Nefarious

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Nefarious; extremely wicked or villainous.

Morgrim Redsbeard sat in the far corner of the Dragon’s Broken Claw inn, nursing his eighth pint of ale and believing it would cure his headache. Keeping low, Morgrim tried to blend in with the shadows, hoping no one recognised him. He wasn’t in the mood to tell tales of his victories tonight.

The Dragon’s Broken Claw was the most popular drinking hole in Eleria Town. It was just bad luck that Morgrim and his adventuring companions had decided to spend the night here. Morgrim glanced up, taking in the packed room with hooded eyes. The loud noise of voices wasn’t helping, but he didn’t feel like going to his shared bedroom just yet.

Taking a mouthful of ale, Morgrim wished he was drinking something more to his palette, like a nice golden dwarven beer. Also, instead of being in this man inn, he wanted to be in the great dwarf halls of his home, surrounded by kin.

Sighing into his tankard, Morgrim tugged at his long red beard which his ancestors had always been famous for. His finger caught in one of the knots and he was distracted for a few moments. Then out of the crowd, a voice caught his ears.

‘There’s always been outlandish rumors surrounding the Grey Tower. Only a few have ever be there though and many more have tried but The Dead Marshes have seen to ’em.’

Morgrim turned and scanned the over-crowded room for the speaker. There was  a tall man standing at other table close by on the left. At first glance, the man could be mistaken for a elf, but Morgrim’s eyes could tell he was just a fair skinned and haired man. There were other men seated or gathered around the table, they were all holding tankards and there was the remains of a meal on the table. The men looked eager to hear a tale.

‘They say an evil wizard rules the land there and he binds all creatures to do his bidding!’ the man continued.

Morgrim huffed into his ale. He had been to The Dead Marshes months ago and he had seen this so called evil wizard with his own eyes. For him, the fight hadn’t be worth it, but at least there was no more trouble for the surrounding villages.

‘Have you been there?’ a drunkard shouted.

A wave of voices followed demanding similar answers. A few other voices called for more drinks and someone else shouted for bread and cheese.

A ghost of smile appeared on the man’s face and he replied, ‘no, but a friend of a friend has! And he said it was the worse thing he every saw. There were armies of goblins and other such creatures working for this evil wizard. The whole land had been stripped bare and fires were burning everywhere. The smell was vile and chocking.’

‘Evil wizard my a-‘ a voice roared but was cut off by raucous laughter.

The man banged on the table and shouted above the noise, ‘This wizard is so wicked that soon everyone will be in danger! He is coming here and either he’ll bend you to his will or slay you all!’

Silence slowly began to fall over the inn. Heads turned and a few voices whispered.

‘It’s true! I tell ya. His name is becoming the most feared across the lands. He wields power no one has every seen before. He is blessed by dark Gods and he is friends with the giants and dragons. Right now, he is gathering his armies to invade. He’ll stop at nothing till he has complete rule!’

Morgrim slide his empty tankard away. His headache finally fading. He reached behind him and from the wall took his warhammer into his hand once more. The weight of the weapon give him great comfort and he always made sure it stand by his side.

‘How do you know this, Man?’ Morgrim spoke quietly in his deep voice.

Heads turned Morgrim’s way and a few elbows nudged each other as people recognised him. A full silence fell on the inn room and it seemed like breathes were being held.

‘It’s been circling for months. Travellers and messengers have been bringing word to the courts,’ the man explained, ‘though I’m sure a dwarf like you would know all about it.’

Morgrim stood up, the table pushed away by his broad and muscular body. He held his warhammer tightly but none threateningly. Casting his eyes, around the room to see that he had everyone’s attention, Morgrim turned back to the man.

‘I see you don’t know who I am, Man. I am Morgrim Redsbeard and I have been to that Grey Tower in The Dead Marshes which you speak of,’ Morgrim stated, ‘and I’m tell you now no such wizard ever lived in that tower.’

The man swallowed, looking deflated and started searching for words to make a come back with.

‘If you want a tale about an evil wizard, I could tell you one. Many have fallen to my warhammer,’ Morgrim declared, ‘innkeeper another pint of your finest ale. I’ve a tale that will chill your very ears off.’

(Characters originally from The Dead Marsh story. Which can be found here;  https://thestoryfiles.wordpress.com/2015/02/06/the-dead-marshes-part-1/) 

Beacon

beacon

They had been travelling for two years when the wood elf spotted one of the last beacons. He dismounted from his bay horse and on long legs ran up the hill. The adventuring party watched him go, wondering what he had seen before realising themselves. Three of them dismounted from their horses; the two human fighters and the half-elf wizard. Whilst the dwarf healer and halfling thief stayed on their stout ponies.

The elf came to a stop before the burnt ruins. He nudged an untouched wooden plank with his deer hide boots, flipping it over and staring at it. His hand rested on the  jewelled pommel of his magic sword, ready for a possible ambush. He could hear the wind howling through the long moor grass and the small valleys of the hills.

His companions came to join him, but he ignored their whispers for something had caught his sharp eyes. On another hill, higher then this one and a good few miles away he could see another beacon raising. It appeared unlit. He frowned and looked farther around, but he could see nothing other then the moors and the coming storm clouds.

‘Can you see the other beacon? Is that it?’ the half-elf asked at his side.

‘I think so,’ the elf replied.

The two men came to stand beside them and the elf saw they had drawn their swords.

‘What’s going on?’ a voice yelled up to them.

‘It is definitely one of  Abacros beacons,’ one of the men yelled back.

The elf heard the dwarf and halfling dismount and trudge up the hill. the rest of the party began moving around again. Their boots crunching on burnt wood and dry grass. The elf kept his eyes firmly fixed on the other beacon in the distance. Something didn’t feel right. The more he looked the more his eyes confirmed that the wood had not been lit.

That would explain it, he thought, if the chain had been broken, the city of Abacros had been doomed from the start. 

‘This is beacon forty-two,’ the half-elf announced.

‘We have to go over there,’ the elf cut in.

He turned and saw his companions gathered around a tatty map and a large rock. Without saying anything else, the elf went down the hill and back to the horses. He mounted his bay mare and headed in the direction of the other beacon. Disgruntled words tickled his ears, but the growing wind swept them away.

He glanced up at the sky and saw the storm clouds were rolling in fast. This was really not the place to be caught in bad weather. He urged his horse on, knowing the others had joined him. However, the soft, sinking ground was hard going and it took awhile to reach the tall hill. The rain had started falling as the elf dropped from the saddle and walked to the beacon.

The pile of wood towered above him. It was built in a large square with a cone at the top. His eyes had not lied. The thing had never been lit. He looked down and saw something in the grass. Poking it with the toe of his boot, he saw it was a dirt covered dagger. Just above it and still reaching out for the blade was a dead hand.

‘He’s been here years,’ the voice of the dwarf rumbled, ‘crude arrows Outlanders, maybe.

‘So the guards were attacked then?’ the first man said whilst the other just shook his head.

‘That would explain it,’ the elf answered, ‘and after all these years we now know what happened. The guards were slay before they could lit the beacon. The line was broken and that’s why help was too late.’

‘And Abacros fell,’ the halfling whispered.

Thunder rumbled, drawing their attention away. The horses whined, a few stamped their feet and shook there heads. The elf took a last look around and knew they should be on their way. At last they had an answer for the king.

 

Photo prompt from; https://scvincent.com/2016/09/22/thursday-photo-prompt-beacon-writephoto/

The Dead Marshes (Part 4)

Morgrim watched the Dead Marshes come to life as dawn finished rising and the daylight hours begin. It was an overcast day, but enough light was filtering down for them to see the marshland for a good distance all round. Rolling hills and clumps of trees and bushes were more scattered around then he had seen in similar marshes before. The stink of the rot and stagnate pools had gotten stronger and seemed to be in every intake of breath. Morgrim watch gnats and other small flying insects crowding the air, which also contained singing birds, croaking frogs and the rustling of other animals.

Ahead of Morgrim, the four kobolds were quickly walking and chattering amongst themselves. They seemed perfectly at home and even though they were still walking on the wooden log pathway, sometimes one of the kobolds would veer off and walk in the tall grass or at the edge of a pool. They scampered back quickly enough and would shoot him curious looks, before joining in the jabbering conversation with the others again.

Behind Morgrim, he was aware of his friends taking a somewhat guarded approach to their walk across the marshland. It seemed some of them – especially the half-elf- believed they could be attacked at any moment, even from the kobolds or something else. The dragonborn sisters were talking in low voices in their own tongue, but keeping their eyes searching for any trouble. Grub, bring up the rear, was muttering to himself and chewing on something. He didn’t seem bothered by their present situation, but Morgrim knew better than just to assume that.

‘How much longer to the castle?’ Morgrim called loudly.

The kobold’s chatter died down and the one that had spoken before and seemed to be their leader came over to him.

‘It-s-s two passing-s of the day and ones of the night,’ the kobold hissed, ‘we have camp half-ways-s. Heading there.’

Morgrim nodded, suddenly feeling the weight of the journey ahead.

‘Two days and a night?’ Cerseia questioned, striding to join them.

The kobold bobbed his head quickly and made a hu hu sound.

‘Are we really trusting them?’ she asked, turning to Morgrim.

‘For now,’ he replied, ‘I know you don’t like it…but sometimes…’

‘Why don’t we just get there ourselves? This pathway must go straight up to the castle. Why do you need them?’ Cerseia pressed, trying to keep her voice low, but failing to do so towards the end. Her eyes shot to the kobold leader.

He turned his head away, ducked as if she had made to hit him and hurried back to his friends. He spoke something quickly to them and they slowed down.

‘They can help us,’ Morgrim explained, ‘they might know a secret way into the castle and they might have friends they can rally to aid us. This is a compromise, Cerseia. I’m sure if they turn against us you can easily handle them. I need you to trust me right now,’ Morgrim paused then shook his head slightly, ‘At least try to anyway,’ he added.

Cerseia sighed and pulled a face. She glanced around, but didn’t say any more.

They walked in mostly silence for the rest of the day and by the time they arrived at the kobolds’ camp they were all exhausted. Morgrim eyed the spot they had been led to, it was little more than a flattered patch of marsh grass, which contained two small badly made wooden huts and a stone circle for the fire. Sinking before the circle, Morgrim watched the kobolds gather sticks and make a fire. Two of them left soon after, disappearing into the long grass that surrounded them.

Katliana and Konniana joined him at the fire, Cerseia took up a watchful position close by and Grub inspected the huts. He shuffled over a few moments later and sat down next to Morgrim. They all watched the fire greedily burning through the dry wood.

‘Here, here,’ the lead kobold said at Morgrim’s elbow.

He looked down to see the scaly hands holding him a small, but deep wooden bowl which contained a clear liquid.

‘What is it?’ he asked.

‘Water. It-s-s goods. Not Marsh-y.’

Morgrim took the bowl and swirled the water around. He sniffed it and then took a sip. The kobold had been right. The water was clean and tasted fine. He drink deeper, discovering a thirst he hadn’t know he had. He felt another elbow digging into his other side and looked over the bowl at Grub’s face. Quickly stopping, Morgrim swallowed and handed him the bowl.

Grub drink deeply as he had just done and finished the water off. He let Katliana take the bowl from him and watch her stare down at it.

‘I think we need some more,’ Morgrim pointed out.

The kobold came over, took the bowl and hurried off again. This time though Konniana followed him and found that just opposite them was a clear stream. Strangely, it was untouched by the marshland. The kobold rushed passed her and delivered the bowl to Katliana, before going over to the other remaining kobold and hissing at him.

‘There’s a clean stream here,’ Konniana called over.

They all came over and drink their fill from the stream. Upon returning, they found that the other kobolds had come back and brought some dead animals with them. These were prepared and placed on the fire. The smell of burning meat and wood filled the coming night.

‘Do you have name?’ Morgrim asked the leader after a few minutes.

‘Kak. I-is-s chief,’ came the reply.

‘I’m Morgrim.’

Kak nodded and handed him the tail of a snake on a stick, ‘not-s- much,’ he said almost shyly.

‘Thank you,’ Morgrim responded and began eating.

The kobolds passed everyone else a stick with cooked meat on the end and they all eat together. Afterwards, the kobolds curled up together and fell sleep.

‘I am taking first watch,’ Cerseia replied and got up.

‘The huts don’t look so bad,’ Grub cut in, ‘I’m going to sleep in one of them.’

Morgrim nodded and watched them both leave.

‘You should sleep,’ Katliana said gently.

‘I will,’ he replied.

Morgrim woke up to the calling of a bird. Pushing himself off the ground, he glanced around. The kobolds had the fire going again and were cooking more animals. The dragonborns were just waking up too and Grub was coming back from the stream. Morgrim’s eyes flickered around, but he could not spot Cerseia. Just as he was about to ask for her, she appeared out of one of the huts. Without saying anything, she walked out of the camp and towards a clump of trees.

Stroking his beard, Morgrim rolled his shoulders and climbed to his feet.

‘We-s- be off-s s-soon,’ Kak said to him.

Morgrim nodded and wondered off into the tall grass.

A good few minutes later they were back on the pathway again. The new day stretched out before them and though they were feeling somewhat refreshed, tiredness loomed over them. The kobolds were happy enough and seemed braver today. A number of times all of them vanished in the grass for growing periods of time. However, Morgrim was not worried and realised they were discovering their newly found freedom. His companions seemed on edge and very quiet, but Morgrim did not blame them for being so as they were fast approaching a possible difficult fight.

Hours of walking later, they spotted the grey stone walls of a tower castle on the horizon. Seeing this filled them with more confidence and eagerness and the pace was picked up. As they drew closer, Morgrim saw that it was only a small castle and fast crumbling away. There was nothing surrounding it and the place looked abandoned. Coming to a stop in a dip before the castle’s arched gateway, Morgrim gathered everyone together.

‘Do you know a hidden way inside?’ Morgrim asked.

Kak nodded, ‘arounds the backs. S-safe.’

‘And the wizard?’ Cerseia asked quickly, ‘are you sure he’s in there?’

‘Yes-s. S-sees!’ Kak cried and pointed upwards.

They all looked over and saw a dim light in one of the tower’s windows.

‘Hes’s s-studys, booo-ks.’

Morgrim nodded, ‘lead the way.’

Kak made the hu hu sound again and ducking down, crept off to the side. Everyone followed behind him, trying to keep as quiet as possible. Kak lead them along the side of the castle and to a back door. He easily opened it and waved them all inside. The passage way they entered into lead them to a store room like space. Wordless, Kak pointed to another door then upwards, before walking on.

Morgrim nudged, Konniana and Cerseia before him then slipped back beside Grub, so that Katliana was between them. Slowly, they made their way through the castle and Kak staying true to his word, brought them into the wizard’s study. The door of which was open and they could see the piles of books stacked on tables, chairs and the floor. Looking passed them and deeper into the room, they could see a figure bent over something in the far corner.

A voice tickled their ears and they heard a mash of words. Morgrim turned to Cerseia and pointed to her then the figure. Understanding with a nod, she drew her sword almost silently and walked carefully across the floor. The others held their breaths as she did so and got ready to attack.

Cerseia eased her blade onto the figure’s robed shoulder, ‘Don’t move,’ she said in a low voice.

The man jumped, twisting around and throwing the book he had been reading at her. Cerseia whacked it away, slicing through a number of pages which fluttered to the ground as the book landed with a thud behind them. The man wedged himself into the corner with his hands flat against the wall, stared at her, then reach for a short sword at his belt.

‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you,’ Cerseia hissed and confirmed with a glance over her shoulder that her friends had come to join her.

‘Are you the dark wizard of this castle?’ Morgrim asked as he eyed up the man.

He looked fresh out of childhood, very pale, skinny and nothing like what Morgrim had been expecting to find.

The man nodded, ‘I am Ralnon Sirleach and you have invaded my home!’

‘Have you been stealing treasure from the nearby villages and towns and using the innkeeper of the Blue Horned Goat to obtain it and pass it on to you?’ Morgrim demanded.

‘What? No! How dare you accuse me of such a thing!’

‘You are just a boy, aren’t you? Cerseia jumped in, she still had her sword pointed at him, ‘you are not a real wizard. Where’s you master?’

‘There is no one else! I lied, all right. Please don’t hurt me!’ Ralnon shouted.

‘Let him go, Cerseia,’ Morgrim said gruffly.

She dropped her sword, but did not move away.

‘Why are you here boy? And what do you know about the stolen treasure? Do not lie to us again or my friend here might let her sword slip just a little.’

‘I came to study. I really want to be a wizard and I have some powers already. I found out on my second night here that the innkeeper was using the cellar to store the treasure. He doesn’t know I have been staying here. I hide ever time anyone comes here,’ Ralnon explained.

‘But what about the kobolds? They said you had enslaved them and taken their marsh.’

‘Yes, well. I had to…do something about them. I knew the innkeeper already had them under his command and I sort of used that to convince them he was actual working for me, so they were my slaves too. I didn’t harm any of them though.’

‘Great,’ Grub grumbled, ‘we came all this way for nothing and I was ready for a fight too.’

‘We could still kill him,’ Cerseia counted and she jabbed the tip of her sword at Ralnon’s throat.

The boy squirmed and tried to move away, but he was now pinned to the wall, ‘please. I said I was sorry and I’ve told you anything I know! Just, please!’

‘So, it was the innkeeper all along,’ Katliana put in.

‘You were right after all,’ Konniana added.

‘The kobolds are free now,’ Morgrim cut back in, ‘and they get their marsh back.’

Ralnon nodded as his face desperately pled with Cerseia to let him go.

‘Let’s leave,’ Morgrim spoke and arranging his warhammer as he walked out the room.

‘Are you sure you want to let him live?’ Cerseia’s voice drifted over to him.

‘His just a boy and I believe what he said. Come on let’s go back to the inn and get our things. We need to report back as well.’

Grouchily, the others trailed after him and as they passed Kak, who had been hiding on the stairwell, Morgrim told him he was free and his marsh returned. Happily, the kobold turned and ran down the stairs. The high jabbering of his and his friend’s voices followed them out of the castle.

Stealing a last look at the place, Morgrim sighed and gripping his Warhammer began walking down the pathway and back the way they had come. Cerseia came to his side moments later and he was aware of the others keeping pace with them.

‘I still can’t believe it,’ Cerseia cried out.

Morgrim half shrugged his shoulders.

‘How can you be so sure?’

‘Did you see that boy? He looked almost ready to just fall on your blade. And what did he have to gain by lying? Though I’m still not sure that the half-orc came up with all of this…’

‘Where else can we look for the truth?’ Katliana asked.

Morgrim shook his head, ‘it’s over. It’s time to move on again.’

‘Maybe some place without a marsh?’ Grub called up from the back.

‘Maybe,’ Morgrim replied and lead his company out of the Dead Marshes.

The Dead Marshes (Part 3)

‘We can take ‘em,’ Grub hissed.

Morgrim and Cerseia quickly shushed him and he fell silent. Eagerly, they all watched from their hiding place as the group of enemies came closer. As the kobolds rounded the bend and came opposite them, Morgrim had to grab Grub to stop him storming forward. He pressed his hand over the other dwarf’s mouth as Grub went to argue.

‘Come on! Move! We’ve not got all day!’ the bullywug spit and cracked his whip over the heads of the kobolds, whom shrink away then hurried forward.

Morgrim shook his head and Grub growled. The bullywug and troll passed them and the whole group walked up to the stone doorway. Loudly threating the kobolds still, the bullywug yanked the troll to a stop and instructed it to open the door.

As the company watched though, a kobold rushed at the bullywug and began beating its small hands all over him. The large frog easily picked up the dragon lizard and laughing in its face, turned to the troll.

‘Kill him,’ the bullywug command.

The troll looked at him dumbly, twirling the wooden club it held in his right hand around.

‘Did you hear me? Kill!’ the bullywug yelled and threw the kobold at the troll’s feet.

The troll looked down still confused, ‘crush?’ a slow booming voice formed one of the only words the troll’s brain know how to say.

‘Yes, Yes! Crush!’

The troll shook himself, lifted his left foot and brought it down on the kobold. The creature screamed, calling out for mercy then fall silent as splattering and crunching noises echoed into the night. The troll moved his foot again and kicked the flattered body into the nearest stagnate pool, which claimed the victim hungrily.

‘Well done! Good boy, Grunter,’ the bullywug praised and turned back to the other kobolds, ‘you want some of that then? Get back to work!’

They scuttled around the door and began clawing at the stones.

‘Go on,’ the bullywug urged the troll and with lumbering steps the creature stomped over and began pulling at the door alongside the kobolds.

Now, guessing they were out of ear shot and preoccupied, Morgrim turned to Cerseia.

‘Can you cast that void again?’ he asked.

She shook her head, ‘I used it up back at the warehouse. I can create a fireball though.’

‘Let’s just charge ‘em,’ Grub argued.

‘No. We need to element of surprise right now,’ Morgrim explained, ‘Konniana, if Cerseia and I cast fire at the kobolds can you shoot arrows at the bullywug?’

‘Yes,’ Konniana’s voice whispered back from the tree top.

‘What shall we do? We have nothing long range,’ Katliana pointed out about herself and Grub, feeling the urge to fight growing.

‘After we have distracted the others, charge the troll and try to take him down. We’ll come and help you once we’ve killed the others,’ Morgrim commanded.

‘Don’t worry. I can take it on myself,’ Grub declared, hefting his warhammer.

‘Are you ready?’ Cerseia chimed in.

Morgrim nodded and at once they both casted their own fire. For Cerseia it was a bright burning orange fireball and for Morgrim a lighter flame of divine power. Cerseia went first and threw her fire towards the kobolds, however the bullywug stepped in front of them and the fireball clipped his shoulder and dropped sizzling out onto the floor. The large frog humanoid turned eyes straight to where they were hiding.

Morgrim quickly followed up Cerseia’s attack, but the bullywug was on guard and easily ducked the scared flame. It sailed over his head and into what should have been a least one kobold, but they had already scattered due to the fireball.

‘We are under attack!’ screamed the bullywug and cracked his whip across the air.

‘Forget this!’ Grub yelled and charged out of the trees straight for the troll.

Katliana chased after him, pulling her great sword out as she did so. She easily over took the short dwarf and parried the troll’s club blow that had been aimed at Grub’s head. An arrow shoot from her sister’s bow whistled past her and straight into the stomach of the Bullywug.

The frog let out a croaking scream, but still turned to command the kobolds into action. Only four were brave enough to come forward though. The other three remind behind, trying desperately to press themselves into any shadows, which seemed to be slowly disappearing in the coming dawn’s light. As the four kobolds assembled and clutched un-sharpened daggers, a fireball crashed down in-between them.

The smell of burnt scaly skin filled the air and dying screams tumbled across the marshland. One luckily kobold had escaped pretty much unharmed and he darted back to his friends. Of the others, two were dead and the third was too badly wounded to get up. On seeing this, the bullywug charged at Katliana. With a roar, he flicked the whip at her and she dodged and dived around Grub, who had become locked in battle with the troll.

An arrow whizzed passed them and buried itself deep into the bullywug’s head. Blood dropped down the creature’s frog face and the whip went loose in the webbed hand. The bullywug choked and fell backwards, landing dead and sprawled out along the pathway.

Catching her breath, Katliana turned to thank her sister, but could no longer see her in the tree. However, on the pathway, she saw Morgrim’s shield light up and he, Cerseia and Konniana rushing over to help them. She turned back to the troll and saw that Grub was struggling against the creature which was easily five times taller than he was. However, that did seem to be putting the dwarf off, only making him more determined.

The troll had no idea that his master was gone and was solely focused on crushing the figures gathering around his feet. With a mighty swing of his weapon, he knocked the dwarf over and flung the club back again to catch the dragonborn. Though, she was faster and ducked under via a roll, which caused her to stop close to the dwarf.

Grub had landed on his back and was groaning in pain. Katliana caught him as he tried to get up and dragged him backwards out of the way as the club parted the air above their heads. She slipped on top of him, causing him to cry out and start struggling to sit up as they both detangled themselves from each other.

By this time the others had reached the troll. Distracted by new things to crush, he turned his attention away and took a swipe at Cerseia. She nimbly dodged the blow and sliced her sword into the troll’s knee, whilst Konniana shot an arrow into his shoulder. He howled in pain as Morgrim stepped forward, leaving his shield and warhammer on the ground as he charged up a spell between his hands.

Enraged, the troll took a strike at Cerseia and missed again as she darted behind him. Unexpectedly, he then threw his club the other way and clipped Konniana on the shoulder. With a roar, she dropped her crossbow, drew her long sword and rushing forward stuck the blade between the troll’s legs. His eyes rolled down at her in shock and his whole body started shaking.

Cerseia sliced the backs of the troll’s knees and hurriedly moved out of the way. She darted back to Morgrim’s side, ready to protect the cleric if the troll came at them again and he no time to fire off his spell. Konniana whipped out her sword and shuffled backwards, her eyes darted across to her sister and she saw Katliana pulling Grub to his feet and them hurrying to join in again.

The troll let out a loud groan and dropped backwards. The air swooshed around him and he hit the ground hard, crushing the bullywug and the barely-alive third kobold under him. The chest heaved a last breath, then fell still.

Konniana climbed on top of him and poked his face with the tip of her sword just be sure he was really dead.

‘Are you injured? Morgrim’s voice called from behind her and she twisted to see him talking to Grub. The other dwarf shook his head and Morgrim’s eyes went to everyone else in turn, ‘is anyone hurt?’

More head shakes answered his question.

‘What are we going to do with them?’ Katliana called and pointed her sword at the remaining kobolds who were still trying to hide in the shadows cast by the wall.

‘Kill them!’ Grub half-shouted and began to stomp his way over.

The others quickly followed and Morgrim fought his way to the front. The kobolds half-turned to them before gathering to chatter amongst themselves. Cerseia conjured a fireball, but Morgrim caught her hand as a single unarmed kobold crept over to them.

‘N-n-no kills-s,’ the kobold stuttered with a forked lizard tongue.

‘Why should we let you live?’ Morgrim called over.

‘You-s kills-s bull-y-wug. He enslaved us-s, we does-s bidding-s. We nots harms you-s.’

‘I do not trust him,’ Cerseia said in a low voice.

Morgrim glanced at the others, but they seemed just as intrigued by the kobold as he was.

‘What do you want?’ he asked.

‘Our-r lands-s backs,’ the kobold lisped, ‘Marsh-y ours-s!’

‘What did the bullywug want with the stolen treasure?’ Konniana asked harshly.

The kobold put his head to one side then half looked back at his three friends and the doorway. He seemed not have understood the question.

‘Where are you taking the crates to?’ Morgrim re-put the questions.

‘Oh! The s-shin-y s-shin-y-s!’ the kobold squealed, ‘to the castle! To the castle they goes!’

‘Castle?’ Cerseia repeated slowly.

‘Why?’ Morgrim pressed.

‘The dark-s wiz-ard,’ the kobold shivered, ‘he make-s us-s alls. Enslave whole tribe. Take-s our-s marsh-y!’

‘So, you were right,’ Katliana cut in disappointedly and casting her head down, ‘someone else was been behind all of this the whole time.’

‘Can you take us to the castle?’ Morgrim asked the kobold, ignoring her for the moment.

The kobold’s eyes considered the dwarf as the kobold’s head slipped to the side once more. He seemed in thought for a few moments and then asked, ‘you-s goings to kill dark-s wiz-ard? Deads?’

Morgrim nodded, ‘yes, we are going to kill him. If you help us, we will set your tribe free and give you your land back, including the castle.’

‘No castle-s doesn’t wants-s,’ the kobold spit, ‘marsh-y only. Lands-s!’

‘Deal,’ Morgrim called over and he walked over to the kobold with his hand out. He thought he heard the females gasping and Grub ready his warhammer.

The kobold touched his hand with its own scaly clawed fingers and rushed back to jabber with his friends. Morgrim watched them, satisfied that the kobold was relaying the exchange between them. He was aware of Cerseia coming to side, but before she could voice her questions, Morgrim called over to the kobolds, turned around and set off walking down the crudely made log pathway. The chattering kobolds swarmed after him, then passed him and began to lead the way. Morgrim’s companions fell into place behind him, eyeing the kobolds warily and whispering amongst themselves. Morgrim smiled and felt his old friend victory creeping into his head. Soon they would fulfill their quest.

To Be Continued…

The Dead Marshes (Part 2)

Morgrim shuffled forward then stopped, ‘maybe the rogue should check for traps?’ he suggested, with a glance over his shoulder at Konniana.

‘Sure. I might need some more light though.’

Nodding, Morgrim made his shield glow brighter and sent four light balls over the un-light torches on the walls. The divine light hovered above them and the chamber became brightly lit. Konniana moved slowly across the floor casting her eyes everywhere. Cerseia watched for a few moments then moved to the edge of the floor and followed the wall around. Katliana and Grub joined Morgrim, they patiently waited.

‘It seems fine,’ Konniana called after a few moments.

‘They probably don’t have any reason to set up traps,’ Cerseia half-shouted, ‘what with that big creature they have,’ Cerseia had come to stand across from the others and was running her hands over the wall.

Konniana wondered over to her and inspect the wall too. There seemed to be nothing of interest nor anything unusual. It just looked like a big block of stone to her.

‘Dwarves are best for this kind of thing,’ Grub said in a low voice as he nudged Morgrim.

Grinning, they crossed the floor together and helped search for a hidden doorway or lever. Katliana stayed near the opening they had come through, her eyes darting into the darkness and watching for any movements.

‘I know this stone, Grub said after few moments in a whispery voice to himself.

Cerseia and Konniana had moved on to the other walls and Morgrim had been inspecting the floor which was also stone. He looked up as he heard Grubs words and moved over to stand beside him.

‘It shouldn’t be here,’ Grub added.

‘What is it?’ Morgrim asked.

‘It was mined very far and deep from here by dwarf hands who are kin to us.’

‘How did it end up here? Nothing else we’ve seen has been dwarven. What about the rest of this place?’

Grub cast his eyes around before studying a few of the stones next to the very large slab he had found. He shook his head, ‘it’s been carefully made to look like it. They must have got other dwarves to make the rest of stones and build it. This isn’t our work.’

Morgrim touched the slab then some of the other stones surrounding it. His fingers could easily tell the difference between them. Also, his eyes could now see where someone had cleverly made lines in the large slab to disguise it as just another part of the wall.

‘It’s a doorway that,’ Grub excitedly announced, ‘we just need to push it open.’

He put his shoulder against the slab and pressed against it. Morgrim joined him, but they seemed unable to move it together.

‘Everyone come and help,’ Grub called out.

Cerseia, Konniana and Katliana hurried over and pushed against the slab alongside the dwarfs. For a few moments nothing seemed to happen, but then the stone slowly began to give way. A whiff of fresh air squeezed through the newly made crack and that was enough for the adventurers to throw their whole weights against the slab door and push it to the side.

Standing in the openness, they all glanced around and realised at the same instant they were in a dreadful place. The still air was hot and stank of rotting vegetation and meat. In the light coming off Morgrim’s shield they could see stagnate pools of dark green water and tall dry reeds and grass.

‘We are in the Dead Marshes,’ Cerseia whispered, giving voice to what they had all been thinking.

‘What do we do now?’ Grub asked gruffly.

‘Not stay here!’ the dragonborn sisters said in unison.

‘We know they use this tunnel to remove the treasure,’ Morgrim respond, ‘we could ambush them here. They wouldn’t be expecting that and we would have more space to fight.’

‘And risk death by sinking in the mud or water?’ Cerseia shot back.

‘Look at this pathway,’ Grub cut in before anyone could respond to her, ‘Someone’s spent a lot of time and effort making it.’

They looked and saw that a crude pathway made out of large logs, some of which were tied together, stretched out before them. A mile or so head the path seemed to start curving and they could just make out some scrubby bushes. With a shrug, Grub stepped off the stone step and onto a log. It held his weight and more confidently he started walking off.

‘We should close the door,’ Cerseia pointed out.

Morgrim nodded, he stepped briefly into the chamber to call back his light. Then he and the sisters swung the door back to. The slab closed heavily with a shudder and a thud as it neatly slotted back into place. Grub came back over to them and looked at the outline of the door.

‘Good job I’ve got my crowbar or we wouldn’t be getting back through there,’ he uttered.

‘Did you see a safe place we can hide?’ Morgrim asked him.

Grub nodded, ‘there’s a clump ‘o trees on the bend there. That would hide us all.’

‘Good. Let’s make for there then.’

‘I’ll go ahead,’ Cerseia stated and drawing her sword walked off.

The others followed behind her, finding the pathway made the going easy across the marshland. A few minutes later, they stepped off one after the other and hide inside the clump of tall scrawny trees and bushes. Konniana climbed one the trees facing the pathway and nested herself on a thick branch. She felt safer having a full view of the tunnel entrance and the pathway.

‘How long do you think we’ll have to wait?’ Katliana asked softly.

Morgrim looked at the sky and tried to guess the time, but he could hardly make anything out on the other side of the tree branches other than blackness. He turned back to the dragonborn, ‘it can’t be much longer now. It must have taken us a good hour or so to get here. It’s hard to read the sky,’ he trailed off.

Cerseia eyed them and spoke, ‘do you not remember what that bard, the one we meet with the caravan company we were following, Jimmy, said? The Dead Marshes sky stays the same no matter if its day or night. Then he told is that tale about that maiden seeking her lost lover through the marsh and being lead to her watery grave by ghost lights,’ she ended in a shiver that made her shake violently.

Grub snorted, ‘folktales!’

‘Hush, I hear something,’ Konniana called down, ‘but out the light.’

Morgrim quickly put his hand over his shield and willed the light away. They were thrown into total darkness, but then the dwarf and elf eyes adjusted and they saw that Konniana had been right. Coming along the pathway they could hear a number of pattering and heavy footsteps. A few seconds later, a gruff voice yelled out, ‘get along there, you scum!’

Figures took shape in the darkness and the companions held their breaths as they saw about eight Kobolds, whom were small dragon lizard humanoids, matching before a Bullywug, a humanoid frog, with a whip in one hand and in the other a rope lead which was tied to the collar of the troll stomping behind him.

To Be Continued……

The Dead Marshes (Part 1)

Morgrim Redsbeard landed heavily on the well packed and dry earth of the hidden tunnel. The loud clanking of his movements down the ladder echoed then faded. His small dark eyes glanced around and he listened closely.  He heard nothing and saw only the two tall dirt walls on either side of him and the entrance ahead of him. Morgrim was surprised to see that the tunnel was about twenty foot tall and seemed deep enough to continue out of his sight reach.

His free hand tugged gently at his long dark red wiry beard, which his ancestors had been named after and so had become highly recognisable by other mountain dwarf clans, as he began to think. In his other hand, his fingers had loosened slightly on the leather bound grip of his large warhammer, which was resting on his amour plated shoulder. A soft padding and swishing sound from behind drew his attention and he glanced over his shoulder to see one companions coming down the wooden ladder.

Morgrim shuffled to the side and his right foot tapped against something. He looked down and saw at his feet a soft yellow light pulsing along the keen blade of an elf dagger. He picked it up and handed it back to the female half-elf, Cerseia, as she joined him. She quickly took it from him and studied the area.

‘This would explain it,’ Cerseia muttered.

Morgrim eyed her warily and watched her approach the entrance to the tunnel. She stopped short and held out the dagger to cast more light down the passage way. It didn’t reach very far, but the half-elf like the dwarf was able to see further with her eyes then the lit up dagger went. Upon wondering about this, Morgrim called the divine light back to his hand and cast them into darkness for a few moments. However, it didn’t make a difference and they couldn’t see much further down the tunnel then before.

‘What’s happening?’ a loud voice yelled from above.

Morgrim cast the light on his shield, illuminating the tunnel once again as he and Cerseia went to the bottom of the ladder and looked up into the three faces of their other companions, which were two dragonborn sisters, Katliana and Konniana, and a male mountain dwarf, Grubgubber, Grub to his friends, who was possibly a distant cousin of Morgrim’s on his mother’s side.

‘Nothing,’ Morgrim called back, ‘There’s a long tunnel down here.’

‘It must be how they are transporting the treasure,’ Cerseia added.

‘What do you want to do?’ the same voice asked and Morgrim saw that it belong to the female dragonborn paladin, Katliana.

‘We must find out where it leads,’ Cerseia answered, ‘and who is behind all of this.’

‘I really don’t like that idea!’ Grub yelled down, ‘have you ever fought in tunnel before elf? We should stay here and refortify this area for the coming attack.’

The smell of death trailed after his words and reminded Morgrim of the fight that had taken place in the warehouse above them mere minutes ago. He and some of the others had been suspicious of the innkeeper, a foul-mouthed and stinking half-orc, when they had first arrived and asked for rooms for the night. He had turned them away, but Cerseia had charmed him into letting them stay and sharing a single room. As soon as they had settled for the night, they had been disturbed by shouting voices and the sounds of a scuffle.

Morgrim recalled the heated debate amongst them upon hearing the noise. However, it had quickly been decided that someone should go and take a look. Cerseia and Konniana, the dragonborn rogue, had sneaked out and discovered that the innkeeper was having an argument with a group of humans. They as, Konniana had described, seemed to be guarding a dilapidated building far beyond the stables. She had tried to get a closely look and had spotted what seemed to be stacks of crates inside, but then the innkeeper had seen her and she and Cerseia had rushed back to get the others.

From there everything had happened too fast and they had had no choice but to kill the innkeeper and his human guards or else they would have been dead themselves. They had investigated the crates afterwards and found them full of treasures. Thus, confirming some of the information they had received in a letter upon accepting the quest.

‘What else did that note say?’ Morgrim grumbled to himself coming out of the memory.

‘Pardon?’ Cerseia asked in a low voice.

He shook his head and turned his face up towards the trap door, ‘come down. We need to go through the tunnel. It is big enough to fight in,’ he added.

He moved away and stepped towards the entrance was more. Cerseia came to his side and they set off at a normal pass. Behind them they heard first Katliana then Konniana come down the ladder. They landed just as heavily as Morgrim had done. Grub, growling and muttering, followed after them, having first shut the trapdoor. They quickly fell into line behind the others and made their way through the tunnel.

‘I still say we’d have been better staying up top,’ Grub spoke out a few moments later.

‘Perhaps, but we could have been waiting a long time,’ Morgrim responded.

Cerseia nodded, ‘it is still a good few hours before the hour of the wolf. That’s what the letter said, remember? Stay in your room at the hour of the wolf. They must remove the treasure and take it along here at that time so nobody will hear them. Look!’ she stopped and pointed to some footprints on the ground.

The group came to a halt and all eyes went to the floor. The footprints were not human as they looked too small and animal like. Beside them were some bigger and deeper footprints. Also, there were lines were the crates had dragged along.

‘What do you make of these? Morgrim asked Konniana and he shone the light from his shield further on the floor and followed the footprints along.

She shrugged her blue scaly shoulders, ‘They have a big creature doing most of the work? But, there’s no wheel tracks, so they must carry everything.’

‘At least we now know what’s been happening to all the treasure that’s being stolen from the nearby villages and towns,’ Cerseia cut in.

‘But where is it ending up and who is actually behind it,’ Morgrim added on.

‘Surely, the innkeeper’s be doing it!’ Katliana cried out, ‘And he’s had some goblins or something moving the treasure to a safer location so that he wouldn’t have been found out.’

‘I don’t know, this plan seems too good for a half-orc,’ Morgrim explained, ‘maybe he’s been working under someone else?’

‘Let’s go on and find out. This tunnel has to lead somewhere,’ Cerseia chimed in.

They started walking again with Morgrim leading the way. Cerseia was close behind him, the dragonborns stayed in the middle and Grub, still muttering to himself, was rear guard. The tunnel stretched tall and wide, like the throat of some chaotic beast, though it seemed to be a long way down to its stomach. They walked for a good amount of time without saying anything, the only sounds coming from their foot falls, rustling of clothes, clanking of amour and weapons. Each had fallen deep into their own thoughts and even Grub had stopped talking to himself.

From out of nowhere, Grub called out, ‘My donkey! I’ve left him behind!’

‘It doesn’t matter, you can get him later,’ Cerseia hissed back.

Morgrim slowed his steps, but didn’t stop, ‘she’s right. We all have to go back to get our things. Don’t worry about it for now.’

‘Is this tunnel ever going to end? Katliana questioned.

‘I have no idea,’ came Morgrim’s weighted reply.

Konniana sniffed the air, ‘I can’t tell.’

Morgrim picked up his pace again, though this time he hurried a little bit more. His shield still lit up the way, as if guiding them onwards. He became aware of Cerseia matching his strides and sticking close to his side. If pride hadn’t have got to him, Morgrim would have asked the half-elf to go ahead of him. She was much quieter and stealthier then he could ever be- full amour or not- and if there was anything coming towards them inside the tunnel or waiting at the exit, then she could warn them.

He opened his mouth to perhaps suggest something along the lines of this to Cerseia, but quickly closed it again as he saw what was up ahead. He and Cerseia entered the massive circler room together. Four iron brackets with un-light torches were spaced out along the now stone walls and there seemed to be no way out.

To Be Continued……