Having healed Layleth’s wererat wounds (much to Mangre’s disappointment), Mangre, Gino, Kuri, Layleth and Quinn left the temple behind and resumed the hunt for the Slaying Stone.
“There’s only one place left to check, " Layleth said. “The mansion.”
“Aye, and we can finally be leavin’ the wererats and gods forsaken goblins behind,” Mangre agreed. “I find meself in need of a strong ale and a good smoke.”
Digging in his pack, Gino produced a large water skin. Holding it out of Mangre’s reach, Gino laughed, “You can have this ale when we finish the job, my little friend,” showing the skin to Mangre and replacing it in his pack.
Mangre jumped for the ale and missed.
“That just ain’t right ye overgrown tattoo!”
Quinn giggled, and Sir Brandt appeared.
“I suggest we move on, friends of Quinn, as I too need to rest soon.”
Refocused on the task at hand, the party headed toward the mansion.
As the five living members of the group made their way stealthily across the road and towards the manner, they could see that it was in a state of disrepair. The building was probably once the pride of Kiris Dahn, but after years of occupation by the goblins and kobolds, walls had crumbled and vines had overgrown the area. The mansion that was once most likely clean stone, was now a crumbling mess of dark stains, creepers, and broken windows. Patrolling the perimeter, the party could see that there would be no easy way to sneak in. Obviously this building was now home to whomever was currently in charge. The goblins patrolling the building were not typical, easily distracted fools, as the party could tell by their walk and mannerisms. Looking warily at the building, Gino spoke first.
“They are guarding something.” Peering into the gloom, he continued, “I would bet my next arena winnings that whatever they are guarding knows where the Slaying Stone is, if they don’t already have it themselves. We should be cautious.”
Layleth agreed, “if the current resident does have the Slaying Stone, I suggest we distract it so that it cannot bring its focus on one of us. We heard what Treona said, ‘Instant Death with but a single thought,’ that is not something I was to have to deal with.”
“Something about fighting that way gives me the creeps,” Mangre shuddered. “It’s not the way the gods intended us to fight.”
Kuri flashed some pictures of the patrols to the group, showing movement and location of most of the guards.
Layleth sighed, “well, here goes nothing,” and advanced towards the mansion.
Just as she was about to break through the foliage and underbrush, Mangre grabbed her arm. “Don’t…” the dwarf said uncharacteristically. Something big was about to happen, and the dwarf, using his years of combat experience could feel it in the air. “Let me go.” He said.
Layleth looked hard at the dwarf. She, too, could tell something was amiss. This was no simple goblin patrol. “Fine, but we will be right behind you,” she whispered.
As Mangre broke the threshold and approached the perimeter, goblins stopped and watched the lone dwarf approach. Hooting with laughter, the stood their ground and waited, thinking it was just Mangre coming towards them, and ready for the easy kill. About ten paces behind Mangre, however, the rest of the party came through the trees, Gino hustling to catch up to Mangre, Layleth taking up a position to the left-rear of the two melee-trained fighters, and Kuri and Quinn bringing up the rear.
Seeing the rest of the party emerge, the goblins began hooting and screaming wildly.
“You didn’t think I would let you lead the assault from the front alone, did you?” Gino asked mildly.
Mangre snorted, “I was wondering when you would grow a pair and join me up here.”
Unsheathing their weapons, Mangre and Gino stood at the ready, knowing that Layleth had already nocked an arrow, Kuri was already glowing with powerful energies, and that Sir Brandt had most likely already begun to materialize next to the small child, too young to fully understand the danger, but ready nonetheless with his broken sword at the ready.
Time seemed to stop and a rumbling came from within the mansion. Goblins scattered away from the middle of three holes in the side of the building, and a horrible voice, rife with hate and loathing issued from the hole.
“We’ve been waiting for you, adventurers!”
Suddenly a large red drake burst forth from the breach, snorting and roaring. On its back sat a large hobgoblin wielding a Javelin in one hand, and a mace in the other. Directed by the hobgoblin, the rage drake skidded to a stop as a javelin pointed at the party.
“Get them you worthless sacks of kobold crap!”
As the hobgoblin drew back his arm, an arrow screamed past him. Grinning, the hobgoblin extended the tip of his javelin and one of the patrolling goblins broke off and charged at Layleth.
“You will regret that, disgusting elf,” the hobgoblin spat through broken teeth.
The goblin charged Layleth, and as it reached her, another goblin shot off an arrow at Gino. As the arrow thunked into the handle of barbarian’s weapon, the first goblin swung at Layleth. Leaping backwards, the elf was almost too slow, and the sword neatly sliced a horizontal gash in her tunic. Mangre turned and shouted, “these goblins are not as disorganized as the others! Take them out quickly!”
The dwarf turned back just in time to see a goblin face in the shadows of the hole to the right disappear. As fast as his mind could register the face, however, a javelin streaked in and struck him in the chest. Only the angle of the fighter’s body prevented it from penetrating, and instead of causing a serious wound, it merely took his breath for a moment.
Gino, seeing the cause of the arrow in the haft of his great axe, rushed towards the lone goblin standing by the hole to the left of the main hole. Sliding his hands up the grip, however, the arrow lodged there stopped the Goliath from getting a good grip on the weapon, and caused him to stop short. Dislodging the arrow from his weapon, the barbarian looked up in time to see another goblin emerge from the hole.
As the air around Kuri crackled with energy, Sir Brandt charged into the fray. It had occurred to Quinn to ask the Shardmind what it was doing, but for the moment, it seemed that it was completely absorbed in creating a shield of raw energy. Taking a cue from Kuri, Quinn stepped a few paces back and gripped his broken sword tightly, intent on defending himself against anything that may come his way.
Seeing his newfound friends and brothers- and sister- in arms so quickly on the defensive, Mangre charged the hobgoblin, intent on breaking the enemy line. As he reached the hobgoblin and swung with his craghammer, the hobgoblin, expecting the charge, shifted in his saddle, and shunted the blow aside with the rage drake’s body. Drawing a huge gash with his weapon had an effect on the rage drake, and the beast roared and swiped at Mangre. Ducking quickly out of the way, Mangre realized the ploy too late.
As he straightened up from his dodge, Mangre could see that the swipe was a feint, and the drake had used the dwarf’s momentary loss of position to shift itself into position to snap at him. Mangre’s eyes widened, but it was too late. At the last second, a searing circle of light appeared around the hobgoblin and the drake, causing just enough of a distraction that the drake did not do as much damage to Mangre as it was trying to. The attack was still devastating, however; a snap and a gush of blood later, and Mangre was holding his entrails in with one hand, while vainly trying to keep the maw of the great beast at bay with his shield in the other.
Not the least bit too soon, Sir Brandt appeared next to the dwarf and immediately began to send his power into the fighter, healing the wound and knitting the flesh back together. As the last of the wound closed in a matter of seconds, Sir Brandt appeared to flicker, as though it were hard for him to maintain his form on the current plane. Then Sir Brandt did something he hadn’t done in years…he grunted in pain.
Looking down, Sir Brandt could see the shaft of a javelin, stabbed into him by the hobgoblin, and cried out. Mirroring the cry of a mortal wound, Quinn clutched his head and fell to the ground as Sir Brandt winked out of existence.
Layleth, who saw the whole thing happen, drew her Falchion and swung at the nearest goblin, cleanly decapitating it. Seeing an open path to a more advantageous position, the elf sheathed her weapon on the fly, and nocked another arrow. Furious at the pain the hobgoblin had caused to Quinn, both emotionally and physically, she let fly arrow after arrow, covering more and more ground as she dashed left and right, stopping only to line up her shot and let fly.
Seeing that Quinn was a soft spot in the party, the goblin in the hole to the right decided to take advantage of this obvious weakness and threw a javelin at the boy. Fortunately, Kuri took that moment to step to its right, and instead of hitting Quinn dead-on, the javelin was slung around Kuri’s shield and only lodged itself in the child’s shoulder. Still, it was a terrible hit for someone of Quinn’s stature, and the impact swung him around.
As Quinn cried out, Sir Brandt suddenly appeared at his side, and gingerly tended to the fallen child. Using his power to heal Quinn, Sir Brandt turned and looking the Hobgoblin directly in the eye, shouted words in an ancient language with such vehemence, that even the Hobgoblin was taken aback for a moment.
“Hu-Jat, Ja volja isrgnuti tvoj srce!” The apparition screamed, and specks of ghostly spittle flew from its mouth, never touching the ground.
Taking advantage of the distraction caused by the furious Sir Brandt, Gino quickly destroyed the goblins he was facing with two quick swings of his great axe. Looking around for more enemies quickly showed that the hobgoblin, who was torn between striking down at Mangre and defending against the sure-to-come assault by the ghostly knight, was easily the most important target on the battlefield. As Gino charged the hobgoblin, the goblin hiding in the hole to the right, charged in as well, committed to saving his commander. Seeing the goblin rush to intercept, Gino stopped his charge short and swung at the goblin.
Dodging, the goblin drew back and struck at Gino with its sword, tearing a gash in his leg. Almost instantaneously, Sir Brandt was there, and quickly healed the wound. As Mangre took a vicious blow from the hobgoblin’s mace, Sir Brandt healed Mangre as well. As the battle raged on, Sir Brandt seemed to be everywhere at once. Healing those in need, and sending bolts of energy at the hobgoblin and his minions before teleporting to heal another member of the party. The group had never seen anything like it, and the ghost’s apparent fury gave the group the will to fight even harder.
Layleth continued to fire arrows into the fray, every shot finding its mark. Gino slashed furiously at the goblins unlucky enough to get in his way. Kuri fired blast after blast of energy at the rage drake, intent on bringing the hobgoblin down to where the party could engage it safely as Mangre swung with wild hacking blows at the drake as well.
Finally, as the rage drake turned to bite at Gino, distracted by the goblin he was currently fighting, Mangre saw his opening. As the drake opened its mouth to bite the barbarian, Mangre hooked his craghammer into the open mouth like a fish hook and yanked. Turning the drake to face him, the dwarf pushed the head of the hammer across the hinge of the drake’s jaw and dropped to the floor. Confused, the drake stopped fighting and turned to spit the weapon out, not knowing that Mangre now had a firm grip on both haft and the head of the weapon. Using his innate connection with the earth, the dwarf planted his feet and twisted the hammer as if he were cranking the wheel of a vault door.
With a loud crack, the rage drake shuddered and fell.
As the drake fell, the hobgoblin screamed, “Yorthung! You disgusting, vile creatures! You will pay for the death of my steed! My friend! My Yorthung!”
Leaping from the back of the beast as it fell, the hobgoblin turn and swung at Mangre, knocking him to the ground. Rearing back for the killing blow, suddenly a keening wail pierced the air.
Looking around, Layleth spotted it first and gasped, “Sir Brandt!”
Turning toward the hobgoblin, Quinn began to echo the wail. The sound of the ghost and the child created a counter pitch that was painful to everyone in the area. As the wail increased in intensity, the whole party, and even the hobgoblin, covered its ears. Wind began to whip about wildly and dark shapes started to materialize from under the trees at the edge of the clearing. As the shapes took on form, they could see that it was several ghostly figures, similar in size and appearance to Sir Brandt. The ghosts began to glide towards the hobgoblin and one by one echoed the keening wail. As they reached the hobgoblin, they circled around the creature, now on his knees and weaponless, and spun in tighter and tighter circles. Just as suddenly, the wailing stopped, and the hobgoblin was gone. Sir Brandt, now just a fading translucent image, walked up to where the hobgoblin once stood and spat, “Ja sam rekao te Ja iščupati tvoj srce, Hu-Jat” and winked out of sight.
As the party searched through the mansion for the Stone in the aftermath of the battle, Layleth’s voice rang out.
“Over here! I found another one!”
As Gino, Kuri (who at this point had to carry Quinn), and Mangre ran towards the sound of her voice, they could see that the ranger had captured a lone goblin. Most likely one that had hidden at the first sign of battle.
As the party approached, Layleth was in the process of questioning the captive.
“You have no master now, goblin,” Layleth was explaining, “tell us where the Slaying Stone is, give us your weapons, and we will let you go.”
The party could see that she was getting nowhere fast in the negotiation process. Pushing Layleth aside, Gino grabbed the goblin and shook him so hard that the rest of the party could hear his teeth rattle.
“Damn goblins! I should tear your head off and get a cleric to find the answers from your skull!”
“That’s not how ye do it,” Mangre said quietly to Gino, putting a hand on his back. “Let me show you how to get the answers we need.”
Putting the goblin down, Gino walked several steps away from the party to catch his temper.
Seeing the barbarian walk away, the goblin immediately got bolder.
“I tells you nothings!” The goblin insisted. “I tells you nothings about the Slaying Stone-,”
Realizing that perhaps he had given something important away, the goblin’s eyes got wide and he immediately shut his mouth and crossed his arms.
“Ye’ll tell us, ye good for trashmonger,” Mangre said, his intensity growing by the second. “My friends and I have been nearly drowned by a river, had garbage tossed at us, been practically eaten by an Ankheg, fought oozes and slimes, killed a wererat, killed yer cheap excuse for a commander, and WE’LL KILL YE IF YE DO NOT TELL US WHERE THE GODS-FORSAKEN SLAYING STONE IS RIGHT THIS MINUTE!”
Grabbing the goblin by the single tusk jutting from its lower jaw, Mangre pushed the goblin’s head back into the wall behind it with a hollow thunk. The goblin’s eyes glazed over and when they cleared, it seemed that telling these adventurers what they wanted to know seemed like the right decision.
“Okays, okays, I tells yous whats you wanna knows!” The goblin said placatingly. “Just please no mores with the bangy head!”
Mangre looked over at Layleth and grinned. “Yer witness, elf.”
Layleth stepped forward again and leaned in close to the goblin.
“I understand that you are afraid of my dwarven friend here, but you should know that what I will do to you if I find out you are lying will be a hundred times worse.”
The goblin nodded.
“Good, now tell us where the Slaying Stone is, and who has control of it.”
Shaking the goblin thought for a second, its eyes crossing in concentration.
“Not knows where the Stone is. Know it exists, oh yes, but not wheres.” Mangre stepped into view again and the goblin nearly fell over itself trying to explain.
“The bath houses, yes? There is a big dragon in the bath houses. Ha ha, smelly dragon think that living in bath houses make it smell pretty, but Kerthunk think it just make the dragon hot and smelly. Kerthunk know about dragon because he hear Hu-Jat, commander, talk much about hims. Say he going to get rid of dragon, but Kerthunk think Hu-Jat not know how big dragon is, yes? Dragon very very big. Big enough to eat Hu-Jat, maybe big enough to eat you, yes? Hee hee, Kerthunk think he like to watch big scary dragon eat you, but Kerthunk too scared to go into dragon cave under bath houses. Think if anybody know where Stone is, dragon know. That all Kerthunk know, can he go now? Will run very very fast and far, will not bother elf-lady or dwarf or giant or boy, or…rock? Yes rock. won’t bother rock neither!”
Nodding, Gino took the weapons and armor from the goblin and broke most of them across his huge knee. Tearing the leather in half, he looked at the goblin menacingly. Finally with a squeal, the goblin, past the point of terror, fled into the darkness.
Dropping the two halves of the leather armor, Gino looked at Layleth and Kuri.
“A dragon, eh? Well if the scales we found at the library are any indication, I would guess that this dragon is of the Brass variety. Not to be trusted, but not inherently evil, either.”
Putting Quinn down on unsteady feet, Kuri flashed a few pictures to group. The goblin they just freed, and the images in the goblin’s mind confirmed that yes, it was a Brass dragon, and that the kobolds seen around the town may have actually been working for it, though it was hard to tell considering the mind Kuri was digging through. The shardmind also sent out images of the scrolls given by Treona to find the Slaying Stone. Layleth walked some distance off and used the scroll to no effect.
“It appears that the goblin is correct,” she said, returning back to the group as she dropped the spent scroll on the ground. “The stone is not here, but I did find the books we were looking for.” Layleth produced three books she had found during her search for the Slaying Stone.
Putting them back into her pack, she shrugged at looked at the rest of the party.
“Well we already beat most of the town, should we go try for a dragon?”
Quinn walked up to Layleth and stood shakily by her.
“Yes. Let’s just get this over with.” Gaining control of his body a little more with each word, he looked at each member of the party in turn.
“Sir Brandt is still alive…though I guess that’s not the best way to put it.” Quinn cocked his head to the side. “He wants us to be careful and told me that Brass Dragons are basically mercenaries. You should be cautious, but you may be able to strike a deal with it if you are careful. Also, he will be back when he is needed, but right now he needs to rest.”
As the party made their way to the bath houses, not a single one knew what to expect.
Arriving at the bath houses, the party could easily see the hole in which something large had burrowed and made a den. The entrance started next to a pool of steaming water, most likely a natural spring, and burrowed down at an angle, disappearing into the darkness. As the party stood outside that hole, every single one of them realized that going down into that hole could potentially be the last thing they ever do.
“Well, here goes nothing,” Mangre muttered. The dwarf took a deep breath and grinned. Looking at the party, Mangre winked and said, “well, ye only live once, aye?” And to the party’s utter horror, turned back to the hole and screamed at the top of his lungs.
“Oi! Dragon! You in there? We’d like to talk to ye if ye have a moment!”
Spluttering, Gino nearly fell over when a deep rumbling voice issued from the mouth of the dragon’s den.
“Enter, but please be respectful. You have already woken me by your rude shouting, and I suddenly find myself a bit peckish.”
Turning toward the party again and winking, Mangre began the decent first, followed by Layleth, Kuri, Quinn, and finally Gino, just getting over his initial shock.
As the party wound its way downwards, the air began to get hotter, and somehow drier. Reaching a level spot, the party turned a corner to stand in a small, unnatural cavern. There in the center of the cavern, curious devoid of any stalagmites or stalactites, sat a large Brass Dragon, looking entirely annoyed at the intrusion.
Mange, still high from his successful attempt at communication walked right up to the dragon and bowed.
Quinn, never having seen a dragon before, gasped at Mangre’s brazen attitude toward something that could easily kill the entire group without batting an eye.
“Hiya, dragon, me name’s Mangre,” the dwarf introduced himself and pointed to his companions in turn. “This here is Layleth, Gino, Quinn and Kuri.”
The dragon yawned and looked lazily from one to the other. Finally, the dragon laid down in a huff again and rolled its head to look at Mangre.
“It this why you have come here? To make introductions? I was in the middle of a wonderful dream about eating a dwarf, a goliath, an elf and a small human, and then picking my teeth with a few pinkish rocks, so do hurry up and tell me what you want so I can get back to it.”
Swallowing hard, Mangre took a deep breath.
“Me friends and I’re lookin’ for the Slaying Stone,” he said, “we heard a few rumors that you might have it, and we’d like to take it off your hands.”
The dragon rolled its eye again, taking in the whole party.
“I do indeed have the Stone of which you speak (quite annoyingly I might add!), though I have little use for it, I do not feel as though it is something I wish to give up so freely. What might be your plan once you have the stone, were I magnanimous enough to give it to you?”
Layleth stepped forward and stood by Mangre.
“We would destroy it, or, at the very least, bring the stone out of Kiris Dahn, where it would no longer work.”
“Indeed?” The dragon asked in its rumbling voice, “I would think that you had other uses for the stone, elf.”
“Well-” Layleth began, but she was interrupted by Kuri.
The dragon cocked its head to the side as thought listening to something and then blinked.
“I can see that you are indeed honorable individuals, thanks to your shardmind friend. I only wish all conversations happened so quickly, as I have neither the time nor the inclination to bandy about with words anymore. You may have the stone, on the condition that you leave right away, and do not tell anyone I am here. Should I find out differently, or if an adventurer comes to my lair and I find out that they were sent because of your carelessness, I will find you.”
The dragon turned lazily and scooped out a massive handful of dirt from under its body. Dumping the dirt to the side, it reached into the hole and pulled out a glassy piece of obsidian-looking rock. Red runes encircled the stone, and at it moved toward the party, they could see that it held some sort of internal light.
Dropping the stone to the floor, it rolled slightly and stopped at Gino’s feet. Quickly scooping up the stone and placing it in his backpack, Gino turned and ran for the exit. Turning and following in his footsteps, the party heard the dragon call after them, “Remember our bargain, creatures! Tell no one, or there will be a steep price!”
As the party cleared the lip of the dragon-made hole, only the sound of snoring was audible.
Stone in hand, Mangre, Quinn, Kuri, Gino and Layleth fled the city. Traveling the paths between the goblin patrols, and crossing the river again, the party began to think they were home-free. Passing through an abandoned village on the outskirts of Kiris Dahn, however, the sound of metal on stone gave the party pause. Searching the area brought nothing to light, but the hairs on the back of their necks told them otherwise. Just as Gino was about to suggest a full-fledged flight back to Pitax, several orcs burst through the trees. One of the orcs had a scar over its right eye, and as it broke through the brush with its comrades, it pointed at Gino and screamed, “Hand over the stone, Goliath, or we will take it from you by force!”
Taken by surprise, the party scrambled to get into position. Already exhausted and without a break from their last fight and subsequent, nerve-wracking conversation with the Brass Dragon, the each member of the group thought only of him or herself for a split second. Kuri exploded into motion, dispersing into hundreds of pink shards, and swarmed away. Layleth broke from the group and took off running. Quinn fell down and covered his heads with his hands. Mangre stood in place, stupidly staring at the lead orc, and Gino grasped the Slaying Stone even tighter.
A glow began to form around the lead orc, and from behind Mangre, the dwarf heard him say, “Oops.”
Seeing Gino use the Slaying Stone, and knowing that its own time was limited, the lead orc ordered the charge.
Mangre, who was brought back to the present by the terrified orc, turns and focused on what appeared to be a spell caster. Suddenly the dwarf was unable to move and a piercing pain exploded in his head.
“It’s a psychic!” Mangre had time to cry out before a javelin plunged into his chest. Unable to move for the pain, there was no way to deflect the blow this time. As Mangre fell into unconsciousness, his last thought before passing out was of how odd it was to see an orc using its mind to attack, as that was invariably the weakest feature of the race.
Layleth, getting her bearing again, saw Mangre fall and immediately rushed to his aid. Swinging her Falchion wildly, she managed to wound two of the orcs advancing on the dwarf’s fallen body.
As the orc leader began to pulse with energy from the Slaying Stone, marking his imminent demise, he charged up to Gino and struck the barbarian a resounding blow with his battle axe.
The orc, however, knew that it was too late for vengeance and with a final scream, melted into a puddle of greenish-black goo.
Seeing the power of the Slaying Stone first hand, but knowing that it was only useable once, the remaining orcs took the offensive.
Seeing Layleth alone on one side of the battlefield, a shaman-esque orc rushed the elf and with a swing from his scimitar, sent lighting from the tip of his weapon into his prey. Jolted, Layleth dropped her scimitar, but her training at the hands of the elves of her homeland served her well. She had learned from her past to roll with the magical punches, and instead of fighting back against the electricity, she allowed it to snap her legs rigid. Using the muscle contractions, she continued her momentum from the lighting strike and leapt backwards, rolling out of range. As she landed, she nocked and arrow to the bow suddenly in her hands, and sent it right into the orc shaman’s eye, killing it mid-spell. Her quarry defeated, Layleth looked around the battlefield and remembered Mangre’s plight. As she started to rush through the fray, she noticed that Quinn had recovered and was talking to someone. Rounding a rock, she stopped short; Sir Brandt was back! Apparently the fight with the hobgoblin had weakened him, but not destroyed him. As she looked on, Layleth saw Sir Brandt hovering over Mangre, and the dwarf was climbing slowly to his feet. Knowing that at least one problem was solved, the elf looked around for another comrade to assist.
On the other side of the battle, Gino was having a hard time catching his breath. Every swing of his battle axe became harder and harder to recover from. The orc he was fighting should not have been such a tough enemy, but for some reason, and he didn’t know how he knew this, the use of the Slaying Stone had taken a toll on the Goliath, physically and mentally. Suddenly there was a “pop!” and the ghostly visage of a wolf appeared next to the orc and leapt for the barbarian, bowling him over and disappearing. Seeing he was about to die, something in the barbarian snapped. As he lay on his back, he swung his battle axe across and low on the orc, right above his knees. The axe cleaved through the orc’s legs, toppling it, just as an arrow neatly sheared off the topknot. screaming in pain, but fading fast, the orc flopped about on the ground leaving bloody trails wherever it rolled. The barbarian felt a pull and suddenly he was on his feet as Layleth rushed by him, grabbed his axe and pulled him up behind her. Following her charge, the pair rounded the corner of a town building just in time to see Kuri, who had regained its form, blast a ray of energy through two orcs, and Sir Brandt brought the last one down.
The whole fight had taken no more than five minutes, but the surprised and the viciousness of the orcs had left no time for conversation.
Without a word, the 5 living members of The Last Option Adventuring Company looked at each other and broke into a full sprint back towards Pitax.