from the little kobolds during the fight,” Dorna smiled innocently.
“It’s a deal then, my sneaky dwarven friend,” Xanos laughed, handing over his purse. ”I shall gladly exchange my gold for your wares.”
“Great,” Dorna replied, giving the second wand to Yanny. “We’ll have Master Drogan’s artifacts in no time… and maybe pick up a coin or two for ourselves along the way. Through the grace of Vergadain, we shall return victorious!”
“There is no time for this discussion now,” Master Drogan said with another deep sigh. “The villagers are in dire need of our help, I can feel it in my old bones.”
“We must go now!” Dorna exclaimed, concern creeping into her voice. “We must check on the villagers to make sure the nasty little kobolds did not wreak complete havoc on our fair town during their escape!”
“We must set out immediately,” Yanny replied, nodding in agreement.
“I shall accompany you, my friends,” Xanos said, clutching his dagger and looking questioningly upon Master Drogan. The old dwarf stroked his singed beard in contemplation, sighed heavily, and nodded his approval.

“My dear students,” he said, “if I may make a suggestion... The Blake family lives on a farm just outside of the main gate, which is dangerously far away from the town proper during these dire times, by my own guess. Nora and Adam had a baby not even three months ago, and something tells me you should check up on them.”

“We shall certainly do that,” Yanny promised, “and with all haste for they may indeed be in trouble.”
“Well,” Dorna mused, “since we are to remain in town at least for a short while, we might as well stop by the community hall to check up on the mayor, after we check up on the Blake family of course. He may be in need of our help after the kobold attack.”
“In that case, we should also visit the Bubbling Cauldron,” Yanny added, referring to the town’s only tavern.

☼☼☼☼☼

The apprentices exited the house with all haste and made their way towards the town proper. Even from a distance, the devastating truth of the raid was becoming painfully apparent. Dead bodies of kobolds, villagers and local animals were strewn about the place, crimson red blood staining the snow on the ground.
As the students passed by the Bubbling Cauldron, they could hear the sounds of angry shouting, smashed dinnerware, and loud arguing emanating from within. They could not dare to investigate the mayhem immediately though, fearing for the safety of the Blake family.
As the friends ran towards the town gate, they witnessed an even more curious sight – a congregation of villagers mulling about the place, listening intently to the ecstatic cries of an old man. Yanny recognized him as Piper, a local scoundrel who had grand delusions of being a fortune teller.

“Doom!” Piper was yelling at the top of his lungs. “Doom is upon us!”

The friends did not have time to investigate the commotion – a strange sensation nagged at their hearts, an instinctive feeling of being too late to save the Blake family. They ran on as fast as they could, passing by a curious halfling caravan on their way, but they realized that something was terribly wrong as soon as the rooftop of the Blake house came into view.
A young woman, barefoot and barely dressed, was running towards them, sobbing and whimpering with every step. Yanny rushed to embrace her and the young woman dug her face into his tunic, weeping openly.

“Oh Yanny!” the woman exclaimed through loud sobs. “Thank the gods you are here! You must help me, please! Kobolds attacked our home. Adam and I were still in bed when they burst into our room. We climbed out the window and Adam helped me down, then he went back in the front door. He went to save little Tynan, but he hasn’t returned. Tynan is only two months old. Please, Yanny, you must save them!”
“Calm down, Nora,” Yanny replied soothingly. “We are here to help.”
“Oh, thank you, Yanny,” Nora replied, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. She was obviously in shock.
“Please hurry!”
“There is no time to waste,” Dorna said.
She looked at the weeping woman with concern – this was going to be a tough day indeed for poor Nora if they were too late.
“Wait for us here.”
Nora nodded in understanding and would have dropped to the ground from exhaustion, but Xanos was there in a flash, gently setting her down on the cold snow with his muscled arms.

The three friends ran on as fast as they could, Nora’s desperate cries for help ringing loudly in their ears.
“Hurry! Please hurry!”

A heart wrenching scene awaited the friends as they inched cautiously towards the house entrance. The dead body of Adam Blake lay in a pool of his own blood just beyond the blasted door. His unseeing eyes were staring at the ceiling, the images of pure terror forever captured into his dilated pupils.
Cackling sounds of his murderers emanated from within – the kobolds were undoubtedly celebrating their small victory.
Dorna peeked inside and quickly pulled away, holding up four fingers.
“The baby?” Yanny mouthed with his lips.
Dorna shook her head slowly, pointing towards the second floor. The loud cries of the infant could indeed be heard from upstairs, mixed with other, barely perceptible sounds.

That was all the encouragement the friends needed as they drew their weapons.
Silent as death, grim faces promising a world of pain, the friends entered the house. The dumb kobolds were playing cards at the kitchen table, their crossbows not even loaded. Caught by surprise, they shrieked in terror and fell all over each other, fumbling to draw their puny swords.
Dorna’s eyes lit up brightly with a vengeful gleam, but brighter still flashed her battle axe as it spun through the air, blasting one of the creatures in the chest. Yanny did not even get a chance to vent his own anger as Dorna and Xanos descended upon the remaining kobolds. The young dwarven cleric slammed her shield over a creature’s head, splattering the brains all over the hardwood floor.

Yanny bent over and spewed the contents of his morning meal.
The remaining two kobolds finally managed to bring up their swords, poking them at Dorna’s midsection. She swatted their attacks aside with her shield and grabbed one of the creatures by its tiny neck.
Yanny could not see through his teary eyes but he clearly heard the resounding snap of the broken spine. The remaining kobold shrieked in horror and attempted to run for it, but the half-orc brute swiped it into the air with his huge hands.

Yanny heard the wet sound of flesh being torn apart and vomited again.
“The baby is still alive,” Dorna whispered, pointing towards the second floor.
She bounded up the stairs, determined to save at least one member of the Blake family. Yanny and Xanos followed closely behind, clutching their weapons nervously. They burst through the bedroom door, weapons drawn, to find a horrified, shaking kobold huddling in the corner. The creature was holding the baby close to its chest, making futile attempts to soothe crying Tynan.

The friends stopped cold in their tracks, not daring to come any closer.
It felt as if time had stopped and everything froze in motion. Yanny could hear the blood pumping through his veins so loudly he thought he was standing in the middle of an ice storm.
“Me stole the baby, stupid human man!” The kobold shrieked, shuddering violently.

Yanny thought the little lizard was surely going to drop the baby.
“Me gots control of you now!”
Yanny took a deep breath to steady himself.
“Just give me the baby and I will let you go,” he promised, his voice non-threatening.
“Me not think so! Kobolds love them children, so do you. If you want it, you must gives me shiny gem in return. You gets shiny gem and gives to me!”

Yanny breathed a sigh of relief. The kobold was willing to negotiate and that boded well for little Tynan. He sheathed his weapons, bade for the others to do the same, and reached inside his pouch, producing a small amethyst.
“Here is a nice shiny gem,” Yanny said, taking a cautious step forward. “Now give me that child.”
The kobold’s serpentine eyes lit up in excitement, matching the glow of the gem. The creature snatched the precious stone and squeaked in glee, “Me so happy, me is now going. You take smelly baby! Him make big stink.”
Yanny took another cautious step forward and took the baby. The kobold hooted in glee and darted for the door.

“Well, that was easy,” Xanos grumbled.
He stuck out his massive foot, tripping the kobold and sending it tumbling down the stairs with a loud crash. Dorna spat in disgust and took a step closer, a healing spell ready on her lips.

The small bundle of joy seemed to be emanating a peculiar odor and Yanny winced, trying hard not to gag. Little Tynan stopped crying and looked up at him with beautiful blue eyes, making funny giggling sounds.
“So cute,” Dorna whispered. She smiled and planted a big kiss on Tynan’s cheek. The baby giggled and grabbed at the dwarf’s nose, squeezing tightly.
“A feisty little lad,” Yanny observed with a laugh. His face turned grim and he added, “Just like his father.”
“Yes, this one is a survivor, no doubt,” Xanos mused. “Now, there is a small matter of informing his mother about Adam’s death and I can already feel her loud keening stabbing me through my very heart.”

“This is going to be tough for her to take,” Yanny said with a sigh.

☼☼☼☼☼

The friends found Nora cowering between the pine trees near the house. The woman ran towards them and the concern in her beautiful face turned into a smile upon seeing the precious little bundle.
“Oh, Tynan, my precious little boy!” She exclaimed lovingly. “How I feared you were dead. But… where is Adam? He… he is still alive, isn’t he? Please tell me I am not a widow!”
Yanny took a deep breath. This was going to hurt.
“I am afraid Adam did not survive.”
“No!” Poor Nora seemed to be melting away before their very eyes.
She dropped to the ground and let out a long wail of purest sorrow that echoed through the air. Dorna sobbed softly and wiped the unwanted tears from her eyes. She bent low to comfort the young widow who was crying uncontrollably, the loud sobs shaking her entire body.
“No! Poor, brave Adam. Those monsters murdered him! How can the gods be so cruel?”
Dorna hugged the woman comfortingly.

“Now, now,” she said. “There is still hope for you, Nora. The gods work in mysterious ways and they smiled brightly upon Tynan, sparing the child’s life.”
“Yes,” Nora contended with a sob. “At… at least I have Tynan, a beautiful child to remember Adam by. I have my home and my wedding ring, as well. Of course, without Adam to support me, I guess I will have to sell the ring, just to help me until I can find a job.”
“Now, now,” Dorna said soothingly, “you do not have to do that, Nora. Surely you do not want to part with the wedding ring – it is a reminder of Adam’s love and his valiant sacrifice. Would it help if I gave you some gold?”
“Oh, Dorna, I could not ask that of you,” Nora replied with a sob. “If not for you, my child would be dead too. I mean… it would be helpful, but I am sure I can survive if I sell my…”
“Please, Nora, we insist,” Xanos interrupted the poor woman. “It is the least we can do for you.”

The half-orcish brute looked at Dorna questioningly – the money he had lost during the bet could now be put to good cause.
“Yes, Nora, we insist,” Dorna added, producing the bulging purse. “Fifty shiny ones from all of us.”
Nora gasped in awe and exclaimed, “I would never have believed that anyone could be so kind. Be assured that Tynan will be raised to know who his saviors are. I will sing your praises in his ear and someday, if I raise him properly, perhaps he will grow up to emulate you. May Tymora smile upon you and thank you again.”

The friends did not talk during their short trek back to the town proper – there was nothing they could say or do to relieve Nora’s emotional pain. At least little Tynan was alive, Yanny kept thinking, and that in itself was a miracle.

“Thank you, Mystra,” Yanny said and he was truly thankful.

☼☼☼☼☼

The halfling caravan came into view just then, reminding him of the disaster perpetrated by the kobolds, reminding him that many other people had suffered greatly this day. Three halfling guards were sprawled on the ground, moaning in pain.
A beautiful halfling woman in black leather armor was tending to their wounds, but it was obvious she was not greatly versed in the arts of healing.
Yanny looked at Dorna and the young dwarven cleric nodded in understanding. She walked past three most curious looking halflings and kneeled over a wounded guard.
She touched her holy symbol and proclaimed, “Vergadain, great Laughing God, hear me. Heal this unfortunate adventurer!” She placed her hands on the guard’s body and channeled the divine energy through it, mending the damage. The halfling gasped in relief, while the others gasped in surprise, and opened his eyes.

“Them damn little rat lizards ain’t gonna get away with it, I tell ya!” the guard jumped to his short feet, clutching his little sword. “Come back here an’ fight, ye good fer nothin’…”
“Oh shut yourself up and greet your savior, will you,” the female halfling scolded him, squinting her eyes dangerously, “before I knock you out senseless.”
She turned to regard Dorna and bowed politely.
“Oh, sorry ‘bout that, boss,” the guard replied sheepishly and turned to regard Dorna. “Well met and thank ye, kind lady. You saved me life and I be forever in yer debt.”
The halfling swept into a low bow and overbalanced. He toppled to the snow with a profound yawn and was soon snoring contentedly.

Yanny approached the caravan leader while Dorna tended to the other guards. The female halfling was a pretty little thing, with large brown eyes, flowing black hair, and cute little nose and ears. She appeared youthful and full of energy, but Yanny also sensed an aura of wisdom and authority around her. He bowed politely and smiled cheerfully despite the emotions nagging at his heart.

“Well met, good lady. I am Yanny, apprentice to Master Drogan and a humble servant of nature. Meet my fellow apprentices and friends. The young cleric kneeling over your associates is Dorna and the big brute standing behind me is Xanos, a sorcerer of renowned prowess.”
“That so?” the halfling replied with a dazzling smile and a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Dwarven wizard is your teacher then? I remember him. He’s come to give me messages to take on to other towns sometimes. Pays handsomely. The name is Katriana. We don’t tend to look much to others for help, but… thank you kindly. I appreciate what you are doing for my guards, though their salaries will suffer from their lack of competence. What’s with the sobbing woman, anyway?”
“Sadly, Nora’s husband has been killed by the kobolds,” Yanny replied with a frown.

Katriana gasped and shook her head in horror, her beautiful eyes turning a dark shade of sadness.
“Torias,” she barked at the dark-haired halfling who was busily gaping at Dorna. “Come here you dolt! Go inside and fetch a nice toy for the baby.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied happily and darted for the merchandise wagon.
He emerged almost immediately holding a magnificent short sword and flipped the blade in the air.

“A bit sharp for a toy but perfect for the young feisty boy! Bwahaha!”

Katriana sighed deeply.
“I’ve heard mention of your caravan,” Dorna said when she was done with her prayers. “Master Drogan said you come through here on regular basis and have for many years.”
“For generations, actually,” Katriana replied. “It’s something like a family trading route we follow. A relatively safe one, if there is such a thing as traveling safely through the Silver Marches…Until today, in any case. The kobolds came out of nowhere and tried to rob us.”
“Better than trying to kill you,” Dorna mused.
“Well, truth be told, they made a fair attempt at that also. They didn’t get away with anything important, except… they took Daschnaya’s cards, sadly.”
“Daschnaya?” Yanny echoed.
“Yes, our fortune teller. She’s locked herself in her wagon and doesn’t want to come out. She makes a bit of coin at the towns we stop at. Her family’s been using those cards for generations… it’s a sad day that we’ve lost them.”
“You mean these?” Dorna asked, producing a neat stack of intricately designed playing cards. “I was going to use them as a heat source, but if they are yours…”

Katriana gasped in awe.
“Yes! These are the ones! Thank you, Dorna. Daschnaya will be most pleased!”
“So, you are the caravan leader,” Yanny stated the obvious.
“I lead this caravan, as did my grandfather before me and his mother before him. We trade, mostly, moving from town to town around the Silver Marches. Occasionally we’ll range farther west… but not since the plague in Neverwinter. We’re wanderers, for the most part, but I daresay we do well enough as merchants that we’re welcome most everywhere. It’s dangerous, by my own guess, and we are always looking for guards. The boys don’t do so bad when they’re not surprised like we were today.”

The dark-haired halfling who called himself Torias approached Dorna with undeniable sparkle of interest in his dark eyes. He dipped into a grand bow.
“Well met there, strangers,” he pronounced, smiling at Dorna. “I don’t suppose you have a rum-flavored cigar on you, by chance?”
“A what?”
“A rum-flavored cigar. It’s… well, never mind. Simply something I grew fond of in Amn, and I’ve recently run out. Ah, well. Pardon my manners, good lady. I am called Torias. And you are?”
“Dorna Trapspringer, if you must know.”
Torias dipped into another grand bow and came up smiling brightly.
“Then I am very pleased to meet you, Dorna Trapspringer. Never have I heard a name more beautiful, I must say!”
“You are a bit of a cheeky halfling, aren’t you?”
Torias laughed heartily, displaying a dazzling smile on his face.
“Well, maybe just a little bit, my good lady dwarf! Perhaps you’d care to join me in the enjoyment of some fine wine?”
“Sorry. I make it a policy never to date men whom I could crush accidentally.”
“Oh?” Torias replied with a sly wink. “It would be a pleasant enough way to go, I suppose.”
“Flatterer. You say that now.”

Dorna blushed profusely and turned to regard Katriana, hastily trying to change the subject.
“Don’t mind my cousin,” Katriana apologized with a shrug. “He is such a lady chaser. Torias, have some manners, for Tymora’s sake.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied, sending another dazzling smile in Dorna’s direction.
He dipped one final bow and bounded off happily to join the conversation taking place between Xanos and the twin halflings.

One of the twins poked his stubby finger in the big brute’s direction and mumbled something indecipherable. Xanos glared at the gaping halfling and grumbled under his breath.
“Don’t mind him,” the other twin explained. “My brother don’t talk much. Especially today, with all the fighting and such. Furten’s the name, good sir, and this here is my twin brother Birgen.”
“Xanos Messarmos,” the half-orc grumbled in reply.
Yanny smiled at the verbal exchange – Xanos was making some fine new friends indeed.

“So where are you headed next,” Dorna asked Katriana.
“I’m thinking we’ll be crossing the Anauroch desert. There’s goods out east that’ll bring a grand price when we head back this way.”
Yanny frowned as he recalled the visions from his divinations – a parched land devoid of life, a merciless wasteland known as the Anauroch desert. The troubles were far from over, and Yanny got a distinct impression that they had just begun.
“Perhaps we shall join you on your journey,” he mused.
“Like I said,” Katriana replied with a smile, “we are always looking for guards.”
☼☼☼☼☼

Master Drogan was lying on the floor, stunned from the blast, but otherwise unharmed. As Yanny rushed towards him, the good dwarf stirred, opened his eyes and regarded his student with unconcealed respect.
“Master Drogan,” Yanny exclaimed, “you are unharmed! Tymora smiles brightly upon us.”
“Come back here and fight, you smelly lizards!” Xanos was yelling, possessed by the emotions of a powerful battle rage.
But the smelly lizards did not oblige, opting instead to flee the house. They cleared out of the place in a matter of three heartbeats and retreated from Hilltop, running towards their smelly caves.

When the billowing cloud of smoke dissipated through the blasted door, it revealed the charred and maimed kobold carcasses strewn all over the floor. The defenders were all covered with black soot, but appeared to be otherwise unharmed.
The victory was apparently complete. The defenders gathered near Master Drogan, embracing each other and sharing a few laughs.
Their smiles were short-lived, though. Master Drogan got up to his feet with a grim face and said, “Well done, my dear students, well done, indeed. And I thank you, Ayala, for aiding us in these dire times.”
“What’s the grim face for then, Drogan?” Ayala asked, still clutching her sword and breathing heavily.
“Well, it depends on whether the pesky little creatures breached the magical wards I have placed in my laboratory. Yanny, my dear boy, would you go check up on Riisi, while we clean up this mess?”
“Certainly,” Yanny answered and headed towards the door leading into Master Drogan’s laboratory.

Upon entering, Yanny could immediately tell that the magical wards Master Drogan spoke of have been dispelled. Even from a distance, he could see that the large room was in disarray. Planks of splintered hardwood littered the place and Yanny noticed a few kobold tracks leading beyond the wards.
Master Drogan’s magnificent faerie dragon familiar was flapping her green butterfly wings agitatedly and moaning repeatedly.
“What a mess! Me-oh-my, what a mess!”
Riisi was visibly shaken and squeaking so quickly that Yanny could barely understand the words.
“Oh my,” Riisi exclaimed, noticing Yanny. “Is it another kobold come to wreak havoc on Master’s things? Well, Riisi will fight them, yes she will. She will protect her master’s things this time. No, no, no, it is someone I recognize! Yanny! Gladdens my heart, yes it does.”

“How are you, Riisi?” Yanny asked with concern in his voice.
“I am still being Riisi, oh yes. I am not dead, that is a good thing. But you should be knowing that kobolds stole Master’s stuff, yes they did! Please, oh please, Yanny, tell me that Master is unharmed!”
“Master Drogan is fine, Riisi.”
“Oh, Riisi is very glad to hear that. I was worried, oh yes I was. But you have put my mind to rest, yes you did.”
“What happened here, Riisi?”
“Oh, it was terrible, yes it was. I was just having a nap and dreaming about a lovely meadow filled with flowers and butterflies. It was wonderful, Yanny, yes it was. Well, I was woken by a dreadful noise and I immediately turned invisible. When I saw that dreadful kobolds were in the house, I though Master Drogan was surely in danger. I saw them coming to the laboratory and I knew they could not get across, and I thought it was going to be such fun watching them from behind the magic wards. I was about to appear to them and taunt them, yes I was, but then they stopped and you would not believe what they did, no you would not. They threw dust on the wards! It must have been magic dust, oh yes, or it would not have worked, no, no, no. Stupid ugly kobolds walked right through the wards and looted all of Master’s magic. Oh, shame on Riisi, shame, shame, shame. I hid. I was so scared and thought they were powerful kobolds, for they were the first to pass Master’s magic wards. Now Master will never trust Riisi again, oh no, he will not! Now Master will dismiss Riisi and she will have to leave and return to her home in disgrace. Except that Master is very loving, and maybe Riisi can earn back his trust by never letting anyone in ever again! Yes, yes, yes, that is it. Riisi will be the best guard ever! I will do a good job for dear Master. No more kobolds can enter here, no, no, no.”

“I am sure you will be the greatest guard ever, Riisi,” Yanny said and sighed.

The laboratory has been breached and something belonging to master Drogan was stolen.

☼☼☼☼☼

When Yanny exited the laboratory, Master Drogan was talking with Ayala in hushed tones. They both looked at him questioningly.
“The kobolds made off with some magical items, Master Drogan,” Yanny announced and the old dwarf groaned loudly.
“The Harpers have many enemies,” Ayala said thoughtfully. “I suspect one of them is responsible for this attack. I hope I am wrong.”
“I believe I can shed some light on that,” Master Drogan answered, nervously pacing the room. “It was the artifacts they were after. They are stolen, all four of them!”
“I thought as much,” Ayala said. “How could anyone have found out you even had them? This is terrible news.”
“What are you two about?” Dorna asked.
“When Drogan retired to Hilltop, the Harpers entrusted four dangerous artifacts to his care. We thought this area remote enough that they would be safe.”
“I do not know how they were discovered,” Master Drogan added. “But we shall have to find out. These artifacts are too powerful and can be put to dangerous use.”

Master Drogan sighed.
“Yanny, my eldest student. It is up to you. It is vital that you find these items and bring them back.”
There it was then, Yanny’s first opportunity to adventure, the first voyage beyond Hilltop, the true way to discover the wondrous magic hidden all across the realms.

Perhaps Yanny’s adventures would even take him to Waterdeep, the fabled City of Splendors!

“You can count on me, Master Drogan,” Yanny replied with undisguised excitement in his voice. “I shall not fail you.”
“Such courage, dear boy,” Master Drogan said, embracing Yanny. “You make me proud.”
“This shall be your final test. I know that you are ready! So much relies on you now. I know in my heart you will not let me down. Ayala and I shall remain here and guard the school, with the help of Mischa.”
Master Drogan turned to regard the promising young paladin of Mystra.
“You have fought valiantly, my dear lass, and I am proud of you.”
“Thank you, Master Drogan,” Mischa replied, blushing profusely.
“One more apprentice shall remain,” Master Drogan continued, “and another shall accompany Yanny.”

“I shall go with you, Yanny,” Dorna said determinedly. “Our skills will complement each other… and besides, I expect you’ll need some muscle to back you up.”
“Muscle?” Xanos huffed teasingly. “Eh? All I see is a little dwarf with very big mouth.”
“Better than a half-orc with an oversized ego,” Dorna countered, smiling.
“You make fun of Xanos, but you shall see,” Xanos parried, laughing heartily. “Yanny will pick Xanos gladly and then Xanos will laugh at you.”
“Should we make a little bet, then?” Dorna winked at Xanos, and everybody in the library shared a laugh despite the ominous situation they were currently in. “Fifty gold coins should settle this nicely. What say you?”
“My little dwarven friend,” Xanos said, dangling his bulging belt pouch in front of Dorna’s plump face. “I shall gladly accept your gold and add it to mine.”

Yanny made his decision quickly.
“I believe I shall ask Dorna to accompany me as her sneaky skills could prove to be useful.”
“Well, you know me,” Dorna laughed, producing two magic wands from the folds of her leather vest and waving them playfully before the half-orc’s face.
“If you need sharp eyes to watch for ambushes, or a nasty trap dealt with, I am your girl. Worry not, Xanos. You can purchase one of these from me, for fifty gold pieces.”
“Where did you get these?” Yanny asked, with admiration in his voice.
“Oh, I swiped them from the little kobolds during the fight,” Dorna smiled innocently.
“It’s a deal then, my sneaky dwarven friend,” Xanos laughed, handing over his purse. ”I shall gladly exchange my gold for your wares.”
“Great,” Dorna replied, giving the second wand to Yanny. “We’ll have Master Drogan’s artifacts in no time… and maybe pick up a coin or two for ourselves along the way. Through the grace of Vergadain, we shall return victorious!”
“There is no time for this discussion now,” Master Drogan said with another deep sigh. “The villagers are in dire need of our help, I can feel it in my old bones.”
“We must go now!” Dorna exclaimed, concern creeping into her voice. “We must check on the villagers to make sure the nasty little kobolds did not wreak complete havoc on our fair town during their escape!”
“We must set out immediately,” Yanny replied, nodding in agreement.
“I shall accompany you, my friends,” Xanos said, clutching his dagger and looking questioningly upon Master Drogan. The old dwarf stroked his singed beard in contemplation, sighed heavily, and nodded his approval.

“My dear students,” he said, “if I may make a suggestion... The Blake family lives on a farm just outside of the main gate, which is dangerously far away from the town proper during these dire times, by my own guess. Nora and Adam had a baby not even three months ago, and something tells me you should check up on them.”

“We shall certainly do that,” Yanny promised, “and with all haste for they may indeed be in trouble.”
“Well,” Dorna mused, “since we are to remain in town at least for a short while, we might as well stop by the community hall to check up on the mayor, after we check up on the Blake family of course. He may be in need of our help after the kobold attack.”
“In that case, we should also visit the Bubbling Cauldron,” Yanny added, referring to the town’s only tavern.

☼☼☼☼☼

The apprentices exited the house with all haste and made their way towards the town proper. Even from a distance, the devastating truth of the raid was becoming painfully apparent. Dead bodies of kobolds, villagers and local animals were strewn about the place, crimson red blood staining the snow on the ground.
As the students passed by the Bubbling Cauldron, they could hear the sounds of angry shouting, smashed dinnerware, and loud arguing emanating from within. They could not dare to investigate the mayhem immediately though, fearing for the safety of the Blake family.
As the friends ran towards the town gate, they witnessed an even more curious sight – a congregation of villagers mulling about the place, listening intently to the ecstatic cries of an old man. Yanny recognized him as Piper, a local scoundrel who had grand delusions of being a fortune teller.

“Doom!” Piper was yelling at the top of his lungs. “Doom is upon us!”

The friends did not have time to investigate the commotion – a strange sensation nagged at their hearts, an instinctive feeling of being too late to save the Blake family. They ran on as fast as they could, passing by a curious halfling caravan on their way, but they realized that something was terribly wrong as soon as the rooftop of the Blake house came into view.
A young woman, barefoot and barely dressed, was running towards them, sobbing and whimpering with every step. Yanny rushed to embrace her and the young woman dug her face into his tunic, weeping openly.

“Oh Yanny!” the woman exclaimed through loud sobs. “Thank the gods you are here! You must help me, please! Kobolds attacked our home. Adam and I were still in bed when they burst into our room. We climbed out the window and Adam helped me down, then he went back in the front door. He went to save little Tynan, but he hasn’t returned. Tynan is only two months old. Please, Yanny, you must save them!”
“Calm down, Nora,” Yanny replied soothingly. “We are here to help.”
“Oh, thank you, Yanny,” Nora replied, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. She was obviously in shock.
“Please hurry!”
“There is no time to waste,” Dorna said.
She looked at the weeping woman with concern – this was going to be a tough day indeed for poor Nora if they were too late.
“Wait for us here.”
Nora nodded in understanding and would have dropped to the ground from exhaustion, but Xanos was there in a flash, gently setting her down on the cold snow with his muscled arms.

The three friends ran on as fast as they could, Nora’s desperate cries for help ringing loudly in their ears.
“Hurry! Please hurry!”

A heart wrenching scene awaited the friends as they inched cautiously towards the house entrance. The dead body of Adam Blake lay in a pool of his own blood just beyond the blasted door. His unseeing eyes were staring at the ceiling, the images of pure terror forever captured into his dilated pupils.
Cackling sounds of his murderers emanated from within – the kobolds were undoubtedly celebrating their small victory.
Dorna peeked inside and quickly pulled away, holding up four fingers.
“The baby?” Yanny mouthed with his lips.
Dorna shook her head slowly, pointing towards the second floor. The loud cries of the infant could indeed be heard from upstairs, mixed with other, barely perceptible sounds.

That was all the encouragement the friends needed as they drew their weapons.
Silent as death, grim faces promising a world of pain, the friends entered the house. The dumb kobolds were playing cards at the kitchen table, their crossbows not even loaded. Caught by surprise, they shrieked in terror and fell all over each other, fumbling to draw their puny swords.
Dorna’s eyes lit up brightly with a vengeful gleam, but brighter still flashed her battle axe as it spun through the air, blasting one of the creatures in the chest. Yanny did not even get a chance to vent his own anger as Dorna and Xanos descended upon the remaining kobolds. The young dwarven cleric slammed her shield over a creature’s head, splattering the brains all over the hardwood floor.

Yanny bent over and spewed the contents of his morning meal.
The remaining two kobolds finally managed to bring up their swords, poking them at Dorna’s midsection. She swatted their attacks aside with her shield and grabbed one of the creatures by its tiny neck.
Yanny could not see through his teary eyes but he clearly heard the resounding snap of the broken spine. The remaining kobold shrieked in horror and attempted to run for it, but the half-orc brute swiped it into the air with his huge hands.

Yanny heard the wet sound of flesh being torn apart and vomited again.
“The baby is still alive,” Dorna whispered, pointing towards the second floor.
She bounded up the stairs, determined to save at least one member of the Blake family. Yanny and Xanos followed closely behind, clutching their weapons nervously. They burst through the bedroom door, weapons drawn, to find a horrified, shaking kobold huddling in the corner. The creature was holding the baby close to its chest, making futile attempts to soothe crying Tynan.

The friends stopped cold in their tracks, not daring to come any closer.
It felt as if time had stopped and everything froze in motion. Yanny could hear the blood pumping through his veins so loudly he thought he was standing in the middle of an ice storm.
“Me stole the baby, stupid human man!” The kobold shrieked, shuddering violently.

Yanny thought the little lizard was surely going to drop the baby.
“Me gots control of you now!”
Yanny took a deep breath to steady himself.
“Just give me the baby and I will let you go,” he promised, his voice non-threatening.
“Me not think so! Kobolds love them children, so do you. If you want it, you must gives me shiny gem in return. You gets shiny gem and gives to me!”

Yanny breathed a sigh of relief. The kobold was willing to negotiate and that boded well for little Tynan. He sheathed his weapons, bade for the others to do the same, and reached inside his pouch, producing a small amethyst.
“Here is a nice shiny gem,” Yanny said, taking a cautious step forward. “Now give me that child.”
The kobold’s serpentine eyes lit up in excitement, matching the glow of the gem. The creature snatched the precious stone and squeaked in glee, “Me so happy, me is now going. You take smelly baby! Him make big stink.”
Yanny took another cautious step forward and took the baby. The kobold hooted in glee and darted for the door.

“Well, that was easy,” Xanos grumbled.
He stuck out his massive foot, tripping the kobold and sending it tumbling down the stairs with a loud crash. Dorna spat in disgust and took a step closer, a healing spell ready on her lips.

The small bundle of joy seemed to be emanating a peculiar odor and Yanny winced, trying hard not to gag. Little Tynan stopped crying and looked up at him with beautiful blue eyes, making funny giggling sounds.
“So cute,” Dorna whispered. She smiled and planted a big kiss on Tynan’s cheek. The baby giggled and grabbed at the dwarf’s nose, squeezing tightly.
“A feisty little lad,” Yanny observed with a laugh. His face turned grim and he added, “Just like his father.”
“Yes, this one is a survivor, no doubt,” Xanos mused. “Now, there is a small matter of informing his mother about Adam’s death and I can already feel her loud keening stabbing me through my very heart.”

“This is going to be tough for her to take,” Yanny said with a sigh.

☼☼☼☼☼

The friends found Nora cowering between the pine trees near the house. The woman ran towards them and the concern in her beautiful face turned into a smile upon seeing the precious little bundle.
“Oh, Tynan, my precious little boy!” She exclaimed lovingly. “How I feared you were dead. But… where is Adam? He… he is still alive, isn’t he? Please tell me I am not a widow!”
Yanny took a deep breath. This was going to hurt.
“I am afraid Adam did not survive.”
“No!” Poor Nora seemed to be melting away before their very eyes.
She dropped to the ground and let out a long wail of purest sorrow that echoed through the air. Dorna sobbed softly and wiped the unwanted tears from her eyes. She bent low to comfort the young widow who was crying uncontrollably, the loud sobs shaking her entire body.
“No! Poor, brave Adam. Those monsters murdered him! How can the gods be so cruel?”
Dorna hugged the woman comfortingly.

“Now, now,” she said. “There is still hope for you, Nora. The gods work in mysterious ways and they smiled brightly upon Tynan, sparing the child’s life.”
“Yes,” Nora contended with a sob. “At… at least I have Tynan, a beautiful child to remember Adam by. I have my home and my wedding ring, as well. Of course, without Adam to support me, I guess I will have to sell the ring, just to help me until I can find a job.”
“Now, now,” Dorna said soothingly, “you do not have to do that, Nora. Surely you do not want to part with the wedding ring – it is a reminder of Adam’s love and his valiant sacrifice. Would it help if I gave you some gold?”
“Oh, Dorna, I could not ask that of you,” Nora replied with a sob. “If not for you, my child would be dead too. I mean… it would be helpful, but I am sure I can survive if I sell my…”
“Please, Nora, we insist,” Xanos interrupted the poor woman. “It is the least we can do for you.”

The half-orcish brute looked at Dorna questioningly – the money he had lost during the bet could now be put to good cause.
“Yes, Nora, we insist,” Dorna added, producing the bulging purse. “Fifty shiny ones from all of us.”
Nora gasped in awe and exclaimed, “I would never have believed that anyone could be so kind. Be assured that Tynan will be raised to know who his saviors are. I will sing your praises in his ear and someday, if I raise him properly, perhaps he will grow up to emulate you. May Tymora smile upon you and thank you again.”

The friends did not talk during their short trek back to the town proper – there was nothing they could say or do to relieve Nora’s emotional pain. At least little Tynan was alive, Yanny kept thinking, and that in itself was a miracle.

“Thank you, Mystra,” Yanny said and he was truly thankful.

☼☼☼☼☼

The halfling caravan came into view just then, reminding him of the disaster perpetrated by the kobolds, reminding him that many other people had suffered greatly this day. Three halfling guards were sprawled on the ground, moaning in pain.
A beautiful halfling woman in black leather armor was tending to their wounds, but it was obvious she was not greatly versed in the arts of healing.
Yanny looked at Dorna and the young dwarven cleric nodded in understanding. She walked past three most curious looking halflings and kneeled over a wounded guard.
She touched her holy symbol and proclaimed, “Vergadain, great Laughing God, hear me. Heal this unfortunate adventurer!” She placed her hands on the guard’s body and channeled the divine energy through it, mending the damage. The halfling gasped in relief, while the others gasped in surprise, and opened his eyes.

“Them damn little rat lizards ain’t gonna get away with it, I tell ya!” the guard jumped to his short feet, clutching his little sword. “Come back here an’ fight, ye good fer nothin’…”
“Oh shut yourself up and greet your savior, will you,” the female halfling scolded him, squinting her eyes dangerously, “before I knock you out senseless.”
She turned to regard Dorna and bowed politely.
“Oh, sorry ‘bout that, boss,” the guard replied sheepishly and turned to regard Dorna. “Well met and thank ye, kind lady. You saved me life and I be forever in yer debt.”
The halfling swept into a low bow and overbalanced. He toppled to the snow with a profound yawn and was soon snoring contentedly.

Yanny approached the caravan leader while Dorna tended to the other guards. The female halfling was a pretty little thing, with large brown eyes, flowing black hair, and cute little nose and ears. She appeared youthful and full of energy, but Yanny also sensed an aura of wisdom and authority around her. He bowed politely and smiled cheerfully despite the emotions nagging at his heart.

“Well met, good lady. I am Yanny, apprentice to Master Drogan and a humble servant of nature. Meet my fellow apprentices and friends. The young cleric kneeling over your associates is Dorna and the big brute standing behind me is Xanos, a sorcerer of renowned prowess.”
“That so?” the halfling replied with a dazzling smile and a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Dwarven wizard is your teacher then? I remember him. He’s come to give me messages to take on to other towns sometimes. Pays handsomely. The name is Katriana. We don’t tend to look much to others for help, but… thank you kindly. I appreciate what you are doing for my guards, though their salaries will suffer from their lack of competence. What’s with the sobbing woman, anyway?”
“Sadly, Nora’s husband has been killed by the kobolds,” Yanny replied with a frown.

Katriana gasped and shook her head in horror, her beautiful eyes turning a dark shade of sadness.
“Torias,” she barked at the dark-haired halfling who was busily gaping at Dorna. “Come here you dolt! Go inside and fetch a nice toy for the baby.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied happily and darted for the merchandise wagon.
He emerged almost immediately holding a magnificent short sword and flipped the blade in the air.

“A bit sharp for a toy but perfect for the young feisty boy! Bwahaha!”

Katriana sighed deeply.
“I’ve heard mention of your caravan,” Dorna said when she was done with her prayers. “Master Drogan said you come through here on regular basis and have for many years.”
“For generations, actually,” Katriana replied. “It’s something like a family trading route we follow. A relatively safe one, if there is such a thing as traveling safely through the Silver Marches…Until today, in any case. The kobolds came out of nowhere and tried to rob us.”
“Better than trying to kill you,” Dorna mused.
“Well, truth be told, they made a fair attempt at that also. They didn’t get away with anything important, except… they took Daschnaya’s cards, sadly.”
“Daschnaya?” Yanny echoed.
“Yes, our fortune teller. She’s locked herself in her wagon and doesn’t want to come out. She makes a bit of coin at the towns we stop at. Her family’s been using those cards for generations… it’s a sad day that we’ve lost them.”
“You mean these?” Dorna asked, producing a neat stack of intricately designed playing cards. “I was going to use them as a heat source, but if they are yours…”

Katriana gasped in awe.
“Yes! These are the ones! Thank you, Dorna. Daschnaya will be most pleased!”
“So, you are the caravan leader,” Yanny stated the obvious.
“I lead this caravan, as did my grandfather before me and his mother before him. We trade, mostly, moving from town to town around the Silver Marches. Occasionally we’ll range farther west… but not since the plague in Neverwinter. We’re wanderers, for the most part, but I daresay we do well enough as merchants that we’re welcome most everywhere. It’s dangerous, by my own guess, and we are always looking for guards. The boys don’t do so bad when they’re not surprised like we were today.”

The dark-haired halfling who called himself Torias approached Dorna with undeniable sparkle of interest in his dark eyes. He dipped into a grand bow.
“Well met there, strangers,” he pronounced, smiling at Dorna. “I don’t suppose you have a rum-flavored cigar on you, by chance?”
“A what?”
“A rum-flavored cigar. It’s… well, never mind. Simply something I grew fond of in Amn, and I’ve recently run out. Ah, well. Pardon my manners, good lady. I am called Torias. And you are?”
“Dorna Trapspringer, if you must know.”
Torias dipped into another grand bow and came up smiling brightly.
“Then I am very pleased to meet you, Dorna Trapspringer. Never have I heard a name more beautiful, I must say!”
“You are a bit of a cheeky halfling, aren’t you?”
Torias laughed heartily, displaying a dazzling smile on his face.
“Well, maybe just a little bit, my good lady dwarf! Perhaps you’d care to join me in the enjoyment of some fine wine?”
“Sorry. I make it a policy never to date men whom I could crush accidentally.”
“Oh?” Torias replied with a sly wink. “It would be a pleasant enough way to go, I suppose.”
“Flatterer. You say that now.”

Dorna blushed profusely and turned to regard Katriana, hastily trying to change the subject.
“Don’t mind my cousin,” Katriana apologized with a shrug. “He is such a lady chaser. Torias, have some manners, for Tymora’s sake.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied, sending another dazzling smile in Dorna’s direction.
He dipped one final bow and bounded off happily to join the conversation taking place between Xanos and the twin halflings.

One of the twins poked his stubby finger in the big brute’s direction and mumbled something indecipherable. Xanos glared at the gaping halfling and grumbled under his breath.
“Don’t mind him,” the other twin explained. “My brother don’t talk much. Especially today, with all the fighting and such. Furten’s the name, good sir, and this here is my twin brother Birgen.”
“Xanos Messarmos,” the half-orc grumbled in reply.
Yanny smiled at the verbal exchange – Xanos was making some fine new friends indeed.

“So where are you headed next,” Dorna asked Katriana.
“I’m thinking we’ll be crossing the Anauroch desert. There’s goods out east that’ll bring a grand price when we head back this way.”
Yanny frowned as he recalled the visions from his divinations – a parched land devoid of life, a merciless wasteland known as the Anauroch desert. The troubles were far from over, and Yanny got a distinct impression that they had just begun.
“Perhaps we shall join you on your journey,” he mused.
“Like I said,” Katriana replied with a smile, “we are always looking for guards.”☼☼☼☼☼

Master Drogan was lying on the floor, stunned from the blast, but otherwise unharmed. As Yanny rushed towards him, the good dwarf stirred, opened his eyes and regarded his student with unconcealed respect.
“Master Drogan,” Yanny exclaimed, “you are unharmed! Tymora smiles brightly upon us.”
“Come back here and fight, you smelly lizards!” Xanos was yelling, possessed by the emotions of a powerful battle rage.
But the smelly lizards did not oblige, opting instead to flee the house. They cleared out of the place in a matter of three heartbeats and retreated from Hilltop, running towards their smelly caves.

When the billowing cloud of smoke dissipated through the blasted door, it revealed the charred and maimed kobold carcasses strewn all over the floor. The defenders were all covered with black soot, but appeared to be otherwise unharmed.
The victory was apparently complete. The defenders gathered near Master Drogan, embracing each other and sharing a few laughs.
Their smiles were short-lived, though. Master Drogan got up to his feet with a grim face and said, “Well done, my dear students, well done, indeed. And I thank you, Ayala, for aiding us in these dire times.”
“What’s the grim face for then, Drogan?” Ayala asked, still clutching her sword and breathing heavily.
“Well, it depends on whether the pesky little creatures breached the magical wards I have placed in my laboratory. Yanny, my dear boy, would you go check up on Riisi, while we clean up this mess?”
“Certainly,” Yanny answered and headed towards the door leading into Master Drogan’s laboratory.

Upon entering, Yanny could immediately tell that the magical wards Master Drogan spoke of have been dispelled. Even from a distance, he could see that the large room was in disarray. Planks of splintered hardwood littered the place and Yanny noticed a few kobold tracks leading beyond the wards.
Master Drogan’s magnificent faerie dragon familiar was flapping her green butterfly wings agitatedly and moaning repeatedly.
“What a mess! Me-oh-my, what a mess!”
Riisi was visibly shaken and squeaking so quickly that Yanny could barely understand the words.
“Oh my,” Riisi exclaimed, noticing Yanny. “Is it another kobold come to wreak havoc on Master’s things? Well, Riisi will fight them, yes she will. She will protect her master’s things this time. No, no, no, it is someone I recognize! Yanny! Gladdens my heart, yes it does.”

“How are you, Riisi?” Yanny asked with concern in his voice.
“I am still being Riisi, oh yes. I am not dead, that is a good thing. But you should be knowing that kobolds stole Master’s stuff, yes they did! Please, oh please, Yanny, tell me that Master is unharmed!”
“Master Drogan is fine, Riisi.”
“Oh, Riisi is very glad to hear that. I was worried, oh yes I was. But you have put my mind to rest, yes you did.”
“What happened here, Riisi?”
“Oh, it was terrible, yes it was. I was just having a nap and dreaming about a lovely meadow filled with flowers and butterflies. It was wonderful, Yanny, yes it was. Well, I was woken by a dreadful noise and I immediately turned invisible. When I saw that dreadful kobolds were in the house, I though Master Drogan was surely in danger. I saw them coming to the laboratory and I knew they could not get across, and I thought it was going to be such fun watching them from behind the magic wards. I was about to appear to them and taunt them, yes I was, but then they stopped and you would not believe what they did, no you would not. They threw dust on the wards! It must have been magic dust, oh yes, or it would not have worked, no, no, no. Stupid ugly kobolds walked right through the wards and looted all of Master’s magic. Oh, shame on Riisi, shame, shame, shame. I hid. I was so scared and thought they were powerful kobolds, for they were the first to pass Master’s magic wards. Now Master will never trust Riisi again, oh no, he will not! Now Master will dismiss Riisi and she will have to leave and return to her home in disgrace. Except that Master is very loving, and maybe Riisi can earn back his trust by never letting anyone in ever again! Yes, yes, yes, that is it. Riisi will be the best guard ever! I will do a good job for dear Master. No more kobolds can enter here, no, no, no.”

“I am sure you will be the greatest guard ever, Riisi,” Yanny said and sighed.

The laboratory has been breached and something belonging to master Drogan was stolen.

☼☼☼☼☼

When Yanny exited the laboratory, Master Drogan was talking with Ayala in hushed tones. They both looked at him questioningly.
“The kobolds made off with some magical items, Master Drogan,” Yanny announced and the old dwarf groaned loudly.
“The Harpers have many enemies,” Ayala said thoughtfully. “I suspect one of them is responsible for this attack. I hope I am wrong.”
“I believe I can shed some light on that,” Master Drogan answered, nervously pacing the room. “It was the artifacts they were after. They are stolen, all four of them!”
“I thought as much,” Ayala said. “How could anyone have found out you even had them? This is terrible news.”
“What are you two about?” Dorna asked.
“When Drogan retired to Hilltop, the Harpers entrusted four dangerous artifacts to his care. We thought this area remote enough that they would be safe.”
“I do not know how they were discovered,” Master Drogan added. “But we shall have to find out. These artifacts are too powerful and can be put to dangerous use.”

Master Drogan sighed.
“Yanny, my eldest student. It is up to you. It is vital that you find these items and bring them back.”
There it was then, Yanny’s first opportunity to adventure, the first voyage beyond Hilltop, the true way to discover the wondrous magic hidden all across the realms.

Perhaps Yanny’s adventures would even take him to Waterdeep, the fabled City of Splendors!

“You can count on me, Master Drogan,” Yanny replied with undisguised excitement in his voice. “I shall not fail you.”
“Such courage, dear boy,” Master Drogan said, embracing Yanny. “You make me proud.”
“This shall be your final test. I know that you are ready! So much relies on you now. I know in my heart you will not let me down. Ayala and I shall remain here and guard the school, with the help of Mischa.”
Master Drogan turned to regard the promising young paladin of Mystra.
“You have fought valiantly, my dear lass, and I am proud of you.”
“Thank you, Master Drogan,” Mischa replied, blushing profusely.
“One more apprentice shall remain,” Master Drogan continued, “and another shall accompany Yanny.”

“I shall go with you, Yanny,” Dorna said determinedly. “Our skills will complement each other… and besides, I expect you’ll need some muscle to back you up.”
“Muscle?” Xanos huffed teasingly. “Eh? All I see is a little dwarf with very big mouth.”
“Better than a half-orc with an oversized ego,” Dorna countered, smiling.
“You make fun of Xanos, but you shall see,” Xanos parried, laughing heartily. “Yanny will pick Xanos gladly and then Xanos will laugh at you.”
“Should we make a little bet, then?” Dorna winked at Xanos, and everybody in the library shared a laugh despite the ominous situation they were currently in. “Fifty gold coins should settle this nicely. What say you?”
“My little dwarven friend,” Xanos said, dangling his bulging belt pouch in front of Dorna’s plump face. “I shall gladly accept your gold and add it to mine.”

Yanny made his decision quickly.
“I believe I shall ask Dorna to accompany me as her sneaky skills could prove to be useful.”
“Well, you know me,” Dorna laughed, producing two magic wands from the folds of her leather vest and waving them playfully before the half-orc’s face.
“If you need sharp eyes to watch for ambushes, or a nasty trap dealt with, I am your girl. Worry not, Xanos. You can purchase one of these from m

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9 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:43 am

Maxduelantus

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[size=12][size=12][size=12][size=12]me, for fifty gold pieces.”
“Where did you get these?” Yanny asked, with admiration in his voice.
“Oh, I swiped them from the little kobolds during the fight,” Dorna smiled innocently.
“It’s a deal then, my sneaky dwarven friend,” Xanos laughed, handing over his purse. ”I shall gladly exchange my gold for your wares.”
“Great,” Dorna replied, giving the second wand to Yanny. “We’ll have Master Drogan’s artifacts in no time… and maybe pick up a coin or two for ourselves along the way. Through the grace of Vergadain, we shall return victorious!”
“There is no time for this discussion now,” Master Drogan said with another deep sigh. “The villagers are in dire need of our help, I can feel it in my old bones.”
“We must go now!” Dorna exclaimed, concern creeping into her voice. “We must check on the villagers to make sure the nasty little kobolds did not wreak complete havoc on our fair town during their escape!”
“We must set out immediately,” Yanny replied, nodding in agreement.
“I shall accompany you, my friends,” Xanos said, clutching his dagger and looking questioningly upon Master Drogan. The old dwarf stroked his singed beard in contemplation, sighed heavily, and nodded his approval.

“My dear students,” he said, “if I may make a suggestion... The Blake family lives on a farm just outside of the main gate, which is dangerously far away from the town proper during these dire times, by my own guess. Nora and Adam had a baby not even three months ago, and something tells me you should check up on them.”

“We shall certainly do that,” Yanny promised, “and with all haste for they may indeed be in trouble.”
“Well,” Dorna mused, “since we are to remain in town at least for a short while, we might as well stop by the community hall to check up on the mayor, after we check up on the Blake family of course. He may be in need of our help after the kobold attack.”
“In that case, we should also visit the Bubbling Cauldron,” Yanny added, referring to the town’s only tavern.

☼☼☼☼☼

The apprentices exited the house with all haste and made their way towards the town proper. Even from a distance, the devastating truth of the raid was becoming painfully apparent. Dead bodies of kobolds, villagers and local animals were strewn about the place, crimson red blood staining the snow on the ground.
As the students passed by the Bubbling Cauldron, they could hear the sounds of angry shouting, smashed dinnerware, and loud arguing emanating from within. They could not dare to investigate the mayhem immediately though, fearing for the safety of the Blake family.
As the friends ran towards the town gate, they witnessed an even more curious sight – a congregation of villagers mulling about the place, listening intently to the ecstatic cries of an old man. Yanny recognized him as Piper, a local scoundrel who had grand delusions of being a fortune teller.

“Doom!” Piper was yelling at the top of his lungs. “Doom is upon us!”

The friends did not have time to investigate the commotion – a strange sensation nagged at their hearts, an instinctive feeling of being too late to save the Blake family. They ran on as fast as they could, passing by a curious halfling caravan on their way, but they realized that something was terribly wrong as soon as the rooftop of the Blake house came into view.
A young woman, barefoot and barely dressed, was running towards them, sobbing and whimpering with every step. Yanny rushed to embrace her and the young woman dug her face into his tunic, weeping openly.

“Oh Yanny!” the woman exclaimed through loud sobs. “Thank the gods you are here! You must help me, please! Kobolds attacked our home. Adam and I were still in bed when they burst into our room. We climbed out the window and Adam helped me down, then he went back in the front door. He went to save little Tynan, but he hasn’t returned. Tynan is only two months old. Please, Yanny, you must save them!”
“Calm down, Nora,” Yanny replied soothingly. “We are here to help.”
“Oh, thank you, Yanny,” Nora replied, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. She was obviously in shock.
“Please hurry!”
“There is no time to waste,” Dorna said.
She looked at the weeping woman with concern – this was going to be a tough day indeed for poor Nora if they were too late.
“Wait for us here.”
Nora nodded in understanding and would have dropped to the ground from exhaustion, but Xanos was there in a flash, gently setting her down on the cold snow with his muscled arms.

The three friends ran on as fast as they could, Nora’s desperate cries for help ringing loudly in their ears.
“Hurry! Please hurry!”

A heart wrenching scene awaited the friends as they inched cautiously towards the house entrance. The dead body of Adam Blake lay in a pool of his own blood just beyond the blasted door. His unseeing eyes were staring at the ceiling, the images of pure terror forever captured into his dilated pupils.
Cackling sounds of his murderers emanated from within – the kobolds were undoubtedly celebrating their small victory.
Dorna peeked inside and quickly pulled away, holding up four fingers.
“The baby?” Yanny mouthed with his lips.
Dorna shook her head slowly, pointing towards the second floor. The loud cries of the infant could indeed be heard from upstairs, mixed with other, barely perceptible sounds.

That was all the encouragement the friends needed as they drew their weapons.
Silent as death, grim faces promising a world of pain, the friends entered the house. The dumb kobolds were playing cards at the kitchen table, their crossbows not even loaded. Caught by surprise, they shrieked in terror and fell all over each other, fumbling to draw their puny swords.
Dorna’s eyes lit up brightly with a vengeful gleam, but brighter still flashed her battle axe as it spun through the air, blasting one of the creatures in the chest. Yanny did not even get a chance to vent his own anger as Dorna and Xanos descended upon the remaining kobolds. The young dwarven cleric slammed her shield over a creature’s head, splattering the brains all over the hardwood floor.

Yanny bent over and spewed the contents of his morning meal.
The remaining two kobolds finally managed to bring up their swords, poking them at Dorna’s midsection. She swatted their attacks aside with her shield and grabbed one of the creatures by its tiny neck.
Yanny could not see through his teary eyes but he clearly heard the resounding snap of the broken spine. The remaining kobold shrieked in horror and attempted to run for it, but the half-orc brute swiped it into the air with his huge hands.

Yanny heard the wet sound of flesh being torn apart and vomited again.
“The baby is still alive,” Dorna whispered, pointing towards the second floor.
She bounded up the stairs, determined to save at least one member of the Blake family. Yanny and Xanos followed closely behind, clutching their weapons nervously. They burst through the bedroom door, weapons drawn, to find a horrified, shaking kobold huddling in the corner. The creature was holding the baby close to its chest, making futile attempts to soothe crying Tynan.

The friends stopped cold in their tracks, not daring to come any closer.
It felt as if time had stopped and everything froze in motion. Yanny could hear the blood pumping through his veins so loudly he thought he was standing in the middle of an ice storm.
“Me stole the baby, stupid human man!” The kobold shrieked, shuddering violently.

Yanny thought the little lizard was surely going to drop the baby.
“Me gots control of you now!”
Yanny took a deep breath to steady himself.
“Just give me the baby and I will let you go,” he promised, his voice non-threatening.
“Me not think so! Kobolds love them children, so do you. If you want it, you must gives me shiny gem in return. You gets shiny gem and gives to me!”

Yanny breathed a sigh of relief. The kobold was willing to negotiate and that boded well for little Tynan. He sheathed his weapons, bade for the others to do the same, and reached inside his pouch, producing a small amethyst.
“Here is a nice shiny gem,” Yanny said, taking a cautious step forward. “Now give me that child.”
The kobold’s serpentine eyes lit up in excitement, matching the glow of the gem. The creature snatched the precious stone and squeaked in glee, “Me so happy, me is now going. You take smelly baby! Him make big stink.”
Yanny took another cautious step forward and took the baby. The kobold hooted in glee and darted for the door.

“Well, that was easy,” Xanos grumbled.
He stuck out his massive foot, tripping the kobold and sending it tumbling down the stairs with a loud crash. Dorna spat in disgust and took a step closer, a healing spell ready on her lips.

The small bundle of joy seemed to be emanating a peculiar odor and Yanny winced, trying hard not to gag. Little Tynan stopped crying and looked up at him with beautiful blue eyes, making funny giggling sounds.
“So cute,” Dorna whispered. She smiled and planted a big kiss on Tynan’s cheek. The baby giggled and grabbed at the dwarf’s nose, squeezing tightly.
“A feisty little lad,” Yanny observed with a laugh. His face turned grim and he added, “Just like his father.”
“Yes, this one is a survivor, no doubt,” Xanos mused. “Now, there is a small matter of informing his mother about Adam’s death and I can already feel her loud keening stabbing me through my very heart.”

“This is going to be tough for her to take,” Yanny said with a sigh.

☼☼☼☼☼

The friends found Nora cowering between the pine trees near the house. The woman ran towards them and the concern in her beautiful face turned into a smile upon seeing the precious little bundle.
“Oh, Tynan, my precious little boy!” She exclaimed lovingly. “How I feared you were dead. But… where is Adam? He… he is still alive, isn’t he? Please tell me I am not a widow!”
Yanny took a deep breath. This was going to hurt.
“I am afraid Adam did not survive.”
“No!” Poor Nora seemed to be melting away before their very eyes.
She dropped to the ground and let out a long wail of purest sorrow that echoed through the air. Dorna sobbed softly and wiped the unwanted tears from her eyes. She bent low to comfort the young widow who was crying uncontrollably, the loud sobs shaking her entire body.
“No! Poor, brave Adam. Those monsters murdered him! How can the gods be so cruel?”
Dorna hugged the woman comfortingly.

“Now, now,” she said. “There is still hope for you, Nora. The gods work in mysterious ways and they smiled brightly upon Tynan, sparing the child’s life.”
“Yes,” Nora contended with a sob. “At… at least I have Tynan, a beautiful child to remember Adam by. I have my home and my wedding ring, as well. Of course, without Adam to support me, I guess I will have to sell the ring, just to help me until I can find a job.”
“Now, now,” Dorna said soothingly, “you do not have to do that, Nora. Surely you do not want to part with the wedding ring – it is a reminder of Adam’s love and his valiant sacrifice. Would it help if I gave you some gold?”
“Oh, Dorna, I could not ask that of you,” Nora replied with a sob. “If not for you, my child would be dead too. I mean… it would be helpful, but I am sure I can survive if I sell my…”
“Please, Nora, we insist,” Xanos interrupted the poor woman. “It is the least we can do for you.”

The half-orcish brute looked at Dorna questioningly – the money he had lost during the bet could now be put to good cause.
“Yes, Nora, we insist,” Dorna added, producing the bulging purse. “Fifty shiny ones from all of us.”
Nora gasped in awe and exclaimed, “I would never have believed that anyone could be so kind. Be assured that Tynan will be raised to know who his saviors are. I will sing your praises in his ear and someday, if I raise him properly, perhaps he will grow up to emulate you. May Tymora smile upon you and thank you again.”

The friends did not talk during their short trek back to the town proper – there was nothing they could say or do to relieve Nora’s emotional pain. At least little Tynan was alive, Yanny kept thinking, and that in itself was a miracle.

“Thank you, Mystra,” Yanny said and he was truly thankful.

☼☼☼☼☼

The halfling caravan came into view just then, reminding him of the disaster perpetrated by the kobolds, reminding him that many other people had suffered greatly this day. Three halfling guards were sprawled on the ground, moaning in pain.
A beautiful halfling woman in black leather armor was tending to their wounds, but it was obvious she was not greatly versed in the arts of healing.
Yanny looked at Dorna and the young dwarven cleric nodded in understanding. She walked past three most curious looking halflings and kneeled over a wounded guard.
She touched her holy symbol and proclaimed, “Vergadain, great Laughing God, hear me. Heal this unfortunate adventurer!” She placed her hands on the guard’s body and channeled the divine energy through it, mending the damage. The halfling gasped in relief, while the others gasped in surprise, and opened his eyes.

“Them damn little rat lizards ain’t gonna get away with it, I tell ya!” the guard jumped to his short feet, clutching his little sword. “Come back here an’ fight, ye good fer nothin’…”
“Oh shut yourself up and greet your savior, will you,” the female halfling scolded him, squinting her eyes dangerously, “before I knock you out senseless.”
She turned to regard Dorna and bowed politely.
“Oh, sorry ‘bout that, boss,” the guard replied sheepishly and turned to regard Dorna. “Well met and thank ye, kind lady. You saved me life and I be forever in yer debt.”
The halfling swept into a low bow and overbalanced. He toppled to the snow with a profound yawn and was soon snoring contentedly.

Yanny approached the caravan leader while Dorna tended to the other guards. The female halfling was a pretty little thing, with large brown eyes, flowing black hair, and cute little nose and ears. She appeared youthful and full of energy, but Yanny also sensed an aura of wisdom and authority around her. He bowed politely and smiled cheerfully despite the emotions nagging at his heart.

“Well met, good lady. I am Yanny, apprentice to Master Drogan and a humble servant of nature. Meet my fellow apprentices and friends. The young cleric kneeling over your associates is Dorna and the big brute standing behind me is Xanos, a sorcerer of renowned prowess.”
“That so?” the halfling replied with a dazzling smile and a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Dwarven wizard is your teacher then? I remember him. He’s come to give me messages to take on to other towns sometimes. Pays handsomely. The name is Katriana. We don’t tend to look much to others for help, but… thank you kindly. I appreciate what you are doing for my guards, though their salaries will suffer from their lack of competence. What’s with the sobbing woman, anyway?”
“Sadly, Nora’s husband has been killed by the kobolds,” Yanny replied with a frown.

Katriana gasped and shook her head in horror, her beautiful eyes turning a dark shade of sadness.
“Torias,” she barked at the dark-haired halfling who was busily gaping at Dorna. “Come here you dolt! Go inside and fetch a nice toy for the baby.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied happily and darted for the merchandise wagon.
He emerged almost immediately holding a magnificent short sword and flipped the blade in the air.

“A bit sharp for a toy but perfect for the young feisty boy! Bwahaha!”

Katriana sighed deeply.
“I’ve heard mention of your caravan,” Dorna said when she was done with her prayers. “Master Drogan said you come through here on regular basis and have for many years.”
“For generations, actually,” Katriana replied. “It’s something like a family trading route we follow. A relatively safe one, if there is such a thing as traveling safely through the Silver Marches…Until today, in any case. The kobolds came out of nowhere and tried to rob us.”
“Better than trying to kill you,” Dorna mused.
“Well, truth be told, they made a fair attempt at that also. They didn’t get away with anything important, except… they took Daschnaya’s cards, sadly.”
“Daschnaya?” Yanny echoed.
“Yes, our fortune teller. She’s locked herself in her wagon and doesn’t want to come out. She makes a bit of coin at the towns we stop at. Her family’s been using those cards for generations… it’s a sad day that we’ve lost them.”
“You mean these?” Dorna asked, producing a neat stack of intricately designed playing cards. “I was going to use them as a heat source, but if they are yours…”

Katriana gasped in awe.
“Yes! These are the ones! Thank you, Dorna. Daschnaya will be most pleased!”
“So, you are the caravan leader,” Yanny stated the obvious.
“I lead this caravan, as did my grandfather before me and his mother before him. We trade, mostly, moving from town to town around the Silver Marches. Occasionally we’ll range farther west… but not since the plague in Neverwinter. We’re wanderers, for the most part, but I daresay we do well enough as merchants that we’re welcome most everywhere. It’s dangerous, by my own guess, and we are always looking for guards. The boys don’t do so bad when they’re not surprised like we were today.”

The dark-haired halfling who called himself Torias approached Dorna with undeniable sparkle of interest in his dark eyes. He dipped into a grand bow.
“Well met there, strangers,” he pronounced, smiling at Dorna. “I don’t suppose you have a rum-flavored cigar on you, by chance?”
“A what?”
“A rum-flavored cigar. It’s… well, never mind. Simply something I grew fond of in Amn, and I’ve recently run out. Ah, well. Pardon my manners, good lady. I am called Torias. And you are?”
“Dorna Trapspringer, if you must know.”
Torias dipped into another grand bow and came up smiling brightly.
“Then I am very pleased to meet you, Dorna Trapspringer. Never have I heard a name more beautiful, I must say!”
“You are a bit of a cheeky halfling, aren’t you?”
Torias laughed heartily, displaying a dazzling smile on his face.
“Well, maybe just a little bit, my good lady dwarf! Perhaps you’d care to join me in the enjoyment of some fine wine?”
“Sorry. I make it a policy never to date men whom I could crush accidentally.”
“Oh?” Torias replied with a sly wink. “It would be a pleasant enough way to go, I suppose.”
“Flatterer. You say that now.”

Dorna blushed profusely and turned to regard Katriana, hastily trying to change the subject.
“Don’t mind my cousin,” Katriana apologized with a shrug. “He is such a lady chaser. Torias, have some manners, for Tymora’s sake.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied, sending another dazzling smile in Dorna’s direction.
He dipped one final bow and bounded off happily to join the conversation taking place between Xanos and the twin halflings.

One of the twins poked his stubby finger in the big brute’s direction and mumbled something indecipherable. Xanos glared at the gaping halfling and grumbled under his breath.
“Don’t mind him,” the other twin explained. “My brother don’t talk much. Especially today, with all the fighting and such. Furten’s the name, good sir, and this here is my twin brother Birgen.”
“Xanos Messarmos,” the half-orc grumbled in reply.
Yanny smiled at the verbal exchange – Xanos was making some fine new friends indeed.

“So where are you headed next,” Dorna asked Katriana.
“I’m thinking we’ll be crossing the Anauroch desert. There’s goods out east that’ll bring a grand price when we head back this way.”
Yanny frowned as he recalled the visions from his divinations – a parched land devoid of life, a merciless wasteland known as the Anauroch desert. The troubles were far from over, and Yanny got a distinct impression that they had just begun.
“Perhaps we shall join you on your journey,” he mused.
“Like I said,” Katriana replied with a smile, “we are always looking for guards.”
☼☼☼☼☼

Master Drogan was lying on the floor, stunned from the blast, but otherwise unharmed. As Yanny rushed towards him, the good dwarf stirred, opened his eyes and regarded his student with unconcealed respect.
“Master Drogan,” Yanny exclaimed, “you are unharmed! Tymora smiles brightly upon us.”
“Come back here and fight, you smelly lizards!” Xanos was yelling, possessed by the emotions of a powerful battle rage.
But the smelly lizards did not oblige, opting instead to flee the house. They cleared out of the place in a matter of three heartbeats and retreated from Hilltop, running towards their smelly caves.

When the billowing cloud of smoke dissipated through the blasted door, it revealed the charred and maimed kobold carcasses strewn all over the floor. The defenders were all covered with black soot, but appeared to be otherwise unharmed.
The victory was apparently complete. The defenders gathered near Master Drogan, embracing each other and sharing a few laughs.
Their smiles were short-lived, though. Master Drogan got up to his feet with a grim face and said, “Well done, my dear students, well done, indeed. And I thank you, Ayala, for aiding us in these dire times.”
“What’s the grim face for then, Drogan?” Ayala asked, still clutching her sword and breathing heavily.
“Well, it depends on whether the pesky little creatures breached the magical wards I have placed in my laboratory. Yanny, my dear boy, would you go check up on Riisi, while we clean up this mess?”
“Certainly,” Yanny answered and headed towards the door leading into Master Drogan’s laboratory.

Upon entering, Yanny could immediately tell that the magical wards Master Drogan spoke of have been dispelled. Even from a distance, he could see that the large room was in disarray. Planks of splintered hardwood littered the place and Yanny noticed a few kobold tracks leading beyond the wards.
Master Drogan’s magnificent faerie dragon familiar was flapping her green butterfly wings agitatedly and moaning repeatedly.
“What a mess! Me-oh-my, what a mess!”
Riisi was visibly shaken and squeaking so quickly that Yanny could barely understand the words.
“Oh my,” Riisi exclaimed, noticing Yanny. “Is it another kobold come to wreak havoc on Master’s things? Well, Riisi will fight them, yes she will. She will protect her master’s things this time. No, no, no, it is someone I recognize! Yanny! Gladdens my heart, yes it does.”

“How are you, Riisi?” Yanny asked with concern in his voice.
“I am still being Riisi, oh yes. I am not dead, that is a good thing. But you should be knowing that kobolds stole Master’s stuff, yes they did! Please, oh please, Yanny, tell me that Master is unharmed!”
“Master Drogan is fine, Riisi.”
“Oh, Riisi is very glad to hear that. I was worried, oh yes I was. But you have put my mind to rest, yes you did.”
“What happened here, Riisi?”
“Oh, it was terrible, yes it was. I was just having a nap and dreaming about a lovely meadow filled with flowers and butterflies. It was wonderful, Yanny, yes it was. Well, I was woken by a dreadful noise and I immediately turned invisible. When I saw that dreadful kobolds were in the house, I though Master Drogan was surely in danger. I saw them coming to the laboratory and I knew they could not get across, and I thought it was going to be such fun watching them from behind the magic wards. I was about to appear to them and taunt them, yes I was, but then they stopped and you would not believe what they did, no you would not. They threw dust on the wards! It must have been magic dust, oh yes, or it would not have worked, no, no, no. Stupid ugly kobolds walked right through the wards and looted all of Master’s magic. Oh, shame on Riisi, shame, shame, shame. I hid. I was so scared and thought they were powerful kobolds, for they were the first to pass Master’s magic wards. Now Master will never trust Riisi again, oh no, he will not! Now Master will dismiss Riisi and she will have to leave and return to her home in disgrace. Except that Master is very loving, and maybe Riisi can earn back his trust by never letting anyone in ever again! Yes, yes, yes, that is it. Riisi will be the best guard ever! I will do a good job for dear Master. No more kobolds can enter here, no, no, no.”

“I am sure you will be the greatest guard ever, Riisi,” Yanny said and sighed.

The laboratory has been breached and something belonging to master Drogan was stolen.

☼☼☼☼☼

When Yanny exited the laboratory, Master Drogan was talking with Ayala in hushed tones. They both looked at him questioningly.
“The kobolds made off with some magical items, Master Drogan,” Yanny announced and the old dwarf groaned loudly.
“The Harpers have many enemies,” Ayala said thoughtfully. “I suspect one of them is responsible for this attack. I hope I am wrong.”
“I believe I can shed some light on that,” Master Drogan answered, nervously pacing the room. “It was the artifacts they were after. They are stolen, all four of them!”
“I thought as much,” Ayala said. “How could anyone have found out you even had them? This is terrible news.”
“What are you two about?” Dorna asked.
“When Drogan retired to Hilltop, the Harpers entrusted four dangerous artifacts to his care. We thought this area remote enough that they would be safe.”
“I do not know how they were discovered,” Master Drogan added. “But we shall have to find out. These artifacts are too powerful and can be put to dangerous use.”

Master Drogan sighed.
“Yanny, my eldest student. It is up to you. It is vital that you find these items and bring them back.”
There it was then, Yanny’s first opportunity to adventure, the first voyage beyond Hilltop, the true way to discover the wondrous magic hidden all across the realms.

Perhaps Yanny’s adventures would even take him to Waterdeep, the fabled City of Splendors!

“You can count on me, Master Drogan,” Yanny replied with undisguised excitement in his voice. “I shall not fail you.”
“Such courage, dear boy,” Master Drogan said, embracing Yanny. “You make me proud.”
“This shall be your final test. I know that you are ready! So much relies on you now. I know in my heart you will not let me down. Ayala and I shall remain here and guard the school, with the help of Mischa.”
Master Drogan turned to regard the promising young paladin of Mystra.
“You have fought valiantly, my dear lass, and I am proud of you.”
“Thank you, Master Drogan,” Mischa replied, blushing profusely.
“One more apprentice shall remain,” Master Drogan continued, “and another shall accompany Yanny.”

“I shall go with you, Yanny,” Dorna said determinedly. “Our skills will complement each other… and besides, I expect you’ll need some muscle to back you up.”
“Muscle?” Xanos huffed teasingly. “Eh? All I see is a little dwarf with very big mouth.”
“Better than a half-orc with an oversized ego,” Dorna countered, smiling.
“You make fun of Xanos, but you shall see,” Xanos parried, laughing heartily. “Yanny will pick Xanos gladly and then Xanos will laugh at you.”
“Should we make a little bet, then?” Dorna winked at Xanos, and everybody in the library shared a laugh despite the ominous situation they were currently in. “Fifty gold coins should settle this nicely. What say you?”
“My little dwarven friend,” Xanos said, dangling his bulging belt pouch in front of Dorna’s plump face. “I shall gladly accept your gold and add it to mine.”

Yanny made his decision quickly.
“I believe I shall ask Dorna to accompany me as her sneaky skills could prove to be useful.”
“Well, you know me,” Dorna laughed, producing two magic wands from the folds of her leather vest and waving them playfully before the half-orc’s face.
“If you need sharp eyes to watch for ambushes, or a nasty trap dealt with, I am your girl. Worry not, Xanos. You can purchase one of these from me, for fifty gold pieces.”
“Where did you get these?” Yanny asked, with admiration in his voice.
“Oh, I swiped them from the little kobolds during the fight,” Dorna smiled innocently.
“It’s a deal then, my sneaky dwarven friend,” Xanos laughed, handing over his purse. ”I shall gladly exchange my gold for your wares.”
“Great,” Dorna replied, giving the second wand to Yanny. “We’ll have Master Drogan’s artifacts in no time… and maybe pick up a coin or two for ourselves along the way. Through the grace of Vergadain, we shall return victorious!”
“There is no time for this discussion now,” Master Drogan said with another deep sigh. “The villagers are in dire need of our help, I can feel it in my old bones.”
“We must go now!” Dorna exclaimed, concern creeping into her voice. “We must check on the villagers to make sure the nasty little kobolds did not wreak complete havoc on our fair town during their escape!”
“We must set out immediately,” Yanny replied, nodding in agreement.
“I shall accompany you, my friends,” Xanos said, clutching his dagger and looking questioningly upon Master Drogan. The old dwarf stroked his singed beard in contemplation, sighed heavily, and nodded his approval.

“My dear students,” he said, “if I may make a suggestion... The Blake family lives on a farm just outside of the main gate, which is dangerously far away from the town proper during these dire times, by my own guess. Nora and Adam had a baby not even three months ago, and something tells me you should check up on them.”

“We shall certainly do that,” Yanny promised, “and with all haste for they may indeed be in trouble.”
“Well,” Dorna mused, “since we are to remain in town at least for a short while, we might as well stop by the community hall to check up on the mayor, after we check up on the Blake family of course. He may be in need of our help after the kobold attack.”
“In that case, we should also visit the Bubbling Cauldron,” Yanny added, referring to the town’s only tavern.

☼☼☼☼☼

The apprentices exited the house with all haste and made their way towards the town proper. Even from a distance, the devastating truth of the raid was becoming painfully apparent. Dead bodies of kobolds, villagers and local animals were strewn about the place, crimson red blood staining the snow on the ground.
As the students passed by the Bubbling Cauldron, they could hear the sounds of angry shouting, smashed dinnerware, and loud arguing emanating from within. They could not dare to investigate the mayhem immediately though, fearing for the safety of the Blake family.
As the friends ran towards the town gate, they witnessed an even more curious sight – a congregation of villagers mulling about the place, listening intently to the ecstatic cries of an old man. Yanny recognized him as Piper, a local scoundrel who had grand delusions of being a fortune teller.

“Doom!” Piper was yelling at the top of his lungs. “Doom is upon us!”

The friends did not have time to investigate the commotion – a strange sensation nagged at their hearts, an instinctive feeling of being too late to save the Blake family. They ran on as fast as they could, passing by a curious halfling caravan on their way, but they realized that something was terribly wrong as soon as the rooftop of the Blake house came into view.
A young woman, barefoot and barely dressed, was running towards them, sobbing and whimpering with every step. Yanny rushed to embrace her and the young woman dug her face into his tunic, weeping openly.

“Oh Yanny!” the woman exclaimed through loud sobs. “Thank the gods you are here! You must help me, please! Kobolds attacked our home. Adam and I were still in bed when they burst into our room. We climbed out the window and Adam helped me down, then he went back in the front door. He went to save little Tynan, but he hasn’t returned. Tynan is only two months old. Please, Yanny, you must save them!”
“Calm down, Nora,” Yanny replied soothingly. “We are here to help.”
“Oh, thank you, Yanny,” Nora replied, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. She was obviously in shock.
“Please hurry!”
“There is no time to waste,” Dorna said.
She looked at the weeping woman with concern – this was going to be a tough day indeed for poor Nora if they were too late.
“Wait for us here.”
Nora nodded in understanding and would have dropped to the ground from exhaustion, but Xanos was there in a flash, gently setting her down on the cold snow with his muscled arms.

The three friends ran on as fast as they could, Nora’s desperate cries for help ringing loudly in their ears.
“Hurry! Please hurry!”

A heart wrenching scene awaited the friends as they inched cautiously towards the house entrance. The dead body of Adam Blake lay in a pool of his own blood just beyond the blasted door. His unseeing eyes were staring at the ceiling, the images of pure terror forever captured into his dilated pupils.
Cackling sounds of his murderers emanated from within – the kobolds were undoubtedly celebrating their small victory.
Dorna peeked inside and quickly pulled away, holding up four fingers.
“The baby?” Yanny mouthed with his lips.
Dorna shook her head slowly, pointing towards the second floor. The loud cries of the infant could indeed be heard from upstairs, mixed with other, barely perceptible sounds.

That was all the encouragement the friends needed as they drew their weapons.
Silent as death, grim faces promising a world of pain, the friends entered the house. The dumb kobolds were playing cards at the kitchen table, their crossbows not even loaded. Caught by surprise, they shrieked in terror and fell all over each other, fumbling to draw their puny swords.
Dorna’s eyes lit up brightly with a vengeful gleam, but brighter still flashed her battle axe as it spun through the air, blasting one of the creatures in the chest. Yanny did not even get a chance to vent his own anger as Dorna and Xanos descended upon the remaining kobolds. The young dwarven cleric slammed her shield over a creature’s head, splattering the brains all over the hardwood floor.

Yanny bent over and spewed the contents of his morning meal.
The remaining two kobolds finally managed to bring up their swords, poking them at Dorna’s midsection. She swatted their attacks aside with her shield and grabbed one of the creatures by its tiny neck.
Yanny could not see through his teary eyes but he clearly heard the resounding snap of the broken spine. The remaining kobold shrieked in horror and attempted to run for it, but the half-orc brute swiped it into the air with his huge hands.

Yanny heard the wet sound of flesh being torn apart and vomited again.
“The baby is still alive,” Dorna whispered, pointing towards the second floor.
She bounded up the stairs, determined to save at least one member of the Blake family. Yanny and Xanos followed closely behind, clutching their weapons nervously. They burst through the bedroom door, weapons drawn, to find a horrified, shaking kobold huddling in the corner. The creature was holding the baby close to its chest, making futile attempts to soothe crying Tynan.

The friends stopped cold in their tracks, not daring to come any closer.
It felt as if time had stopped and everything froze in motion. Yanny could hear the blood pumping through his veins so loudly he thought he was standing in the middle of an ice storm.
“Me stole the baby, stupid human man!” The kobold shrieked, shuddering violently.

Yanny thought the little lizard was surely going to drop the baby.
“Me gots control of you now!”
Yanny took a deep breath to steady himself.
“Just give me the baby and I will let you go,” he promised, his voice non-threatening.
“Me not think so! Kobolds love them children, so do you. If you want it, you must gives me shiny gem in return. You gets shiny gem and gives to me!”

Yanny breathed a sigh of relief. The kobold was willing to negotiate and that boded well for little Tynan. He sheathed his weapons, bade for the others to do the same, and reached inside his pouch, producing a small amethyst.
“Here is a nice shiny gem,” Yanny said, taking a cautious step forward. “Now give me that child.”
The kobold’s serpentine eyes lit up in excitement, matching the glow of the gem. The creature snatched the precious stone and squeaked in glee, “Me so happy, me is now going. You take smelly baby! Him make big stink.”
Yanny took another cautious step forward and took the baby. The kobold hooted in glee and darted for the door.

“Well, that was easy,” Xanos grumbled.
He stuck out his massive foot, tripping the kobold and sending it tumbling down the stairs with a loud crash. Dorna spat in disgust and took a step closer, a healing spell ready on her lips.

The small bundle of joy seemed to be emanating a peculiar odor and Yanny winced, trying hard not to gag. Little Tynan stopped crying and looked up at him with beautiful blue eyes, making funny giggling sounds.
“So cute,” Dorna whispered. She smiled and planted a big kiss on Tynan’s cheek. The baby giggled and grabbed at the dwarf’s nose, squeezing tightly.
“A feisty little lad,” Yanny observed with a laugh. His face turned grim and he added, “Just like his father.”
“Yes, this one is a survivor, no doubt,” Xanos mused. “Now, there is a small matter of informing his mother about Adam’s death and I can already feel her loud keening stabbing me through my very heart.”

“This is going to be tough for her to take,” Yanny said with a sigh.

☼☼☼☼☼

The friends found Nora cowering between the pine trees near the house. The woman ran towards them and the concern in her beautiful face turned into a smile upon seeing the precious little bundle.
“Oh, Tynan, my precious little boy!” She exclaimed lovingly. “How I feared you were dead. But… where is Adam? He… he is still alive, isn’t he? Please tell me I am not a widow!”
Yanny took a deep breath. This was going to hurt.
“I am afraid Adam did not survive.”
“No!” Poor Nora seemed to be melting away before their very eyes.
She dropped to the ground and let out a long wail of purest sorrow that echoed through the air. Dorna sobbed softly and wiped the unwanted tears from her eyes. She bent low to comfort the young widow who was crying uncontrollably, the loud sobs shaking her entire body.
“No! Poor, brave Adam. Those monsters murdered him! How can the gods be so cruel?”
Dorna hugged the woman comfortingly.

“Now, now,” she said. “There is still hope for you, Nora. The gods work in mysterious ways and they smiled brightly upon Tynan, sparing the child’s life.”
“Yes,” Nora contended with a sob. “At… at least I have Tynan, a beautiful child to remember Adam by. I have my home and my wedding ring, as well. Of course, without Adam to support me, I guess I will have to sell the ring, just to help me until I can find a job.”
“Now, now,” Dorna said soothingly, “you do not have to do that, Nora. Surely you do not want to part with the wedding ring – it is a reminder of Adam’s love and his valiant sacrifice. Would it help if I gave you some gold?”
“Oh, Dorna, I could not ask that of you,” Nora replied with a sob. “If not for you, my child would be dead too. I mean… it would be helpful, but I am sure I can survive if I sell my…”
“Please, Nora, we insist,” Xanos interrupted the poor woman. “It is the least we can do for you.”

The half-orcish brute looked at Dorna questioningly – the money he had lost during the bet could now be put to good cause.
“Yes, Nora, we insist,” Dorna added, producing the bulging purse. “Fifty shiny ones from all of us.”
Nora gasped in awe and exclaimed, “I would never have believed that anyone could be so kind. Be assured that Tynan will be raised to know who his saviors are. I will sing your praises in his ear and someday, if I raise him properly, perhaps he will grow up to emulate you. May Tymora smile upon you and thank you again.”

The friends did not talk during their short trek back to the town proper – there was nothing they could say or do to relieve Nora’s emotional pain. At least little Tynan was alive, Yanny kept thinking, and that in itself was a miracle.

“Thank you, Mystra,” Yanny said and he was truly thankful.

☼☼☼☼☼

The halfling caravan came into view just then, reminding him of the disaster perpetrated by the kobolds, reminding him that many other people had suffered greatly this day. Three halfling guards were sprawled on the ground, moaning in pain.
A beautiful halfling woman in black leather armor was tending to their wounds, but it was obvious she was not greatly versed in the arts of healing.
Yanny looked at Dorna and the young dwarven cleric nodded in understanding. She walked past three most curious looking halflings and kneeled over a wounded guard.
She touched her holy symbol and proclaimed, “Vergadain, great Laughing God, hear me. Heal this unfortunate adventurer!” She placed her hands on the guard’s body and channeled the divine energy through it, mending the damage. The halfling gasped in relief, while the others gasped in surprise, and opened his eyes.

“Them damn little rat lizards ain’t gonna get away with it, I tell ya!” the guard jumped to his short feet, clutching his little sword. “Come back here an’ fight, ye good fer nothin’…”
“Oh shut yourself up and greet your savior, will you,” the female halfling scolded him, squinting her eyes dangerously, “before I knock you out senseless.”
She turned to regard Dorna and bowed politely.
“Oh, sorry ‘bout that, boss,” the guard replied sheepishly and turned to regard Dorna. “Well met and thank ye, kind lady. You saved me life and I be forever in yer debt.”
The halfling swept into a low bow and overbalanced. He toppled to the snow with a profound yawn and was soon snoring contentedly.

Yanny approached the caravan leader while Dorna tended to the other guards. The female halfling was a pretty little thing, with large brown eyes, flowing black hair, and cute little nose and ears. She appeared youthful and full of energy, but Yanny also sensed an aura of wisdom and authority around her. He bowed politely and smiled cheerfully despite the emotions nagging at his heart.

“Well met, good lady. I am Yanny, apprentice to Master Drogan and a humble servant of nature. Meet my fellow apprentices and friends. The young cleric kneeling over your associates is Dorna and the big brute standing behind me is Xanos, a sorcerer of renowned prowess.”
“That so?” the halfling replied with a dazzling smile and a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Dwarven wizard is your teacher then? I remember him. He’s come to give me messages to take on to other towns sometimes. Pays handsomely. The name is Katriana. We don’t tend to look much to others for help, but… thank you kindly. I appreciate what you are doing for my guards, though their salaries will suffer from their lack of competence. What’s with the sobbing woman, anyway?”
“Sadly, Nora’s husband has been killed by the kobolds,” Yanny replied with a frown.

Katriana gasped and shook her head in horror, her beautiful eyes turning a dark shade of sadness.
“Torias,” she barked at the dark-haired halfling who was busily gaping at Dorna. “Come here you dolt! Go inside and fetch a nice toy for the baby.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied happily and darted for the merchandise wagon.
He emerged almost immediately holding a magnificent short sword and flipped the blade in the air.

“A bit sharp for a toy but perfect for the young feisty boy! Bwahaha!”

Katriana sighed deeply.
“I’ve heard mention of your caravan,” Dorna said when she was done with her prayers. “Master Drogan said you come through here on regular basis and have for many years.”
“For generations, actually,” Katriana replied. “It’s something like a family trading route we follow. A relatively safe one, if there is such a thing as traveling safely through the Silver Marches…Until today, in any case. The kobolds came out of nowhere and tried to rob us.”
“Better than trying to kill you,” Dorna mused.
“Well, truth be told, they made a fair attempt at that also. They didn’t get away with anything important, except… they took Daschnaya’s cards, sadly.”
“Daschnaya?” Yanny echoed.
“Yes, our fortune teller. She’s locked herself in her wagon and doesn’t want to come out. She makes a bit of coin at the towns we stop at. Her family’s been using those cards for generations… it’s a sad day that we’ve lost them.”
“You mean these?” Dorna asked, producing a neat stack of intricately designed playing cards. “I was going to use them as a heat source, but if they are yours…”

Katriana gasped in awe.
“Yes! These are the ones! Thank you, Dorna. Daschnaya will be most pleased!”
“So, you are the caravan leader,” Yanny stated the obvious.
“I lead this caravan, as did my grandfather before me and his mother before him. We trade, mostly, moving from town to town around the Silver Marches. Occasionally we’ll range farther west… but not since the plague in Neverwinter. We’re wanderers, for the most part, but I daresay we do well enough as merchants that we’re welcome most everywhere. It’s dangerous, by my own guess, and we are always looking for guards. The boys don’t do so bad when they’re not surprised like we were today.”

The dark-haired halfling who called himself Torias approached Dorna with undeniable sparkle of interest in his dark eyes. He dipped into a grand bow.
“Well met there, strangers,” he pronounced, smiling at Dorna. “I don’t suppose you have a rum-flavored cigar on you, by chance?”
“A what?”
“A rum-flavored cigar. It’s… well, never mind. Simply something I grew fond of in Amn, and I’ve recently run out. Ah, well. Pardon my manners, good lady. I am called Torias. And you are?”
“Dorna Trapspringer, if you must know.”
Torias dipped into another grand bow and came up smiling brightly.
“Then I am very pleased to meet you, Dorna Trapspringer. Never have I heard a name more beautiful, I must say!”
“You are a bit of a cheeky halfling, aren’t you?”
Torias laughed heartily, displaying a dazzling smile on his face.
“Well, maybe just a little bit, my good lady dwarf! Perhaps you’d care to join me in the enjoyment of some fine wine?”
“Sorry. I make it a policy never to date men whom I could crush accidentally.”
“Oh?” Torias replied with a sly wink. “It would be a pleasant enough way to go, I suppose.”
“Flatterer. You say that now.”

Dorna blushed profusely and turned to regard Katriana, hastily trying to change the subject.
“Don’t mind my cousin,” Katriana apologized with a shrug. “He is such a lady chaser. Torias, have some manners, for Tymora’s sake.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied, sending another dazzling smile in Dorna’s direction.
He dipped one final bow and bounded off happily to join the conversation taking place between Xanos and the twin halflings.

One of the twins poked his stubby finger in the big brute’s direction and mumbled something indecipherable. Xanos glared at the gaping halfling and grumbled under his breath.
“Don’t mind him,” the other twin explained. “My brother don’t talk much. Especially today, with all the fighting and such. Furten’s the name, good sir, and this here is my twin brother Birgen.”
“Xanos Messarmos,” the half-orc grumbled in reply.
Yanny smiled at the verbal exchange – Xanos was making some fine new friends indeed.

“So where are you headed next,” Dorna asked Katriana.
“I’m thinking we’ll be crossing the Anauroch desert. There’s goods out east that’ll bring a grand price when we head back this way.”
Yanny frowned as he recalled the visions from his divinations – a parched land devoid of life, a merciless wasteland known as the Anauroch desert. The troubles were far from over, and Yanny got a distinct impression that they had just begun.
“Perhaps we shall join you on your journey,” he mused.
“Like I said,” Katriana replied with a smile, “we are always looking for guards.”☼☼☼☼☼

Master Drogan was lying on the floor, stunned from the blast, but otherwise unharmed. As Yanny rushed towards him, the good dwarf stirred, opened his eyes and regarded his student with unconcealed respect.
“Master Drogan,” Yanny exclaimed, “you are unharmed! Tymora smiles brightly upon us.”
“Come back here and fight, you smelly lizards!” Xanos was yelling, possessed by the emotions of a powerful battle rage.
But the smelly lizards did not oblige, opting instead to flee the house. They cleared out of the place in a matter of three heartbeats and retreated from Hilltop, running towards their smelly caves.

When the billowing cloud of smoke dissipated through the blasted door, it revealed the charred and maimed kobold carcasses strewn all over the floor. The defenders were all covered with black soot, but appeared to be otherwise unharmed.
The victory was apparently complete. The defenders gathered near Master Drogan, embracing each other and sharing a few laughs.
Their smiles were short-lived, though. Master Drogan got up to his feet with a grim face and said, “Well done, my dear students, well done, indeed. And I thank you, Ayala, for aiding us in these dire times.”
“What’s the grim face for then, Drogan?” Ayala asked, still clutching her sword and breathing heavily.
“Well, it depends on whether the pesky little creatures breached the magical wards I have placed in my laboratory. Yanny, my dear boy, would you go check up on Riisi, while we clean up this mess?”
“Certainly,” Yanny answered and headed towards the door leading into Master Drogan’s laboratory.

Upon entering, Yanny could immediately tell that the magical wards Master Drogan spoke of have been dispelled. Even from a distance, he could see that the large room was in disarray. Planks of splintered hardwood littered the place and Yanny noticed a few kobold tracks leading beyond the wards.
Master Drogan’s magnificent faerie dragon familiar was flapping her green butterfly wings agitatedly and moaning repeatedly.
“What a mess! Me-oh-my, what a mess!”
Riisi was visibly shaken and squeaking so quickly that Yanny could barely understand the words.
“Oh my,” Riisi exclaimed, noticing Yanny. “Is it another kobold come to wreak havoc on Master’s things? Well, Riisi will fight them, yes she will. She will protect her master’s things this time. No, no, no, it is someone I recognize! Yanny! Gladdens my heart, yes it does.”

“How are you, Riisi?” Yanny asked with concern in his voice.
“I am still being Riisi, oh yes. I am not dead, that is a good thing. But you should be knowing that kobolds stole Master’s stuff, yes they did! Please, oh please, Yanny, tell me that Master is unharmed!”
“Master Drogan is fine, Riisi.”
“Oh, Riisi is very glad to hear that. I was worried, oh yes I was. But you have put my mind to rest, yes you did.”
“What happened here, Riisi?”
“Oh, it was terrible, yes it was. I was just having a nap and dreaming about a lovely meadow filled with flowers and butterflies. It was wonderful, Yanny, yes it was. Well, I was woken by a dreadful noise and I immediately turned invisible. When I saw that dreadful kobolds were in the house, I though Master Drogan was surely in danger. I saw them coming to the laboratory and I knew they could not get across, and I thought it was going to be such fun watching them from behind the magic wards. I was about to appear to them and taunt them, yes I was, but then they stopped and you would not believe what they did, no you would not. They threw dust on the wards! It must have been magic dust, oh yes, or it would not have worked, no, no, no. Stupid ugly kobolds walked right through the wards and looted all of Master’s magic. Oh, shame on Riisi, shame, shame, shame. I hid. I was so scared and thought they were powerful kobolds, for they were the first to pass Master’s magic wards. Now Master will never trust Riisi again, oh no, he will not! Now Master will dismiss Riisi and she will have to leave and return to her home in disgrace. Except that Master is very loving, and maybe Riisi can earn back his trust by never letting anyone in ever again! Yes, yes, yes, that is it. Riisi will be the best guard ever! I will do a good job for dear Master. No more kobolds can enter here, no, no, no.”

“I am sure you will be the greatest guard ever, Riisi,” Yanny said and sighed.

The laboratory has been breached and something belonging to master Drogan was stolen.

☼☼☼☼☼

When Yanny exited the laboratory, Master Drogan was talking with Ayala in hushed tones. They both looked at him questioningly.
“The kobolds made off with some magical items, Master Drogan,” Yanny announced and the old dwarf groaned loudly.
“The Harpers have many enemies,” Ayala said thoughtfully. “I suspect one of them is responsible for this attack. I hope I am wrong.”
“I believe I can shed some light on that,” Master Drogan answered, nervously pacing the room. “It was the artifacts they were after. They are stolen, all four of them!”
“I thought as much,” Ayala said. “How could anyone have found out you even had them? This is terrible news.”
“What are you two about?” Dorna asked.
“When Drogan retired to Hilltop, the Harpers entrusted four dangerous artifacts to his care. We thought this area remote enough that they would be safe.”
“I do not know how they were discovered,” Master Drogan added. “But we shall have to find out. These artifacts are too powerful and can be put to dangerous use.”

Master Drogan sighed.
“Yanny, my eldest student. It is up to you. It is vital that you find these items and bring them back.”
There it was then, Yanny’s first opportunity to adventure, the first voyage beyond Hilltop, the true way to discover the wondrous magic hidden all across the realms.

Perhaps Yanny’s adventures would even take him to Waterdeep, the fabled City of Splendors!

“You can count on me, Master Drogan,” Yanny replied with undisguised excitement in his voice. “I shall not fail you.”
“Such courage, dear boy,” Master Drogan said, embracing Yanny. “You make me proud.”
“This shall be your final test. I know that you are ready! So much relies on you now. I know in my heart you will not let me down. Ayala and I shall remain here and guard the school, with the help of Mischa.”
Master Drogan turned to regard the promising young paladin of Mystra.
“You have fought valiantly, my dear lass, and I am proud of you.”
“Thank you, Master Drogan,” Mischa replied, blushing profusely.
“One more apprentice shall remain,” Master Drogan continued, “and another shall accompany Yanny.”

“I shall go with you, Yanny,” Dorna said determinedly. “Our skills will complement each other… and besides, I expect you’ll need some muscle to back you up.”
“Muscle?” Xanos huffed teasingly. “Eh? All I see is a little dwarf with very big mouth.”
“Better than a half-orc with an oversized ego,” Dorna countered, smiling.
“You make fun of Xanos, but you shall see,” Xanos parried, laughing heartily. “Yanny will pick Xanos gladly and then Xanos will laugh at you.”
“Should we make a little bet, then?” Dorna winked at Xanos, and everybody in the library shared a laugh despite the ominous situation they were currently in. “Fifty gold coins should settle this nicely. What say you?”
“My little dwarven friend,” Xanos said, dangling his bulging belt pouch in front of Dorna’s plump face. “I shall gladly accept your gold and add it to mine.”

Yanny made his decision quickly.
“I believe I shall ask Dorna to accompany me as her sneaky skills could prove to be useful.”
“Well, you know me,” Dorna laughed, producing two magic wands from the folds of her leather vest and waving them playfully before the half-orc’s face.
“If you need sharp eyes to watch for ambushes, or a nasty trap dealt with, I am your girl. Worry not, Xanos. You can purchase one of these from me, for fifty gold pieces.”
“Where did you get these?” Yanny asked, with admiration in his voice.
“Oh, I swiped them from the little kobolds during the fight,” Dorna smiled innocently.
“It’s a deal then, my sneaky dwarven friend,” Xanos laughed, handing over his purse. ”I shall gladly exchange my gold for your wares.”
“Great,” Dorna replied, giving the second wand to Yanny. “We’ll have Master Drogan’s artifacts in no time… and maybe pick up a coin or two for ourselves along the way. Through the grace of Vergadain, we shall return victorious!”
“There is no time for this discussion now,” Master Drogan said with another deep sigh. “The villagers are in dire need of our help, I can feel it in my old bones.”
“We must go now!” Dorna exclaimed, concern creeping into her voice. “We must check on the villagers to make sure the nasty little kobolds did not wreak complete havoc on our fair town during their escape!”
“We must set out immediately,” Yanny replied, nodding in agreement.
“I shall accompany you, my friends,” Xanos said, clutching his dagger and looking questioningly upon Master Drogan. The old dwarf stroked his singed beard in contemplation, sighed heavily, and nodded his approval.

“My dear students,” he said, “if I may make a suggestion... The Blake family lives on a farm just outside of the main gate, which is dangerously far away from the town proper during these dire times, by my own guess. Nora and Adam had a baby not even three months ago, and something tells me you should check up on them.”

“We shall certainly do that,” Yanny promised, “and with all haste for they may indeed be in trouble.”
“Well,” Dorna mused, “since we are to remain in town at least for a short while, we might as well stop by the community hall to check up on the mayor, after we check up on the Blake family of course. He may be in need of our help after the kobold attack.”
“In that case, we should also visit the Bubbling Cauldron,” Yanny added, referring to the town’s only tavern.

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10 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:45 am

Maxduelantus

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[size=12][size=12]The apprentices exited the house with all haste and made their way towards the town proper. Even from a distance, the devastating truth of the raid was becoming painfully apparent. Dead bodies of kobolds, villagers and local animals were strewn about the place, crimson red blood staining the snow on the ground.
As the students passed by the Bubbling Cauldron, they could hear the sounds of angry shouting, smashed dinnerware, and loud arguing emanating from within. They could not dare to investigate the mayhem immediately though, fearing for the safety of the Blake family.
As the friends ran towards the town gate, they witnessed an even more curious sight – a congregation of villagers mulling about the place, listening intently to the ecstatic cries of an old man. Yanny recognized him as Piper, a local scoundrel who had grand delusions of being a fortune teller.

“Doom!” Piper was yelling at the top of his lungs. “Doom is upon us!”

The friends did not have time to investigate the commotion – a strange sensation nagged at their hearts, an instinctive feeling of being too late to save the Blake family. They ran on as fast as they could, passing by a curious halfling caravan on their way, but they realized that something was terribly wrong as soon as the rooftop of the Blake house came into view.
A young woman, barefoot and barely dressed, was running towards them, sobbing and whimpering with every step. Yanny rushed to embrace her and the young woman dug her face into his tunic, weeping openly.

“Oh Yanny!” the woman exclaimed through loud sobs. “Thank the gods you are here! You must help me, please! Kobolds attacked our home. Adam and I were still in bed when they burst into our room. We climbed out the window and Adam helped me down, then he went back in the front door. He went to save little Tynan, but he hasn’t returned. Tynan is only two months old. Please, Yanny, you must save them!”
“Calm down, Nora,” Yanny replied soothingly. “We are here to help.”
“Oh, thank you, Yanny,” Nora replied, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. She was obviously in shock.
“Please hurry!”
“There is no time to waste,” Dorna said.
She looked at the weeping woman with concern – this was going to be a tough day indeed for poor Nora if they were too late.
“Wait for us here.”
Nora nodded in understanding and would have dropped to the ground from exhaustion, but Xanos was there in a flash, gently setting her down on the cold snow with his muscled arms.

The three friends ran on as fast as they could, Nora’s desperate cries for help ringing loudly in their ears.
“Hurry! Please hurry!”

A heart wrenching scene awaited the friends as they inched cautiously towards the house entrance. The dead body of Adam Blake lay in a pool of his own blood just beyond the blasted door. His unseeing eyes were staring at the ceiling, the images of pure terror forever captured into his dilated pupils.
Cackling sounds of his murderers emanated from within – the kobolds were undoubtedly celebrating their small victory.
Dorna peeked inside and quickly pulled away, holding up four fingers.
“The baby?” Yanny mouthed with his lips.
Dorna shook her head slowly, pointing towards the second floor. The loud cries of the infant could indeed be heard from upstairs, mixed with other, barely perceptible sounds.

That was all the encouragement the friends needed as they drew their weapons.
Silent as death, grim faces promising a world of pain, the friends entered the house. The dumb kobolds were playing cards at the kitchen table, their crossbows not even loaded. Caught by surprise, they shrieked in terror and fell all over each other, fumbling to draw their puny swords.
Dorna’s eyes lit up brightly with a vengeful gleam, but brighter still flashed her battle axe as it spun through the air, blasting one of the creatures in the chest. Yanny did not even get a chance to vent his own anger as Dorna and Xanos descended upon the remaining kobolds. The young dwarven cleric slammed her shield over a creature’s head, splattering the brains all over the hardwood floor.

Yanny bent over and spewed the contents of his morning meal.
The remaining two kobolds finally managed to bring up their swords, poking them at Dorna’s midsection. She swatted their attacks aside with her shield and grabbed one of the creatures by its tiny neck.
Yanny could not see through his teary eyes but he clearly heard the resounding snap of the broken spine. The remaining kobold shrieked in horror and attempted to run for it, but the half-orc brute swiped it into the air with his huge hands.

Yanny heard the wet sound of flesh being torn apart and vomited again.
“The baby is still alive,” Dorna whispered, pointing towards the second floor.
She bounded up the stairs, determined to save at least one member of the Blake family. Yanny and Xanos followed closely behind, clutching their weapons nervously. They burst through the bedroom door, weapons drawn, to find a horrified, shaking kobold huddling in the corner. The creature was holding the baby close to its chest, making futile attempts to soothe crying Tynan.

The friends stopped cold in their tracks, not daring to come any closer.
It felt as if time had stopped and everything froze in motion. Yanny could hear the blood pumping through his veins so loudly he thought he was standing in the middle of an ice storm.
“Me stole the baby, stupid human man!” The kobold shrieked, shuddering violently.

Yanny thought the little lizard was surely going to drop the baby.
“Me gots control of you now!”
Yanny took a deep breath to steady himself.
“Just give me the baby and I will let you go,” he promised, his voice non-threatening.
“Me not think so! Kobolds love them children, so do you. If you want it, you must gives me shiny gem in return. You gets shiny gem and gives to me!”

Yanny breathed a sigh of relief. The kobold was willing to negotiate and that boded well for little Tynan. He sheathed his weapons, bade for the others to do the same, and reached inside his pouch, producing a small amethyst.
“Here is a nice shiny gem,” Yanny said, taking a cautious step forward. “Now give me that child.”
The kobold’s serpentine eyes lit up in excitement, matching the glow of the gem. The creature snatched the precious stone and squeaked in glee, “Me so happy, me is now going. You take smelly baby! Him make big stink.”
Yanny took another cautious step forward and took the baby. The kobold hooted in glee and darted for the door.

“Well, that was easy,” Xanos grumbled.
He stuck out his massive foot, tripping the kobold and sending it tumbling down the stairs with a loud crash. Dorna spat in disgust and took a step closer, a healing spell ready on her lips.

The small bundle of joy seemed to be emanating a peculiar odor and Yanny winced, trying hard not to gag. Little Tynan stopped crying and looked up at him with beautiful blue eyes, making funny giggling sounds.
“So cute,” Dorna whispered. She smiled and planted a big kiss on Tynan’s cheek. The baby giggled and grabbed at the dwarf’s nose, squeezing tightly.
“A feisty little lad,” Yanny observed with a laugh. His face turned grim and he added, “Just like his father.”
“Yes, this one is a survivor, no doubt,” Xanos mused. “Now, there is a small matter of informing his mother about Adam’s death and I can already feel her loud keening stabbing me through my very heart.”

“This is going to be tough for her to take,” Yanny said with a sigh.

☼☼☼☼☼

The friends found Nora cowering between the pine trees near the house. The woman ran towards them and the concern in her beautiful face turned into a smile upon seeing the precious little bundle.
“Oh, Tynan, my precious little boy!” She exclaimed lovingly. “How I feared you were dead. But… where is Adam? He… he is still alive, isn’t he? Please tell me I am not a widow!”
Yanny took a deep breath. This was going to hurt.
“I am afraid Adam did not survive.”
“No!” Poor Nora seemed to be melting away before their very eyes.
She dropped to the ground and let out a long wail of purest sorrow that echoed through the air. Dorna sobbed softly and wiped the unwanted tears from her eyes. She bent low to comfort the young widow who was crying uncontrollably, the loud sobs shaking her entire body.
“No! Poor, brave Adam. Those monsters murdered him! How can the gods be so cruel?”
Dorna hugged the woman comfortingly.

“Now, now,” she said. “There is still hope for you, Nora. The gods work in mysterious ways and they smiled brightly upon Tynan, sparing the child’s life.”
“Yes,” Nora contended with a sob. “At… at least I have Tynan, a beautiful child to remember Adam by. I have my home and my wedding ring, as well. Of course, without Adam to support me, I guess I will have to sell the ring, just to help me until I can find a job.”
“Now, now,” Dorna said soothingly, “you do not have to do that, Nora. Surely you do not want to part with the wedding ring – it is a reminder of Adam’s love and his valiant sacrifice. Would it help if I gave you some gold?”
“Oh, Dorna, I could not ask that of you,” Nora replied with a sob. “If not for you, my child would be dead too. I mean… it would be helpful, but I am sure I can survive if I sell my…”
“Please, Nora, we insist,” Xanos interrupted the poor woman. “It is the least we can do for you.”

The half-orcish brute looked at Dorna questioningly – the money he had lost during the bet could now be put to good cause.
“Yes, Nora, we insist,” Dorna added, producing the bulging purse. “Fifty shiny ones from all of us.”
Nora gasped in awe and exclaimed, “I would never have believed that anyone could be so kind. Be assured that Tynan will be raised to know who his saviors are. I will sing your praises in his ear and someday, if I raise him properly, perhaps he will grow up to emulate you. May Tymora smile upon you and thank you again.”

The friends did not talk during their short trek back to the town proper – there was nothing they could say or do to relieve Nora’s emotional pain. At least little Tynan was alive, Yanny kept thinking, and that in itself was a miracle.

“Thank you, Mystra,” Yanny said and he was truly thankful.

☼☼☼☼☼

The halfling caravan came into view just then, reminding him of the disaster perpetrated by the kobolds, reminding him that many other people had suffered greatly this day. Three halfling guards were sprawled on the ground, moaning in pain.
A beautiful halfling woman in black leather armor was tending to their wounds, but it was obvious she was not greatly versed in the arts of healing.
Yanny looked at Dorna and the young dwarven cleric nodded in understanding. She walked past three most curious looking halflings and kneeled over a wounded guard.
She touched her holy symbol and proclaimed, “Vergadain, great Laughing God, hear me. Heal this unfortunate adventurer!” She placed her hands on the guard’s body and channeled the divine energy through it, mending the damage. The halfling gasped in relief, while the others gasped in surprise, and opened his eyes.

“Them damn little rat lizards ain’t gonna get away with it, I tell ya!” the guard jumped to his short feet, clutching his little sword. “Come back here an’ fight, ye good fer nothin’…”
“Oh shut yourself up and greet your savior, will you,” the female halfling scolded him, squinting her eyes dangerously, “before I knock you out senseless.”
She turned to regard Dorna and bowed politely.
“Oh, sorry ‘bout that, boss,” the guard replied sheepishly and turned to regard Dorna. “Well met and thank ye, kind lady. You saved me life and I be forever in yer debt.”
The halfling swept into a low bow and overbalanced. He toppled to the snow with a profound yawn and was soon snoring contentedly.

Yanny approached the caravan leader while Dorna tended to the other guards. The female halfling was a pretty little thing, with large brown eyes, flowing black hair, and cute little nose and ears. She appeared youthful and full of energy, but Yanny also sensed an aura of wisdom and authority around her. He bowed politely and smiled cheerfully despite the emotions nagging at his heart.

“Well met, good lady. I am Yanny, apprentice to Master Drogan and a humble servant of nature. Meet my fellow apprentices and friends. The young cleric kneeling over your associates is Dorna and the big brute standing behind me is Xanos, a sorcerer of renowned prowess.”
“That so?” the halfling replied with a dazzling smile and a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Dwarven wizard is your teacher then? I remember him. He’s come to give me messages to take on to other towns sometimes. Pays handsomely. The name is Katriana. We don’t tend to look much to others for help, but… thank you kindly. I appreciate what you are doing for my guards, though their salaries will suffer from their lack of competence. What’s with the sobbing woman, anyway?”
“Sadly, Nora’s husband has been killed by the kobolds,” Yanny replied with a frown.

Katriana gasped and shook her head in horror, her beautiful eyes turning a dark shade of sadness.
“Torias,” she barked at the dark-haired halfling who was busily gaping at Dorna. “Come here you dolt! Go inside and fetch a nice toy for the baby.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied happily and darted for the merchandise wagon.
He emerged almost immediately holding a magnificent short sword and flipped the blade in the air.

“A bit sharp for a toy but perfect for the young feisty boy! Bwahaha!”

Katriana sighed deeply.
“I’ve heard mention of your caravan,” Dorna said when she was done with her prayers. “Master Drogan said you come through here on regular basis and have for many years.”
“For generations, actually,” Katriana replied. “It’s something like a family trading route we follow. A relatively safe one, if there is such a thing as traveling safely through the Silver Marches…Until today, in any case. The kobolds came out of nowhere and tried to rob us.”
“Better than trying to kill you,” Dorna mused.
“Well, truth be told, they made a fair attempt at that also. They didn’t get away with anything important, except… they took Daschnaya’s cards, sadly.”
“Daschnaya?” Yanny echoed.
“Yes, our fortune teller. She’s locked herself in her wagon and doesn’t want to come out. She makes a bit of coin at the towns we stop at. Her family’s been using those cards for generations… it’s a sad day that we’ve lost them.”
“You mean these?” Dorna asked, producing a neat stack of intricately designed playing cards. “I was going to use them as a heat source, but if they are yours…”

Katriana gasped in awe.
“Yes! These are the ones! Thank you, Dorna. Daschnaya will be most pleased!”
“So, you are the caravan leader,” Yanny stated the obvious.
“I lead this caravan, as did my grandfather before me and his mother before him. We trade, mostly, moving from town to town around the Silver Marches. Occasionally we’ll range farther west… but not since the plague in Neverwinter. We’re wanderers, for the most part, but I daresay we do well enough as merchants that we’re welcome most everywhere. It’s dangerous, by my own guess, and we are always looking for guards. The boys don’t do so bad when they’re not surprised like we were today.”

The dark-haired halfling who called himself Torias approached Dorna with undeniable sparkle of interest in his dark eyes. He dipped into a grand bow.
“Well met there, strangers,” he pronounced, smiling at Dorna. “I don’t suppose you have a rum-flavored cigar on you, by chance?”
“A what?”
“A rum-flavored cigar. It’s… well, never mind. Simply something I grew fond of in Amn, and I’ve recently run out. Ah, well. Pardon my manners, good lady. I am called Torias. And you are?”
“Dorna Trapspringer, if you must know.”
Torias dipped into another grand bow and came up smiling brightly.
“Then I am very pleased to meet you, Dorna Trapspringer. Never have I heard a name more beautiful, I must say!”
“You are a bit of a cheeky halfling, aren’t you?”
Torias laughed heartily, displaying a dazzling smile on his face.
“Well, maybe just a little bit, my good lady dwarf! Perhaps you’d care to join me in the enjoyment of some fine wine?”
“Sorry. I make it a policy never to date men whom I could crush accidentally.”
“Oh?” Torias replied with a sly wink. “It would be a pleasant enough way to go, I suppose.”
“Flatterer. You say that now.”

Dorna blushed profusely and turned to regard Katriana, hastily trying to change the subject.
“Don’t mind my cousin,” Katriana apologized with a shrug. “He is such a lady chaser. Torias, have some manners, for Tymora’s sake.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied, sending another dazzling smile in Dorna’s direction.
He dipped one final bow and bounded off happily to join the conversation taking place between Xanos and the twin halflings.

One of the twins poked his stubby finger in the big brute’s direction and mumbled something indecipherable. Xanos glared at the gaping halfling and grumbled under his breath.
“Don’t mind him,” the other twin explained. “My brother don’t talk much. Especially today, with all the fighting and such. Furten’s the name, good sir, and this here is my twin brother Birgen.”
“Xanos Messarmos,” the half-orc grumbled in reply.
Yanny smiled at the verbal exchange – Xanos was making some fine new friends indeed.

“So where are you headed next,” Dorna asked Katriana.
“I’m thinking we’ll be crossing the Anauroch desert. There’s goods out east that’ll bring a grand price when we head back this way.”
Yanny frowned as he recalled the visions from his divinations – a parched land devoid of life, a merciless wasteland known as the Anauroch desert. The troubles were far from over, and Yanny got a distinct impression that they had just begun.
“Perhaps we shall join you on your journey,” he mused.
“Like I said,” Katriana replied with a smile, “we are always looking for guards.”
☼☼☼☼☼

Master Drogan was lying on the floor, stunned from the blast, but otherwise unharmed. As Yanny rushed towards him, the good dwarf stirred, opened his eyes and regarded his student with unconcealed respect.
“Master Drogan,” Yanny exclaimed, “you are unharmed! Tymora smiles brightly upon us.”
“Come back here and fight, you smelly lizards!” Xanos was yelling, possessed by the emotions of a powerful battle rage.
But the smelly lizards did not oblige, opting instead to flee the house. They cleared out of the place in a matter of three heartbeats and retreated from Hilltop, running towards their smelly caves.

When the billowing cloud of smoke dissipated through the blasted door, it revealed the charred and maimed kobold carcasses strewn all over the floor. The defenders were all covered with black soot, but appeared to be otherwise unharmed.
The victory was apparently complete. The defenders gathered near Master Drogan, embracing each other and sharing a few laughs.
Their smiles were short-lived, though. Master Drogan got up to his feet with a grim face and said, “Well done, my dear students, well done, indeed. And I thank you, Ayala, for aiding us in these dire times.”
“What’s the grim face for then, Drogan?” Ayala asked, still clutching her sword and breathing heavily.
“Well, it depends on whether the pesky little creatures breached the magical wards I have placed in my laboratory. Yanny, my dear boy, would you go check up on Riisi, while we clean up this mess?”
“Certainly,” Yanny answered and headed towards the door leading into Master Drogan’s laboratory.

Upon entering, Yanny could immediately tell that the magical wards Master Drogan spoke of have been dispelled. Even from a distance, he could see that the large room was in disarray. Planks of splintered hardwood littered the place and Yanny noticed a few kobold tracks leading beyond the wards.
Master Drogan’s magnificent faerie dragon familiar was flapping her green butterfly wings agitatedly and moaning repeatedly.
“What a mess! Me-oh-my, what a mess!”
Riisi was visibly shaken and squeaking so quickly that Yanny could barely understand the words.
“Oh my,” Riisi exclaimed, noticing Yanny. “Is it another kobold come to wreak havoc on Master’s things? Well, Riisi will fight them, yes she will. She will protect her master’s things this time. No, no, no, it is someone I recognize! Yanny! Gladdens my heart, yes it does.”

“How are you, Riisi?” Yanny asked with concern in his voice.
“I am still being Riisi, oh yes. I am not dead, that is a good thing. But you should be knowing that kobolds stole Master’s stuff, yes they did! Please, oh please, Yanny, tell me that Master is unharmed!”
“Master Drogan is fine, Riisi.”
“Oh, Riisi is very glad to hear that. I was worried, oh yes I was. But you have put my mind to rest, yes you did.”
“What happened here, Riisi?”
“Oh, it was terrible, yes it was. I was just having a nap and dreaming about a lovely meadow filled with flowers and butterflies. It was wonderful, Yanny, yes it was. Well, I was woken by a dreadful noise and I immediately turned invisible. When I saw that dreadful kobolds were in the house, I though Master Drogan was surely in danger. I saw them coming to the laboratory and I knew they could not get across, and I thought it was going to be such fun watching them from behind the magic wards. I was about to appear to them and taunt them, yes I was, but then they stopped and you would not believe what they did, no you would not. They threw dust on the wards! It must have been magic dust, oh yes, or it would not have worked, no, no, no. Stupid ugly kobolds walked right through the wards and looted all of Master’s magic. Oh, shame on Riisi, shame, shame, shame. I hid. I was so scared and thought they were powerful kobolds, for they were the first to pass Master’s magic wards. Now Master will never trust Riisi again, oh no, he will not! Now Master will dismiss Riisi and she will have to leave and return to her home in disgrace. Except that Master is very loving, and maybe Riisi can earn back his trust by never letting anyone in ever again! Yes, yes, yes, that is it. Riisi will be the best guard ever! I will do a good job for dear Master. No more kobolds can enter here, no, no, no.”

“I am sure you will be the greatest guard ever, Riisi,” Yanny said and sighed.

The laboratory has been breached and something belonging to master Drogan was stolen.

☼☼☼☼☼

When Yanny exited the laboratory, Master Drogan was talking with Ayala in hushed tones. They both looked at him questioningly.
“The kobolds made off with some magical items, Master Drogan,” Yanny announced and the old dwarf groaned loudly.
“The Harpers have many enemies,” Ayala said thoughtfully. “I suspect one of them is responsible for this attack. I hope I am wrong.”
“I believe I can shed some light on that,” Master Drogan answered, nervously pacing the room. “It was the artifacts they were after. They are stolen, all four of them!”
“I thought as much,” Ayala said. “How could anyone have found out you even had them? This is terrible news.”
“What are you two about?” Dorna asked.
“When Drogan retired to Hilltop, the Harpers entrusted four dangerous artifacts to his care. We thought this area remote enough that they would be safe.”
“I do not know how they were discovered,” Master Drogan added. “But we shall have to find out. These artifacts are too powerful and can be put to dangerous use.”

Master Drogan sighed.
“Yanny, my eldest student. It is up to you. It is vital that you find these items and bring them back.”
There it was then, Yanny’s first opportunity to adventure, the first voyage beyond Hilltop, the true way to discover the wondrous magic hidden all across the realms.

Perhaps Yanny’s adventures would even take him to Waterdeep, the fabled City of Splendors!

“You can count on me, Master Drogan,” Yanny replied with undisguised excitement in his voice. “I shall not fail you.”
“Such courage, dear boy,” Master Drogan said, embracing Yanny. “You make me proud.”
“This shall be your final test. I know that you are ready! So much relies on you now. I know in my heart you will not let me down. Ayala and I shall remain here and guard the school, with the help of Mischa.”
Master Drogan turned to regard the promising young paladin of Mystra.
“You have fought valiantly, my dear lass, and I am proud of you.”
“Thank you, Master Drogan,” Mischa replied, blushing profusely.
“One more apprentice shall remain,” Master Drogan continued, “and another shall accompany Yanny.”

“I shall go with you, Yanny,” Dorna said determinedly. “Our skills will complement each other… and besides, I expect you’ll need some muscle to back you up.”
“Muscle?” Xanos huffed teasingly. “Eh? All I see is a little dwarf with very big mouth.”
“Better than a half-orc with an oversized ego,” Dorna countered, smiling.
“You make fun of Xanos, but you shall see,” Xanos parried, laughing heartily. “Yanny will pick Xanos gladly and then Xanos will laugh at you.”
“Should we make a little bet, then?” Dorna winked at Xanos, and everybody in the library shared a laugh despite the ominous situation they were currently in. “Fifty gold coins should settle this nicely. What say you?”
“My little dwarven friend,” Xanos said, dangling his bulging belt pouch in front of Dorna’s plump face. “I shall gladly accept your gold and add it to mine.”

Yanny made his decision quickly.
“I believe I shall ask Dorna to accompany me as her sneaky skills could prove to be useful.”
“Well, you know me,” Dorna laughed, producing two magic wands from the folds of her leather vest and waving them playfully before the half-orc’s face.
“If you need sharp eyes to watch for ambushes, or a nasty trap dealt with, I am your girl. Worry not, Xanos. You can purchase one of these from me, for fifty gold pieces.”
“Where did you get these?” Yanny asked, with admiration in his voice.
“Oh, I swiped them from the little kobolds during the fight,” Dorna smiled innocently.
“It’s a deal then, my sneaky dwarven friend,” Xanos laughed, handing over his purse. ”I shall gladly exchange my gold for your wares.”
“Great,” Dorna replied, giving the second wand to Yanny. “We’ll have Master Drogan’s artifacts in no time… and maybe pick up a coin or two for ourselves along the way. Through the grace of Vergadain, we shall return victorious!”
“There is no time for this discussion now,” Master Drogan said with another deep sigh. “The villagers are in dire need of our help, I can feel it in my old bones.”
“We must go now!” Dorna exclaimed, concern creeping into her voice. “We must check on the villagers to make sure the nasty little kobolds did not wreak complete havoc on our fair town during their escape!”
“We must set out immediately,” Yanny replied, nodding in agreement.
“I shall accompany you, my friends,” Xanos said, clutching his dagger and looking questioningly upon Master Drogan. The old dwarf stroked his singed beard in contemplation, sighed heavily, and nodded his approval.

“My dear students,” he said, “if I may make a suggestion... The Blake family lives on a farm just outside of the main gate, which is dangerously far away from the town proper during these dire times, by my own guess. Nora and Adam had a baby not even three months ago, and something tells me you should check up on them.”

“We shall certainly do that,” Yanny promised, “and with all haste for they may indeed be in trouble.”
“Well,” Dorna mused, “since we are to remain in town at least for a short while, we might as well stop by the community hall to check up on the mayor, after we check up on the Blake family of course. He may be in need of our help after the kobold attack.”
“In that case, we should also visit the Bubbling Cauldron,” Yanny added, referring to the town’s only tavern.

☼☼☼☼☼

The apprentices exited the house with all haste and made their way towards the town proper. Even from a distance, the devastating truth of the raid was becoming painfully apparent. Dead bodies of kobolds, villagers and local animals were strewn about the place, crimson red blood staining the snow on the ground.
As the students passed by the Bubbling Cauldron, they could hear the sounds of angry shouting, smashed dinnerware, and loud arguing emanating from within. They could not dare to investigate the mayhem immediately though, fearing for the safety of the Blake family.
As the friends ran towards the town gate, they witnessed an even more curious sight – a congregation of villagers mulling about the place, listening intently to the ecstatic cries of an old man. Yanny recognized him as Piper, a local scoundrel who had grand delusions of being a fortune teller.

“Doom!” Piper was yelling at the top of his lungs. “Doom is upon us!”

The friends did not have time to investigate the commotion – a strange sensation nagged at their hearts, an instinctive feeling of being too late to save the Blake family. They ran on as fast as they could, passing by a curious halfling caravan on their way, but they realized that something was terribly wrong as soon as the rooftop of the Blake house came into view.
A young woman, barefoot and barely dressed, was running towards them, sobbing and whimpering with every step. Yanny rushed to embrace her and the young woman dug her face into his tunic, weeping openly.

“Oh Yanny!” the woman exclaimed through loud sobs. “Thank the gods you are here! You must help me, please! Kobolds attacked our home. Adam and I were still in bed when they burst into our room. We climbed out the window and Adam helped me down, then he went back in the front door. He went to save little Tynan, but he hasn’t returned. Tynan is only two months old. Please, Yanny, you must save them!”
“Calm down, Nora,” Yanny replied soothingly. “We are here to help.”
“Oh, thank you, Yanny,” Nora replied, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. She was obviously in shock.
“Please hurry!”
“There is no time to waste,” Dorna said.
She looked at the weeping woman with concern – this was going to be a tough day indeed for poor Nora if they were too late.
“Wait for us here.”
Nora nodded in understanding and would have dropped to the ground from exhaustion, but Xanos was there in a flash, gently setting her down on the cold snow with his muscled arms.

The three friends ran on as fast as they could, Nora’s desperate cries for help ringing loudly in their ears.
“Hurry! Please hurry!”

A heart wrenching scene awaited the friends as they inched cautiously towards the house entrance. The dead body of Adam Blake lay in a pool of his own blood just beyond the blasted door. His unseeing eyes were staring at the ceiling, the images of pure terror forever captured into his dilated pupils.
Cackling sounds of his murderers emanated from within – the kobolds were undoubtedly celebrating their small victory.
Dorna peeked inside and quickly pulled away, holding up four fingers.
“The baby?” Yanny mouthed with his lips.
Dorna shook her head slowly, pointing towards the second floor. The loud cries of the infant could indeed be heard from upstairs, mixed with other, barely perceptible sounds.

That was all the encouragement the friends needed as they drew their weapons.
Silent as death, grim faces promising a world of pain, the friends entered the house. The dumb kobolds were playing cards at the kitchen table, their crossbows not even loaded. Caught by surprise, they shrieked in terror and fell all over each other, fumbling to draw their puny swords.
Dorna’s eyes lit up brightly with a vengeful gleam, but brighter still flashed her battle axe as it spun through the air, blasting one of the creatures in the chest. Yanny did not even get a chance to vent his own anger as Dorna and Xanos descended upon the remaining kobolds. The young dwarven cleric slammed her shield over a creature’s head, splattering the brains all over the hardwood floor.

Yanny bent over and spewed the contents of his morning meal.
The remaining two kobolds finally managed to bring up their swords, poking them at Dorna’s midsection. She swatted their attacks aside with her shield and grabbed one of the creatures by its tiny neck.
Yanny could not see through his teary eyes but he clearly heard the resounding snap of the broken spine. The remaining kobold shrieked in horror and attempted to run for it, but the half-orc brute swiped it into the air with his huge hands.

Yanny heard the wet sound of flesh being torn apart and vomited again.
“The baby is still alive,” Dorna whispered, pointing towards the second floor.
She bounded up the stairs, determined to save at least one member of the Blake family. Yanny and Xanos followed closely behind, clutching their weapons nervously. They burst through the bedroom door, weapons drawn, to find a horrified, shaking kobold huddling in the corner. The creature was holding the baby close to its chest, making futile attempts to soothe crying Tynan.

The friends stopped cold in their tracks, not daring to come any closer.
It felt as if time had stopped and everything froze in motion. Yanny could hear the blood pumping through his veins so loudly he thought he was standing in the middle of an ice storm.
“Me stole the baby, stupid human man!” The kobold shrieked, shuddering violently.

Yanny thought the little lizard was surely going to drop the baby.
“Me gots control of you now!”
Yanny took a deep breath to steady himself.
“Just give me the baby and I will let you go,” he promised, his voice non-threatening.
“Me not think so! Kobolds love them children, so do you. If you want it, you must gives me shiny gem in return. You gets shiny gem and gives to me!”

Yanny breathed a sigh of relief. The kobold was willing to negotiate and that boded well for little Tynan. He sheathed his weapons, bade for the others to do the same, and reached inside his pouch, producing a small amethyst.
“Here is a nice shiny gem,” Yanny said, taking a cautious step forward. “Now give me that child.”
The kobold’s serpentine eyes lit up in excitement, matching the glow of the gem. The creature snatched the precious stone and squeaked in glee, “Me so happy, me is now going. You take smelly baby! Him make big stink.”
Yanny took another cautious step forward and took the baby. The kobold hooted in glee and darted for the door.

“Well, that was easy,” Xanos grumbled.
He stuck out his massive foot, tripping the kobold and sending it tumbling down the stairs with a loud crash. Dorna spat in disgust and took a step closer, a healing spell ready on her lips.

The small bundle of joy seemed to be emanating a peculiar odor and Yanny winced, trying hard not to gag. Little Tynan stopped crying and looked up at him with beautiful blue eyes, making funny giggling sounds.
“So cute,” Dorna whispered. She smiled and planted a big kiss on Tynan’s cheek. The baby giggled and grabbed at the dwarf’s nose, squeezing tightly.
“A feisty little lad,” Yanny observed with a laugh. His face turned grim and he added, “Just like his father.”
“Yes, this one is a survivor, no doubt,” Xanos mused. “Now, there is a small matter of informing his mother about Adam’s death and I can already feel her loud keening stabbing me through my very heart.”

“This is going to be tough for her to take,” Yanny said with a sigh.

☼☼☼☼☼

The friends found Nora cowering between the pine trees near the house. The woman ran towards them and the concern in her beautiful face turned into a smile upon seeing the precious little bundle.
“Oh, Tynan, my precious little boy!” She exclaimed lovingly. “How I feared you were dead. But… where is Adam? He… he is still alive, isn’t he? Please tell me I am not a widow!”
Yanny took a deep breath. This was going to hurt.
“I am afraid Adam did not survive.”
“No!” Poor Nora seemed to be melting away before their very eyes.
She dropped to the ground and let out a long wail of purest sorrow that echoed through the air. Dorna sobbed softly and wiped the unwanted tears from her eyes. She bent low to comfort the young widow who was crying uncontrollably, the loud sobs shaking her entire body.
“No! Poor, brave Adam. Those monsters murdered him! How can the gods be so cruel?”
Dorna hugged the woman comfortingly.

“Now, now,” she said. “There is still hope for you, Nora. The gods work in mysterious ways and they smiled brightly upon Tynan, sparing the child’s life.”
“Yes,” Nora contended with a sob. “At… at least I have Tynan, a beautiful child to remember Adam by. I have my home and my wedding ring, as well. Of course, without Adam to support me, I guess I will have to sell the ring, just to help me until I can find a job.”
“Now, now,” Dorna said soothingly, “you do not have to do that, Nora. Surely you do not want to part with the wedding ring – it is a reminder of Adam’s love and his valiant sacrifice. Would it help if I gave you some gold?”
“Oh, Dorna, I could not ask that of you,” Nora replied with a sob. “If not for you, my child would be dead too. I mean… it would be helpful, but I am sure I can survive if I sell my…”
“Please, Nora, we insist,” Xanos interrupted the poor woman. “It is the least we can do for you.”

The half-orcish brute looked at Dorna questioningly – the money he had lost during the bet could now be put to good cause.
“Yes, Nora, we insist,” Dorna added, producing the bulging purse. “Fifty shiny ones from all of us.”
Nora gasped in awe and exclaimed, “I would never have believed that anyone could be so kind. Be assured that Tynan will be raised to know who his saviors are. I will sing your praises in his ear and someday, if I raise him properly, perhaps he will grow up to emulate you. May Tymora smile upon you and thank you again.”

The friends did not talk during their short trek back to the town proper – there was nothing they could say or do to relieve Nora’s emotional pain. At least little Tynan was alive, Yanny kept thinking, and that in itself was a miracle.

“Thank you, Mystra,” Yanny said and he was truly thankful.

☼☼☼☼☼

The halfling caravan came into view just then, reminding him of the disaster perpetrated by the kobolds, reminding him that many other people had suffered greatly this day. Three halfling guards were sprawled on the ground, moaning in pain.
A beautiful halfling woman in black leather armor was tending to their wounds, but it was obvious she was not greatly versed in the arts of healing.
Yanny looked at Dorna and the young dwarven cleric nodded in understanding. She walked past three most curious looking halflings and kneeled over a wounded guard.
She touched her holy symbol and proclaimed, “Vergadain, great Laughing God, hear me. Heal this unfortunate adventurer!” She placed her hands on the guard’s body and channeled the divine energy through it, mending the damage. The halfling gasped in relief, while the others gasped in surprise, and opened his eyes.

“Them damn little rat lizards ain’t gonna get away with it, I tell ya!” the guard jumped to his short feet, clutching his little sword. “Come back here an’ fight, ye good fer nothin’…”
“Oh shut yourself up and greet your savior, will you,” the female halfling scolded him, squinting her eyes dangerously, “before I knock you out senseless.”
She turned to regard Dorna and bowed politely.
“Oh, sorry ‘bout that, boss,” the guard replied sheepishly and turned to regard Dorna. “Well met and thank ye, kind lady. You saved me life and I be forever in yer debt.”
The halfling swept into a low bow and overbalanced. He toppled to the snow with a profound yawn and was soon snoring contentedly.

Yanny approached the caravan leader while Dorna tended to the other guards. The female halfling was a pretty little thing, with large brown eyes, flowing black hair, and cute little nose and ears. She appeared youthful and full of energy, but Yanny also sensed an aura of wisdom and authority around her. He bowed politely and smiled cheerfully despite the emotions nagging at his heart.

“Well met, good lady. I am Yanny, apprentice to Master Drogan and a humble servant of nature. Meet my fellow apprentices and friends. The young cleric kneeling over your associates is Dorna and the big brute standing behind me is Xanos, a sorcerer of renowned prowess.”
“That so?” the halfling replied with a dazzling smile and a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Dwarven wizard is your teacher then? I remember him. He’s come to give me messages to take on to other towns sometimes. Pays handsomely. The name is Katriana. We don’t tend to look much to others for help, but… thank you kindly. I appreciate what you are doing for my guards, though their salaries will suffer from their lack of competence. What’s with the sobbing woman, anyway?”
“Sadly, Nora’s husband has been killed by the kobolds,” Yanny replied with a frown.

Katriana gasped and shook her head in horror, her beautiful eyes turning a dark shade of sadness.
“Torias,” she barked at the dark-haired halfling who was busily gaping at Dorna. “Come here you dolt! Go inside and fetch a nice toy for the baby.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied happily and darted for the merchandise wagon.
He emerged almost immediately holding a magnificent short sword and flipped the blade in the air.

“A bit sharp for a toy but perfect for the young feisty boy! Bwahaha!”

Katriana sighed deeply.
“I’ve heard mention of your caravan,” Dorna said when she was done with her prayers. “Master Drogan said you come through here on regular basis and have for many years.”
“For generations, actually,” Katriana replied. “It’s something like a family trading route we follow. A relatively safe one, if there is such a thing as traveling safely through the Silver Marches…Until today, in any case. The kobolds came out of nowhere and tried to rob us.”
“Better than trying to kill you,” Dorna mused.
“Well, truth be told, they made a fair attempt at that also. They didn’t get away with anything important, except… they took Daschnaya’s cards, sadly.”
“Daschnaya?” Yanny echoed.
“Yes, our fortune teller. She’s locked herself in her wagon and doesn’t want to come out. She makes a bit of coin at the towns we stop at. Her family’s been using those cards for generations… it’s a sad day that we’ve lost them.”
“You mean these?” Dorna asked, producing a neat stack of intricately designed playing cards. “I was going to use them as a heat source, but if they are yours…”

Katriana gasped in awe.
“Yes! These are the ones! Thank you, Dorna. Daschnaya will be most pleased!”
“So, you are the caravan leader,” Yanny stated the obvious.
“I lead this caravan, as did my grandfather before me and his mother before him. We trade, mostly, moving from town to town around the Silver Marches. Occasionally we’ll range farther west… but not since the plague in Neverwinter. We’re wanderers, for the most part, but I daresay we do well enough as merchants that we’re welcome most everywhere. It’s dangerous, by my own guess, and we are always looking for guards. The boys don’t do so bad when they’re not surprised like we were today.”

The dark-haired halfling who called himself Torias approached Dorna with undeniable sparkle of interest in his dark eyes. He dipped into a grand bow.
“Well met there, strangers,” he pronounced, smiling at Dorna. “I don’t suppose you have a rum-flavored cigar on you, by chance?”
“A what?”
“A rum-flavored cigar. It’s… well, never mind. Simply something I grew fond of in Amn, and I’ve recently run out. Ah, well. Pardon my manners, good lady. I am called Torias. And you are?”
“Dorna Trapspringer, if you must know.”
Torias dipped into another grand bow and came up smiling brightly.
“Then I am very pleased to meet you, Dorna Trapspringer. Never have I heard a name more beautiful, I must say!”
“You are a bit of a cheeky halfling, aren’t you?”
Torias laughed heartily, displaying a dazzling smile on his face.
“Well, maybe just a little bit, my good lady dwarf! Perhaps you’d care to join me in the enjoyment of some fine wine?”
“Sorry. I make it a policy never to date men whom I could crush accidentally.”
“Oh?” Torias replied with a sly wink. “It would be a pleasant enough way to go, I suppose.”
“Flatterer. You say that now.”

Dorna blushed profusely and turned to regard Katriana, hastily trying to change the subject.
“Don’t mind my cousin,” Katriana apologized with a shrug. “He is such a lady chaser. Torias, have some manners, for Tymora’s sake.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied, sending another dazzling smile in Dorna’s direction.
He dipped one final bow and bounded off happily to join the conversation taking place between Xanos and the twin halflings.

One of the twins poked his stubby finger in the big brute’s direction and mumbled something indecipherable. Xanos glared at the gaping halfling and grumbled under his breath.
“Don’t mind him,” the other twin explained. “My brother don’t talk much. Especially today, with all the fighting and such. Furten’s the name, good sir, and this here is my twin brother Birgen.”
“Xanos Messarmos,” the half-orc grumbled in reply.
Yanny smiled at the verbal exchange – Xanos was making some fine new friends indeed.

“So where are you headed next,” Dorna asked Katriana.
“I’m thinking we’ll be crossing the Anauroch desert. There’s goods out east that’ll bring a grand price when we head back this way.”
Yanny frowned as he recalled the visions from his divinations – a parched land devoid of life, a merciless wasteland known as the Anauroch desert. The troubles were far from over, and Yanny got a distinct impression that they had just begun.
“Perhaps we shall join you on your journey,” he mused.
“Like I said,” Katriana replied with a smile, “we are always looking for guards.”☼☼☼☼☼

Master Drogan was lying on the floor, stunned from the blast, but otherwise unharmed. As Yanny rushed towards him, the good dwarf stirred, opened his eyes and regarded his student with unconcealed respect.
“Master Drogan,” Yanny exclaimed, “you are unharmed! Tymora smiles brightly upon us.”
“Come back here and fight, you smelly lizards!” Xanos was yelling, possessed by the emotions of a powerful battle rage.
But the smelly lizards did not oblige, opting instead to flee the house. They cleared out of the place in a matter of three heartbeats and retreated from Hilltop, running towards their smelly caves.

When the billowing cloud of smoke dissipated through the blasted door, it revealed the charred and maimed kobold carcasses strewn all over the floor. The defenders were all covered with black soot, but appeared to be otherwise unharmed.
The victory was apparently complete. The defenders gathered near Master Drogan, embracing each other and sharing a few laughs.
Their smiles were short-lived, though. Master Drogan got up to his feet with a grim face and said, “Well done, my dear students, well done, indeed. And I thank you, Ayala, for aiding us in these dire times.”
“What’s the grim face for then, Drogan?” Ayala asked, still clutching her sword and breathing heavily.
“Well, it depends on whether the pesky little creatures breached the magical wards I have placed in my laboratory. Yanny, my dear boy, would you go check up on Riisi, while we clean up this mess?”
“Certainly,” Yanny answered and headed towards the door leading into Master Drogan’s laboratory.

Upon entering, Yanny could immediately tell that the magical wards Master Drogan spoke of have been dispelled. Even from a distance, he could see that the large room was in disarray. Planks of splintered hardwood littered the place and Yanny noticed a few kobold tracks leading beyond the wards.
Master Drogan’s magnificent faerie dragon familiar was flapping her green butterfly wings agitatedly and moaning repeatedly.
“What a mess! Me-oh-my, what a mess!”
Riisi was visibly shaken and squeaking so quickly that Yanny could barely understand the words.
“Oh my,” Riisi exclaimed, noticing Yanny. “Is it another kobold come to wreak havoc on Master’s things? Well, Riisi will fight them, yes she will. She will protect her master’s things this time. No, no, no, it is someone I recognize! Yanny! Gladdens my heart, yes it does.”

“How are you, Riisi?” Yanny asked with concern in his voice.
“I am still being Riisi, oh yes. I am not dead, that is a good thing. But you should be knowing that kobolds stole Master’s stuff, yes they did! Please, oh please, Yanny, tell me that Master is unharmed!”
“Master Drogan is fine, Riisi.”
“Oh, Riisi is very glad to hear that. I was worried, oh yes I was. But you have put my mind to rest, yes you did.”
“What happened here, Riisi?”
“Oh, it was terrible, yes it was. I was just having a nap and dreaming about a lovely meadow filled with flowers and butterflies. It was wonderful, Yanny, yes it was. Well, I was woken by a dreadful noise and I immediately turned invisible. When I saw that dreadful kobolds were in the house, I though Master Drogan was surely in danger. I saw them coming to the laboratory and I knew they could not get across, and I thought it was going to be such fun watching them from behind the magic wards. I was about to appear to them and taunt them, yes I was, but then they stopped and you would not believe what they did, no you would not. They threw dust on the wards! It must have been magic dust, oh yes, or it would not have worked, no, no, no. Stupid ugly kobolds walked right through the wards and looted all of Master’s magic. Oh, shame on Riisi, shame, shame, shame. I hid. I was so scared and thought they were powerful kobolds, for they were the first to pass Master’s magic wards. Now Master will never trust Riisi again, oh no, he will not! Now Master will dismiss Riisi and she will have to leave and return to her home in disgrace. Except that Master is very loving, and maybe Riisi can earn back his trust by never letting anyone in ever again! Yes, yes, yes, that is it. Riisi will be the best guard ever! I will do a good job for dear Master. No more kobolds can enter here, no, no, no.”

“I am sure you will be the greatest guard ever, Riisi,” Yanny said and sighed.

The laboratory has been breached and something belonging to master Drogan was stolen.

☼☼☼☼☼

When Yanny exited the laboratory, Master Drogan was talking with Ayala in hushed tones. They both looked at him questioningly.
“The kobolds made off with some magical items, Master Drogan,” Yanny announced and the old dwarf groaned loudly.
“The Harpers have many enemies,” Ayala said thoughtfully. “I suspect one of them is responsible for this attack. I hope I am wrong.”
“I believe I can shed some light on that,” Master Drogan answered, nervously pacing the room. “It was the artifacts they were after. They are stolen, all four of them!”
“I thought as much,” Ayala said. “How could anyone have found out you even had them? This is terrible news.”
“What are you two about?” Dorna asked.
“When Drogan retired to Hilltop, the Harpers entrusted four dangerous artifacts to his care. We thought this area remote enough that they would be safe.”
“I do not know how they were discovered,” Master Drogan added. “But we shall have to find out. These artifacts are too powerful and can be put to dangerous use.”

Master Drogan sighed.
“Yanny, my eldest student. It is up to you. It is vital that you find these items and bring them back.”
There it was then, Yanny’s first opportunity to adventure, the first voyage beyond Hilltop, the true way to discover the wondrous magic hidden all across the realms.

Perhaps Yanny’s adventures would even take him to Waterdeep, the fabled City of Splendors!

“You can count on me, Master Drogan,” Yanny replied with undisguised excitement in his voice. “I shall not fail you.”
“Such courage, dear boy,” Master Drogan said, embracing Yanny. “You make me proud.”
“This shall be your final test. I know that you are ready! So much relies on you now. I know in my heart you will not let me down. Ayala and I shall remain here and guard the school, with the help of Mischa.”
Master Drogan turned to regard the promising young paladin of Mystra.
“You have fought valiantly, my dear lass, and I am proud of you.”
“Thank you, Master Drogan,” Mischa replied, blushing profusely.
“One more apprentice shall remain,” Master Drogan continued, “and another shall accompany Yanny.”

“I shall go with you, Yanny,” Dorna said determinedly. “Our skills will complement each other… and besides, I expect you’ll need some muscle to back you up.”
“Muscle?” Xanos huffed teasingly. “Eh? All I see is a little dwarf with very big mouth.”
“Better than a half-orc with an oversized ego,” Dorna countered, smiling.
“You make fun of Xanos, but you shall see,” Xanos parried, laughing heartily. “Yanny will pick Xanos gladly and then Xanos will laugh at you.”
“Should we make a little bet, then?” Dorna winked at Xanos, and everybody in the library shared a laugh despite the ominous situation they were currently in. “Fifty gold coins should settle this nicely. What say you?”
“My little dwarven friend,” Xanos said, dangling his bulging belt pouch in front of Dorna’s plump face. “I shall gladly accept your gold and add it to mine.”

Yanny made his decision quickly.
“I believe I shall ask Dorna to accompany me as her sneaky skills could prove to be useful.”
“Well, you know me,” Dorna laughed, producing two magic wands from the folds of her leather vest and waving them playfully before the half-orc’s face.
“If you need sharp eyes to watch for ambushes, or a nasty trap dealt with, I am your girl. Worry not, Xanos. You can purchase one of these from me, for fifty gold pieces.”
“Where did you get these?” Yanny asked, with admiration in his voice.
“Oh, I swiped them from the little kobolds during the fight,” Dorna smiled innocently.
“It’s a deal then, my sneaky dwarven friend,” Xanos laughed, handing over his purse. ”I shall gladly exchange my gold for your wares.”
“Great,” Dorna replied, giving the second wand to Yanny. “We’ll have Master Drogan’s artifacts in no time… and maybe pick up a coin or two for ourselves along the way. Through the grace of Vergadain, we shall return victorious!”
“There is no time for this discussion now,” Master Drogan said with another deep sigh. “The villagers are in dire need of our help, I can feel it in my old bones.”
“We must go now!” Dorna exclaimed, concern creeping into her voice. “We must check on the villagers to make sure the nasty little kobolds did not wreak complete havoc on our fair town during their escape!”
“We must set out immediately,” Yanny replied, nodding in agreement.
“I shall accompany you, my friends,” Xanos said, clutching his dagger and looking questioningly upon Master Drogan. The old dwarf stroked his singed beard in contemplation, sighed heavily, and nodded his approval.

“My dear students,” he said, “if I may make a suggestion... The Blake family lives on a farm just outside of the main gate, which is dangerously far away from the town proper during these dire times, by my own guess. Nora and Adam had a baby not even three months ago, and something tells me you should check up on them.”

“We shall certainly do that,” Yanny promised, “and with all haste for they may indeed be in trouble.”
“Well,” Dorna mused, “since we are to remain in town at least for a short while, we might as well stop by the community hall to check up on the mayor, after we check up on the Blake family of course. He may be in need of our help after the kobold attack.”
“In that case, we should also visit the Bubbling Cauldron,” Yanny added, referring to the town’s only tavern.

☼☼☼☼☼

The apprentices exited the house with all haste and made their way towards the town proper. Even from a distance, the devastating truth of the raid was becoming painfully apparent. Dead bodies of kobolds, villagers and local animals were strewn about the place, crimson red blood staining the snow on the ground.
As the students passed by the Bubbling Cauldron, they could hear the sounds of angry shouting, smashed dinnerware, and loud arguing emanating from within. They could not dare to investigate the mayhem immediately though, fearing for the safety of the Blake family.
As the friends ran towards the town gate, they witnessed an even more curious sight – a congregation of villagers mulling about the place, listening intently to the ecstatic cries of an old man. Yanny recognized him as Piper, a local scoundrel who had grand delusions of being a fortune teller.

“Doom!” Piper was yelling at the top of his lungs. “Doom is upon us!”

The friends did not have time to investigate the commotion – a strange sensation nagged at their hearts, an instinctive feeling of being too late to save the Blake family. They ran on as fast as they could, passing by a curious halfling caravan on their way, but they realized that something was terribly wrong as soon as the rooftop of the Blake house came into view.
A young woman, barefoot and barely dressed, was running towards them, sobbing and whimpering with every step. Yanny rushed to embrace her and the young woman dug her face into his tunic, weeping openly.

“Oh Yanny!” the woman exclaimed through loud sobs. “Thank the gods you are here! You must help me, please! Kobolds attacked our home. Adam and I were still in bed when they burst into our room. We climbed out the window and Adam helped me down, then he went back in the front door. He went to save little Tynan, but he hasn’t returned. Tynan is only two months old. Please, Yanny, you must save them!”
“Calm down, Nora,” Yanny replied soothingly. “We are here to help.”
“Oh, thank you, Yanny,” Nora replied, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. She was obviously in shock.
“Please hurry!”
“There is no time to waste,” Dorna said.
She looked at the weeping woman with concern – this was going to be a tough day indeed for poor Nora if they were too late.
“Wait for us here.”
Nora nodded in understanding and would have dropped to the ground from exhaustion, but Xanos was there in a flash, gently setting her down on the cold snow with his muscled arms.

The three friends ran on as fast as they could, Nora’s desperate cries for help ringing loudly in their ears.
“Hurry! Please hurry!”

A heart wrenching scene awaited the friends as they inched cautiously towards the house entrance. The dead body of Adam Blake lay in a pool of his own blood just beyond the blasted door. His unseeing eyes were staring at the ceiling, the images of pure terror forever captured into his dilated pupils.
Cackling sounds of his murderers emanated from within – the kobolds were undoubtedly celebrating their small victory.
Dorna peeked inside and quickly pulled away, holding up four fingers.
“The baby?” Yanny mouthed with his lips.
Dorna shook her head slowly, pointing towards the second floor. The loud cries of the infant could indeed be heard from upstairs, mixed with other, barely perceptible sounds.

That was all the encouragement the friends needed as they drew their weapons.
Silent as death, grim faces promising a world of pain, the friends entered the house. The dumb kobolds were playing cards at the kitchen table, their crossbows not even loaded. Caught by surprise, they shrieked in terror and fell all over each other, fumbling to draw their puny swords.
Dorna’s eyes lit up brightly with a vengeful gleam, but brighter still flashed her battle axe as it spun through the air, blasting one of the creatures in the chest. Yanny did not even get a chance to vent his own anger as Dorna and Xanos descended upon the remaining kobolds. The young dwarven cleric slammed her shield over a creature’s head, splattering the brains all over the hardwood floor.

Yanny bent over and spewed the contents of his morning meal.
The remaining two kobolds finally managed to bring up their swords, poking them at Dorna’s midsection. She swatted their attacks aside with her shield and grabbed one of the creatures by its tiny neck.
Yanny could not see through his teary eyes but he clearly heard the resounding snap of the broken spine. The remaining kobold shrieked in horror and attempted to run for it, but the half-orc brute swiped it into the air with his huge hands.

Yanny heard the wet sound of flesh being torn apart and vomited again.
“The baby is still alive,” Dorna whispered, pointing towards the second floor.
She bounded up the stairs, determined to save at least one member of the Blake family. Yanny and Xanos followed closely behind, clutching their weapons nervously. They burst through the bedroom door, weapons drawn, to find a horrified, shaking kobold huddling in the corner. The creature was holding the baby close to its chest, making futile attempts to soothe crying Tynan.

The friends stopped cold in their tracks, not daring to come any closer.
It felt as if time had stopped and everything froze in motion. Yanny could hear the blood pumping through his veins so loudly he thought he was standing in the middle of an ice storm.
“Me stole the baby, stupid human man!” The kobold shrieked, shuddering violently.

Yanny thought the little lizard was surely going to drop the baby.
“Me gots control of you now!”
Yanny took a deep breath to steady himself.
“Just give me the baby and I will let you go,” he promised, his voice non-threatening.
“Me not think so! Kobolds love them children, so do you. If you want it, you must gives me shiny gem in return. You gets shiny gem and gives to me!”

Yanny breathed a sigh of relief. The kobold was willing to negotiate and that boded well for little Tynan. He sheathed his weapons, bade for the others to do the same, and reached inside his pouch, producing a small amethyst.
“Here is a nice shiny gem,” Yanny said, taking a cautious step forward. “Now give me that child.”
The kobold’s serpentine eyes lit up in excitement, matching the glow of the gem. The creature snatched the precious stone and squeaked in glee, “Me so happy, me is now going. You take smelly baby! Him make big stink.”
Yanny took another cautious step forward and took the baby. The kobold hooted in glee and darted for the door.

“Well, that was easy,” Xanos grumbled.
He stuck out his massive foot, tripping the kobold and sending it tumbling down the stairs with a loud crash. Dorna spat in disgust and took a step closer, a healing spell ready on her lips.

The small bundle of joy seemed to be emanating a peculiar odor and Yanny winced, trying hard not to gag. Little Tynan stopped crying and looked up at him with beautiful blue eyes, making funny giggling sounds.
“So cute,” Dorna whispered. She smiled and planted a big kiss on Tynan’s cheek. The baby giggled and grabbed at the dwarf’s nose, squeezing tightly.
“A feisty little lad,” Yanny observed with a laugh. His face turned grim and he added, “Just like his father.”
“Yes, this one is a survivor, no doubt,” Xanos mused. “Now, there is a small matter of informing his mother about Adam’s death and I can already feel her loud keening stabbing me through my very heart.”

“This is going to be tough for her to take,” Yanny said with a sigh.

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11 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:47 am

Maxduelantus

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[size=12]The friends found Nora cowering between the pine trees near the house. The woman ran towards them and the concern in her beautiful face turned into a smile upon seeing the precious little bundle.
“Oh, Tynan, my precious little boy!” She exclaimed lovingly. “How I feared you were dead. But… where is Adam? He… he is still alive, isn’t he? Please tell me I am not a widow!”
Yanny took a deep breath. This was going to hurt.
“I am afraid Adam did not survive.”
“No!” Poor Nora seemed to be melting away before their very eyes.
She dropped to the ground and let out a long wail of purest sorrow that echoed through the air. Dorna sobbed softly and wiped the unwanted tears from her eyes. She bent low to comfort the young widow who was crying uncontrollably, the loud sobs shaking her entire body.
“No! Poor, brave Adam. Those monsters murdered him! How can the gods be so cruel?”
Dorna hugged the woman comfortingly.

“Now, now,” she said. “There is still hope for you, Nora. The gods work in mysterious ways and they smiled brightly upon Tynan, sparing the child’s life.”
“Yes,” Nora contended with a sob. “At… at least I have Tynan, a beautiful child to remember Adam by. I have my home and my wedding ring, as well. Of course, without Adam to support me, I guess I will have to sell the ring, just to help me until I can find a job.”
“Now, now,” Dorna said soothingly, “you do not have to do that, Nora. Surely you do not want to part with the wedding ring – it is a reminder of Adam’s love and his valiant sacrifice. Would it help if I gave you some gold?”
“Oh, Dorna, I could not ask that of you,” Nora replied with a sob. “If not for you, my child would be dead too. I mean… it would be helpful, but I am sure I can survive if I sell my…”
“Please, Nora, we insist,” Xanos interrupted the poor woman. “It is the least we can do for you.”

The half-orcish brute looked at Dorna questioningly – the money he had lost during the bet could now be put to good cause.
“Yes, Nora, we insist,” Dorna added, producing the bulging purse. “Fifty shiny ones from all of us.”
Nora gasped in awe and exclaimed, “I would never have believed that anyone could be so kind. Be assured that Tynan will be raised to know who his saviors are. I will sing your praises in his ear and someday, if I raise him properly, perhaps he will grow up to emulate you. May Tymora smile upon you and thank you again.”

The friends did not talk during their short trek back to the town proper – there was nothing they could say or do to relieve Nora’s emotional pain. At least little Tynan was alive, Yanny kept thinking, and that in itself was a miracle.

“Thank you, Mystra,” Yanny said and he was truly thankful.

☼☼☼☼☼

The halfling caravan came into view just then, reminding him of the disaster perpetrated by the kobolds, reminding him that many other people had suffered greatly this day. Three halfling guards were sprawled on the ground, moaning in pain.
A beautiful halfling woman in black leather armor was tending to their wounds, but it was obvious she was not greatly versed in the arts of healing.
Yanny looked at Dorna and the young dwarven cleric nodded in understanding. She walked past three most curious looking halflings and kneeled over a wounded guard.
She touched her holy symbol and proclaimed, “Vergadain, great Laughing God, hear me. Heal this unfortunate adventurer!” She placed her hands on the guard’s body and channeled the divine energy through it, mending the damage. The halfling gasped in relief, while the others gasped in surprise, and opened his eyes.

“Them damn little rat lizards ain’t gonna get away with it, I tell ya!” the guard jumped to his short feet, clutching his little sword. “Come back here an’ fight, ye good fer nothin’…”
“Oh shut yourself up and greet your savior, will you,” the female halfling scolded him, squinting her eyes dangerously, “before I knock you out senseless.”
She turned to regard Dorna and bowed politely.
“Oh, sorry ‘bout that, boss,” the guard replied sheepishly and turned to regard Dorna. “Well met and thank ye, kind lady. You saved me life and I be forever in yer debt.”
The halfling swept into a low bow and overbalanced. He toppled to the snow with a profound yawn and was soon snoring contentedly.

Yanny approached the caravan leader while Dorna tended to the other guards. The female halfling was a pretty little thing, with large brown eyes, flowing black hair, and cute little nose and ears. She appeared youthful and full of energy, but Yanny also sensed an aura of wisdom and authority around her. He bowed politely and smiled cheerfully despite the emotions nagging at his heart.

“Well met, good lady. I am Yanny, apprentice to Master Drogan and a humble servant of nature. Meet my fellow apprentices and friends. The young cleric kneeling over your associates is Dorna and the big brute standing behind me is Xanos, a sorcerer of renowned prowess.”
“That so?” the halfling replied with a dazzling smile and a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Dwarven wizard is your teacher then? I remember him. He’s come to give me messages to take on to other towns sometimes. Pays handsomely. The name is Katriana. We don’t tend to look much to others for help, but… thank you kindly. I appreciate what you are doing for my guards, though their salaries will suffer from their lack of competence. What’s with the sobbing woman, anyway?”
“Sadly, Nora’s husband has been killed by the kobolds,” Yanny replied with a frown.

Katriana gasped and shook her head in horror, her beautiful eyes turning a dark shade of sadness.
“Torias,” she barked at the dark-haired halfling who was busily gaping at Dorna. “Come here you dolt! Go inside and fetch a nice toy for the baby.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied happily and darted for the merchandise wagon.
He emerged almost immediately holding a magnificent short sword and flipped the blade in the air.

“A bit sharp for a toy but perfect for the young feisty boy! Bwahaha!”

Katriana sighed deeply.
“I’ve heard mention of your caravan,” Dorna said when she was done with her prayers. “Master Drogan said you come through here on regular basis and have for many years.”
“For generations, actually,” Katriana replied. “It’s something like a family trading route we follow. A relatively safe one, if there is such a thing as traveling safely through the Silver Marches…Until today, in any case. The kobolds came out of nowhere and tried to rob us.”
“Better than trying to kill you,” Dorna mused.
“Well, truth be told, they made a fair attempt at that also. They didn’t get away with anything important, except… they took Daschnaya’s cards, sadly.”
“Daschnaya?” Yanny echoed.
“Yes, our fortune teller. She’s locked herself in her wagon and doesn’t want to come out. She makes a bit of coin at the towns we stop at. Her family’s been using those cards for generations… it’s a sad day that we’ve lost them.”
“You mean these?” Dorna asked, producing a neat stack of intricately designed playing cards. “I was going to use them as a heat source, but if they are yours…”

Katriana gasped in awe.
“Yes! These are the ones! Thank you, Dorna. Daschnaya will be most pleased!”
“So, you are the caravan leader,” Yanny stated the obvious.
“I lead this caravan, as did my grandfather before me and his mother before him. We trade, mostly, moving from town to town around the Silver Marches. Occasionally we’ll range farther west… but not since the plague in Neverwinter. We’re wanderers, for the most part, but I daresay we do well enough as merchants that we’re welcome most everywhere. It’s dangerous, by my own guess, and we are always looking for guards. The boys don’t do so bad when they’re not surprised like we were today.”

The dark-haired halfling who called himself Torias approached Dorna with undeniable sparkle of interest in his dark eyes. He dipped into a grand bow.
“Well met there, strangers,” he pronounced, smiling at Dorna. “I don’t suppose you have a rum-flavored cigar on you, by chance?”
“A what?”
“A rum-flavored cigar. It’s… well, never mind. Simply something I grew fond of in Amn, and I’ve recently run out. Ah, well. Pardon my manners, good lady. I am called Torias. And you are?”
“Dorna Trapspringer, if you must know.”
Torias dipped into another grand bow and came up smiling brightly.
“Then I am very pleased to meet you, Dorna Trapspringer. Never have I heard a name more beautiful, I must say!”
“You are a bit of a cheeky halfling, aren’t you?”
Torias laughed heartily, displaying a dazzling smile on his face.
“Well, maybe just a little bit, my good lady dwarf! Perhaps you’d care to join me in the enjoyment of some fine wine?”
“Sorry. I make it a policy never to date men whom I could crush accidentally.”
“Oh?” Torias replied with a sly wink. “It would be a pleasant enough way to go, I suppose.”
“Flatterer. You say that now.”

Dorna blushed profusely and turned to regard Katriana, hastily trying to change the subject.
“Don’t mind my cousin,” Katriana apologized with a shrug. “He is such a lady chaser. Torias, have some manners, for Tymora’s sake.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied, sending another dazzling smile in Dorna’s direction.
He dipped one final bow and bounded off happily to join the conversation taking place between Xanos and the twin halflings.

One of the twins poked his stubby finger in the big brute’s direction and mumbled something indecipherable. Xanos glared at the gaping halfling and grumbled under his breath.
“Don’t mind him,” the other twin explained. “My brother don’t talk much. Especially today, with all the fighting and such. Furten’s the name, good sir, and this here is my twin brother Birgen.”
“Xanos Messarmos,” the half-orc grumbled in reply.
Yanny smiled at the verbal exchange – Xanos was making some fine new friends indeed.

“So where are you headed next,” Dorna asked Katriana.
“I’m thinking we’ll be crossing the Anauroch desert. There’s goods out east that’ll bring a grand price when we head back this way.”
Yanny frowned as he recalled the visions from his divinations – a parched land devoid of life, a merciless wasteland known as the Anauroch desert. The troubles were far from over, and Yanny got a distinct impression that they had just begun.
“Perhaps we shall join you on your journey,” he mused.
“Like I said,” Katriana replied with a smile, “we are always looking for guards.”
☼☼☼☼☼

Master Drogan was lying on the floor, stunned from the blast, but otherwise unharmed. As Yanny rushed towards him, the good dwarf stirred, opened his eyes and regarded his student with unconcealed respect.
“Master Drogan,” Yanny exclaimed, “you are unharmed! Tymora smiles brightly upon us.”
“Come back here and fight, you smelly lizards!” Xanos was yelling, possessed by the emotions of a powerful battle rage.
But the smelly lizards did not oblige, opting instead to flee the house. They cleared out of the place in a matter of three heartbeats and retreated from Hilltop, running towards their smelly caves.

When the billowing cloud of smoke dissipated through the blasted door, it revealed the charred and maimed kobold carcasses strewn all over the floor. The defenders were all covered with black soot, but appeared to be otherwise unharmed.
The victory was apparently complete. The defenders gathered near Master Drogan, embracing each other and sharing a few laughs.
Their smiles were short-lived, though. Master Drogan got up to his feet with a grim face and said, “Well done, my dear students, well done, indeed. And I thank you, Ayala, for aiding us in these dire times.”
“What’s the grim face for then, Drogan?” Ayala asked, still clutching her sword and breathing heavily.
“Well, it depends on whether the pesky little creatures breached the magical wards I have placed in my laboratory. Yanny, my dear boy, would you go check up on Riisi, while we clean up this mess?”
“Certainly,” Yanny answered and headed towards the door leading into Master Drogan’s laboratory.

Upon entering, Yanny could immediately tell that the magical wards Master Drogan spoke of have been dispelled. Even from a distance, he could see that the large room was in disarray. Planks of splintered hardwood littered the place and Yanny noticed a few kobold tracks leading beyond the wards.
Master Drogan’s magnificent faerie dragon familiar was flapping her green butterfly wings agitatedly and moaning repeatedly.
“What a mess! Me-oh-my, what a mess!”
Riisi was visibly shaken and squeaking so quickly that Yanny could barely understand the words.
“Oh my,” Riisi exclaimed, noticing Yanny. “Is it another kobold come to wreak havoc on Master’s things? Well, Riisi will fight them, yes she will. She will protect her master’s things this time. No, no, no, it is someone I recognize! Yanny! Gladdens my heart, yes it does.”

“How are you, Riisi?” Yanny asked with concern in his voice.
“I am still being Riisi, oh yes. I am not dead, that is a good thing. But you should be knowing that kobolds stole Master’s stuff, yes they did! Please, oh please, Yanny, tell me that Master is unharmed!”
“Master Drogan is fine, Riisi.”
“Oh, Riisi is very glad to hear that. I was worried, oh yes I was. But you have put my mind to rest, yes you did.”
“What happened here, Riisi?”
“Oh, it was terrible, yes it was. I was just having a nap and dreaming about a lovely meadow filled with flowers and butterflies. It was wonderful, Yanny, yes it was. Well, I was woken by a dreadful noise and I immediately turned invisible. When I saw that dreadful kobolds were in the house, I though Master Drogan was surely in danger. I saw them coming to the laboratory and I knew they could not get across, and I thought it was going to be such fun watching them from behind the magic wards. I was about to appear to them and taunt them, yes I was, but then they stopped and you would not believe what they did, no you would not. They threw dust on the wards! It must have been magic dust, oh yes, or it would not have worked, no, no, no. Stupid ugly kobolds walked right through the wards and looted all of Master’s magic. Oh, shame on Riisi, shame, shame, shame. I hid. I was so scared and thought they were powerful kobolds, for they were the first to pass Master’s magic wards. Now Master will never trust Riisi again, oh no, he will not! Now Master will dismiss Riisi and she will have to leave and return to her home in disgrace. Except that Master is very loving, and maybe Riisi can earn back his trust by never letting anyone in ever again! Yes, yes, yes, that is it. Riisi will be the best guard ever! I will do a good job for dear Master. No more kobolds can enter here, no, no, no.”

“I am sure you will be the greatest guard ever, Riisi,” Yanny said and sighed.

The laboratory has been breached and something belonging to master Drogan was stolen.

☼☼☼☼☼

When Yanny exited the laboratory, Master Drogan was talking with Ayala in hushed tones. They both looked at him questioningly.
“The kobolds made off with some magical items, Master Drogan,” Yanny announced and the old dwarf groaned loudly.
“The Harpers have many enemies,” Ayala said thoughtfully. “I suspect one of them is responsible for this attack. I hope I am wrong.”
“I believe I can shed some light on that,” Master Drogan answered, nervously pacing the room. “It was the artifacts they were after. They are stolen, all four of them!”
“I thought as much,” Ayala said. “How could anyone have found out you even had them? This is terrible news.”
“What are you two about?” Dorna asked.
“When Drogan retired to Hilltop, the Harpers entrusted four dangerous artifacts to his care. We thought this area remote enough that they would be safe.”
“I do not know how they were discovered,” Master Drogan added. “But we shall have to find out. These artifacts are too powerful and can be put to dangerous use.”

Master Drogan sighed.
“Yanny, my eldest student. It is up to you. It is vital that you find these items and bring them back.”
There it was then, Yanny’s first opportunity to adventure, the first voyage beyond Hilltop, the true way to discover the wondrous magic hidden all across the realms.

Perhaps Yanny’s adventures would even take him to Waterdeep, the fabled City of Splendors!

“You can count on me, Master Drogan,” Yanny replied with undisguised excitement in his voice. “I shall not fail you.”
“Such courage, dear boy,” Master Drogan said, embracing Yanny. “You make me proud.”
“This shall be your final test. I know that you are ready! So much relies on you now. I know in my heart you will not let me down. Ayala and I shall remain here and guard the school, with the help of Mischa.”
Master Drogan turned to regard the promising young paladin of Mystra.
“You have fought valiantly, my dear lass, and I am proud of you.”
“Thank you, Master Drogan,” Mischa replied, blushing profusely.
“One more apprentice shall remain,” Master Drogan continued, “and another shall accompany Yanny.”

“I shall go with you, Yanny,” Dorna said determinedly. “Our skills will complement each other… and besides, I expect you’ll need some muscle to back you up.”
“Muscle?” Xanos huffed teasingly. “Eh? All I see is a little dwarf with very big mouth.”
“Better than a half-orc with an oversized ego,” Dorna countered, smiling.
“You make fun of Xanos, but you shall see,” Xanos parried, laughing heartily. “Yanny will pick Xanos gladly and then Xanos will laugh at you.”
“Should we make a little bet, then?” Dorna winked at Xanos, and everybody in the library shared a laugh despite the ominous situation they were currently in. “Fifty gold coins should settle this nicely. What say you?”
“My little dwarven friend,” Xanos said, dangling his bulging belt pouch in front of Dorna’s plump face. “I shall gladly accept your gold and add it to mine.”

Yanny made his decision quickly.
“I believe I shall ask Dorna to accompany me as her sneaky skills could prove to be useful.”
“Well, you know me,” Dorna laughed, producing two magic wands from the folds of her leather vest and waving them playfully before the half-orc’s face.
“If you need sharp eyes to watch for ambushes, or a nasty trap dealt with, I am your girl. Worry not, Xanos. You can purchase one of these from me, for fifty gold pieces.”
“Where did you get these?” Yanny asked, with admiration in his voice.
“Oh, I swiped them from the little kobolds during the fight,” Dorna smiled innocently.
“It’s a deal then, my sneaky dwarven friend,” Xanos laughed, handing over his purse. ”I shall gladly exchange my gold for your wares.”
“Great,” Dorna replied, giving the second wand to Yanny. “We’ll have Master Drogan’s artifacts in no time… and maybe pick up a coin or two for ourselves along the way. Through the grace of Vergadain, we shall return victorious!”
“There is no time for this discussion now,” Master Drogan said with another deep sigh. “The villagers are in dire need of our help, I can feel it in my old bones.”
“We must go now!” Dorna exclaimed, concern creeping into her voice. “We must check on the villagers to make sure the nasty little kobolds did not wreak complete havoc on our fair town during their escape!”
“We must set out immediately,” Yanny replied, nodding in agreement.
“I shall accompany you, my friends,” Xanos said, clutching his dagger and looking questioningly upon Master Drogan. The old dwarf stroked his singed beard in contemplation, sighed heavily, and nodded his approval.

“My dear students,” he said, “if I may make a suggestion... The Blake family lives on a farm just outside of the main gate, which is dangerously far away from the town proper during these dire times, by my own guess. Nora and Adam had a baby not even three months ago, and something tells me you should check up on them.”

“We shall certainly do that,” Yanny promised, “and with all haste for they may indeed be in trouble.”
“Well,” Dorna mused, “since we are to remain in town at least for a short while, we might as well stop by the community hall to check up on the mayor, after we check up on the Blake family of course. He may be in need of our help after the kobold attack.”
“In that case, we should also visit the Bubbling Cauldron,” Yanny added, referring to the town’s only tavern.

☼☼☼☼☼

The apprentices exited the house with all haste and made their way towards the town proper. Even from a distance, the devastating truth of the raid was becoming painfully apparent. Dead bodies of kobolds, villagers and local animals were strewn about the place, crimson red blood staining the snow on the ground.
As the students passed by the Bubbling Cauldron, they could hear the sounds of angry shouting, smashed dinnerware, and loud arguing emanating from within. They could not dare to investigate the mayhem immediately though, fearing for the safety of the Blake family.
As the friends ran towards the town gate, they witnessed an even more curious sight – a congregation of villagers mulling about the place, listening intently to the ecstatic cries of an old man. Yanny recognized him as Piper, a local scoundrel who had grand delusions of being a fortune teller.

“Doom!” Piper was yelling at the top of his lungs. “Doom is upon us!”

The friends did not have time to investigate the commotion – a strange sensation nagged at their hearts, an instinctive feeling of being too late to save the Blake family. They ran on as fast as they could, passing by a curious halfling caravan on their way, but they realized that something was terribly wrong as soon as the rooftop of the Blake house came into view.
A young woman, barefoot and barely dressed, was running towards them, sobbing and whimpering with every step. Yanny rushed to embrace her and the young woman dug her face into his tunic, weeping openly.

“Oh Yanny!” the woman exclaimed through loud sobs. “Thank the gods you are here! You must help me, please! Kobolds attacked our home. Adam and I were still in bed when they burst into our room. We climbed out the window and Adam helped me down, then he went back in the front door. He went to save little Tynan, but he hasn’t returned. Tynan is only two months old. Please, Yanny, you must save them!”
“Calm down, Nora,” Yanny replied soothingly. “We are here to help.”
“Oh, thank you, Yanny,” Nora replied, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. She was obviously in shock.
“Please hurry!”
“There is no time to waste,” Dorna said.
She looked at the weeping woman with concern – this was going to be a tough day indeed for poor Nora if they were too late.
“Wait for us here.”
Nora nodded in understanding and would have dropped to the ground from exhaustion, but Xanos was there in a flash, gently setting her down on the cold snow with his muscled arms.

The three friends ran on as fast as they could, Nora’s desperate cries for help ringing loudly in their ears.
“Hurry! Please hurry!”

A heart wrenching scene awaited the friends as they inched cautiously towards the house entrance. The dead body of Adam Blake lay in a pool of his own blood just beyond the blasted door. His unseeing eyes were staring at the ceiling, the images of pure terror forever captured into his dilated pupils.
Cackling sounds of his murderers emanated from within – the kobolds were undoubtedly celebrating their small victory.
Dorna peeked inside and quickly pulled away, holding up four fingers.
“The baby?” Yanny mouthed with his lips.
Dorna shook her head slowly, pointing towards the second floor. The loud cries of the infant could indeed be heard from upstairs, mixed with other, barely perceptible sounds.

That was all the encouragement the friends needed as they drew their weapons.
Silent as death, grim faces promising a world of pain, the friends entered the house. The dumb kobolds were playing cards at the kitchen table, their crossbows not even loaded. Caught by surprise, they shrieked in terror and fell all over each other, fumbling to draw their puny swords.
Dorna’s eyes lit up brightly with a vengeful gleam, but brighter still flashed her battle axe as it spun through the air, blasting one of the creatures in the chest. Yanny did not even get a chance to vent his own anger as Dorna and Xanos descended upon the remaining kobolds. The young dwarven cleric slammed her shield over a creature’s head, splattering the brains all over the hardwood floor.

Yanny bent over and spewed the contents of his morning meal.
The remaining two kobolds finally managed to bring up their swords, poking them at Dorna’s midsection. She swatted their attacks aside with her shield and grabbed one of the creatures by its tiny neck.
Yanny could not see through his teary eyes but he clearly heard the resounding snap of the broken spine. The remaining kobold shrieked in horror and attempted to run for it, but the half-orc brute swiped it into the air with his huge hands.

Yanny heard the wet sound of flesh being torn apart and vomited again.
“The baby is still alive,” Dorna whispered, pointing towards the second floor.
She bounded up the stairs, determined to save at least one member of the Blake family. Yanny and Xanos followed closely behind, clutching their weapons nervously. They burst through the bedroom door, weapons drawn, to find a horrified, shaking kobold huddling in the corner. The creature was holding the baby close to its chest, making futile attempts to soothe crying Tynan.

The friends stopped cold in their tracks, not daring to come any closer.
It felt as if time had stopped and everything froze in motion. Yanny could hear the blood pumping through his veins so loudly he thought he was standing in the middle of an ice storm.
“Me stole the baby, stupid human man!” The kobold shrieked, shuddering violently.

Yanny thought the little lizard was surely going to drop the baby.
“Me gots control of you now!”
Yanny took a deep breath to steady himself.
“Just give me the baby and I will let you go,” he promised, his voice non-threatening.
“Me not think so! Kobolds love them children, so do you. If you want it, you must gives me shiny gem in return. You gets shiny gem and gives to me!”

Yanny breathed a sigh of relief. The kobold was willing to negotiate and that boded well for little Tynan. He sheathed his weapons, bade for the others to do the same, and reached inside his pouch, producing a small amethyst.
“Here is a nice shiny gem,” Yanny said, taking a cautious step forward. “Now give me that child.”
The kobold’s serpentine eyes lit up in excitement, matching the glow of the gem. The creature snatched the precious stone and squeaked in glee, “Me so happy, me is now going. You take smelly baby! Him make big stink.”
Yanny took another cautious step forward and took the baby. The kobold hooted in glee and darted for the door.

“Well, that was easy,” Xanos grumbled.
He stuck out his massive foot, tripping the kobold and sending it tumbling down the stairs with a loud crash. Dorna spat in disgust and took a step closer, a healing spell ready on her lips.

The small bundle of joy seemed to be emanating a peculiar odor and Yanny winced, trying hard not to gag. Little Tynan stopped crying and looked up at him with beautiful blue eyes, making funny giggling sounds.
“So cute,” Dorna whispered. She smiled and planted a big kiss on Tynan’s cheek. The baby giggled and grabbed at the dwarf’s nose, squeezing tightly.
“A feisty little lad,” Yanny observed with a laugh. His face turned grim and he added, “Just like his father.”
“Yes, this one is a survivor, no doubt,” Xanos mused. “Now, there is a small matter of informing his mother about Adam’s death and I can already feel her loud keening stabbing me through my very heart.”

“This is going to be tough for her to take,” Yanny said with a sigh.

☼☼☼☼☼

The friends found Nora cowering between the pine trees near the house. The woman ran towards them and the concern in her beautiful face turned into a smile upon seeing the precious little bundle.
“Oh, Tynan, my precious little boy!” She exclaimed lovingly. “How I feared you were dead. But… where is Adam? He… he is still alive, isn’t he? Please tell me I am not a widow!”
Yanny took a deep breath. This was going to hurt.
“I am afraid Adam did not survive.”
“No!” Poor Nora seemed to be melting away before their very eyes.
She dropped to the ground and let out a long wail of purest sorrow that echoed through the air. Dorna sobbed softly and wiped the unwanted tears from her eyes. She bent low to comfort the young widow who was crying uncontrollably, the loud sobs shaking her entire body.
“No! Poor, brave Adam. Those monsters murdered him! How can the gods be so cruel?”
Dorna hugged the woman comfortingly.

“Now, now,” she said. “There is still hope for you, Nora. The gods work in mysterious ways and they smiled brightly upon Tynan, sparing the child’s life.”
“Yes,” Nora contended with a sob. “At… at least I have Tynan, a beautiful child to remember Adam by. I have my home and my wedding ring, as well. Of course, without Adam to support me, I guess I will have to sell the ring, just to help me until I can find a job.”
“Now, now,” Dorna said soothingly, “you do not have to do that, Nora. Surely you do not want to part with the wedding ring – it is a reminder of Adam’s love and his valiant sacrifice. Would it help if I gave you some gold?”
“Oh, Dorna, I could not ask that of you,” Nora replied with a sob. “If not for you, my child would be dead too. I mean… it would be helpful, but I am sure I can survive if I sell my…”
“Please, Nora, we insist,” Xanos interrupted the poor woman. “It is the least we can do for you.”

The half-orcish brute looked at Dorna questioningly – the money he had lost during the bet could now be put to good cause.
“Yes, Nora, we insist,” Dorna added, producing the bulging purse. “Fifty shiny ones from all of us.”
Nora gasped in awe and exclaimed, “I would never have believed that anyone could be so kind. Be assured that Tynan will be raised to know who his saviors are. I will sing your praises in his ear and someday, if I raise him properly, perhaps he will grow up to emulate you. May Tymora smile upon you and thank you again.”

The friends did not talk during their short trek back to the town proper – there was nothing they could say or do to relieve Nora’s emotional pain. At least little Tynan was alive, Yanny kept thinking, and that in itself was a miracle.

“Thank you, Mystra,” Yanny said and he was truly thankful.

☼☼☼☼☼

The halfling caravan came into view just then, reminding him of the disaster perpetrated by the kobolds, reminding him that many other people had suffered greatly this day. Three halfling guards were sprawled on the ground, moaning in pain.
A beautiful halfling woman in black leather armor was tending to their wounds, but it was obvious she was not greatly versed in the arts of healing.
Yanny looked at Dorna and the young dwarven cleric nodded in understanding. She walked past three most curious looking halflings and kneeled over a wounded guard.
She touched her holy symbol and proclaimed, “Vergadain, great Laughing God, hear me. Heal this unfortunate adventurer!” She placed her hands on the guard’s body and channeled the divine energy through it, mending the damage. The halfling gasped in relief, while the others gasped in surprise, and opened his eyes.

“Them damn little rat lizards ain’t gonna get away with it, I tell ya!” the guard jumped to his short feet, clutching his little sword. “Come back here an’ fight, ye good fer nothin’…”
“Oh shut yourself up and greet your savior, will you,” the female halfling scolded him, squinting her eyes dangerously, “before I knock you out senseless.”
She turned to regard Dorna and bowed politely.
“Oh, sorry ‘bout that, boss,” the guard replied sheepishly and turned to regard Dorna. “Well met and thank ye, kind lady. You saved me life and I be forever in yer debt.”
The halfling swept into a low bow and overbalanced. He toppled to the snow with a profound yawn and was soon snoring contentedly.

Yanny approached the caravan leader while Dorna tended to the other guards. The female halfling was a pretty little thing, with large brown eyes, flowing black hair, and cute little nose and ears. She appeared youthful and full of energy, but Yanny also sensed an aura of wisdom and authority around her. He bowed politely and smiled cheerfully despite the emotions nagging at his heart.

“Well met, good lady. I am Yanny, apprentice to Master Drogan and a humble servant of nature. Meet my fellow apprentices and friends. The young cleric kneeling over your associates is Dorna and the big brute standing behind me is Xanos, a sorcerer of renowned prowess.”
“That so?” the halfling replied with a dazzling smile and a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Dwarven wizard is your teacher then? I remember him. He’s come to give me messages to take on to other towns sometimes. Pays handsomely. The name is Katriana. We don’t tend to look much to others for help, but… thank you kindly. I appreciate what you are doing for my guards, though their salaries will suffer from their lack of competence. What’s with the sobbing woman, anyway?”
“Sadly, Nora’s husband has been killed by the kobolds,” Yanny replied with a frown.

Katriana gasped and shook her head in horror, her beautiful eyes turning a dark shade of sadness.
“Torias,” she barked at the dark-haired halfling who was busily gaping at Dorna. “Come here you dolt! Go inside and fetch a nice toy for the baby.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied happily and darted for the merchandise wagon.
He emerged almost immediately holding a magnificent short sword and flipped the blade in the air.

“A bit sharp for a toy but perfect for the young feisty boy! Bwahaha!”

Katriana sighed deeply.
“I’ve heard mention of your caravan,” Dorna said when she was done with her prayers. “Master Drogan said you come through here on regular basis and have for many years.”
“For generations, actually,” Katriana replied. “It’s something like a family trading route we follow. A relatively safe one, if there is such a thing as traveling safely through the Silver Marches…Until today, in any case. The kobolds came out of nowhere and tried to rob us.”
“Better than trying to kill you,” Dorna mused.
“Well, truth be told, they made a fair attempt at that also. They didn’t get away with anything important, except… they took Daschnaya’s cards, sadly.”
“Daschnaya?” Yanny echoed.
“Yes, our fortune teller. She’s locked herself in her wagon and doesn’t want to come out. She makes a bit of coin at the towns we stop at. Her family’s been using those cards for generations… it’s a sad day that we’ve lost them.”
“You mean these?” Dorna asked, producing a neat stack of intricately designed playing cards. “I was going to use them as a heat source, but if they are yours…”

Katriana gasped in awe.
“Yes! These are the ones! Thank you, Dorna. Daschnaya will be most pleased!”
“So, you are the caravan leader,” Yanny stated the obvious.
“I lead this caravan, as did my grandfather before me and his mother before him. We trade, mostly, moving from town to town around the Silver Marches. Occasionally we’ll range farther west… but not since the plague in Neverwinter. We’re wanderers, for the most part, but I daresay we do well enough as merchants that we’re welcome most everywhere. It’s dangerous, by my own guess, and we are always looking for guards. The boys don’t do so bad when they’re not surprised like we were today.”

The dark-haired halfling who called himself Torias approached Dorna with undeniable sparkle of interest in his dark eyes. He dipped into a grand bow.
“Well met there, strangers,” he pronounced, smiling at Dorna. “I don’t suppose you have a rum-flavored cigar on you, by chance?”
“A what?”
“A rum-flavored cigar. It’s… well, never mind. Simply something I grew fond of in Amn, and I’ve recently run out. Ah, well. Pardon my manners, good lady. I am called Torias. And you are?”
“Dorna Trapspringer, if you must know.”
Torias dipped into another grand bow and came up smiling brightly.
“Then I am very pleased to meet you, Dorna Trapspringer. Never have I heard a name more beautiful, I must say!”
“You are a bit of a cheeky halfling, aren’t you?”
Torias laughed heartily, displaying a dazzling smile on his face.
“Well, maybe just a little bit, my good lady dwarf! Perhaps you’d care to join me in the enjoyment of some fine wine?”
“Sorry. I make it a policy never to date men whom I could crush accidentally.”
“Oh?” Torias replied with a sly wink. “It would be a pleasant enough way to go, I suppose.”
“Flatterer. You say that now.”

Dorna blushed profusely and turned to regard Katriana, hastily trying to change the subject.
“Don’t mind my cousin,” Katriana apologized with a shrug. “He is such a lady chaser. Torias, have some manners, for Tymora’s sake.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied, sending another dazzling smile in Dorna’s direction.
He dipped one final bow and bounded off happily to join the conversation taking place between Xanos and the twin halflings.

One of the twins poked his stubby finger in the big brute’s direction and mumbled something indecipherable. Xanos glared at the gaping halfling and grumbled under his breath.
“Don’t mind him,” the other twin explained. “My brother don’t talk much. Especially today, with all the fighting and such. Furten’s the name, good sir, and this here is my twin brother Birgen.”
“Xanos Messarmos,” the half-orc grumbled in reply.
Yanny smiled at the verbal exchange – Xanos was making some fine new friends indeed.

“So where are you headed next,” Dorna asked Katriana.
“I’m thinking we’ll be crossing the Anauroch desert. There’s goods out east that’ll bring a grand price when we head back this way.”
Yanny frowned as he recalled the visions from his divinations – a parched land devoid of life, a merciless wasteland known as the Anauroch desert. The troubles were far from over, and Yanny got a distinct impression that they had just begun.
“Perhaps we shall join you on your journey,” he mused.
“Like I said,” Katriana replied with a smile, “we are always looking for guards.”☼☼☼☼☼

Master Drogan was lying on the floor, stunned from the blast, but otherwise unharmed. As Yanny rushed towards him, the good dwarf stirred, opened his eyes and regarded his student with unconcealed respect.
“Master Drogan,” Yanny exclaimed, “you are unharmed! Tymora smiles brightly upon us.”
“Come back here and fight, you smelly lizards!” Xanos was yelling, possessed by the emotions of a powerful battle rage.
But the smelly lizards did not oblige, opting instead to flee the house. They cleared out of the place in a matter of three heartbeats and retreated from Hilltop, running towards their smelly caves.

When the billowing cloud of smoke dissipated through the blasted door, it revealed the charred and maimed kobold carcasses strewn all over the floor. The defenders were all covered with black soot, but appeared to be otherwise unharmed.
The victory was apparently complete. The defenders gathered near Master Drogan, embracing each other and sharing a few laughs.
Their smiles were short-lived, though. Master Drogan got up to his feet with a grim face and said, “Well done, my dear students, well done, indeed. And I thank you, Ayala, for aiding us in these dire times.”
“What’s the grim face for then, Drogan?” Ayala asked, still clutching her sword and breathing heavily.
“Well, it depends on whether the pesky little creatures breached the magical wards I have placed in my laboratory. Yanny, my dear boy, would you go check up on Riisi, while we clean up this mess?”
“Certainly,” Yanny answered and headed towards the door leading into Master Drogan’s laboratory.

Upon entering, Yanny could immediately tell that the magical wards Master Drogan spoke of have been dispelled. Even from a distance, he could see that the large room was in disarray. Planks of splintered hardwood littered the place and Yanny noticed a few kobold tracks leading beyond the wards.
Master Drogan’s magnificent faerie dragon familiar was flapping her green butterfly wings agitatedly and moaning repeatedly.
“What a mess! Me-oh-my, what a mess!”
Riisi was visibly shaken and squeaking so quickly that Yanny could barely understand the words.
“Oh my,” Riisi exclaimed, noticing Yanny. “Is it another kobold come to wreak havoc on Master’s things? Well, Riisi will fight them, yes she will. She will protect her master’s things this time. No, no, no, it is someone I recognize! Yanny! Gladdens my heart, yes it does.”

“How are you, Riisi?” Yanny asked with concern in his voice.
“I am still being Riisi, oh yes. I am not dead, that is a good thing. But you should be knowing that kobolds stole Master’s stuff, yes they did! Please, oh please, Yanny, tell me that Master is unharmed!”
“Master Drogan is fine, Riisi.”
“Oh, Riisi is very glad to hear that. I was worried, oh yes I was. But you have put my mind to rest, yes you did.”
“What happened here, Riisi?”
“Oh, it was terrible, yes it was. I was just having a nap and dreaming about a lovely meadow filled with flowers and butterflies. It was wonderful, Yanny, yes it was. Well, I was woken by a dreadful noise and I immediately turned invisible. When I saw that dreadful kobolds were in the house, I though Master Drogan was surely in danger. I saw them coming to the laboratory and I knew they could not get across, and I thought it was going to be such fun watching them from behind the magic wards. I was about to appear to them and taunt them, yes I was, but then they stopped and you would not believe what they did, no you would not. They threw dust on the wards! It must have been magic dust, oh yes, or it would not have worked, no, no, no. Stupid ugly kobolds walked right through the wards and looted all of Master’s magic. Oh, shame on Riisi, shame, shame, shame. I hid. I was so scared and thought they were powerful kobolds, for they were the first to pass Master’s magic wards. Now Master will never trust Riisi again, oh no, he will not! Now Master will dismiss Riisi and she will have to leave and return to her home in disgrace. Except that Master is very loving, and maybe Riisi can earn back his trust by never letting anyone in ever again! Yes, yes, yes, that is it. Riisi will be the best guard ever! I will do a good job for dear Master. No more kobolds can enter here, no, no, no.”

“I am sure you will be the greatest guard ever, Riisi,” Yanny said and sighed.

The laboratory has been breached and something belonging to master Drogan was stolen.

☼☼☼☼☼

When Yanny exited the laboratory, Master Drogan was talking with Ayala in hushed tones. They both looked at him questioningly.
“The kobolds made off with some magical items, Master Drogan,” Yanny announced and the old dwarf groaned loudly.
“The Harpers have many enemies,” Ayala said thoughtfully. “I suspect one of them is responsible for this attack. I hope I am wrong.”
“I believe I can shed some light on that,” Master Drogan answered, nervously pacing the room. “It was the artifacts they were after. They are stolen, all four of them!”
“I thought as much,” Ayala said. “How could anyone have found out you even had them? This is terrible news.”
“What are you two about?” Dorna asked.
“When Drogan retired to Hilltop, the Harpers entrusted four dangerous artifacts to his care. We thought this area remote enough that they would be safe.”
“I do not know how they were discovered,” Master Drogan added. “But we shall have to find out. These artifacts are too powerful and can be put to dangerous use.”

Master Drogan sighed.
“Yanny, my eldest student. It is up to you. It is vital that you find these items and bring them back.”
There it was then, Yanny’s first opportunity to adventure, the first voyage beyond Hilltop, the true way to discover the wondrous magic hidden all across the realms.

Perhaps Yanny’s adventures would even take him to Waterdeep, the fabled City of Splendors!

“You can count on me, Master Drogan,” Yanny replied with undisguised excitement in his voice. “I shall not fail you.”
“Such courage, dear boy,” Master Drogan said, embracing Yanny. “You make me proud.”
“This shall be your final test. I know that you are ready! So much relies on you now. I know in my heart you will not let me down. Ayala and I shall remain here and guard the school, with the help of Mischa.”
Master Drogan turned to regard the promising young paladin of Mystra.
“You have fought valiantly, my dear lass, and I am proud of you.”
“Thank you, Master Drogan,” Mischa replied, blushing profusely.
“One more apprentice shall remain,” Master Drogan continued, “and another shall accompany Yanny.”

“I shall go with you, Yanny,” Dorna said determinedly. “Our skills will complement each other… and besides, I expect you’ll need some muscle to back you up.”
“Muscle?” Xanos huffed teasingly. “Eh? All I see is a little dwarf with very big mouth.”
“Better than a half-orc with an oversized ego,” Dorna countered, smiling.
“You make fun of Xanos, but you shall see,” Xanos parried, laughing heartily. “Yanny will pick Xanos gladly and then Xanos will laugh at you.”
“Should we make a little bet, then?” Dorna winked at Xanos, and everybody in the library shared a laugh despite the ominous situation they were currently in. “Fifty gold coins should settle this nicely. What say you?”
“My little dwarven friend,” Xanos said, dangling his bulging belt pouch in front of Dorna’s plump face. “I shall gladly accept your gold and add it to mine.”

Yanny made his decision quickly.
“I believe I shall ask Dorna to accompany me as her sneaky skills could prove to be useful.”
“Well, you know me,” Dorna laughed, producing two magic wands from the folds of her leather vest and waving them playfully before the half-orc’s face.
“If you need sharp eyes to watch for ambushes, or a nasty trap dealt with, I am your girl. Worry not, Xanos. You can purchase one of these from me, for fifty gold pieces.”
“Where did you get these?” Yanny asked, with admiration in his voice.
“Oh, I swiped them from the little kobolds during the fight,” Dorna smiled innocently.
“It’s a deal then, my sneaky dwarven friend,” Xanos laughed, handing over his purse. ”I shall gladly exchange my gold for your wares.”
“Great,” Dorna replied, giving the second wand to Yanny. “We’ll have Master Drogan’s artifacts in no time… and maybe pick up a coin or two for ourselves along the way. Through the grace of Vergadain, we shall return victorious!”
“There is no time for this discussion now,” Master Drogan said with another deep sigh. “The villagers are in dire need of our help, I can feel it in my old bones.”
“We must go now!” Dorna exclaimed, concern creeping into her voice. “We must check on the villagers to make sure the nasty little kobolds did not wreak complete havoc on our fair town during their escape!”
“We must set out immediately,” Yanny replied, nodding in agreement.
“I shall accompany you, my friends,” Xanos said, clutching his dagger and looking questioningly upon Master Drogan. The old dwarf stroked his singed beard in contemplation, sighed heavily, and nodded his approval.

“My dear students,” he said, “if I may make a suggestion... The Blake family lives on a farm just outside of the main gate, which is dangerously far away from the town proper during these dire times, by my own guess. Nora and Adam had a baby not even three months ago, and something tells me you should check up on them.”

“We shall certainly do that,” Yanny promised, “and with all haste for they may indeed be in trouble.”
“Well,” Dorna mused, “since we are to remain in town at least for a short while, we might as well stop by the community hall to check up on the mayor, after we check up on the Blake family of course. He may be in need of our help after the kobold attack.”
“In that case, we should also visit the Bubbling Cauldron,” Yanny added, referring to the town’s only tavern.

☼☼☼☼☼

The apprentices exited the house with all haste and made their way towards the town proper. Even from a distance, the devastating truth of the raid was becoming painfully apparent. Dead bodies of kobolds, villagers and local animals were strewn about the place, crimson red blood staining the snow on the ground.
As the students passed by the Bubbling Cauldron, they could hear the sounds of angry shouting, smashed dinnerware, and loud arguing emanating from within. They could not dare to investigate the mayhem immediately though, fearing for the safety of the Blake family.
As the friends ran towards the town gate, they witnessed an even more curious sight – a congregation of villagers mulling about the place, listening intently to the ecstatic cries of an old man. Yanny recognized him as Piper, a local scoundrel who had grand delusions of being a fortune teller.

“Doom!” Piper was yelling at the top of his lungs. “Doom is upon us!”

The friends did not have time to investigate the commotion – a strange sensation nagged at their hearts, an instinctive feeling of being too late to save the Blake family. They ran on as fast as they could, passing by a curious halfling caravan on their way, but they realized that something was terribly wrong as soon as the rooftop of the Blake house came into view.
A young woman, barefoot and barely dressed, was running towards them, sobbing and whimpering with every step. Yanny rushed to embrace her and the young woman dug her face into his tunic, weeping openly.

“Oh Yanny!” the woman exclaimed through loud sobs. “Thank the gods you are here! You must help me, please! Kobolds attacked our home. Adam and I were still in bed when they burst into our room. We climbed out the window and Adam helped me down, then he went back in the front door. He went to save little Tynan, but he hasn’t returned. Tynan is only two months old. Please, Yanny, you must save them!”
“Calm down, Nora,” Yanny replied soothingly. “We are here to help.”
“Oh, thank you, Yanny,” Nora replied, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. She was obviously in shock.
“Please hurry!”
“There is no time to waste,” Dorna said.
She looked at the weeping woman with concern – this was going to be a tough day indeed for poor Nora if they were too late.
“Wait for us here.”
Nora nodded in understanding and would have dropped to the ground from exhaustion, but Xanos was there in a flash, gently setting her down on the cold snow with his muscled arms.

The three friends ran on as fast as they could, Nora’s desperate cries for help ringing loudly in their ears.
“Hurry! Please hurry!”

A heart wrenching scene awaited the friends as they inched cautiously towards the house entrance. The dead body of Adam Blake lay in a pool of his own blood just beyond the blasted door. His unseeing eyes were staring at the ceiling, the images of pure terror forever captured into his dilated pupils.
Cackling sounds of his murderers emanated from within – the kobolds were undoubtedly celebrating their small victory.
Dorna peeked inside and quickly pulled away, holding up four fingers.
“The baby?” Yanny mouthed with his lips.
Dorna shook her head slowly, pointing towards the second floor. The loud cries of the infant could indeed be heard from upstairs, mixed with other, barely perceptible sounds.

That was all the encouragement the friends needed as they drew their weapons.
Silent as death, grim faces promising a world of pain, the friends entered the house. The dumb kobolds were playing cards at the kitchen table, their crossbows not even loaded. Caught by surprise, they shrieked in terror and fell all over each other, fumbling to draw their puny swords.
Dorna’s eyes lit up brightly with a vengeful gleam, but brighter still flashed her battle axe as it spun through the air, blasting one of the creatures in the chest. Yanny did not even get a chance to vent his own anger as Dorna and Xanos descended upon the remaining kobolds. The young dwarven cleric slammed her shield over a creature’s head, splattering the brains all over the hardwood floor.

Yanny bent over and spewed the contents of his morning meal.
The remaining two kobolds finally managed to bring up their swords, poking them at Dorna’s midsection. She swatted their attacks aside with her shield and grabbed one of the creatures by its tiny neck.
Yanny could not see through his teary eyes but he clearly heard the resounding snap of the broken spine. The remaining kobold shrieked in horror and attempted to run for it, but the half-orc brute swiped it into the air with his huge hands.

Yanny heard the wet sound of flesh being torn apart and vomited again.
“The baby is still alive,” Dorna whispered, pointing towards the second floor.
She bounded up the stairs, determined to save at least one member of the Blake family. Yanny and Xanos followed closely behind, clutching their weapons nervously. They burst through the bedroom door, weapons drawn, to find a horrified, shaking kobold huddling in the corner. The creature was holding the baby close to its chest, making futile attempts to soothe crying Tynan.

The friends stopped cold in their tracks, not daring to come any closer.
It felt as if time had stopped and everything froze in motion. Yanny could hear the blood pumping through his veins so loudly he thought he was standing in the middle of an ice storm.
“Me stole the baby, stupid human man!” The kobold shrieked, shuddering violently.

Yanny thought the little lizard was surely going to drop the baby.
“Me gots control of you now!”
Yanny took a deep breath to steady himself.
“Just give me the baby and I will let you go,” he promised, his voice non-threatening.
“Me not think so! Kobolds love them children, so do you. If you want it, you must gives me shiny gem in return. You gets shiny gem and gives to me!”

Yanny breathed a sigh of relief. The kobold was willing to negotiate and that boded well for little Tynan. He sheathed his weapons, bade for the others to do the same, and reached inside his pouch, producing a small amethyst.
“Here is a nice shiny gem,” Yanny said, taking a cautious step forward. “Now give me that child.”
The kobold’s serpentine eyes lit up in excitement, matching the glow of the gem. The creature snatched the precious stone and squeaked in glee, “Me so happy, me is now going. You take smelly baby! Him make big stink.”
Yanny took another cautious step forward and took the baby. The kobold hooted in glee and darted for the door.

“Well, that was easy,” Xanos grumbled.
He stuck out his massive foot, tripping the kobold and sending it tumbling down the stairs with a loud crash. Dorna spat in disgust and took a step closer, a healing spell ready on her lips.

The small bundle of joy seemed to be emanating a peculiar odor and Yanny winced, trying hard not to gag. Little Tynan stopped crying and looked up at him with beautiful blue eyes, making funny giggling sounds.
“So cute,” Dorna whispered. She smiled and planted a big kiss on Tynan’s cheek. The baby giggled and grabbed at the dwarf’s nose, squeezing tightly.
“A feisty little lad,” Yanny observed with a laugh. His face turned grim and he added, “Just like his father.”
“Yes, this one is a survivor, no doubt,” Xanos mused. “Now, there is a small matter of informing his mother about Adam’s death and I can already feel her loud keening stabbing me through my very heart.”

“This is going to be tough for her to take,” Yanny said with a sigh.

☼☼☼☼☼

The friends found Nora cowering between the pine trees near the house. The woman ran towards them and the concern in her beautiful face turned into a smile upon seeing the precious little bundle.
“Oh, Tynan, my precious little boy!” She exclaimed lovingly. “How I feared you were dead. But… where is Adam? He… he is still alive, isn’t he? Please tell me I am not a widow!”
Yanny took a deep breath. This was going to hurt.
“I am afraid Adam did not survive.”
“No!” Poor Nora seemed to be melting away before their very eyes.
She dropped to the ground and let out a long wail of purest sorrow that echoed through the air. Dorna sobbed softly and wiped the unwanted tears from her eyes. She bent low to comfort the young widow who was crying uncontrollably, the loud sobs shaking her entire body.
“No! Poor, brave Adam. Those monsters murdered him! How can the gods be so cruel?”
Dorna hugged the woman comfortingly.

“Now, now,” she said. “There is still hope for you, Nora. The gods work in mysterious ways and they smiled brightly upon Tynan, sparing the child’s life.”
“Yes,” Nora contended with a sob. “At… at least I have Tynan, a beautiful child to remember Adam by. I have my home and my wedding ring, as well. Of course, without Adam to support me, I guess I will have to sell the ring, just to help me until I can find a job.”
“Now, now,” Dorna said soothingly, “you do not have to do that, Nora. Surely you do not want to part with the wedding ring – it is a reminder of Adam’s love and his valiant sacrifice. Would it help if I gave you some gold?”
“Oh, Dorna, I could not ask that of you,” Nora replied with a sob. “If not for you, my child would be dead too. I mean… it would be helpful, but I am sure I can survive if I sell my…”
“Please, Nora, we insist,” Xanos interrupted the poor woman. “It is the least we can do for you.”

The half-orcish brute looked at Dorna questioningly – the money he had lost during the bet could now be put to good cause.
“Yes, Nora, we insist,” Dorna added, producing the bulging purse. “Fifty shiny ones from all of us.”
Nora gasped in awe and exclaimed, “I would never have believed that anyone could be so kind. Be assured that Tynan will be raised to know who his saviors are. I will sing your praises in his ear and someday, if I raise him properly, perhaps he will grow up to emulate you. May Tymora smile upon you and thank you again.”

The friends did not talk during their short trek back to the town proper – there was nothing they could say or do to relieve Nora’s emotional pain. At least little Tynan was alive, Yanny kept thinking, and that in itself was a miracle.

“Thank you, Mystra,” Yanny said and he was truly thankful.

☼☼☼☼☼

The halfling caravan came into view just then, reminding him of the disaster perpetrated by the kobolds, reminding him that many other people had suffered greatly this day. Three halfling guards were sprawled on the ground, moaning in pain.
A beautiful halfling woman in black leather armor was tending to their wounds, but it was obvious she was not greatly versed in the arts of healing.
Yanny looked at Dorna and the young dwarven cleric nodded in understanding. She walked past three most curious looking halflings and kneeled over a wounded guard.
She touched her holy symbol and proclaimed, “Vergadain, great Laughing God, hear me. Heal this unfortunate adventurer!” She placed her hands on the guard’s body and channeled the divine energy through it, mending the damage. The halfling gasped in relief, while the others gasped in surprise, and opened his eyes.

“Them damn little rat lizards ain’t gonna get away with it, I tell ya!” the guard jumped to his short feet, clutching his little sword. “Come back here an’ fight, ye good fer nothin’…”
“Oh shut yourself up and greet your savior, will you,” the female halfling scolded him, squinting her eyes dangerously, “before I knock you out senseless.”
She turned to regard Dorna and bowed politely.
“Oh, sorry ‘bout that, boss,” the guard replied sheepishly and turned to regard Dorna. “Well met and thank ye, kind lady. You saved me life and I be forever in yer debt.”
The halfling swept into a low bow and overbalanced. He toppled to the snow with a profound yawn and was soon snoring contentedly.

Yanny approached the caravan leader while Dorna tended to the other guards. The female halfling was a pretty little thing, with large brown eyes, flowing black hair, and cute little nose and ears. She appeared youthful and full of energy, but Yanny also sensed an aura of wisdom and authority around her. He bowed politely and smiled cheerfully despite the emotions nagging at his heart.

“Well met, good lady. I am Yanny, apprentice to Master Drogan and a humble servant of nature. Meet my fellow apprentices and friends. The young cleric kneeling over your associates is Dorna and the big brute standing behind me is Xanos, a sorcerer of renowned prowess.”
“That so?” the halfling replied with a dazzling smile and a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Dwarven wizard is your teacher then? I remember him. He’s come to give me messages to take on to other towns sometimes. Pays handsomely. The name is Katriana. We don’t tend to look much to others for help, but… thank you kindly. I appreciate what you are doing for my guards, though their salaries will suffer from their lack of competence. What’s with the sobbing woman, anyway?”
“Sadly, Nora’s husband has been killed by the kobolds,” Yanny replied with a frown.

Katriana gasped and shook her head in horror, her beautiful eyes turning a dark shade of sadness.
“Torias,” she barked at the dark-haired halfling who was busily gaping at Dorna. “Come here you dolt! Go inside and fetch a nice toy for the baby.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied happily and darted for the merchandise wagon.
He emerged almost immediately holding a magnificent short sword and flipped the blade in the air.

“A bit sharp for a toy but perfect for the young feisty boy! Bwahaha!”

Katriana sighed deeply.
“I’ve heard mention of your caravan,” Dorna said when she was done with her prayers. “Master Drogan said you come through here on regular basis and have for many years.”
“For generations, actually,” Katriana replied. “It’s something like a family trading route we follow. A relatively safe one, if there is such a thing as traveling safely through the Silver Marches…Until today, in any case. The kobolds came out of nowhere and tried to rob us.”
“Better than trying to kill you,” Dorna mused.
“Well, truth be told, they made a fair attempt at that also. They didn’t get away with anything important, except… they took Daschnaya’s cards, sadly.”
“Daschnaya?” Yanny echoed.
“Yes, our fortune teller. She’s locked herself in her wagon and doesn’t want to come out. She makes a bit of coin at the towns we stop at. Her family’s been using those cards for generations… it’s a sad day that we’ve lost them.”
“You mean these?” Dorna asked, producing a neat stack of intricately designed playing cards. “I was going to use them as a heat source, but if they are yours…”

Katriana gasped in awe.
“Yes! These are the ones! Thank you, Dorna. Daschnaya will be most pleased!”
“So, you are the caravan leader,” Yanny stated the obvious.
“I lead this caravan, as did my grandfather before me and his mother before him. We trade, mostly, moving from town to town around the Silver Marches. Occasionally we’ll range farther west… but not since the plague in Neverwinter. We’re wanderers, for the most part, but I daresay we do well enough as merchants that we’re welcome most everywhere. It’s dangerous, by my own guess, and we are always looking for guards. The boys don’t do so bad when they’re not surprised like we were today.”

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12 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:48 am

Maxduelantus

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The dark-haired halfling who called himself Torias approached Dorna with undeniable sparkle of interest in his dark eyes. He dipped into a grand bow.
“Well met there, strangers,” he pronounced, smiling at Dorna. “I don’t suppose you have a rum-flavored cigar on you, by chance?”
“A what?”
“A rum-flavored cigar. It’s… well, never mind. Simply something I grew fond of in Amn, and I’ve recently run out. Ah, well. Pardon my manners, good lady. I am called Torias. And you are?”
“Dorna Trapspringer, if you must know.”
Torias dipped into another grand bow and came up smiling brightly.
“Then I am very pleased to meet you, Dorna Trapspringer. Never have I heard a name more beautiful, I must say!”
“You are a bit of a cheeky halfling, aren’t you?”
Torias laughed heartily, displaying a dazzling smile on his face.
“Well, maybe just a little bit, my good lady dwarf! Perhaps you’d care to join me in the enjoyment of some fine wine?”
“Sorry. I make it a policy never to date men whom I could crush accidentally.”
“Oh?” Torias replied with a sly wink. “It would be a pleasant enough way to go, I suppose.”
“Flatterer. You say that now.”

Dorna blushed profusely and turned to regard Katriana, hastily trying to change the subject.
“Don’t mind my cousin,” Katriana apologized with a shrug. “He is such a lady chaser. Torias, have some manners, for Tymora’s sake.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied, sending another dazzling smile in Dorna’s direction.
He dipped one final bow and bounded off happily to join the conversation taking place between Xanos and the twin halflings.

One of the twins poked his stubby finger in the big brute’s direction and mumbled something indecipherable. Xanos glared at the gaping halfling and grumbled under his breath.
“Don’t mind him,” the other twin explained. “My brother don’t talk much. Especially today, with all the fighting and such. Furten’s the name, good sir, and this here is my twin brother Birgen.”
“Xanos Messarmos,” the half-orc grumbled in reply.
Yanny smiled at the verbal exchange – Xanos was making some fine new friends indeed.

“So where are you headed next,” Dorna asked Katriana.
“I’m thinking we’ll be crossing the Anauroch desert. There’s goods out east that’ll bring a grand price when we head back this way.”
Yanny frowned as he recalled the visions from his divinations – a parched land devoid of life, a merciless wasteland known as the Anauroch desert. The troubles were far from over, and Yanny got a distinct impression that they had just begun.
“Perhaps we shall join you on your journey,” he mused.
“Like I said,” Katriana replied with a smile, “we are always looking for guards.”
☼☼☼☼☼

Master Drogan was lying on the floor, stunned from the blast, but otherwise unharmed. As Yanny rushed towards him, the good dwarf stirred, opened his eyes and regarded his student with unconcealed respect.
“Master Drogan,” Yanny exclaimed, “you are unharmed! Tymora smiles brightly upon us.”
“Come back here and fight, you smelly lizards!” Xanos was yelling, possessed by the emotions of a powerful battle rage.
But the smelly lizards did not oblige, opting instead to flee the house. They cleared out of the place in a matter of three heartbeats and retreated from Hilltop, running towards their smelly caves.

When the billowing cloud of smoke dissipated through the blasted door, it revealed the charred and maimed kobold carcasses strewn all over the floor. The defenders were all covered with black soot, but appeared to be otherwise unharmed.
The victory was apparently complete. The defenders gathered near Master Drogan, embracing each other and sharing a few laughs.
Their smiles were short-lived, though. Master Drogan got up to his feet with a grim face and said, “Well done, my dear students, well done, indeed. And I thank you, Ayala, for aiding us in these dire times.”
“What’s the grim face for then, Drogan?” Ayala asked, still clutching her sword and breathing heavily.
“Well, it depends on whether the pesky little creatures breached the magical wards I have placed in my laboratory. Yanny, my dear boy, would you go check up on Riisi, while we clean up this mess?”
“Certainly,” Yanny answered and headed towards the door leading into Master Drogan’s laboratory.

Upon entering, Yanny could immediately tell that the magical wards Master Drogan spoke of have been dispelled. Even from a distance, he could see that the large room was in disarray. Planks of splintered hardwood littered the place and Yanny noticed a few kobold tracks leading beyond the wards.
Master Drogan’s magnificent faerie dragon familiar was flapping her green butterfly wings agitatedly and moaning repeatedly.
“What a mess! Me-oh-my, what a mess!”
Riisi was visibly shaken and squeaking so quickly that Yanny could barely understand the words.
“Oh my,” Riisi exclaimed, noticing Yanny. “Is it another kobold come to wreak havoc on Master’s things? Well, Riisi will fight them, yes she will. She will protect her master’s things this time. No, no, no, it is someone I recognize! Yanny! Gladdens my heart, yes it does.”

“How are you, Riisi?” Yanny asked with concern in his voice.
“I am still being Riisi, oh yes. I am not dead, that is a good thing. But you should be knowing that kobolds stole Master’s stuff, yes they did! Please, oh please, Yanny, tell me that Master is unharmed!”
“Master Drogan is fine, Riisi.”
“Oh, Riisi is very glad to hear that. I was worried, oh yes I was. But you have put my mind to rest, yes you did.”
“What happened here, Riisi?”
“Oh, it was terrible, yes it was. I was just having a nap and dreaming about a lovely meadow filled with flowers and butterflies. It was wonderful, Yanny, yes it was. Well, I was woken by a dreadful noise and I immediately turned invisible. When I saw that dreadful kobolds were in the house, I though Master Drogan was surely in danger. I saw them coming to the laboratory and I knew they could not get across, and I thought it was going to be such fun watching them from behind the magic wards. I was about to appear to them and taunt them, yes I was, but then they stopped and you would not believe what they did, no you would not. They threw dust on the wards! It must have been magic dust, oh yes, or it would not have worked, no, no, no. Stupid ugly kobolds walked right through the wards and looted all of Master’s magic. Oh, shame on Riisi, shame, shame, shame. I hid. I was so scared and thought they were powerful kobolds, for they were the first to pass Master’s magic wards. Now Master will never trust Riisi again, oh no, he will not! Now Master will dismiss Riisi and she will have to leave and return to her home in disgrace. Except that Master is very loving, and maybe Riisi can earn back his trust by never letting anyone in ever again! Yes, yes, yes, that is it. Riisi will be the best guard ever! I will do a good job for dear Master. No more kobolds can enter here, no, no, no.”

“I am sure you will be the greatest guard ever, Riisi,” Yanny said and sighed.

The laboratory has been breached and something belonging to master Drogan was stolen.

☼☼☼☼☼

When Yanny exited the laboratory, Master Drogan was talking with Ayala in hushed tones. They both looked at him questioningly.
“The kobolds made off with some magical items, Master Drogan,” Yanny announced and the old dwarf groaned loudly.
“The Harpers have many enemies,” Ayala said thoughtfully. “I suspect one of them is responsible for this attack. I hope I am wrong.”
“I believe I can shed some light on that,” Master Drogan answered, nervously pacing the room. “It was the artifacts they were after. They are stolen, all four of them!”
“I thought as much,” Ayala said. “How could anyone have found out you even had them? This is terrible news.”
“What are you two about?” Dorna asked.
“When Drogan retired to Hilltop, the Harpers entrusted four dangerous artifacts to his care. We thought this area remote enough that they would be safe.”
“I do not know how they were discovered,” Master Drogan added. “But we shall have to find out. These artifacts are too powerful and can be put to dangerous use.”

Master Drogan sighed.
“Yanny, my eldest student. It is up to you. It is vital that you find these items and bring them back.”
There it was then, Yanny’s first opportunity to adventure, the first voyage beyond Hilltop, the true way to discover the wondrous magic hidden all across the realms.

Perhaps Yanny’s adventures would even take him to Waterdeep, the fabled City of Splendors!

“You can count on me, Master Drogan,” Yanny replied with undisguised excitement in his voice. “I shall not fail you.”
“Such courage, dear boy,” Master Drogan said, embracing Yanny. “You make me proud.”
“This shall be your final test. I know that you are ready! So much relies on you now. I know in my heart you will not let me down. Ayala and I shall remain here and guard the school, with the help of Mischa.”
Master Drogan turned to regard the promising young paladin of Mystra.
“You have fought valiantly, my dear lass, and I am proud of you.”
“Thank you, Master Drogan,” Mischa replied, blushing profusely.
“One more apprentice shall remain,” Master Drogan continued, “and another shall accompany Yanny.”

“I shall go with you, Yanny,” Dorna said determinedly. “Our skills will complement each other… and besides, I expect you’ll need some muscle to back you up.”
“Muscle?” Xanos huffed teasingly. “Eh? All I see is a little dwarf with very big mouth.”
“Better than a half-orc with an oversized ego,” Dorna countered, smiling.
“You make fun of Xanos, but you shall see,” Xanos parried, laughing heartily. “Yanny will pick Xanos gladly and then Xanos will laugh at you.”
“Should we make a little bet, then?” Dorna winked at Xanos, and everybody in the library shared a laugh despite the ominous situation they were currently in. “Fifty gold coins should settle this nicely. What say you?”
“My little dwarven friend,” Xanos said, dangling his bulging belt pouch in front of Dorna’s plump face. “I shall gladly accept your gold and add it to mine.”

Yanny made his decision quickly.
“I believe I shall ask Dorna to accompany me as her sneaky skills could prove to be useful.”
“Well, you know me,” Dorna laughed, producing two magic wands from the folds of her leather vest and waving them playfully before the half-orc’s face.
“If you need sharp eyes to watch for ambushes, or a nasty trap dealt with, I am your girl. Worry not, Xanos. You can purchase one of these from me, for fifty gold pieces.”
“Where did you get these?” Yanny asked, with admiration in his voice.
“Oh, I swiped them from the little kobolds during the fight,” Dorna smiled innocently.
“It’s a deal then, my sneaky dwarven friend,” Xanos laughed, handing over his purse. ”I shall gladly exchange my gold for your wares.”
“Great,” Dorna replied, giving the second wand to Yanny. “We’ll have Master Drogan’s artifacts in no time… and maybe pick up a coin or two for ourselves along the way. Through the grace of Vergadain, we shall return victorious!”
“There is no time for this discussion now,” Master Drogan said with another deep sigh. “The villagers are in dire need of our help, I can feel it in my old bones.”
“We must go now!” Dorna exclaimed, concern creeping into her voice. “We must check on the villagers to make sure the nasty little kobolds did not wreak complete havoc on our fair town during their escape!”
“We must set out immediately,” Yanny replied, nodding in agreement.
“I shall accompany you, my friends,” Xanos said, clutching his dagger and looking questioningly upon Master Drogan. The old dwarf stroked his singed beard in contemplation, sighed heavily, and nodded his approval.

“My dear students,” he said, “if I may make a suggestion... The Blake family lives on a farm just outside of the main gate, which is dangerously far away from the town proper during these dire times, by my own guess. Nora and Adam had a baby not even three months ago, and something tells me you should check up on them.”

“We shall certainly do that,” Yanny promised, “and with all haste for they may indeed be in trouble.”
“Well,” Dorna mused, “since we are to remain in town at least for a short while, we might as well stop by the community hall to check up on the mayor, after we check up on the Blake family of course. He may be in need of our help after the kobold attack.”
“In that case, we should also visit the Bubbling Cauldron,” Yanny added, referring to the town’s only tavern.

☼☼☼☼☼

The apprentices exited the house with all haste and made their way towards the town proper. Even from a distance, the devastating truth of the raid was becoming painfully apparent. Dead bodies of kobolds, villagers and local animals were strewn about the place, crimson red blood staining the snow on the ground.
As the students passed by the Bubbling Cauldron, they could hear the sounds of angry shouting, smashed dinnerware, and loud arguing emanating from within. They could not dare to investigate the mayhem immediately though, fearing for the safety of the Blake family.
As the friends ran towards the town gate, they witnessed an even more curious sight – a congregation of villagers mulling about the place, listening intently to the ecstatic cries of an old man. Yanny recognized him as Piper, a local scoundrel who had grand delusions of being a fortune teller.

“Doom!” Piper was yelling at the top of his lungs. “Doom is upon us!”

The friends did not have time to investigate the commotion – a strange sensation nagged at their hearts, an instinctive feeling of being too late to save the Blake family. They ran on as fast as they could, passing by a curious halfling caravan on their way, but they realized that something was terribly wrong as soon as the rooftop of the Blake house came into view.
A young woman, barefoot and barely dressed, was running towards them, sobbing and whimpering with every step. Yanny rushed to embrace her and the young woman dug her face into his tunic, weeping openly.

“Oh Yanny!” the woman exclaimed through loud sobs. “Thank the gods you are here! You must help me, please! Kobolds attacked our home. Adam and I were still in bed when they burst into our room. We climbed out the window and Adam helped me down, then he went back in the front door. He went to save little Tynan, but he hasn’t returned. Tynan is only two months old. Please, Yanny, you must save them!”
“Calm down, Nora,” Yanny replied soothingly. “We are here to help.”
“Oh, thank you, Yanny,” Nora replied, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. She was obviously in shock.
“Please hurry!”
“There is no time to waste,” Dorna said.
She looked at the weeping woman with concern – this was going to be a tough day indeed for poor Nora if they were too late.
“Wait for us here.”
Nora nodded in understanding and would have dropped to the ground from exhaustion, but Xanos was there in a flash, gently setting her down on the cold snow with his muscled arms.

The three friends ran on as fast as they could, Nora’s desperate cries for help ringing loudly in their ears.
“Hurry! Please hurry!”

A heart wrenching scene awaited the friends as they inched cautiously towards the house entrance. The dead body of Adam Blake lay in a pool of his own blood just beyond the blasted door. His unseeing eyes were staring at the ceiling, the images of pure terror forever captured into his dilated pupils.
Cackling sounds of his murderers emanated from within – the kobolds were undoubtedly celebrating their small victory.
Dorna peeked inside and quickly pulled away, holding up four fingers.
“The baby?” Yanny mouthed with his lips.
Dorna shook her head slowly, pointing towards the second floor. The loud cries of the infant could indeed be heard from upstairs, mixed with other, barely perceptible sounds.

That was all the encouragement the friends needed as they drew their weapons.
Silent as death, grim faces promising a world of pain, the friends entered the house. The dumb kobolds were playing cards at the kitchen table, their crossbows not even loaded. Caught by surprise, they shrieked in terror and fell all over each other, fumbling to draw their puny swords.
Dorna’s eyes lit up brightly with a vengeful gleam, but brighter still flashed her battle axe as it spun through the air, blasting one of the creatures in the chest. Yanny did not even get a chance to vent his own anger as Dorna and Xanos descended upon the remaining kobolds. The young dwarven cleric slammed her shield over a creature’s head, splattering the brains all over the hardwood floor.

Yanny bent over and spewed the contents of his morning meal.
The remaining two kobolds finally managed to bring up their swords, poking them at Dorna’s midsection. She swatted their attacks aside with her shield and grabbed one of the creatures by its tiny neck.
Yanny could not see through his teary eyes but he clearly heard the resounding snap of the broken spine. The remaining kobold shrieked in horror and attempted to run for it, but the half-orc brute swiped it into the air with his huge hands.

Yanny heard the wet sound of flesh being torn apart and vomited again.
“The baby is still alive,” Dorna whispered, pointing towards the second floor.
She bounded up the stairs, determined to save at least one member of the Blake family. Yanny and Xanos followed closely behind, clutching their weapons nervously. They burst through the bedroom door, weapons drawn, to find a horrified, shaking kobold huddling in the corner. The creature was holding the baby close to its chest, making futile attempts to soothe crying Tynan.

The friends stopped cold in their tracks, not daring to come any closer.
It felt as if time had stopped and everything froze in motion. Yanny could hear the blood pumping through his veins so loudly he thought he was standing in the middle of an ice storm.
“Me stole the baby, stupid human man!” The kobold shrieked, shuddering violently.

Yanny thought the little lizard was surely going to drop the baby.
“Me gots control of you now!”
Yanny took a deep breath to steady himself.
“Just give me the baby and I will let you go,” he promised, his voice non-threatening.
“Me not think so! Kobolds love them children, so do you. If you want it, you must gives me shiny gem in return. You gets shiny gem and gives to me!”

Yanny breathed a sigh of relief. The kobold was willing to negotiate and that boded well for little Tynan. He sheathed his weapons, bade for the others to do the same, and reached inside his pouch, producing a small amethyst.
“Here is a nice shiny gem,” Yanny said, taking a cautious step forward. “Now give me that child.”
The kobold’s serpentine eyes lit up in excitement, matching the glow of the gem. The creature snatched the precious stone and squeaked in glee, “Me so happy, me is now going. You take smelly baby! Him make big stink.”
Yanny took another cautious step forward and took the baby. The kobold hooted in glee and darted for the door.

“Well, that was easy,” Xanos grumbled.
He stuck out his massive foot, tripping the kobold and sending it tumbling down the stairs with a loud crash. Dorna spat in disgust and took a step closer, a healing spell ready on her lips.

The small bundle of joy seemed to be emanating a peculiar odor and Yanny winced, trying hard not to gag. Little Tynan stopped crying and looked up at him with beautiful blue eyes, making funny giggling sounds.
“So cute,” Dorna whispered. She smiled and planted a big kiss on Tynan’s cheek. The baby giggled and grabbed at the dwarf’s nose, squeezing tightly.
“A feisty little lad,” Yanny observed with a laugh. His face turned grim and he added, “Just like his father.”
“Yes, this one is a survivor, no doubt,” Xanos mused. “Now, there is a small matter of informing his mother about Adam’s death and I can already feel her loud keening stabbing me through my very heart.”

“This is going to be tough for her to take,” Yanny said with a sigh.

☼☼☼☼☼

The friends found Nora cowering between the pine trees near the house. The woman ran towards them and the concern in her beautiful face turned into a smile upon seeing the precious little bundle.
“Oh, Tynan, my precious little boy!” She exclaimed lovingly. “How I feared you were dead. But… where is Adam? He… he is still alive, isn’t he? Please tell me I am not a widow!”
Yanny took a deep breath. This was going to hurt.
“I am afraid Adam did not survive.”
“No!” Poor Nora seemed to be melting away before their very eyes.
She dropped to the ground and let out a long wail of purest sorrow that echoed through the air. Dorna sobbed softly and wiped the unwanted tears from her eyes. She bent low to comfort the young widow who was crying uncontrollably, the loud sobs shaking her entire body.
“No! Poor, brave Adam. Those monsters murdered him! How can the gods be so cruel?”
Dorna hugged the woman comfortingly.

“Now, now,” she said. “There is still hope for you, Nora. The gods work in mysterious ways and they smiled brightly upon Tynan, sparing the child’s life.”
“Yes,” Nora contended with a sob. “At… at least I have Tynan, a beautiful child to remember Adam by. I have my home and my wedding ring, as well. Of course, without Adam to support me, I guess I will have to sell the ring, just to help me until I can find a job.”
“Now, now,” Dorna said soothingly, “you do not have to do that, Nora. Surely you do not want to part with the wedding ring – it is a reminder of Adam’s love and his valiant sacrifice. Would it help if I gave you some gold?”
“Oh, Dorna, I could not ask that of you,” Nora replied with a sob. “If not for you, my child would be dead too. I mean… it would be helpful, but I am sure I can survive if I sell my…”
“Please, Nora, we insist,” Xanos interrupted the poor woman. “It is the least we can do for you.”

The half-orcish brute looked at Dorna questioningly – the money he had lost during the bet could now be put to good cause.
“Yes, Nora, we insist,” Dorna added, producing the bulging purse. “Fifty shiny ones from all of us.”
Nora gasped in awe and exclaimed, “I would never have believed that anyone could be so kind. Be assured that Tynan will be raised to know who his saviors are. I will sing your praises in his ear and someday, if I raise him properly, perhaps he will grow up to emulate you. May Tymora smile upon you and thank you again.”

The friends did not talk during their short trek back to the town proper – there was nothing they could say or do to relieve Nora’s emotional pain. At least little Tynan was alive, Yanny kept thinking, and that in itself was a miracle.

“Thank you, Mystra,” Yanny said and he was truly thankful.

☼☼☼☼☼

The halfling caravan came into view just then, reminding him of the disaster perpetrated by the kobolds, reminding him that many other people had suffered greatly this day. Three halfling guards were sprawled on the ground, moaning in pain.
A beautiful halfling woman in black leather armor was tending to their wounds, but it was obvious she was not greatly versed in the arts of healing.
Yanny looked at Dorna and the young dwarven cleric nodded in understanding. She walked past three most curious looking halflings and kneeled over a wounded guard.
She touched her holy symbol and proclaimed, “Vergadain, great Laughing God, hear me. Heal this unfortunate adventurer!” She placed her hands on the guard’s body and channeled the divine energy through it, mending the damage. The halfling gasped in relief, while the others gasped in surprise, and opened his eyes.

“Them damn little rat lizards ain’t gonna get away with it, I tell ya!” the guard jumped to his short feet, clutching his little sword. “Come back here an’ fight, ye good fer nothin’…”
“Oh shut yourself up and greet your savior, will you,” the female halfling scolded him, squinting her eyes dangerously, “before I knock you out senseless.”
She turned to regard Dorna and bowed politely.
“Oh, sorry ‘bout that, boss,” the guard replied sheepishly and turned to regard Dorna. “Well met and thank ye, kind lady. You saved me life and I be forever in yer debt.”
The halfling swept into a low bow and overbalanced. He toppled to the snow with a profound yawn and was soon snoring contentedly.

Yanny approached the caravan leader while Dorna tended to the other guards. The female halfling was a pretty little thing, with large brown eyes, flowing black hair, and cute little nose and ears. She appeared youthful and full of energy, but Yanny also sensed an aura of wisdom and authority around her. He bowed politely and smiled cheerfully despite the emotions nagging at his heart.

“Well met, good lady. I am Yanny, apprentice to Master Drogan and a humble servant of nature. Meet my fellow apprentices and friends. The young cleric kneeling over your associates is Dorna and the big brute standing behind me is Xanos, a sorcerer of renowned prowess.”
“That so?” the halfling replied with a dazzling smile and a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Dwarven wizard is your teacher then? I remember him. He’s come to give me messages to take on to other towns sometimes. Pays handsomely. The name is Katriana. We don’t tend to look much to others for help, but… thank you kindly. I appreciate what you are doing for my guards, though their salaries will suffer from their lack of competence. What’s with the sobbing woman, anyway?”
“Sadly, Nora’s husband has been killed by the kobolds,” Yanny replied with a frown.

Katriana gasped and shook her head in horror, her beautiful eyes turning a dark shade of sadness.
“Torias,” she barked at the dark-haired halfling who was busily gaping at Dorna. “Come here you dolt! Go inside and fetch a nice toy for the baby.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied happily and darted for the merchandise wagon.
He emerged almost immediately holding a magnificent short sword and flipped the blade in the air.

“A bit sharp for a toy but perfect for the young feisty boy! Bwahaha!”

Katriana sighed deeply.
“I’ve heard mention of your caravan,” Dorna said when she was done with her prayers. “Master Drogan said you come through here on regular basis and have for many years.”
“For generations, actually,” Katriana replied. “It’s something like a family trading route we follow. A relatively safe one, if there is such a thing as traveling safely through the Silver Marches…Until today, in any case. The kobolds came out of nowhere and tried to rob us.”
“Better than trying to kill you,” Dorna mused.
“Well, truth be told, they made a fair attempt at that also. They didn’t get away with anything important, except… they took Daschnaya’s cards, sadly.”
“Daschnaya?” Yanny echoed.
“Yes, our fortune teller. She’s locked herself in her wagon and doesn’t want to come out. She makes a bit of coin at the towns we stop at. Her family’s been using those cards for generations… it’s a sad day that we’ve lost them.”
“You mean these?” Dorna asked, producing a neat stack of intricately designed playing cards. “I was going to use them as a heat source, but if they are yours…”

Katriana gasped in awe.
“Yes! These are the ones! Thank you, Dorna. Daschnaya will be most pleased!”
“So, you are the caravan leader,” Yanny stated the obvious.
“I lead this caravan, as did my grandfather before me and his mother before him. We trade, mostly, moving from town to town around the Silver Marches. Occasionally we’ll range farther west… but not since the plague in Neverwinter. We’re wanderers, for the most part, but I daresay we do well enough as merchants that we’re welcome most everywhere. It’s dangerous, by my own guess, and we are always looking for guards. The boys don’t do so bad when they’re not surprised like we were today.”

The dark-haired halfling who called himself Torias approached Dorna with undeniable sparkle of interest in his dark eyes. He dipped into a grand bow.
“Well met there, strangers,” he pronounced, smiling at Dorna. “I don’t suppose you have a rum-flavored cigar on you, by chance?”
“A what?”
“A rum-flavored cigar. It’s… well, never mind. Simply something I grew fond of in Amn, and I’ve recently run out. Ah, well. Pardon my manners, good lady. I am called Torias. And you are?”
“Dorna Trapspringer, if you must know.”
Torias dipped into another grand bow and came up smiling brightly.
“Then I am very pleased to meet you, Dorna Trapspringer. Never have I heard a name more beautiful, I must say!”
“You are a bit of a cheeky halfling, aren’t you?”
Torias laughed heartily, displaying a dazzling smile on his face.
“Well, maybe just a little bit, my good lady dwarf! Perhaps you’d care to join me in the enjoyment of some fine wine?”
“Sorry. I make it a policy never to date men whom I could crush accidentally.”
“Oh?” Torias replied with a sly wink. “It would be a pleasant enough way to go, I suppose.”
“Flatterer. You say that now.”

Dorna blushed profusely and turned to regard Katriana, hastily trying to change the subject.
“Don’t mind my cousin,” Katriana apologized with a shrug. “He is such a lady chaser. Torias, have some manners, for Tymora’s sake.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied, sending another dazzling smile in Dorna’s direction.
He dipped one final bow and bounded off happily to join the conversation taking place between Xanos and the twin halflings.

One of the twins poked his stubby finger in the big brute’s direction and mumbled something indecipherable. Xanos glared at the gaping halfling and grumbled under his breath.
“Don’t mind him,” the other twin explained. “My brother don’t talk much. Especially today, with all the fighting and such. Furten’s the name, good sir, and this here is my twin brother Birgen.”
“Xanos Messarmos,” the half-orc grumbled in reply.
Yanny smiled at the verbal exchange – Xanos was making some fine new friends indeed.

“So where are you headed next,” Dorna asked Katriana.
“I’m thinking we’ll be crossing the Anauroch desert. There’s goods out east that’ll bring a grand price when we head back this way.”
Yanny frowned as he recalled the visions from his divinations – a parched land devoid of life, a merciless wasteland known as the Anauroch desert. The troubles were far from over, and Yanny got a distinct impression that they had just begun.
“Perhaps we shall join you on your journey,” he mused.
“Like I said,” Katriana replied with a smile, “we are always looking for guards.”☼☼☼☼☼

Master Drogan was lying on the floor, stunned from the blast, but otherwise unharmed. As Yanny rushed towards him, the good dwarf stirred, opened his eyes and regarded his student with unconcealed respect.
“Master Drogan,” Yanny exclaimed, “you are unharmed! Tymora smiles brightly upon us.”
“Come back here and fight, you smelly lizards!” Xanos was yelling, possessed by the emotions of a powerful battle rage.
But the smelly lizards did not oblige, opting instead to flee the house. They cleared out of the place in a matter of three heartbeats and retreated from Hilltop, running towards their smelly caves.

When the billowing cloud of smoke dissipated through the blasted door, it revealed the charred and maimed kobold carcasses strewn all over the floor. The defenders were all covered with black soot, but appeared to be otherwise unharmed.
The victory was apparently complete. The defenders gathered near Master Drogan, embracing each other and sharing a few laughs.
Their smiles were short-lived, though. Master Drogan got up to his feet with a grim face and said, “Well done, my dear students, well done, indeed. And I thank you, Ayala, for aiding us in these dire times.”
“What’s the grim face for then, Drogan?” Ayala asked, still clutching her sword and breathing heavily.
“Well, it depends on whether the pesky little creatures breached the magical wards I have placed in my laboratory. Yanny, my dear boy, would you go check up on Riisi, while we clean up this mess?”
“Certainly,” Yanny answered and headed towards the door leading into Master Drogan’s laboratory.

Upon entering, Yanny could immediately tell that the magical wards Master Drogan spoke of have been dispelled. Even from a distance, he could see that the large room was in disarray. Planks of splintered hardwood littered the place and Yanny noticed a few kobold tracks leading beyond the wards.
Master Drogan’s magnificent faerie dragon familiar was flapping her green butterfly wings agitatedly and moaning repeatedly.
“What a mess! Me-oh-my, what a mess!”
Riisi was visibly shaken and squeaking so quickly that Yanny could barely understand the words.
“Oh my,” Riisi exclaimed, noticing Yanny. “Is it another kobold come to wreak havoc on Master’s things? Well, Riisi will fight them, yes she will. She will protect her master’s things this time. No, no, no, it is someone I recognize! Yanny! Gladdens my heart, yes it does.”

“How are you, Riisi?” Yanny asked with concern in his voice.
“I am still being Riisi, oh yes. I am not dead, that is a good thing. But you should be knowing that kobolds stole Master’s stuff, yes they did! Please, oh please, Yanny, tell me that Master is unharmed!”
“Master Drogan is fine, Riisi.”
“Oh, Riisi is very glad to hear that. I was worried, oh yes I was. But you have put my mind to rest, yes you did.”
“What happened here, Riisi?”
“Oh, it was terrible, yes it was. I was just having a nap and dreaming about a lovely meadow filled with flowers and butterflies. It was wonderful, Yanny, yes it was. Well, I was woken by a dreadful noise and I immediately turned invisible. When I saw that dreadful kobolds were in the house, I though Master Drogan was surely in danger. I saw them coming to the laboratory and I knew they could not get across, and I thought it was going to be such fun watching them from behind the magic wards. I was about to appear to them and taunt them, yes I was, but then they stopped and you would not believe what they did, no you would not. They threw dust on the wards! It must have been magic dust, oh yes, or it would not have worked, no, no, no. Stupid ugly kobolds walked right through the wards and looted all of Master’s magic. Oh, shame on Riisi, shame, shame, shame. I hid. I was so scared and thought they were powerful kobolds, for they were the first to pass Master’s magic wards. Now Master will never trust Riisi again, oh no, he will not! Now Master will dismiss Riisi and she will have to leave and return to her home in disgrace. Except that Master is very loving, and maybe Riisi can earn back his trust by never letting anyone in ever again! Yes, yes, yes, that is it. Riisi will be the best guard ever! I will do a good job for dear Master. No more kobolds can enter here, no, no, no.”

“I am sure you will be the greatest guard ever, Riisi,” Yanny said and sighed.

The laboratory has been breached and something belonging to master Drogan was stolen.

☼☼☼☼☼

When Yanny exited the laboratory, Master Drogan was talking with Ayala in hushed tones. They both looked at him questioningly.
“The kobolds made off with some magical items, Master Drogan,” Yanny announced and the old dwarf groaned loudly.
“The Harpers have many enemies,” Ayala said thoughtfully. “I suspect one of them is responsible for this attack. I hope I am wrong.”
“I believe I can shed some light on that,” Master Drogan answered, nervously pacing the room. “It was the artifacts they were after. They are stolen, all four of them!”
“I thought as much,” Ayala said. “How could anyone have found out you even had them? This is terrible news.”
“What are you two about?” Dorna asked.
“When Drogan retired to Hilltop, the Harpers entrusted four dangerous artifacts to his care. We thought this area remote enough that they would be safe.”
“I do not know how they were discovered,” Master Drogan added. “But we shall have to find out. These artifacts are too powerful and can be put to dangerous use.”

Master Drogan sighed.
“Yanny, my eldest student. It is up to you. It is vital that you find these items and bring them back.”
There it was then, Yanny’s first opportunity to adventure, the first voyage beyond Hilltop, the true way to discover the wondrous magic hidden all across the realms.

Perhaps Yanny’s adventures would even take him to Waterdeep, the fabled City of Splendors!

“You can count on me, Master Drogan,” Yanny replied with undisguised excitement in his voice. “I shall not fail you.”
“Such courage, dear boy,” Master Drogan said, embracing Yanny. “You make me proud.”
“This shall be your final test. I know that you are ready! So much relies on you now. I know in my heart you will not let me down. Ayala and I shall remain here and guard the school, with the help of Mischa.”
Master Drogan turned to regard the promising young paladin of Mystra.
“You have fought valiantly, my dear lass, and I am proud of you.”
“Thank you, Master Drogan,” Mischa replied, blushing profusely.
“One more apprentice shall remain,” Master Drogan continued, “and another shall accompany Yanny.”

“I shall go with you, Yanny,” Dorna said determinedly. “Our skills will complement each other… and besides, I expect you’ll need some muscle to back you up.”
“Muscle?” Xanos huffed teasingly. “Eh? All I see is a little dwarf with very big mouth.”
“Better than a half-orc with an oversized ego,” Dorna countered, smiling.
“You make fun of Xanos, but you shall see,” Xanos parried, laughing heartily. “Yanny will pick Xanos gladly and then Xanos will laugh at you.”
“Should we make a little bet, then?” Dorna winked at Xanos, and everybody in the library shared a laugh despite the ominous situation they were currently in. “Fifty gold coins should settle this nicely. What say you?”
“My little dwarven friend,” Xanos said, dangling his bulging belt pouch in front of Dorna’s plump face. “I shall gladly accept your gold and add it to mine.”

Yanny made his decision quickly.
“I believe I shall ask Dorna to accompany me as her sneaky skills could prove to be useful.”
“Well, you know me,” Dorna laughed, producing two magic wands from the folds of her leather vest and waving them playfully before the half-orc’s face.
“If you need sharp eyes to watch for ambushes, or a nasty trap dealt with, I am your girl. Worry not, Xanos. You can purchase one of these from me, for fifty gold pieces.”
“Where did you get these?” Yanny asked, with admiration in his voice.
“Oh, I swiped them from the little kobolds during the fight,” Dorna smiled innocently.
“It’s a deal then, my sneaky dwarven friend,” Xanos laughed, handing over his purse. ”I shall gladly exchange my gold for your wares.”
“Great,” Dorna replied, giving the second wand to Yanny. “We’ll have Master Drogan’s artifacts in no time… and maybe pick up a coin or two for ourselves along the way. Through the grace of Vergadain, we shall return victorious!”
“There is no time for this discussion now,” Master Drogan said with another deep sigh. “The villagers are in dire need of our help, I can feel it in my old bones.”
“We must go now!” Dorna exclaimed, concern creeping into her voice. “We must check on the villagers to make sure the nasty little kobolds did not wreak complete havoc on our fair town during their escape!”
“We must set out immediately,” Yanny replied, nodding in agreement.
“I shall accompany you, my friends,” Xanos said, clutching his dagger and looking questioningly upon Master Drogan. The old dwarf stroked his singed beard in contemplation, sighed heavily, and nodded his approval.

“My dear students,” he said, “if I may make a suggestion... The Blake family lives on a farm just outside of the main gate, which is dangerously far away from the town proper during these dire times, by my own guess. Nora and Adam had a baby not even three months ago, and something tells me you should check up on them.”

“We shall certainly do that,” Yanny promised, “and with all haste for they may indeed be in trouble.”
“Well,” Dorna mused, “since we are to remain in town at least for a short while, we might as well stop by the community hall to check up on the mayor, after we check up on the Blake family of course. He may be in need of our help after the kobold attack.”
“In that case, we should also visit the Bubbling Cauldron,” Yanny added, referring to the town’s only tavern.

☼☼☼☼☼

The apprentices exited the house with all haste and made their way towards the town proper. Even from a distance, the devastating truth of the raid was becoming painfully apparent. Dead bodies of kobolds, villagers and local animals were strewn about the place, crimson red blood staining the snow on the ground.
As the students passed by the Bubbling Cauldron, they could hear the sounds of angry shouting, smashed dinnerware, and loud arguing emanating from within. They could not dare to investigate the mayhem immediately though, fearing for the safety of the Blake family.
As the friends ran towards the town gate, they witnessed an even more curious sight – a congregation of villagers mulling about the place, listening intently to the ecstatic cries of an old man. Yanny recognized him as Piper, a local scoundrel who had grand delusions of being a fortune teller.

“Doom!” Piper was yelling at the top of his lungs. “Doom is upon us!”

The friends did not have time to investigate the commotion – a strange sensation nagged at their hearts, an instinctive feeling of being too late to save the Blake family. They ran on as fast as they could, passing by a curious halfling caravan on their way, but they realized that something was terribly wrong as soon as the rooftop of the Blake house came into view.
A young woman, barefoot and barely dressed, was running towards them, sobbing and whimpering with every step. Yanny rushed to embrace her and the young woman dug her face into his tunic, weeping openly.

“Oh Yanny!” the woman exclaimed through loud sobs. “Thank the gods you are here! You must help me, please! Kobolds attacked our home. Adam and I were still in bed when they burst into our room. We climbed out the window and Adam helped me down, then he went back in the front door. He went to save little Tynan, but he hasn’t returned. Tynan is only two months old. Please, Yanny, you must save them!”
“Calm down, Nora,” Yanny replied soothingly. “We are here to help.”
“Oh, thank you, Yanny,” Nora replied, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. She was obviously in shock.
“Please hurry!”
“There is no time to waste,” Dorna said.
She looked at the weeping woman with concern – this was going to be a tough day indeed for poor Nora if they were too late.
“Wait for us here.”
Nora nodded in understanding and would have dropped to the ground from exhaustion, but Xanos was there in a flash, gently setting her down on the cold snow with his muscled arms.

The three friends ran on as fast as they could, Nora’s desperate cries for help ringing loudly in their ears.
“Hurry! Please hurry!”

A heart wrenching scene awaited the friends as they inched cautiously towards the house entrance. The dead body of Adam Blake lay in a pool of his own blood just beyond the blasted door. His unseeing eyes were staring at the ceiling, the images of pure terror forever captured into his dilated pupils.
Cackling sounds of his murderers emanated from within – the kobolds were undoubtedly celebrating their small victory.
Dorna peeked inside and quickly pulled away, holding up four fingers.
“The baby?” Yanny mouthed with his lips.
Dorna shook her head slowly, pointing towards the second floor. The loud cries of the infant could indeed be heard from upstairs, mixed with other, barely perceptible sounds.

That was all the encouragement the friends needed as they drew their weapons.
Silent as death, grim faces promising a world of pain, the friends entered the house. The dumb kobolds were playing cards at the kitchen table, their crossbows not even loaded. Caught by surprise, they shrieked in terror and fell all over each other, fumbling to draw their puny swords.
Dorna’s eyes lit up brightly with a vengeful gleam, but brighter still flashed her battle axe as it spun through the air, blasting one of the creatures in the chest. Yanny did not even get a chance to vent his own anger as Dorna and Xanos descended upon the remaining kobolds. The young dwarven cleric slammed her shield over a creature’s head, splattering the brains all over the hardwood floor.

Yanny bent over and spewed the contents of his morning meal.
The remaining two kobolds finally managed to bring up their swords, poking them at Dorna’s midsection. She swatted their attacks aside with her shield and grabbed one of the creatures by its tiny neck.
Yanny could not see through his teary eyes but he clearly heard the resounding snap of the broken spine. The remaining kobold shrieked in horror and attempted to run for it, but the half-orc brute swiped it into the air with his huge hands.

Yanny heard the wet sound of flesh being torn apart and vomited again.
“The baby is still alive,” Dorna whispered, pointing towards the second floor.
She bounded up the stairs, determined to save at least one member of the Blake family. Yanny and Xanos followed closely behind, clutching their weapons nervously. They burst through the bedroom door, weapons drawn, to find a horrified, shaking kobold huddling in the corner. The creature was holding the baby close to its chest, making futile attempts to soothe crying Tynan.

The friends stopped cold in their tracks, not daring to come any closer.
It felt as if time had stopped and everything froze in motion. Yanny could hear the blood pumping through his veins so loudly he thought he was standing in the middle of an ice storm.
“Me stole the baby, stupid human man!” The kobold shrieked, shuddering violently.

Yanny thought the little lizard was surely going to drop the baby.
“Me gots control of you now!”
Yanny took a deep breath to steady himself.
“Just give me the baby and I will let you go,” he promised, his voice non-threatening.
“Me not think so! Kobolds love them children, so do you. If you want it, you must gives me shiny gem in return. You gets shiny gem and gives to me!”

Yanny breathed a sigh of relief. The kobold was willing to negotiate and that boded well for little Tynan. He sheathed his weapons, bade for the others to do the same, and reached inside his pouch, producing a small amethyst.
“Here is a nice shiny gem,” Yanny said, taking a cautious step forward. “Now give me that child.”
The kobold’s serpentine eyes lit up in excitement, matching the glow of the gem. The creature snatched the precious stone and squeaked in glee, “Me so happy, me is now going. You take smelly baby! Him make big stink.”
Yanny took another cautious step forward and took the baby. The kobold hooted in glee and darted for the door.

“Well, that was easy,” Xanos grumbled.
He stuck out his massive foot, tripping the kobold and sending it tumbling down the stairs with a loud crash. Dorna spat in disgust and took a step closer, a healing spell ready on her lips.

The small bundle of joy seemed to be emanating a peculiar odor and Yanny winced, trying hard not to gag. Little Tynan stopped crying and looked up at him with beautiful blue eyes, making funny giggling sounds.
“So cute,” Dorna whispered. She smiled and planted a big kiss on Tynan’s cheek. The baby giggled and grabbed at the dwarf’s nose, squeezing tightly.
“A feisty little lad,” Yanny observed with a laugh. His face turned grim and he added, “Just like his father.”
“Yes, this one is a survivor, no doubt,” Xanos mused. “Now, there is a small matter of informing his mother about Adam’s death and I can already feel her loud keening stabbing me through my very heart.”

“This is going to be tough for her to take,” Yanny said with a sigh.

☼☼☼☼☼

The friends found Nora cowering between the pine trees near the house. The woman ran towards them and the concern in her beautiful face turned into a smile upon seeing the precious little bundle.
“Oh, Tynan, my precious little boy!” She exclaimed lovingly. “How I feared you were dead. But… where is Adam? He… he is still alive, isn’t he? Please tell me I am not a widow!”
Yanny took a deep breath. This was going to hurt.
“I am afraid Adam did not survive.”
“No!” Poor Nora seemed to be melting away before their very eyes.
She dropped to the ground and let out a long wail of purest sorrow that echoed through the air. Dorna sobbed softly and wiped the unwanted tears from her eyes. She bent low to comfort the young widow who was crying uncontrollably, the loud sobs shaking her entire body.
“No! Poor, brave Adam. Those monsters murdered him! How can the gods be so cruel?”
Dorna hugged the woman comfortingly.

“Now, now,” she said. “There is still hope for you, Nora. The gods work in mysterious ways and they smiled brightly upon Tynan, sparing the child’s life.”
“Yes,” Nora contended with a sob. “At… at least I have Tynan, a beautiful child to remember Adam by. I have my home and my wedding ring, as well. Of course, without Adam to support me, I guess I will have to sell the ring, just to help me until I can find a job.”
“Now, now,” Dorna said soothingly, “you do not have to do that, Nora. Surely you do not want to part with the wedding ring – it is a reminder of Adam’s love and his valiant sacrifice. Would it help if I gave you some gold?”
“Oh, Dorna, I could not ask that of you,” Nora replied with a sob. “If not for you, my child would be dead too. I mean… it would be helpful, but I am sure I can survive if I sell my…”
“Please, Nora, we insist,” Xanos interrupted the poor woman. “It is the least we can do for you.”

The half-orcish brute looked at Dorna questioningly – the money he had lost during the bet could now be put to good cause.
“Yes, Nora, we insist,” Dorna added, producing the bulging purse. “Fifty shiny ones from all of us.”
Nora gasped in awe and exclaimed, “I would never have believed that anyone could be so kind. Be assured that Tynan will be raised to know who his saviors are. I will sing your praises in his ear and someday, if I raise him properly, perhaps he will grow up to emulate you. May Tymora smile upon you and thank you again.”

The friends did not talk during their short trek back to the town proper – there was nothing they could say or do to relieve Nora’s emotional pain. At least little Tynan was alive, Yanny kept thinking, and that in itself was a miracle.

“Thank you, Mystra,” Yanny said and he was truly thankful.

☼☼☼☼☼

The halfling caravan came into view just then, reminding him of the disaster perpetrated by the kobolds, reminding him that many other people had suffered greatly this day. Three halfling guards were sprawled on the ground, moaning in pain.
A beautiful halfling woman in black leather armor was tending to their wounds, but it was obvious she was not greatly versed in the arts of healing.
Yanny looked at Dorna and the young dwarven cleric nodded in understanding. She walked past three most curious looking halflings and kneeled over a wounded guard.
She touched her holy symbol and proclaimed, “Vergadain, great Laughing God, hear me. Heal this unfortunate adventurer!” She placed her hands on the guard’s body and channeled the divine energy through it, mending the damage. The halfling gasped in relief, while the others gasped in surprise, and opened his eyes.

“Them damn little rat lizards ain’t gonna get away with it, I tell ya!” the guard jumped to his short feet, clutching his little sword. “Come back here an’ fight, ye good fer nothin’…”
“Oh shut yourself up and greet your savior, will you,” the female halfling scolded him, squinting her eyes dangerously, “before I knock you out senseless.”
She turned to regard Dorna and bowed politely.
“Oh, sorry ‘bout that, boss,” the guard replied sheepishly and turned to regard Dorna. “Well met and thank ye, kind lady. You saved me life and I be forever in yer debt.”
The halfling swept into a low bow and overbalanced. He toppled to the snow with a profound yawn and was soon snoring contentedly.

Yanny approached the caravan leader while Dorna tended to the other guards. The female halfling was a pretty little thing, with large brown eyes, flowing black hair, and cute little nose and ears. She appeared youthful and full of energy, but Yanny also sensed an aura of wisdom and authority around her. He bowed politely and smiled cheerfully despite the emotions nagging at his heart.

“Well met, good lady. I am Yanny, apprentice to Master Drogan and a humble servant of nature. Meet my fellow apprentices and friends. The young cleric kneeling over your associates is Dorna and the big brute standing behind me is Xanos, a sorcerer of renowned prowess.”
“That so?” the halfling replied with a dazzling smile and a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Dwarven wizard is your teacher then? I remember him. He’s come to give me messages to take on to other towns sometimes. Pays handsomely. The name is Katriana. We don’t tend to look much to others for help, but… thank you kindly. I appreciate what you are doing for my guards, though their salaries will suffer from their lack of competence. What’s with the sobbing woman, anyway?”
“Sadly, Nora’s husband has been killed by the kobolds,” Yanny replied with a frown.

Katriana gasped and shook her head in horror, her beautiful eyes turning a dark shade of sadness.
“Torias,” she barked at the dark-haired halfling who was busily gaping at Dorna. “Come here you dolt! Go inside and fetch a nice toy for the baby.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied happily and darted for the merchandise wagon.
He emerged almost immediately holding a magnificent short sword and flipped the blade in the air.

“A bit sharp for a toy but perfect for the young feisty boy! Bwahaha!”

Katriana sighed deeply.
“I’ve heard mention of your caravan,” Dorna said when she was done with her prayers. “Master Drogan said you come through here on regular basis and have for many years.”
“For generations, actually,” Katriana replied. “It’s something like a family trading route we follow. A relatively safe one, if there is such a thing as traveling safely through the Silver Marches…Until today, in any case. The kobolds came out of nowhere and tried to rob us.”
“Better than trying to kill you,” Dorna mused.
“Well, truth be told, they made a fair attempt at that also. They didn’t get away with anything important, except… they took Daschnaya’s cards, sadly.”
“Daschnaya?” Yanny echoed.
“Yes, our fortune teller. She’s locked herself in her wagon and doesn’t want to come out. She makes a bit of coin at the towns we stop at. Her family’s been using those cards for generations… it’s a sad day that we’ve lost them.”
“You mean these?” Dorna asked, producing a neat stack of intricately designed playing cards. “I was going to use them as a heat source, but if they are yours…”

Katriana gasped in awe.
“Yes! These are the ones! Thank you, Dorna. Daschnaya will be most pleased!”
“So, you are the caravan leader,” Yanny stated the obvious.
“I lead this caravan, as did my grandfather before me and his mother before him. We trade, mostly, moving from town to town around the Silver Marches. Occasionally we’ll range farther west… but not since the plague in Neverwinter. We’re wanderers, for the most part, but I daresay we do well enough as merchants that we’re welcome most everywhere. It’s dangerous, by my own guess, and we are always looking for guards. The boys don’t do so bad when they’re not surprised like we were today.”

The dark-haired halfling who called himself Torias approached Dorna with undeniable sparkle of interest in his dark eyes. He dipped into a grand bow.
“Well met there, strangers,” he pronounced, smiling at Dorna. “I don’t suppose you have a rum-flavored cigar on you, by chance?”
“A what?”
“A rum-flavored cigar. It’s… well, never mind. Simply something I grew fond of in Amn, and I’ve recently run out. Ah, well. Pardon my manners, good lady. I am called Torias. And you are?”
“Dorna Trapspringer, if you must know.”
Torias dipped into another grand bow and came up smiling brightly.
“Then I am very pleased to meet you, Dorna Trapspringer. Never have I heard a name more beautiful, I must say!”
“You are a bit of a cheeky halfling, aren’t you?”
Torias laughed heartily, displaying a dazzling smile on his face.
“Well, maybe just a little bit, my good lady dwarf! Perhaps you’d care to join me in the enjoyment of some fine wine?”
“Sorry. I make it a policy never to date men whom I could crush accidentally.”
“Oh?” Torias replied with a sly wink. “It would be a pleasant enough way to go, I suppose.”
“Flatterer. You say that now.”

Dorna blushed profusely and turned to regard Katriana, hastily trying to change the subject.
“Don’t mind my cousin,” Katriana apologized with a shrug. “He is such a lady chaser. Torias, have some manners, for Tymora’s sake.”
“Yes, Katriana,” Torias replied, sending another dazzling smile in Dorna’s direction.
He dipped one final bow and bounded off happily to join the conversation taking place between Xanos and the twin halflings.

One of the twins poked his stubby finger in the big brute’s direction and mumbled something indecipherable. Xanos glared at the gaping halfling and grumbled under his breath.
“Don’t mind him,” the other twin explained. “My brother don’t talk much. Especially today, with all the fighting and such. Furten’s the name, good sir, and this here is my twin brother Birgen.”
“Xanos Messarmos,” the half-orc grumbled in reply.
Yanny smiled at the verbal exchange – Xanos was making some fine new friends indeed.

“So where are you headed next,” Dorna asked Katriana.
“I’m thinking we’ll be crossing the Anauroch desert. There’s goods out east that’ll bring a grand price when we head back this way.”
Yanny frowned as he recalled the visions from his divinations – a parched land devoid of life, a merciless wasteland known as the Anauroch desert. The troubles were far from over, and Yanny got a distinct impression that they had just begun.
“Perhaps we shall join you on your journey,” he mused.
“Like I said,” Katriana replied with a smile, “we are always looking for guards.”

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13 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:49 am

Maxduelantus

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Head Overseer
CHAPTER 3

PIPES OF DOOM

The friends entered the town gates grim-faced. Nora’s sorrowful sobs accompanied them all the way from the Blake house to Hilltop and it pained Yanny greatly to see her suffer so.
The villagers were still mulling about the place, listening with open mouths to the morose prophesies of Piper.
Yanny turned to Xanos.
“Take Nora and Tynan to the community hall, my friend. She has suffered enough today and the boy must be exhausted. Wait for us outside of the Bubbling Cauldron, we shall not be long.”
The big brute nodded in understanding and brought the baby close to his chest.
“Come on, Nora,” he said gently, “there is no need for us to be listening to this blabbering old fool. The community hall is safe and cozy, and you can get some much needed rest.”
The poor widow sobbed quietly and nodded in agreement.

“Can you believe it, Tynan?” Yanny heard the brute’s voice as the half-orc passed through the crowd. “Last month he was predicting that I would be eaten by a white dragon. What a fool!”

Yanny heard the little boy’s happy chuckling and smiled – another day, another precious life saved.

“Kobolds are the harbingers of doom!” the old man was squealing ecstatically. “It is the final days, I tell you! The end is upon us! The gods have spoken to me! The time of man is at an end! And in the eighth hour of the third night, death came in the dark and left a swath of unbelievers to rot on the ground! It was a message! A portent of the new god who comes to the land! For the unbelievers, he will come as a dark giant with fiery eyes and unending thirst for blood! But for those who believe, he shall be the gentle cowherd who protects and loves his followers!”
“I don’t want to die!” one of the commoners shouted. “I shall follow this new god. What is his name?”
Piper hesitated for a split second, but it was enough for wise Dorna to realize the man was concocting some kind of a lie.
Dorna hated liars.
“That has not been revealed to me yet,” Piper shouted. “But follow me and do as I say, and the god who arises shall look on you favorably!”
“What lies you spread!” Dorna shouted and Piper jumped in the air as if stung by a wild bee. “I will listen to no more of your foolishness, Piper!”
The old man turned to regard Dorna. His eyes were seething with wild anger and poorly concealed fear.
“Then damnation be upon your head, fool woman! You will be dead within the week. This much has the new god shown me. Even you, Yanny, shall have to choose! Will you doom yourself and die like farmer Hol, or will you repent your ways and follow me?”
“I would be dumber than a witless doomsayer to follow you, Piper,” Yanny replied dryly, eliciting a loud cheer from the crowd.
“Do not forget the fate of those who mock me!” Piper squealed. “Forget not the death of Hol Halstrom! Push me, shove me, kick me, beat me! I shall rise again, stronger than ever to proclaim the coming of the new god! Try to drive the truth from this village, at peril of your own soul!”

“Come now, Piper,” Yanny tried to reason with the crazy old man, “I think you have been confused by the kobold attack.”
“I have explained how the kobolds have come as a warning to the fools on the path of darkness,” Piper screamed. “You are the one who is confused!”
“What about Hol, then?” Yanny pressed the issue. “Perhaps he died because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a coincidence.”
“Nay!” Piper screamed.
His eyes bulged as if they were surely going to pop out of his sockets.
“The new god directed that weapon and struck down the one who despised his prophet! It was a deliberate act!”
“I was the one who found Hol’s corpse,” shouted one of the commoners. “The neck was nearly severed and there were many wounds on his body! The new god must have hated him!”
“And that shall be the most certain outcome of those who flaunt their disbelief in the new god,” Piper screamed. “Repent or be destroyed!”

“Perhaps you killed him, Piper,” Dorna shouted.
She touched her holy symbol inconspicuously and whispered a quick prayer.
Piper laughed hysterically and the crowd gasped in anticipation.
“The strong, stubborn farmer, slaughtered by an old whisp like me?” he shouted mockingly. “I don’t think so! Besides, I have no weapon to kill him with! The kobolds merely followed the new god’s orders! All of the new god’s enemies shall perish at his coming! Only the wisest and most fortunate will be brought into his kingdom, which shall last for all eternity! The defilement of Hol’s body is a testament of his anger! All who deny him shall face his wrath!”

“Enough!” Dorna shouted and her voice carried the command of a powerful enchantment. “Tell the truth, Piper! Did you have anything to do with Hol’s death?”
Piper was compelled to tell the truth. His body went slack and his knees shook uncontrollably.
“No,” he screamed, “I never did! It wasn’t me, I swear! I only found his corpse and messed it up a bit! I promise!”
The crowd gasped in surprise.
“You defiled Hol’s corpse?” shouted another commoner. “I cannot believe this! You disgust me! I think I had better go apologize to Hol’s widow and see how she is doing! We all should do that, instead of listening to this crazy old fool! Piper, you are filth! No one will ever believe your lies again!”

Piper’s weak body began trembling at the realization of his predicament and the old man darted for the gates, waving his hands wildly and screaming, “No! They will hurt me! Yes, they will surely hurt me! Run, run, run! Blast you, Dorna! I shall not forgive you this!”
Yanny could have stopped the crazy old fool. He could have protected him from the angry crowd. He could have given Piper some gold to escape to a safe place many miles away from the village, perhaps Silvermoon or Waterdeep…
He did not feel overly gracious that day. The crazy old fool had brought doom upon himself – he defiled a man’s body in the name of a god. And he lied about it.
Yanny hated liars.

The young ranger sighed deeply and motioned for Dorna to follow him. There remained much to be done.
“We need to visit the Bubbling Cauldron,” Dorna said. “I heard a loud commotion this morning and something tells me there will be more trouble.”

☼☼☼☼☼

When Dorna, Xanos, and Yanny entered the tavern they realized immediately that something was wrong. The place was a mess. Broken furniture cluttered the hardwood floor and freshly spilled blood stained the walls. The tavern was packed with angry commoners, every single one of them clutching a weapon.

“Damn you little monsters!” the angry mob was shouting. “Come out and fight! Hiding behind a hostage? You little cowards!”
Yanny approached one of brawlers – an old man wearing dirty rags. He was completely drunk and barely standing on his feet, swaying from side to side and cackling between loud belches.
“Kobolds started a fight they couldn’t finish,” he explained with amusement. “Barricaded themselves in the kitchen, I think, an’ got themselves a hostage.”
Yanny frowned and scanned the room. There, standing in the midst of the angry mobsters stood Tavernmaster Lodar, wielding a rusty old sword and shaking uncontrollably.
“Yanny, Dorna, Xanos, over here!” he shouted in relief. “Thank the gods you are here! Look at this place! Those damnable kobolds tore in here a while ago, looking for a fight, and now they’ve barricaded themselves in the kitchen! What’s worse is that they’re holding my cook hostage in there! If we try to push past the barricade, they will kill her for certain! Poor Mara, if she dies I will never forgive myself!”
“Calm down, Lodar,” Yanny said, pushing through the crowd. “Have you tried talking to them?”
“Aye, we tried,” Lodar replied, “But it isn’t helping. They want us to let hem leave, but they want to take Mara with them as a hostage. We cannot allow that, they’ll kill her!”
“Don’t worry, Lodar,” Yanny promised. “I will try to talk some sense into them.”

He approached the barricade – this would require a delicate approach.
The scaly snout of an ugly kobold peeked through the crates and the creature squeaked angrily, “Yip! Who you be? We wants no more fights! You lets us go! Yip! Or we kills cook woman! You hears that? You lets us go! We no fight, we takes cook woman with us! We smarts, you not tricks us!”
“Take me as a hostage instead, and let the woman go,” Yanny offered with a smile.
The kobold’s serpentine eyes opened wide with surprise. “You not tries to trick us?” Another kobold peered through the barricade and squeaked excitedly, “He be much important! Much better hostage! We takes, we takes!”
“Fine, maybe,” the first kobold squeaked. “But if you comes in, you comes alone! You gots friends, they wait out theres!”
“Yeah!” the second kobolds squeaked. “He comes alone! Only alone!”
“I agree,” Yanny said. “I will come alone.” He unbelted his weapons and handed them over to Dorna with a wink.
“We takes you, gives away her!” the kobold squeaked. “You be much betters! You not try to tricks us, now…”
“I hope you know what you are doing,” Dorna whispered.
“Perhaps I should go in,” Xanos huffed, “and smash their heads with my fists. Then Mara can cook us some fine stew.”
“This will not take long,” Yanny promised and entered the kitchen.

Mara was huddling in the corner, surrounded by half a dozen kobolds. The creatures were giddy after a recent fight and were trembling just as badly as she was.
“Yanny!” the woman exclaimed and let out a sigh of relief. “Thank the gods you are here! I was sure I was going to die in here!”
“Your worries are over, Mara,” Yanny promised. “Go to Lodar with all haste and may the gods protect you, brave woman.”
“But… what about you?” Mara asked.
“I will be fine,” Yanny promised and nudged her gently towards the barricade.

The creatures shifted nervously as Yanny approached their leader, an unusually large kobold specimen wearing the distinctive leather vest painted white. They clutched their puny weapons and gawked at the young ranger, taking a measure of his prowess.
“Now you be our hostage,” the kobold leader squeaked excitedly.
“What we do with it, boss?” another creature squeaked, taking a cautious step forward.
“Me not know,” the kobold leader squeaked and scratched its scaly head in confusion. “Maybe it cooks! You cooks something good to eat! You cooks now!”
“Listen,” Yanny tried to reason with them, “you can leave now. Just go and nobody will hurt you. I promise.”
The kobold leader thought about it for a moment – the deal sounded quite tempting. “We leaves and we takes you with us! You be hostage!”
But boss,” another kobold squeaked, “maybe we just goes? He maybe not be good hostage…”
The kobold leader thought about it for a few more moments and nodded in approval.
“Fine, we goes. But you no tricks us… we be smart!”
“No tricks,” Yanny promised and walked over to the barricade.

“Lodar, disperse the crowd,” he shouted. “The kobolds are to be leaving now! They do not want any trouble!.”
“Well, you heard the man!” Lodar yelled. “Get you out of here, all of you, and be quick about it.”
Yanny listened as he crowd grumbled and complained before leaving one by one. He waited a few more minutes for a good measure before emerging from the kitchen.
The kobolds spilled into the room behind him, yelling wildly, and darted straight for the door.

“Thank you so much for rescuing me!” Mara exclaimed and rushed to embrace Yanny.
She was still trembling from the shock and tears were flowing freely from her eyes. “It’s very fortunate you came along, my dear boy… I was certain these little brats were going to kill me.”
“You are welcome,” Yanny replied with a smile.
“I cannot believe you actually let these kobolds go,” Lodar mused, shaking his head. “But I suppose I can respect your reasons for doing so. It was a good thing you came by, at any rate, or Mara would have been killed for sure.”
The Tavernmaster unbelted a small pouch and said timidly, “Here… it’s not much, I know, but…”
“How about some strong wine instead, good Tavernmaster,” Yanny interrupted him with a laugh. “Tymora knows we all need a drink!”
“Aye, I like that idea, lad,” Lodar exclaimed.
He rushed to the bar and produced a dusty bottle that looked like it hadn’t seen the light of day for decades.
“Ah, there we are! The Thunder Blessing, this one is called, 1306 DR! Imported straight from Silvermoon! Drink up, my friends, this one is on the house!”
“The Thunder Blessing?” Yanny asked.
“You have a wonderful taste in wine, good Tavernmaster,” Dorna congratulated Lodar with a smile. “Holy dwarven wine, said to be blessed by great Moradin himself! Excellent choice!”

“To the brave protectors of Hilltop!” Tavernmaster Lodar exclaimed, pouring generous portions of the wine into the cups. “My young friends, you are a true credit to this town!”
CHAPTER 3

PIPES OF DOOM

The friends entered the town gates grim-faced. Nora’s sorrowful sobs accompanied them all the way from the Blake house to Hilltop and it pained Yanny greatly to see her suffer so.
The villagers were still mulling about the place, listening with open mouths to the morose prophesies of Piper.
Yanny turned to Xanos.
“Take Nora and Tynan to the community hall, my friend. She has suffered enough today and the boy must be exhausted. Wait for us outside of the Bubbling Cauldron, we shall not be long.”
The big brute nodded in understanding and brought the baby close to his chest.
“Come on, Nora,” he said gently, “there is no need for us to be listening to this blabbering old fool. The community hall is safe and cozy, and you can get some much needed rest.”
The poor widow sobbed quietly and nodded in agreement.

“Can you believe it, Tynan?” Yanny heard the brute’s voice as the half-orc passed through the crowd. “Last month he was predicting that I would be eaten by a white dragon. What a fool!”

Yanny heard the little boy’s happy chuckling and smiled – another day, another precious life saved.

“Kobolds are the harbingers of doom!” the old man was squealing ecstatically. “It is the final days, I tell you! The end is upon us! The gods have spoken to me! The time of man is at an end! And in the eighth hour of the third night, death came in the dark and left a swath of unbelievers to rot on the ground! It was a message! A portent of the new god who comes to the land! For the unbelievers, he will come as a dark giant with fiery eyes and unending thirst for blood! But for those who believe, he shall be the gentle cowherd who protects and loves his followers!”
“I don’t want to die!” one of the commoners shouted. “I shall follow this new god. What is his name?”
Piper hesitated for a split second, but it was enough for wise Dorna to realize the man was concocting some kind of a lie.
Dorna hated liars.
“That has not been revealed to me yet,” Piper shouted. “But follow me and do as I say, and the god who arises shall look on you favorably!”
“What lies you spread!” Dorna shouted and Piper jumped in the air as if stung by a wild bee. “I will listen to no more of your foolishness, Piper!”
The old man turned to regard Dorna. His eyes were seething with wild anger and poorly concealed fear.
“Then damnation be upon your head, fool woman! You will be dead within the week. This much has the new god shown me. Even you, Yanny, shall have to choose! Will you doom yourself and die like farmer Hol, or will you repent your ways and follow me?”
“I would be dumber than a witless doomsayer to follow you, Piper,” Yanny replied dryly, eliciting a loud cheer from the crowd.
“Do not forget the fate of those who mock me!” Piper squealed. “Forget not the death of Hol Halstrom! Push me, shove me, kick me, beat me! I shall rise again, stronger than ever to proclaim the coming of the new god! Try to drive the truth from this village, at peril of your own soul!”

“Come now, Piper,” Yanny tried to reason with the crazy old man, “I think you have been confused by the kobold attack.”
“I have explained how the kobolds have come as a warning to the fools on the path of darkness,” Piper screamed. “You are the one who is confused!”
“What about Hol, then?” Yanny pressed the issue. “Perhaps he died because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a coincidence.”
“Nay!” Piper screamed.
His eyes bulged as if they were surely going to pop out of his sockets.
“The new god directed that weapon and struck down the one who despised his prophet! It was a deliberate act!”
“I was the one who found Hol’s corpse,” shouted one of the commoners. “The neck was nearly severed and there were many wounds on his body! The new god must have hated him!”
“And that shall be the most certain outcome of those who flaunt their disbelief in the new god,” Piper screamed. “Repent or be destroyed!”

“Perhaps you killed him, Piper,” Dorna shouted.
She touched her holy symbol inconspicuously and whispered a quick prayer.
Piper laughed hysterically and the crowd gasped in anticipation.
“The strong, stubborn farmer, slaughtered by an old whisp like me?” he shouted mockingly. “I don’t think so! Besides, I have no weapon to kill him with! The kobolds merely followed the new god’s orders! All of the new god’s enemies shall perish at his coming! Only the wisest and most fortunate will be brought into his kingdom, which shall last for all eternity! The defilement of Hol’s body is a testament of his anger! All who deny him shall face his wrath!”

“Enough!” Dorna shouted and her voice carried the command of a powerful enchantment. “Tell the truth, Piper! Did you have anything to do with Hol’s death?”
Piper was compelled to tell the truth. His body went slack and his knees shook uncontrollably.
“No,” he screamed, “I never did! It wasn’t me, I swear! I only found his corpse and messed it up a bit! I promise!”
The crowd gasped in surprise.
“You defiled Hol’s corpse?” shouted another commoner. “I cannot believe this! You disgust me! I think I had better go apologize to Hol’s widow and see how she is doing! We all should do that, instead of listening to this crazy old fool! Piper, you are filth! No one will ever believe your lies again!”

Piper’s weak body began trembling at the realization of his predicament and the old man darted for the gates, waving his hands wildly and screaming, “No! They will hurt me! Yes, they will surely hurt me! Run, run, run! Blast you, Dorna! I shall not forgive you this!”
Yanny could have stopped the crazy old fool. He could have protected him from the angry crowd. He could have given Piper some gold to escape to a safe place many miles away from the village, perhaps Silvermoon or Waterdeep…
He did not feel overly gracious that day. The crazy old fool had brought doom upon himself – he defiled a man’s body in the name of a god. And he lied about it.
Yanny hated liars.

The young ranger sighed deeply and motioned for Dorna to follow him. There remained much to be done.
“We need to visit the Bubbling Cauldron,” Dorna said. “I heard a loud commotion this morning and something tells me there will be more trouble.”

☼☼☼☼☼

When Dorna, Xanos, and Yanny entered the tavern they realized immediately that something was wrong. The place was a mess. Broken furniture cluttered the hardwood floor and freshly spilled blood stained the walls. The tavern was packed with angry commoners, every single one of them clutching a weapon.

“Damn you little monsters!” the angry mob was shouting. “Come out and fight! Hiding behind a hostage? You little cowards!”
Yanny approached one of brawlers – an old man wearing dirty rags. He was completely drunk and barely standing on his feet, swaying from side to side and cackling between loud belches.
“Kobolds started a fight they couldn’t finish,” he explained with amusement. “Barricaded themselves in the kitchen, I think, an’ got themselves a hostage.”
Yanny frowned and scanned the room. There, standing in the midst of the angry mobsters stood Tavernmaster Lodar, wielding a rusty old sword and shaking uncontrollably.
“Yanny, Dorna, Xanos, over here!” he shouted in relief. “Thank the gods you are here! Look at this place! Those damnable kobolds tore in here a while ago, looking for a fight, and now they’ve barricaded themselves in the kitchen! What’s worse is that they’re holding my cook hostage in there! If we try to push past the barricade, they will kill her for certain! Poor Mara, if she dies I will never forgive myself!”
“Calm down, Lodar,” Yanny said, pushing through the crowd. “Have you tried talking to them?”
“Aye, we tried,” Lodar replied, “But it isn’t helping. They want us to let hem leave, but they want to take Mara with them as a hostage. We cannot allow that, they’ll kill her!”
“Don’t worry, Lodar,” Yanny promised. “I will try to talk some sense into them.”

He approached the barricade – this would require a delicate approach.
The scaly snout of an ugly kobold peeked through the crates and the creature squeaked angrily, “Yip! Who you be? We wants no more fights! You lets us go! Yip! Or we kills cook woman! You hears that? You lets us go! We no fight, we takes cook woman with us! We smarts, you not tricks us!”
“Take me as a hostage instead, and let the woman go,” Yanny offered with a smile.
The kobold’s serpentine eyes opened wide with surprise. “You not tries to trick us?” Another kobold peered through the barricade and squeaked excitedly, “He be much important! Much better hostage! We takes, we takes!”
“Fine, maybe,” the first kobold squeaked. “But if you comes in, you comes alone! You gots friends, they wait out theres!”
“Yeah!” the second kobolds squeaked. “He comes alone! Only alone!”
“I agree,” Yanny said. “I will come alone.” He unbelted his weapons and handed them over to Dorna with a wink.
“We takes you, gives away her!” the kobold squeaked. “You be much betters! You not try to tricks us, now…”
“I hope you know what you are doing,” Dorna whispered.
“Perhaps I should go in,” Xanos huffed, “and smash their heads with my fists. Then Mara can cook us some fine stew.”
“This will not take long,” Yanny promised and entered the kitchen.

Mara was huddling in the corner, surrounded by half a dozen kobolds. The creatures were giddy after a recent fight and were trembling just as badly as she was.
“Yanny!” the woman exclaimed and let out a sigh of relief. “Thank the gods you are here! I was sure I was going to die in here!”
“Your worries are over, Mara,” Yanny promised. “Go to Lodar with all haste and may the gods protect you, brave woman.”
“But… what about you?” Mara asked.
“I will be fine,” Yanny promised and nudged her gently towards the barricade.

The creatures shifted nervously as Yanny approached their leader, an unusually large kobold specimen wearing the distinctive leather vest painted white. They clutched their puny weapons and gawked at the young ranger, taking a measure of his prowess.
“Now you be our hostage,” the kobold leader squeaked excitedly.
“What we do with it, boss?” another creature squeaked, taking a cautious step forward.
“Me not know,” the kobold leader squeaked and scratched its scaly head in confusion. “Maybe it cooks! You cooks something good to eat! You cooks now!”
“Listen,” Yanny tried to reason with them, “you can leave now. Just go and nobody will hurt you. I promise.”
The kobold leader thought about it for a moment – the deal sounded quite tempting. “We leaves and we takes you with us! You be hostage!”
But boss,” another kobold squeaked, “maybe we just goes? He maybe not be good hostage…”
The kobold leader thought about it for a few more moments and nodded in approval.
“Fine, we goes. But you no tricks us… we be smart!”
“No tricks,” Yanny promised and walked over to the barricade.

“Lodar, disperse the crowd,” he shouted. “The kobolds are to be leaving now! They do not want any trouble!.”
“Well, you heard the man!” Lodar yelled. “Get you out of here, all of you, and be quick about it.”
Yanny listened as he crowd grumbled and complained before leaving one by one. He waited a few more minutes for a good measure before emerging from the kitchen.
The kobolds spilled into the room behind him, yelling wildly, and darted straight for the door.

“Thank you so much for rescuing me!” Mara exclaimed and rushed to embrace Yanny.
She was still trembling from the shock and tears were flowing freely from her eyes. “It’s very fortunate you came along, my dear boy… I was certain these little brats were going to kill me.”
“You are welcome,” Yanny replied with a smile.
“I cannot believe you actually let these kobolds go,” Lodar mused, shaking his head. “But I suppose I can respect your reasons for doing so. It was a good thing you came by, at any rate, or Mara would have been killed for sure.”
The Tavernmaster unbelted a small pouch and said timidly, “Here… it’s not much, I know, but…”
“How about some strong wine instead, good Tavernmaster,” Yanny interrupted him with a laugh. “Tymora knows we all need a drink!”
“Aye, I like that idea, lad,” Lodar exclaimed.
He rushed to the bar and produced a dusty bottle that looked like it hadn’t seen the light of day for decades.
“Ah, there we are! The Thunder Blessing, this one is called, 1306 DR! Imported straight from Silvermoon! Drink up, my friends, this one is on the house!”
“The Thunder Blessing?” Yanny asked.
“You have a wonderful taste in wine, good Tavernmaster,” Dorna congratulated Lodar with a smile. “Holy dwarven wine, said to be blessed by great Moradin himself! Excellent choice!”

“To the brave protectors of Hilltop!” Tavernmaster Lodar exclaimed, pouring generous portions of the wine into the cups. “My young friends, you are a true credit to this town!”CHAPTER 3

PIPES OF DOOM

The friends entered the town gates grim-faced. Nora’s sorrowful sobs accompanied them all the way from the Blake house to Hilltop and it pained Yanny greatly to see her suffer so.
The villagers were still mulling about the place, listening with open mouths to the morose prophesies of Piper.
Yanny turned to Xanos.
“Take Nora and Tynan to the community hall, my friend. She has suffered enough today and the boy must be exhausted. Wait for us outside of the Bubbling Cauldron, we shall not be long.”
The big brute nodded in understanding and brought the baby close to his chest.
“Come on, Nora,” he said gently, “there is no need for us to be listening to this blabbering old fool. The community hall is safe and cozy, and you can get some much needed rest.”
The poor widow sobbed quietly and nodded in agreement.

“Can you believe it, Tynan?” Yanny heard the brute’s voice as the half-orc passed through the crowd. “Last month he was predicting that I would be eaten by a white dragon. What a fool!”

Yanny heard the little boy’s happy chuckling and smiled – another day, another precious life saved.

“Kobolds are the harbingers of doom!” the old man was squealing ecstatically. “It is the final days, I tell you! The end is upon us! The gods have spoken to me! The time of man is at an end! And in the eighth hour of the third night, death came in the dark and left a swath of unbelievers to rot on the ground! It was a message! A portent of the new god who comes to the land! For the unbelievers, he will come as a dark giant with fiery eyes and unending thirst for blood! But for those who believe, he shall be the gentle cowherd who protects and loves his followers!”
“I don’t want to die!” one of the commoners shouted. “I shall follow this new god. What is his name?”
Piper hesitated for a split second, but it was enough for wise Dorna to realize the man was concocting some kind of a lie.
Dorna hated liars.
“That has not been revealed to me yet,” Piper shouted. “But follow me and do as I say, and the god who arises shall look on you favorably!”
“What lies you spread!” Dorna shouted and Piper jumped in the air as if stung by a wild bee. “I will listen to no more of your foolishness, Piper!”
The old man turned to regard Dorna. His eyes were seething with wild anger and poorly concealed fear.
“Then damnation be upon your head, fool woman! You will be dead within the week. This much has the new god shown me. Even you, Yanny, shall have to choose! Will you doom yourself and die like farmer Hol, or will you repent your ways and follow me?”
“I would be dumber than a witless doomsayer to follow you, Piper,” Yanny replied dryly, eliciting a loud cheer from the crowd.
“Do not forget the fate of those who mock me!” Piper squealed. “Forget not the death of Hol Halstrom! Push me, shove me, kick me, beat me! I shall rise again, stronger than ever to proclaim the coming of the new god! Try to drive the truth from this village, at peril of your own soul!”

“Come now, Piper,” Yanny tried to reason with the crazy old man, “I think you have been confused by the kobold attack.”
“I have explained how the kobolds have come as a warning to the fools on the path of darkness,” Piper screamed. “You are the one who is confused!”
“What about Hol, then?” Yanny pressed the issue. “Perhaps he died because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a coincidence.”
“Nay!” Piper screamed.
His eyes bulged as if they were surely going to pop out of his sockets.
“The new god directed that weapon and struck down the one who despised his prophet! It was a deliberate act!”
“I was the one who found Hol’s corpse,” shouted one of the commoners. “The neck was nearly severed and there were many wounds on his body! The new god must have hated him!”
“And that shall be the most certain outcome of those who flaunt their disbelief in the new god,” Piper screamed. “Repent or be destroyed!”

“Perhaps you killed him, Piper,” Dorna shouted.
She touched her holy symbol inconspicuously and whispered a quick prayer.
Piper laughed hysterically and the crowd gasped in anticipation.
“The strong, stubborn farmer, slaughtered by an old whisp like me?” he shouted mockingly. “I don’t think so! Besides, I have no weapon to kill him with! The kobolds merely followed the new god’s orders! All of the new god’s enemies shall perish at his coming! Only the wisest and most fortunate will be brought into his kingdom, which shall last for all eternity! The defilement of Hol’s body is a testament of his anger! All who deny him shall face his wrath!”

“Enough!” Dorna shouted and her voice carried the command of a powerful enchantment. “Tell the truth, Piper! Did you have anything to do with Hol’s death?”
Piper was compelled to tell the truth. His body went slack and his knees shook uncontrollably.
“No,” he screamed, “I never did! It wasn’t me, I swear! I only found his corpse and messed it up a bit! I promise!”
The crowd gasped in surprise.
“You defiled Hol’s corpse?” shouted another commoner. “I cannot believe this! You disgust me! I think I had better go apologize to Hol’s widow and see how she is doing! We all should do that, instead of listening to this crazy old fool! Piper, you are filth! No one will ever believe your lies again!”

Piper’s weak body began trembling at the realization of his predicament and the old man darted for the gates, waving his hands wildly and screaming, “No! They will hurt me! Yes, they will surely hurt me! Run, run, run! Blast you, Dorna! I shall not forgive you this!”
Yanny could have stopped the crazy old fool. He could have protected him from the angry crowd. He could have given Piper some gold to escape to a safe place many miles away from the village, perhaps Silvermoon or Waterdeep…
He did not feel overly gracious that day. The crazy old fool had brought doom upon himself – he defiled a man’s body in the name of a god. And he lied about it.
Yanny hated liars.

The young ranger sighed deeply and motioned for Dorna to follow him. There remained much to be done.
“We need to visit the Bubbling Cauldron,” Dorna said. “I heard a loud commotion this morning and something tells me there will be more trouble.”

☼☼☼☼☼

When Dorna, Xanos, and Yanny entered the tavern they realized immediately that something was wrong. The place was a mess. Broken furniture cluttered the hardwood floor and freshly spilled blood stained the walls. The tavern was packed with angry commoners, every single one of them clutching a weapon.

“Damn you little monsters!” the angry mob was shouting. “Come out and fight! Hiding behind a hostage? You little cowards!”
Yanny approached one of brawlers – an old man wearing dirty rags. He was completely drunk and barely standing on his feet, swaying from side to side and cackling between loud belches.
“Kobolds started a fight they couldn’t finish,” he explained with amusement. “Barricaded themselves in the kitchen, I think, an’ got themselves a hostage.”
Yanny frowned and scanned the room. There, standing in the midst of the angry mobsters stood Tavernmaster Lodar, wielding a rusty old sword and shaking uncontrollably.
“Yanny, Dorna, Xanos, over here!” he shouted in relief. “Thank the gods you are here! Look at this place! Those damnable kobolds tore in here a while ago, looking for a fight, and now they’ve barricaded themselves in the kitchen! What’s worse is that they’re holding my cook hostage in there! If we try to push past the barricade, they will kill her for certain! Poor Mara, if she dies I will never forgive myself!”
“Calm down, Lodar,” Yanny said, pushing through the crowd. “Have you tried talking to them?”
“Aye, we tried,” Lodar replied, “But it isn’t helping. They want us to let hem leave, but they want to take Mara with them as a hostage. We cannot allow that, they’ll kill her!”
“Don’t worry, Lodar,” Yanny promised. “I will try to talk some sense into them.”

He approached the barricade – this would require a delicate approach.
The scaly snout of an ugly kobold peeked through the crates and the creature squeaked angrily, “Yip! Who you be? We wants no more fights! You lets us go! Yip! Or we kills cook woman! You hears that? You lets us go! We no fight, we takes cook woman with us! We smarts, you not tricks us!”
“Take me as a hostage instead, and let the woman go,” Yanny offered with a smile.
The kobold’s serpentine eyes opened wide with surprise. “You not tries to trick us?” Another kobold peered through the barricade and squeaked excitedly, “He be much important! Much better hostage! We takes, we takes!”
“Fine, maybe,” the first kobold squeaked. “But if you comes in, you comes alone! You gots friends, they wait out theres!”
“Yeah!” the second kobolds squeaked. “He comes alone! Only alone!”
“I agree,” Yanny said. “I will come alone.” He unbelted his weapons and handed them over to Dorna with a wink.
“We takes you, gives away her!” the kobold squeaked. “You be much betters! You not try to tricks us, now…”
“I hope you know what you are doing,” Dorna whispered.
“Perhaps I should go in,” Xanos huffed, “and smash their heads with my fists. Then Mara can cook us some fine stew.”
“This will not take long,” Yanny promised and entered the kitchen.

Mara was huddling in the corner, surrounded by half a dozen kobolds. The creatures were giddy after a recent fight and were trembling just as badly as she was.
“Yanny!” the woman exclaimed and let out a sigh of relief. “Thank the gods you are here! I was sure I was going to die in here!”
“Your worries are over, Mara,” Yanny promised. “Go to Lodar with all haste and may the gods protect you, brave woman.”
“But… what about you?” Mara asked.
“I will be fine,” Yanny promised and nudged her gently towards the barricade.

The creatures shifted nervously as Yanny approached their leader, an unusually large kobold specimen wearing the distinctive leather vest painted white. They clutched their puny weapons and gawked at the young ranger, taking a measure of his prowess.
“Now you be our hostage,” the kobold leader squeaked excitedly.
“What we do with it, boss?” another creature squeaked, taking a cautious step forward.
“Me not know,” the kobold leader squeaked and scratched its scaly head in confusion. “Maybe it cooks! You cooks something good to eat! You cooks now!”
“Listen,” Yanny tried to reason with them, “you can leave now. Just go and nobody will hurt you. I promise.”
The kobold leader thought about it for a moment – the deal sounded quite tempting. “We leaves and we takes you with us! You be hostage!”
But boss,” another kobold squeaked, “maybe we just goes? He maybe not be good hostage…”
The kobold leader thought about it for a few more moments and nodded in approval.
“Fine, we goes. But you no tricks us… we be smart!”
“No tricks,” Yanny promised and walked over to the barricade.

“Lodar, disperse the crowd,” he shouted. “The kobolds are to be leaving now! They do not want any trouble!.”
“Well, you heard the man!” Lodar yelled. “Get you out of here, all of you, and be quick about it.”
Yanny listened as he crowd grumbled and complained before leaving one by one. He waited a few more minutes for a good measure before emerging from the kitchen.
The kobolds spilled into the room behind him, yelling wildly, and darted straight for the door.

“Thank you so much for rescuing me!” Mara exclaimed and rushed to embrace Yanny.
She was still trembling from the shock and tears were flowing freely from her eyes. “It’s very fortunate you came along, my dear boy… I was certain these little brats were going to kill me.”
“You are welcome,” Yanny replied with a smile.
“I cannot believe you actually let these kobolds go,” Lodar mused, shaking his head. “But I suppose I can respect your reasons for doing so. It was a good thing you came by, at any rate, or Mara would have been killed for sure.”
The Tavernmaster unbelted a small pouch and said timidly, “Here… it’s not much, I know, but…”
“How about some strong wine instead, good Tavernmaster,” Yanny interrupted him with a laugh. “Tymora knows we all need a drink!”
“Aye, I like that idea, lad,” Lodar exclaimed.
He rushed to the bar and produced a dusty bottle that looked like it hadn’t seen the light of day for decades.
“Ah, there we are! The Thunder Blessing, this one is called, 1306 DR! Imported straight from Silvermoon! Drink up, my friends, this one is on the house!”
“The Thunder Blessing?” Yanny asked.
“You have a wonderful taste in wine, good Tavernmaster,” Dorna congratulated Lodar with a smile. “Holy dwarven wine, said to be blessed by great Moradin himself! Excellent choice!”

“To the brave protectors of Hilltop!” Tavernmaster Lodar exclaimed, pouring generous portions of the wine into the cups. “My young friends, you are a true credit to this town!”

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14 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:50 am

Maxduelantus

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Head Overseer
“How fares the mayor?” Yanny asked Xanos as soon as the friends exited the Bubbling Cauldron.
“Fares?” Xanos huffed. “That oaf cannot even walk straight, let alone provide any valuable information.”
“Is he drunk?” Dorna asked and Xanos nodded in reply.

Hilltop’s community hall served as s safe haven of sorts for the wary adventurers and merchants. The largest and sturdiest building in all the village, the place was built for the purposes of meeting dignitaries from other towns and holding important town meetings. In times of troubles, it could be easily converted into a shelter of sorts to provide a temporary dwelling for the needy.
Hilltop was a small village in the heart of the Silver Marches, far away from large cities like Silvermoon or Waterdeep. It did not even have a proper temple, thus the inhabitants of the fair town settled for the services of a local priest of Ilmater who had set up a small shrine inside the walls of the community hall.
Inside the walls of the fair hall, bodies of injured townsfolk cluttered the floor and the cries of pain cluttered the air. Priest Gilford was kneeling near their broken bodies, praying for healing spells constantly.

He was an older man, thin bodied and gray haired, always wearing simple gray garments of his faith. He was completely dedicated to his god and was wise in the ways of caring and forgiveness.
Yanny remembered fondly his early childhood in Hilltop, watching Gilford during his prayers, seeing his minor cuts and bruises disappear magically, feeling the vitality flowing into his veins, experiencing the divine powers of healing with his own eyes. The priest always talked fondly about his god and never complained about his humble lot in life.
“Ilmater is the god of endurance, suffering, and perseverance, lad,” Gilford used to tell Yanny when the young ranger was still a little boy. “He cares for those whom nobody else will. We follow the path of poverty, collecting alms for those in need and keeping little for ourselves.”
“Well met, Gilford,” Yanny said, approaching the priest.
He kneeled by the shrine and offered a quick prayer to Mystra.

Dorna walked over to one of the injured villagers and whispered a healing spell, placing her hand on the man’s gashing belly wound to mend the damage. Divine energy swirled over him, closing the wound and replacing it with a barely visible scar.
“Praise Vergadain,” she said as the man opened his eyes and gasped for air.
“Ah, my back hurts from all the bending and healing I have done this day,” Gilford replied with a sigh. “Not that I would complain,” he quickly added with a smile. “Servants of Ilmater never complain, lad. It is part of the canon.”
“The kobolds did not leave our town in peace,” Xanos said.
His big black eyes were simmering with quiet rage.
“I will have my revenge for what they have done here.”
“What’s done is done, Xanos,” Gilford replied with a sigh, “and the past cannot be undone. Look to the future instead, my big friend, and find it in your heart to forgive.”
“We would like to make a donation, Gilford,” Yanny said, reaching inside his backpack. “Mystra knows you need all the help you can get, good priest.”
“That is wonderful, lad,” Gilford replied with a soft smile. “I am glad you feel the desire to do good for others. It seems to be a rare desire these days. May Ilmater look favorably upon all of you.”

“How fares the mayor?” Dorna asked.
“Not so well,” Gilford replied with a sigh, “not so well at all. I think this wild kobold attack has gotten the best of him. See for yourself, my friends. There he is over there, sitting in his chair, sleeping like a baby, impervious to the grim reality surrounding him.”
Indeed, the mayor was snoring contentedly, perched up comfortably in his chair amidst all the chaos. Empty wine bottles and unrolled maps cluttered the desk in front of him.
Haniah Dales, the mayor’s assistant was busily cleaning up the mess, shaking her head in disgust.
Haniah was a beautiful half-elf woman who came to Hilltop only a short time ago. Her assistance to the mayor has led to improvements in the town and she was a dedicated servant to the community.

Yanny felt a strange tingle in his heart every time he came to visit and Haniah had always been friendly to him as well. Her blond hair and lovely blue eyes had a mesmerizing effect on the young ranger and her ample bosom made him blush profusely every time he looked upon her.
“Well met, Haniah,” Yanny said, trying his best not to blush this time.
“Yanny!” Haniah exclaimed with a sincere smile. “It is good to see you! I was about to send one of the town guards to check on everyone at Master Drogan’s. I am afraid the events are out of control here.”
“We can tell,” Dorna mused, nodding in the direction of the mayor.
“I found the good mayor this way in his home after the kobold attack,” Haniah explained with a deep sigh. “He was hiding in his cellar with two empty wine bottles beside him. I think the stress of the attack was simply too much for him and he lost control. I just hope he will be better when he sobers up. I know it frightened me. Luckily I was here, and there were enough local farmers and townsmen to hold the kobolds off. They mostly just ran past.”

The mayor stirred from his sleep and opened his eyes with a loud groan. He clutched his gray head and got up from his chair, almost overbalancing in the process. He was still holding an unfinished wine bottle and he wasted no time in taking a hearty swig from it, spilling the liquid over his magnificent gray mustache.
“Mayor Veraunt Shuttlecomb,” Yanny greeted the drunken old man officially. “How are you feeling today, good sir?”
“Oh, Pat, good to see you old friend,” the mayor exclaimed. “When did you get here? Care for a drink? Haniah, fetch us more wine, will ya?”
“You’ve had enough, sir,” Haniah scolding him gently. “I wish you just sit down and rest.”
“Nonshensh! I am as healthy as a, hic, as a bull! A little bit o’ wine never, hic, never hurt any… oh my… that doesn’t feel sho good.”
The mayor plunged back into his chair with a loud moan and an even louder belch.
“That is disgusting, sir,” Haniah said with another sigh.
“If this fool could become the mayor of a village,” Xanos huffed, “just think, how much more I will accomplish!”
“You know, I’m the mayor here?” Veraunt was slurring his words badly. “And in a dinky little village as thish, you would, hic, think that would earn me shome reshpect.”
“Everyone respects you, sir,” Haniah replied softly. “Well, except when you are in this condition.”
The mayor jumped from his chair in excitement, swaying from side to side.
“Where were Drogan and his, hic, his big heroes when the villagers were getting murdered?” he exclaimed. “Sho much, hic, for relying on them for help.”
“Sir, you are talking to them,” Haniah replied.
“I don’t know what, hic, you are talking about, Haniah. Thish is just my old friend Pat!”

The mayor turned to regard the half-elf woman.
“Haniah! Did I ever, hic, tell you how helpful you are? You are the besht, Haniah, simply the besht!”
“Thank you, sir,” Haniah muttered with a helpless shrug. “You are a very good boss too, usually.”
“Ye’ know, Pat,” the mayor turned to Yanny and almost fell over, “Haniah’s been like a, hic, daughter to me, I tell you. No, better than, hic, better than daughter! Hey! Would you stop shwaying back and, hic, forth! You’re making me, hic, dizzy.”
"Sir,” Haniah reminded him, “you are the one swaying.”
“Don’t be ridiculoush. Why would I be shwaying?”
“Because you are drunk, sir.”
“Oh, hic,” the mayor muttered, plunging back into his chair, “I forgot. More wine!”
Veraunt looked upon Yanny with drunken eyes and suddenly began sobbing.
“Those damn kobolds think, hic, that they can just march into my town and kill, hic, my villagers off, do they? Well, let them try that again!”
“We would rather they just stayed away, sir,” Haniah replied softly.
“Too late, Haniah,” the mayor lamented with another sob. “Too late.”
He slumped in his chair and went back to sleep.

Haniah sighed deeply and shrugged in resignation. It was obvious that she was exhausted.
“I know it sound awfully selfish of me,” she said, “but I have only been here a short time, and now the mayor is completely useless. Oh, Yanny, what do I do?”
“Tell us about your problems,” Yanny replied softly. He walked over and hugged Haniah, blushing profusely. “You know we are here to help.”
“Well,” Haniah said, “the biggest problem is with Piper, small surprise there. He has always claimed to have prophetic abilities, but now people are beginning to listen.”
Yanny and Dorna exchanged knowing looks and Xanos huffed.
“A couple of days ago,” Haniah continued,” Piper claimed that death was coming in the dark and that only the chosen would survive. An old farmer, Hol Halstrom, called him an idiot and Piper claimed Hol would be dead within the week. Hol’s body was found near the edge of the village, with his throat slit so deep, his head was barely attached to his body. He is sending panic through the village and that is something our town can ill afford in these dire times.”
“Don’t you worry about Piper,” Dorna said grimly. “We have already dealt with that babbling fool.”
“You killed him?” Haniah gasped in horror.
“No,” Yanny replied. “We simply exposed his prophecies for the lies that they were. He will not be troubling you anymore, rest assured.”
“Well, then,” Haniah breathed a sigh of relief, “that is certainly good news. Now there’s only a matter of talking some sense into our good mayor, after he sobers up that is. Thank you, my friends, you have made my duties a lot easier.”
“You are welcome, Haniah,” Yanny replied. “Let us know if there is anything else you need. We are headed back to Master Drogan’s house, so that is where you can find us.”
“I will certainly do that, Yanny,” Haniah promised with a sparkle of undeniable interest in her deep blue eyes. “You can count on it.”
☼☼☼☼☼

“How fares the mayor?” Yanny asked Xanos as soon as the friends exited the Bubbling Cauldron.
“Fares?” Xanos huffed. “That oaf cannot even walk straight, let alone provide any valuable information.”
“Is he drunk?” Dorna asked and Xanos nodded in reply.

Hilltop’s community hall served as s safe haven of sorts for the wary adventurers and merchants. The largest and sturdiest building in all the village, the place was built for the purposes of meeting dignitaries from other towns and holding important town meetings. In times of troubles, it could be easily converted into a shelter of sorts to provide a temporary dwelling for the needy.
Hilltop was a small village in the heart of the Silver Marches, far away from large cities like Silvermoon or Waterdeep. It did not even have a proper temple, thus the inhabitants of the fair town settled for the services of a local priest of Ilmater who had set up a small shrine inside the walls of the community hall.
Inside the walls of the fair hall, bodies of injured townsfolk cluttered the floor and the cries of pain cluttered the air. Priest Gilford was kneeling near their broken bodies, praying for healing spells constantly.

He was an older man, thin bodied and gray haired, always wearing simple gray garments of his faith. He was completely dedicated to his god and was wise in the ways of caring and forgiveness.
Yanny remembered fondly his early childhood in Hilltop, watching Gilford during his prayers, seeing his minor cuts and bruises disappear magically, feeling the vitality flowing into his veins, experiencing the divine powers of healing with his own eyes. The priest always talked fondly about his god and never complained about his humble lot in life.
“Ilmater is the god of endurance, suffering, and perseverance, lad,” Gilford used to tell Yanny when the young ranger was still a little boy. “He cares for those whom nobody else will. We follow the path of poverty, collecting alms for those in need and keeping little for ourselves.”
“Well met, Gilford,” Yanny said, approaching the priest.
He kneeled by the shrine and offered a quick prayer to Mystra.

Dorna walked over to one of the injured villagers and whispered a healing spell, placing her hand on the man’s gashing belly wound to mend the damage. Divine energy swirled over him, closing the wound and replacing it with a barely visible scar.
“Praise Vergadain,” she said as the man opened his eyes and gasped for air.
“Ah, my back hurts from all the bending and healing I have done this day,” Gilford replied with a sigh. “Not that I would complain,” he quickly added with a smile. “Servants of Ilmater never complain, lad. It is part of the canon.”
“The kobolds did not leave our town in peace,” Xanos said.
His big black eyes were simmering with quiet rage.
“I will have my revenge for what they have done here.”
“What’s done is done, Xanos,” Gilford replied with a sigh, “and the past cannot be undone. Look to the future instead, my big friend, and find it in your heart to forgive.”
“We would like to make a donation, Gilford,” Yanny said, reaching inside his backpack. “Mystra knows you need all the help you can get, good priest.”
“That is wonderful, lad,” Gilford replied with a soft smile. “I am glad you feel the desire to do good for others. It seems to be a rare desire these days. May Ilmater look favorably upon all of you.”

“How fares the mayor?” Dorna asked.
“Not so well,” Gilford replied with a sigh, “not so well at all. I think this wild kobold attack has gotten the best of him. See for yourself, my friends. There he is over there, sitting in his chair, sleeping like a baby, impervious to the grim reality surrounding him.”
Indeed, the mayor was snoring contentedly, perched up comfortably in his chair amidst all the chaos. Empty wine bottles and unrolled maps cluttered the desk in front of him.
Haniah Dales, the mayor’s assistant was busily cleaning up the mess, shaking her head in disgust.
Haniah was a beautiful half-elf woman who came to Hilltop only a short time ago. Her assistance to the mayor has led to improvements in the town and she was a dedicated servant to the community.

Yanny felt a strange tingle in his heart every time he came to visit and Haniah had always been friendly to him as well. Her blond hair and lovely blue eyes had a mesmerizing effect on the young ranger and her ample bosom made him blush profusely every time he looked upon her.
“Well met, Haniah,” Yanny said, trying his best not to blush this time.
“Yanny!” Haniah exclaimed with a sincere smile. “It is good to see you! I was about to send one of the town guards to check on everyone at Master Drogan’s. I am afraid the events are out of control here.”
“We can tell,” Dorna mused, nodding in the direction of the mayor.
“I found the good mayor this way in his home after the kobold attack,” Haniah explained with a deep sigh. “He was hiding in his cellar with two empty wine bottles beside him. I think the stress of the attack was simply too much for him and he lost control. I just hope he will be better when he sobers up. I know it frightened me. Luckily I was here, and there were enough local farmers and townsmen to hold the kobolds off. They mostly just ran past.”

The mayor stirred from his sleep and opened his eyes with a loud groan. He clutched his gray head and got up from his chair, almost overbalancing in the process. He was still holding an unfinished wine bottle and he wasted no time in taking a hearty swig from it, spilling the liquid over his magnificent gray mustache.
“Mayor Veraunt Shuttlecomb,” Yanny greeted the drunken old man officially. “How are you feeling today, good sir?”
“Oh, Pat, good to see you old friend,” the mayor exclaimed. “When did you get here? Care for a drink? Haniah, fetch us more wine, will ya?”
“You’ve had enough, sir,” Haniah scolding him gently. “I wish you just sit down and rest.”
“Nonshensh! I am as healthy as a, hic, as a bull! A little bit o’ wine never, hic, never hurt any… oh my… that doesn’t feel sho good.”
The mayor plunged back into his chair with a loud moan and an even louder belch.
“That is disgusting, sir,” Haniah said with another sigh.
“If this fool could become the mayor of a village,” Xanos huffed, “just think, how much more I will accomplish!”
“You know, I’m the mayor here?” Veraunt was slurring his words badly. “And in a dinky little village as thish, you would, hic, think that would earn me shome reshpect.”
“Everyone respects you, sir,” Haniah replied softly. “Well, except when you are in this condition.”
The mayor jumped from his chair in excitement, swaying from side to side.
“Where were Drogan and his, hic, his big heroes when the villagers were getting murdered?” he exclaimed. “Sho much, hic, for relying on them for help.”
“Sir, you are talking to them,” Haniah replied.
“I don’t know what, hic, you are talking about, Haniah. Thish is just my old friend Pat!”

The mayor turned to regard the half-elf woman.
“Haniah! Did I ever, hic, tell you how helpful you are? You are the besht, Haniah, simply the besht!”
“Thank you, sir,” Haniah muttered with a helpless shrug. “You are a very good boss too, usually.”
“Ye’ know, Pat,” the mayor turned to Yanny and almost fell over, “Haniah’s been like a, hic, daughter to me, I tell you. No, better than, hic, better than daughter! Hey! Would you stop shwaying back and, hic, forth! You’re making me, hic, dizzy.”
"Sir,” Haniah reminded him, “you are the one swaying.”
“Don’t be ridiculoush. Why would I be shwaying?”
“Because you are drunk, sir.”
“Oh, hic,” the mayor muttered, plunging back into his chair, “I forgot. More wine!”
Veraunt looked upon Yanny with drunken eyes and suddenly began sobbing.
“Those damn kobolds think, hic, that they can just march into my town and kill, hic, my villagers off, do they? Well, let them try that again!”
“We would rather they just stayed away, sir,” Haniah replied softly.
“Too late, Haniah,” the mayor lamented with another sob. “Too late.”
He slumped in his chair and went back to sleep.

Haniah sighed deeply and shrugged in resignation. It was obvious that she was exhausted.
“I know it sound awfully selfish of me,” she said, “but I have only been here a short time, and now the mayor is completely useless. Oh, Yanny, what do I do?”
“Tell us about your problems,” Yanny replied softly. He walked over and hugged Haniah, blushing profusely. “You know we are here to help.”
“Well,” Haniah said, “the biggest problem is with Piper, small surprise there. He has always claimed to have prophetic abilities, but now people are beginning to listen.”
Yanny and Dorna exchanged knowing looks and Xanos huffed.
“A couple of days ago,” Haniah continued,” Piper claimed that death was coming in the dark and that only the chosen would survive. An old farmer, Hol Halstrom, called him an idiot and Piper claimed Hol would be dead within the week. Hol’s body was found near the edge of the village, with his throat slit so deep, his head was barely attached to his body. He is sending panic through the village and that is something our town can ill afford in these dire times.”
“Don’t you worry about Piper,” Dorna said grimly. “We have already dealt with that babbling fool.”
“You killed him?” Haniah gasped in horror.
“No,” Yanny replied. “We simply exposed his prophecies for the lies that they were. He will not be troubling you anymore, rest assured.”
“Well, then,” Haniah breathed a sigh of relief, “that is certainly good news. Now there’s only a matter of talking some sense into our good mayor, after he sobers up that is. Thank you, my friends, you have made my duties a lot easier.”
“You are welcome, Haniah,” Yanny replied. “Let us know if there is anything else you need. We are headed back to Master Drogan’s house, so that is where you can find us.”
“I will certainly do that, Yanny,” Haniah promised with a sparkle of undeniable interest in her deep blue eyes. “You can count on it.”☼☼☼☼☼

“How fares the mayor?” Yanny asked Xanos as soon as the friends exited the Bubbling Cauldron.
“Fares?” Xanos huffed. “That oaf cannot even walk straight, let alone provide any valuable information.”
“Is he drunk?” Dorna asked and Xanos nodded in reply.

Hilltop’s community hall served as s safe haven of sorts for the wary adventurers and merchants. The largest and sturdiest building in all the village, the place was built for the purposes of meeting dignitaries from other towns and holding important town meetings. In times of troubles, it could be easily converted into a shelter of sorts to provide a temporary dwelling for the needy.
Hilltop was a small village in the heart of the Silver Marches, far away from large cities like Silvermoon or Waterdeep. It did not even have a proper temple, thus the inhabitants of the fair town settled for the services of a local priest of Ilmater who had set up a small shrine inside the walls of the community hall.
Inside the walls of the fair hall, bodies of injured townsfolk cluttered the floor and the cries of pain cluttered the air. Priest Gilford was kneeling near their broken bodies, praying for healing spells constantly.

He was an older man, thin bodied and gray haired, always wearing simple gray garments of his faith. He was completely dedicated to his god and was wise in the ways of caring and forgiveness.
Yanny remembered fondly his early childhood in Hilltop, watching Gilford during his prayers, seeing his minor cuts and bruises disappear magically, feeling the vitality flowing into his veins, experiencing the divine powers of healing with his own eyes. The priest always talked fondly about his god and never complained about his humble lot in life.
“Ilmater is the god of endurance, suffering, and perseverance, lad,” Gilford used to tell Yanny when the young ranger was still a little boy. “He cares for those whom nobody else will. We follow the path of poverty, collecting alms for those in need and keeping little for ourselves.”
“Well met, Gilford,” Yanny said, approaching the priest.
He kneeled by the shrine and offered a quick prayer to Mystra.

Dorna walked over to one of the injured villagers and whispered a healing spell, placing her hand on the man’s gashing belly wound to mend the damage. Divine energy swirled over him, closing the wound and replacing it with a barely visible scar.
“Praise Vergadain,” she said as the man opened his eyes and gasped for air.
“Ah, my back hurts from all the bending and healing I have done this day,” Gilford replied with a sigh. “Not that I would complain,” he quickly added with a smile. “Servants of Ilmater never complain, lad. It is part of the canon.”
“The kobolds did not leave our town in peace,” Xanos said.
His big black eyes were simmering with quiet rage.
“I will have my revenge for what they have done here.”
“What’s done is done, Xanos,” Gilford replied with a sigh, “and the past cannot be undone. Look to the future instead, my big friend, and find it in your heart to forgive.”
“We would like to make a donation, Gilford,” Yanny said, reaching inside his backpack. “Mystra knows you need all the help you can get, good priest.”
“That is wonderful, lad,” Gilford replied with a soft smile. “I am glad you feel the desire to do good for others. It seems to be a rare desire these days. May Ilmater look favorably upon all of you.”

“How fares the mayor?” Dorna asked.
“Not so well,” Gilford replied with a sigh, “not so well at all. I think this wild kobold attack has gotten the best of him. See for yourself, my friends. There he is over there, sitting in his chair, sleeping like a baby, impervious to the grim reality surrounding him.”
Indeed, the mayor was snoring contentedly, perched up comfortably in his chair amidst all the chaos. Empty wine bottles and unrolled maps cluttered the desk in front of him.
Haniah Dales, the mayor’s assistant was busily cleaning up the mess, shaking her head in disgust.
Haniah was a beautiful half-elf woman who came to Hilltop only a short time ago. Her assistance to the mayor has led to improvements in the town and she was a dedicated servant to the community.

Yanny felt a strange tingle in his heart every time he came to visit and Haniah had always been friendly to him as well. Her blond hair and lovely blue eyes had a mesmerizing effect on the young ranger and her ample bosom made him blush profusely every time he looked upon her.
“Well met, Haniah,” Yanny said, trying his best not to blush this time.
“Yanny!” Haniah exclaimed with a sincere smile. “It is good to see you! I was about to send one of the town guards to check on everyone at Master Drogan’s. I am afraid the events are out of control here.”
“We can tell,” Dorna mused, nodding in the direction of the mayor.
“I found the good mayor this way in his home after the kobold attack,” Haniah explained with a deep sigh. “He was hiding in his cellar with two empty wine bottles beside him. I think the stress of the attack was simply too much for him and he lost control. I just hope he will be better when he sobers up. I know it frightened me. Luckily I was here, and there were enough local farmers and townsmen to hold the kobolds off. They mostly just ran past.”

The mayor stirred from his sleep and opened his eyes with a loud groan. He clutched his gray head and got up from his chair, almost overbalancing in the process. He was still holding an unfinished wine bottle and he wasted no time in taking a hearty swig from it, spilling the liquid over his magnificent gray mustache.
“Mayor Veraunt Shuttlecomb,” Yanny greeted the drunken old man officially. “How are you feeling today, good sir?”
“Oh, Pat, good to see you old friend,” the mayor exclaimed. “When did you get here? Care for a drink? Haniah, fetch us more wine, will ya?”
“You’ve had enough, sir,” Haniah scolding him gently. “I wish you just sit down and rest.”
“Nonshensh! I am as healthy as a, hic, as a bull! A little bit o’ wine never, hic, never hurt any… oh my… that doesn’t feel sho good.”
The mayor plunged back into his chair with a loud moan and an even louder belch.
“That is disgusting, sir,” Haniah said with another sigh.
“If this fool could become the mayor of a village,” Xanos huffed, “just think, how much more I will accomplish!”
“You know, I’m the mayor here?” Veraunt was slurring his words badly. “And in a dinky little village as thish, you would, hic, think that would earn me shome reshpect.”
“Everyone respects you, sir,” Haniah replied softly. “Well, except when you are in this condition.”
The mayor jumped from his chair in excitement, swaying from side to side.
“Where were Drogan and his, hic, his big heroes when the villagers were getting murdered?” he exclaimed. “Sho much, hic, for relying on them for help.”
“Sir, you are talking to them,” Haniah replied.
“I don’t know what, hic, you are talking about, Haniah. Thish is just my old friend Pat!”

The mayor turned to regard the half-elf woman.
“Haniah! Did I ever, hic, tell you how helpful you are? You are the besht, Haniah, simply the besht!”
“Thank you, sir,” Haniah muttered with a helpless shrug. “You are a very good boss too, usually.”
“Ye’ know, Pat,” the mayor turned to Yanny and almost fell over, “Haniah’s been like a, hic, daughter to me, I tell you. No, better than, hic, better than daughter! Hey! Would you stop shwaying back and, hic, forth! You’re making me, hic, dizzy.”
"Sir,” Haniah reminded him, “you are the one swaying.”
“Don’t be ridiculoush. Why would I be shwaying?”
“Because you are drunk, sir.”
“Oh, hic,” the mayor muttered, plunging back into his chair, “I forgot. More wine!”
Veraunt looked upon Yanny with drunken eyes and suddenly began sobbing.
“Those damn kobolds think, hic, that they can just march into my town and kill, hic, my villagers off, do they? Well, let them try that again!”
“We would rather they just stayed away, sir,” Haniah replied softly.
“Too late, Haniah,” the mayor lamented with another sob. “Too late.”
He slumped in his chair and went back to sleep.

Haniah sighed deeply and shrugged in resignation. It was obvious that she was exhausted.
“I know it sound awfully selfish of me,” she said, “but I have only been here a short time, and now the mayor is completely useless. Oh, Yanny, what do I do?”
“Tell us about your problems,” Yanny replied softly. He walked over and hugged Haniah, blushing profusely. “You know we are here to help.”
“Well,” Haniah said, “the biggest problem is with Piper, small surprise there. He has always claimed to have prophetic abilities, but now people are beginning to listen.”
Yanny and Dorna exchanged knowing looks and Xanos huffed.
“A couple of days ago,” Haniah continued,” Piper claimed that death was coming in the dark and that only the chosen would survive. An old farmer, Hol Halstrom, called him an idiot and Piper claimed Hol would be dead within the week. Hol’s body was found near the edge of the village, with his throat slit so deep, his head was barely attached to his body. He is sending panic through the village and that is something our town can ill afford in these dire times.”
“Don’t you worry about Piper,” Dorna said grimly. “We have already dealt with that babbling fool.”
“You killed him?” Haniah gasped in horror.
“No,” Yanny replied. “We simply exposed his prophecies for the lies that they were. He will not be troubling you anymore, rest assured.”
“Well, then,” Haniah breathed a sigh of relief, “that is certainly good news. Now there’s only a matter of talking some sense into our good mayor, after he sobers up that is. Thank you, my friends, you have made my duties a lot easier.”
“You are welcome, Haniah,” Yanny replied. “Let us know if there is anything else you need. We are headed back to Master Drogan’s house, so that is where you can find us.”
“I will certainly do that, Yanny,” Haniah promised with a sparkle of undeniable interest in her deep blue eyes. “You can count on it.”

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15 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:51 am

Maxduelantus

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Head Overseer
“Tell us more about the artifacts, my lady,” Yanny asked.

“Let’s see,” Ayala began, lounging comfortably in the plush sofa, the only piece of furniture to survive the fiery mayhem.

The apprentices gathered around her, listening intently, while Master Drogan reclined in his favorite chair, brought forth from his private chambers by powerful Xanos. He was deep in concentration, with eyes closed, stroking the remains of his once plentiful beard.

“If I remember correctly, the four artifacts consist of a mummified hand, a dragon’s tooth, a statue of a tower, and a mask.”
“The mummified hand belonged to a powerful lich named Belpheron, as I understand it. The hand was all that remained when he was destroyed. I remember it being said that some of Belpheron’s power remained in it. Perhaps someone is trying to tap into it… or perhaps one of Belpheron’s old followers wants him resurrected. If that were the case, it would be terrible news. Belpheron threatened to destroy Faerûn the first time… we certainly don’t need him trying again.”

“Tell us about the dragon’s tooth, my lady,” Dorna asked, more than a little intrigued.
“A remnant of the great wyrm Hephaestagon, a great dragon that also wielded the most evil of the black arts. The dragon died long ago… but it is possible that the kobolds could have some interest in it, seeing as they are of draconic origin themselves. I have trouble believing the kobolds are the instigators of this theft, however. It’s more likely they serve another… perhaps even a dragon aspiring to have Hephaestagon’s power.”

“Tell us more about the tower statue, my lady,” Xanos asked.
“I… actually do not know much about that. I believe it was found in a desert tomb many years ago, and one of our wizards detected powerful and destructive magic within it. The nature of the magic could not be discerned, however, so it was put aside to be kept safe until more could be discovered about it.”

“Tell us more about the mask, my lady,” Mischa asked.
“That once belonged to a high priest of the Lord of Shadows, I believe, and is imbued with considerable power… though nobody has figured out how to use it. Seeing as the God of Thieves rarely produces items of benevolent purpose, it was decided best to keep the mask safe and out of reach of his followers.”

“An item of the god Mask,” Yanny mused, “the Master of All Thieves.”
“Aye,” Master Drogan said, stroking his bald head. “Perhaps someone has figured out how to use the mask’s power? If so, any amount of mischief could be expected as a result.”

“The fact that the malevolent power exists could be tempting for some,” Ayala continued, “and it’s very possible that there may be someone out there who knows more about these artifacts than we do. The trouble will be figuring out which artifact the thief is interested in… and what they intend to do with it. Considering the nature of these items, it is certainly evil.”

“But why keep these powerful items here in Hilltop, my lady?” Mischa asked. “Why not hide them somewhere safe?”
“And where, exactly, would somewhere safe be? Behind the walls of a keep, surrounded by guards? What better way to announce that you hide something of value. No, the Harpers believed that this school was remote enough and nondescript enough to be considered safe from persecution. For many years that has indeed been the case.”

“Would you tell us more about the Harpers, my lady?” Yanny asked.
“The Harpers seek to maintain a balance in the world even in the face of those who would abuse their powers. Some claim we are spies, others consider us dangerous. Yet others claim we are assassins. In truth, we are a little of all things, when the situation warrants it. You know… it was always our hope that Drogan’s students might take the cue from their tutor and become Harpers themselves, in fact. What do you think of that, lad?”

“I’d very much like to become a Harper,” Yanny answered without hesitation.
“That’s good. You certainly seem like the sort of fellow who would do well amongst the Harpers. We shall have to wait and see.”
“My dear students,” Master Drogan said, with tears streaking down his plump cheeks, “great adventure awaits you, by my own reckoning. It would do you well to rest up before venturing out. Go now, and may Tymora smile brightly upon you.”
“May the gods aid you in your quest,” Ayala added, giving Yanny a leather pouch that was bulging with gems and gold. “Perhaps you will find some of the gems useful for your spellcasting. And the gold will certainly help you get whatever other supplies you might need along the way.”

“I shall pray to Mystra for you safe return,” Mischa promised, with tears welling up in her beautiful eyes.
“And I shall be waiting to hear great tales of battles upon your safe return, my friends,” Xanos finished, and everybody in the room shared a hug.

☼☼☼☼☼

Yanny and Dorna departed upstairs into their rooms to get some much needed sleep, while Xanos and the rest of the defenders remained in the library to clean up the mess.

Before going to sleep, Yanny needed to attend to certain matters. First, he attuned his ranger senses to his beloved familiar, wanting to make sure that Dragosha, who remained in the care of Fenran, was unharmed. The pet familiar shared a special bond with his master and had a natural ability to sense Yanny’s presence.
Yanny felt almost immediately Dragosha’s strong and healthy presence and sent out an empathetic vision of victory over the kobold raiding party. In return, he experienced a feeling of overwhelming joy, emanating from his pet familiar.

Satisfied with Dragosha’s safety, Yanny turned his attention to memorizing the spells that had slipped from his weary mind during the combat. Knowing that the quest to recover the missing artifacts would undoubtedly prove to be a difficult task, he took care to prepare useful spells and to organize the necessary spell components in his belt pouch.
Exhausted, he whispered a quick prayer to Mystra and finally fell into deep sleep.

In his dreams he saw again and again a great white dragon, a parched desert, and a mysterious hooded figure leaping through a portal.

☼☼☼☼☼

A soft knock on the door awoke Yanny early the next morning. He got up groggily, put on his breeches, and walked over to open the door. Dorna stood in the doorway, dressed for battle and ready for adventure.
She winked at him and said teasingly, “Time to wake up, mage. You wouldn’t want to sleep through such a great adventure, now, would you?”
“Of course not,” Yanny huffed, winking back at the sneaky dwarf. “And besides, I was just getting up to go and wake you up, knowing how much you like to sleep.”
“No need for that now. As you can see, I am dressed and ready.”

Dorna smiled and dipped into a mocking bow.
“Now, if you would, my lord… Get dressed and be quick about it. I shall wait for you downstairs.”
“Yes, boss,” Yanny replied, returning Dorna’s smile.

He got dressed hastily, donned his ranger gear, and belted his weapons. Grabbing his backpack and his belt pouch, he whispered a quick prayer to Mystra, and exited his room, taking care to move quietly.
Dorna was waiting for him downstairs, and together they exited Master Drogan’s house and set up a quick pace towards the town proper. The companions planned to visit Farghan for a quick meal and to find out if the herbalist had some new information that would help them in their quest.

“So, the great adventure begins,” Yanny mused.
“It should prove to be an interesting one,” Dorna replied, winking mischievously. “The odd coin here and there could fall our way. That’s the way of Vergadain, you see. A little luck, a little skill, and a little bit of something for ourselves in our pockets at the end of the day.”
“Did I ever tell you I like the way you think, my dear Dorna?”
“Many times, mage, many times!”

When the companions reached the town proper, Yanny again encountered Fiona’s guard dog Bim. The animal wagged its tail in recognition and approached the young ranger. It was clutching a shiny trinket in its maw and Yanny recognized it as a magical silver ring that allowed the wearer to summon a powerful ally in the form of a wolf.
Bim dropped the ring at Yanny’s feet and the ranger experienced emotions of happiness with the dog’s ability to pass Bethsheva’s test. Bim did not have any use for the item, and the dog reasoned it would serve a much better purpose in Yanny’s possession.

“Well done, Bim,” Yanny exclaimed, picking up the ring and slipping it on his finger. “Bethsheva shall be happy to find out from me about your hunting prowess. You two shall make a beautiful couple, no doubt.” Bim barked in agreement, wagged its tail again, and bounded away happily.

As usual, Farghan was already awake and cooking up another one of his dawnfry meals. Upon entering the hut, Yanny encountered the beautiful female snow wolf. Attuning his ranger senses to the magnificent beast, he sent out an empathetic greeting. Bethsheva approached, sniffing at the silver ring of the wolf, and looked at Yanny questioningly.
Yanny smiled and spoke aloud, “It appears that Bim has finally passed your test, dear Bethsheva. He shall make a fine father for your pups indeed.”
Bethsheva perked her ears in recognition and sent out an empathetic reply, admitting that she also liked Bim very much and was hoping the guard dog would pass her test. She wished the good-mannered ranger and the nice dwarven lass a happy hunt and bounded off in search of Bim.

In the kitchen, Farghan was busily preparing his special dawnfry. The herbalist rushed up to embrace the companions, exclaiming, “Well met, defenders of Hilltop! It gladdens my heart to see you again.”
“Well met, Farghan,” the companions replied in unison, and Dorna added innocently, “Let me guess. You are cooking up your ‘Special Recipe’ again, aren’t you?”
“Indeed,” Farghan laughed in reply.

The three friends sat down at the table and tasted the splendid food. Once again, they experienced a momentary disorienting sensation that was followed by increased strength and stamina.
“Hilltop fared well in the kobold attack,” Farghan was saying, “although my communications with the local wildlife revealed that Blumberg has met a less fortunate fate. The town has been sacked by the gnolls and there are doubtfully very many survivors.”
“Foul dog-faced monsters!” Dorna growled. “They shall pay with their filthy hides for this!”
“We must set out to Blumberg and search for survivors,” Yanny added, “and woe to these vile creatures if they remain in the town.”
“Before we leave the town,” Dorna offered, “we would be wise to purchase some wares from Fiona. I am in need of a few throwing axes.”
“Good idea,” Yanny replied, “for I am also in need of some equipment.” Dorna raised her brow questioningly.
“Darts,” Yanny explained.

Yanny and Dorna hastily finished their meal, bid Farghan a warm farewell, and continued on their way.
Fiona’s smithy, situated just next to Farghan’s shop, was their next stop. Just like the herbalist, she never locked her door, always welcoming an opportunity to sell her wares and to chat with the potential customers. The adventurers politely knocked on the door and then entered, to find the smiling woman awake and waiting for them inside.
Fiona was a heavyset town smith, and there were even rumors among the peasants that she had a bit of orcish heritage in her blood. That certainly explained her vibrant attitude and her rather bawdy sense of humor, which was often the subject of much discussion among the more prim and proper females of Hilltop.
Not much was known about her past, except for the odd bit of information that she reluctantly revealed on very rare occasions.

She always used to say, “One of the things you should know by now, Yanny, is that the people who come to these small frontier towns usually do so for a good reason. Most of us do not wish to talk about the past, and we spend most of our lives trying to pretend it never happened. Let us just say that I grew up at Zhentil Keep and have only the most unpleasant memories of it. I do not wish to speak of it further.”

“Ah, Drogan’s students,” Fiona exclaimed, winking at Yanny. “Always nice to see young faces in here. Now, which one are you again? I am kidding, Yanny! Do not get such a sour face for I have not forgotten you. I am not that old! Now, are you here to buy something, or just for a visit?”
“Well met, Fiona,” Dorna said while Yanny bowed politely, mumbling awkward greetings.
“Dorna and I would like to see your goods,” he blurted out, realizing his folly immediately.
“I do hope you mean my inventory and not my massive bosom,” Fiona replied with a laugh. “Sorry, old jokes are best.”

Yanny blushed profusely – he should have seen this coming!
“Eh… yes…” he mumbled, blushing even more, “I mean… no…” he desperately looked to Dorna for help.
“What Yanny means to say,” Dorna explained with a mischievous grin on her face, “is that he would like to purchase some finely crafted darts from you while I am in need of your famously keen throwing axes.”
“Yes,” Yanny said with a sheepish smile, trying desperately not to appear like a complete bumbling fool, “that is what I meant to say, Fiona.”
“You are too sweet, my dear lad,” Fiona laughed. “So sweet that I could pick you up and give you a big kiss, free of charge. But I suppose that would not be appropriate.”
“You are a rather strange woman, Fiona,” Dorna mused. “I guess that’s why I always enjoyed your company.”
“And I enjoyed yours, little rogue,” Fiona replied, with a happy smile on her face. “I have even forgiven you for that short sword you borrowed.”

Now it was Dorna’s turn to blush as she mumbled through awkward excuses, explanations, and apologies.
“Don’t worry about it, my sneaky-fingered lass,” Fiona laughed. “Think of it as a little gift for a valiant defender of Hilltop.”
“Did you have any trouble with kobolds?” Yanny asked.
“One ran in here and got its brains dashed out by my hammer,” Fiona replied casually, “and then I threw the corpse outside. Haven’t seen many more of the pesky little rats ever since.”
“You wield that hammer like a dwarf,” Dorna mused. “It’s no wonder they ran off.”
“Now, that’s a compliment if I ever heard one,” Fiona laughed. “Thank you, Dorna. I must have missed the main body of kobolds as I worked the forge. I hunted around, but they were gone. I guess the one that came in must have been a straggler.”

Fiona disappeared into her smithy and returned a few moments later, holding a leather belt with neatly stacked darts and some finely crafted throwing axes.

“Made these beauties especially for you,” she said with a wink. “Always knew the day would come when you will need them. Do be careful out there, my friends. I have seen dark times before, and I think they are back again.”
“Tell us more about the artifacts, my lady,” Yanny asked.

“Let’s see,” Ayala began, lounging comfortably in the plush sofa, the only piece of furniture to survive the fiery mayhem.

The apprentices gathered around her, listening intently, while Master Drogan reclined in his favorite chair, brought forth from his private chambers by powerful Xanos. He was deep in concentration, with eyes closed, stroking the remains of his once plentiful beard.

“If I remember correctly, the four artifacts consist of a mummified hand, a dragon’s tooth, a statue of a tower, and a mask.”
“The mummified hand belonged to a powerful lich named Belpheron, as I understand it. The hand was all that remained when he was destroyed. I remember it being said that some of Belpheron’s power remained in it. Perhaps someone is trying to tap into it… or perhaps one of Belpheron’s old followers wants him resurrected. If that were the case, it would be terrible news. Belpheron threatened to destroy Faerûn the first time… we certainly don’t need him trying again.”

“Tell us about the dragon’s tooth, my lady,” Dorna asked, more than a little intrigued.
“A remnant of the great wyrm Hephaestagon, a great dragon that also wielded the most evil of the black arts. The dragon died long ago… but it is possible that the kobolds could have some interest in it, seeing as they are of draconic origin themselves. I have trouble believing the kobolds are the instigators of this theft, however. It’s more likely they serve another… perhaps even a dragon aspiring to have Hephaestagon’s power.”

“Tell us more about the tower statue, my lady,” Xanos asked.
“I… actually do not know much about that. I believe it was found in a desert tomb many years ago, and one of our wizards detected powerful and destructive magic within it. The nature of the magic could not be discerned, however, so it was put aside to be kept safe until more could be discovered about it.”

“Tell us more about the mask, my lady,” Mischa asked.
“That once belonged to a high priest of the Lord of Shadows, I believe, and is imbued with considerable power… though nobody has figured out how to use it. Seeing as the God of Thieves rarely produces items of benevolent purpose, it was decided best to keep the mask safe and out of reach of his followers.”

“An item of the god Mask,” Yanny mused, “the Master of All Thieves.”
“Aye,” Master Drogan said, stroking his bald head. “Perhaps someone has figured out how to use the mask’s power? If so, any amount of mischief could be expected as a result.”

“The fact that the malevolent power exists could be tempting for some,” Ayala continued, “and it’s very possible that there may be someone out there who knows more about these artifacts than we do. The trouble will be figuring out which artifact the thief is interested in… and what they intend to do with it. Considering the nature of these items, it is certainly evil.”

“But why keep these powerful items here in Hilltop, my lady?” Mischa asked. “Why not hide them somewhere safe?”
“And where, exactly, would somewhere safe be? Behind the walls of a keep, surrounded by guards? What better way to announce that you hide something of value. No, the Harpers believed that this school was remote enough and nondescript enough to be considered safe from persecution. For many years that has indeed been the case.”

“Would you tell us more about the Harpers, my lady?” Yanny asked.
“The Harpers seek to maintain a balance in the world even in the face of those who would abuse their powers. Some claim we are spies, others consider us dangerous. Yet others claim we are assassins. In truth, we are a little of all things, when the situation warrants it. You know… it was always our hope that Drogan’s students might take the cue from their tutor and become Harpers themselves, in fact. What do you think of that, lad?”

“I’d very much like to become a Harper,” Yanny answered without hesitation.
“That’s good. You certainly seem like the sort of fellow who would do well amongst the Harpers. We shall have to wait and see.”
“My dear students,” Master Drogan said, with tears streaking down his plump cheeks, “great adventure awaits you, by my own reckoning. It would do you well to rest up before venturing out. Go now, and may Tymora smile brightly upon you.”
“May the gods aid you in your quest,” Ayala added, giving Yanny a leather pouch that was bulging with gems and gold. “Perhaps you will find some of the gems useful for your spellcasting. And the gold will certainly help you get whatever other supplies you might need along the way.”

“I shall pray to Mystra for you safe return,” Mischa promised, with tears welling up in her beautiful eyes.
“And I shall be waiting to hear great tales of battles upon your safe return, my friends,” Xanos finished, and everybody in the room shared a hug.

☼☼☼☼☼

Yanny and Dorna departed upstairs into their rooms to get some much needed sleep, while Xanos and the rest of the defenders remained in the library to clean up the mess.

Before going to sleep, Yanny needed to attend to certain matters. First, he attuned his ranger senses to his beloved familiar, wanting to make sure that Dragosha, who remained in the care of Fenran, was unharmed. The pet familiar shared a special bond with his master and had a natural ability to sense Yanny’s presence.
Yanny felt almost immediately Dragosha’s strong and healthy presence and sent out an empathetic vision of victory over the kobold raiding party. In return, he experienced a feeling of overwhelming joy, emanating from his pet familiar.

Satisfied with Dragosha’s safety, Yanny turned his attention to memorizing the spells that had slipped from his weary mind during the combat. Knowing that the quest to recover the missing artifacts would undoubtedly prove to be a difficult task, he took care to prepare useful spells and to organize the necessary spell components in his belt pouch.
Exhausted, he whispered a quick prayer to Mystra and finally fell into deep sleep.

In his dreams he saw again and again a great white dragon, a parched desert, and a mysterious hooded figure leaping through a portal.

☼☼☼☼☼

A soft knock on the door awoke Yanny early the next morning. He got up groggily, put on his breeches, and walked over to open the door. Dorna stood in the doorway, dressed for battle and ready for adventure.
She winked at him and said teasingly, “Time to wake up, mage. You wouldn’t want to sleep through such a great adventure, now, would you?”
“Of course not,” Yanny huffed, winking back at the sneaky dwarf. “And besides, I was just getting up to go and wake you up, knowing how much you like to sleep.”
“No need for that now. As you can see, I am dressed and ready.”

Dorna smiled and dipped into a mocking bow.
“Now, if you would, my lord… Get dressed and be quick about it. I shall wait for you downstairs.”
“Yes, boss,” Yanny replied, returning Dorna’s smile.

He got dressed hastily, donned his ranger gear, and belted his weapons. Grabbing his backpack and his belt pouch, he whispered a quick prayer to Mystra, and exited his room, taking care to move quietly.
Dorna was waiting for him downstairs, and together they exited Master Drogan’s house and set up a quick pace towards the town proper. The companions planned to visit Farghan for a quick meal and to find out if the herbalist had some new information that would help them in their quest.

“So, the great adventure begins,” Yanny mused.
“It should prove to be an interesting one,” Dorna replied, winking mischievously. “The odd coin here and there could fall our way. That’s the way of Vergadain, you see. A little luck, a little skill, and a little bit of something for ourselves in our pockets at the end of the day.”
“Did I ever tell you I like the way you think, my dear Dorna?”
“Many times, mage, many times!”

When the companions reached the town proper, Yanny again encountered Fiona’s guard dog Bim. The animal wagged its tail in recognition and approached the young ranger. It was clutching a shiny trinket in its maw and Yanny recognized it as a magical silver ring that allowed the wearer to summon a powerful ally in the form of a wolf.
Bim dropped the ring at Yanny’s feet and the ranger experienced emotions of happiness with the dog’s ability to pass Bethsheva’s test. Bim did not have any use for the item, and the dog reasoned it would serve a much better purpose in Yanny’s possession.

“Well done, Bim,” Yanny exclaimed, picking up the ring and slipping it on his finger. “Bethsheva shall be happy to find out from me about your hunting prowess. You two shall make a beautiful couple, no doubt.” Bim barked in agreement, wagged its tail again, and bounded away happily.

As usual, Farghan was already awake and cooking up another one of his dawnfry meals. Upon entering the hut, Yanny encountered the beautiful female snow wolf. Attuning his ranger senses to the magnificent beast, he sent out an empathetic greeting. Bethsheva approached, sniffing at the silver ring of the wolf, and looked at Yanny questioningly.
Yanny smiled and spoke aloud, “It appears that Bim has finally passed your test, dear Bethsheva. He shall make a fine father for your pups indeed.”
Bethsheva perked her ears in recognition and sent out an empathetic reply, admitting that she also liked Bim very much and was hoping the guard dog would pass her test. She wished the good-mannered ranger and the nice dwarven lass a happy hunt and bounded off in search of Bim.

In the kitchen, Farghan was busily preparing his special dawnfry. The herbalist rushed up to embrace the companions, exclaiming, “Well met, defenders of Hilltop! It gladdens my heart to see you again.”
“Well met, Farghan,” the companions replied in unison, and Dorna added innocently, “Let me guess. You are cooking up your ‘Special Recipe’ again, aren’t you?”
“Indeed,” Farghan laughed in reply.

The three friends sat down at the table and tasted the splendid food. Once again, they experienced a momentary disorienting sensation that was followed by increased strength and stamina.
“Hilltop fared well in the kobold attack,” Farghan was saying, “although my communications with the local wildlife revealed that Blumberg has met a less fortunate fate. The town has been sacked by the gnolls and there are doubtfully very many survivors.”
“Foul dog-faced monsters!” Dorna growled. “They shall pay with their filthy hides for this!”
“We must set out to Blumberg and search for survivors,” Yanny added, “and woe to these vile creatures if they remain in the town.”
“Before we leave the town,” Dorna offered, “we would be wise to purchase some wares from Fiona. I am in need of a few throwing axes.”
“Good idea,” Yanny replied, “for I am also in need of some equipment.” Dorna raised her brow questioningly.
“Darts,” Yanny explained.

Yanny and Dorna hastily finished their meal, bid Farghan a warm farewell, and continued on their way.
Fiona’s smithy, situated just next to Farghan’s shop, was their next stop. Just like the herbalist, she never locked her door, always welcoming an opportunity to sell her wares and to chat with the potential customers. The adventurers politely knocked on the door and then entered, to find the smiling woman awake and waiting for them inside.
Fiona was a heavyset town smith, and there were even rumors among the peasants that she had a bit of orcish heritage in her blood. That certainly explained her vibrant attitude and her rather bawdy sense of humor, which was often the subject of much discussion among the more prim and proper females of Hilltop.
Not much was known about her past, except for the odd bit of information that she reluctantly revealed on very rare occasions.

She always used to say, “One of the things you should know by now, Yanny, is that the people who come to these small frontier towns usually do so for a good reason. Most of us do not wish to talk about the past, and we spend most of our lives trying to pretend it never happened. Let us just say that I grew up at Zhentil Keep and have only the most unpleasant memories of it. I do not wish to speak of it further.”

“Ah, Drogan’s students,” Fiona exclaimed, winking at Yanny. “Always nice to see young faces in here. Now, which one are you again? I am kidding, Yanny! Do not get such a sour face for I have not forgotten you. I am not that old! Now, are you here to buy something, or just for a visit?”
“Well met, Fiona,” Dorna said while Yanny bowed politely, mumbling awkward greetings.
“Dorna and I would like to see your goods,” he blurted out, realizing his folly immediately.
“I do hope you mean my inventory and not my massive bosom,” Fiona replied with a laugh. “Sorry, old jokes are best.”

Yanny blushed profusely – he should have seen this coming!
“Eh… yes…” he mumbled, blushing even more, “I mean… no…” he desperately looked to Dorna for help.
“What Yanny means to say,” Dorna explained with a mischievous grin on her face, “is that he would like to purchase some finely crafted darts from you while I am in need of your famously keen throwing axes.”
“Yes,” Yanny said with a sheepish smile, trying desperately not to appear like a complete bumbling fool, “that is what I meant to say, Fiona.”
“You are too sweet, my dear lad,” Fiona laughed. “So sweet that I could pick you up and give you a big kiss, free of charge. But I suppose that would not be appropriate.”
“You are a rather strange woman, Fiona,” Dorna mused. “I guess that’s why I always enjoyed your company.”
“And I enjoyed yours, little rogue,” Fiona replied, with a happy smile on her face. “I have even forgiven you for that short sword you borrowed.”

Now it was Dorna’s turn to blush as she mumbled through awkward excuses, explanations, and apologies.
“Don’t worry about it, my sneaky-fingered lass,” Fiona laughed. “Think of it as a little gift for a valiant defender of Hilltop.”
“Did you have any trouble with kobolds?” Yanny asked.
“One ran in here and got its brains dashed out by my hammer,” Fiona replied casually, “and then I threw the corpse outside. Haven’t seen many more of the pesky little rats ever since.”
“You wield that hammer like a dwarf,” Dorna mused. “It’s no wonder they ran off.”
“Now, that’s a compliment if I ever heard one,” Fiona laughed. “Thank you, Dorna. I must have missed the main body of kobolds as I worked the forge. I hunted around, but they were gone. I guess the one that came in must have been a straggler.”

Fiona disappeared into her smithy and returned a few moments later, holding a leather belt with neatly stacked darts and some finely crafted throwing axes.

“Made these beauties especially for you,” she said with a wink. “Always knew the day would come when you will need them. Do be careful out there, my friends. I have seen dark times before, and I think they are back again.”“Tell us more about the artifacts, my lady,” Yanny asked.

“Let’s see,” Ayala began, lounging comfortably in the plush sofa, the only piece of furniture to survive the fiery mayhem.

The apprentices gathered around her, listening intently, while Master Drogan reclined in his favorite chair, brought forth from his private chambers by powerful Xanos. He was deep in concentration, with eyes closed, stroking the remains of his once plentiful beard.

“If I remember correctly, the four artifacts consist of a mummified hand, a dragon’s tooth, a statue of a tower, and a mask.”
“The mummified hand belonged to a powerful lich named Belpheron, as I understand it. The hand was all that remained when he was destroyed. I remember it being said that some of Belpheron’s power remained in it. Perhaps someone is trying to tap into it… or perhaps one of Belpheron’s old followers wants him resurrected. If that were the case, it would be terrible news. Belpheron threatened to destroy Faerûn the first time… we certainly don’t need him trying again.”

“Tell us about the dragon’s tooth, my lady,” Dorna asked, more than a little intrigued.
“A remnant of the great wyrm Hephaestagon, a great dragon that also wielded the most evil of the black arts. The dragon died long ago… but it is possible that the kobolds could have some interest in it, seeing as they are of draconic origin themselves. I have trouble believing the kobolds are the instigators of this theft, however. It’s more likely they serve another… perhaps even a dragon aspiring to have Hephaestagon’s power.”

“Tell us more about the tower statue, my lady,” Xanos asked.
“I… actually do not know much about that. I believe it was found in a desert tomb many years ago, and one of our wizards detected powerful and destructive magic within it. The nature of the magic could not be discerned, however, so it was put aside to be kept safe until more could be discovered about it.”

“Tell us more about the mask, my lady,” Mischa asked.
“That once belonged to a high priest of the Lord of Shadows, I believe, and is imbued with considerable power… though nobody has figured out how to use it. Seeing as the God of Thieves rarely produces items of benevolent purpose, it was decided best to keep the mask safe and out of reach of his followers.”

“An item of the god Mask,” Yanny mused, “the Master of All Thieves.”
“Aye,” Master Drogan said, stroking his bald head. “Perhaps someone has figured out how to use the mask’s power? If so, any amount of mischief could be expected as a result.”

“The fact that the malevolent power exists could be tempting for some,” Ayala continued, “and it’s very possible that there may be someone out there who knows more about these artifacts than we do. The trouble will be figuring out which artifact the thief is interested in… and what they intend to do with it. Considering the nature of these items, it is certainly evil.”

“But why keep these powerful items here in Hilltop, my lady?” Mischa asked. “Why not hide them somewhere safe?”
“And where, exactly, would somewhere safe be? Behind the walls of a keep, surrounded by guards? What better way to announce that you hide something of value. No, the Harpers believed that this school was remote enough and nondescript enough to be considered safe from persecution. For many years that has indeed been the case.”

“Would you tell us more about the Harpers, my lady?” Yanny asked.
“The Harpers seek to maintain a balance in the world even in the face of those who would abuse their powers. Some claim we are spies, others consider us dangerous. Yet others claim we are assassins. In truth, we are a little of all things, when the situation warrants it. You know… it was always our hope that Drogan’s students might take the cue from their tutor and become Harpers themselves, in fact. What do you think of that, lad?”

“I’d very much like to become a Harper,” Yanny answered without hesitation.
“That’s good. You certainly seem like the sort of fellow who would do well amongst the Harpers. We shall have to wait and see.”
“My dear students,” Master Drogan said, with tears streaking down his plump cheeks, “great adventure awaits you, by my own reckoning. It would do you well to rest up before venturing out. Go now, and may Tymora smile brightly upon you.”
“May the gods aid you in your quest,” Ayala added, giving Yanny a leather pouch that was bulging with gems and gold. “Perhaps you will find some of the gems useful for your spellcasting. And the gold will certainly help you get whatever other supplies you might need along the way.”

“I shall pray to Mystra for you safe return,” Mischa promised, with tears welling up in her beautiful eyes.
“And I shall be waiting to hear great tales of battles upon your safe return, my friends,” Xanos finished, and everybody in the room shared a hug.

☼☼☼☼☼

Yanny and Dorna departed upstairs into their rooms to get some much needed sleep, while Xanos and the rest of the defenders remained in the library to clean up the mess.

Before going to sleep, Yanny needed to attend to certain matters. First, he attuned his ranger senses to his beloved familiar, wanting to make sure that Dragosha, who remained in the care of Fenran, was unharmed. The pet familiar shared a special bond with his master and had a natural ability to sense Yanny’s presence.
Yanny felt almost immediately Dragosha’s strong and healthy presence and sent out an empathetic vision of victory over the kobold raiding party. In return, he experienced a feeling of overwhelming joy, emanating from his pet familiar.

Satisfied with Dragosha’s safety, Yanny turned his attention to memorizing the spells that had slipped from his weary mind during the combat. Knowing that the quest to recover the missing artifacts would undoubtedly prove to be a difficult task, he took care to prepare useful spells and to organize the necessary spell components in his belt pouch.
Exhausted, he whispered a quick prayer to Mystra and finally fell into deep sleep.

In his dreams he saw again and again a great white dragon, a parched desert, and a mysterious hooded figure leaping through a portal.

☼☼☼☼☼

A soft knock on the door awoke Yanny early the next morning. He got up groggily, put on his breeches, and walked over to open the door. Dorna stood in the doorway, dressed for battle and ready for adventure.
She winked at him and said teasingly, “Time to wake up, mage. You wouldn’t want to sleep through such a great adventure, now, would you?”
“Of course not,” Yanny huffed, winking back at the sneaky dwarf. “And besides, I was just getting up to go and wake you up, knowing how much you like to sleep.”
“No need for that now. As you can see, I am dressed and ready.”

Dorna smiled and dipped into a mocking bow.
“Now, if you would, my lord… Get dressed and be quick about it. I shall wait for you downstairs.”
“Yes, boss,” Yanny replied, returning Dorna’s smile.

He got dressed hastily, donned his ranger gear, and belted his weapons. Grabbing his backpack and his belt pouch, he whispered a quick prayer to Mystra, and exited his room, taking care to move quietly.
Dorna was waiting for him downstairs, and together they exited Master Drogan’s house and set up a quick pace towards the town proper. The companions planned to visit Farghan for a quick meal and to find out if the herbalist had some new information that would help them in their quest.

“So, the great adventure begins,” Yanny mused.
“It should prove to be an interesting one,” Dorna replied, winking mischievously. “The odd coin here and there could fall our way. That’s the way of Vergadain, you see. A little luck, a little skill, and a little bit of something for ourselves in our pockets at the end of the day.”
“Did I ever tell you I like the way you think, my dear Dorna?”
“Many times, mage, many times!”

When the companions reached the town proper, Yanny again encountered Fiona’s guard dog Bim. The animal wagged its tail in recognition and approached the young ranger. It was clutching a shiny trinket in its maw and Yanny recognized it as a magical silver ring that allowed the wearer to summon a powerful ally in the form of a wolf.
Bim dropped the ring at Yanny’s feet and the ranger experienced emotions of happiness with the dog’s ability to pass Bethsheva’s test. Bim did not have any use for the item, and the dog reasoned it would serve a much better purpose in Yanny’s possession.

“Well done, Bim,” Yanny exclaimed, picking up the ring and slipping it on his finger. “Bethsheva shall be happy to find out from me about your hunting prowess. You two shall make a beautiful couple, no doubt.” Bim barked in agreement, wagged its tail again, and bounded away happily.

As usual, Farghan was already awake and cooking up another one of his dawnfry meals. Upon entering the hut, Yanny encountered the beautiful female snow wolf. Attuning his ranger senses to the magnificent beast, he sent out an empathetic greeting. Bethsheva approached, sniffing at the silver ring of the wolf, and looked at Yanny questioningly.
Yanny smiled and spoke aloud, “It appears that Bim has finally passed your test, dear Bethsheva. He shall make a fine father for your pups indeed.”
Bethsheva perked her ears in recognition and sent out an empathetic reply, admitting that she also liked Bim very much and was hoping the guard dog would pass her test. She wished the good-mannered ranger and the nice dwarven lass a happy hunt and bounded off in search of Bim.

In the kitchen, Farghan was busily preparing his special dawnfry. The herbalist rushed up to embrace the companions, exclaiming, “Well met, defenders of Hilltop! It gladdens my heart to see you again.”
“Well met, Farghan,” the companions replied in unison, and Dorna added innocently, “Let me guess. You are cooking up your ‘Special Recipe’ again, aren’t you?”
“Indeed,” Farghan laughed in reply.

The three friends sat down at the table and tasted the splendid food. Once again, they experienced a momentary disorienting sensation that was followed by increased strength and stamina.
“Hilltop fared well in the kobold attack,” Farghan was saying, “although my communications with the local wildlife revealed that Blumberg has met a less fortunate fate. The town has been sacked by the gnolls and there are doubtfully very many survivors.”
“Foul dog-faced monsters!” Dorna growled. “They shall pay with their filthy hides for this!”
“We must set out to Blumberg and search for survivors,” Yanny added, “and woe to these vile creatures if they remain in the town.”
“Before we leave the town,” Dorna offered, “we would be wise to purchase some wares from Fiona. I am in need of a few throwing axes.”
“Good idea,” Yanny replied, “for I am also in need of some equipment.” Dorna raised her brow questioningly.
“Darts,” Yanny explained.

Yanny and Dorna hastily finished their meal, bid Farghan a warm farewell, and continued on their way.
Fiona’s smithy, situated just next to Farghan’s shop, was their next stop. Just like the herbalist, she never locked her door, always welcoming an opportunity to sell her wares and to chat with the potential customers. The adventurers politely knocked on the door and then entered, to find the smiling woman awake and waiting for them inside.
Fiona was a heavyset town smith, and there were even rumors among the peasants that she had a bit of orcish heritage in her blood. That certainly explained her vibrant attitude and her rather bawdy sense of humor, which was often the subject of much discussion among the more prim and proper females of Hilltop.
Not much was known about her past, except for the odd bit of information that she reluctantly revealed on very rare occasions.

She always used to say, “One of the things you should know by now, Yanny, is that the people who come to these small frontier towns usually do so for a good reason. Most of us do not wish to talk about the past, and we spend most of our lives trying to pretend it never happened. Let us just say that I grew up at Zhentil Keep and have only the most unpleasant memories of it. I do not wish to speak of it further.”

“Ah, Drogan’s students,” Fiona exclaimed, winking at Yanny. “Always nice to see young faces in here. Now, which one are you again? I am kidding, Yanny! Do not get such a sour face for I have not forgotten you. I am not that old! Now, are you here to buy something, or just for a visit?”
“Well met, Fiona,” Dorna said while Yanny bowed politely, mumbling awkward greetings.
“Dorna and I would like to see your goods,” he blurted out, realizing his folly immediately.
“I do hope you mean my inventory and not my massive bosom,” Fiona replied with a laugh. “Sorry, old jokes are best.”

Yanny blushed profusely – he should have seen this coming!
“Eh… yes…” he mumbled, blushing even more, “I mean… no…” he desperately looked to Dorna for help.
“What Yanny means to say,” Dorna explained with a mischievous grin on her face, “is that he would like to purchase some finely crafted darts from you while I am in need of your famously keen throwing axes.”
“Yes,” Yanny said with a sheepish smile, trying desperately not to appear like a complete bumbling fool, “that is what I meant to say, Fiona.”
“You are too sweet, my dear lad,” Fiona laughed. “So sweet that I could pick you up and give you a big kiss, free of charge. But I suppose that would not be appropriate.”
“You are a rather strange woman, Fiona,” Dorna mused. “I guess that’s why I always enjoyed your company.”
“And I enjoyed yours, little rogue,” Fiona replied, with a happy smile on her face. “I have even forgiven you for that short sword you borrowed.”

Now it was Dorna’s turn to blush as she mumbled through awkward excuses, explanations, and apologies.
“Don’t worry about it, my sneaky-fingered lass,” Fiona laughed. “Think of it as a little gift for a valiant defender of Hilltop.”
“Did you have any trouble with kobolds?” Yanny asked.
“One ran in here and got its brains dashed out by my hammer,” Fiona replied casually, “and then I threw the corpse outside. Haven’t seen many more of the pesky little rats ever since.”
“You wield that hammer like a dwarf,” Dorna mused. “It’s no wonder they ran off.”
“Now, that’s a compliment if I ever heard one,” Fiona laughed. “Thank you, Dorna. I must have missed the main body of kobolds as I worked the forge. I hunted around, but they were gone. I guess the one that came in must have been a straggler.”

Fiona disappeared into her smithy and returned a few moments later, holding a leather belt with neatly stacked darts and some finely crafted throwing axes.

“Made these beauties especially for you,” she said with a wink. “Always knew the day would come when you will need them. Do be careful out there, my friends. I have seen dark times before, and I think they are back again.”

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16 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:52 am

Maxduelantus

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Head Overseer
CHAPTER 5

BLUMBERG

Blumberg was situated about an hour away from Hilltop, and the companions sprinted towards it with renewed strength in their legs.
As they passed through the stone bridge in the foothills, Yanny encountered the tracks of the fleeing kobolds that ended abruptly near the entrance to a long forgotten elven crypt. The signs of a recent ferocious battle were apparent with many bodies of dead kobolds and a few bodies of dead gnolls strewn about the place.

“The gnolls presumably achieved victory,” Yanny observed.
“Aye, I agree, mage,” Dorna replied. “The remaining kobolds fled into the crypt, judging by the tracks.”
“We should investigate this,” Yanny agreed, “after we have taken care of the urgent matters in Blumberg.”

Further down the road, Yanny sensed that one of the local wild animals was injured and was sending out an empathetic plea for help. It did not take the young ranger very long to discover the wounded beast.
The magnificent brown bear was hiding in the nearby bushes and was watching its surroundings with unfriendly disposition. It growled threateningly at Yanny’s approach, revealing a row of sharp teeth.
“Stand back,” Yanny whispered, looking at Dorna, “The bears are known to attack indiscriminately when they are wounded.”
“Are you sure this is such a good idea?” Dorna asked, realizing Yanny’s intentions.
“I will be fine,” the young ranger replied confidently. “Trust me on this.”

Yanny attuned his ranger senses, sending out visions of friendship and a desire to help. The wounded beast relaxed somewhat, and Yanny cautiously approached.
The bear seemed to be having great discomfort as it shuffled forward. After a quick inspection, Yanny noticed that the animal had an arrow embedded in its chest. He moved methodically to quickly remove the painful missile. The bear growled in agony but did not attack.
Next, Yanny reached into his backpack, produced a healing potion, and used it cleanse the bleeding wound. It closed almost immediately and the grateful animal licked his face with the long, rough tongue. Then it shambled off into the trees contentedly.

☼☼☼☼☼

The companions resumed their brisk walk and soon approached Blumberg. Yanny’s holy symbol of Mystra flared angrily as he got closer to the town, signifying the presence of foul creatures in the vicinity.
Moving cautiously through the cover of the tree canopy, the companions spotted Fenran and Dragosha. The elven ranger placed a finger to his pursed lips, and then held up four fingers in the air, signifying the number of gnoll sentries.
The dog-faced, bipedal creatures stood slightly taller than an average human, wearing filthy leather vests atop their furry hides. They were milling about the town gate, brandishing battle axes and small shields, and conversing with each other in their yelping and growling native language.

Yanny pointed at himself, at Fenran, and then at Dorna to indicate the order of attacks. Fenran picked his target and trained his arrow at it, waiting for Yanny. Dorna produced a throwing axe from her belt, and looked at Yanny.
The young mage carefully extracted from his belt a concealed dart that was tipped with a mixture of a powdered rhubarb leaf and a bit of snake venom, and began incanting the words to a spell under his breath, holding the item in his open palm.
The gnoll sentries perked their ears and immediately ceased their conversation, pointing their axes towards the bushes. They did not get an opportunity to charge as Yanny finished his spell and pointed at the closest monster.
The dart hummed towards its target, catching the dog-faced creature squarely in the chest and exploding in a green splash of corrosive acid. The gnoll yelped in pain and went down hard, clutching its ugly face.
Before the gnolls could overcome their surprise, Fenran let fly with an arrow, catching another gnoll in the eye. It went down, dying instantly.

The remaining two sentries, unable to see the attackers, decided to flee into the town. The defenders would have none of it, though.
Dorna let fly with her throwing axe, catching the third gnoll in the back of the head and killing it instantly.
Fenran’s arrow caught the last monster in the back of the neck and exited through the throat. The foul creature went down with a gurgling yelp, never to rise again.
Yanny took advantage of the momentary reprise, producing a strip of cured bull hide and casting two successive spells of magical force on himself and Dorna. The companions silently approached the burned town gate, and Fenran took a cautious peek inside while Dorna retrieved her throwing axe.

“Half-a-score force of gnolls,” he whispered, “Three archers, two shamans, and the rest are warriors.”
“The archers must be dealt with first,” Yanny whispered, taking out a dagger from his boot.
Without a preamble, the companions broke into a run and fanned out in three directions, with Dragosha taking to the air behind them.
The gnolls shrieked in surprise and the dog-faced warriors charged while the shamans began casting their spells.
Fenran let fly with an arrow as he ran, catching a gnoll archer in the throat. An arrow hummed above his head, way off the mark. He dropped his bow and took out his long sword, charging the gnoll warriors.
Yanny let fly with his dagger, catching another archer in the eye, and took out his melee weapons while incanting the words to a spell.
Dorna let fly with her throwing axe, catching the last gnoll archer in the head, and charged with her battle axe.
The gnoll shamans finished their spells before Yanny finished his. Two pillars of flame burst from the sky intercepting Dorna’s charge. To her credit, she was able to tumble away from the first flame strike, but the second pillar engulfed her in searing flames. Her magical armor absorbed much of the damage, winking out in the process, but she still sustained minor burns and almost lost her footing.

Yanny pointed his jeweled rapier at the gnoll shamans, and a fire bead flew from its tip, detonating amidst the creatures in a ball of searing flames. The gnoll shamans were unlikely to survive his fireball, and Yanny offered a quick thanks to Mystra under his breath.
The remaining force of gnoll warriors charged the defenders, but Dragosha swooped down from the sky and exhaled a billowing cloud of flames into their midst. The four gnolls that were caught on fire howled in pain and rolled on the ground.

Yanny and Fenran veered towards Dorna, and the three friends stood back to back while the gnolls began encircling them.
“Three to one,” Fenran said, catching his breath.
“The odds are not too bad,” Dorna chimed in, banging the battle axe against her buckler.
“Let’s make them better, shall we?” Yanny said and began incanting the words to another spell just as the dog-faced monsters attacked.

Fenran parried with his sword and slashed with his dagger, catching a gnoll in the throat. It went down with a wet gurgle.
Dorna deflected two axe strikes with her buckler and slashed with her own battle axe, loping off the head from a gnoll.
The gnolls were fierce warriors and could be devastating in large numbers, but they did not have the finesse that Yanny possessed. He rapidly parried the first two blows with his rapier and his magical armor easily deflected the third.

In response, Yanny finished his spell and released searing flames from the tip of his rapier, catching the three attackers in their dog-like faces. The gnolls howled in pain and dropped their weapons, slapping their paws against their snouts. Yanny slashed with his dagger, poked with his rapier, and slashed again in rapid succession, forever silencing their howls of pain.

Dragosha flew a complete circle and swooped down again, catching one of the gnolls with his barbed tail. The foul creature made a yelp that sounded more like a yawn and crashed to the ground, snoring contentedly.
The remaining gnolls realized their folly and broke ranks, attempting to flee into the foothills.
They never made it.
Yanny and Fenran let fly with their daggers, catching two of the fleeing monsters in the back of their heads.
Dragosha swooped down with his barbed tail and another gnoll fell down, fast asleep.
The last fleeing monster almost made it out of the gate when Fenran picked up his bow and let fly with an arrow. Clutching at its pierced throat, the last gnoll fell to the ground, never to rise again.

“Mystra be praised!” Yanny exclaimed. “Nice shot, Fenran!”
“Thank you,” Fenran bowed politely and began examining his surroundings.

Only then did the friends realize the grim fate that befell Blumberg. The devastation was complete, and Yanny doubted they would find any survivors. The gnolls must have sacked the town in a surprise attack, setting all the buildings ablaze in the process. Most of the wooden structures were still burning and numerous bodies of local farmers were strewn about the place.
One small building stood intact, however, and the friends rushed towards it, praying to the gods in hopes of finding survivors.
“Why is this building still standing?” Dorna asked. “There must be something important inside if it was spared.”
The hardwood door was locked and barricaded from the inside, and Yanny heard hushed shuffles from within. He knocked loudly and shouted, “Is anyone in there?”

He heard another shuffle, a click of a crossbow being loaded, and then a voice, a dwarven voice responded, “I’ll have none ‘o ye trickery, ye ugly son ‘o the dog. Ye try an’ enter, an’ I be stuffin’ me axe down yer filthy throat!”
Yanny and Dorna shared a smile of relief, and the sneaky dwarf shouted, “We have come from Hilltop to aid you. The gnolls are dead. It is safe to come out now.”
“Tymora be praised! If it ain’t them Drogan students come to save us. Aye, t’is the voice o’ the dwarven lass, Dorna, I recognize it. Hold on, me friends…”

There was a sound of someone moving wooden furniture aside, then unlocking of the door, and a stocky dwarf emerged from within. His skin was gray, his head was bald, and Yanny recognized in him Master Drogan’s farmer associate Nathan Hurst, who lived in the foothills near Blumberg.

Being a duergar, Nathan was not considered by the locals to be capable of such valiant acts, but here he was, clutching a heavy crossbow and protecting Blumberg. The gray dwarf was fully outfitted for battle and was wearing a mithril breastplate. A large battle axe was strapped across his back.
Behind Nathan, a dozen or so of the locals were cowering inside the merchant store, nervously clutching pitchforks, daggers, and occasional short swords. They visibly relaxed and began thanking the gods for their apparently unexpected salvation.
“Well met, Nathan,” Fenran said, patting the valiant duergar on the shoulder.
“Aye, well met, an’ good it is to see ye all, me friends. Fenran Valianheart he’self an’ Drogan’s students Yanny an’ Dorna.”
“I shall need to escort the survivors to Hilltop,” Fenran continued, “seeing as the town of Blumberg is burned down completely. Dragosha shall accompany me while Yanny and Dorna proceed with their own pressing matters.”
“You have fought bravely, my dear Dragosha,” Yanny said softly, petting his familiar.
“Thank you, master,” Dragosha proudly replied, puffing up his chest. “The dog-faced creatures were no match for Dragosha’s fighting prowess.”

While Fenran organized the expedition to Hilltop, Dorna methodically tied up both of the unconscious gnoll prisoners that were put to sleep by Dragosha’s powerful tranquilizing poison. She then proceeded not very gently to awake them with the kicks of her boots.
Nathan looked at Yanny and said, “There be a strange-lookin’ lizard fellow down in the cellar. Said he be waitin’ here for ye, talking much nonsense ‘bout a dragon master an’ callin’ he’self Deekin.”
“A kobold, waiting to speak with me?” Yanny asked.
“Aye, a kobold. The little fellow be lookin’ scared an’ wavin’ that puny sword o’ his.”

Yanny frowned in puzzlement. He had battled kobolds very recently, killing quite a few of them in the process. He did not feel especially merciful towards the little creatures that tried to assassinate Master Drogan. With an offensive spell on his lips, he descended the stairs.

☼☼☼☼☼

Deekin stood in the cellar, indeed appearing very scared and nervously clutching a short sword with both hands. More interestingly, though, was the fact that the little creature had a finely crafted lute strapped to his back. He was modestly dressed in brown garments and wore a leather vest, painted white, to designate him as one of the leaders from the kobold raiding party that attacked Hilltop the day before.

Although Yanny was wary of kobolds, for some unexplainable reason he felt comfortable around this curious-looking creature. Indeed, Deekin was unusually cute for a kobold, perhaps even likable under different circumstances, with well-defined facial features and sparkling green eyes. He almost resembled a halfling, if it weren’t for his scaly hide and a lizard-like snout.

Upon recognizing Yanny, the little guy backed up a step and whined pleadingly in flawed Common.

“Ooo! Wait, wait, wait! You no hurts Deekin… Deekin must talks to you! Please, you listens to Deekin! He hurts nobody! He hides here and waits for you… you be great human hero, you are! Deekin need your help real bad!”
“You need my help?” Yanny asked, approaching cautiously.
“Well... Deekin not hurt nobody in village… Deekin only go on raid because Master tells Deekin to. Deekin is servant to the Master. Deekin sings songs, tells tales that keeps Master happy. That why Master send Deekin on raid… so Deekin write story for Master later. Only… Deekin do something very bad. Master will be very angry at Deekin! Deekin cannot go back to Master, not ever! Deekin so frightened!”
“Who is this Master you speak of?”
“Master is great dragon Tymofarrar, ruler of kobolds! Very scary, he is. Very sharp teeth and bad breath, too, but he think Deekin funny, go figure. One time Master say he could not sleeps, so Deekin talks to Master for two days straight about mating habits of orcs. Finally, Master snores and poor Deekin collapses.”
“So, what did you do that was so terrible?”
“Deekin… he carries little tower statue when we leaves human village. When gnolls attack, he gets excited and he… drops the little statue. Statue is all broken now because of Deekin. He cannot bring it back to Master, because Master be even angrier! Deekin knows you look for little statue. Deekin, he… gives it to you if you helps him? That good idea, yes?”

“Listen to me, Deekin,” Yanny reasoned with the curious kobold bard. “You had better give me the tower statue before you do anymore damage to it. You could even harm yourself. In return, I give you my word of a ranger to do everything in my power to release you from your apparent predicament.”
“Yes, yes,” Deekin agreed excitedly. “You be great human hero! Deekin knows this… he be watching you. You go and seek out Deekin’s old Master, Tymofarrar! Maybe you talks to Master, makes him let Deekin go. Makes him free Deekin.”
“I shall gladly bargain for your freedom, Deekin. Meanwhile, you should go to Hilltop with the Blumberg survivors, where you can safely await my return. Now, would you please give me the tower statue and I shall go and speak with Tymofarrar. Do we have a deal?”

Deekin hesitated for a few heartbeats and then ran to the corner of the cellar, producing a small wooden box from one of the crates and giving it to Yanny.
“Here it be! Here it be!” Deekin exclaimed, smiling sheepishly. “Broken as Deekin said… though not Deekin’s fault, really, and Deekin not think it worth discussing that little detail again.”

The young mage could feel the strong emanations of powerful magic within. Opening the box gingerly, he took a peek inside. The small, ordinary-looking marble statue was broken in two pieces. It did not look magical at all, and yet this was one of the artifacts that Yanny was searching for. He closed the wooden box and regarded Deekin.

“Deekin is so happy now...” the kobold bard exclaimed, “but, still a little scared! You goes and finds old Master and do what you say you going to do. Deekin goes to Hilltop, as promised.”

☼☼☼☼☼

When Yanny and Deekin emerged from the merchant store, both of the gnoll prisoners were awake, their hands tied securely behind their backs. Dorna was making futile attempts to question them, but the creatures apparently did not understand Common.
Yanny approached Fenran and said, “Our new friend, Deekin, shall accompany you to Hilltop. He is a bard… of sorts, and can probably aid you with defending the survivors… and this, –“ he gave Fenran the wooden box containing the artifact – “should be taken to Master Drogan with all haste.”
“You can count on me, my brave friend,” Fenran said, and the two rangers exchanged a warm embrace.

Fenran and Nathan quickly organized the caravan of survivors, gathering weapons and provisions.
Outside the town gate, Yanny called upon the power of his newly acquired silver ring, summoning forth a mountain wolf. The animal appeared from the foothills and bounded towards him, sniffing the air and regarding the young ranger with intelligent eyes.
Yanny attuned his senses and sent out an empathetic feeling of friendship, asking the beast to aid Fenran in his quest to escort the caravan of survivors to the gate of Hilltop. The wolf abided, and soon the caravan disappeared from view.
CHAPTER 5

BLUMBERG

Blumberg was situated about an hour away from Hilltop, and the companions sprinted towards it with renewed strength in their legs.
As they passed through the stone bridge in the foothills, Yanny encountered the tracks of the fleeing kobolds that ended abruptly near the entrance to a long forgotten elven crypt. The signs of a recent ferocious battle were apparent with many bodies of dead kobolds and a few bodies of dead gnolls strewn about the place.

“The gnolls presumably achieved victory,” Yanny observed.
“Aye, I agree, mage,” Dorna replied. “The remaining kobolds fled into the crypt, judging by the tracks.”
“We should investigate this,” Yanny agreed, “after we have taken care of the urgent matters in Blumberg.”

Further down the road, Yanny sensed that one of the local wild animals was injured and was sending out an empathetic plea for help. It did not take the young ranger very long to discover the wounded beast.
The magnificent brown bear was hiding in the nearby bushes and was watching its surroundings with unfriendly disposition. It growled threateningly at Yanny’s approach, revealing a row of sharp teeth.
“Stand back,” Yanny whispered, looking at Dorna, “The bears are known to attack indiscriminately when they are wounded.”
“Are you sure this is such a good idea?” Dorna asked, realizing Yanny’s intentions.
“I will be fine,” the young ranger replied confidently. “Trust me on this.”

Yanny attuned his ranger senses, sending out visions of friendship and a desire to help. The wounded beast relaxed somewhat, and Yanny cautiously approached.
The bear seemed to be having great discomfort as it shuffled forward. After a quick inspection, Yanny noticed that the animal had an arrow embedded in its chest. He moved methodically to quickly remove the painful missile. The bear growled in agony but did not attack.
Next, Yanny reached into his backpack, produced a healing potion, and used it cleanse the bleeding wound. It closed almost immediately and the grateful animal licked his face with the long, rough tongue. Then it shambled off into the trees contentedly.

☼☼☼☼☼

The companions resumed their brisk walk and soon approached Blumberg. Yanny’s holy symbol of Mystra flared angrily as he got closer to the town, signifying the presence of foul creatures in the vicinity.
Moving cautiously through the cover of the tree canopy, the companions spotted Fenran and Dragosha. The elven ranger placed a finger to his pursed lips, and then held up four fingers in the air, signifying the number of gnoll sentries.
The dog-faced, bipedal creatures stood slightly taller than an average human, wearing filthy leather vests atop their furry hides. They were milling about the town gate, brandishing battle axes and small shields, and conversing with each other in their yelping and growling native language.

Yanny pointed at himself, at Fenran, and then at Dorna to indicate the order of attacks. Fenran picked his target and trained his arrow at it, waiting for Yanny. Dorna produced a throwing axe from her belt, and looked at Yanny.
The young mage carefully extracted from his belt a concealed dart that was tipped with a mixture of a powdered rhubarb leaf and a bit of snake venom, and began incanting the words to a spell under his breath, holding the item in his open palm.
The gnoll sentries perked their ears and immediately ceased their conversation, pointing their axes towards the bushes. They did not get an opportunity to charge as Yanny finished his spell and pointed at the closest monster.
The dart hummed towards its target, catching the dog-faced creature squarely in the chest and exploding in a green splash of corrosive acid. The gnoll yelped in pain and went down hard, clutching its ugly face.
Before the gnolls could overcome their surprise, Fenran let fly with an arrow, catching another gnoll in the eye. It went down, dying instantly.

The remaining two sentries, unable to see the attackers, decided to flee into the town. The defenders would have none of it, though.
Dorna let fly with her throwing axe, catching the third gnoll in the back of the head and killing it instantly.
Fenran’s arrow caught the last monster in the back of the neck and exited through the throat. The foul creature went down with a gurgling yelp, never to rise again.
Yanny took advantage of the momentary reprise, producing a strip of cured bull hide and casting two successive spells of magical force on himself and Dorna. The companions silently approached the burned town gate, and Fenran took a cautious peek inside while Dorna retrieved her throwing axe.

“Half-a-score force of gnolls,” he whispered, “Three archers, two shamans, and the rest are warriors.”
“The archers must be dealt with first,” Yanny whispered, taking out a dagger from his boot.
Without a preamble, the companions broke into a run and fanned out in three directions, with Dragosha taking to the air behind them.
The gnolls shrieked in surprise and the dog-faced warriors charged while the shamans began casting their spells.
Fenran let fly with an arrow as he ran, catching a gnoll archer in the throat. An arrow hummed above his head, way off the mark. He dropped his bow and took out his long sword, charging the gnoll warriors.
Yanny let fly with his dagger, catching another archer in the eye, and took out his melee weapons while incanting the words to a spell.
Dorna let fly with her throwing axe, catching the last gnoll archer in the head, and charged with her battle axe.
The gnoll shamans finished their spells before Yanny finished his. Two pillars of flame burst from the sky intercepting Dorna’s charge. To her credit, she was able to tumble away from the first flame strike, but the second pillar engulfed her in searing flames. Her magical armor absorbed much of the damage, winking out in the process, but she still sustained minor burns and almost lost her footing.

Yanny pointed his jeweled rapier at the gnoll shamans, and a fire bead flew from its tip, detonating amidst the creatures in a ball of searing flames. The gnoll shamans were unlikely to survive his fireball, and Yanny offered a quick thanks to Mystra under his breath.
The remaining force of gnoll warriors charged the defenders, but Dragosha swooped down from the sky and exhaled a billowing cloud of flames into their midst. The four gnolls that were caught on fire howled in pain and rolled on the ground.

Yanny and Fenran veered towards Dorna, and the three friends stood back to back while the gnolls began encircling them.
“Three to one,” Fenran said, catching his breath.
“The odds are not too bad,” Dorna chimed in, banging the battle axe against her buckler.
“Let’s make them better, shall we?” Yanny said and began incanting the words to another spell just as the dog-faced monsters attacked.

Fenran parried with his sword and slashed with his dagger, catching a gnoll in the throat. It went down with a wet gurgle.
Dorna deflected two axe strikes with her buckler and slashed with her own battle axe, loping off the head from a gnoll.
The gnolls were fierce warriors and could be devastating in large numbers, but they did not have the finesse that Yanny possessed. He rapidly parried the first two blows with his rapier and his magical armor easily deflected the third.

In response, Yanny finished his spell and released searing flames from the tip of his rapier, catching the three attackers in their dog-like faces. The gnolls howled in pain and dropped their weapons, slapping their paws against their snouts. Yanny slashed with his dagger, poked with his rapier, and slashed again in rapid succession, forever silencing their howls of pain.

Dragosha flew a complete circle and swooped down again, catching one of the gnolls with his barbed tail. The foul creature made a yelp that sounded more like a yawn and crashed to the ground, snoring contentedly.
The remaining gnolls realized their folly and broke ranks, attempting to flee into the foothills.
They never made it.
Yanny and Fenran let fly with their daggers, catching two of the fleeing monsters in the back of their heads.
Dragosha swooped down with his barbed tail and another gnoll fell down, fast asleep.
The last fleeing monster almost made it out of the gate when Fenran picked up his bow and let fly with an arrow. Clutching at its pierced throat, the last gnoll fell to the ground, never to rise again.

“Mystra be praised!” Yanny exclaimed. “Nice shot, Fenran!”
“Thank you,” Fenran bowed politely and began examining his surroundings.

Only then did the friends realize the grim fate that befell Blumberg. The devastation was complete, and Yanny doubted they would find any survivors. The gnolls must have sacked the town in a surprise attack, setting all the buildings ablaze in the process. Most of the wooden structures were still burning and numerous bodies of local farmers were strewn about the place.
One small building stood intact, however, and the friends rushed towards it, praying to the gods in hopes of finding survivors.
“Why is this building still standing?” Dorna asked. “There must be something important inside if it was spared.”
The hardwood door was locked and barricaded from the inside, and Yanny heard hushed shuffles from within. He knocked loudly and shouted, “Is anyone in there?”

He heard another shuffle, a click of a crossbow being loaded, and then a voice, a dwarven voice responded, “I’ll have none ‘o ye trickery, ye ugly son ‘o the dog. Ye try an’ enter, an’ I be stuffin’ me axe down yer filthy throat!”
Yanny and Dorna shared a smile of relief, and the sneaky dwarf shouted, “We have come from Hilltop to aid you. The gnolls are dead. It is safe to come out now.”
“Tymora be praised! If it ain’t them Drogan students come to save us. Aye, t’is the voice o’ the dwarven lass, Dorna, I recognize it. Hold on, me friends…”

There was a sound of someone moving wooden furniture aside, then unlocking of the door, and a stocky dwarf emerged from within. His skin was gray, his head was bald, and Yanny recognized in him Master Drogan’s farmer associate Nathan Hurst, who lived in the foothills near Blumberg.

Being a duergar, Nathan was not considered by the locals to be capable of such valiant acts, but here he was, clutching a heavy crossbow and protecting Blumberg. The gray dwarf was fully outfitted for battle and was wearing a mithril breastplate. A large battle axe was strapped across his back.
Behind Nathan, a dozen or so of the locals were cowering inside the merchant store, nervously clutching pitchforks, daggers, and occasional short swords. They visibly relaxed and began thanking the gods for their apparently unexpected salvation.
“Well met, Nathan,” Fenran said, patting the valiant duergar on the shoulder.
“Aye, well met, an’ good it is to see ye all, me friends. Fenran Valianheart he’self an’ Drogan’s students Yanny an’ Dorna.”
“I shall need to escort the survivors to Hilltop,” Fenran continued, “seeing as the town of Blumberg is burned down completely. Dragosha shall accompany me while Yanny and Dorna proceed with their own pressing matters.”
“You have fought bravely, my dear Dragosha,” Yanny said softly, petting his familiar.
“Thank you, master,” Dragosha proudly replied, puffing up his chest. “The dog-faced creatures were no match for Dragosha’s fighting prowess.”

While Fenran organized the expedition to Hilltop, Dorna methodically tied up both of the unconscious gnoll prisoners that were put to sleep by Dragosha’s powerful tranquilizing poison. She then proceeded not very gently to awake them with the kicks of her boots.
Nathan looked at Yanny and said, “There be a strange-lookin’ lizard fellow down in the cellar. Said he be waitin’ here for ye, talking much nonsense ‘bout a dragon master an’ callin’ he’self Deekin.”
“A kobold, waiting to speak with me?” Yanny asked.
“Aye, a kobold. The little fellow be lookin’ scared an’ wavin’ that puny sword o’ his.”

Yanny frowned in puzzlement. He had battled kobolds very recently, killing quite a few of them in the process. He did not feel especially merciful towards the little creatures that tried to assassinate Master Drogan. With an offensive spell on his lips, he descended the stairs.

☼☼☼☼☼

Deekin stood in the cellar, indeed appearing very scared and nervously clutching a short sword with both hands. More interestingly, though, was the fact that the little creature had a finely crafted lute strapped to his back. He was modestly dressed in brown garments and wore a leather vest, painted white, to designate him as one of the leaders from the kobold raiding party that attacked Hilltop the day before.

Although Yanny was wary of kobolds, for some unexplainable reason he felt comfortable around this curious-looking creature. Indeed, Deekin was unusually cute for a kobold, perhaps even likable under different circumstances, with well-defined facial features and sparkling green eyes. He almost resembled a halfling, if it weren’t for his scaly hide and a lizard-like snout.

Upon recognizing Yanny, the little guy backed up a step and whined pleadingly in flawed Common.

“Ooo! Wait, wait, wait! You no hurts Deekin… Deekin must talks to you! Please, you listens to Deekin! He hurts nobody! He hides here and waits for you… you be great human hero, you are! Deekin need your help real bad!”
“You need my help?” Yanny asked, approaching cautiously.
“Well... Deekin not hurt nobody in village… Deekin only go on raid because Master tells Deekin to. Deekin is servant to the Master. Deekin sings songs, tells tales that keeps Master happy. That why Master send Deekin on raid… so Deekin write story for Master later. Only… Deekin do something very bad. Master will be very angry at Deekin! Deekin cannot go back to Master, not ever! Deekin so frightened!”
“Who is this Master you speak of?”
“Master is great dragon Tymofarrar, ruler of kobolds! Very scary, he is. Very sharp teeth and bad breath, too, but he think Deekin funny, go figure. One time Master say he could not sleeps, so Deekin talks to Master for two days straight about mating habits of orcs. Finally, Master snores and poor Deekin collapses.”
“So, what did you do that was so terrible?”
“Deekin… he carries little tower statue when we leaves human village. When gnolls attack, he gets excited and he… drops the little statue. Statue is all broken now because of Deekin. He cannot bring it back to Master, because Master be even angrier! Deekin knows you look for little statue. Deekin, he… gives it to you if you helps him? That good idea, yes?”

“Listen to me, Deekin,” Yanny reasoned with the curious kobold bard. “You had better give me the tower statue before you do anymore damage to it. You could even harm yourself. In return, I give you my word of a ranger to do everything in my power to release you from your apparent predicament.”
“Yes, yes,” Deekin agreed excitedly. “You be great human hero! Deekin knows this… he be watching you. You go and seek out Deekin’s old Master, Tymofarrar! Maybe you talks to Master, makes him let Deekin go. Makes him free Deekin.”
“I shall gladly bargain for your freedom, Deekin. Meanwhile, you should go to Hilltop with the Blumberg survivors, where you can safely await my return. Now, would you please give me the tower statue and I shall go and speak with Tymofarrar. Do we have a deal?”

Deekin hesitated for a few heartbeats and then ran to the corner of the cellar, producing a small wooden box from one of the crates and giving it to Yanny.
“Here it be! Here it be!” Deekin exclaimed, smiling sheepishly. “Broken as Deekin said… though not Deekin’s fault, really, and Deekin not think it worth discussing that little detail again.”

The young mage could feel the strong emanations of powerful magic within. Opening the box gingerly, he took a peek inside. The small, ordinary-looking marble statue was broken in two pieces. It did not look magical at all, and yet this was one of the artifacts that Yanny was searching for. He closed the wooden box and regarded Deekin.

“Deekin is so happy now...” the kobold bard exclaimed, “but, still a little scared! You goes and finds old Master and do what you say you going to do. Deekin goes to Hilltop, as promised.”

☼☼☼☼☼

When Yanny and Deekin emerged from the merchant store, both of the gnoll prisoners were awake, their hands tied securely behind their backs. Dorna was making futile attempts to question them, but the creatures apparently did not understand Common.
Yanny approached Fenran and said, “Our new friend, Deekin, shall accompany you to Hilltop. He is a bard… of sorts, and can probably aid you with defending the survivors… and this, –“ he gave Fenran the wooden box containing the artifact – “should be taken to Master Drogan with all haste.”
“You can count on me, my brave friend,” Fenran said, and the two rangers exchanged a warm embrace.

Fenran and Nathan quickly organized the caravan of survivors, gathering weapons and provisions.
Outside the town gate, Yanny called upon the power of his newly acquired silver ring, summoning forth a mountain wolf. The animal appeared from the foothills and bounded towards him, sniffing the air and regarding the young ranger with intelligent eyes.
Yanny attuned his senses and sent out an empathetic feeling of friendship, asking the beast to aid Fenran in his quest to escort the caravan of survivors to the gate of Hilltop. The wolf abided, and soon the caravan disappeared from view.CHAPTER 5

BLUMBERG

Blumberg was situated about an hour away from Hilltop, and the companions sprinted towards it with renewed strength in their legs.
As they passed through the stone bridge in the foothills, Yanny encountered the tracks of the fleeing kobolds that ended abruptly near the entrance to a long forgotten elven crypt. The signs of a recent ferocious battle were apparent with many bodies of dead kobolds and a few bodies of dead gnolls strewn about the place.

“The gnolls presumably achieved victory,” Yanny observed.
“Aye, I agree, mage,” Dorna replied. “The remaining kobolds fled into the crypt, judging by the tracks.”
“We should investigate this,” Yanny agreed, “after we have taken care of the urgent matters in Blumberg.”

Further down the road, Yanny sensed that one of the local wild animals was injured and was sending out an empathetic plea for help. It did not take the young ranger very long to discover the wounded beast.
The magnificent brown bear was hiding in the nearby bushes and was watching its surroundings with unfriendly disposition. It growled threateningly at Yanny’s approach, revealing a row of sharp teeth.
“Stand back,” Yanny whispered, looking at Dorna, “The bears are known to attack indiscriminately when they are wounded.”
“Are you sure this is such a good idea?” Dorna asked, realizing Yanny’s intentions.
“I will be fine,” the young ranger replied confidently. “Trust me on this.”

Yanny attuned his ranger senses, sending out visions of friendship and a desire to help. The wounded beast relaxed somewhat, and Yanny cautiously approached.
The bear seemed to be having great discomfort as it shuffled forward. After a quick inspection, Yanny noticed that the animal had an arrow embedded in its chest. He moved methodically to quickly remove the painful missile. The bear growled in agony but did not attack.
Next, Yanny reached into his backpack, produced a healing potion, and used it cleanse the bleeding wound. It closed almost immediately and the grateful animal licked his face with the long, rough tongue. Then it shambled off into the trees contentedly.

☼☼☼☼☼

The companions resumed their brisk walk and soon approached Blumberg. Yanny’s holy symbol of Mystra flared angrily as he got closer to the town, signifying the presence of foul creatures in the vicinity.
Moving cautiously through the cover of the tree canopy, the companions spotted Fenran and Dragosha. The elven ranger placed a finger to his pursed lips, and then held up four fingers in the air, signifying the number of gnoll sentries.
The dog-faced, bipedal creatures stood slightly taller than an average human, wearing filthy leather vests atop their furry hides. They were milling about the town gate, brandishing battle axes and small shields, and conversing with each other in their yelping and growling native language.

Yanny pointed at himself, at Fenran, and then at Dorna to indicate the order of attacks. Fenran picked his target and trained his arrow at it, waiting for Yanny. Dorna produced a throwing axe from her belt, and looked at Yanny.
The young mage carefully extracted from his belt a concealed dart that was tipped with a mixture of a powdered rhubarb leaf and a bit of snake venom, and began incanting the words to a spell under his breath, holding the item in his open palm.
The gnoll sentries perked their ears and immediately ceased their conversation, pointing their axes towards the bushes. They did not get an opportunity to charge as Yanny finished his spell and pointed at the closest monster.
The dart hummed towards its target, catching the dog-faced creature squarely in the chest and exploding in a green splash of corrosive acid. The gnoll yelped in pain and went down hard, clutching its ugly face.
Before the gnolls could overcome their surprise, Fenran let fly with an arrow, catching another gnoll in the eye. It went down, dying instantly.

The remaining two sentries, unable to see the attackers, decided to flee into the town. The defenders would have none of it, though.
Dorna let fly with her throwing axe, catching the third gnoll in the back of the head and killing it instantly.
Fenran’s arrow caught the last monster in the back of the neck and exited through the throat. The foul creature went down with a gurgling yelp, never to rise again.
Yanny took advantage of the momentary reprise, producing a strip of cured bull hide and casting two successive spells of magical force on himself and Dorna. The companions silently approached the burned town gate, and Fenran took a cautious peek inside while Dorna retrieved her throwing axe.

“Half-a-score force of gnolls,” he whispered, “Three archers, two shamans, and the rest are warriors.”
“The archers must be dealt with first,” Yanny whispered, taking out a dagger from his boot.
Without a preamble, the companions broke into a run and fanned out in three directions, with Dragosha taking to the air behind them.
The gnolls shrieked in surprise and the dog-faced warriors charged while the shamans began casting their spells.
Fenran let fly with an arrow as he ran, catching a gnoll archer in the throat. An arrow hummed above his head, way off the mark. He dropped his bow and took out his long sword, charging the gnoll warriors.
Yanny let fly with his dagger, catching another archer in the eye, and took out his melee weapons while incanting the words to a spell.
Dorna let fly with her throwing axe, catching the last gnoll archer in the head, and charged with her battle axe.
The gnoll shamans finished their spells before Yanny finished his. Two pillars of flame burst from the sky intercepting Dorna’s charge. To her credit, she was able to tumble away from the first flame strike, but the second pillar engulfed her in searing flames. Her magical armor absorbed much of the damage, winking out in the process, but she still sustained minor burns and almost lost her footing.

Yanny pointed his jeweled rapier at the gnoll shamans, and a fire bead flew from its tip, detonating amidst the creatures in a ball of searing flames. The gnoll shamans were unlikely to survive his fireball, and Yanny offered a quick thanks to Mystra under his breath.
The remaining force of gnoll warriors charged the defenders, but Dragosha swooped down from the sky and exhaled a billowing cloud of flames into their midst. The four gnolls that were caught on fire howled in pain and rolled on the ground.

Yanny and Fenran veered towards Dorna, and the three friends stood back to back while the gnolls began encircling them.
“Three to one,” Fenran said, catching his breath.
“The odds are not too bad,” Dorna chimed in, banging the battle axe against her buckler.
“Let’s make them better, shall we?” Yanny said and began incanting the words to another spell just as the dog-faced monsters attacked.

Fenran parried with his sword and slashed with his dagger, catching a gnoll in the throat. It went down with a wet gurgle.
Dorna deflected two axe strikes with her buckler and slashed with her own battle axe, loping off the head from a gnoll.
The gnolls were fierce warriors and could be devastating in large numbers, but they did not have the finesse that Yanny possessed. He rapidly parried the first two blows with his rapier and his magical armor easily deflected the third.

In response, Yanny finished his spell and released searing flames from the tip of his rapier, catching the three attackers in their dog-like faces. The gnolls howled in pain and dropped their weapons, slapping their paws against their snouts. Yanny slashed with his dagger, poked with his rapier, and slashed again in rapid succession, forever silencing their howls of pain.

Dragosha flew a complete circle and swooped down again, catching one of the gnolls with his barbed tail. The foul creature made a yelp that sounded more like a yawn and crashed to the ground, snoring contentedly.
The remaining gnolls realized their folly and broke ranks, attempting to flee into the foothills.
They never made it.
Yanny and Fenran let fly with their daggers, catching two of the fleeing monsters in the back of their heads.
Dragosha swooped down with his barbed tail and another gnoll fell down, fast asleep.
The last fleeing monster almost made it out of the gate when Fenran picked up his bow and let fly with an arrow. Clutching at its pierced throat, the last gnoll fell to the ground, never to rise again.

“Mystra be praised!” Yanny exclaimed. “Nice shot, Fenran!”
“Thank you,” Fenran bowed politely and began examining his surroundings.

Only then did the friends realize the grim fate that befell Blumberg. The devastation was complete, and Yanny doubted they would find any survivors. The gnolls must have sacked the town in a surprise attack, setting all the buildings ablaze in the process. Most of the wooden structures were still burning and numerous bodies of local farmers were strewn about the place.
One small building stood intact, however, and the friends rushed towards it, praying to the gods in hopes of finding survivors.
“Why is this building still standing?” Dorna asked. “There must be something important inside if it was spared.”
The hardwood door was locked and barricaded from the inside, and Yanny heard hushed shuffles from within. He knocked loudly and shouted, “Is anyone in there?”

He heard another shuffle, a click of a crossbow being loaded, and then a voice, a dwarven voice responded, “I’ll have none ‘o ye trickery, ye ugly son ‘o the dog. Ye try an’ enter, an’ I be stuffin’ me axe down yer filthy throat!”
Yanny and Dorna shared a smile of relief, and the sneaky dwarf shouted, “We have come from Hilltop to aid you. The gnolls are dead. It is safe to come out now.”
“Tymora be praised! If it ain’t them Drogan students come to save us. Aye, t’is the voice o’ the dwarven lass, Dorna, I recognize it. Hold on, me friends…”

There was a sound of someone moving wooden furniture aside, then unlocking of the door, and a stocky dwarf emerged from within. His skin was gray, his head was bald, and Yanny recognized in him Master Drogan’s farmer associate Nathan Hurst, who lived in the foothills near Blumberg.

Being a duergar, Nathan was not considered by the locals to be capable of such valiant acts, but here he was, clutching a heavy crossbow and protecting Blumberg. The gray dwarf was fully outfitted for battle and was wearing a mithril breastplate. A large battle axe was strapped across his back.
Behind Nathan, a dozen or so of the locals were cowering inside the merchant store, nervously clutching pitchforks, daggers, and occasional short swords. They visibly relaxed and began thanking the gods for their apparently unexpected salvation.
“Well met, Nathan,” Fenran said, patting the valiant duergar on the shoulder.
“Aye, well met, an’ good it is to see ye all, me friends. Fenran Valianheart he’self an’ Drogan’s students Yanny an’ Dorna.”
“I shall need to escort the survivors to Hilltop,” Fenran continued, “seeing as the town of Blumberg is burned down completely. Dragosha shall accompany me while Yanny and Dorna proceed with their own pressing matters.”
“You have fought bravely, my dear Dragosha,” Yanny said softly, petting his familiar.
“Thank you, master,” Dragosha proudly replied, puffing up his chest. “The dog-faced creatures were no match for Dragosha’s fighting prowess.”

While Fenran organized the expedition to Hilltop, Dorna methodically tied up both of the unconscious gnoll prisoners that were put to sleep by Dragosha’s powerful tranquilizing poison. She then proceeded not very gently to awake them with the kicks of her boots.
Nathan looked at Yanny and said, “There be a strange-lookin’ lizard fellow down in the cellar. Said he be waitin’ here for ye, talking much nonsense ‘bout a dragon master an’ callin’ he’self Deekin.”
“A kobold, waiting to speak with me?” Yanny asked.
“Aye, a kobold. The little fellow be lookin’ scared an’ wavin’ that puny sword o’ his.”

Yanny frowned in puzzlement. He had battled kobolds very recently, killing quite a few of them in the process. He did not feel especially merciful towards the little creatures that tried to assassinate Master Drogan. With an offensive spell on his lips, he descended the stairs.

☼☼☼☼☼

Deekin stood in the cellar, indeed appearing very scared and nervously clutching a short sword with both hands. More interestingly, though, was the fact that the little creature had a finely crafted lute strapped to his back. He was modestly dressed in brown garments and wore a leather vest, painted white, to designate him as one of the leaders from the kobold raiding party that attacked Hilltop the day before.

Although Yanny was wary of kobolds, for some unexplainable reason he felt comfortable around this curious-looking creature. Indeed, Deekin was unusually cute for a kobold, perhaps even likable under different circumstances, with well-defined facial features and sparkling green eyes. He almost resembled a halfling, if it weren’t for his scaly hide and a lizard-like snout.

Upon recognizing Yanny, the little guy backed up a step and whined pleadingly in flawed Common.

“Ooo! Wait, wait, wait! You no hurts Deekin… Deekin must talks to you! Please, you listens to Deekin! He hurts nobody! He hides here and waits for you… you be great human hero, you are! Deekin need your help real bad!”
“You need my help?” Yanny asked, approaching cautiously.
“Well... Deekin not hurt nobody in village… Deekin only go on raid because Master tells Deekin to. Deekin is servant to the Master. Deekin sings songs, tells tales that keeps Master happy. That why Master send Deekin on raid… so Deekin write story for Master later. Only… Deekin do something very bad. Master will be very angry at Deekin! Deekin cannot go back to Master, not ever! Deekin so frightened!”
“Who is this Master you speak of?”
“Master is great dragon Tymofarrar, ruler of kobolds! Very scary, he is. Very sharp teeth and bad breath, too, but he think Deekin funny, go figure. One time Master say he could not sleeps, so Deekin talks to Master for two days straight about mating habits of orcs. Finally, Master snores and poor Deekin collapses.”
“So, what did you do that was so terrible?”
“Deekin… he carries little tower statue when we leaves human village. When gnolls attack, he gets excited and he… drops the little statue. Statue is all broken now because of Deekin. He cannot bring it back to Master, because Master be even angrier! Deekin knows you look for little statue. Deekin, he… gives it to you if you helps him? That good idea, yes?”

“Listen to me, Deekin,” Yanny reasoned with the curious kobold bard. “You had better give me the tower statue before you do anymore damage to it. You could even harm yourself. In return, I give you my word of a ranger to do everything in my power to release you from your apparent predicament.”
“Yes, yes,” Deekin agreed excitedly. “You be great human hero! Deekin knows this… he be watching you. You go and seek out Deekin’s old Master, Tymofarrar! Maybe you talks to Master, makes him let Deekin go. Makes him free Deekin.”
“I shall gladly bargain for your freedom, Deekin. Meanwhile, you should go to Hilltop with the Blumberg survivors, where you can safely await my return. Now, would you please give me the tower statue and I shall go and speak with Tymofarrar. Do we have a deal?”

Deekin hesitated for a few heartbeats and then ran to the corner of the cellar, producing a small wooden box from one of the crates and giving it to Yanny.
“Here it be! Here it be!” Deekin exclaimed, smiling sheepishly. “Broken as Deekin said… though not Deekin’s fault, really, and Deekin not think it worth discussing that little detail again.”

The young mage could feel the strong emanations of powerful magic within. Opening the box gingerly, he took a peek inside. The small, ordinary-looking marble statue was broken in two pieces. It did not look magical at all, and yet this was one of the artifacts that Yanny was searching for. He closed the wooden box and regarded Deekin.

“Deekin is so happy now...” the kobold bard exclaimed, “but, still a little scared! You goes and finds old Master and do what you say you going to do. Deekin goes to Hilltop, as promised.”

☼☼☼☼☼

When Yanny and Deekin emerged from the merchant store, both of the gnoll prisoners were awake, their hands tied securely behind their backs. Dorna was making futile attempts to question them, but the creatures apparently did not understand Common.
Yanny approached Fenran and said, “Our new friend, Deekin, shall accompany you to Hilltop. He is a bard… of sorts, and can probably aid you with defending the survivors… and this, –“ he gave Fenran the wooden box containing the artifact – “should be taken to Master Drogan with all haste.”
“You can count on me, my brave friend,” Fenran said, and the two rangers exchanged a warm embrace.

Fenran and Nathan quickly organized the caravan of survivors, gathering weapons and provisions.
Outside the town gate, Yanny called upon the power of his newly acquired silver ring, summoning forth a mountain wolf. The animal appeared from the foothills and bounded towards him, sniffing the air and regarding the young ranger with intelligent eyes.
Yanny attuned his senses and sent out an empathetic feeling of friendship, asking the beast to aid Fenran in his quest to escort the caravan of survivors to the gate of Hilltop. The wolf abided, and soon the caravan disappeared from view

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17 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:53 am

Maxduelantus

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CHAPTER 6

RUINS OF ASCALHORN

“Three more artifacts remain hidden from us,” Dorna said thoughtfully.
“The tracks we found earlier led into the elven crypt,” Yanny answered. “I believe that is our next destination. We shall take the gnoll prisoners with us. Perhaps we can figure out how to communicate with them. It would aid our quest to discover what enemies Master Drogan has.”
“Lets go, ye dogs,” Dorna said, eyeing the bound gnolls threateningly. “And don’t you try anything funny, if you value your filthy hides.”

With the gnoll prisoners in tow, Yanny and Dorna backtracked into the foothills and soon stood near the entrance to the crypt.
Fenran knew a little bit of history of the ancient place but spoke of it on rare occasions and even then reluctantly.
Apparently, the crypt was a burial place for the elven warriors of Ascalhorn from a long forgotten time in history. It was a shameful tale of his people, Fenran had said, and he preferred not to speak of it very often.

Apparently, Ascalhorn was the capital and crown jewel of the ancient elven nation of Earlan. When it fell into ruin, its rulers became jealous of the power of man. They sought out dark arts to give them power, and in so doing destroyed themselves. The crypt was the last that remained of their honored dead. It was built by Fenran’s own people to honor those warriors of Ascalhorn who turned to fight against the evil of its rulers.

They were traitors to their own land, but did what needed to be done. It was the last of Ascalhorn that still stood.

The entrance into the crypt led to the Hall of Remembrance, deep below the surface of the foothills. The bone remains of the great elven warriors cluttered the stone floor and the ancient trees the size of hill giants were made home to numerous bats. Large rats scurried about the place, twitching their whiskers and sniffing the stale air. Numerous torches embedded into the stone walls bathed the crypt in an eerie light and mournful wails frequently pierced the ominous silence.

A granite marker stood in the middle of the room, and the companions approached to examine it. A message was chiseled onto the face of it in several languages.

While almost faded, it was still legible, and Yanny read it aloud, “Herein lie the brave warriors of fair Ascalhorn. Know ye that they perished with honor, and that the memory of their grim duty shall fill our hearts with sadness for all eternity. If thou dost enter this hallowed place, enter with respect. Those who seek only to defile shall be granted no mercy.”
“Well,” Dorna mused, “this does not sound very promising as far as treasure hunting goes.”
“I wouldn’t touch anything if I were you,” Yanny answered.

A large metal door led into the next chamber. It opened with a loud screech and the companions entered. A large granite pillar stood in the middle of the chamber, reaching all the way to the ceiling.
An old inscription was etched upon it in a strange language. Further studying of the runes revealed to Yanny their origins – they were written in elven tongue and described the history of the fallen city, Ascalhorn.

Yanny read the poetic inscription aloud.

All together,
Come and mourn.
For our fair city,
Ascalhorn.

Like a crowning jewel,
Was Ascalhorn.
For proud Earlan,
Her beauty borne.

Yet even at the height of power,
When we ascended like a tower,
And other lands most jealous grew,
Still we sought to prove us true.

For mastery over ancient force,
We looked at the growing race of man,
And fear of weakness through us ran,
Reaching down to Shadow’s heart,
For greater forces than our art.

But like reaching out to touch the sun,
We were burned,
Our strength undone,
And evil through our city did course.

So, for the evil that had we become,
It was up to us to make undone.
We tore it down and slew our kin,
And in blood and death repaid our sin.

We are the traitors and the faithful,
And in death we lay here shameful,
Forever shall our souls feel this remorse.

May those who come upon our sleeping,
Do not waste time in weeping.
For evil done and good repaid,
We hope our lives a balance made.

And do not harshly judge us now,
We gave our all, best we knew how.
But all together, come and mourn,
For our fair city, Ascalhorn.

“Quite a creepy story,” Dorna observed.
“Just one more reason not to disturb the dead,” Yanny replied.

☼☼☼☼☼

The upper level of the crypt contained two corridors extending into opposite directions and a staircase that led deeper into the crypt. The companions found one of the corridors to be sealed off by a large metal door and Dorna quickly examined the locking mechanism, shaking her head in frustration.

“It appears this door requires a special key,” she observed.
“That means the kobolds did not flee in this direction,” Yanny said and walked towards the other corridor. The narrow, dimly lit passageway extended for a few feet before expanding into a large chamber, this one lit up with a multitude of torches hanging from the sconces in the walls.

There, by the farthest wall stood a beautiful elven statue, chiseled from white granite, polished by unknown to Yanny magic, and adorned with precious metals. While faded and cracked with age, the statue depicted a handsome elven man wielding a glittering sword and wearing an amulet engraved with a crescent moon. The elf appeared to be gazing down at the adventurers with sad, unearthly eyes and Yanny had a distinct impression that he was being watched.

“Magnificent,” Dorna and Yanny gasped simultaneously, though for different reasons.
“The shield is made of pure gold,” Dorna observed with adoration, “and the sword is made from the purest mithril to be found on the face of Toril. Can you imagine how much the whole thing is worth?”
“For Tymora’s sake, Dorna,” Yanny pleaded, “please do not touch anything!”
“You are telling me?” Dorna huffed. “The sneaky elves had probably put enough magical explosives into this statue to level the entire crypt!”
“I thought you were the sneaky one,” Yanny mused, bending low to read the inscription at the base of the statue.
“Sneaky, aye,” Dorna replied with a sly grin, “but not stupid.”
“I am happy for both of us, then,” Yanny chuckled, “but for the less wary adventurers, there is a message here.”
“What does it say?”

“I, who shall watch over Those Who Rest bid you to cast a prayer in my name: Corellon Larethian, Creator of the Elves and First of the Seldarine.”

The adventurers kneeled respectfully and lowered their heads reverently. The gnolls kept a respectful distance from them, observing the ritual with mild amusement.
“Vergadain,” Dorna began.
“Mystra,” Yanny continued.
They spoke in unison.
“Bless your humble servants in the name of Corellon Larethian, Creator of the Elves and First of Seldarine!”

There was a flash of divine energy as bright as the sun itself and the adventurers felt great vitality flowing through their veins. They felt joy and exultation reaching into the depths of their very souls.

They felt ecstatic.

“Well, that was nice,” Dorna mused, chuckling softly, “though handing over that sword would have been just as fun, by my own guess.”

☼☼☼☼☼

The crypt’s lower level consisted of a long, winding hall, inhabited by a score of skeletons. The undead creatures spotted the companions and began approaching, wielding rusty weapons and shuffling their bony feet on the stone floor. They were moving slowly, as if encumbered by the weight of their own sorrow, affording Dorna enough time to speak a quick prayer.

When she finished the last syllable, she pointed her outstretched palms at the undead creatures and most of them simply exploded in a spectacular flash of bones. The companions easily dispatched of the remaining skeletons, and continued unchallenged towards the end of the tunnel.

The next metal door opened into a long hall with many side chambers, all blocked by similar doors. Yanny approached the closest one, bending near a small granite marker.
“Tomb of Nilmaldor,” he read the inscription, “Knight-Gallant of Ascalhorn.”
“That sounds just lovely,” Dorna joked, pushing the door open.

The torch lit chamber was surrounded by a deep chasm from both sides. The entire place was shrouded in billowing clouds of fog and every so often loud keening pierced the silence. Yanny could see brilliant outbursts of magic coming from the chasm and wondered just how far down it extended.
He did not care to find out.
“Stay close to the center,” he warned.
The middle of the chamber contained a singular sarcophagus and the adventurers approached it cautiously.

They gasped in horror and began backpedaling almost immediately – a shadowy apparition, an ethereal spirit of a warrior fully dressed for battle emerged from the tomb, glowing in a soft blue light.

“Beware, mortals,” the spirit spoke, “for you trespass within the tomb of Nilmaldor, Knight-Gallant of Ascalhorn. Why have you come? Looting shall earn you only the foulest of curses to destroy your very soul. But if you come with a heart of courage, then I welcome you and would speak with you for a turn.”
“What kind of undead creature are you?” Dorna asked, clutching her holy symbol nervously.
“I am no foul fiend come to haunt a murder, if that is what you ask. I am the guardian spirit of this crypt. It is my duty and my honor to watch over the dead of my people. In life, I was a warrior of rank and prestige. The price was this eternal duty and I accepted it willingly. But my duty has been foiled, so now here I remain in this single chamber. I am unable to protect the rest of my brethren, for I have been driven from the rest of the tombs. But perhaps you might be willing to assist me?”
“What is it you need?” Yanny asked.
“An age ago, a malevolent wraith invaded our crypt. I did battle with the creature and destroyed it, but not before it weakened me greatly. Ever since then, I have been forced to linger close to my remains. I cannot roam the crypt freely as I once did… and this means I cannot perform my duty. Living creatures, giant spiders in fact… have infested one of the western tombs. They have damaged much and I can do nothing.”
“Giant spiders,” Dorna mused, “nasty, venomous, always hungry predators with huge mandibles and foul manners. Wonderful! Ah, the perils of adventuring, how exciting! It is a good thing I brought a few antidote potions with me, for just such an occasion. There had better be a great reward for this, Nilmaldor of Ascalhorn.”

“Yes,” the spirit replied, “a great reward awaits the one who is worthy. A great reward indeed.”
“I’m up for the challenge, then,” Dorna replied.
“We will help you,” Yanny added.
“I am well pleased to know there are such adventurers of courage remaining in the living world. Return to me once your task is complete.”

☼☼☼☼☼

A metal door prevented further exploration, and the gnoll prisoners began sniffing at the stale air, as if sensing something.

“The gnolls can smell their enemies near,” Dorna remarked.
“The little thieves are in there,” Yanny snickered softly.
Dorna approached the door and banged her buckler loudly against it.
A squeaky voice asked from the other side, “Who be there? You goes aways, you stupid gnolls. We kills you if you enters!”

Yanny shouted, “We are not gnolls. In fact, we are your allies, bringing two of the dog-faced prisoners with us. The gnolls shall not bother you any longer.”
There was a momentary shuffle and then the voice replied, “You not sounds like gnoll. You goes inside and talks to Urko!”
There was a click of the door being unlocked, then the door swung open with a loud creak, and two kobold sentries peered through with fear in their eyes. They shrieked when they saw the bound gnolls, but quickly composed themselves.

“Yes, yes, you goes and talks to Urko!” the kobold sentries squeaked excitedly, and the companions passed through the door, bringing with them the two gnoll prisoners.

They walked into a chamber that was large enough to accommodate a ten score army of kobolds. The remaining contingent of the raiding party was positioned behind a hastily constructed barricade of wooden crates. Yanny quickly spotted their leader, wearing a leather vest painted white.

“Yip, yip!” the kobold leader squeaked, nervously clutching a spiked wooden hammer. “Why you comes here? Who be you so tough that you brings gnoll prisoners?”
“Do not be afraid, scaly friend,” Yanny replied in a diplomatic tone, “we shall not hurt you.”
“Me not your friend,” Urko squeaked angrily, although he visibly relaxed. “Yip! Me thinks it be good if you just goes now.”
“Ack, ack, Urko,” a female kobold squeaked, “man be dangerous! Man must go away!”
“Kip, kip,” another kobold squeaked, “you not be boss here, Yazka! Urko be boss and him say if man go away!”
“Yip! Kipper be smarter than Yazka! Him knows who be the boss. Me is the boss. Now, why you not gone yet? You tells me name or you be gone.”

“My name is Yanny,” the young battlemage bowed in a grand fashion, “and this is my companion, Dorna. Surly you recognize us, after that unpleasant argument at Master Drogan’s house. Remember?”

The kobolds gasped in recognition and began nervously whispering among each other. Urko lowered his hammer and cautiously took a step forward.

“We simply want to talk to you, my scaly friends,” Yanny said, smiling at the kobold leader. Dorna was not smiling.
“Talk is good, yip! You just not tries any funny stuff and we talk! You… human man… from the village… you sees gnolls outside crypt maybe?”
“Worry not, my scaly friend,” Yanny replied, pointing at the gnoll prisoners, “for we have taken care of that minor inconvenience for you.”
“So gnolls are gone, yip,” Urko squeaked happily.
“No, Urko,” Yazka squeaked, “you no should believe it! It lies!”
“You closes big fat mouth, scared kobold,” Kipper squeaked, “Urko not listens to girl kobold. Kipper be sick of crypt. Me wants to leave!”
“Me be leader, so me chooses if we stays or goes, yip! Me just… not knows what to decide. Danger here, danger out there, me just wants to be good leader!”
“I think you make a great leader,” Yanny said, and Dorna huffed.

Urko proudly poked himself in the chest. “Me is smarter than rest, so me is natural leader! Yip! Everyone follow me if they knows what good for them.”
“Not everyone, ack,” Yazka interjected, “Deekin not follow you!”
“Yazka,” Kipper gasped, “you shuts up! Kip! Deekin be bad kobold and him runs off! Urko be leader now.”
“Who is this Deekin you speak of?” Dorna asked, winking at Yanny.
“Deekin was big fat coward kobold! He runs away and leaves us here!”
“Me likes Deekin, ack,” Yazka squeaked. “Him sings such pretty songs.”
“Only female kobold likes stupid bard, kip,” Kipper squeaked. “Him be big thief and takes our magic!”
“You shuts up, Kipper,” Yazka squeaked agitatedly, “you not supposed to talks ‘bout that!”

Urko groaned loudly and shook his scaly head, “Why Urko gets to work with such stupid kobolds? At least Deekin was not so stupid, yip!”
“What did Deekin steal?” Yanny asked, playing along.
“That be none of your business, kip,” Kipper squeaked. “You not needs to know ‘bout tower or mummy hand!”
“You be so stupid, Kipper,” Yazka gasped. “Why you not shuts up and let Urko and me talks with stranger, ack?”
“You both shuts up, yip! Me thinks Urko demotes both of you!”
“Me is sorry, Urko!” Kipper squeaked. “No demote me, please! Me not tells him that we still gots hand, kip!”

The companions exchanged puzzled glances and Dorna winked at Yanny.
“Their eyes gleam with intelligence,” she whispered, “but their mouths prove the eyes wrong.”
“My scaly friends,” Yanny murmured soothingly, “I believe you should entrust yourselves and the mummified hand into our care, if you want to escape this inhospitable crypt and return to your Master.”
“No! Yip! Urko needs hand to protect us!”
“But…we not knows how to use hand, Urko,” Kipper squeaked. “How that protect us?”

“I agree with Kipper,” Yanny said, “perhaps you should let me keep it. In exchange, Dorna and I shall gladly escort you back to your caves. What say you?”
“Well, you looks like shaman, maybe, yip! Maybe you gots spells that lets you slips past or maybe kills gnolls. Here… you takes mummy hand and escorts us to Master!”

Urko reached inside one of the wooden crates and produced a fist-sized object that was covered with dirty rags. Once again, Yanny’s holy symbol flared angrily, indicating a strong presence of foul magic.

Yanny carefully tucked the artifact into his backpack and said, “That was very smart of you to give this dangerous item to me, Urko. Your actions prove that you are a natural leader. Now, we must set out to meet Tymofarrar without delay.”

Urko’s serpentine eyes went wide and he squeaked, “How you knows about Master? Urko say not a word about Master’s name.”
“We know more that your little head can imagine,” Dorna said, her eyes sparkling with a poorly concealed desire to squash the impudent creatures that dared to attack Hilltop.
Yanny cleared his throat loudly.
“Whatever the case might be, my dear Urko, we must leave this crypt without delay.”
“Yes, yes,” Urko squeaked in agreement, “you leads the way and we follows. We… we sorry ‘bout raiding the village… but Master say we must do it.”
“Worry not about it, my scaly friend,” Yanny said soothingly, “for it is a thing of the past. I am sure you have learned your lesson well.”
“Yes, yes,” Urko agreed eagerly, “very scary lesson, big fire magic. Urko no liked it!’

The kobolds quickly organized their force, with Yanny and Dorna leading the way, and soon the eleven crypt was far behind them.
They were headed for the Nether Mountains.
CHAPTER 6

RUINS OF ASCALHORN

“Three more artifacts remain hidden from us,” Dorna said thoughtfully.
“The tracks we found earlier led into the elven crypt,” Yanny answered. “I believe that is our next destination. We shall take the gnoll prisoners with us. Perhaps we can figure out how to communicate with them. It would aid our quest to discover what enemies Master Drogan has.”
“Lets go, ye dogs,” Dorna said, eyeing the bound gnolls threateningly. “And don’t you try anything funny, if you value your filthy hides.”

With the gnoll prisoners in tow, Yanny and Dorna backtracked into the foothills and soon stood near the entrance to the crypt.
Fenran knew a little bit of history of the ancient place but spoke of it on rare occasions and even then reluctantly.
Apparently, the crypt was a burial place for the elven warriors of Ascalhorn from a long forgotten time in history. It was a shameful tale of his people, Fenran had said, and he preferred not to speak of it very often.

Apparently, Ascalhorn was the capital and crown jewel of the ancient elven nation of Earlan. When it fell into ruin, its rulers became jealous of the power of man. They sought out dark arts to give them power, and in so doing destroyed themselves. The crypt was the last that remained of their honored dead. It was built by Fenran’s own people to honor those warriors of Ascalhorn who turned to fight against the evil of its rulers.

They were traitors to their own land, but did what needed to be done. It was the last of Ascalhorn that still stood.

The entrance into the crypt led to the Hall of Remembrance, deep below the surface of the foothills. The bone remains of the great elven warriors cluttered the stone floor and the ancient trees the size of hill giants were made home to numerous bats. Large rats scurried about the place, twitching their whiskers and sniffing the stale air. Numerous torches embedded into the stone walls bathed the crypt in an eerie light and mournful wails frequently pierced the ominous silence.

A granite marker stood in the middle of the room, and the companions approached to examine it. A message was chiseled onto the face of it in several languages.

While almost faded, it was still legible, and Yanny read it aloud, “Herein lie the brave warriors of fair Ascalhorn. Know ye that they perished with honor, and that the memory of their grim duty shall fill our hearts with sadness for all eternity. If thou dost enter this hallowed place, enter with respect. Those who seek only to defile shall be granted no mercy.”
“Well,” Dorna mused, “this does not sound very promising as far as treasure hunting goes.”
“I wouldn’t touch anything if I were you,” Yanny answered.

A large metal door led into the next chamber. It opened with a loud screech and the companions entered. A large granite pillar stood in the middle of the chamber, reaching all the way to the ceiling.
An old inscription was etched upon it in a strange language. Further studying of the runes revealed to Yanny their origins – they were written in elven tongue and described the history of the fallen city, Ascalhorn.

Yanny read the poetic inscription aloud.

All together,
Come and mourn.
For our fair city,
Ascalhorn.

Like a crowning jewel,
Was Ascalhorn.
For proud Earlan,
Her beauty borne.

Yet even at the height of power,
When we ascended like a tower,
And other lands most jealous grew,
Still we sought to prove us true.

For mastery over ancient force,
We looked at the growing race of man,
And fear of weakness through us ran,
Reaching down to Shadow’s heart,
For greater forces than our art.

But like reaching out to touch the sun,
We were burned,
Our strength undone,
And evil through our city did course.

So, for the evil that had we become,
It was up to us to make undone.
We tore it down and slew our kin,
And in blood and death repaid our sin.

We are the traitors and the faithful,
And in death we lay here shameful,
Forever shall our souls feel this remorse.

May those who come upon our sleeping,
Do not waste time in weeping.
For evil done and good repaid,
We hope our lives a balance made.

And do not harshly judge us now,
We gave our all, best we knew how.
But all together, come and mourn,
For our fair city, Ascalhorn.


“Quite a creepy story,” Dorna observed.
“Just one more reason not to disturb the dead,” Yanny replied.

☼☼☼☼☼

The upper level of the crypt contained two corridors extending into opposite directions and a staircase that led deeper into the crypt. The companions found one of the corridors to be sealed off by a large metal door and Dorna quickly examined the locking mechanism, shaking her head in frustration.

“It appears this door requires a special key,” she observed.
“That means the kobolds did not flee in this direction,” Yanny said and walked towards the other corridor. The narrow, dimly lit passageway extended for a few feet before expanding into a large chamber, this one lit up with a multitude of torches hanging from the sconces in the walls.

There, by the farthest wall stood a beautiful elven statue, chiseled from white granite, polished by unknown to Yanny magic, and adorned with precious metals. While faded and cracked with age, the statue depicted a handsome elven man wielding a glittering sword and wearing an amulet engraved with a crescent moon. The elf appeared to be gazing down at the adventurers with sad, unearthly eyes and Yanny had a distinct impression that he was being watched.

“Magnificent,” Dorna and Yanny gasped simultaneously, though for different reasons.
“The shield is made of pure gold,” Dorna observed with adoration, “and the sword is made from the purest mithril to be found on the face of Toril. Can you imagine how much the whole thing is worth?”
“For Tymora’s sake, Dorna,” Yanny pleaded, “please do not touch anything!”
“You are telling me?” Dorna huffed. “The sneaky elves had probably put enough magical explosives into this statue to level the entire crypt!”
“I thought you were the sneaky one,” Yanny mused, bending low to read the inscription at the base of the statue.
“Sneaky, aye,” Dorna replied with a sly grin, “but not stupid.”
“I am happy for both of us, then,” Yanny chuckled, “but for the less wary adventurers, there is a message here.”
“What does it say?”

“I, who shall watch over Those Who Rest bid you to cast a prayer in my name: Corellon Larethian, Creator of the Elves and First of the Seldarine.”

The adventurers kneeled respectfully and lowered their heads reverently. The gnolls kept a respectful distance from them, observing the ritual with mild amusement.
“Vergadain,” Dorna began.
“Mystra,” Yanny continued.
They spoke in unison.
“Bless your humble servants in the name of Corellon Larethian, Creator of the Elves and First of Seldarine!”

There was a flash of divine energy as bright as the sun itself and the adventurers felt great vitality flowing through their veins. They felt joy and exultation reaching into the depths of their very souls.

They felt ecstatic.

“Well, that was nice,” Dorna mused, chuckling softly, “though handing over that sword would have been just as fun, by my own guess.”

☼☼☼☼☼

The crypt’s lower level consisted of a long, winding hall, inhabited by a score of skeletons. The undead creatures spotted the companions and began approaching, wielding rusty weapons and shuffling their bony feet on the stone floor. They were moving slowly, as if encumbered by the weight of their own sorrow, affording Dorna enough time to speak a quick prayer.

When she finished the last syllable, she pointed her outstretched palms at the undead creatures and most of them simply exploded in a spectacular flash of bones. The companions easily dispatched of the remaining skeletons, and continued unchallenged towards the end of the tunnel.

The next metal door opened into a long hall with many side chambers, all blocked by similar doors. Yanny approached the closest one, bending near a small granite marker.
“Tomb of Nilmaldor,” he read the inscription, “Knight-Gallant of Ascalhorn.”
“That sounds just lovely,” Dorna joked, pushing the door open.

The torch lit chamber was surrounded by a deep chasm from both sides. The entire place was shrouded in billowing clouds of fog and every so often loud keening pierced the silence. Yanny could see brilliant outbursts of magic coming from the chasm and wondered just how far down it extended.
He did not care to find out.
“Stay close to the center,” he warned.
The middle of the chamber contained a singular sarcophagus and the adventurers approached it cautiously.

They gasped in horror and began backpedaling almost immediately – a shadowy apparition, an ethereal spirit of a warrior fully dressed for battle emerged from the tomb, glowing in a soft blue light.

“Beware, mortals,” the spirit spoke, “for you trespass within the tomb of Nilmaldor, Knight-Gallant of Ascalhorn. Why have you come? Looting shall earn you only the foulest of curses to destroy your very soul. But if you come with a heart of courage, then I welcome you and would speak with you for a turn.”
“What kind of undead creature are you?” Dorna asked, clutching her holy symbol nervously.
“I am no foul fiend come to haunt a murder, if that is what you ask. I am the guardian spirit of this crypt. It is my duty and my honor to watch over the dead of my people. In life, I was a warrior of rank and prestige. The price was this eternal duty and I accepted it willingly. But my duty has been foiled, so now here I remain in this single chamber. I am unable to protect the rest of my brethren, for I have been driven from the rest of the tombs. But perhaps you might be willing to assist me?”
“What is it you need?” Yanny asked.
“An age ago, a malevolent wraith invaded our crypt. I did battle with the creature and destroyed it, but not before it weakened me greatly. Ever since then, I have been forced to linger close to my remains. I cannot roam the crypt freely as I once did… and this means I cannot perform my duty. Living creatures, giant spiders in fact… have infested one of the western tombs. They have damaged much and I can do nothing.”
“Giant spiders,” Dorna mused, “nasty, venomous, always hungry predators with huge mandibles and foul manners. Wonderful! Ah, the perils of adventuring, how exciting! It is a good thing I brought a few antidote potions with me, for just such an occasion. There had better be a great reward for this, Nilmaldor of Ascalhorn.”

“Yes,” the spirit replied, “a great reward awaits the one who is worthy. A great reward indeed.”
“I’m up for the challenge, then,” Dorna replied.
“We will help you,” Yanny added.
“I am well pleased to know there are such adventurers of courage remaining in the living world. Return to me once your task is complete.”

☼☼☼☼☼

A metal door prevented further exploration, and the gnoll prisoners began sniffing at the stale air, as if sensing something.

“The gnolls can smell their enemies near,” Dorna remarked.
“The little thieves are in there,” Yanny snickered softly.
Dorna approached the door and banged her buckler loudly against it.
A squeaky voice asked from the other side, “Who be there? You goes aways, you stupid gnolls. We kills you if you enters!”

Yanny shouted, “We are not gnolls. In fact, we are your allies, bringing two of the dog-faced prisoners with us. The gnolls shall not bother you any longer.”
There was a momentary shuffle and then the voice replied, “You not sounds like gnoll. You goes inside and talks to Urko!”
There was a click of the door being unlocked, then the door swung open with a loud creak, and two kobold sentries peered through with fear in their eyes. They shrieked when they saw the bound gnolls, but quickly composed themselves.

“Yes, yes, you goes and talks to Urko!” the kobold sentries squeaked excitedly, and the companions passed through the door, bringing with them the two gnoll prisoners.

They walked into a chamber that was large enough to accommodate a ten score army of kobolds. The remaining contingent of the raiding party was positioned behind a hastily constructed barricade of wooden crates. Yanny quickly spotted their leader, wearing a leather vest painted white.

“Yip, yip!” the kobold leader squeaked, nervously clutching a spiked wooden hammer. “Why you comes here? Who be you so tough that you brings gnoll prisoners?”
“Do not be afraid, scaly friend,” Yanny replied in a diplomatic tone, “we shall not hurt you.”
“Me not your friend,” Urko squeaked angrily, although he visibly relaxed. “Yip! Me thinks it be good if you just goes now.”
“Ack, ack, Urko,” a female kobold squeaked, “man be dangerous! Man must go away!”
“Kip, kip,” another kobold squeaked, “you not be boss here, Yazka! Urko be boss and him say if man go away!”
“Yip! Kipper be smarter than Yazka! Him knows who be the boss. Me is the boss. Now, why you not gone yet? You tells me name or you be gone.”

“My name is Yanny,” the young battlemage bowed in a grand fashion, “and this is my companion, Dorna. Surly you recognize us, after that unpleasant argument at Master Drogan’s house. Remember?”

The kobolds gasped in recognition and began nervously whispering among each other. Urko lowered his hammer and cautiously took a step forward.

“We simply want to talk to you, my scaly friends,” Yanny said, smiling at the kobold leader. Dorna was not smiling.
“Talk is good, yip! You just not tries any funny stuff and we talk! You… human man… from the village… you sees gnolls outside crypt maybe?”
“Worry not, my scaly friend,” Yanny replied, pointing at the gnoll prisoners, “for we have taken care of that minor inconvenience for you.”
“So gnolls are gone, yip,” Urko squeaked happily.
“No, Urko,” Yazka squeaked, “you no should believe it! It lies!”
“You closes big fat mouth, scared kobold,” Kipper squeaked, “Urko not listens to girl kobold. Kipper be sick of crypt. Me wants to leave!”
“Me be leader, so me chooses if we stays or goes, yip! Me just… not knows what to decide. Danger here, danger out there, me just wants to be good leader!”
“I think you make a great leader,” Yanny said, and Dorna huffed.

Urko proudly poked himself in the chest. “Me is smarter than rest, so me is natural leader! Yip! Everyone follow me if they knows what good for them.”
“Not everyone, ack,” Yazka interjected, “Deekin not follow you!”
“Yazka,” Kipper gasped, “you shuts up! Kip! Deekin be bad kobold and him runs off! Urko be leader now.”
“Who is this Deekin you speak of?” Dorna asked, winking at Yanny.
“Deekin was big fat coward kobold! He runs away and leaves us here!”
“Me likes Deekin, ack,” Yazka squeaked. “Him sings such pretty songs.”
“Only female kobold likes stupid bard, kip,” Kipper squeaked. “Him be big thief and takes our magic!”
“You shuts up, Kipper,” Yazka squeaked agitatedly, “you not supposed to talks ‘bout that!”

Urko groaned loudly and shook his scaly head, “Why Urko gets to work with such stupid kobolds? At least Deekin was not so stupid, yip!”
“What did Deekin steal?” Yanny asked, playing along.
“That be none of your business, kip,” Kipper squeaked. “You not needs to know ‘bout tower or mummy hand!”
“You be so stupid, Kipper,” Yazka gasped. “Why you not shuts up and let Urko and me talks with stranger, ack?”
“You both shuts up, yip! Me thinks Urko demotes both of you!”
“Me is sorry, Urko!” Kipper squeaked. “No demote me, please! Me not tells him that we still gots hand, kip!”

The companions exchanged puzzled glances and Dorna winked at Yanny.
“Their eyes gleam with intelligence,” she whispered, “but their mouths prove the eyes wrong.”
“My scaly friends,” Yanny murmured soothingly, “I believe you should entrust yourselves and the mummified hand into our care, if you want to escape this inhospitable crypt and return to your Master.”
“No! Yip! Urko needs hand to protect us!”
“But…we not knows how to use hand, Urko,” Kipper squeaked. “How that protect us?”

“I agree with Kipper,” Yanny said, “perhaps you should let me keep it. In exchange, Dorna and I shall gladly escort you back to your caves. What say you?”
“Well, you looks like shaman, maybe, yip! Maybe you gots spells that lets you slips past or maybe kills gnolls. Here… you takes mummy hand and escorts us to Master!”

Urko reached inside one of the wooden crates and produced a fist-sized object that was covered with dirty rags. Once again, Yanny’s holy symbol flared angrily, indicating a strong presence of foul magic.

Yanny carefully tucked the artifact into his backpack and said, “That was very smart of you to give this dangerous item to me, Urko. Your actions prove that you are a natural leader. Now, we must set out to meet Tymofarrar without delay.”

Urko’s serpentine eyes went wide and he squeaked, “How you knows about Master? Urko say not a word about Master’s name.”
“We know more that your little head can imagine,” Dorna said, her eyes sparkling with a poorly concealed desire to squash the impudent creatures that dared to attack Hilltop.
Yanny cleared his throat loudly.
“Whatever the case might be, my dear Urko, we must leave this crypt without delay.”
“Yes, yes,” Urko squeaked in agreement, “you leads the way and we follows. We… we sorry ‘bout raiding the village… but Master say we must do it.”
“Worry not about it, my scaly friend,” Yanny said soothingly, “for it is a thing of the past. I am sure you have learned your lesson well.”
“Yes, yes,” Urko agreed eagerly, “very scary lesson, big fire magic. Urko no liked it!’

The kobolds quickly organized their force, with Yanny and Dorna leading the way, and soon the eleven crypt was far behind them.
They were headed for the Nether Mountains.CHAPTER 6

RUINS OF ASCALHORN

“Three more artifacts remain hidden from us,” Dorna said thoughtfully.
“The tracks we found earlier led into the elven crypt,” Yanny answered. “I believe that is our next destination. We shall take the gnoll prisoners with us. Perhaps we can figure out how to communicate with them. It would aid our quest to discover what enemies Master Drogan has.”
“Lets go, ye dogs,” Dorna said, eyeing the bound gnolls threateningly. “And don’t you try anything funny, if you value your filthy hides.”

With the gnoll prisoners in tow, Yanny and Dorna backtracked into the foothills and soon stood near the entrance to the crypt.
Fenran knew a little bit of history of the ancient place but spoke of it on rare occasions and even then reluctantly.
Apparently, the crypt was a burial place for the elven warriors of Ascalhorn from a long forgotten time in history. It was a shameful tale of his people, Fenran had said, and he preferred not to speak of it very often.

Apparently, Ascalhorn was the capital and crown jewel of the ancient elven nation of Earlan. When it fell into ruin, its rulers became jealous of the power of man. They sought out dark arts to give them power, and in so doing destroyed themselves. The crypt was the last that remained of their honored dead. It was built by Fenran’s own people to honor those warriors of Ascalhorn who turned to fight against the evil of its rulers.

They were traitors to their own land, but did what needed to be done. It was the last of Ascalhorn that still stood.

The entrance into the crypt led to the Hall of Remembrance, deep below the surface of the foothills. The bone remains of the great elven warriors cluttered the stone floor and the ancient trees the size of hill giants were made home to numerous bats. Large rats scurried about the place, twitching their whiskers and sniffing the stale air. Numerous torches embedded into the stone walls bathed the crypt in an eerie light and mournful wails frequently pierced the ominous silence.

A granite marker stood in the middle of the room, and the companions approached to examine it. A message was chiseled onto the face of it in several languages.

While almost faded, it was still legible, and Yanny read it aloud, “Herein lie the brave warriors of fair Ascalhorn. Know ye that they perished with honor, and that the memory of their grim duty shall fill our hearts with sadness for all eternity. If thou dost enter this hallowed place, enter with respect. Those who seek only to defile shall be granted no mercy.”
“Well,” Dorna mused, “this does not sound very promising as far as treasure hunting goes.”
“I wouldn’t touch anything if I were you,” Yanny answered.

A large metal door led into the next chamber. It opened with a loud screech and the companions entered. A large granite pillar stood in the middle of the chamber, reaching all the way to the ceiling.
An old inscription was etched upon it in a strange language. Further studying of the runes revealed to Yanny their origins – they were written in elven tongue and described the history of the fallen city, Ascalhorn.

Yanny read the poetic inscription aloud.

All together,
Come and mourn.
For our fair city,
Ascalhorn.

Like a crowning jewel,
Was Ascalhorn.
For proud Earlan,
Her beauty borne.

Yet even at the height of power,
When we ascended like a tower,
And other lands most jealous grew,
Still we sought to prove us true.

For mastery over ancient force,
We looked at the growing race of man,
And fear of weakness through us ran,
Reaching down to Shadow’s heart,
For greater forces than our art.

But like reaching out to touch the sun,
We were burned,
Our strength undone,
And evil through our city did course.

So, for the evil that had we become,
It was up to us to make undone.
We tore it down and slew our kin,
And in blood and death repaid our sin.

We are the traitors and the faithful,
And in death we lay here shameful,
Forever shall our souls feel this remorse.

May those who come upon our sleeping,
Do not waste time in weeping.
For evil done and good repaid,
We hope our lives a balance made.

And do not harshly judge us now,
We gave our all, best we knew how.
But all together, come and mourn,
For our fair city, Ascalhorn.


“Quite a creepy story,” Dorna observed.
“Just one more reason not to disturb the dead,” Yanny replied.

☼☼☼☼☼

The upper level of the crypt contained two corridors extending into opposite directions and a staircase that led deeper into the crypt. The companions found one of the corridors to be sealed off by a large metal door and Dorna quickly examined the locking mechanism, shaking her head in frustration.

“It appears this door requires a special key,” she observed.
“That means the kobolds did not flee in this direction,” Yanny said and walked towards the other corridor. The narrow, dimly lit passageway extended for a few feet before expanding into a large chamber, this one lit up with a multitude of torches hanging from the sconces in the walls.

There, by the farthest wall stood a beautiful elven statue, chiseled from white granite, polished by unknown to Yanny magic, and adorned with precious metals. While faded and cracked with age, the statue depicted a handsome elven man wielding a glittering sword and wearing an amulet engraved with a crescent moon. The elf appeared to be gazing down at the adventurers with sad, unearthly eyes and Yanny had a distinct impression that he was being watched.

“Magnificent,” Dorna and Yanny gasped simultaneously, though for different reasons.
“The shield is made of pure gold,” Dorna observed with adoration, “and the sword is made from the purest mithril to be found on the face of Toril. Can you imagine how much the whole thing is worth?”
“For Tymora’s sake, Dorna,” Yanny pleaded, “please do not touch anything!”
“You are telling me?” Dorna huffed. “The sneaky elves had probably put enough magical explosives into this statue to level the entire crypt!”
“I thought you were the sneaky one,” Yanny mused, bending low to read the inscription at the base of the statue.
“Sneaky, aye,” Dorna replied with a sly grin, “but not stupid.”
“I am happy for both of us, then,” Yanny chuckled, “but for the less wary adventurers, there is a message here.”
“What does it say?”

“I, who shall watch over Those Who Rest bid you to cast a prayer in my name: Corellon Larethian, Creator of the Elves and First of the Seldarine.”

The adventurers kneeled respectfully and lowered their heads reverently. The gnolls kept a respectful distance from them, observing the ritual with mild amusement.
“Vergadain,” Dorna began.
“Mystra,” Yanny continued.
They spoke in unison.
“Bless your humble servants in the name of Corellon Larethian, Creator of the Elves and First of Seldarine!”

There was a flash of divine energy as bright as the sun itself and the adventurers felt great vitality flowing through their veins. They felt joy and exultation reaching into the depths of their very souls.

They felt ecstatic.

“Well, that was nice,” Dorna mused, chuckling softly, “though handing over that sword would have been just as fun, by my own guess.”

☼☼☼☼☼

The crypt’s lower level consisted of a long, winding hall, inhabited by a score of skeletons. The undead creatures spotted the companions and began approaching, wielding rusty weapons and shuffling their bony feet on the stone floor. They were moving slowly, as if encumbered by the weight of their own sorrow, affording Dorna enough time to speak a quick prayer.

When she finished the last syllable, she pointed her outstretched palms at the undead creatures and most of them simply exploded in a spectacular flash of bones. The companions easily dispatched of the remaining skeletons, and continued unchallenged towards the end of the tunnel.

The next metal door opened into a long hall with many side chambers, all blocked by similar doors. Yanny approached the closest one, bending near a small granite marker.
“Tomb of Nilmaldor,” he read the inscription, “Knight-Gallant of Ascalhorn.”
“That sounds just lovely,” Dorna joked, pushing the door open.

The torch lit chamber was surrounded by a deep chasm from both sides. The entire place was shrouded in billowing clouds of fog and every so often loud keening pierced the silence. Yanny could see brilliant outbursts of magic coming from the chasm and wondered just how far down it extended.
He did not care to find out.
“Stay close to the center,” he warned.
The middle of the chamber contained a singular sarcophagus and the adventurers approached it cautiously.

They gasped in horror and began backpedaling almost immediately – a shadowy apparition, an ethereal spirit of a warrior fully dressed for battle emerged from the tomb, glowing in a soft blue light.

“Beware, mortals,” the spirit spoke, “for you trespass within the tomb of Nilmaldor, Knight-Gallant of Ascalhorn. Why have you come? Looting shall earn you only the foulest of curses to destroy your very soul. But if you come with a heart of courage, then I welcome you and would speak with you for a turn.”
“What kind of undead creature are you?” Dorna asked, clutching her holy symbol nervously.
“I am no foul fiend come to haunt a murder, if that is what you ask. I am the guardian spirit of this crypt. It is my duty and my honor to watch over the dead of my people. In life, I was a warrior of rank and prestige. The price was this eternal duty and I accepted it willingly. But my duty has been foiled, so now here I remain in this single chamber. I am unable to protect the rest of my brethren, for I have been driven from the rest of the tombs. But perhaps you might be willing to assist me?”
“What is it you need?” Yanny asked.
“An age ago, a malevolent wraith invaded our crypt. I did battle with the creature and destroyed it, but not before it weakened me greatly. Ever since then, I have been forced to linger close to my remains. I cannot roam the crypt freely as I once did… and this means I cannot perform my duty. Living creatures, giant spiders in fact… have infested one of the western tombs. They have damaged much and I can do nothing.”
“Giant spiders,” Dorna mused, “nasty, venomous, always hungry predators with huge mandibles and foul manners. Wonderful! Ah, the perils of adventuring, how exciting! It is a good thing I brought a few antidote potions with me, for just such an occasion. There had better be a great reward for this, Nilmaldor of Ascalhorn.”

“Yes,” the spirit replied, “a great reward awaits the one who is worthy. A great reward indeed.”
“I’m up for the challenge, then,” Dorna replied.
“We will help you,” Yanny added.
“I am well pleased to know there are such adventurers of courage remaining in the living world. Return to me once your task is complete.”

☼☼☼☼☼

A metal door prevented further exploration, and the gnoll prisoners began sniffing at the stale air, as if sensing something.

“The gnolls can smell their enemies near,” Dorna remarked.
“The little thieves are in there,” Yanny snickered softly.
Dorna approached the door and banged her buckler loudly against it.
A squeaky voice asked from the other side, “Who be there? You goes aways, you stupid gnolls. We kills you if you enters!”

Yanny shouted, “We are not gnolls. In fact, we are your allies, bringing two of the dog-faced prisoners with us. The gnolls shall not bother you any longer.”
There was a momentary shuffle and then the voice replied, “You not sounds like gnoll. You goes inside and talks to Urko!”
There was a click of the door being unlocked, then the door swung open with a loud creak, and two kobold sentries peered through with fear in their eyes. They shrieked when they saw the bound gnolls, but quickly composed themselves.

“Yes, yes, you goes and talks to Urko!” the kobold sentries squeaked excitedly, and the companions passed through the door, bringing with them the two gnoll prisoners.

They walked into a chamber that was large enough to accommodate a ten score army of kobolds. The remaining contingent of the raiding party was positioned behind a hastily constructed barricade of wooden crates. Yanny quickly spotted their leader, wearing a leather vest painted white.

“Yip, yip!” the kobold leader squeaked, nervously clutching a spiked wooden hammer. “Why you comes here? Who be you so tough that you brings gnoll prisoners?”
“Do not be afraid, scaly friend,” Yanny replied in a diplomatic tone, “we shall not hurt you.”
“Me not your friend,” Urko squeaked angrily, although he visibly relaxed. “Yip! Me thinks it be good if you just goes now.”
“Ack, ack, Urko,” a female kobold squeaked, “man be dangerous! Man must go away!”
“Kip, kip,” another kobold squeaked, “you not be boss here, Yazka! Urko be boss and him say if man go away!”
“Yip! Kipper be smarter than Yazka! Him knows who be the boss. Me is the boss. Now, why you not gone yet? You tells me name or you be gone.”

“My name is Yanny,” the young battlemage bowed in a grand fashion, “and this is my companion, Dorna. Surly you recognize us, after that unpleasant argument at Master Drogan’s house. Remember?”

The kobolds gasped in recognition and began nervously whispering among each other. Urko lowered his hammer and cautiously took a step forward.

“We simply want to talk to you, my scaly friends,” Yanny said, smiling at the kobold leader. Dorna was not smiling.
“Talk is good, yip! You just not tries any funny stuff and we talk! You… human man… from the village… you sees gnolls outside crypt maybe?”
“Worry not, my scaly friend,” Yanny replied, pointing at the gnoll prisoners, “for we have taken care of that minor inconvenience for you.”
“So gnolls are gone, yip,” Urko squeaked happily.
“No, Urko,” Yazka squeaked, “you no should believe it! It lies!”
“You closes big fat mouth, scared kobold,” Kipper squeaked, “Urko not listens to girl kobold. Kipper be sick of crypt. Me wants to leave!”
“Me be leader, so me chooses if we stays or goes, yip! Me just… not knows what to decide. Danger here, danger out there, me just wants to be good leader!”
“I think you make a great leader,” Yanny said, and Dorna huffed.

Urko proudly poked himself in the chest. “Me is smarter than rest, so me is natural leader! Yip! Everyone follow me if they knows what good for them.”
“Not everyone, ack,” Yazka interjected, “Deekin not follow you!”
“Yazka,” Kipper gasped, “you shuts up! Kip! Deekin be bad kobold and him runs off! Urko be leader now.”
“Who is this Deekin you speak of?” Dorna asked, winking at Yanny.
“Deekin was big fat coward kobold! He runs away and leaves us here!”
“Me likes Deekin, ack,” Yazka squeaked. “Him sings such pretty songs.”
“Only female kobold likes stupid bard, kip,” Kipper squeaked. “Him be big thief and takes our magic!”
“You shuts up, Kipper,” Yazka squeaked agitatedly, “you not supposed to talks ‘bout that!”

Urko groaned loudly and shook his scaly head, “Why Urko gets to work with such stupid kobolds? At least Deekin was not so stupid, yip!”
“What did Deekin steal?” Yanny asked, playing along.
“That be none of your business, kip,” Kipper squeaked. “You not needs to know ‘bout tower or mummy hand!”
“You be so stupid, Kipper,” Yazka gasped. “Why you not shuts up and let Urko and me talks with stranger, ack?”
“You both shuts up, yip! Me thinks Urko demotes both of you!”
“Me is sorry, Urko!” Kipper squeaked. “No demote me, please! Me not tells him that we still gots hand, kip!”

The companions exchanged puzzled glances and Dorna winked at Yanny.
“Their eyes gleam with intelligence,” she whispered, “but their mouths prove the eyes wrong.”
“My scaly friends,” Yanny murmured soothingly, “I believe you should entrust yourselves and the mummified hand into our care, if you want to escape this inhospitable crypt and return to your Master.”
“No! Yip! Urko needs hand to protect us!”
“But…we not knows how to use hand, Urko,” Kipper squeaked. “How that protect us?”

“I agree with Kipper,” Yanny said, “perhaps you should let me keep it. In exchange, Dorna and I shall gladly escort you back to your caves. What say you?”
“Well, you looks like shaman, maybe, yip! Maybe you gots spells that lets you slips past or maybe kills gnolls. Here… you takes mummy hand and escorts us to Master!”

Urko reached inside one of the wooden crates and produced a fist-sized object that was covered with dirty rags. Once again, Yanny’s holy symbol flared angrily, indicating a strong presence of foul magic.

Yanny carefully tucked the artifact into his backpack and said, “That was very smart of you to give this dangerous item to me, Urko. Your actions prove that you are a natural leader. Now, we must set out to meet Tymofarrar without delay.”

Urko’s serpentine eyes went wide and he squeaked, “How you knows about Master? Urko say not a word about Master’s name.”
“We know more that your little head can imagine,” Dorna said, her eyes sparkling with a poorly concealed desire to squash the impudent creatures that dared to attack Hilltop.
Yanny cleared his throat loudly.
“Whatever the case might be, my dear Urko, we must leave this crypt without delay.”
“Yes, yes,” Urko squeaked in agreement, “you leads the way and we follows. We… we sorry ‘bout raiding the village… but Master say we must do it.”
“Worry not about it, my scaly friend,” Yanny said soothingly, “for it is a thing of the past. I am sure you have learned your lesson well.”
“Yes, yes,” Urko agreed eagerly, “very scary lesson, big fire magic. Urko no liked it!’

The kobolds quickly organized their force, with Yanny and Dorna leading the way, and soon the eleven crypt was far behind them.
They were headed for the Nether Mountains.

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18 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:53 am

Maxduelantus

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Head Overseer
CHAPTER 7: NETHER MOUNTAINS

The vast expanse of the Nether Mountains was positioned to the north of the Silver Marches and roughly separated the city of Silvermoon from a direct access to Citadel Fellbar. River Rauvin snaked around the south-westernmost portion, flowing north and through the mountains towards Sundabar, separating the dwarven city from the High Forest to the south.
A merchant route connecting Everlund, Silvermoon, and Sundabar snaked around the other side of the mountains to the north, encircling the western portion of the mountains and crossing up with the river near Sundabar. The eastern portion of the Nether Mountains gently nudged into the desert wastelands of Anauroch, a parched home to the ruins of the ancient Netheril Empire.

The sun was beginning to set when the kobolds, accompanied by Yanny, Dorna, and the two gnoll prisoners, reached the entrance to the vast network of underground caves that served as their home.
The cave entrance opened up into a huge main cavern, occupied by a large contingent of kobold forces, perhaps three times as large as the raiding party that was sent to Hilltop. Urko ordered his troops to break ranks for rest, and approached the companions.

“Me takes you to Chief Arzig now if you wants to talk to Big Master.”

He nodded in the direction of the large gate and motioned for the companions to follow him. The gate opened up to reveal a second gate, and a third, and a fourth. On the other side, another large cavern housed the kobold living quarters, with numerous side passages leading in all directions.

A larger that usual kobold specimen stood in the middle of the cavern, wearing a leather vest painted white and wielding a wickedly spiked wooden hammer. A strange-looking metal rod was fastened to his belt. The kobold chief was barking orders at his minions, obviously agitated by something.

The companions approached, and Yanny bowed diplomatically. Dorna did not bow, crossing her arms around her ample bosom instead.

“Well met, Chief Arzig,” Yanny said with a smile, nudging Dorna gently. “I am Yanny, and this here is my companion Dorna.”
“Greetings,” Dorna grumbled under her breath.

Chief Arzig turned to regard the companions, growling threateningly.
“Grr, yip! You kills my kobolds in human village and now you comes into my caves! Me teeths long to tear your throat out!”

Before Yanny could reply, Urko interjected, bowing reverently before his chief.
“Yip! No, this be the one who saves us, Chief! Him be powerful, yip! We no get him angry, Chief!”

Chief Arzig’s serpentine eyes opened wide at Urko’s revelation, and he growled confusedly, but in a less threatening manner. “You saves this kobold? Yip, me not sure me trusts you. Me keeps eye on you. Why you comes to my caves?”

“I have come to see Tymofarrar,” Yanny replied, with determination in his voice.

Chief Arzig squinted his eyes in suspicion and growled, “What you want to see Big Master for? That be impossible.”

“And why is that?” Dorna asked without the slightest hint of fear in her voice.
“The cave be blocked off by a big rock. Stupid kobolds who supposed to make rock go up no listen to me no more.”
“You are the Chief,” Dorna suggested, “make them do it.”
“Me wishes it that easy, yip! Them no good kobold jumpers hides when me come to them. Me waves rod in air and tells them me now Master Jumper, but them says Big Master no say so.”
“Master Jumper?” Yanny echoed, exchanging puzzled glances with Dorna.
“Him is stupid kobold who tell me no when me want to go see Big Master. Big Master picks one kobold and makes him Master Jumper, but it never be Chief. Master Jumper tells other kobolds to jump on platform, then platform goes down and big rock goes up! But only Master Jumper with rod can make rock lifting work. That why me take rod away and put Master Jumper in prison, ‘cause he thinks he be all powerful and tells me no.”

“So, you wanted to speak with Big Master,” Yanny said and Chief Arzig nodded in agreement. “Why?”
“Me wanted to ask if me could be Master Jumper and Chief. That way me gots all power and no have to fight with Master Jumper. Me hoped Big Master sees wisdom in that, yip. But me never gots to ask, so me teaches Master Jumper lesson.”
“And where is Master Jumper now?” Dorna asked.
“Him in prison now, but him no can help you! Him can no tell kobolds what to do without rod.”

“What if… I could work out a deal between you and Master Jumper?” Yanny asked and Chief Arzig’s eyes lit up with excitement.
“You mean you arbiters… arbicates… you helps us make peace? Yip, guards, go gets Master Jumper Klumph!”

The two guard kobolds standing off to the side, acknowledged the order by thumping their fists into their chests and ran off, disappearing from view into one of the winding tunnels.
Meanwhile, Chief Arzig turned his attention to the gnoll prisoners and growled, “Me kills the gnoll prisoners, yip!”

“I’m afraid I cannot let you do that,” Yanny answered. “They are our prisoners and if anybody gets to decide whether they live or die, it would be us.”
“Me no understands you… human man,” Chief Arzig mused, “but me no questions you either. You saves many kobolds and me thankful for that.”

The guard kobolds returned shortly, dragging not very gently a beaten kobold. Chief Arzig turned to regard the newcomer and growled.

“Now, Master Jumper, you listens while I tells you how things work. If you agrees with me, then you gets you rod back.”
Yanny cleared his throat loudly.
“No, Chief, you must compromise as well.”
“Fine,” Chief Arzig growled, “but him must do some, too.”
“Me will,” Master Jumper Klumph squeaked, “so long as it no means me gets eaten by Big Master.”
“Me wants to go in to see Big Master whenever me wants, yip!”

Yanny cleared his throat again.
“That is a little open, Chief. Master Jumper, what do you think?”
“Yip, if Chief barge in on Big Master lots, Big Master kills me!”
“Grr, me no wants to go all the time. Big Master eats me if me bothers him too much!”
“Maybe that not such a bad thing, yip!”

Yanny rolled his eyes and cleared his throat for the third time.
“Klumph, show some respect for your Chief!”
“Yip, me sorry, Chief.”
“Grr, me think same thing ‘bout you… What if me goes only sometimes to see Big Master, but you no stops me?”
“How often you thinks me should let you goes in, yip? What you thinks, arbitrator?”

Chief Arzig clapped his scaly hands happily.
“That be the word me wanted!”

Yanny thought about his answer for a moment. If he allowed Chief Arzig to go see Tymofarrar too often, the dragon would undoubtedly eat Klumph. If he did not let the chief go see Tymofarrar enough, Yanny ran the risk of making all of the kobolds become hostile.

“How about once a month?”
“Me could agree to that, long as Chief promise him no tries to get Big Master to make him Master Jumper, yip!

Chief Arzig jumped up, hooting happily. Yanny sighed in relief.
“That seem fair, but me asks him anything else me wants. Now we make friends, Master Jumper. What you wants for sitting many days in prison?”
“Me wants cloaks and robes,” Klumph squeaked without hesitation. “Then me looks like real sorcerer. Too cold in me caves and me gots no wife.”

Chief Arzig groaned loudly, shaking his scaly head.
“You always wants cloaks and robes! Enough with cloaks and robes! How ‘bout me gives you wife?”
Klumph’s serpentine eyes sparkled with interest.
“Yip, me always likes you sister!”
“That who me was thinking ‘bout! Get her out of me cave finally.”
“That be good deal,” Klumph squeaked happily and turned to regard Yanny. “You be good arbitrator, human man. We meet you at big rock then, yip!”

With that, Master Jumper bowed to his newly acquired relative, grabbed the rod, and happily bounded away in the direction of a large wooden marker that read “To Master – Authorized Kobolds Only”.

☼☼☼☼☼

Yanny and Dorna bid Chief Arzig and Urko a happy farewell and followed suit, with the gnoll prisoners in tow.

The tunnel leading to the dragon’s lair opened up into a large cave that contained a dozen or so kobold workers that stood patiently near a tall hill made of natural stone. A huge boulder, directly opposite from the hill, prevented the entrance into Tymofarrar’s lair and a curious-looking contraption near it clarified to the companions the seemingly absurd blabbering of the kobold chief.

A thick rope, tied to the top of the boulder, extended through the metal wheels in the ceiling, with the other end tied to a stone-carved basket that was large enough to contain all of the kobold workers.

Klumph composed himself in front of the kobold workers and waved the rod in the air. The kobolds stamped their scaly feet in unison and stood in rigid attention awaiting further orders.

“You ready for jumping?” Master Jumper squeaked, and the kobolds stomped their feet in confirmation.
“This is going to be good,” Dorna mumbled.
“Jumpers!” Master Jumper squeaked, waving the rod in the air. “Every kobold gets ready! Go!”

One by one, the kobolds charged up the hill, gaining momentum, and leapt over the edge, landing nimbly inside the basket. The weight of each “jumper” caused the basket to gradually gravitate towards the ground, at the same time lifting the boulder. When the last of the kobolds landed inside the basket, it descended towards the ground completely, opening up the passage to Tymofarrar’s lair.

“Impressive,” Yanny mused, and Klumph nodded in agreement.
“Good luck with Big Master,” he squeaked, “he mights be hungry. Oh, and you watches out for ice kobolds. Them be different tribe and them be tough.”

Yanny laughed at the last comment.

“We certainly appreciate your concern, Master Jumper Klumph,” he said politely, “but you need not to worry.”
“Nothing that my trusty battle axe wouldn’t be able to deal with,” Dorna grumbled, and the companions descended into the lair.

Behind them, Klumph waived his rod in the air. The kobolds swiftly jumped out of the basket at the same time and the boulder fell back to the ground with a loud crash.

“Looks like we are sealed in,” Yanny observed.
“We are not going to battle this wyrm, are we?” Dorna asked.
“That would not be a good idea,” Yanny replied, and the companions continued with their cautious exploration.
CHAPTER 7: NETHER MOUNTAINS

The vast expanse of the Nether Mountains was positioned to the north of the Silver Marches and roughly separated the city of Silvermoon from a direct access to Citadel Fellbar. River Rauvin snaked around the south-westernmost portion, flowing north and through the mountains towards Sundabar, separating the dwarven city from the High Forest to the south.
A merchant route connecting Everlund, Silvermoon, and Sundabar snaked around the other side of the mountains to the north, encircling the western portion of the mountains and crossing up with the river near Sundabar. The eastern portion of the Nether Mountains gently nudged into the desert wastelands of Anauroch, a parched home to the ruins of the ancient Netheril Empire.

The sun was beginning to set when the kobolds, accompanied by Yanny, Dorna, and the two gnoll prisoners, reached the entrance to the vast network of underground caves that served as their home.
The cave entrance opened up into a huge main cavern, occupied by a large contingent of kobold forces, perhaps three times as large as the raiding party that was sent to Hilltop. Urko ordered his troops to break ranks for rest, and approached the companions.

“Me takes you to Chief Arzig now if you wants to talk to Big Master.”

He nodded in the direction of the large gate and motioned for the companions to follow him. The gate opened up to reveal a second gate, and a third, and a fourth. On the other side, another large cavern housed the kobold living quarters, with numerous side passages leading in all directions.

A larger that usual kobold specimen stood in the middle of the cavern, wearing a leather vest painted white and wielding a wickedly spiked wooden hammer. A strange-looking metal rod was fastened to his belt. The kobold chief was barking orders at his minions, obviously agitated by something.

The companions approached, and Yanny bowed diplomatically. Dorna did not bow, crossing her arms around her ample bosom instead.

“Well met, Chief Arzig,” Yanny said with a smile, nudging Dorna gently. “I am Yanny, and this here is my companion Dorna.”
“Greetings,” Dorna grumbled under her breath.

Chief Arzig turned to regard the companions, growling threateningly.
“Grr, yip! You kills my kobolds in human village and now you comes into my caves! Me teeths long to tear your throat out!”

Before Yanny could reply, Urko interjected, bowing reverently before his chief.
“Yip! No, this be the one who saves us, Chief! Him be powerful, yip! We no get him angry, Chief!”

Chief Arzig’s serpentine eyes opened wide at Urko’s revelation, and he growled confusedly, but in a less threatening manner. “You saves this kobold? Yip, me not sure me trusts you. Me keeps eye on you. Why you comes to my caves?”

“I have come to see Tymofarrar,” Yanny replied, with determination in his voice.

Chief Arzig squinted his eyes in suspicion and growled, “What you want to see Big Master for? That be impossible.”

“And why is that?” Dorna asked without the slightest hint of fear in her voice.
“The cave be blocked off by a big rock. Stupid kobolds who supposed to make rock go up no listen to me no more.”
“You are the Chief,” Dorna suggested, “make them do it.”
“Me wishes it that easy, yip! Them no good kobold jumpers hides when me come to them. Me waves rod in air and tells them me now Master Jumper, but them says Big Master no say so.”
“Master Jumper?” Yanny echoed, exchanging puzzled glances with Dorna.
“Him is stupid kobold who tell me no when me want to go see Big Master. Big Master picks one kobold and makes him Master Jumper, but it never be Chief. Master Jumper tells other kobolds to jump on platform, then platform goes down and big rock goes up! But only Master Jumper with rod can make rock lifting work. That why me take rod away and put Master Jumper in prison, ‘cause he thinks he be all powerful and tells me no.”

“So, you wanted to speak with Big Master,” Yanny said and Chief Arzig nodded in agreement. “Why?”
“Me wanted to ask if me could be Master Jumper and Chief. That way me gots all power and no have to fight with Master Jumper. Me hoped Big Master sees wisdom in that, yip. But me never gots to ask, so me teaches Master Jumper lesson.”
“And where is Master Jumper now?” Dorna asked.
“Him in prison now, but him no can help you! Him can no tell kobolds what to do without rod.”

“What if… I could work out a deal between you and Master Jumper?” Yanny asked and Chief Arzig’s eyes lit up with excitement.
“You mean you arbiters… arbicates… you helps us make peace? Yip, guards, go gets Master Jumper Klumph!”

The two guard kobolds standing off to the side, acknowledged the order by thumping their fists into their chests and ran off, disappearing from view into one of the winding tunnels.
Meanwhile, Chief Arzig turned his attention to the gnoll prisoners and growled, “Me kills the gnoll prisoners, yip!”

“I’m afraid I cannot let you do that,” Yanny answered. “They are our prisoners and if anybody gets to decide whether they live or die, it would be us.”
“Me no understands you… human man,” Chief Arzig mused, “but me no questions you either. You saves many kobolds and me thankful for that.”

The guard kobolds returned shortly, dragging not very gently a beaten kobold. Chief Arzig turned to regard the newcomer and growled.

“Now, Master Jumper, you listens while I tells you how things work. If you agrees with me, then you gets you rod back.”
Yanny cleared his throat loudly.
“No, Chief, you must compromise as well.”
“Fine,” Chief Arzig growled, “but him must do some, too.”
“Me will,” Master Jumper Klumph squeaked, “so long as it no means me gets eaten by Big Master.”
“Me wants to go in to see Big Master whenever me wants, yip!”

Yanny cleared his throat again.
“That is a little open, Chief. Master Jumper, what do you think?”
“Yip, if Chief barge in on Big Master lots, Big Master kills me!”
“Grr, me no wants to go all the time. Big Master eats me if me bothers him too much!”
“Maybe that not such a bad thing, yip!”

Yanny rolled his eyes and cleared his throat for the third time.
“Klumph, show some respect for your Chief!”
“Yip, me sorry, Chief.”
“Grr, me think same thing ‘bout you… What if me goes only sometimes to see Big Master, but you no stops me?”
“How often you thinks me should let you goes in, yip? What you thinks, arbitrator?”

Chief Arzig clapped his scaly hands happily.
“That be the word me wanted!”

Yanny thought about his answer for a moment. If he allowed Chief Arzig to go see Tymofarrar too often, the dragon would undoubtedly eat Klumph. If he did not let the chief go see Tymofarrar enough, Yanny ran the risk of making all of the kobolds become hostile.

“How about once a month?”
“Me could agree to that, long as Chief promise him no tries to get Big Master to make him Master Jumper, yip!

Chief Arzig jumped up, hooting happily. Yanny sighed in relief.
“That seem fair, but me asks him anything else me wants. Now we make friends, Master Jumper. What you wants for sitting many days in prison?”
“Me wants cloaks and robes,” Klumph squeaked without hesitation. “Then me looks like real sorcerer. Too cold in me caves and me gots no wife.”

Chief Arzig groaned loudly, shaking his scaly head.
“You always wants cloaks and robes! Enough with cloaks and robes! How ‘bout me gives you wife?”
Klumph’s serpentine eyes sparkled with interest.
“Yip, me always likes you sister!”
“That who me was thinking ‘bout! Get her out of me cave finally.”
“That be good deal,” Klumph squeaked happily and turned to regard Yanny. “You be good arbitrator, human man. We meet you at big rock then, yip!”

With that, Master Jumper bowed to his newly acquired relative, grabbed the rod, and happily bounded away in the direction of a large wooden marker that read “To Master – Authorized Kobolds Only”.

☼☼☼☼☼

Yanny and Dorna bid Chief Arzig and Urko a happy farewell and followed suit, with the gnoll prisoners in tow.

The tunnel leading to the dragon’s lair opened up into a large cave that contained a dozen or so kobold workers that stood patiently near a tall hill made of natural stone. A huge boulder, directly opposite from the hill, prevented the entrance into Tymofarrar’s lair and a curious-looking contraption near it clarified to the companions the seemingly absurd blabbering of the kobold chief.

A thick rope, tied to the top of the boulder, extended through the metal wheels in the ceiling, with the other end tied to a stone-carved basket that was large enough to contain all of the kobold workers.

Klumph composed himself in front of the kobold workers and waved the rod in the air. The kobolds stamped their scaly feet in unison and stood in rigid attention awaiting further orders.

“You ready for jumping?” Master Jumper squeaked, and the kobolds stomped their feet in confirmation.
“This is going to be good,” Dorna mumbled.
“Jumpers!” Master Jumper squeaked, waving the rod in the air. “Every kobold gets ready! Go!”

One by one, the kobolds charged up the hill, gaining momentum, and leapt over the edge, landing nimbly inside the basket. The weight of each “jumper” caused the basket to gradually gravitate towards the ground, at the same time lifting the boulder. When the last of the kobolds landed inside the basket, it descended towards the ground completely, opening up the passage to Tymofarrar’s lair.

“Impressive,” Yanny mused, and Klumph nodded in agreement.
“Good luck with Big Master,” he squeaked, “he mights be hungry. Oh, and you watches out for ice kobolds. Them be different tribe and them be tough.”

Yanny laughed at the last comment.

“We certainly appreciate your concern, Master Jumper Klumph,” he said politely, “but you need not to worry.”
“Nothing that my trusty battle axe wouldn’t be able to deal with,” Dorna grumbled, and the companions descended into the lair.

Behind them, Klumph waived his rod in the air. The kobolds swiftly jumped out of the basket at the same time and the boulder fell back to the ground with a loud crash.

“Looks like we are sealed in,” Yanny observed.
“We are not going to battle this wyrm, are we?” Dorna asked.
“That would not be a good idea,” Yanny replied, and the companions continued with their cautious exploration.CHAPTER 7: NETHER MOUNTAINS

The vast expanse of the Nether Mountains was positioned to the north of the Silver Marches and roughly separated the city of Silvermoon from a direct access to Citadel Fellbar. River Rauvin snaked around the south-westernmost portion, flowing north and through the mountains towards Sundabar, separating the dwarven city from the High Forest to the south.
A merchant route connecting Everlund, Silvermoon, and Sundabar snaked around the other side of the mountains to the north, encircling the western portion of the mountains and crossing up with the river near Sundabar. The eastern portion of the Nether Mountains gently nudged into the desert wastelands of Anauroch, a parched home to the ruins of the ancient Netheril Empire.

The sun was beginning to set when the kobolds, accompanied by Yanny, Dorna, and the two gnoll prisoners, reached the entrance to the vast network of underground caves that served as their home.
The cave entrance opened up into a huge main cavern, occupied by a large contingent of kobold forces, perhaps three times as large as the raiding party that was sent to Hilltop. Urko ordered his troops to break ranks for rest, and approached the companions.

“Me takes you to Chief Arzig now if you wants to talk to Big Master.”

He nodded in the direction of the large gate and motioned for the companions to follow him. The gate opened up to reveal a second gate, and a third, and a fourth. On the other side, another large cavern housed the kobold living quarters, with numerous side passages leading in all directions.

A larger that usual kobold specimen stood in the middle of the cavern, wearing a leather vest painted white and wielding a wickedly spiked wooden hammer. A strange-looking metal rod was fastened to his belt. The kobold chief was barking orders at his minions, obviously agitated by something.

The companions approached, and Yanny bowed diplomatically. Dorna did not bow, crossing her arms around her ample bosom instead.

“Well met, Chief Arzig,” Yanny said with a smile, nudging Dorna gently. “I am Yanny, and this here is my companion Dorna.”
“Greetings,” Dorna grumbled under her breath.

Chief Arzig turned to regard the companions, growling threateningly.
“Grr, yip! You kills my kobolds in human village and now you comes into my caves! Me teeths long to tear your throat out!”

Before Yanny could reply, Urko interjected, bowing reverently before his chief.
“Yip! No, this be the one who saves us, Chief! Him be powerful, yip! We no get him angry, Chief!”

Chief Arzig’s serpentine eyes opened wide at Urko’s revelation, and he growled confusedly, but in a less threatening manner. “You saves this kobold? Yip, me not sure me trusts you. Me keeps eye on you. Why you comes to my caves?”

“I have come to see Tymofarrar,” Yanny replied, with determination in his voice.

Chief Arzig squinted his eyes in suspicion and growled, “What you want to see Big Master for? That be impossible.”

“And why is that?” Dorna asked without the slightest hint of fear in her voice.
“The cave be blocked off by a big rock. Stupid kobolds who supposed to make rock go up no listen to me no more.”
“You are the Chief,” Dorna suggested, “make them do it.”
“Me wishes it that easy, yip! Them no good kobold jumpers hides when me come to them. Me waves rod in air and tells them me now Master Jumper, but them says Big Master no say so.”
“Master Jumper?” Yanny echoed, exchanging puzzled glances with Dorna.
“Him is stupid kobold who tell me no when me want to go see Big Master. Big Master picks one kobold and makes him Master Jumper, but it never be Chief. Master Jumper tells other kobolds to jump on platform, then platform goes down and big rock goes up! But only Master Jumper with rod can make rock lifting work. That why me take rod away and put Master Jumper in prison, ‘cause he thinks he be all powerful and tells me no.”

“So, you wanted to speak with Big Master,” Yanny said and Chief Arzig nodded in agreement. “Why?”
“Me wanted to ask if me could be Master Jumper and Chief. That way me gots all power and no have to fight with Master Jumper. Me hoped Big Master sees wisdom in that, yip. But me never gots to ask, so me teaches Master Jumper lesson.”
“And where is Master Jumper now?” Dorna asked.
“Him in prison now, but him no can help you! Him can no tell kobolds what to do without rod.”

“What if… I could work out a deal between you and Master Jumper?” Yanny asked and Chief Arzig’s eyes lit up with excitement.
“You mean you arbiters… arbicates… you helps us make peace? Yip, guards, go gets Master Jumper Klumph!”

The two guard kobolds standing off to the side, acknowledged the order by thumping their fists into their chests and ran off, disappearing from view into one of the winding tunnels.
Meanwhile, Chief Arzig turned his attention to the gnoll prisoners and growled, “Me kills the gnoll prisoners, yip!”

“I’m afraid I cannot let you do that,” Yanny answered. “They are our prisoners and if anybody gets to decide whether they live or die, it would be us.”
“Me no understands you… human man,” Chief Arzig mused, “but me no questions you either. You saves many kobolds and me thankful for that.”

The guard kobolds returned shortly, dragging not very gently a beaten kobold. Chief Arzig turned to regard the newcomer and growled.

“Now, Master Jumper, you listens while I tells you how things work. If you agrees with me, then you gets you rod back.”
Yanny cleared his throat loudly.
“No, Chief, you must compromise as well.”
“Fine,” Chief Arzig growled, “but him must do some, too.”
“Me will,” Master Jumper Klumph squeaked, “so long as it no means me gets eaten by Big Master.”
“Me wants to go in to see Big Master whenever me wants, yip!”

Yanny cleared his throat again.
“That is a little open, Chief. Master Jumper, what do you think?”
“Yip, if Chief barge in on Big Master lots, Big Master kills me!”
“Grr, me no wants to go all the time. Big Master eats me if me bothers him too much!”
“Maybe that not such a bad thing, yip!”

Yanny rolled his eyes and cleared his throat for the third time.
“Klumph, show some respect for your Chief!”
“Yip, me sorry, Chief.”
“Grr, me think same thing ‘bout you… What if me goes only sometimes to see Big Master, but you no stops me?”
“How often you thinks me should let you goes in, yip? What you thinks, arbitrator?”

Chief Arzig clapped his scaly hands happily.
“That be the word me wanted!”

Yanny thought about his answer for a moment. If he allowed Chief Arzig to go see Tymofarrar too often, the dragon would undoubtedly eat Klumph. If he did not let the chief go see Tymofarrar enough, Yanny ran the risk of making all of the kobolds become hostile.

“How about once a month?”
“Me could agree to that, long as Chief promise him no tries to get Big Master to make him Master Jumper, yip!

Chief Arzig jumped up, hooting happily. Yanny sighed in relief.
“That seem fair, but me asks him anything else me wants. Now we make friends, Master Jumper. What you wants for sitting many days in prison?”
“Me wants cloaks and robes,” Klumph squeaked without hesitation. “Then me looks like real sorcerer. Too cold in me caves and me gots no wife.”

Chief Arzig groaned loudly, shaking his scaly head.
“You always wants cloaks and robes! Enough with cloaks and robes! How ‘bout me gives you wife?”
Klumph’s serpentine eyes sparkled with interest.
“Yip, me always likes you sister!”
“That who me was thinking ‘bout! Get her out of me cave finally.”
“That be good deal,” Klumph squeaked happily and turned to regard Yanny. “You be good arbitrator, human man. We meet you at big rock then, yip!”

With that, Master Jumper bowed to his newly acquired relative, grabbed the rod, and happily bounded away in the direction of a large wooden marker that read “To Master – Authorized Kobolds Only”.

☼☼☼☼☼

Yanny and Dorna bid Chief Arzig and Urko a happy farewell and followed suit, with the gnoll prisoners in tow.

The tunnel leading to the dragon’s lair opened up into a large cave that contained a dozen or so kobold workers that stood patiently near a tall hill made of natural stone. A huge boulder, directly opposite from the hill, prevented the entrance into Tymofarrar’s lair and a curious-looking contraption near it clarified to the companions the seemingly absurd blabbering of the kobold chief.

A thick rope, tied to the top of the boulder, extended through the metal wheels in the ceiling, with the other end tied to a stone-carved basket that was large enough to contain all of the kobold workers.

Klumph composed himself in front of the kobold workers and waved the rod in the air. The kobolds stamped their scaly feet in unison and stood in rigid attention awaiting further orders.

“You ready for jumping?” Master Jumper squeaked, and the kobolds stomped their feet in confirmation.
“This is going to be good,” Dorna mumbled.
“Jumpers!” Master Jumper squeaked, waving the rod in the air. “Every kobold gets ready! Go!”

One by one, the kobolds charged up the hill, gaining momentum, and leapt over the edge, landing nimbly inside the basket. The weight of each “jumper” caused the basket to gradually gravitate towards the ground, at the same time lifting the boulder. When the last of the kobolds landed inside the basket, it descended towards the ground completely, opening up the passage to Tymofarrar’s lair.

“Impressive,” Yanny mused, and Klumph nodded in agreement.
“Good luck with Big Master,” he squeaked, “he mights be hungry. Oh, and you watches out for ice kobolds. Them be different tribe and them be tough.”

Yanny laughed at the last comment.

“We certainly appreciate your concern, Master Jumper Klumph,” he said politely, “but you need not to worry.”
“Nothing that my trusty battle axe wouldn’t be able to deal with,” Dorna grumbled, and the companions descended into the lair.

Behind them, Klumph waived his rod in the air. The kobolds swiftly jumped out of the basket at the same time and the boulder fell back to the ground with a loud crash.

“Looks like we are sealed in,” Yanny observed.
“We are not going to battle this wyrm, are we?” Dorna asked.
“That would not be a good idea,” Yanny replied, and the companions continued with their cautious exploration.

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19 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:54 am

Maxduelantus

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They found themselves in a dimly lit tunnel that descended for about thirty paces. Yanny could feel the stale, freezing air emanating from beyond, and he also sensed a strange presence of animals somewhere nearby. He attuned his ranger senses and immediately felt a connection that bombarded him with visions of animals being slaughtered and fed to a huge white dragon. The poor beasts were sending out a desperate plea for help.

The gnoll prisoners felt something as well, probably the presence of ice kobolds. They sniffed the air nervously and exchanged sidelong glances at each other.

Dorna turned to regard them and took a step closer.
“Don’t you be trying to escape now,” she whispered, “if you know what’s good for you.”

She brandished her battle axe threateningly and added, “If you even think about it, I shall gladly sacrifice you both to the dragon.”
The gnolls blinked repeatedly, as if in understanding, and did not dare move.

“You two stay here,” Yanny pointed at the gnolls and then at the ground. “We shall go beyond and investigate.”
“I certainly do hope to find Tymofarrar in good spirits,” Dorna added, winking at Yanny.

The sneaky dwarf took the lead, with Yanny creeping cautiously behind, and soon the companions reached the end of the tunnel. Dorna took a quick peek around the corner and motioned for Yanny to halt.

“An ox pen,” she reported, whispering. “And a two-score of the ugly lizards in the distance.”
“We must free the animals,” Yanny whispered back. “Lets sneak close to the pen before we are discovered. I believe I have a plan.”

The tunnel opened up into a huge ice cavern with a natural lake in the middle and a narrow stone bridge that served as a connection between two shores – one housing the ox pen and the other leading into the dragon’s lair. Large stalactites hung from the cave ceiling about fifty paces above the bridge, giving the companions a pretty good idea of just how deep they were underground.
Two large gates could be seen from where the companions stood, one probably leading to the surface and the other, Yanny easily guessed, leading into the dragon’s lair.
The ice kobolds were patrolling the entire length of the bridge preventing an easy entry, and Yanny doubted they would be willing to let him pass unchallenged. Besides, he thought to himself, the cruel creatures were keeping the poor animals captive and were using them for food and worse yet, for sacrificial purposes.
Whispering a quick prayer to Mystra under his breath, he darted towards the pen, with Dorna following closely behind him. As he approached, the large beasts shifted nervously. The poor animals were kept confined behind a locked gate and it would take time to open it. Even more troubling was the fact that the ice kobolds on the bridge noticed their movements and were hastily organizing a concentrated attack.

There was no time for finesse.

Yanny took out the magic wand from his belt and discharged a glowing green missile at the gate lock, breaking it apart. He motioned for Dorna to help him and together they hastily opened the heavy gate, releasing the trapped oxen.
One by one, the animals exited their prison and rushed towards their freedom, towards the stone bridge, and towards their cruel slavers, trampling through the kobold ranks with horrifying efficiency.
As the last shrieks of agony died down, Yanny felt pangs of guilt for the ice kobolds, but he felt even more profoundly the gratitude of the freed animals. It was best this way, he decided.

The companions, with gnoll prisoners in tow, crossed the stone bridge, taking care to move carefully among the oxen, lest the animals became spooked by the presence of the dog-faced creatures.
There, beyond the pile of massacred kobold bodies stood a lone wooden gate. It was intricately decorated with designs depicting a great dragon flying over a vast land populated by kobolds, all bowing reverently before their master.
The other gate, a few paces to the side, stood unadorned and probably led to the surface, judging by the draft of cold air sifting through the cracks. Both gates were locked, but it did not take Dorna very long to loot the kobold bodies for the keys and a few gold coins, which she promptly pocketed away.

Yanny was about to pass by the dead body of a kobold when a soft sparkle of enchantment caught his attention. He stooped over and whistled in surprise, retrieving a magnificent short sword. The enchanted blade felt cold to the touch and the metal sparkled with a fierce blue color.

“An ice blade,” Yanny observed.

He picked up the scabbard and fastened it at his belt – the weapon would complement his jeweled rapier perfectly.
Yanny decided it prudent to free the animals first. With Dorna’s help, he opened the surface gate and the grateful beasts bounded off up the wide and sloping tunnel.
Dorna quickly examined the other gate for traps and nodded her head in satisfaction. She looked at Yanny, nodding her approval, unlocked the gate, and pushed it open.
The companions cautiously descended a flight of stairs, entering a huge cavern with ice stalactites the size of a tall human hanging from the ceiling and –

Tymofarrar stood before them in all of his terrifying glory. Yanny gasped and desperately tried to appear calm. It was the first time he’d seen a dragon. Yanny understood now the meaning of his visions – he had seen this very dragon during his divinations.
And what a dragon it was! Tymofarrar, a great white wyrm, was gargantuan in size. Apparently awake and standing on all four legs, his powerful serpentine neck reached almost to the ceiling. The dragon easily stood as tall three hill giants stacked on top of each other, and his powerful tail was as long as the dragon was tall.
A pair of glowing emerald orbs gazed at the intruders with a level of intelligence beyond anything Yanny had experienced before. Tymofarrar was beautiful and horrifying at the same time, with a huge maw that could swallow a person in a few heartbeats.

Yanny braced himself and took a step forward.

The great wyrm squinted his emerald eyes at the intruders and issued a profound sigh, revealing vicious rows of teeth that resembled short swords. The young battlemage afforded a quick glance in Dorna’s direction – she hardly looked impressed. The gnolls, however, were utterly frightened, shaking uncontrollably.
Tymofarrar spoke then, his voice booming like a thousand thunders. The sound made the hair on Yanny’s neck stand and he felt the slightest hint of fear begin creeping into his heart.

“Well, well, well,” Tymofarrar mused, sniffing the air. The current almost knocked everybody off their feet.
“A little intruder, is it?” the dragon sighed, regarding Yanny. “Let’s get a look at you then.”
“Greetings, glorious Tymofarrar!” Yanny shouted, trying desperately to conceal his fear.
Tymofarrar chuckled, the sound sending powerful vibrations through the air and shattering a nearby stalactite into millions of tiny shards.
“You may add on ‘the White’, ‘the Magnificent’, or any other appellation you feel matches my grandeur.”

The great dragon inhaled the cold air, causing the gnoll prisoners to fall down to the ground where they cowered, too afraid to even move.
“Now, lets see… it’s been a while since I had seen my last human. Your type breeds so quickly, however, I suppose it was inevitable.”
Yanny offered a polite bow, smiling through his fear.
“But enough of that,” Tymofarrar continued, regarding the intruders. “What else do you have with you?” The dragon’s piercing gaze focused on Dorna.
“Hmmm. A dwarven woman, is it? A beardless dwarven woman, no less.”

Dorna took a step forward, obviously unafraid. Yanny felt cold sweat dripping from his forehead despite the freezing temperature and couldn’t help thinking that he was standing at the edge of disaster.
But Dorna Trapspringer, the dwarven cleric of Vergadain, would not be so easily cowered.

“You act aged and superior, dragon,” she said calmly, “but I can see your true age. Do not think that all who are small are also short of wit.”
Tymofarrar yawned loudly, obviously bored. Yanny stared at the rows of sharp teeth and gulped down the last remnants of his fear.
“A good thing for you, too, little one,” the great dragon mused, “else you’d barely possess the intelligence to carry that nasty looking axe and that big shield, hmmm?”
Dorna did not wish to back down.
“Mock me if you wish, dragon,” she replied, “I am not frightened by you.”
“Frightened?” Tymofarrar asked, opening its maw in a way that could only be described as a smile. “Why ever should you be frightened? We are merely conversing here, aren’t we? Like civilized sentient beings, yes?”

Yanny decided it prudent to say something before things got out of control. He cleared his throat loudly.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” he said politely. “Yanny Fireblazer, a humble servant of nature and a devotional follower of Mystra.”
“Yes,” Tymofarrar mused, “a mageling… A servant of the godling Midnight, you say? Quite interesting.”
Yanny was aware of the events that took place during the Time of Troubles, when the Lady of Magic ascended into the heavens as a new incarnation – Midnight. It seemed that Tymofarrar was certainly well-versed in the history of realms-shaking events.

“Yes, well,” Yanny continued his official introductions, “and this here is my trusty companion, Dorna Trapspringer.”
“We have come to talk to you about Deekin,” Dorna added, full of determination.
Tymofarrar’s serpentine eyes opened wide and sparkled with interest.
“Ah, Deekin,” the great dragon said, lost in the memories. “At first I thought I would never be able to teach the little lad anything at all. All he would do is cower about me and cry ‘Master!’ if I so much as twitched.”
“Not much has changed, as far as I can see,” Dorna commented dryly.

Tymofarrar squinted its large eyes at the impertinent speaker.
“So loud for such a small dwarf,” the great dragon observed mockingly.
“I refuse to be intimidated by you, lizard,” Dorna replied, not backing down.
“Yes, yes, how very boring,” Tymofarrar yawned. “Now… where was I? Ah, yes, Deekin. He was a slow learner, indeed. But he improved remarkably with time. Obviously you’ve encountered him somewhere outside these caves, yes?” The great dragon regarded Yanny with interest. “Tell me, where is he now?”
“Deekin wants to be free of his servitude to you,” the young mage replied politely but firmly.

Tymofarrar issued another chuckle, blasting yet another stalactite into icy sparks.
“Ah, poor Deekin,” the great dragon mused. “For such a little kobold he has very big dreams. Very foolish dreams, but dreams nonetheless.”
Tymofarrar sighed, suddenly becoming very agitated.
“I must say,” the great white wyrm growled, “that this entire business with the artifacts has been rather irritating.”
Yanny and Dorna exchanged knowing glances at that last statement.
Tymofarrar continued, “I never really needed them to begin with, and acquiring them has been more difficult than I’d have liked. And what do I get for it? A mask I cannot even use, for all my efforts.”
The great dragon growled agitatedly, its voice becoming louder and angrier.

“J’Nah lied about the power these objects hold.”
“J’Nah?” Yanny echoed.
“J’Nah,” Tymofarrar’s voice boomed. “How the mere name of that creature fills me with bile. The sheer audacity!”

The great dragon unfolded its huge leathery wings and flapped them angrily, almost sweeping Yanny and Dorna off their feet. The gnoll prisoners were cowering on the floor, not daring to breathe.
Tymofarrar growled.
“The temerity! It is an affront to my draconic stature, I tell you!”
“Who is this J’Nah you speak of?” Yanny asked.
Tymofarrar calmed somewhat.
“J’Nah first approached me two moons ago, sending a letter of introduction and making a proposal that she knew I would find hard to resist. She requested an audience with me and when I finally agreed, she magically projected her ugly image into my cave.”

Tymofarrar paused, recalling the events.
“There were magical artifacts of great power within easy reach, she said, guarded by a dwarven wizard. Working together, we could overcome his defenses… She desired a statue of a tower, she said, and she was willing to let me keep all of the other items, though she did not have much say in the bargaining process, I assure you. I simply bullied her into the deal with a single growl. I could see her hatred for me in her eyes – she loathed to bargain with me and thought the entire deal to be less than amicable. So she decided to attack my kobold raiding party instead! She tried to take all the artifacts for herself!”
“So, J’Nah commands the gnolls, then,” Dorna observed.
“Try to keep up with me, beardless one,” Tymofarrar said dryly. “Yes, it is J’Nah who commanded the gnolls to attack my kobolds. I had, after all, sent them in early.”
“And you planned to break your deal with her as soon as the kobolds stole the artifacts from the village,” Yanny reasoned thoughtfully.

Tymofarrar scoffed at the notion.
“And what is the relevance of that? I wanted to see the statue for myself before I even considered releasing it. Why would she want it, after all, unless it was the best?”
“That makes sense,” Yanny played along.
The great dragon did not need to know that the tower statue had already been retrieved, along with a very frightened kobold bard who called himself Deekin.

“There is a saying amongst dragons,” Tymofarrar continued. “It goes thus – Sweet as blood, rich as flame, rarer than gold this deadly game. Do you know what it speaks of, mageling?”
“Revenge,” Yanny ventured a guess.
“Yes,” Tymofarrar hissed, “revenge, indeed. I desire vengeance upon J’Nah! Kill her for me, little one, and you shall be rewarded.”

Yanny thought about it for a moment. Tymofarrar was in possession of the magical mask, and J’Nah probably kept the dragon’s tooth. It was doubtful she would easily let go of it, but it was also doubtful that she would be easily defeated.

“And just how would I be able to do that?” Yanny asked.
Tymofarrar narrowed its emerald eyes, obviously intrigued.
“Worry not, mageling. I shall give you something that will make killing the sorceress much easier, of course.”
Yanny considered Tymofarrar’s proposition. So far, it sounded good, except for the revelation that J’Nah was a sorceress, and a powerful one at that. It would not be an easy fight.
“And what would I get for doing this?” he asked.
Tymofarrar regarded Yanny with increasing interest.
“I would be willing to free Deekin from my service, for instance,” the great dragon offered. “Does that interest you?”
“Yes,” Yanny replied without hesitation, “Deekin must be freed.”
“Very well,” Tymofarrar mused, “for his freedom is but a small thing.”
Dorna looked at Yanny questioningly and whispered, “Bargaining with a dragon, Yanny? Your call…”

Yanny realized the truth of her wisdom. Dragons were not the most trustworthy creatures to be making deals with and Tymofarrar in particular was not the most benevolent of its kind.
“Wait!” he said haltingly. “I want to be sure that you shall honor your deal.”
“Very well,” Tymofarrar replied officially. “You hereby have my oath, the oath of Tymofarrar the Magnificent, on the draconic blood of my white ancestors that you shall be rewarded as promised. Do not question my word further, mageling. Such an oath is not given lightly, even amongst the most evil of my brethren.”
“Very well, then,” Yanny said, “I shall do it.”
“Such words are pleasant to hear,” Tymofarrar mused. “Very well, little one… a bargain it is. I am giving you a flask full of powder. Use it on J’Nah and she will be severely weakened. It plays havoc, you see, with her… unique physiology. Now, retrieve the flask from the desk, mageling.”

Yanny looked around the huge cavern that served as Tymofarrar’s lair. The sparkling stalactites and slender icicles hung from the ceiling, resembling the gaping maw of a hungry monster. The cave floor, a roughly rectangular elevated plateau, was surrounded by a vast body of freezing cold water.

The lake extended in all directions as far as the young mage could see and probably served as a natural escape route for the great dragon. On the rocky floor of the cavern, glistening chunks of ice covered Tymofarrar’s treasure – an enormous pile of sparkling baubles, intricately crafted and undoubtedly enchanted weapons, magical wands and staves, and all manner of coins, jewelry and gemstones.

A canvas tent stood to the side of the cavern.
Yanny approached the tent – Tymofarrar’s personal library – and examined the large desk made of polished black marble. He noticed the flask immediately, but made no outward showing of his discovery. Instead, he proceeded to examine the impromptu library, meticulously searching through all manner of books and scrolls that were stacked on top of the desk.

“This is probably where Deekin recorded much of the unfolding events,” Yanny mumbled under his breath.
“What was that?” Tymofarrar asked, possessing exceptional hearing abilities. “Did you find it, mageling? It’s on top of the desk, my slow-witted associate. If I were a human, I would certainly walk over and show it to you myself, but – “ the great dragon unfolded his huge wings – “I am sure you can appreciate my predicament.”
“Eh… yes,” Yanny replied, deftly searching through the book stacks, “I mean… no, not yet… I haven’t found it yet.”
His eyes lit up with excitement when at last he found what he was looking for – Tymofarrar’s diary, undoubtedly written by Deekin.
“It should take just another moment, oh great one, with all this clutter in the way of my search.”
He winked at Dorna, gesturing towards the diary, and the sneaky dwarven lass swiped the dusty tome in the blink of an eye.
Yanny turned his attention towards the magical flask that sat atop the desk. It was made of rosy colored glass and appeared to contain some sort of glowing dust.

“Clutter?” Tymofarrar grumbled. “This clutter contains magic from every imaginable place on the face of Toril, not to mention the wealth of historical knowledge ancient and long forgotten.”
“Yes, well,” Yanny replied, struggling hard not to appear intrigued, “forgive my ignorance, oh great one… ah, yes, here it is!”
Yanny held up the magical item gingerly and turned to face Tymofarrar.
“Congratulations, mageling,” the great dragon said dryly, “you have finally found it. In that case, you should be on your way, my brave adventurers.”

Tymofarrar chuckled loudly, and three more stalactites exploded in a spectacular shower of icy sparks.

“And do not dare return until you dispatch of that hideous witch J’Nah,” the great dragon growled threateningly. “Take the silver key from the top drawer and use it on the stone pillar to gain an easy exit to the surface. Now, leave my lair, for I am growing agitated and impatient – not a very good combination, I assure you.”

The great dragon spoke a command word, dispelling the protective wards on the lock. The drawer slid open by itself, revealing the key.
Yanny bowed politely while Dorna unlocked the secret passage. The stone slab silently slid into the floor, revealing a dimly lit passageway. Yanny turned to regard the gnoll prisoners and smiled invitingly.

“After you,” the young mage chuckled, seeing the hesitation on their dog-like faces.
“Get you going!“ Dorna provided additional encouragement in the form of some efficient kicking with her sturdy boots.

The action seemed to get the message across quite nicely, and the gnolls stepped into the gloomy corridor. It did not take very long for the four travelers to traverse the winding tunnel, and soon Yanny stood at the base of the mountain, inhaling icy cold air and watching the sun descend rapidly towards the horizon.
They found themselves in a dimly lit tunnel that descended for about thirty paces. Yanny could feel the stale, freezing air emanating from beyond, and he also sensed a strange presence of animals somewhere nearby. He attuned his ranger senses and immediately felt a connection that bombarded him with visions of animals being slaughtered and fed to a huge white dragon. The poor beasts were sending out a desperate plea for help.

The gnoll prisoners felt something as well, probably the presence of ice kobolds. They sniffed the air nervously and exchanged sidelong glances at each other.

Dorna turned to regard them and took a step closer.
“Don’t you be trying to escape now,” she whispered, “if you know what’s good for you.”

She brandished her battle axe threateningly and added, “If you even think about it, I shall gladly sacrifice you both to the dragon.”
The gnolls blinked repeatedly, as if in understanding, and did not dare move.

“You two stay here,” Yanny pointed at the gnolls and then at the ground. “We shall go beyond and investigate.”
“I certainly do hope to find Tymofarrar in good spirits,” Dorna added, winking at Yanny.

The sneaky dwarf took the lead, with Yanny creeping cautiously behind, and soon the companions reached the end of the tunnel. Dorna took a quick peek around the corner and motioned for Yanny to halt.

“An ox pen,” she reported, whispering. “And a two-score of the ugly lizards in the distance.”
“We must free the animals,” Yanny whispered back. “Lets sneak close to the pen before we are discovered. I believe I have a plan.”

The tunnel opened up into a huge ice cavern with a natural lake in the middle and a narrow stone bridge that served as a connection between two shores – one housing the ox pen and the other leading into the dragon’s lair. Large stalactites hung from the cave ceiling about fifty paces above the bridge, giving the companions a pretty good idea of just how deep they were underground.
Two large gates could be seen from where the companions stood, one probably leading to the surface and the other, Yanny easily guessed, leading into the dragon’s lair.
The ice kobolds were patrolling the entire length of the bridge preventing an easy entry, and Yanny doubted they would be willing to let him pass unchallenged. Besides, he thought to himself, the cruel creatures were keeping the poor animals captive and were using them for food and worse yet, for sacrificial purposes.
Whispering a quick prayer to Mystra under his breath, he darted towards the pen, with Dorna following closely behind him. As he approached, the large beasts shifted nervously. The poor animals were kept confined behind a locked gate and it would take time to open it. Even more troubling was the fact that the ice kobolds on the bridge noticed their movements and were hastily organizing a concentrated attack.

There was no time for finesse.

Yanny took out the magic wand from his belt and discharged a glowing green missile at the gate lock, breaking it apart. He motioned for Dorna to help him and together they hastily opened the heavy gate, releasing the trapped oxen.
One by one, the animals exited their prison and rushed towards their freedom, towards the stone bridge, and towards their cruel slavers, trampling through the kobold ranks with horrifying efficiency.
As the last shrieks of agony died down, Yanny felt pangs of guilt for the ice kobolds, but he felt even more profoundly the gratitude of the freed animals. It was best this way, he decided.

The companions, with gnoll prisoners in tow, crossed the stone bridge, taking care to move carefully among the oxen, lest the animals became spooked by the presence of the dog-faced creatures.
There, beyond the pile of massacred kobold bodies stood a lone wooden gate. It was intricately decorated with designs depicting a great dragon flying over a vast land populated by kobolds, all bowing reverently before their master.
The other gate, a few paces to the side, stood unadorned and probably led to the surface, judging by the draft of cold air sifting through the cracks. Both gates were locked, but it did not take Dorna very long to loot the kobold bodies for the keys and a few gold coins, which she promptly pocketed away.

Yanny was about to pass by the dead body of a kobold when a soft sparkle of enchantment caught his attention. He stooped over and whistled in surprise, retrieving a magnificent short sword. The enchanted blade felt cold to the touch and the metal sparkled with a fierce blue color.

“An ice blade,” Yanny observed.

He picked up the scabbard and fastened it at his belt – the weapon would complement his jeweled rapier perfectly.
Yanny decided it prudent to free the animals first. With Dorna’s help, he opened the surface gate and the grateful beasts bounded off up the wide and sloping tunnel.
Dorna quickly examined the other gate for traps and nodded her head in satisfaction. She looked at Yanny, nodding her approval, unlocked the gate, and pushed it open.
The companions cautiously descended a flight of stairs, entering a huge cavern with ice stalactites the size of a tall human hanging from the ceiling and –

Tymofarrar stood before them in all of his terrifying glory. Yanny gasped and desperately tried to appear calm. It was the first time he’d seen a dragon. Yanny understood now the meaning of his visions – he had seen this very dragon during his divinations.
And what a dragon it was! Tymofarrar, a great white wyrm, was gargantuan in size. Apparently awake and standing on all four legs, his powerful serpentine neck reached almost to the ceiling. The dragon easily stood as tall three hill giants stacked on top of each other, and his powerful tail was as long as the dragon was tall.
A pair of glowing emerald orbs gazed at the intruders with a level of intelligence beyond anything Yanny had experienced before. Tymofarrar was beautiful and horrifying at the same time, with a huge maw that could swallow a person in a few heartbeats.

Yanny braced himself and took a step forward.

The great wyrm squinted his emerald eyes at the intruders and issued a profound sigh, revealing vicious rows of teeth that resembled short swords. The young battlemage afforded a quick glance in Dorna’s direction – she hardly looked impressed. The gnolls, however, were utterly frightened, shaking uncontrollably.
Tymofarrar spoke then, his voice booming like a thousand thunders. The sound made the hair on Yanny’s neck stand and he felt the slightest hint of fear begin creeping into his heart.

“Well, well, well,” Tymofarrar mused, sniffing the air. The current almost knocked everybody off their feet.
“A little intruder, is it?” the dragon sighed, regarding Yanny. “Let’s get a look at you then.”
“Greetings, glorious Tymofarrar!” Yanny shouted, trying desperately to conceal his fear.
Tymofarrar chuckled, the sound sending powerful vibrations through the air and shattering a nearby stalactite into millions of tiny shards.
“You may add on ‘the White’, ‘the Magnificent’, or any other appellation you feel matches my grandeur.”

The great dragon inhaled the cold air, causing the gnoll prisoners to fall down to the ground where they cowered, too afraid to even move.
“Now, lets see… it’s been a while since I had seen my last human. Your type breeds so quickly, however, I suppose it was inevitable.”
Yanny offered a polite bow, smiling through his fear.
“But enough of that,” Tymofarrar continued, regarding the intruders. “What else do you have with you?” The dragon’s piercing gaze focused on Dorna.
“Hmmm. A dwarven woman, is it? A beardless dwarven woman, no less.”

Dorna took a step forward, obviously unafraid. Yanny felt cold sweat dripping from his forehead despite the freezing temperature and couldn’t help thinking that he was standing at the edge of disaster.
But Dorna Trapspringer, the dwarven cleric of Vergadain, would not be so easily cowered.

“You act aged and superior, dragon,” she said calmly, “but I can see your true age. Do not think that all who are small are also short of wit.”
Tymofarrar yawned loudly, obviously bored. Yanny stared at the rows of sharp teeth and gulped down the last remnants of his fear.
“A good thing for you, too, little one,” the great dragon mused, “else you’d barely possess the intelligence to carry that nasty looking axe and that big shield, hmmm?”
Dorna did not wish to back down.
“Mock me if you wish, dragon,” she replied, “I am not frightened by you.”
“Frightened?” Tymofarrar asked, opening its maw in a way that could only be described as a smile. “Why ever should you be frightened? We are merely conversing here, aren’t we? Like civilized sentient beings, yes?”

Yanny decided it prudent to say something before things got out of control. He cleared his throat loudly.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” he said politely. “Yanny Fireblazer, a humble servant of nature and a devotional follower of Mystra.”
“Yes,” Tymofarrar mused, “a mageling… A servant of the godling Midnight, you say? Quite interesting.”
Yanny was aware of the events that took place during the Time of Troubles, when the Lady of Magic ascended into the heavens as a new incarnation – Midnight. It seemed that Tymofarrar was certainly well-versed in the history of realms-shaking events.

“Yes, well,” Yanny continued his official introductions, “and this here is my trusty companion, Dorna Trapspringer.”
“We have come to talk to you about Deekin,” Dorna added, full of determination.
Tymofarrar’s serpentine eyes opened wide and sparkled with interest.
“Ah, Deekin,” the great dragon said, lost in the memories. “At first I thought I would never be able to teach the little lad anything at all. All he would do is cower about me and cry ‘Master!’ if I so much as twitched.”
“Not much has changed, as far as I can see,” Dorna commented dryly.

Tymofarrar squinted its large eyes at the impertinent speaker.
“So loud for such a small dwarf,” the great dragon observed mockingly.
“I refuse to be intimidated by you, lizard,” Dorna replied, not backing down.
“Yes, yes, how very boring,” Tymofarrar yawned. “Now… where was I? Ah, yes, Deekin. He was a slow learner, indeed. But he improved remarkably with time. Obviously you’ve encountered him somewhere outside these caves, yes?” The great dragon regarded Yanny with interest. “Tell me, where is he now?”
“Deekin wants to be free of his servitude to you,” the young mage replied politely but firmly.

Tymofarrar issued another chuckle, blasting yet another stalactite into icy sparks.
“Ah, poor Deekin,” the great dragon mused. “For such a little kobold he has very big dreams. Very foolish dreams, but dreams nonetheless.”
Tymofarrar sighed, suddenly becoming very agitated.
“I must say,” the great white wyrm growled, “that this entire business with the artifacts has been rather irritating.”
Yanny and Dorna exchanged knowing glances at that last statement.
Tymofarrar continued, “I never really needed them to begin with, and acquiring them has been more difficult than I’d have liked. And what do I get for it? A mask I cannot even use, for all my efforts.”
The great dragon growled agitatedly, its voice becoming louder and angrier.

“J’Nah lied about the power these objects hold.”
“J’Nah?” Yanny echoed.
“J’Nah,” Tymofarrar’s voice boomed. “How the mere name of that creature fills me with bile. The sheer audacity!”

The great dragon unfolded its huge leathery wings and flapped them angrily, almost sweeping Yanny and Dorna off their feet. The gnoll prisoners were cowering on the floor, not daring to breathe.
Tymofarrar growled.
“The temerity! It is an affront to my draconic stature, I tell you!”
“Who is this J’Nah you speak of?” Yanny asked.
Tymofarrar calmed somewhat.
“J’Nah first approached me two moons ago, sending a letter of introduction and making a proposal that she knew I would find hard to resist. She requested an audience with me and when I finally agreed, she magically projected her ugly image into my cave.”

Tymofarrar paused, recalling the events.
“There were magical artifacts of great power within easy reach, she said, guarded by a dwarven wizard. Working together, we could overcome his defenses… She desired a statue of a tower, she said, and she was willing to let me keep all of the other items, though she did not have much say in the bargaining process, I assure you. I simply bullied her into the deal with a single growl. I could see her hatred for me in her eyes – she loathed to bargain with me and thought the entire deal to be less than amicable. So she decided to attack my kobold raiding party instead! She tried to take all the artifacts for herself!”
“So, J’Nah commands the gnolls, then,” Dorna observed.
“Try to keep up with me, beardless one,” Tymofarrar said dryly. “Yes, it is J’Nah who commanded the gnolls to attack my kobolds. I had, after all, sent them in early.”
“And you planned to break your deal with her as soon as the kobolds stole the artifacts from the village,” Yanny reasoned thoughtfully.

Tymofarrar scoffed at the notion.
“And what is the relevance of that? I wanted to see the statue for myself before I even considered releasing it. Why would she want it, after all, unless it was the best?”
“That makes sense,” Yanny played along.
The great dragon did not need to know that the tower statue had already been retrieved, along with a very frightened kobold bard who called himself Deekin.

“There is a saying amongst dragons,” Tymofarrar continued. “It goes thus – Sweet as blood, rich as flame, rarer than gold this deadly game. Do you know what it speaks of, mageling?”
“Revenge,” Yanny ventured a guess.
“Yes,” Tymofarrar hissed, “revenge, indeed. I desire vengeance upon J’Nah! Kill her for me, little one, and you shall be rewarded.”

Yanny thought about it for a moment. Tymofarrar was in possession of the magical mask, and J’Nah probably kept the dragon’s tooth. It was doubtful she would easily let go of it, but it was also doubtful that she would be easily defeated.

“And just how would I be able to do that?” Yanny asked.
Tymofarrar narrowed its emerald eyes, obviously intrigued.
“Worry not, mageling. I shall give you something that will make killing the sorceress much easier, of course.”
Yanny considered Tymofarrar’s proposition. So far, it sounded good, except for the revelation that J’Nah was a sorceress, and a powerful one at that. It would not be an easy fight.
“And what would I get for doing this?” he asked.
Tymofarrar regarded Yanny with increasing interest.
“I would be willing to free Deekin from my service, for instance,” the great dragon offered. “Does that interest you?”
“Yes,” Yanny replied without hesitation, “Deekin must be freed.”
“Very well,” Tymofarrar mused, “for his freedom is but a small thing.”
Dorna looked at Yanny questioningly and whispered, “Bargaining with a dragon, Yanny? Your call…”

Yanny realized the truth of her wisdom. Dragons were not the most trustworthy creatures to be making deals with and Tymofarrar in particular was not the most benevolent of its kind.
“Wait!” he said haltingly. “I want to be sure that you shall honor your deal.”
“Very well,” Tymofarrar replied officially. “You hereby have my oath, the oath of Tymofarrar the Magnificent, on the draconic blood of my white ancestors that you shall be rewarded as promised. Do not question my word further, mageling. Such an oath is not given lightly, even amongst the most evil of my brethren.”
“Very well, then,” Yanny said, “I shall do it.”
“Such words are pleasant to hear,” Tymofarrar mused. “Very well, little one… a bargain it is. I am giving you a flask full of powder. Use it on J’Nah and she will be severely weakened. It plays havoc, you see, with her… unique physiology. Now, retrieve the flask from the desk, mageling.”

Yanny looked around the huge cavern that served as Tymofarrar’s lair. The sparkling stalactites and slender icicles hung from the ceiling, resembling the gaping maw of a hungry monster. The cave floor, a roughly rectangular elevated plateau, was surrounded by a vast body of freezing cold water.

The lake extended in all directions as far as the young mage could see and probably served as a natural escape route for the great dragon. On the rocky floor of the cavern, glistening chunks of ice covered Tymofarrar’s treasure – an enormous pile of sparkling baubles, intricately crafted and undoubtedly enchanted weapons, magical wands and staves, and all manner of coins, jewelry and gemstones.

A canvas tent stood to the side of the cavern.
Yanny approached the tent – Tymofarrar’s personal library – and examined the large desk made of polished black marble. He noticed the flask immediately, but made no outward showing of his discovery. Instead, he proceeded to examine the impromptu library, meticulously searching through all manner of books and scrolls that were stacked on top of the desk.

“This is probably where Deekin recorded much of the unfolding events,” Yanny mumbled under his breath.
“What was that?” Tymofarrar asked, possessing exceptional hearing abilities. “Did you find it, mageling? It’s on top of the desk, my slow-witted associate. If I were a human, I would certainly walk over and show it to you myself, but – “ the great dragon unfolded his huge wings – “I am sure you can appreciate my predicament.”
“Eh… yes,” Yanny replied, deftly searching through the book stacks, “I mean… no, not yet… I haven’t found it yet.”
His eyes lit up with excitement when at last he found what he was looking for – Tymofarrar’s diary, undoubtedly written by Deekin.
“It should take just another moment, oh great one, with all this clutter in the way of my search.”
He winked at Dorna, gesturing towards the diary, and the sneaky dwarven lass swiped the dusty tome in the blink of an eye.
Yanny turned his attention towards the magical flask that sat atop the desk. It was made of rosy colored glass and appeared to contain some sort of glowing dust.

“Clutter?” Tymofarrar grumbled. “This clutter contains magic from every imaginable place on the face of Toril, not to mention the wealth of historical knowledge ancient and long forgotten.”
“Yes, well,” Yanny replied, struggling hard not to appear intrigued, “forgive my ignorance, oh great one… ah, yes, here it is!”
Yanny held up the magical item gingerly and turned to face Tymofarrar.
“Congratulations, mageling,” the great dragon said dryly, “you have finally found it. In that case, you should be on your way, my brave adventurers.”

Tymofarrar chuckled loudly, and three more stalactites exploded in a spectacular shower of icy sparks.

“And do not dare return until you dispatch of that hideous witch J’Nah,” the great dragon growled threateningly. “Take the silver key from the top drawer and use it on the stone pillar to gain an easy exit to the surface. Now, leave my lair, for I am growing agitated and impatient – not a very good combination, I assure you.”

The great dragon spoke a command word, dispelling the protective wards on the lock. The drawer slid open by itself, revealing the key.
Yanny bowed politely while Dorna unlocked the secret passage. The stone slab silently slid into the floor, revealing a dimly lit passageway. Yanny turned to regard the gnoll prisoners and smiled invitingly.

“After you,” the young mage chuckled, seeing the hesitation on their dog-like faces.
“Get you going!“ Dorna provided additional encouragement in the form of some efficient kicking with her sturdy boots.

The action seemed to get the message across quite nicely, and the gnolls stepped into the gloomy corridor. It did not take very long for the four travelers to traverse the winding tunnel, and soon Yanny stood at the base of the mountain, inhaling icy cold air and watching the sun descend rapidly towards the horizon.They found themselves in a dimly lit tunnel that descended for about thirty paces. Yanny could feel the stale, freezing air emanating from beyond, and he also sensed a strange presence of animals somewhere nearby. He attuned his ranger senses and immediately felt a connection that bombarded him with visions of animals being slaughtered and fed to a huge white dragon. The poor beasts were sending out a desperate plea for help.

The gnoll prisoners felt something as well, probably the presence of ice kobolds. They sniffed the air nervously and exchanged sidelong glances at each other.

Dorna turned to regard them and took a step closer.
“Don’t you be trying to escape now,” she whispered, “if you know what’s good for you.”

She brandished her battle axe threateningly and added, “If you even think about it, I shall gladly sacrifice you both to the dragon.”
The gnolls blinked repeatedly, as if in understanding, and did not dare move.

“You two stay here,” Yanny pointed at the gnolls and then at the ground. “We shall go beyond and investigate.”
“I certainly do hope to find Tymofarrar in good spirits,” Dorna added, winking at Yanny.

The sneaky dwarf took the lead, with Yanny creeping cautiously behind, and soon the companions reached the end of the tunnel. Dorna took a quick peek around the corner and motioned for Yanny to halt.

“An ox pen,” she reported, whispering. “And a two-score of the ugly lizards in the distance.”
“We must free the animals,” Yanny whispered back. “Lets sneak close to the pen before we are discovered. I believe I have a plan.”

The tunnel opened up into a huge ice cavern with a natural lake in the middle and a narrow stone bridge that served as a connection between two shores – one housing the ox pen and the other leading into the dragon’s lair. Large stalactites hung from the cave ceiling about fifty paces above the bridge, giving the companions a pretty good idea of just how deep they were underground.
Two large gates could be seen from where the companions stood, one probably leading to the surface and the other, Yanny easily guessed, leading into the dragon’s lair.
The ice kobolds were patrolling the entire length of the bridge preventing an easy entry, and Yanny doubted they would be willing to let him pass unchallenged. Besides, he thought to himself, the cruel creatures were keeping the poor animals captive and were using them for food and worse yet, for sacrificial purposes.
Whispering a quick prayer to Mystra under his breath, he darted towards the pen, with Dorna following closely behind him. As he approached, the large beasts shifted nervously. The poor animals were kept confined behind a locked gate and it would take time to open it. Even more troubling was the fact that the ice kobolds on the bridge noticed their movements and were hastily organizing a concentrated attack.

There was no time for finesse.

Yanny took out the magic wand from his belt and discharged a glowing green missile at the gate lock, breaking it apart. He motioned for Dorna to help him and together they hastily opened the heavy gate, releasing the trapped oxen.
One by one, the animals exited their prison and rushed towards their freedom, towards the stone bridge, and towards their cruel slavers, trampling through the kobold ranks with horrifying efficiency.
As the last shrieks of agony died down, Yanny felt pangs of guilt for the ice kobolds, but he felt even more profoundly the gratitude of the freed animals. It was best this way, he decided.

The companions, with gnoll prisoners in tow, crossed the stone bridge, taking care to move carefully among the oxen, lest the animals became spooked by the presence of the dog-faced creatures.
There, beyond the pile of massacred kobold bodies stood a lone wooden gate. It was intricately decorated with designs depicting a great dragon flying over a vast land populated by kobolds, all bowing reverently before their master.
The other gate, a few paces to the side, stood unadorned and probably led to the surface, judging by the draft of cold air sifting through the cracks. Both gates were locked, but it did not take Dorna very long to loot the kobold bodies for the keys and a few gold coins, which she promptly pocketed away.

Yanny was about to pass by the dead body of a kobold when a soft sparkle of enchantment caught his attention. He stooped over and whistled in surprise, retrieving a magnificent short sword. The enchanted blade felt cold to the touch and the metal sparkled with a fierce blue color.

“An ice blade,” Yanny observed.

He picked up the scabbard and fastened it at his belt – the weapon would complement his jeweled rapier perfectly.
Yanny decided it prudent to free the animals first. With Dorna’s help, he opened the surface gate and the grateful beasts bounded off up the wide and sloping tunnel.
Dorna quickly examined the other gate for traps and nodded her head in satisfaction. She looked at Yanny, nodding her approval, unlocked the gate, and pushed it open.
The companions cautiously descended a flight of stairs, entering a huge cavern with ice stalactites the size of a tall human hanging from the ceiling and –

Tymofarrar stood before them in all of his terrifying glory. Yanny gasped and desperately tried to appear calm. It was the first time he’d seen a dragon. Yanny understood now the meaning of his visions – he had seen this very dragon during his divinations.
And what a dragon it was! Tymofarrar, a great white wyrm, was gargantuan in size. Apparently awake and standing on all four legs, his powerful serpentine neck reached almost to the ceiling. The dragon easily stood as tall three hill giants stacked on top of each other, and his powerful tail was as long as the dragon was tall.
A pair of glowing emerald orbs gazed at the intruders with a level of intelligence beyond anything Yanny had experienced before. Tymofarrar was beautiful and horrifying at the same time, with a huge maw that could swallow a person in a few heartbeats.

Yanny braced himself and took a step forward.

The great wyrm squinted his emerald eyes at the intruders and issued a profound sigh, revealing vicious rows of teeth that resembled short swords. The young battlemage afforded a quick glance in Dorna’s direction – she hardly looked impressed. The gnolls, however, were utterly frightened, shaking uncontrollably.
Tymofarrar spoke then, his voice booming like a thousand thunders. The sound made the hair on Yanny’s neck stand and he felt the slightest hint of fear begin creeping into his heart.

“Well, well, well,” Tymofarrar mused, sniffing the air. The current almost knocked everybody off their feet.
“A little intruder, is it?” the dragon sighed, regarding Yanny. “Let’s get a look at you then.”
“Greetings, glorious Tymofarrar!” Yanny shouted, trying desperately to conceal his fear.
Tymofarrar chuckled, the sound sending powerful vibrations through the air and shattering a nearby stalactite into millions of tiny shards.
“You may add on ‘the White’, ‘the Magnificent’, or any other appellation you feel matches my grandeur.”

The great dragon inhaled the cold air, causing the gnoll prisoners to fall down to the ground where they cowered, too afraid to even move.
“Now, lets see… it’s been a while since I had seen my last human. Your type breeds so quickly, however, I suppose it was inevitable.”
Yanny offered a polite bow, smiling through his fear.
“But enough of that,” Tymofarrar continued, regarding the intruders. “What else do you have with you?” The dragon’s piercing gaze focused on Dorna.
“Hmmm. A dwarven woman, is it? A beardless dwarven woman, no less.”

Dorna took a step forward, obviously unafraid. Yanny felt cold sweat dripping from his forehead despite the freezing temperature and couldn’t help thinking that he was standing at the edge of disaster.
But Dorna Trapspringer, the dwarven cleric of Vergadain, would not be so easily cowered.

“You act aged and superior, dragon,” she said calmly, “but I can see your true age. Do not think that all who are small are also short of wit.”
Tymofarrar yawned loudly, obviously bored. Yanny stared at the rows of sharp teeth and gulped down the last remnants of his fear.
“A good thing for you, too, little one,” the great dragon mused, “else you’d barely possess the intelligence to carry that nasty looking axe and that big shield, hmmm?”
Dorna did not wish to back down.
“Mock me if you wish, dragon,” she replied, “I am not frightened by you.”
“Frightened?” Tymofarrar asked, opening its maw in a way that could only be described as a smile. “Why ever should you be frightened? We are merely conversing here, aren’t we? Like civilized sentient beings, yes?”

Yanny decided it prudent to say something before things got out of control. He cleared his throat loudly.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” he said politely. “Yanny Fireblazer, a humble servant of nature and a devotional follower of Mystra.”
“Yes,” Tymofarrar mused, “a mageling… A servant of the godling Midnight, you say? Quite interesting.”
Yanny was aware of the events that took place during the Time of Troubles, when the Lady of Magic ascended into the heavens as a new incarnation – Midnight. It seemed that Tymofarrar was certainly well-versed in the history of realms-shaking events.

“Yes, well,” Yanny continued his official introductions, “and this here is my trusty companion, Dorna Trapspringer.”
“We have come to talk to you about Deekin,” Dorna added, full of determination.
Tymofarrar’s serpentine eyes opened wide and sparkled with interest.
“Ah, Deekin,” the great dragon said, lost in the memories. “At first I thought I would never be able to teach the little lad anything at all. All he would do is cower about me and cry ‘Master!’ if I so much as twitched.”
“Not much has changed, as far as I can see,” Dorna commented dryly.

Tymofarrar squinted its large eyes at the impertinent speaker.
“So loud for such a small dwarf,” the great dragon observed mockingly.
“I refuse to be intimidated by you, lizard,” Dorna replied, not backing down.
“Yes, yes, how very boring,” Tymofarrar yawned. “Now… where was I? Ah, yes, Deekin. He was a slow learner, indeed. But he improved remarkably with time. Obviously you’ve encountered him somewhere outside these caves, yes?” The great dragon regarded Yanny with interest. “Tell me, where is he now?”
“Deekin wants to be free of his servitude to you,” the young mage replied politely but firmly.

Tymofarrar issued another chuckle, blasting yet another stalactite into icy sparks.
“Ah, poor Deekin,” the great dragon mused. “For such a little kobold he has very big dreams. Very foolish dreams, but dreams nonetheless.”
Tymofarrar sighed, suddenly becoming very agitated.
“I must say,” the great white wyrm growled, “that this entire business with the artifacts has been rather irritating.”
Yanny and Dorna exchanged knowing glances at that last statement.
Tymofarrar continued, “I never really needed them to begin with, and acquiring them has been more difficult than I’d have liked. And what do I get for it? A mask I cannot even use, for all my efforts.”
The great dragon growled agitatedly, its voice becoming louder and angrier.

“J’Nah lied about the power these objects hold.”
“J’Nah?” Yanny echoed.
“J’Nah,” Tymofarrar’s voice boomed. “How the mere name of that creature fills me with bile. The sheer audacity!”

The great dragon unfolded its huge leathery wings and flapped them angrily, almost sweeping Yanny and Dorna off their feet. The gnoll prisoners were cowering on the floor, not daring to breathe.
Tymofarrar growled.
“The temerity! It is an affront to my draconic stature, I tell you!”
“Who is this J’Nah you speak of?” Yanny asked.
Tymofarrar calmed somewhat.
“J’Nah first approached me two moons ago, sending a letter of introduction and making a proposal that she knew I would find hard to resist. She requested an audience with me and when I finally agreed, she magically projected her ugly image into my cave.”

Tymofarrar paused, recalling the events.
“There were magical artifacts of great power within easy reach, she said, guarded by a dwarven wizard. Working together, we could overcome his defenses… She desired a statue of a tower, she said, and she was willing to let me keep all of the other items, though she did not have much say in the bargaining process, I assure you. I simply bullied her into the deal with a single growl. I could see her hatred for me in her eyes – she loathed to bargain with me and thought the entire deal to be less than amicable. So she decided to attack my kobold raiding party instead! She tried to take all the artifacts for herself!”
“So, J’Nah commands the gnolls, then,” Dorna observed.
“Try to keep up with me, beardless one,” Tymofarrar said dryly. “Yes, it is J’Nah who commanded the gnolls to attack my kobolds. I had, after all, sent them in early.”
“And you planned to break your deal with her as soon as the kobolds stole the artifacts from the village,” Yanny reasoned thoughtfully.

Tymofarrar scoffed at the notion.
“And what is the relevance of that? I wanted to see the statue for myself before I even considered releasing it. Why would she want it, after all, unless it was the best?”
“That makes sense,” Yanny played along.
The great dragon did not need to know that the tower statue had already been retrieved, along with a very frightened kobold bard who called himself Deekin.

“There is a saying amongst dragons,” Tymofarrar continued. “It goes thus – Sweet as blood, rich as flame, rarer than gold this deadly game. Do you know what it speaks of, mageling?”
“Revenge,” Yanny ventured a guess.
“Yes,” Tymofarrar hissed, “revenge, indeed. I desire vengeance upon J’Nah! Kill her for me, little one, and you shall be rewarded.”

Yanny thought about it for a moment. Tymofarrar was in possession of the magical mask, and J’Nah probably kept the dragon’s tooth. It was doubtful she would easily let go of it, but it was also doubtful that she would be easily defeated.

“And just how would I be able to do that?” Yanny asked.
Tymofarrar narrowed its emerald eyes, obviously intrigued.
“Worry not, mageling. I shall give you something that will make killing the sorceress much easier, of course.”
Yanny considered Tymofarrar’s proposition. So far, it sounded good, except for the revelation that J’Nah was a sorceress, and a powerful one at that. It would not be an easy fight.
“And what would I get for doing this?” he asked.
Tymofarrar regarded Yanny with increasing interest.
“I would be willing to free Deekin from my service, for instance,” the great dragon offered. “Does that interest you?”
“Yes,” Yanny replied without hesitation, “Deekin must be freed.”
“Very well,” Tymofarrar mused, “for his freedom is but a small thing.”
Dorna looked at Yanny questioningly and whispered, “Bargaining with a dragon, Yanny? Your call…”

Yanny realized the truth of her wisdom. Dragons were not the most trustworthy creatures to be making deals with and Tymofarrar in particular was not the most benevolent of its kind.
“Wait!” he said haltingly. “I want to be sure that you shall honor your deal.”
“Very well,” Tymofarrar replied officially. “You hereby have my oath, the oath of Tymofarrar the Magnificent, on the draconic blood of my white ancestors that you shall be rewarded as promised. Do not question my word further, mageling. Such an oath is not given lightly, even amongst the most evil of my brethren.”
“Very well, then,” Yanny said, “I shall do it.”
“Such words are pleasant to hear,” Tymofarrar mused. “Very well, little one… a bargain it is. I am giving you a flask full of powder. Use it on J’Nah and she will be severely weakened. It plays havoc, you see, with her… unique physiology. Now, retrieve the flask from the desk, mageling.”

Yanny looked around the huge cavern that served as Tymofarrar’s lair. The sparkling stalactites and slender icicles hung from the ceiling, resembling the gaping maw of a hungry monster. The cave floor, a roughly rectangular elevated plateau, was surrounded by a vast body of freezing cold water.

The lake extended in all directions as far as the young mage could see and probably served as a natural escape route for the great dragon. On the rocky floor of the cavern, glistening chunks of ice covered Tymofarrar’s treasure – an enormous pile of sparkling baubles, intricately crafted and undoubtedly enchanted weapons, magical wands and staves, and all manner of coins, jewelry and gemstones.

A canvas tent stood to the side of the cavern.
Yanny approached the tent – Tymofarrar’s personal library – and examined the large desk made of polished black marble. He noticed the flask immediately, but made no outward showing of his discovery. Instead, he proceeded to examine the impromptu library, meticulously searching through all manner of books and scrolls that were stacked on top of the desk.

“This is probably where Deekin recorded much of the unfolding events,” Yanny mumbled under his breath.
“What was that?” Tymofarrar asked, possessing exceptional hearing abilities. “Did you find it, mageling? It’s on top of the desk, my slow-witted associate. If I were a human, I would certainly walk over and show it to you myself, but – “ the great dragon unfolded his huge wings – “I am sure you can appreciate my predicament.”
“Eh… yes,” Yanny replied, deftly searching through the book stacks, “I mean… no, not yet… I haven’t found it yet.”
His eyes lit up with excitement when at last he found what he was looking for – Tymofarrar’s diary, undoubtedly written by Deekin.
“It should take just another moment, oh great one, with all this clutter in the way of my search.”
He winked at Dorna, gesturing towards the diary, and the sneaky dwarven lass swiped the dusty tome in the blink of an eye.
Yanny turned his attention towards the magical flask that sat atop the desk. It was made of rosy colored glass and appeared to contain some sort of glowing dust.

“Clutter?” Tymofarrar grumbled. “This clutter contains magic from every imaginable place on the face of Toril, not to mention the wealth of historical knowledge ancient and long forgotten.”
“Yes, well,” Yanny replied, struggling hard not to appear intrigued, “forgive my ignorance, oh great one… ah, yes, here it is!”
Yanny held up the magical item gingerly and turned to face Tymofarrar.
“Congratulations, mageling,” the great dragon said dryly, “you have finally found it. In that case, you should be on your way, my brave adventurers.”

Tymofarrar chuckled loudly, and three more stalactites exploded in a spectacular shower of icy sparks.

“And do not dare return until you dispatch of that hideous witch J’Nah,” the great dragon growled threateningly. “Take the silver key from the top drawer and use it on the stone pillar to gain an easy exit to the surface. Now, leave my lair, for I am growing agitated and impatient – not a very good combination, I assure you.”

The great dragon spoke a command word, dispelling the protective wards on the lock. The drawer slid open by itself, revealing the key.
Yanny bowed politely while Dorna unlocked the secret passage. The stone slab silently slid into the floor, revealing a dimly lit passageway. Yanny turned to regard the gnoll prisoners and smiled invitingly.

“After you,” the young mage chuckled, seeing the hesitation on their dog-like faces.
“Get you going!“ Dorna provided additional encouragement in the form of some efficient kicking with her sturdy boots.

The action seemed to get the message across quite nicely, and the gnolls stepped into the gloomy corridor. It did not take very long for the four travelers to traverse the winding tunnel, and soon Yanny stood at the base of the mountain, inhaling icy cold air and watching the sun descend rapidly towards the horizon.

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20 Re: Shadows of Undrentide by Max on Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:55 am

Maxduelantus

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CHAPTER 8 - LADY OF MYSTERIES

“We should rest up before venturing any further,” Dorna commented as she picked her way around a particularly slippery hill.
“Yes,” Yanny replied. “And we must also eat and feed our prisoners,” he added, feeling his stomach begin to growl.

As if they understood the last remark, the gnolls looked at each other and their stomachs growled thunderously.

“We must feed these dog-faced knuckleheads after they tried to kill us?” Dorna asked incredulously, glaring at the gnolls that hastily averted their eyes.
“My dear Dorna,” Yanny reasoned, “we are valiant adventurers and civilized beings, not some evil monsters who enjoy torturing their prisoners. Besides, we may need these two, eh, knuckleheads, as you so eloquently put it, to ensure the victorious outcome of the next battle, which I assure you will happen very soon.”
“Fighting beside two gnolls,” Dorna grumbled under her breath, “imagine that.”
“We do not have many choices in this matter,” Yanny responded. “The night is almost upon us and the Nether Mountains are home to such foul creatures as orcs and trolls.”

As if they understood the last comment, the gnoll prisoners perked up their ears and began sniffing the stale air.
“Well,” Dorna mused, finality apparent in her voice, “I am definitely not lending any sharp metal objects to these two. A couple of clubs should suffice.”
“I agree,” Yanny said, eyeing the two prisoners suspiciously.

The sun was rapidly fading away, and with it went the feelings of safety. While Yanny watched the gnoll prisoners, trying to explain to them as best as he could about the mutually beneficial, albeit temporary, alliance, Dorna quickly emptied the contents of her backpack. She gathered up some dry food rations and distributed them among the two gnolls while Yanny untied their bonds. With happiness and gratitude in their black orbs, the creatures ate hungrily, all the while looking around and sniffing the cold air as if anticipating an attack at any moment.
Meanwhile, Yanny searched around the area for suitable bludgeoning weapons, collecting a pair of the biggest tree branches he could find on the snow-covered ground. He also picked up a few logs for the campfire, taking care to select the ones that were the least affected by the cold weather.

It was difficult for many adventurers to stay warm in the unforgiving climate of the Cold Marches, especially during the winter, but through the use of their magic, Yanny and Dorna could manage through the tough times.

“Now,” he said, cautiously approaching the gnolls, “don’t even think about running away or turning on us.”
“Unless you would prefer that I split your skulls with my axe,” Dorna grumbled, obviously in a foul mood after the encounter with Tymofarrar.

To emphasize her point, she hefted her magnificent weapon in front of the gnolls, making their noses twitch from fear.
Dorna grumbled a few more comments under her breath and gathered more food rations from her backpack, including Farghan’s wondrous herbs, putting everything into the cooking pot that was already filled with snow.
Yanny looked around for a suitable campfire site, clearing the ground of snow, and stacking the wood there. He rubbed his hands together in anticipation of a good meal, then voiced a simple incantation and pointed at the wood with his forefinger.
Almost instantly, the logs lit up with the warmth of a small fire flame that was burning continuously. While Dorna cooked, Yanny attempted to communicate with the gnolls that were futilely trying to say something in their guttural language. Finally giving up, the gnolls took a different approach, using their clubs to draw a dozen figures in the crisp snow that vaguely resembled orcs and trolls. The gnolls anxiously talked amongst each other, oftentimes pointing in the direction of the setting sun.
A short time later, Dorna was pouring generous portions of the spicy stew into four bowls. The gnolls licked their lips in anticipation and grunted thankfully. Although not very intelligent creatures, these vicious fighters understood without a doubt the utmost importance of this temporary alliance, being in the midst of the unforgiving Nether Mountains where danger lurked around every bend in the forms of murderously harsh weather, unfriendly local wildlife, orcs, trolls, and only gods knew what else.

“I will take the first watch,” Dorna said between the spoonfuls of the steaming stew, “together with one of the gnolls. You take a short rest with the other one, although I seriously doubt you will get much sleep before the orcs are upon us. Their scouts have been trailing us ever since we descended into the kobold caves.”
“You’ve seen them,” Yanny guessed, swallowing a spoonful of spicy sustenance and rubbing his belly.
“No,” Dorna replied, winking at the gnolls, “but the dog brothers here have been catching their scent continuously.”
“Should we be worried?” Yanny asked, licking his spoon and glancing around.
“Just a greedy scouting party in hopes of an easy prey,” Dorna replied confidently. “They allied themselves with a few trolls along the way, thinking to increase their odds of victory.”
“Truly foul creatures, those trolls,” Yanny ventured a guess, having read many stories about the vile monsters but never actually having seen one face to face.
“Nothing that we cannot take care of,” Dorna replied, eyeing the gnolls.
“You two,” she barked at them, instantly gaining their full attention, “attack the smelly orcs and leave the trolls to us.”
Dorna narrowed her eyes dangerously and growled, “Understand?”

The gnolls enthusiastically nodded heir heads in agreement, obviously understanding the general meaning of Dorna’s orders. No self-respecting warriors, and the gnolls were certainly that in the narrow confines of their own minds, would attack formidable opponents with regenerative abilities, wielding only puny clubs. It would be much more efficient and satisfying for the gnolls to bash a few orc skulls and leave the filthy trolls to be dealt with by the real professionals like Dorna and Yanny.
When Dorna finished eating, she grabbed her backpack, gave the gnolls one final look of contempt, and headed out to scout the surrounding area for suitable ambush spots. The travelers camped close to the cave entrance on purpose, having an easy escape route back to Tymofarrar’s lair in case the battle proved to become unmanageable.

The base of the mountain was surrounded by a thick canopy of snow-covered trees, providing the potential enemies with lots of hiding spots, so Dorna immediately went to work, setting up devious traps that would hurt intruders with fire, acid, and electricity. Taking a final look at her marvelous job, Dorna nodded in satisfaction and took out a needle-thin length of copper wire from her backpack, unraveling it around the campsite and attaching to it all sorts of metallic trinkets that would emit loud clanging noises in the case of uninvited guests.
Back at the campsite, Yanny was busily attempting to communicate with the gnolls, having quickly learned a few common words.

“Have you learned anything?” Dorna asked, taking a seat near the campfire.
“Indeed,” Yanny replied. “It seems that our knucklehead associates hail all the way from the High Forest, sent to intercept the little artifact-stealing thieves. One of the kobold leaders, our scaly friend Deekin, apparently escaped to Blumberg, and the gnolls followed him there, under direct orders from J’Nah to retrieve any magical items that he carried. The gnolls recognized J’Nah’s name as soon as I mentioned it and do not seem to be overly fond of her. Instead, they seem to be deathly afraid of her, probably because of the powerful magic she possesses.”

Yanny stroked his chin in contemplation.
“J’Nah seemed to be especially interested in the artifact that we retrieved from Deekin – the curious statue that our clumsy little friend managed to break. Instead, she retrieved the dragon tooth, not exactly the magical item she was after. Thus it is my conclusion that we must visit the gnoll caves for more answers and possibly to establish an alliance with their leaders. It is likely that the gnolls do not voluntarily serve J’Nah and thus could be turned against her with the use of some… subtle persuasion.”

Dorna brandished her battle axe and huffed.
“Subtle or not, I am sure we can persuade them, if they know what is good for their filthy hides.”
“Yes, well,” Yanny replied with a smile, “the gnolls are fierce warriors and they may be able to help us defeat J’Nah and whatever allies she has surrounded herself with.”
“Aye,” Dorna grumbled, “too bad for her that she will not have the opportunity to regret the day she turned against Master Drogan. The foul witch will pay with her life, may Vergadain be my witness.”
Dorna whispered a quick prayer to her god, grabbed her battle axe and motioned towards one of the gnolls.
“You, come with me, it’s time for our first watch.”
Then to Yanny she said, “You should try go get some rest, but don’t fall asleep too deeply, we may yet need the use of your fireworks before very long.”

When they both disappeared into the bushes, Yanny motioned for the remaining gnoll to go to sleep while he proceeded to organize his spell components. Then he flipped through his spell book, carefully choosing to memorize the spells that he might need. Satisfied with his spell selections, Yanny closed the spell book, and was just about ready to begin reading Tymofarrar’s diary, when Dorna crept back into the campsite.

“The enemy is almost upon us,” she reported with a grim face. “They will attack within minutes, and we must be ready.”
“Defeating the trolls first is of utmost importance,” Yanny said, and Dorna nodded in agreement. “And we must also look out for the orcish archers…”

Before Yanny finished the last sentence, he was interrupted by the loud clanging of the sprung wire trap, heralding the arrival of trouble. There was some loud grunting, confused grumbling, and then Dorna’s traps began exploding one by one. The grumbling quickly turned into screams of agony as the enemies were splashed with acid and shocked by electricity.
By the time the first troll showed its ugly snout, bursting clumsily through the tree canopy, the defenders were ready for battle. The ugly creature was well over seven feet tall, with warty brown hide that was splotched with numerous sickly white and green spots. It looked around, noticing the four defenders as well as the burning campfire, and issued a loud growl.
Brandishing their heavy clubs, the gnoll warriors stood their ground, ignoring the troll and patiently waiting for the first orc to appear. To their credit, the gnolls appeared composed and fearless, unlike certain other cowardly races that inhabited the lands of Faerûn.

When another troll burst through the snow covered tree canopy, Yanny already held his enchanted rapier in his hand, incanting an offensive spell. He managed to duck as an arrow whistled past his head but did not lose his concentration.
The trolls charged, careful to avoid the burning campfire, but it was Yanny’s fireball they should have been worrying about. The fiery blast caught the closest troll in its chest, exploding in flames that the remaining monsters were simply too slow to avoid. Although both of them were caught on fire, they were not too badly burned.
The ugly creatures jumped around, patting out the flames.
Another arrow whizzed by, embedding itself into Dorna’s shield with a loud thump.
The orcs, shouting wildly, emerged from the trees, wielding clubs and spears.
The gnolls let out thunderous war cries and rushed the orcs, all too happy to let Yanny and Dorna take care of the trolls.
Taking advantage of the temporary confusion caused by the fire blast, Dorna leaped at one of the trolls with a sideways chop of her axe, cleaving off the monster’s leg.

Yanny knew that simply chopping off body parts would not be enough in a fight against trolls – the creatures had an uncanny ability to regenerate even if they were cut into thousands of pieces. While the monster was falling, caught off balance, Yanny took one of his acid-splashing darts, incanted a quick spell, and aimed at the troll’s head.
His aim was true.
As the dart struck the monster, it let out a wail of pure agony until it became a gurgle as the corrosive acid began to spread all over its ugly snout. The monster dropped to its knees clawing desperately at its head. It was still smoldering from the fire blast, the little tongues of fire licking hungrily at its shoulders. Yanny wasted no time in throwing the flask of oil at the creature. As the brittle glass connected solidly with the troll’s flesh, it burst open, releasing the oily substance that immediately coated the monster’s upper body, feeding the flames and igniting the monster like a torch.
The remaining troll let out an angry roar and charged Dorna, swiping at her with its sharp claws. For all of her sneaky reflexes, Dorna was hard pressed to tumble out of the way as she tried to put the campfire between herself and the monster, but it was a temporary reprieve for her.
The troll roared again, getting ready to leap at Dorna and tear her to shreds.

Yanny incanted the words to a minor spell that was meant to hurt the troll with a jolt of electricity and…
There is always a chance that my spells might go awry, Yanny thought silently, if I continue wearing this stiff leather armor…
A blinding light, as bright as the sun, emanated from his enchanted brooch, illuminating the battle scene. The light was so bright that it caused the remaining troll to run blindly into a nearby tree trunk, but not before it passed through the campfire, igniting like a torch.
The blinded monster wailed in agony, collided with the sturdy tree headfirst, and went down in a heap of burning flesh, attempting to pat out the flames.
The orcs went into a frenzied shock of fear, dropping to their knees, blinded, dazed, confused, amazed…
Yanny barely registered the explosion from Dorna’s thrown flask of oil.
He barely registered the troll’s last wail as the raging flames reduced it to a pile of filthy ashes.

He felt her.
This was the first time the Lady communicated her divine will directly through him. She channeled the raw magical energy and the shocking electricity through his body, pouring her Weave into the light. She wanted him to feel pain the first time. She needed him to feel it, to understand the mighty extent of her divine power.
And how it hurt!
He felt the world spin around, Dorna, gnolls, orcs, sunburst, enchanted rapier, holy symbol.
Mystra.

“What a strange feeling this is,” Yanny mused aloud, unaware of the surroundings, “to know the arcane Art and to worship the goddess at the same time, drawing the magical energy from her. I felt her presence just now. She was sending her divine essence through me, just like when Dorna prays to Vergadain…”
“Praise Vergadain,” Dorna huffed, breathing heavily.
“Eh…” Yanny snapped out of his contemplation, somewhat dazed by his own spell.
“The cowardly orcs ran away but I have a feeling this is not the last we’ve seen of them. You were mumbling something for a while and… you appear to have been… electrified by your most recent experience.”
Dorna smiled at Yanny, understanding showing in her eyes.
“Our gnoll associates are still kneeling near the campfire. You should try this spell for the illumination of dark caves,” she attempted a joke.
“Yes,” Yanny replied, regaining his senses, “a very good idea, Dorna. I am sure that when we get to the gnoll caves in the High Forest, we could put on a nice… lightshow?” he chuckled.
“Well fought, mage,” the young dwarven cleric winked at Yanny. “Now, let us find some rest. We shall need it for tomorrow.”
With that, Dorna walked over to the gnolls. When they sat up and looked at her, she incanted a precise prayer, and channeled the divine energy directly into their minds. She charmed the creatures to treat Yanny and her as masters and friends, compelling them to take rotating shifts through the night as guardians of the campsite. One of the gnolls huddled near the campfire, to catch a few hours of sleep, while the other patrolled the campsite.
Dorna sat near Yanny, who was holding Tymofarrar’s diary.

“A dragon that keeps a personal library,” Dorna mused.
“An educated scribe and musician who is a kobold,” Yanny commented.
“I wouldn’t bet on Deekin’s vocal abilities, although he is unusually intelligent for his species,” Dorna observed.
“At least he was smart enough to document the current events that concern a matter of four stolen artifacts. I can bet that Tymofarrar is hoarding the mask that has special powers granted by the Lord of Shadows, and it probably allows the wearer to become invisible. A much usable item for the purpose of our quest, don’t you think?”
“Indeed,” Dorna replied, “I could certainly use one of those.”
She winked at Yanny and a shiny golden coin mysteriously appeared between her deft fingers. She flipped the coin into the cold air, caught it, and tucked it away.
Yanny grinned and nodded in agreement. “And the ambitious sorceress J’Nah has the magical dragon tooth artifact for all of her efforts and she doesn’t know what to do with it.”
The companions laughed.

“She must be quite frustrated at the moment and we may find her in a foul mood,” Dorna chuckled.
“But at least Tymofarrar is not very interested in the mask…” Yanny suggested. “Perhaps he will not require much convincing in giving it up…”
“Contingent on our victory over J’Nah, that is,” Dorna observed. “Is it possible to be even more conniving?” the wise dwarven lass asked Yanny, contempt plainly visible in her noble eyes.
The young mage shrugged, “You mean hoarding that pile of glittering gems and trinkets – a king’s treasure, to be sure – while sleeping and dreaming sweet dreams of conquest, thievery, and assassination?”
Yanny opened the rune inscribed tome, titled The Musings of Tymofarrar the Magnificent, and briefly flipped through the pages.

The large tome was filled almost completely with scribbled notes, arcane diagrams, journal entries and, often, just poorly-drawn doodles. Much of the writing was in Draconic, although there were a few words written in Common.
Yanny cleared his throat.
“Must look into creating non-freezing ink. Damn kobolds tried thawing the last bottle over a fire and it exploded. Upper cave still dotted with ink marks.” The companions chuckled and Yanny continued.
“Swam to the outside today and encountered a group of orcs on my favorite ledge. Why do orcs have to taste so bad? Note to self: raid for salt.”

The companions shared a laugh and Yanny kept reading.
“Received an interesting letter today. Interesting proposition. Must remember to practice my Common more often.”
The companions exchanged knowing glances and Yanny continued.
“J’Nah sent me the most interesting vial of poison today. She did not say where it comes from, but it smells like serpent venom. Deekin licked the vial and was in a coma for three days.”
The companions chuckled again, happy in their knowledge that Master Drogan survived such a sinister assassination attempt.

Yanny kept reading.
“Damnations! Why must every greedy plan of mine end in ruin?” Yanny read. “Acquired interesting powder today at great expense. It is only of use against that damned sorceress, but she will certainly not see this coming. I am so cunning!”
“Well,” Dorna mused, “the great lizard certainly has a sense of humor. Is there anything else of interest?”
“Nothing that we do not already know,” Yanny replied. “Most of the legible writing seems to end there, though there is one spectacular drawing showing an elven woman being torn to bloody, gory pieces by a large dragon creature…”
Yanny’s eye lit up with excitement.
“Ah, what do we have here? A new spell!”
“Well,” Dorna said, yawning loudly, “I am going to sleep.”
“Yes, yes,” Yanny mused, studying the arcane runes, “big day tomorrow…”
CHAPTER 8 - LADY OF MYSTERIES

“We should rest up before venturing any further,” Dorna commented as she picked her way around a particularly slippery hill.
“Yes,” Yanny replied. “And we must also eat and feed our prisoners,” he added, feeling his stomach begin to growl.

As if they understood the last remark, the gnolls looked at each other and their stomachs growled thunderously.

“We must feed these dog-faced knuckleheads after they tried to kill us?” Dorna asked incredulously, glaring at the gnolls that hastily averted their eyes.
“My dear Dorna,” Yanny reasoned, “we are valiant adventurers and civilized beings, not some evil monsters who enjoy torturing their prisoners. Besides, we may need these two, eh, knuckleheads, as you so eloquently put it, to ensure the victorious outcome of the next battle, which I assure you will happen very soon.”
“Fighting beside two gnolls,” Dorna grumbled under her breath, “imagine that.”
“We do not have many choices in this matter,” Yanny responded. “The night is almost upon us and the Nether Mountains are home to such foul creatures as orcs and trolls.”

As if they understood the last comment, the gnoll prisoners perked up their ears and began sniffing the stale air.
“Well,” Dorna mused, finality apparent in her voice, “I am definitely not lending any sharp metal objects to these two. A couple of clubs should suffice.”
“I agree,” Yanny said, eyeing the two prisoners suspiciously.

The sun was rapidly fading away, and with it went the feelings of safety. While Yanny watched the gnoll prisoners, trying to explain to them as best as he could about the mutually beneficial, albeit temporary, alliance, Dorna quickly emptied the contents of her backpack. She gathered up some dry food rations and distributed them among the two gnolls while Yanny untied their bonds. With happiness and gratitude in their black orbs, the creatures ate hungrily, all the while looking around and sniffing the cold air as if anticipating an attack at any moment.
Meanwhile, Yanny searched around the area for suitable bludgeoning weapons, collecting a pair of the biggest tree branches he could find on the snow-covered ground. He also picked up a few logs for the campfire, taking care to select the ones that were the least affected by the cold weather.

It was difficult for many adventurers to stay warm in the unforgiving climate of the Cold Marches, especially during the winter, but through the use of their magic, Yanny and Dorna could manage through the tough times.

“Now,” he said, cautiously approaching the gnolls, “don’t even think about running away or turning on us.”
“Unless you would prefer that I split your skulls with my axe,” Dorna grumbled, obviously in a foul mood after the encounter with Tymofarrar.

To emphasize her point, she hefted her magnificent weapon in front of the gnolls, making their noses twitch from fear.
Dorna grumbled a few more comments under her breath and gathered more food rations from her backpack, including Farghan’s wondrous herbs, putting everything into the cooking pot that was already filled with snow.
Yanny looked around for a suitable campfire site, clearing the ground of snow, and stacking the wood there. He rubbed his hands together in anticipation of a good meal, then voiced a simple incantation and pointed at the wood with his forefinger.
Almost instantly, the logs lit up with the warmth of a small fire flame that was burning continuously. While Dorna cooked, Yanny attempted to communicate with the gnolls that were futilely trying to say something in their guttural language. Finally giving up, the gnolls took a different approach, using their clubs to draw a dozen figures in the crisp snow that vaguely resembled orcs and trolls. The gnolls anxiously talked amongst each other, oftentimes pointing in the direction of the setting sun.
A short time later, Dorna was pouring generous portions of the spicy stew into four bowls. The gnolls licked their lips in anticipation and grunted thankfully. Although not very intelligent creatures, these vicious fighters understood without a doubt the utmost importance of this temporary alliance, being in the midst of the unforgiving Nether Mountains where danger lurked around every bend in the forms of murderously harsh weather, unfriendly local wildlife, orcs, trolls, and only gods knew what else.

“I will take the first watch,” Dorna said between the spoonfuls of the steaming stew, “together with one of the gnolls. You take a short rest with the other one, although I seriously doubt you will get much sleep before the orcs are upon us. Their scouts have been trailing us ever since we descended into the kobold caves.”
“You’ve seen them,” Yanny guessed, swallowing a spoonful of spicy sustenance and rubbing his belly.
“No,” Dorna replied, winking at the gnolls, “but the dog brothers here have been catching their scent continuously.”
“Should we be worried?” Yanny asked, licking his spoon and glancing around.
“Just a greedy scouting party in hopes of an easy prey,” Dorna replied confidently. “They allied themselves with a few trolls along the way, thinking to increase their odds of victory.”
“Truly foul creatures, those trolls,” Yanny ventured a guess, having read many stories about the vile monsters but never actually having seen one face to face.
“Nothing that we cannot take care of,” Dorna replied, eyeing the gnolls.
“You two,” she barked at them, instantly gaining their full attention, “attack the smelly orcs and leave the trolls to us.”
Dorna narrowed her eyes dangerously and growled, “Understand?”

The gnolls enthusiastically nodded heir heads in agreement, obviously understanding the general meaning of Dorna’s orders. No self-respecting warriors, and the gnolls were certainly that in the narrow confines of their own minds, would attack formidable opponents with regenerative abilities, wielding only puny clubs. It would be much more efficient and satisfying for the gnolls to bash a few orc skulls and leave the filthy trolls to be dealt with by the real professionals like Dorna and Yanny.
When Dorna finished eating, she grabbed her backpack, gave the gnolls one final look of contempt, and headed out to scout the surrounding area for suitable ambush spots. The travelers camped close to the cave entrance on purpose, having an easy escape route back to Tymofarrar’s lair in case the battle proved to become unmanageable.

The base of the mountain was surrounded by a thick canopy of snow-covered trees, providing the potential enemies with lots of hiding spots, so Dorna immediately went to work, setting up devious traps that would hurt intruders with fire, acid, and electricity. Taking a final look at her marvelous job, Dorna nodded in satisfaction and took out a needle-thin length of copper wire from her backpack, unraveling it around the campsite and attaching to it all sorts of metallic trinkets that would emit loud clanging noises in the case of uninvited guests.
Back at the campsite, Yanny was busily attempting to communicate with the gnolls, having quickly learned a few common words.

“Have you learned anything?” Dorna asked, taking a seat near the campfire.
“Indeed,” Yanny replied. “It seems that our knucklehead associates hail all the way from the High Forest, sent to intercept the little artifact-stealing thieves. One of the kobold leaders, our scaly friend Deekin, apparently escaped to Blumberg, and the gnolls followed him there, under direct orders from J’Nah to retrieve any magical items that he carried. The gnolls recognized J’Nah’s name as soon as I mentioned it and do not seem to be overly fond of her. Instead, they seem to be deathly afraid of her, probably because of the powerful magic she possesses.”

Yanny stroked his chin in contemplation.
“J’Nah seemed to be especially interested in the artifact that we retrieved from Deekin – the curious statue that our clumsy little friend managed to break. Instead, she retrieved the dragon tooth, not exactly the magical item she was after. Thus it is my conclusion that we must visit the gnoll caves for more answers and possibly to establish an alliance with their leaders. It is likely that the gnolls do not voluntarily serve J’Nah and thus could be turned against her with the use of some… subtle persuasion.”

Dorna brandished her battle axe and huffed.
“Subtle or not, I am sure we can persuade them, if they know what is good for their filthy hides.”
“Yes, well,” Yanny replied with a smile, “the gnolls are fierce warriors and they may be able to help us defeat J’Nah and whatever allies she has surrounded herself with.”
“Aye,” Dorna grumbled, “too bad for her that she will not have the opportunity to regret the day she turned against Master Drogan. The foul witch will pay with her life, may Vergadain be my witness.”
Dorna whispered a quick prayer to her god, grabbed her battle axe and motioned towards one of the gnolls.
“You, come with me, it’s time for our first watch.”
Then to Yanny she said, “You should try go get some rest, but don’t fall asleep too deeply, we may yet need the use of your fireworks before very long.”

When they both disappeared into the bushes, Yanny motioned for the remaining gnoll to go to sleep while he proceeded to organize his spell components. Then he flipped through his spell book, carefully choosing to memorize the spells that he might need. Satisfied with his spell selections, Yanny closed the spell book, and was just about ready to begin reading Tymofarrar’s diary, when Dorna crept back into the campsite.

“The enemy is almost upon us,” she reported with a grim face. “They will attack within minutes, and we must be ready.”
“Defeating the trolls first is of utmost importance,” Yanny said, and Dorna nodded in agreement. “And we must also look out for the orcish archers…”

Before Yanny finished the last sentence, he was interrupted by the loud clanging of the sprung wire trap, heralding the arrival of trouble. There was some loud grunting, confused grumbling, and then Dorna’s traps began exploding one by one. The grumbling quickly turned into screams of agony as the enemies were splashed with acid and shocked by electricity.
By the time the first troll showed its ugly snout, bursting clumsily through the tree canopy, the defenders were ready for battle. The ugly creature was well over seven feet tall, with warty brown hide that was splotched with numerous sickly white and green spots. It looked around, noticing the four defenders as well as the burning campfire, and issued a loud growl.
Brandishing their heavy clubs, the gnoll warriors stood their ground, ignoring the troll and patiently waiting for the first orc to appear. To their credit, the gnolls appeared composed and fearless, unlike certain other cowardly races that inhabited the lands of Faerûn.

When another troll burst through the snow covered tree canopy, Yanny already held his enchanted rapier in his hand, incanting an offensive spell. He managed to duck as an arrow whistled past his head but did not lose his concentration.
The trolls charged, careful to avoid the burning campfire, but it was Yanny’s fireball they should have been worrying about. The fiery blast caught the closest troll in its chest, exploding in flames that the remaining monsters were simply too slow to avoid. Although both of them were caught on fire, they were not too badly burned.
The ugly creatures jumped around, patting out the flames.
Another arrow whizzed by, embedding itself into Dorna’s shield with a loud thump.
The orcs, shouting wildly, emerged from the trees, wielding clubs and spears.
The gnolls let out thunderous war cries and rushed the orcs, all too happy to let Yanny and Dorna take care of the trolls.
Taking advantage of the temporary confusion caused by the fire blast, Dorna leaped at one of the trolls with a sideways chop of her axe, cleaving off the monster’s leg.

Yanny knew that simply chopping off body parts would not be enough in a fight against trolls – the creatures had an uncanny ability to regenerate even if they were cut into thousands of pieces. While the monster was falling, caught off balance, Yanny took one of his acid-splashing darts, incanted a quick spell, and aimed at the troll’s head.
His aim was true.
As the dart struck the monster, it let out a wail of pure agony until it became a gurgle as the corrosive acid began to spread all over its ugly snout. The monster dropped to its knees clawing desperately at its head. It was still smoldering from the fire blast, the little tongues of fire licking hungrily at its shoulders. Yanny wasted no time in throwing the flask of oil at the creature. As the brittle glass connected solidly with the troll’s flesh, it burst open, releasing the oily substance that immediately coated the monster’s upper body, feeding the flames and igniting the monster like a torch.
The remaining troll let out an angry roar and charged Dorna, swiping at her with its sharp claws. For all of her sneaky reflexes, Dorna was hard pressed to tumble out of the way as she tried to put the campfire between herself and the monster, but it was a temporary reprieve for her.
The troll roared again, getting ready to leap at Dorna and tear her to shreds.

Yanny incanted the words to a minor spell that was meant to hurt the troll with a jolt of electricity and…
There is always a chance that my spells might go awry, Yanny thought silently, if I continue wearing this stiff leather armor…
A blinding light, as bright as the sun, emanated from his enchanted brooch, illuminating the battle scene. The light was so bright that it caused the remaining troll to run blindly into a nearby tree trunk, but not before it passed through the campfire, igniting like a torch.
The blinded monster wailed in agony, collided with the sturdy tree headfirst, and went down in a heap of burning flesh, attempting to pat out the flames.
The orcs went into a frenzied shock of fear, dropping to their knees, blinded, dazed, confused, amazed…
Yanny barely registered the explosion from Dorna’s thrown flask of oil.
He barely registered the troll’s last wail as the raging flames reduced it to a pile of filthy ashes.

He felt her.
This was the first time the Lady communicated her divine will directly through him. She channeled the raw magical energy and the shocking electricity through his body, pouring her Weave into the light. She wanted him to feel pain the first time. She needed him to feel it, to understand the mighty extent of her divine power.
And how it hurt!
He felt the world spin around, Dorna, gnolls, orcs, sunburst, enchanted rapier, holy symbol.
Mystra.

“What a strange feeling this is,” Yanny mused aloud, unaware of the surroundings, “to know the arcane Art and to worship the goddess at the same time, drawing the magical energy from her. I felt her presence just now. She was sending her divine essence through me, just like when Dorna prays to Vergadain…”
“Praise Vergadain,” Dorna huffed, breathing heavily.
“Eh…” Yanny snapped out of his contemplation, somewhat dazed by his own spell.
“The cowardly orcs ran away but I have a feeling this is not the last we’ve seen of them. You were mumbling something for a while and… you appear to have been… electrified by your most recent experience.”
Dorna smiled at Yanny, understanding showing in her eyes.
“Our gnoll associates are still kneeling near the campfire. You should try this spell for the illumination of dark caves,” she attempted a joke.
“Yes,” Yanny replied, regaining his senses, “a very good idea, Dorna. I am sure that when we get to the gnoll caves in the High Forest, we could put on a nice… lightshow?” he chuckled.
“Well fought, mage,” the young dwarven cleric winked at Yanny. “Now, let us find some rest. We shall need it for tomorrow.”
With that, Dorna walked over to the gnolls. When they sat up and looked at her, she incanted a precise prayer, and channeled the divine energy directly into their minds. She charmed the creatures to treat Yanny and her as masters and friends, compelling them to take rotating shifts through the night as guardians of the campsite. One of the gnolls huddled near the campfire, to catch a few hours of sleep, while the other patrolled the campsite.
Dorna sat near Yanny, who was holding Tymofarrar’s diary.

“A dragon that keeps a personal library,” Dorna mused.
“An educated scribe and musician who is a kobold,” Yanny commented.
“I wouldn’t bet on Deekin’s vocal abilities, although he is unusually intelligent for his species,” Dorna observed.
“At least he was smart enough to document the current events that concern a matter of four stolen artifacts. I can bet that Tymofarrar is hoarding the mask that has special powers granted by the Lord of Shadows, and it probably allows the wearer to become invisible. A much usable item for the purpose of our quest, don’t you think?”
“Indeed,” Dorna replied, “I could certainly use one of those.”
She winked at Yanny and a shiny golden coin mysteriously appeared between her deft fingers. She flipped the coin into the cold air, caught it, and tucked it away.
Yanny grinned and nodded in agreement. “And the ambitious sorceress J’Nah has the magical dragon tooth artifact for all of her efforts and she doesn’t know what to do with it.”
The companions laughed.

“She must be quite frustrated at the moment and we may find her in a foul mood,” Dorna chuckled.
“But at least Tymofarrar is not very interested in the mask…” Yanny suggested. “Perhaps he will not require much convincing in giving it up…”
“Contingent on our victory over J’Nah, that is,” Dorna observed. “Is it possible to be even more conniving?” the wise dwarven lass asked Yanny, contempt plainly visible in her noble eyes.
The young mage shrugged, “You mean hoarding that pile of glittering gems and trinkets – a king’s treasure, to be sure – while sleeping and dreaming sweet dreams of conquest, thievery, and assassination?”
Yanny opened the rune inscribed tome, titled The Musings of Tymofarrar the Magnificent, and briefly flipped through the pages.

The large tome was filled almost completely with scribbled notes, arcane diagrams, journal entries and, often, just poorly-drawn doodles. Much of the writing was in Draconic, although there were a few words written in Common.
Yanny cleared his throat.
“Must look into creating non-freezing ink. Damn kobolds tried thawing the last bottle over a fire and it exploded. Upper cave still dotted with ink marks.” The companions chuckled and Yanny continued.
“Swam to the outside today and encountered a group of orcs on my favorite ledge. Why do orcs have to taste so bad? Note to self: raid for salt.”

The companions shared a laugh and Yanny kept reading.
“Received an interesting letter today. Interesting proposition. Must remember to practice my Common more often.”
The companions exchanged knowing glances and Yanny continued.
“J’Nah sent me the most interesting vial of poison today. She did not say where it comes from, but it smells like serpent venom. Deekin licked the vial and was in a coma for three days.”
The companions chuckled again, happy in their knowledge that Master Drogan survived such a sinister assassination attempt.

Yanny kept reading.
“Damnations! Why must every greedy plan of mine end in ruin?” Yanny read. “Acquired interesting powder today at great expense. It is only of use against that damned sorceress, but she will certainly not see this coming. I am so cunning!”
“Well,” Dorna mused, “the great lizard certainly has a sense of humor. Is there anything else of interest?”
“Nothing that we do not already know,” Yanny replied. “Most of the legible writing seems to end there, though there is one spectacular drawing showing an elven woman being torn to bloody, gory pieces by a large dragon creature…”
Yanny’s eye lit up with excitement.
“Ah, what do we have here? A new spell!”
“Well,” Dorna said, yawning loudly, “I am going to sleep.”
“Yes, yes,” Yanny mused, studying the arcane runes, “big day tomorrow…”CHAPTER 8 - LADY OF MYSTERIES

“We should rest up before venturing any further,” Dorna commented as she picked her way around a particularly slippery hill.
“Yes,” Yanny replied. “And we must also eat and feed our prisoners,” he added, feeling his stomach begin to growl.

As if they understood the last remark, the gnolls looked at each other and their stomachs growled thunderously.

“We must feed these dog-faced knuckleheads after they tried to kill us?” Dorna asked incredulously, glaring at the gnolls that hastily averted their eyes.
“My dear Dorna,” Yanny reasoned, “we are valiant adventurers and civilized beings, not some evil monsters who enjoy torturing their prisoners. Besides, we may need these two, eh, knuckleheads, as you so eloquently put it, to ensure the victorious outcome of the next battle, which I assure you will happen very soon.”
“Fighting beside two gnolls,” Dorna grumbled under her breath, “imagine that.”
“We do not have many choices in this matter,” Yanny responded. “The night is almost upon us and the Nether Mountains are home to such foul creatures as orcs and trolls.”

As if they understood the last comment, the gnoll prisoners perked up their ears and began sniffing the stale air.
“Well,” Dorna mused, finality apparent in her voice, “I am definitely not lending any sharp metal objects to these two. A couple of clubs should suffice.”
“I agree,” Yanny said, eyeing the two prisoners suspiciously.

The sun was rapidly fading away, and with it went the feelings of safety. While Yanny watched the gnoll prisoners, trying to explain to them as best as he could about the mutually beneficial, albeit temporary, alliance, Dorna quickly emptied the contents of her backpack. She gathered up some dry food rations and distributed them among the two gnolls while Yanny untied their bonds. With happiness and gratitude in their black orbs, the creatures ate hungrily, all the while looking around and sniffing the cold air as if anticipating an attack at any moment.
Meanwhile, Yanny searched around the area for suitable bludgeoning weapons, collecting a pair of the biggest tree branches he could find on the snow-covered ground. He also picked up a few logs for the campfire, taking care to select the ones that were the least affected by the cold weather.

It was difficult for many adventurers to stay warm in the unforgiving climate of the Cold Marches, especially during the winter, but through the use of their magic, Yanny and Dorna could manage through the tough times.

“Now,” he said, cautiously approaching the gnolls, “don’t even think about running away or turning on us.”
“Unless you would prefer that I split your skulls with my axe,” Dorna grumbled, obviously in a foul mood after the encounter with Tymofarrar.

To emphasize her point, she hefted her magnificent weapon in front of the gnolls, making their noses twitch from fear.
Dorna grumbled a few more comments under her breath and gathered more food rations from her backpack, including Farghan’s wondrous herbs, putting everything into the cooking pot that was already filled with snow.
Yanny looked around for a suitable campfire site, clearing the ground of snow, and stacking the wood there. He rubbed his hands together in anticipation of a good meal, then voiced a simple incantation and pointed at the wood with his forefinger.
Almost instantly, the logs lit up with the warmth of a small fire flame that was burning continuously. While Dorna cooked, Yanny attempted to communicate with the gnolls that were futilely trying to say something in their guttural language. Finally giving up, the gnolls took a different approach, using their clubs to draw a dozen figures in the crisp snow that vaguely resembled orcs and trolls. The gnolls anxiously talked amongst each other, oftentimes pointing in the direction of the setting sun.
A short time later, Dorna was pouring generous portions of the spicy stew into four bowls. The gnolls licked their lips in anticipation and grunted thankfully. Although not very intelligent creatures, these vicious fighters understood without a doubt the utmost importance of this temporary alliance, being in the midst of the unforgiving Nether Mountains where danger lurked around every bend in the forms of murderously harsh weather, unfriendly local wildlife, orcs, trolls, and only gods knew what else.

“I will take the first watch,” Dorna said between the spoonfuls of the steaming stew, “together with one of the gnolls. You take a short rest with the other one, although I seriously doubt you will get much sleep before the orcs are upon us. Their scouts have been trailing us ever since we descended into the kobold caves.”
“You’ve seen them,” Yanny guessed, swallowing a spoonful of spicy sustenance and rubbing his belly.
“No,” Dorna replied, winking at the gnolls, “but the dog brothers here have been catching their scent continuously.”
“Should we be worried?” Yanny asked, licking his spoon and glancing around.
“Just a greedy scouting party in hopes of an easy prey,” Dorna replied confidently. “They allied themselves with a few trolls along the way, thinking to increase their odds of victory.”
“Truly foul creatures, those trolls,” Yanny ventured a guess, having read many stories about the vile monsters but never actually having seen one face to face.
“Nothing that we cannot take care of,” Dorna replied, eyeing the gnolls.
“You two,” she barked at them, instantly gaining their full attention, “attack the smelly orcs and leave the trolls to us.”
Dorna narrowed her eyes dangerously and growled, “Understand?”

The gnolls enthusiastically nodded heir heads in agreement, obviously understanding the general meaning of Dorna’s orders. No self-respecting warriors, and the gnolls were certainly that in the narrow confines of their own minds, would attack formidable opponents with regenerative abilities, wielding only puny clubs. It would be much more efficient and satisfying for the gnolls to bash a few orc skulls and leave the filthy trolls to be dealt with by the real professionals like Dorna and Yanny.
When Dorna finished eating, she grabbed her backpack, gave the gnolls one final look of contempt, and headed out to scout the surrounding area for suitable ambush spots. The travelers camped close to the cave entrance on purpose, having an easy escape route back to Tymofarrar’s lair in case the battle proved to become unmanageable.

The base of the mountain was surrounded by a thick canopy of snow-covered trees, providing the potential enemies with lots of hiding spots, so Dorna immediately went to work, setting up devious traps that would hurt intruders with fire, acid, and electricity. Taking a final look at her marvelous job, Dorna nodded in satisfaction and took out a needle-thin length of copper wire from her backpack, unraveling it around the campsite and attaching to it all sorts of metallic trinkets that would emit loud clanging noises in the case of uninvited guests.
Back at the campsite, Yanny was busily attempting to communicate with the gnolls, having quickly learned a few common words.

“Have you learned anything?” Dorna asked, taking a seat near the campfire.
“Indeed,” Yanny replied. “It seems that our knucklehead associates hail all the way from the High Forest, sent to intercept the little artifact-stealing thieves. One of the kobold leaders, our scaly friend Deekin, apparently escaped to Blumberg, and the gnolls followed him there, under direct orders from J’Nah to retrieve any magical items that he carried. The gnolls recognized J’Nah’s name as soon as I mentioned it and do not seem to be overly fond of her. Instead, they seem to be deathly afraid of her, probably because of the powerful magic she possesses.”

Yanny stroked his chin in contemplation.
“J’Nah seemed to be especially interested in the artifact that we retrieved from Deekin – the curious statue that our clumsy little friend managed to break. Instead, she retrieved the dragon tooth, not exactly the magical item she was after. Thus it is my conclusion that we must visit the gnoll caves for more answers and possibly to establish an alliance with their leaders. It is likely that the gnolls do not voluntarily serve J’Nah and thus could be turned against her with the use of some… subtle persuasion.”

Dorna brandished her battle axe and huffed.
“Subtle or not, I am sure we can persuade them, if they know what is good for their filthy hides.”
“Yes, well,” Yanny replied with a smile, “the gnolls are fierce warriors and they may be able to help us defeat J’Nah and whatever allies she has surrounded herself with.”
“Aye,” Dorna grumbled, “too bad for her that she will not have the opportunity to regret the day she turned against Master Drogan. The foul witch will pay with her life, may Vergadain be my witness.”
Dorna whispered a quick prayer to her god, grabbed her battle axe and motioned towards one of the gnolls.
“You, come with me, it’s time for our first watch.”
Then to Yanny she said, “You should try go get some rest, but don’t fall asleep too deeply, we may yet need the use of your fireworks before very long.”

When they both disappeared into the bushes, Yanny motioned for the remaining gnoll to go to sleep while he proceeded to organize his spell components. Then he flipped through his spell book, carefully choosing to memorize the spells that he might need. Satisfied with his spell selections, Yanny closed the spell book, and was just about ready to begin reading Tymofarrar’s diary, when Dorna crept back into the campsite.

“The enemy is almost upon us,” she reported with a grim face. “They will attack within minutes, and we must be ready.”
“Defeating the trolls first is of utmost importance,” Yanny said, and Dorna nodded in agreement. “And we must also look out for the orcish archers…”

Before Yanny finished the last sentence, he was interrupted by the loud clanging of the sprung wire trap, heralding the arrival of trouble. There was some loud grunting, confused grumbling, and then Dorna’s traps began exploding one by one. The grumbling quickly turned into screams of agony as the enemies were splashed with acid and shocked by electricity.
By the time the first troll showed its ugly snout, bursting clumsily through the tree canopy, the defenders were ready for battle. The ugly creature was well over seven feet tall, with warty brown hide that was splotched with numerous sickly white and green spots. It looked around, noticing the four defenders as well as the burning campfire, and issued a loud growl.
Brandishing their heavy clubs, the gnoll warriors stood their ground, ignoring the troll and patiently waiting for the first orc to appear. To their credit, the gnolls appeared composed and fearless, unlike certain other cowardly races that inhabited the lands of Faerûn.

When another troll burst through the snow covered tree canopy, Yanny already held his enchanted rapier in his hand, incanting an offensive spell. He managed to duck as an arrow whistled past his head but did not lose his concentration.
The trolls charged, careful to avoid the burning campfire, but it was Yanny’s fireball they should have been worrying about. The fiery blast caught the closest troll in its chest, exploding in flames that the remaining monsters were simply too slow to avoid. Although both of them were caught on fire, they were not too badly burned.
The ugly creatures jumped around, patting out the flames.
Another arrow whizzed by, embedding itself into Dorna’s shield with a loud thump.
The orcs, shouting wildly, emerged from the trees, wielding clubs and spears.
The gnolls let out thunderous war cries and rushed the orcs, all too happy to let Yanny and Dorna take care of the trolls.
Taking advantage of the temporary confusion caused by the fire blast, Dorna leaped at one of the trolls with a sideways chop of her axe, cleaving off the monster’s leg.

Yanny knew that simply chopping off body parts would not be enough in a fight against trolls – the creatures had an uncanny ability to regenerate even if they were cut into thousands of pieces. While the monster was falling, caught off balance, Yanny took one of his acid-splashing darts, incanted a quick spell, and aimed at the troll’s head.
His aim was true.
As the dart struck the monster, it let out a wail of pure agony until it became a gurgle as the corrosive acid began to spread all over its ugly snout. The monster dropped to its knees clawing desperately at its head. It was still smoldering from the fire blast, the little tongues of fire licking hungrily at its shoulders. Yanny wasted no time in throwing the flask of oil at the creature. As the brittle glass connected solidly with the troll’s flesh, it burst open, releasing the oily substance that immediately coated the monster’s upper body, feeding the flames and igniting the monster like a torch.
The remaining troll let out an angry roar and charged Dorna, swiping at her with its sharp claws. For all of her sneaky reflexes, Dorna was hard pressed to tumble out of the way as she tried to put the campfire between herself and the monster, but it was a temporary reprieve for her.
The troll roared again, getting ready to leap at Dorna and tear her to shreds.

Yanny incanted the words to a minor spell that was meant to hurt the troll with a jolt of electricity and…
There is always a chance that my spells might go awry, Yanny thought silently, if I continue wearing this stiff leather armor…
A blinding light, as bright as the sun, emanated from his enchanted brooch, illuminating the battle scene. The light was so bright that it caused the remaining troll to run blindly into a nearby tree trunk, but not before it passed through the campfire, igniting like a torch.
The blinded monster wailed in agony, collided with the sturdy tree headfirst, and went down in a heap of burning flesh, attempting to pat out the flames.
The orcs went into a frenzied shock of fear, dropping to their knees, blinded, dazed, confused, amazed…
Yanny barely registered the explosion from Dorna’s thrown flask of oil.
He barely registered the troll’s last wail as the raging flames reduced it to a pile of filthy ashes.

He felt her.
This was the first time the Lady communicated her divine will directly through him. She channeled the raw magical energy and the shocking electricity through his body, pouring her Weave into the light. She wanted him to feel pain the first time. She needed him to feel it, to understand the mighty extent of her divine power.
And how it hurt!
He felt the world spin around, Dorna, gnolls, orcs, sunburst, enchanted rapier, holy symbol.
Mystra.

“What a strange feeling this is,” Yanny mused aloud, unaware of the surroundings, “to know the arcane Art and to worship the goddess at the same time, drawing the magical energy from her. I felt her presence just now. She was sending her divine essence through me, just like when Dorna prays to Vergadain…”
“Praise Vergadain,” Dorna huffed, breathing heavily.
“Eh…” Yanny snapped out of his contemplation, somewhat dazed by his own spell.
“The cowardly orcs ran away but I have a feeling this is not the last we’ve seen of them. You were mumbling something for a while and… you appear to have been… electrified by your most recent experience.”
Dorna smiled at Yanny, understanding showing in her eyes.
“Our gnoll associates are still kneeling near the campfire. You should try this spell for the illumination of dark caves,” she attempted a joke.
“Yes,” Yanny replied, regaining his senses, “a very good idea, Dorna. I am sure that when we get to the gnoll caves in the High Forest, we could put on a nice… lightshow?” he chuckled.
“Well fought, mage,” the young dwarven cleric winked at Yanny. “Now, let us find some rest. We shall need it for tomorrow.”
With that, Dorna walked over to the gnolls. When they sat up and looked at her, she incanted a precise prayer, and channeled the divine energy directly into their minds. She charmed the creatures to treat Yanny and her as masters and friends, compelling them to take rotating shifts through the night as guardians of the campsite. One of the gnolls huddled near the campfire, to catch a few hours of sleep, while the other patrolled the campsite.
Dorna sat near Yanny, who was holding Tymofarrar’s diary.

“A dragon that keeps a personal library,” Dorna mused.
“An educated scribe and musician who is a kobold,” Yanny commented.
“I wouldn’t bet on Deekin’s vocal abilities, although he is unusually intelligent for his species,” Dorna observed.
“At least he was smart enough to document the current events that concern a matter of four stolen artifacts. I can bet that Tymofarrar is hoarding the mask that has special powers granted by the Lord of Shadows, and it probably allows the wearer to become invisible. A much usable item for the purpose of our quest, don’t you think?”
“Indeed,” Dorna replied, “I could certainly use one of those.”
She winked at Yanny and a shiny golden coin mysteriously appeared between her deft fingers. She flipped the coin into the cold air, caught it, and tucked it away.
Yanny grinned and nodded in agreement. “And the ambitious sorceress J’Nah has the magical dragon tooth artifact for all of her efforts and she doesn’t know what to do with it.”
The companions laughed.

“She must be quite frustrated at the moment and we may find her in a foul mood,” Dorna chuckled.
“But at least Tymofarrar is not very interested in the mask…” Yanny suggested. “Perhaps he will not require much convincing in giving it up…”
“Contingent on our victory over J’Nah, that is,” Dorna observed. “Is it possible to be even more conniving?” the wise dwarven lass asked Yanny, contempt plainly visible in her noble eyes.
The young mage shrugged, “You mean hoarding that pile of glittering gems and trinkets – a king’s treasure, to be sure – while sleeping and dreaming sweet dreams of conquest, thievery, and assassination?”
Yanny opened the rune inscribed tome, titled The Musings of Tymofarrar the Magnificent, and briefly flipped through the pages.

The large tome was filled almost completely with scribbled notes, arcane diagrams, journal entries and, often, just poorly-drawn doodles. Much of the writing was in Draconic, although there were a few words written in Common.
Yanny cleared his throat.
“Must look into creating non-freezing ink. Damn kobolds tried thawing the last bottle over a fire and it exploded. Upper cave still dotted with ink marks.” The companions chuckled and Yanny continued.
“Swam to the outside today and encountered a group of orcs on my favorite ledge. Why do orcs have to taste so bad? Note to self: raid for salt.”

The companions shared a laugh and Yanny kept reading.
“Received an interesting letter today. Interesting proposition. Must remember to practice my Common more often.”
The companions exchanged knowing glances and Yanny continued.
“J’Nah sent me the most interesting vial of poison today. She did not say where it comes from, but it smells like serpent venom. Deekin licked the vial and was in a coma for three days.”
The companions chuckled again, happy in their knowledge that Master Drogan survived such a sinister assassination attempt.

Yanny kept reading.
“Damnations! Why must every greedy plan of mine end in ruin?” Yanny read. “Acquired interesting powder today at great expense. It is only of use against that damned sorceress, but she will certainly not see this coming. I am so cunning!”
“Well,” Dorna mused, “the great lizard certainly has a sense of humor. Is there anything else of interest?”
“Nothing that we do not already know,” Yanny replied. “Most of the legible writing seems to end there, though there is one spectacular drawing showing an elven woman being torn to bloody, gory pieces by a large dragon creature…”
Yanny’s eye lit up with excitement.
“Ah, what do we have here? A new spell!”
“Well,” Dorna said, yawning loudly, “I am going to sleep.”
“Yes, yes,” Yanny mused, studying the arcane runes, “big day tomorrow…”

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