Stellar Redemption

The South Bridge Tower

…the butter churn needs mending…

…does it look like rain? Better take down our linens…

YOU CALL THAT A DEFENSIVE STANCE?! STRAIGHTEN UP OR NO LUNCH!

…fresh apples! Just picked!

…I told her: court fashions change. She’s stuck in the past, I tell you…

WATCH YOUR STANCE, DAMMIT!

…soon they’ll see, but it will be too LATE! Hahaha…

Quinn lifted his head from the table and the voices quieted. He could still hear the dull buzz of the spirits’ conversations, overlapping and disjointed. Layleth was looking at him, her usual look of maternal worry on that she didn’t know she was making.
“I’m fine,” he said, trying to sound reassuring. He realized his fingers ached and relaxed his grip on the rusted sword hilt that lay upon the table.
Young Sire? The Elven Woods-Maiden asked if you’re ready to go after Dreus.
“Oh. Yes, I’m ready.”

“Good news everyone!” Allec hobbled in, liver-spotted and smelling like that funny old-people smell. “I’ve found a replacement for that ungrateful pile of rocks! Meet Dusty!”
“Ash” the man with him corrected.
“That’s what I said, dammit!”

…Man-Beast…

…Skin-Changer!

…Witch o’ the Wode…

Ignoring the voices, Quinn looked closer at Ash. He looked human, and stood straight, but something in his features seemed…off. Feral. He wore traveler’s leathers and carried a tall spear. How could he replace Kuri?

“Hmph!” grumbled Mangre. “Can ye handle yerself in a fight, boy?” Belts and straps creaked as he crossed his arms over his chain-mailed barrel chest.

…Drunken lout!


Ash looked over, confusion flitting across his features. “I-I think so?”

…He doesn’t remember?


…the Fey steal peoples’ memories. Dreams too, I hear.

Mangre barked a laugh. “Well, if’n that ain’t a funny answer to a simple question! You sure about this guy, old man?”
Allec scowled, shaking his finger reproachfully and scolding the empty chair to Mangre’s right. “I’m always sure about these things! He’ll do just fine! Now get out there and earn this company enough to pay back your bar tab.”

Quinn looked around at those gathered. “Where’s Gino?”
Mangre patted him on the back (always a little too hard) “Don’ worry lad. He’s off makin’ a fool of hisself in the arena. We ain’t waitin’ up.”

“That reminds me,” Allec interjected. “I need you all to stop by the North Bridge tower on your way. Calbrun Broadwell there gave me all the details on an important mission for you!”
“Is that so?” Layleth perked up. “What is it?”
Allec scratched his bald head. “Can’t imagine what. Oh well. Off you go!”


Two hours had passed on the road. The day was almost painfully bright. The four figures found themselves before a white stone gatehouse that guarded the northern end of the Stonebridge. A mile down the length of the bridge (at the far end of the great Silver River) stood the South Bridge tower, identical twin to the one before them.

Seeing their Guild pass (which Mangre would never again forget to bring), the guards let them in. Calbrun, captain of the guards of the tower, greeted them. He was an older man, still strong in body but with a face creased with worry lines. Once inside, he outlined his problem: the South Bridge tower had fallen to goblins. The party’s job was a simple one: clear out the infestation and report back. Quinn’s stomach turned with fright and his grip tightened painfully on the dull edge of the broken sword. His lip quivered as he held back tears. Goblins??

…it was goblins what stole my cousin’s baby right from the crib!

…little green curs, I’d slaughter the lot of ’em.

…bastards killed my uncle! Left him to die in the road, naked with a knife in his gut.

The voices fled as Layleth lay a comforting hand on Quinn’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Quinn. We won’t let anything bad happen to you. Or any of us, for that matter.”
Off to the side, Mangre harrumphed. “As if goblins could even touch us. We defeated a brass dragon, for crap’s sake!”
He sniffled. “Promise?”
She smiled down at him. “I promise.”


Layleth

The great Stonebridge was deserted. The guards barred any traffic from the north, and goblins prevented any from the south. This, combined with the low sides of the bridge, meant that the party had little chance of approaching undetected. Upon closer inspection it became evident that the South Bridge Tower was no longer an identical twin to its northern brother. The battlements at the peak had partially collapsed, leaving the top floor exposed to the elements on one side. Crude graffiti and littered stones marred the lower level. As they approached, two lookouts standing guard at the entrance ran inside to warn the others.

The four adventurers wasted no time charging in. Mangre dropped his shoulder and burst inside. The ill-kept hinges screamed in protest as the door impacted the wall. Nine pairs of yellow eyes turned to him.

Eight goblins dressed in various rags and scavenged pieces of armor stood around the room at the ready, and a much larger hobgoblin in well-kept scale armor with flail and shield waited at the far end of the room. As Ash and Layleth moved into the room and at dawned on Mangre that he was surrounded, the hobgoblin shouted “Kill them all!”

Half a dozen goblins set upon Mangre with wicked short swords and crude stabbing knives. Layleth spun through the room, dancing past a goblin and decapitating it with a smooth slice of her huge falchion. Ash fell to all fours and shimmered, form melting into a great cat as he pounced. He pulled down a nearby goblin and savaged it with fangs and claws.

The hobgoblin who led the goblins charged into Mangre with a howl. His black iron flail crashed into Mangre’s chest with a hollow thud that knocked the wind out of the dwarf and would have killed a lesser man. As Mangre doubled over in pain, the hobgoblin’s armored knee came up and met his face with a crunch.

The rest of the goblins set upon the party. One hopped astride Ash’s feline back and tried to bury an icepick between his shoulder blades as he snarled and snapped at it. Another sliced at Layleth, opening a gash in her forearm.

Quinn stood in the tower doorway and watched the carnage unfold. He was frozen in a panic, unsure of how to help, when Sir Brandt materialized. “What ho! To battle!” cried the knightly apparition as he blurred through the battlefield, cleaving the skull of a goblin with his broadsword. As Sir Brandt’s form passed through Mangre and Layleth, their wounds closed. Layleth’s bloody arm was restored. Mangre’s cracked ribs and bloody nose mended themselves with quiet pops.

Mangre stood up straight as the spirit’s magic revitalized him. He drove his hammer into the hobgoblin’s stomach and smiled a bloody grin at the goblins around him. As the hobgoblin doubled over, the curved steel blade of Layleth’s falchion passed through the space where its head was a moment before. Layleth didn’t curse her bad timing, but rode with the momentum of her swing, transferring the great weapon to one hand and drawing the silver dagger with her other. As she completed her revolution, the silver dagger buried itself low in the hobgoblin’s side, punching through the scales and drawing blood.

The shapeshifter Ash, tired of being a goblin’s unwilling mount, melted back to human form and drove it back with a sweep of his spear. He clenched his hand and opened it to reveal a small wisp of flame. He hurled it at the two goblins at the base of the stairs. It exploded with a whump into a ball of fire that incinerated them and set the area alight.

Angered and bloody from the twin assault, the hobgoblin lashed out with the flail and spun. The iron head clipped Layleth’s shoulder and the hobgoblin’s heavy shield absorbed Mangre’s retaliatory strike. Layleth spun with the force of the impact, which allowed her to notice the goblin creeping up behind her to finish her off with a filth-encrusted butcher’s knife. She sidestepped its clumsy slash.

Sir Brandt appeared next to the hobgoblin and lashed out with his sword. The hobgoblin blocked the attack, but his flail was fouled against the ghostly blade, leaving him open to attacks by Mangre and Layleth. Layleth’s attack went wide but Mangre’s hammer hit home, striking square in the middle of the hobgoblin’s shield. The shield, as well as the bones in the arm holding it, shattered under the impact with a loud crack. As the hobgoblin cried out in pain, Mangre’s own shield swept up into the throat of another goblin and crushed its windpipe.

Suddenly the maimed hobgoblin disengaged from the three assailants, avoiding their attacks. He struck an alarm gong sitting in the back corner and the room reverberated with the deep brassy note. He turned and swung his flail at Layleth as she danced up behind him, but his aim was off. The flail’s iron spikes buried themselves in the top of a nearby table and stuck, trapping the weapon.

Ash threw another wisp of candle-flame at the remaining goblin, but it had seen what happened to the others, and it dove under a chair to shield it from the fiery blast. Ash cursed and took aim.

Layleth took two quick swipes at the hobgoblin but he interposed the taut-stretched chain of his flail each time, striking sparks off the curved blade. With masterful footwork (and despite his injuries) the hobgoblin blocked and evaded the attacks of Layleth and Sir Brandt. Mangre ended the hobgoblin’s footwork by diving for his legs and punching the back spike of his hammer through the top of an armored foot. The hobgoblin howled in agony and rage. He abandoned the pinned flail, opting instead to smash the armored elbow of his good arm onto the back of Mangre’s unguarded head. They met with a a hollow thock and Mangre fell to the ground dazed. The hobgoblin pulled the dwarf’s spiked hammer out of his foot, grunting with the pain, and raised it to smash in Mangre’s face. Before he could complete his murderous swing there was a gust of wind and a whisper of steel. The hobgoblin’s head neatly parted from his shoulders. It landed on the table with a crash as Layleth sheathed her falchion.

Ash’s next fireball blew over the chair and carried the goblin beneath it into a wall, knocking it out cold.

Mangre stood back up, wobbling and unsteady. As he shook his head and tried to get his eyes to uncross, the dwarf remarked “Well! That weren’t so bad, ey?”


M dwarf5

The group wasted no time in looting weapons and gear from the bodies. They decided to bind the unconscious goblin to a chair and made plans to interrogate it on their way out. Mangre, of course, was the one to discover that a cauldron sitting over a fire in the corner was being used by the goblins to mull wine. The drink was obviously of the poorest quality. Still, Mangre was not a picky dwarf; he filled a wineskin as a souvenir.

Layleth was the first to scout up the stairs and assess their next battle. The second floor, much like the first, was a single large room. In the opposite corner to the northwest stood a spiral staircase leading up. Along the wall beside it was a great wooden scaffolding ten feet high. In the northeast corner were several piles of bones and refuse, and a low wall covered in a tapestry stuck out towards the center of the room to the north. Wooden stakes were wedged into the floor at various points around the room. All were inset roughly ten feet from the outer walls and formed a large ring in the center, twenty feet in diameter. This center ring, with the exception of a few bones and loose bits of flooring, was an empty expanse.

Layleth scanned for threats from her concealed vantage point. Her keen elven senses detected shadows on the scaffolding, noticed red eyes peering out from the bone piles, and spotted arrowheads of drawn bows peeking from behind the tapestry. With a series of hand gestures she tried to communicate the locations of the threats.

Mangre, who had already been sampling the goblin wine (which only enhanced his characteristic impatience), gave up trying to understand it and gave her a hand gesture of his own. “Here’s what I think of yer elfy finger-talkin‘! Les’ just go up there and kill what moves at us funny!”
He bulled up the stairs with hammer and shield at the ready. “OY! C’mout and fight!”

At this, the bone piles to the north rattled and formed into a trio of skeletons armed with swords and bows. Three goblins peeked their heads out from the top of the scaffolding, two brandishing crossbows and one with a bone headdress and rattling totem. The one with the headdress (Hexer! Foul goblin witch! whispered Brandt) pointed the totem at the dwarf and shrieked in anger. The other goblins answered the cry with leveled crossbows. Layleth burst into action and beelined for the scaffolding with falchion drawn, but as she set foot inside the circle in the center a grinning goblin pulled a rope attached to a nearby stake in the floor. With a deep grumbling creak the entire center of the room shifted and fell away, plummeting thirty feet and crashing into the floor below. A yawning chasm of empty space now filled the center of the room. A ten foot wide ledge still protruded from the walls around the edges. Dust billowed up in a great gray cloud, obscuring the room.

Layleth, having seen the trap at the last instant, stopped and performed a backwards handspring to the edge of the pit. Upon landing back at the edge she had already switched to her longbow and drawn an arrow. She released the missile at the hexer on the scaffolding, but the shot was low and embedded itself harmlessly in a support beam.
Ash formed a seed of flame and hurled it at the skeletons ahead of them, but the projectile slipped between the ribs of the center skeleton, flew ten feet too far past them, and detonated harmlessly against the back wall.

The first skeleton stepped forward to hack at Mangre with its sword while the other two drew and fired arrows at Layleth. She ducked and weaved in desperation, turning hits into mere grazes.
Two goblin snipers on the scaffolding (and a third that had been hiding behind the low wall) opened fire on the party. Bolts converged on Layleth and she barely avoided the first. The second sunk deep into her hip and pain shot up and down her side. A third bolt ricocheted off Mangre’s shield with a spang and flipped end-over-end into the pit. The hexer waved her totem and shouted goblin obscenities. The dust in the center of the room began to swirl and buffet the party, fouling their aim further and obscuring their vision.

Quinn hid back behind the cover of the staircase’s rim, paralyzed with fright. He didn’t know what to do! How was he supposed to be brave now? He was only eight! Luckily, once again the sword in his grip had the answer. It hummed and grew cold and from it sprang a beam of wraith light. As the light traveled towards the skeletal warriors it morphed and coalesced into a ghostly knight, broad sword held high. “WHAT HO, THOU FOUL DEAD THING!” Sir Brandt bellowed and brought down the sword. It crashed through a skeletal archer and bone fragments exploded into the air.

“I love that guy!” Mangre whooped as he bashed the sword-wielding skeleton. With a crunch he crushed it between his shield and the wall, destroying it.

Layleth danced along the edge as she tried to avoid the deadly hail of crossbow bolts. She grunted and attempted to leap across an expanse of chasm to the ledge beyond, but the pain in her hip fouled the jump. With the greatest of efforts she managed to land a foot on the very edge of the far walkway. Her exhilaration at making the difficult jump was short-lived, however, as the stone she landed on gave way and fell into the pit, taking her with it. Her fall was broken by a table. It had miraculously survived the collapse of tons of stone and timber only to be reduced to splinters by a slim elf woman crashing through it.

With their favored target gone, the goblins turned their malice upon Mangre and Ash. Mangre grunted at the impact of a sniper’s bolt in his shoulder and Ash barely avoided taking one in the chest. The hexer spat in her hand and gestured over it with a hand curled into a gnarled claw. A blood red light erupted in her hand and lashed across the room at Ash. Before he could avoid it, the light crashed into him and crackled over his body. Pain wracked Ash and a red rune appeared on his chest.

A witch’s Stinging Hex?


He moves, he dies.


Warn him, child!


“Don’t move, Ash! You’ll die if you do!” Quinn cried out.
Ash looked down at the bleeding rune on his chest and cursed. He began to murmur words of dispelling, gingerly waving his hands over the mark.

Sir Brandt lashed out at the last skeleton, shattering its fragile skull. The knight’s other hand passed through Mangre’s shoulder and the crossbow bolt fell away, pushed out by the rapidly mending flesh.

“Thanks,” Mangre barked. He took several steps back from the edge and then sprang forward. “THIS is how you do it!” he shouted down to Layleth. His short, powerful legs pumped furiously and with a grunt he leapt the divide.

Still reeling from the fall, the elf looked up from her makeshift bed of table wreckage and rubble just in time to see the dwarf soaring overhead. Making the jump she had missed. “Mangre, your MOTHER was— oh, wow.” Layleth’s words abandoned her. Her vantage point had just shown her Mangre from the most unfortunate angle possible.

The dwarf hit the other side hard. He continued his rush and jumped into a roll over the low wall. His hammer lashed out, driving back the sniper on the other side with a glancing strike to the head.

Meanwhile Ash stood vulnerable to the snipers, afraid to leave his spot lest the curse trigger. He hurled another flame seed at the goblins atop the scaffolding to buy himself time to break the hex. Goblins scattered to avoid the hungry flames.

Layleth was back on her feet and nimbly traversing the rubble to get back to the stairs. A goblin saw her moving below and took a shot. She grunted from the pain of the bolt burying itself in the leather on her back. She did not slow.

With a shout of triumph, Ash broke the hex placed on him. His victory was short-lived. Another bolt caught him in the leg. The hexer waved her arms and another red bolt slammed into Ash. He looked down in dismay: the rune was back.
“Ash!” Quinn cried. “Don’t—”
“Yeah, kid. I KNOW. THANKS.”

Mangre slammed his shield into the goblin before him and knocked the wind of of it. Before the goblin could recover, his hammer stove in its skull and it dropped like a rag doll. Mangre continued his advance toward the scaffolding. “Come on down, ye cowards!” he cried and lashed out at a support strut with a powerful kick. It splintered and broke in half under his armored boot.

A plan!

Yes, the other beam.

Masterful!

I’ll bet the dwarf doesn’t even see it, though.

Quinn cocked his head as he listened to the whispered instructions. Layleth was running up the stairs, longbow drawn and murderous intent in her eyes as she took aim at a goblin atop the scaffolding. The broken sword thrummed and grew cold in his hand. He didn’t quite understand, but ignoring the spirits would only make things worse. He threw out his hand at Layleth as she prepared to fire. “Wait!”
She blinked at him in surprise, but stayed her hand for an instant.
“On my target!” he cried, and extended the arm with the sword. Frost whirled and formed. A bolt of deadly cold lanced from the hilt and screamed out across the room, slamming into and flash-freezing the other support beam at the edge of the pit. Layleth did not hesitate. Her aim corrected in a blink and she let the arrow fly. The broadhead connected with the frozen, brittle beam and the support shattered.

The scaffolding was now entirely unsupported on the side facing the pit. With a creak and a groan like a ship dashing itself against rocks, it tipped into the pit. The sniper atop the structure was lucky enough to fall to the floor on the second floor. The hexer was not so lucky. With a scream she plummeted forty feet, crashing with the scaffolding to the floor below.

Sir Brandt appeared next to Layleth and Ash. “Powerfully struck, milady!” he declared as his healing energy washed over the two battered heroes.

On the other side of the chasm, Mangre was admiring their handiwork. “Huh. Shoulda thoughta that,” he mused as he looked out over the edge at the carnage below. A pair of crossbow bolts buried themselves in his side, reminding him of the still-present threat to his right. He reached down with a big gauntleted fist and ripped the bolts out. He glanced at the bloody points on them before casting them aside. He turned, a gleam in his eyes, to the two goblins as they frantically backpedaled and tried to reload. “Oh, yer gonna pay for THAT.”

Quinn surveyed the wreckage for signs that the hexer had survived. A whispered warning in his head made him look down the stairs to his left. He was just in time to see the witch creeping up the stairs toward him with a curved dagger in her hand. His sword raised and another bolt of screaming cold lanced out, freezing the hexer’s hand with the dagger solid. She howled in agony as the hand shattered. The witch cradled the stump and turned to flee, but Sir Brandt had appeared behind her and was blocking the way. She snarled and cast another stinging hex up the stairs, but hit only wall. Quinn raised the sword again and Sir Brandt clamped his gauntleted hands around the hexer’s shoulders. This time the blast of cold hit true. Sir Brandt grunted and squeezed. The frozen goblin hexer shattered into hundreds of pieces. They tinkled like glass as they bounced down the stairs.

Mangre looked over the mess he had made of the two remaining goblins. He wiped his gory hammer on a corner of the tapestry. “Did we get em all now?”

Quinn’s hand was numb with the cold of the sword. His heart was racing a mile a minute as Sir Brandt looked up at him and faded from sight. He was having trouble putting his arm down.


Sirbrant

With trepidation the adventurers crept up the spiral staircase to the top level of the tower. The room was brightly lit, primarily due this level missing a huge section of wall on one side. Wind whistled and blue sky shone through the cavity. Despite this, the room still managed to hold the dank stench of goblin. Across the room, a goblin in chainmail several sizes too large for him whirled at the sight of intruders. “How dare you enter our tower?!” he squeaked.

Mangre irritably snapped back, “Why did you build a tower we could break into so easily?”

“We didn’t build it you fool,” the goblin snarled. He gestured with a short blade and declared, “We took it by force!”

The dwarf smirked and hefted his hammer. “Well then. Maybe we’ll do the same.”

“Raah! You can try!” the goblin shrieked. From a pile of soiled and reeking blankets nearby, a hulking figure emerged. The fur-covered brute lifted a heavy iron morningstar and grinned at the intruders with a mouth full of sharp teeth.

A bugbear! Be careful, child.

It is as fast as it is strong, make no mistake.

Quinn cried out, “It’s a bugbear, Mangre! Be careful!”

“Pah! I know what it is, boy,” Mangre snapped as he advanced. “Question is: does it know what I — whoa!” Mangre stumbled and reeled as a section of floor in front of him collapsed and tumbled away into darkness. The sound of stones crashing to the ground two stories below was muted and faint. “Wha’s wrong with this damn tower! Human construction is for crap!” Mangre shouted as he sidestepped the gap and advanced on the bugbear. His hammer swung in low and was batted aside almost playfully by the brute’s morningstar.

“Mmmy turrnn,” it bellowed as it swung the cruelly-spiked club at Mangre. The dwarf ducked low and the weapon whistled overhead. Too late did Mangre see the trap: while his attention was on the bugbear’s high attack, the runt of an under-boss was stabbing low. His shield barely turned the attack aside in time. It was then that a third attacker revealed himself: in an explosion of bedding, a goblin in camouflaged leathers lunged at Mangre from behind. A wickedly thin dagger held in both the sneak’s hands came down on Mangre’s unguarded back and stabbed through the chainmail. Mangre howled in pain and twisted at this new attacker. The dark-clothed goblin sprang away, its weapon coated in dwarven blood.

Layleth sprang into the air and tucked into a roll, tumbling past the under-boss to flank him. He silver dagger flashed and darted out at the goblin’s throat, but he raised his arm to block the attack and sparks flew as the blade shrieked across chain links. Ash snarled and lunged at the bugbear, changing form in midair. The bugbear yelped in surprise as a great snarling cat sank its fangs into his meaty arm, kicking and tearing at him with its clawed hind legs.

Sir Brandt’s voice resonated in Quinn’s ears: We must help or your friends may die, boy! Bring out the others!

“But how?” Quinn asked aloud. “I don’t know how I did it before!” But Sir Brandt was already moving, fading in and out of the skirmish with his ghostly blade flashing and looking for openings.

Quinn looked down and saw that the blade was starting to hum and glow. Scales of rust shook loose from the sword and floated to the ground as the humming rose in pitch and intensity. The blade was growing colder, shaking so hard in Quinn’s hands that it was all he could do to hold onto it. More flakes of rust fell away, revealing a cold white blade beneath. The hum became a scream, now so loud and piercing that it was all he could hear. The light intensified until Quinn was blinded by the radiance. The cold and the vibration numbed his fingers and arms and shoulders…

All at once the ringing stopped. The sword grew still. Quinn blinked and the ringing in his ears faded. Everything was silent and still for a moment. It was then that he noticed the wisps of light hanging in the air: hundreds of them hung about the place. Their whispering voices came to him and he knew them. Quinn’s knees gave out and he fell to the ground as a wave of exhaustion hit him. All at once time started again and the combatants noticed the spirits. It was then that they descended in a swirling cloud of cold light. The hobgoblin howled and batted at the insubstantial motes and the assassin dove for cover. The under-boss was thrown to the ground in the maelstrom of howling apparitions, his arms feebly trying to cover his face from the onslaught. All at once the spirit cloud broke and converged on the three adventurers within it, to this point untouched by the ghosts flying through their bodies. As each spirit collided with a hero it splashed and dissipated, leaving behind an aura of soft white light.

“Huh,” quipped Mangre as he inspected a faintly glowing hand. “That’s a new trick.”

The goblin underboss, bleeding from a thousand tiny cuts on his face and arms, sprang back to his feet and stabbed at the dwarf. The short sword was angled at his mailed stomach but slowed as it hit the glowing aura. The goblin grunted with effort as he forced the blade through the light, which had thickened like mud at the point of impact. Mangre turned to the underboss to retaliate, forgetting momentarily about the bugbear. The huge morningstar arcing in also slowed before it hit, but not enough. With a crack Mangre was knocked sprawling as the bugbear’s swing connected.

At this, Quinn thrust out the broken sword like a holy symbol. With a crack of thunder an invisible force lifted up the bugbear and knocked him sprawling. The brute grunted in pain as he struck the ground hard, only inches from the hole on the floor. Quinn looked up from under his hair, still pale from the exertion. “You shouldn’t have done thaaat,” came an unfamiliar voice in a mocking singsong. It wouldn’t be until much later that Quinn realized the voice had come from his mouth.

Layleth danced behind the goblin leader and her falchion sliced across his side in a screech of metal against metal. Ash, still in cat form, yowled and swiped a razored paw at the under-boss. His claws found flesh and blood ran from a slash in the goblin’s leg. Sir Brandt blinked into existence behind the goblin and swung his mighty sword, but the goblin’s short sword blocked the strike. Taking advantage of the distraction, Mangre stepped in swinging, landing a glancing blow to the shoulder. The under-boss pivoted away from his attackers and slashed again at Mangre. The disemboweling swipe was slowed again by the light, and Mangre suffered only a deep scratch instead.

By now the bugbear had regained his feet and lumbered back into the fight, but his swing at Mangre was clumsy and instead cracked the stone of the floor to his right. The goblin black-blade was also lunging back into battle in an effort to save his chief. His darting dagger barely missed Ash’s right eye and the cat snarled in warning.

Layleth disengaged from the melee with a series of rolls and handsprings. As she moved she stowed her falchion and drew her bow. As she came out of the tumble an arrow was already in flight from her bow. It hit the under-boss in the side with a meaty thunk and he dropped his sword as he cried out in pain.

It was at this point that Ash went into a savage frenzy. In a cloud of fur and claws and fangs he lashed out at the two goblins and the bugbear. The under-boss’s cry of pain cut off abruptly in a wet gurgle. Black blood fountained from a gash where his throat had been and the goblin chief collapsed. As Ash spun about in his frenzy, his form melted and suddenly he was himself again. His blood-soaked hands were still formed into claws and goblin gore ran down his chin from his gritted teeth.

Layleth quick-stowed her longbow and her falchion came ringing back out. She laid open the bugbear’s back with a leaping slash and he howled. The morningstar came around in a backhand swing, but the ranger was already dancing away and nimbly leapt over it. Ash clenched and opened a bloody hand. A wisp of flame darted at the bugbear. It impacted the brute’s chest with a whump and set his fur and the nearby bedding alight.

Roaring in fury and pain and half-blind from being wreathed in flames, the bugbear looked for an enemy to crush. His predatory eyes fell upon Mangre and the huge morningstar lifted back over his head in a two-handed grip. Flames and smoke danced across the fur of his heaving chest as massive muscles coiled and tensed. The brute roared and tried to swing, but suddenly the weapon would not move. Peering over his shoulder, the bugbear finally noticed Sir Brandt, his gauntled fist holding the morningstar’s haft tightly to prevent the deadly swing.

Mangre charged. His hobnailed boots stirred and blew away cinders in the bugbear’s fur as he ran up the giant’s chest. At the peak of his ascent, Mangre’s hammer came up. Only then did the bugbear think to look forward again. The dwarven steel craghammer rang as it came down on his forehead. Quickly the hammer rose and fell twice more. Slowly the brute tipped backward and crashed in a swirl of smoke, the dwarf riding the corpse down.

“Now THAT is how ya do it! Did ye see that, Elfy?! That’s how real men fight,” Mangre boasted.

“Dwarf. Arms up,” Layleth snapped. In a flash she raised her longbow and launched an arrow. The shaft zipped just beneath his armpit and slammed with a thunk into the goblin black-blade’s right eye. As the assassin’s lifeless body dropped and its dagger clattered to the floor, Layleth sighed at the sheepish dwarf with his hands in the air.

“Moron. Please learn to count.”


Thebrokensword

The stench of goblin bedding had now expanded to include the reek of burning bugbear fur. The party covered their noses to block it out as they looted the bodies. Quinn was put to work counting coins from the goblin chief’s stash as Layleth inspected the goblin’s chain-mail. Mangre had wrestled a heavy belt from the bugbear’s waist (only mildly scorched) and was admiring the metalwork on the buckle.

It was at this point that the heroes remembered they had tied an unconscious goblin to a chair downstairs with plans to interrogate it later. This had been their plan, at least, before they dropped several tons of ceiling on its head. Without a surviving goblin to question, the heroes would never know how the goblins had overrun the tower or where they’d come from. Mangre was personally more unhappy about the amount of mortar dust that had gotten in the cauldron of goblin wine, but later justified it as a passable thickener.

On the bridge back to the North tower, Quinn lagged behind the group. He stared at his feet as he navigated the cobblestones. The sword, as always, was clutched to his chest.

You pick up the sword’s tricks quickly, Sire. See how your kingdom’s subjects responded to your command?
“Yeah, but I don’t know how I did it, though.”
That doesn’t matter. What matters is you did it when it counted.
Quinn walked in silence as he thought about Sir Brandt’s words.
“Sir Brandt?”
Yes Sire?
“Does this mean I can put down the sword for a bit? My fingers do hurt real bad from holding it all the time.”
Go right ahead, my King.

Quinn paled. He ran to catch up with the others. The knuckles of his right hand were white on the sword.

His left hand reached up to clutch the material of Layleth’s pant leg. She absently tousled his hair.

View
Return to Pitax
Epilogue of the Slaying Stone

Continuing their brutal pace for hours, Mangre, Kuri, Gino, Layleth and Quinn were relieved when the walls of Pitax appeared at the head of their trail.

Slowing for a moment, Mangre walked up to the gate and called out, announcing their presence.

“Oy! The Last Option Adventuring Company, on behalf of the Pillars of the Red seek entrance!”

A guard looked down at the rag-tag group, exhausted from running for so long.

“Ten percent, or you can all stay out there,” the guard said.

“Now ye look here, ye soft excuse for a human,” Mangre shouted, “We’ve been to Kiris Dahn, fought wave after wave of goblins, oozes, kobolds, and hobgoblins! We’ve beaten a Brass Dragon and several orcs, and ye want to TAX US FOR ENTERING A CITY WE’RE CURRENTLY LIVING IN?!”

An arm on the dwarf’s shoulder spun him about and Gino marched him out of earshot.

“We wouldn’t have to pay if you hadn’t forgotten the guild pass back the The Pillars of the Red, Mangre, so we should probably just pay the man and get on with it. We have plenty of stuff to sell, so ten percent is not that big of a deal.” Trying to sound reasonable, Gino continued, “We’re all exhausted from the run back, Quinn needs some rest, Layleth will probably end up killing somebody if she doesn’t get a bath, and I need to make it back to the arena as soon as possible before I’m fired and people forget about me.”

Mangre nodded. “We’ll do it yer way this time, barbarian, but next time ye can be sure we won’t be forgettin’ the damn pass!”

Grumbling, Mangre rejoined the party and they began dividing out roughly ten percent of their goods.

Class port barbarian

The party made their way back to the guild hall, returning the now defunct Slaying Stone to Treona on the way. Once back at the hall, the 5 members of The Last Option settled down for a long deserved rest.

Quinn slept soundly for the first time in months, Layleth treated herself to a nice long, hot, soapy bath, certain that she would never get the slobber, slime, trash, blood and road dust off her fair elven skin so matter how hard she scrubbed, Gino took a quick cat-nap and made his way back to the Arena as soon as he felt rested enough to do so, and Mangre fell into bed without even removing his weapons and was soon snoring contentedly.

The next morning, as the group gathered in the guild hall meeting room, the entire party received a message from Kuri.

Sending the group an image of an angel, the party knew something was amiss. As Layleth led the rush to Kuri’s room and opened the door, the last anybody saw of Kuri was a swirl of stones flying out the open window. Somehow, everybody in attendance knew that it would be a long time before they saw Kuri again…

Race port shardmind

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In Which Quinn Proves His Worth, Sir Brandt Loses His Temper, and the Party Attempts Diplomacy
Chapter 5 of Stellar Redemption

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.

Sirbrant

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.

Race port shardmind

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.

Class port barbarian

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.

View
Mangre Flirts With an Orc, and We Have a Big Rodent Problem
Chapter 4 of Stellar Redemption

It was still only our first day in the miserable, goblin-infested town of Kiris Dahn, but I, Layleth Autumngale, had already had enough of it. We had just spent the morning fending off garbage-throwing kobalds, grey ooze, and a huge ankheg, and most of us had had at least one close brush with death. This town definitely was not topping my list of favorite places to revisit in the future.

We were unable to find the Slaying Stone in the library, but we did find three of the five books Lord Kiris was seeking, so it wasn’t a total loss. Once we had completed our search, and finished binding our wounds from the morning’s battles, we set off for our next destination – the temple ruins. I fervently hoped we would find the Slaying Stone there. The sooner we could find it and leave this vile place, the better.

Layleth

We slipped out of the library and into the streets, trying to be as stealthy as possible. Let me tell you something about traveling with The Last Option. They’re about as stealthy as a herd of cattle. As a hunter in the forest, I had long ago mastered the art of traveling silently, but when you’re traveling with a goliath, a shardmind, and a lumbering dwarf, odds are someone is going to hear you coming. By some miracle, however, we managed to make it through the streets of Kiris Dahn without being overheard, with Quinn, Kuri, and myself making our way down the narrow alleyways, and Mangre and Gino choosing to take the journey by rooftop.

Our party had nearly reached the ruins, when some movement in a nearby alley caught my attention.

“Wait!” I whispered, holding up a hand to indicate that everyone should remain still. We ducked behind a shed, and I peeked around the corner, watching as a large humanoid stabbed a goblin in the eye, dropped the creature’s lifeless body to the ground, and then disappeared inside a building.

“What is it?” Mangre hissed impatiently, trying to peer around the corner.

“I’m not sure. An orc, maybe.”

“Well, what’re yeh waitin’ for?” he growled, as he hefted his hammer in both hands. “Let’s kill it.”

“First I want to find out what it’s doing here.”

Mangre shook his head.

“You elves – always doin’ everything backwards. Everyone knows you kill first an’ ask questions later.”

I ignored him and slowly approached the body of the goblin that the orc had discarded. There was a strange brand over one of its eyes. Kuri studied the brand for a moment, and then relayed an explanation to all of us.

“Cult of the Severed Eye?” Mangre muttered. “Never heard of ’em.”

Quinn looked nervously from the dead goblin to the building the orc had disappeared into.

“Maybe we should leave,” he whispered, but Gino shook his head.

“No, it’s better to face your enemies on your own terms, rather than allowing them to catch you off-guard later on.”

I stared at him in surprise. For a dumb brute, he sometimes said things that made a lot of sense.

“Right,” I said. “Me first.”

Quietly, carefully, I approached the doorway of the building and peered inside. It was dim, but there was enough light for me to see a large room with a wooden staircase leading up to a second level. One part of the room had sunken in to form a deep pit, and there was a strange, runic circle on the floor just inside the doorway. But what really caught my attention was the huge, female orc standing on the staircase, surveying the room. She didn’t seem to notice my presence.

I ducked back around the corner to tell my companions what I’d seen.

“Female, eh?” Mangre whispered, his attention suddenly piqued. “What’d she look like?”

I relayed an image of the orc to Kuri, who then passed it on to the others.

“Hmm, she’s not bad lookin’,” Mangre said with a grin.

“You can’t be serious,” I muttered, rolling my eyes. Then I returned my focus to the task at hand and loaded my bow with a fresh arrow. “I’ll take care of this.”

I whirled around the corner and pointed my arrow in the direction of the orc. However, before I could say anything to her, Mangre suddenly came blustering through the doorway, his chest puffed out and his craghammer at the ready.

“Surrender now, orc!” he bellowed. “Or there’ll be hell to pay!”

The orc didn’t seem very impressed. I couldn’t really blame her.

“Do you have the Stone?” she snarled. “Give it to me now!”

“We don’t have the stone,” I argued.

“Then you’re standing in the way of me finding it!” she declared. She withdrew two very lethal looking great axes and charged in our direction. I let an arrow loose in her shoulder, but she barely flinched. It was then I realized that Mangre’s new girlfriend was going to be quite a handful.

However, before the orc could make her way down the stairs, a blast of radiant light hit her square in the chest, knocking her off the staircase and down into the pit below. I turned to see Kuri standing behind us in the doorway, his arm outstretched.

“Nice work,” I said with a smile, and Kuri glowed pink in response. Suddenly, Quinn darted between the shardmind’s legs and rushed over to look down into the pit the orc had just plummeted into.

“She’s still alive,” Quinn announced. “And she looks angry!”

Grabbing the boy by the back of his shirt to ensure he didn’t fall in, I leaned over to see the orc beginning to scramble up the wall of the pit.

“Watch out, she’s trying to escape!” I yelled.

At that moment, the ghostly form of Sir Brandt appeared in the pit, brandishing his sword.

“What ho, foul orc!” the spirit said. “Methinks you will not get away that easily!”

Krayd

While Sir Brandt engaged the orc in battle, I turned to see Mangre smacking the stone tiles with his hammer. He seemed to be trying to destroy the glowing circle that was etched into the floor.

“Mangre, will you quit fooling around and go after that orc!” I yelled in annoyance, as I launched another arrow into the pit.

With a frustrated growl, Mangre dropped his hammer and pulled on his spiked gauntlet. Then, to my astonishment, he lumbered halfway up the staircase and prepared to jump.

“Wait!” I shouted. “When I said to go after her, I didn’t mean – “

But it was too late. With a loud battle cry, Mangre plunged twenty feet into the pit below. I heard a sickening thud as his gauntlet made contact with the orc’s head. It should have shattered her skull, killing her instantly, but the large creature managed to remain on her feet.

“Come on!” Gino shouted, waving me in the direction of the staircase. I followed him to the second-story landing above, so we could both get a good look at the action. Twenty feet below us, Mangre finally seemed to have gotten the orc’s attention.

While Gino and I looked on, the orc spun in a circle, slicing into Mangre’s flesh with one great axe, and then another. For a few seconds, Mangre stood dazedly, until the orc lashed out with her foot, kicking him hard in the stomach. Mangre went sailing through the air and landed on the floor of the pit, unconscious.

“Mangre!” Quinn cried out in horror.

The she-orc lifted one of her axes over Mangre’s head, but I shot her in the arm with an arrow before she could deliver the final blow.

“Hey!” I shouted down to her. “Nobody messes with the dwarf but me, bitch!”

Gino followed up my arrow by hurling a hand axe at the orc, and she looked up at him, suddenly seeming to realize the vulnerability of her position.

“Surrender now!” Gino ordered, but she shook her head.

“I will never surrender!” she screamed. “I must find the stone for Dreus!”

Despite Sir Brandt’s valiant attempts to hold her at bay, she managed to climb out of the pit and make a mad dash for the door. But I wasn’t about to let her get away now. I hurled myself down the stairs, unsheathing my falchion as I did so, and met the creature head-on at the bottom of the staircase.

“Going somewhere?” I taunted, swinging at her with my blade. She howled in pain as my falchion sliced into her skin, but before she could retaliate, Kuri sent a burst of radiant energy exploding in the air around her. The orc collapsed to the ground, unconscious.

As I contemplated what to do with her now that she was subdued, Sir Brandt revived Mangre, and with Gino’s assistance, the dwarf hauled himself up out of the pit. He came over and stood beside me, looking down at the fallen orc.

“We should tie ‘er up, so she can’t give us any more trouble,” he muttered. I raised my eyebrows.

“You mean you don’t want to kill her? Even after she tried to kill you?”

Mangre scowled, and then heaved a resigned sigh.

“S’pose I owe you one, elf,” he mumbled. Then he pulled a length of rope out of his pack and together, we began binding the unconscious orc to the base of the staircase. To be honest, I didn’t hate the dwarf as much as I let on. The thing is, aside from his lack of intelligence, personal hygiene, and sense of common decency, we really weren’t that different from each other after all.

“We should take her weapons,” Gino suggested, once we had finished tying up the orc. “And search her bag for loot.”

So, while Gino confiscated her hand axes, I checked the orc’s travel pack and discovered a couple of documents inside. One was a map, and the other was a tattered letter. I unfolded it and read it aloud to my companions:

Krayd,

I do not trust Vohx, he is a fool. I need you to break away the first chance you get and find the stone yourself. I will gladly pay you double if you can bring it to me as soon as you find—- I may also put in a good word for you within the Severed Eye clan.

Evoker Extraordinaire,

Dreus

“Well,” I said grimly, “it looks like we have some competition.”

****

Having secured the orc, we next made our way towards the temple, with myself scouting ahead to make sure we didn’t have anymore unexpected creature encounters. When we arrived, we found several small, desecrated shrines surrounding the large temple, which appeared to be unoccupied. However, I wasn’t taking any chances. I unsheathed my falchion and the rest of the group followed suit, holding their weapons at the ready.

When we entered the temple, it was indeed occupied, but it wasn’t an orc or a goblin that we found there. Instead, standing next to the fountain in the center of the temple, was an elderly gentleman, dressed in tattered clothes that looked as if they had once been the attire of a noble.

“Identify yourself, old man,” Gino ordered, waving his axe menacingly.

“He ‘ardly looks like much of a threat,” Mangre muttered, as he assessed the stranger. “I wager a stout wind could knock ‘im right over.”

“Never pays to be too careful,” Gino replied.

“Please!” the old man said, raising his hands in self-defense. “Don’t hurt me!”

“Who are you?” I pressed.

“My name is Hoyt Kiris,” the man answered meekly.

“Kiris?” I repeated. “As in the Kiris family that once ruled here.”

“The very same,” Hoyt said with a sad nod. “My family abandoned me here and left me to fend for myself. I’ve been hiding in this temple, scavenging for food when I can find it and trying to remain undetected by the goblins.”

“That’d be six years ago,” Mangre whispered. “Somethin’s not right ‘ere…”

At that moment, I glanced to my side and noticed Quinn standing there with his head cocked to one side, which was a sure sign that the voices in his head were conversing with him.

“What is it Quinn?” I asked.

Quinn looked at Hoyt, his eyes widened in terror.

“The old man,” he whispered. “Sir Brandt thinks he’s a—“

But before Quinn could finish voicing his suspicions, he was interrupted by the sound of footsteps coming from either side of the temple.

“Goblins!” Hoyt squeaked. He dashed around the fountain and went to hide behind a statue.

“Has the heart of a lion, don’t he?” Mangre said gruffly. Then he dashed over to the temple door as fast as his stumpy legs could carry him and barricaded it to buy us some time. There was nothing he could do to slow the other group of goblins however, who were about to emerge from behind an iron portcullis on the other side of the room.

“Great,” I muttered, “it’s an ambush.”

Sheathing my falchion, I leapt up and balanced on the edge of the fountain, giving me a better vantage point. Then I cocked my bow and prepare to let loose an arrow at the first goblin to round the corner.

“Kill the rat man!” I heard one of the goblins shout, though I had no time to process what that could mean, because the goblins finally came out from the shadows.

“Attack!” I shouted, as I let an arrow fly. It missed, but came close enough to startle the head goblin into ducking out of sight, leaving his minions to face us on their own.

Kuri hurled a lightning blast which proved to be more successful than my arrow, managing to reduce their numbers by two or three. Gino, meanwhile, tried to lift the portcullis so he could engage the goblins in hand-to-hand combat, but was unsuccessful.

The door on the other side of the room rattled with the sound of the second group of goblins trying to barge in, but Mangre held his ground.

“Is that the best ya can do, yeh bunch of slimy-skinned curs?” he growled in response. That’s the thing about dwarves – they make excellent doorstoppers.

As I pulled another arrow out of my quiver, I was too late to notice the movement off to my side.

“Layleth!” I heard Quinn shout, and then there was a flash of teeth, claws and fur, and before I knew it I was falling to the ground in agony. Everything went dark, and when I came to, Mangre was standing over me, fiercely battling a rabid wererat. Apparently, Hoyt Kiris was not what he appeared to be.

“Great,” I groaned. Mangre had saved my life and there was no way he was ever going to let me live it down.

Wererat

I glanced over and saw that Sir Brandt had also made his appearance, and was probably to thank for the fact that I had regained consciousness. He was standing at Mangre’s side, hacking into the wererat with his ghostly sword, but it seemed that each time one of them landed a blow, the creature’s wounds would mysteriously heal. With Mangre no longer blocking the door, the second troop of goblins had finally managed to storm the room, but Kuri was making short work of them with his usual lightning. Gino, meanwhile, was battling the lead goblin, who had finally reemerged from his hiding place in the shadows.

Ready to join in the fight once more, I jumped to my feet and pulled out my falchion, prepared to attack a couple of goblins who had cornered poor Quinn against the fountain. He ended up not needing my assistance, however, as he raised his rusty, broken sword and held it out in front of him, killing the goblins with a blast of frigid air. Then he raised his head and stared at the last remaining goblin that Gino was battling.

“Layleth!” Quinn cried out. “Look at the goblin’s dagger! It’s silver!”

I glanced over and saw that Quinn, after years spent raiding tombs, had correctly identified the goblin’s weapon. I suddenly remembered the times that werewolves would wander into Idlewilde Forest, and my tribe’s warriors would hunt them down with silver-tipped arrows…

“Gino!” I shouted, as I ran to his aid. “Bring him down! We need his dagger!”

Gino nodded and redoubled his efforts, swinging his axe with a mighty roar and bringing it crashing down on the goblin’s skull in a lethal blow. The creature fell to the ground and lie still, the silver dagger still clutched in his hand. I wrested the weapon out of the dead goblin’s fingers and darted over to where Mangre, Sir Brandt, and now Gino were still trying to take down the wererat. However, each time they wounded him, the vile creature was somehow able to regenerate the flesh they had broken.

I had a feeling my newly-acquired dagger would be a different story.

“Try some of this you nasty, over-grown rodent!” I shouted as I plunged the dagger into his gut. He screamed in mortal agony and slashed out at me with his claws, cutting fresh wounds into my arm. But the damage was already done. Something about the rat-formerly-known-as-Hoyt had changed. He seemed weaker.

Sure enough, as Mangre struck him with his hammer, I could hear several ribs cracking from the blow, and this time they did not heal. Gino followed up with a powerful swing of his axe, and with one final squeak, the wererat fell to the ground, dead.

“’Not much of a threat’, you said?” Gino snapped, glaring at Mangre. The dwarf merely shrugged.

“Made things interestin’ though, dinnit?”

“Yes, very interesting,” I said sarcastically, as I wiped the rat’s blood from the dagger. Then I smiled and gave Quinn a pat on the back. “Nice work noticing the silver dagger, Quinn.”

Suddenly, I grimaced as a pain shot up my arm. I glanced down and noticed that the wererat’s bite marks were still bright red, despite a fair amount of healing from Sir Brandt. Mangre, too, looked a bit worse for the wear as he assessed a bite mark on his own arm.

“Wererat venom,” he grunted. “Nasty stuff, that.” Then he pulled a flask from his hip, downed a few gulps of rum, and let out a loud belch. Immediately his complexion improved. “Ah, thas better,” he said.

I didn’t seem to be having as much luck, however. Sir Brandt looked me over with concern.

“You could do with a good night’s rest, fair elf,” he said, and then he disappeared with a pop. Mangre nodded in agreement.

“We should camp ‘ere for the night. We can try to heal Layleth in the mornin’.”

“Fine,” I grumbled. Then I glanced hopefully at Quinn. “You think your spirit friends will be able to help you heal me?”

“Sure,” he said. “I mean…I think so.”

“And if you can’t?”

“Then yeh turn into a giant rat,” Mangre said cheerfully, giving me a smack on the shoulder. “Personally, I think the whiskers would improve yer appearance.”

Then he chuckled and went to help Gino barricade the doors, while the others unpacked their sleeping pads and started spreading them out on the floor.

“Very funny,” I muttered, as I unrolled my own sleeping pad. As we all settled down to sleep, I stashed the silver dagger in my boot, and secretly wondered if one of my friends would soon have to use it against me.

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Mangre Takes a Bath. Layleth Needs the Same
Chapter 3 of Stellar Redemption

As dawn broke over the town of Gorzibadd, once known as Kiris Dahn, Layleth, Kuri, Mangre, Gino and Quinn huddled across the river perimeter in a copse of thick trees and weighed their options.

“So this whole town is full of goblins?” Quinn shuddered.

“I don’t like ‘em any more than you do, boy,” Mangre grumbled. “Would a head-on assault get us anywhere?” Mangre looked at Layleth.

“No, the information we got from Treona’s said that they’ve been here for six years. They are so firmly entrenched that we will have to find a different way in.” She sighed and looked at Mangre. “Can you be the least bit stealthy?” she asked.

Mangre grinned. “Nope! Ain’t never had to be sneaky and I ain’t about to start now!”

Kuri glowed pink with consternation. Flashing images to the group, the Shardmind suggested that they cross the river in between goblin patrols and make a break for the closest building. An alarm would probably raise the whole town, and the party was not prepared to deal with hundreds of goblins.

“Part of being an Arena Fighter teaches you when a battle is lost before it’s begun, and a frontal assault on a fortified goblin town is suicide,” Gino agreed.

“Fine then,” Mangre sullenly agreed. “But if there’s goblin heads what need crushin’, I want my fair share!”

The party quickly decided that Layleth and Quinn would sneak ahead and find the best route, while the rest of the party crossed the river as quietly as possible. Mangre and Gino swam swiftly across, the Barbarian swimming quietly and gracefully. Mangre, on the other hand, waded in and quickly sank out of sight. As the dwarf’s feet touched the bottom of the river, he gave a push that propelled him forward and upward. As he broke the surface, he took a gulp of air and sank below the surface again. In this manner, Mangre hopped across the river bottom and made it safely to shore. On one descent to the bottom, Mangre nearly inhaled more river water than was healthy when Kuri brazenly strode by, walking along the riverbed. Gino was the first to shore and gave Mangre a hand out of the water as Kuri stumped up the riverbank to look for Layleth’s signal.

“Well I guess I’m good for another bath in a year or so,” Mangre said to himself.

Kuri walked back down the riverbank and motioned for Gino and Mangre to follow him. Layleth had sent a message to Kuri letting him know that for the next few seconds the coast was clear. As the three caught up to Layleth and Quinn, the party crept around the seemingly abandoned building and crept into the doorway. Quietly closing the door, the next goblin patrol stomped by outside.

“That was close,” Layleth mentioned, and Kuri agreed.

From behind, Quinn stammered, “um…Layleth?”

The party turned and let their eyes adjust to the inside light of the building. There were two sets of stairs, one straight ahead to the north, and one to the west behind a support beam, both leading to a second floor. From the foyer, Layleth’s keen elven eyes spotted a small reptilian face vanish around a corner at the top of the stairs ahead.

“Ready yourselves,” she said quietly as she unsheathed her Longbow. Pointing up the stairs, she looked to Kuri and a message passed between them. The Shardmind sent images of what Layleth had seen to the rest of the party. Kobolds.

Nasty little creatures, the reptilian Kobolds are very distantly related to dragon kin. Stories of kobold lairs being situated near a dragon’s nest are common, though sometimes the reptilian-faced humanoids also move into abandoned ruins of cities long-forgotten. This seemed to be a case of the latter.

Nocking an arrow, Layleth aimed at the spot where she last saw the Kobold’s head. Right on cue, the kobold stuck its head around the corner. Seeing an arrow leveled at its head, however, it let out a little yelp and tried to duck back around the corner. Colliding with something else behind the corner, the kobold ducked back and bounced off of its companion, now sticking its own head around the corner to get a better look. When the first Kobold bounced off its companion, it fell to the floor at the top of the stairs. Layleth’s arrow hummed through the air above where it had just been standing and embedded itself in the plaster of the wall behind it.

Quick on the uptake, though, Kuri’s shot did not miss. As a blazing beam of radiant energy shot up the stairs, it scorched the arm of the Kobold, spinning it back around the corner. Following the energy blast from Kuri, Gino and Mangre raced up the stairs toward the Kobold.

“This one’s mine,” Mangre shouted over his shoulder at Layleth. The dwarf was still upset that their last battle had ended with him being injured while Kuri and Layleth took credit for the kills. “Get your own this time, ye damn elf!”

As Mangre cleared the foot of the staircase, he looked up to see the injured kobold rounding the corner again. This time it carried an enormous burlap sack and was accompanied by his companion, a kobold wielding a shield shaped like a dragon scale. The kobold carrying the sack spun once and let fly, the bag arcing out and landing on the stairs right in front of Mangre. The bag split open and trash of all sorts went flying everywhere. With a loud clatter, trash rolled down the stairs and a pitcher struck Mangre in the face, angering the dwarf further.

From the base of the other staircase, Layleth, Quinn, and Kuri saw the door at the top of the second stairway open and a chittering kobold, hearing the noise of the previously thrown bag of trash, lobbed another bag at Layleth. The burlap sack flew down the stairway and struck Layleth in the chest, knocking her back a step and exploding with putrid meat and other unsavory items. The normally pristine elf looked down at herself, and with a keening wail sprinted up the second stairway drawing her falchion.

“I hate being dirty you motherless whore!” She shrieked as she closed.

The sound of the screaming elf gave Mangre renewed vigor, and shaking his head to clear it, turned and charged the first to kobolds at the top of the first staircase. As he reached the top, he swung his craghammer in a wide arc. The first kobold leapt to the side right as Kuri’s second energy blast blew it into the wall, instantly evaporating it. The kobold with the shield however, was not lucky enough to be afforded such a quick death, and Mangre’s hammer hit the shield, shattering the kobolds arm.

At the top of the western staircase, another kobold with a shield looked around its companion. Seeing the rage in Layleth’s eyes, it quickly ducked around its companion and scrambled out of sight.

Reaching the top, Layleth cocked her arms to swing, but as she stepped down, he foot slid in a pile of garbage, and she lost her balance. Using her momentum, the quick-footed elf dropped into a roll and tumbled closer to the unfortunate kobold. Springing upwards from her tumble, Layleth slashed the kobold, disemboweling it and dropping it to the floor in a heap.

On the northern staircase, Gino swung at the injured kobold, but the creature, despite is injury, was nimble enough to skitter backwards. Mangre, however proved the quicker and leapt forward, bringing his weapon down and crushing the kobold into paste.

At the bottom of both staircases, Quinn cowered. When he heard Layleth’s scream, however, he knew that it was his turn to commit to the battle at hand. Subconsciously echoing Layleth’s scream, Quinn and Sir Brandt tore up the staircase in defense of his newly adoptive mother. As Layleth finished her killing blow against the first kobold, the second, shield-wielding creature moved to knock her back down the stairs. At that moment, Sir Brandt appeared in front of the elf, shielding her, and more importantly, startling the Kobold with such a sudden appearance.

“Be easy, fair elf! I shall let no harm come to you today!” Sir Brandt turned to face the attacker.

The kobold, taken aback by such a foe, stumbled back in disbelief, giving Layleth a chance to regain her footing after her last attack. Quinn shouted something to Sir Brandt and suddenly the entire party glowed with magical energy.

Mangre’s head, cut from the pitcher that struck him, began to mend itself; flesh knitting back together from within the superficial scrape. Layleth, who had been scraped and bruised from the sack that hit her, began healing as well. Potential infections from the bacteria in the garbage fled, and her bruises swiftly lost their discoloration.

As Mangre looked around for more enemies, he noticed that the north stairwell connected to the west stairwell by a hallway on the second floor. Rushing to the aid of Layleth and Quinn, he entered the hallway behind a fifth kobold who entered from a door in the middle of the way. The kobold looked over his shoulder to see a bloody dwarf and an angry Goliath barreling down the hallway behind him and decided to take the best of two bad options. Fleeing directly toward the fight, the kobold entered the area at the top of the west staircase just as Kuri entered from below. Taking careful aim, the Shardmind blasted the shielded kobold to dust.

Mangre, still in the heat of battle, swung his craghammer and decapitated the last kobold, who at that point was cowering in the corner.

The fight over for the moment, the party stepped back and admired it’s handiwork. “Not a bad fight, eh elf?” Mangre chuckled, “and with that trash on ye, ye smell a might better than ye used to!”

Shaking with rage and embarrassment, Layleth glared at the dwarf. “I hate being dirty,” she spoke through clenched teeth.

Kuri glowed with its milky quartz laughter and went about searching for clues as to where the Slaying Stone or the lost books could be located.

“Well I got two,” Mangre boasted, “probably a damn sight better than ye got yerself.”

Layleth sighed, “I got one, but if you would like to keep track, I’d be more than willing to wager I come out on top. Perhaps the loser gets a bath?”

“I just had meself one on the way in, elf, but if ye want a reason to take a bath, I’ll take yer wager,” Mangre laughed.

As the playful banter continued, Kuri reentered the room holding a small pouch of gold.

“Ah! A rock after me own heart!” cheered Mangre. “More’s the ale for us then!”

Quinn quietly starting helping Layleth remove the most offensive bits of trash, but suddenly stopped.

“We need to leave,” he said. “Now.”

As the door below them opened, and the sounds of a goblin patrol came up from below, the party quietly filed on onto a balcony on the second floor. Following the second-story stairs down to the street, they group melted out of sight as they continued on their way to the first building they were instructed to search: the library. From behind them, the goblins’ laughter hooted after them.

“At least they aren’t suspicious,” noted Gino. “In fact, it seems they think it’s funny, and probably blame another patrol.”

Kuri flashed a few images to the party. The goblin patrol wasn’t the least bit suspicious, and as long as they were quiet, they should be able to reach the library with little problem.

Rounding a corner between buildings, the party stopped short. Another kobold, this time obviously a spellcaster of some sort stood flanked by two metallic dogs. As the kobold let go of the leashes, he reached into his brocaded cloak and produced a wand. Snarling, the dogs charged down the alleyway towards the party.

Gino, the closest to the dogs, looked over at Mangre.

“So much for not being noticed.”

Class port barbarian

As the metal dogs closed on the party, Gino, thinking quickly, leapt up and caught the edge of the roof on the building the party was hiding behind. Pulling himself up, he crept along the rooftop and waited for Mangre to confront the dogs head-on.

“C’mon then ye hunks o’ metal!” Mangre shouted, catching the attention of both constructs.

As Mangre yelled, the dogs immediately changed course and slowed, loping toward the dwarf. Up went the Mangre’s craghammer and it rushed down at the first dog’s head. Nimbly leaping aside, the Iron defender nipped at Mangre, pinching his skin beneath his chainmail shirt.

“Ow!, ye damn contraption! Ye got a piece of me there.”

As Gino reached the edge of the rooftop, he looked down to see Mangre and the two Iron Defenders in heated combat. With a shout, he leapt from the top of the building, but instead of landing behind the dogs, he rolled his ankle, and fell to the side. Turning around and scrambling away from the Defenders’ iron jaws, he looked up to see the kobold spell caster readying his wand again.

Behind Mangre, Kuri, who was particularly vulnerable to flanking attacks took the distracting opportunity to swirl into hundreds of shards and shifted away from the physical fighting. Layleth, who had gone all but unnoticed during the initial charge, snuck away after seeing Gino climb onto the roof and attempted a flanking maneuver of her own. Nimbly leaping from pile of trash to window sill, the elf reached out for the roof’s edge and missed! Mangre and Gino, who were in the heat of the battle heard a crash and a very unprincess-like curse, and suddenly an arrow shot out from the other side of the building, knocking the wand from the kobolds hand.

Startled, the kobold looked at Layleth and seeing the elf wide-eyed with rage at getting dirty yet again, ran to the nearest doorway and took cover from the elf’s relentless assault of arrows. Seeing the immediate danger of the kobold had passed, Gino climbed painfully to his feet and from behind the Iron Defenders brought his battle axe down in a great overhead strike. The pain in his ankle, however flared at that moment and the axe clunked harmlessly down in between the constructs. At that moment, Sir Brandt appeared behind Mangre and struck out at the second Iron Defender. Seeing the phantasmal sword pass through the dog, both Mangre and Gino thought that it would do no good, but as the sword exited, a great slash appeared in the side of the beast, and oil began to drip out.

Looking up at one another, the Dwarf and the Barbarian swung from opposite sides and crushed the Iron Defenders together, seriously injuring both beasts.

The kobold, seeing that the battle could be lost, and that these were not just another group of unlucky adventurers, ran into the street, dodging arrows as he came. Stopping short of the Iron Defenders, he reached into his robe and produced a flask of green liquid. At that moment however, Layleth, seeing her opening, chased down the kobold, and as he tried to unstopper the flask, she brought her Falchion to bear. With a sigh, the kobold dropped, and the flask rolled harmlessly away.

A second later, the pair of Iron Defenders stopped moving.

Wiping her blade off on the kobold’s robes, she looked at the inanimate constructs.

“Their power was tied to their master,” she explained to a confused looking Mangre. “With the spell caster dead, the Iron Defenders had nowhere to draw their power, and they are now defunct.”

“I have heard tell of these types of monstrosities,” Sir Brandt said. “It is like I have heard, though I have never seen such creatures with mine own eyes.” With a pop that sounded like air filling a vacuum, Sir Brandt shrugged and disappeared.

The party took some time to bandage their wounds and of course dismantle the Iron Defenders and hide the parts. As Gino covered the spell caster with garbage to hide the body from any patrols, Quinn started wandering away.

“Oi! Now where ye think ye’re goin’ boy?” Mangre called after him.

Quinn didn’t answer but instead lead the way unerringly into a ramshackle old building that may have once been a stable.

Following him, Layleth soon disappeared from sight after the child. Looking at each other, Kuri, Gino, and Mangre turned to follow but as they approached the building they heard the elf squeal with delight. Holding a Falchion above her head as the two came back out from inside the building, the trio could see that the blade was enchanted.

“Thank you Quinn,” Layleth said, “it is wonderful! I can’t believe you knew it was there!”

“Sir Brandt told me,” Quinn said sheepishly, obviously unused to praise.

“Well keep yer stupid blade, elf,” Mangre said, “I got me at least one, maybe two of those rustbuckets back there, and all ye got was a squishy kobold.”

Laughing, Layleth thought about it.

“Well, I killed the kobold, and since the Iron Defenders in question were powered by the little creature, I guess that means I should be taking credit for those two as well…” Layleth trailed off to see Mangre sputtering, eyes bulging with anger.

“Now look here ye stubborn elf! I killed those contraptions fair and square!” He opened and closed his mouth like a fish.

Laughing now as well, Gino stepped between the two.

“We aren’t even close to done here, so there will be more chances,” he said. “Let’s get out of here and find a way into the library.”

As they walked past the spot where the kobold had been, Mangre stopped and reached down.

“Mayhap this might be a brew worth tellin’ tales about.” He picked up the flask the kobold had tried to dump on him. Opening the flask produced a smell so strong that even the normally smelly dwarf had to restopper it right away.

“Maybe not,” he said, “but it might come in handy later.”

He put the flask in his pouch, but thought better of it and gave it to Layleth.

“I may be too short to use this, so if we find the need, ye’ll use it…but ye should know, elf, that if’n it kills anything, they’re my kills!”

With a snort, Layleth put the flask on her belt and tied it tight with a loose thong. Ignoring the dwarf and his poor sportsmanship, the elf led the party on to the library.

Class elf cleric

The party continued to sneak through the streets dodging patrols, Quinn’s ghostly protector guiding them to the alley that lead to the main square of the library. Just as Quinn was about to step out onto the main street, Gino reached out and grabbed him. As Quinn was about to protest, Kuri send images to the party showing a group of about twelve goblins in at the main entrance to the library ahead. Speaking telepathically through Kuri, the party decided to find a back entrance to the library. As Layleth melted into the shadows and began her search, the goblin patrol started to move away.

“Typical,” snorted Mangre. “As soon as we commit to a roundabout way in, the fight goes ahead and leaves anyway.”

“Relax dwarf,” Gino said placatingly, “there may be sentries inside the building that will bring the whole town down upon our heads. You’ll get your fight then.”

“One can only hope-,” Mangre started to reply.

“I found another way in, and I think I can pick the lock,” Layleth whispered as she reappeared, interrupting Mangre.

Looking at Gino, Mangre muttered, “I really wish she’d stop doing that,” as he followed the party toward the side entrance to the large and still mostly intact building.

The dwarf arrived to see Layleth looking at the locking mechanism on the door.

“It’s not quite lined up,” she complained. Getting an idea, she looked at Gino. “Can you leverage this door a little bit…there!” She said triumphantly as the barbarian used his strength to line up the mechanisms in the door. Quietly the door swung open.

Gino grinned, “it’s what I’m here for.”

Entering the door, the party let their eyes adjust and saw that they were in a storage room of some sort. The room was dank and full of old scrolls, some partially burned. To the left was a door, sealed tight against the unstoppable onslaught of goblins so many years ago. In the corner by the door was a skeleton, most likely a scholarly victim of starvation, who died after locking himself in the room against the goblin horde. Directly ahead of the party was another door, also sealed from the inside. Just on the other side of the door, the chattering of goblins could be heard.

“It sounds like they’re eating,” Layleth said, her keen elven ears picking up the sounds of goblin lips smacking and the scuffles over the choicest pieces of meat.

“Well, let’s see if they care to share their hospitality,” Mangre said, and directed Gino to stand by the door straight ahead. “On my signal, lets kick the door in and introduce ourselves,” he instructed the barbarian.

Looking to see if the rest of the group was ready, Mangre looked at Gino and nodded. On the count of three, the two reared back and knocked their respective doors in, each one crushing a goblin unlucky enough to be standing right behind it.

At the back of the room was a small staircase, leading to a kind of half-level full of bookshelves. To the right of the stairs was an alchemical table full of instruments and implements of all kinds, and in the middle of the room were six tables, pushed into three rows and covered in rotten meat and bones like the reception of some macabre wedding. Apart from the two goblins that were crushed by the door, there were five more goblins, startled mid-feast by the sudden death of their comrades. Next to the alchemical table there was a cloaked goblin, larger than the rest, holding a book and as the party entered, the goblin tore a page from the book. The leaflet glowed green as the goblin spoke some words and then it disintegrated. Looking up from what he was doing, the cloaked goblin noticed the severe lack of activity of his troupe and then his eyes widened as he saw the party.

Mangre, itching to best Layleth in the kill count, charged ahead and leapt onto a table. In his wake, three goblins turned and started for the door, but at that moment, Layleth rounded the corner and, opening the flask, sprayed the three unlucky monsters with the liquid from the flask. As their flesh melted, Layleth jumped over the puddle, making sure not to get any on herself, and followed Mangre onto the table.

Gino, Kuri and Quinn, with Sir Brandt at his side, filed in through the door and took up defensive positions. Mangre, seeing that the rest of the party was inside, turned and charged the goblin holding the book.

Gino, about to join the fray, noticed a goblin hiding under the table ahead of him, and the goblin, knowing the game was up as soon as he met the barbarian’s eyes, leapt up and rushed towards the secondary group. Gino expected it, however, and the barbarian’s axe came down with a solid thunk and cut the goblin in half.

As Mangre closed with the goblin holding the tome, now in tatters, the goblin grabbed another book off the nearest shelf and tore a page out. Speaking more words of power, the page glowed green again, and as it fell to the floor, it turned into a gray mass, quivering and wobbling. Mid-charge, Mangre had to work to stop his forward momentum. Seeing he couldn’t possibly stop in time, he opened his mouth to shout, but Kuri, picking up his distress from across the room fired a bolt of Divine energy into the ooze. As the ooze bubbled and frothed, letting forth a putrid stench, Mangre continued his forward rush and plowed right through the boiling ooze. Only slightly slowed, however, he swung his craghammer at the goblin. The blow, which should have connected, seemed to slide right through the goblin, and suddenly it was on the rear stairway. Sir Brandt, seeing the goblin tear another page from the book, instantly appeared at the side of the goblin.

“Thou art a right knave, to destroy history so brazenly, foul creature!” He shouted, and swung his sword at the goblin. A flash of blue-gray light, and the goblin suddenly found itself unable to teleport to safety. Running back farther up the stairs, the goblin tore a page out of the book as it ran, throwing it to the ground and producing another gray ooze.

Suddenly the ground began to shake, and from the previous room, a cloud of dust started to roil out as scrolls and shelves fell in a heap.

Quinn, closest to the door, let out a scream and wet himself as an Ankheg broke through the floor and lumbered out into the goblin’s dining hall.

As large as one of the tables, and three times as high, the huge, brown, centipede-like creature burst from the other room, knocking the downed door and the dead goblins aside.

“Well this just keeps getting better and better,” shouted Mangre as he hacked at the newest ooze summoned by the goblin.

Shouting to Layleth, Mangre decided that in this case, tactics might serve him better than brute force.

“Elf! Ye chase down this damn Bookripper! The Ankheg is mine!”

Layleth answered with a volley of arrows right over Mangre’s head, tagging the goblin in the arm and the side. Panicking, the goblin tried to flee, but Sir Brandt was there. Turning to look at Quinn, so close to the Ankheg, Sir Brandt shouted a command.

“Use the sword, young master! It may be your only hope to get out of here alive!”

Without thinking, Quinn pointed the sword at the goblin, and suddenly, a great spray of frost shot from the end and stuck the goblin square in the chest.

Slowed, it was easy work for Layleth to leap over the tables and catch up. Taking a full swing of her Falchion, the last thing the goblin saw through chattering teeth was Layleth’s blade coming down toward its face.

Gino, who was right behind Quinn, pushed the boy out of the way. Something about the way the Ankheg had stopped at the melted puddle of goblins struck him as odd.

“It seems the flask was filled with the poison of the Ankheg,” he called to the rest of the party, “it seems to have attracted-”

The Ankheg, startled out of its inspection turned, and spotting the barbarian reared up in an aggressive posture, ready to strike Gino.

“Oops,” was all he was able to say, before the Ankheg grabbed him with its mandibles.

Swinging the barbarian back and forth, the Ankheg let loose with globs of ichor, showering the immediate area with sticky goo. Gino, still trapped in the beast’s maw, got the worst of it, and instantly his skin started to itch.

Quinn, unable to watch a member of his group get so badly savaged, pointed the sword again, and let loose another blast of frost. The Ankheg, hurt by the blast, dropped Gino and started toward the boy.

Kuri, who was the last in the door, began glowing crimson red, and sent a wave of energy at the beast, shaking it, and causing it to miss Quinn with its first attack. Quinn wasn’t so lucky the next time, however, and the Ankheg grabbed the boy in its jaws and began to squeeze. Luckily, the sword Quinn always carried saved his life, and instead the of child being cut in half, the blade stopped the mandibles from closing all the way, as it lodged horizontally in between each pincer.

Seeing the immediate threat of the goblin had passed, Sir Brandt vanished and reappeared in front of the Ankheg.

“Drop him foul beast, or thou wilt regret ever emerging from the subterrane!” He shouted.

The Ankheg, now furious that such an easy meal had been denied, ignored the spectre. Kuri, however proved harder to ignore. Blasting the creature again, it stunned the beast long enough for Quinn to drop down from between the Ankheg’s pincers. At that moment, Mangre leapt, and with a mighty swing, brought his hammer down, cracking the Ankheg’s carapace above its eyes.

With the new target of its ire so close at hand, the Ankheg swung around and faced the dwarf as an arrow from Layleth’s bow struck it in one of its eyes, partially disabling it.

Gino, not wanting the let the full attention of the threat focus directly on Mangre, swung with his battle axe, striking a glancing blow. Kicking out with its leg, the Ankheg knocked the barbarian into the wall.

Gino, stunned from the blow, slid down the wall and fell unconscious.

“Now ye’ve gone and done it ye ugly mother-”

With a roar, the Ankheg dashed forward, intent on finishing the dwarf. As it came down in a rush, Mangre leapt forward, under the maw of the beast and swung with all his strength upwards into the creature’s face.

With a loud crack, the Ankheg stopped, shuddered and slumped towards the ground. As it fell, the head of the beast slowly opened, spilling gore out onto the floor, and splashing the party with ichor.

“I can’t stand this!” retched Layleth as she turned and vomited. Seeing the party unable to heal itself, Quinn turned and spoke with Sir Brandt quietly. Again, that magical glow came over the party, and wounds began to knit.

Waking up, Gino looked around confused.

“I thought I was gone for sure,” he stood up. “Thank you my dwarven comrade, I don’t believe I was supposed to survive that.”

“Bah, yer a part of the Last Option now, Goliath. It’s me job to keep ye from succumbin’ to injury or death!” With a pat on the barbarian’s back that almost knocked the much larger Goliath over, the dwarf chuckled.

“I’m thinkin’ that since I saved yer arse, ye could convince the elf that the beastie I saved ye from counts as two?”

Layleth, overhearing the conversation turned and slapped the dwarf.

“I don’t particularly care how many that…thing…was worth,” she spat, “if you ever get me this dirty again, I’ll…I’ll…”

“It was an Ankheg,” interrupted Gino.

Turning to the barbarian, who was easily more likable than the crass dwarf, Layleth could only sigh.

“Fine, but at this point, I almost hope I lose this stupid wager,” she said. “I need a bath almost as much as Mangre.”

“Already had one, thank ye,” muttered Mangre. Kuri, coming up on the group, and ever one to keep the party on task, flashed some images of a book and a stone.

“Right,” agreed Layleth, “let’s look around for the Slaying Stone and some of those books.”

After searching the library thoroughly, the party found a pair of bookshelves knocked to an outward slant. Behind them, a hole was dug into the masonry of the library wall. Claw marks in the wall showed that whatever may have been there was definitely gone now, and scattered about the opening were three brassy scales.

Quinn picked up one of the scales, and turning it over in his hand looked at Layleth.

“I have a bad feeling about this…”

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Treona's Journal

Dewsnap 1, 745CC

Rend sent one of his new groups over to pursue the Kiris case. A bunch of greenhorns if I’ve ever seen one. I wasn’t expecting The Green Hand, but I would think he’d at least send over the Farstriders. He didn’t think I noticed, but that little urchin I’ve seen wandering around the city was listening at the window. Now that’s a weird little boy. On top of that, I had to put up with that Dwarf Mangre Mudspout, how rude! Hopefully they are up to the task of acquiring the Slaying Stone. Maybe one of the goblins has already secured it and will use it on that idiot Dwarf. I just hope Lord Kiris doesn’t think The Pillars of the Red fill their stations with rank amateurs. I had better check to make sure they didn’t steal anything on the way out…

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Kids Are Crafty
Chapter 2 of Stellar Redemption

As The Last Option Adventuring Company left Pitax, Kuri stopped short. A split second later, Layleth did too. Kuri looked around, scanning the area confused, and flashed a few pictures to the group.

“There’s a boy following us,” Layleth explained. “I noticed him in town but I didn’t think anything of it.”

“How do you want to handle it?” asked Gino.

Layleth glanced at Kuri and a message passed between them. Kuri shook its head. Another message and Kuri glowed pink, the Shardmind’s version of a sigh, and with a look that most likely signified resignation, shifted over to a bush and reached in. A yelp and a yank later, there was a pitiful looking human boy with a rusty short sword sitting in the middle of the party. The boy was covered in filthy rags, and he clutched the broken weapon to his chest as though it were a doll. His eyes wide and constantly scanning, it didn’t take much for the companions to see that he was on edge. Exhausted and skittish, the boy shouted loudly, “I’m going with you!”

“What makes him think he can tell us what to do?” Gino laughingly asked.

Layleth looked the boy over and asked him, “were you following us?” The boy’s lower lip quivered and he whispered, “I can’t! They scare me!” K uri and Layleth exchanged a look. Who, or what, was the boy talking to?

“Hey there Anklebiter,” Mangre shouted, “The elf asked ye a question, and I suggest ye answer it afore I kick yer arse back over the town wall!” The stumpy dwarf had little patience for this sort of thing, and wanted to be on their way. Kuri looked up at Mangre sharply and after a blank look, the dwarf shook his head and spat, “I told ye once ye pile o’ pretty colored rocks, stay outta my head!” Another blank look, and Mangre growled, “fine but ye need to learn to talk.” Kuri flashed a few pictures at the boy, and he seemed to calm himself.

“I’m Quinn. I have to go with you. I have to! Please say yes, I’ll stay out of the way and you won’t have to take care of me. I’m a big kid now. I can take care of myself. See? I have food, and if there’s a fight, I’ll just stay behind and hide.” Layleth looked at the others and knelt down in front of the boy.

“Where are your parents?,” she asked.

“Dead,” Quinn mumbled, “don’t touch me.”

Layleth sighed and extended her arms in a hug, but Quinn scampered away.

“Don’t touch me,” he repeated, then, looking over his shoulder he whispered, “do I have to? I don’t like being touched.”

Taking the role of Den Mother, Layleth looked very sternly at Quinn.

“You can come with us, but if things get violent, I want you to stay in the back and hide,” she said.

Quinn looked overjoyed and whispered, “I wish you would stop that.”

“Great,” muttered Mangre, “a mental child, an Elf princess, a mound o’ rocks, a Goliath, and o’ course the best Dwarven Fighter in the land…what else could go wrong?”

“He comes with us,” asserted Layleth, and Kuri glowed dark red in agreement.

“Fine, but if he gets in the way, I’ll tie him to a tree and leave him there,” Mangre grumbled, and stumped away in disgust.

Race port shardmind

Several hours later, the Adventuring Company stood outside the entrance to the secret trail marked on their map by Lord Kiris.

“I’ll go first,” Layleth said. “I have knowledge of forests which will allow me to scout ahead. The rest of you follow at a safe distance. I will come back if I sense anything amiss.” As Layleth scouted ahead, Mangre, Gino, Kuri and Quin trailed a short distance behind. The undergrowth had all but overtaken what was left of the trail, signifying that it hadn’t been used in years.

As the party cautiously traveled, Kuri sent soothing images into the boy’s head, calming him and assuring him that it would be all right.

“But he’s nice, Sir Brandt,” Quinn whispered, “I know he looks scary but he’s actually a part of the gate between the Astral Plane and the Realm of Madness. He’s not mean. I don’t know why you keep saying that.”

Mangre reached out and stopped the boy. “Who is Sir Brandt, pipsqueak? An imaginary friend?”

“No, he’s my ghost,” Quinn replied mater-of-factly. “He follows me everywhere. Sometimes he helps me.”

“Fair enough,” Mangre said. “Maybe he can help us if we run into trouble-”

“Quiet, all of you.” Layleth was suddenly on the trail ahead. “There are five Goblins on the path about 45 yards up.”

Kuri glowed almost orange and sent Layleth images of a large group of goblins, a camp, and a human scouting party. A question; was it a Goblin scouting party from Kiris Dahn?

“No, they look like they are simply passing through, and not part of the larger group.”

She thought for a second. “We could wait here, though they may pass right through where we are standing, or we could possibly ambush them.”

“Ambush them!,” Quinn fervently whispered. The whole party turned to look at the boy.

“We …ambush them and there’s no chance of them…reporting back to Kiris Dahn…to report trail signs to the rest of the…inhabitants…we should…ambush them.” As Quinn spoke it almost seemed as though he was relaying instructions from an unknown benefactor. He would stop midsentence, seem to listen, and then finish the thought.

“Something’s not right with that boy,” Manger said, and Kuri glowed a milky-quartz color. He was laughing! Layleth couldn’t help but agree.

“Ok, this is our chance then, quietly now, follow me.” Layleth led them to the crossroads where the Goblins stood.

One of the Goblins stood out from the rest. He was wearing a feathered robe and holding a staff with a totem on top. Obviously the leader, he was shouting orders to three grunts who seemed to be arguing over who should carry what. As the arguing got more intense, the Goblin leader gestured to a larger Goblin holding a large feather-adorned battle axe. The large Goblin stepped forward and using the flat end of the battle axe bonked the three porters on the head in turn. Rubbing their heads and grumbling, the Goblin porters quickly set about detangling the straps of their gear and shifting the goods around.

Slowly creeping forward, the party readied themselves for combat. Just as Layleth was about to issue orders to the party, Gino burst from the bushes and rushed toward the pack of three goblins. The goblins looked up in surprise, and seeing the fury on the Goliath’s face as he charged with his enormous weapon, scrambled over each other to get out of the way and ready their own weapons. Just as Gino was raising his weapon to swing, the Barbarian tripped and slid to stop right in front of the goblins! Through the dust created by the fall, Gino looked up just in time to see the first goblin unsheathe it’s weapon.

“O’ course,” Mangre sighed, “now I have to save his big dumb arse.”

With a cry to Moradin, Mangre leapt into the fray. Watching only the danger Gino was in however, Mangre soon followed suit, and with a trip and a tumble, the dwarf fell over the same exposed root and landed squarely on top of the huge barbarian.

“Ye coulda warned me, ye dumb ox!” Shouted Mangre as the goblin lifted its bone axe to strike. Suddenly, out of nowhere a bright light flashed, blinding both of the downed fighters. When their eyes adjusted, the first goblin had a hole in its chest that reached from breastplate to navel. Through the hole, the two could see the where the second and third goblins should have been, but in their place, there was a pile of ashes and a boot. Gino was the first to figure out what happened.

“My thanks Kuri. It seems Mangre was right in his description of you.”

Kuri merely glowed with his milky-quartz laughter and send an image of the remaining goblins, a larger one with a huge battle axe and the spellcaster at the two.

“Right! No sense in hanging around, Goliath,” Mangre jumped up and shoved the dead but still standing goblin aside. Giving Gino a hand to his feet, the dwarf looked up. “There’s goblins what need crushin’!”

As Mangre was helping Gino up, Layleth sprinted past them and swung her blade at the goblin spell caster. Just as she was about to connect, however, her blade was shunted aside.

“Magical barrier!” She shouted. As the goblin swung in retaliation, she nimbly leapt out of the way and counter attacked. Again her blade was unable to connect.

“Take care of that one!” She called, and as the acolyte swung again, a blue glow began to emanate from its staff.

“What, ho?!” Called a deep voice from behind the party. “Methinks you’ve found your way into trouble again, young master!”

The entire battle paused and turned as a ghostly knight strode into view. The knight seemed to move five steps for every one, and soon he was directly in the middle of the battlefield.

“Who’re you?” Mangre asked, incredulous.

Kuri sent images to the party. Quinn holding the sword aloft, and the knightly visage appearing as he just did.

“I am Sir Brandt, and you, my crass, foul-mannered dwarven comrade, should be focused on the battle at hand. There will be time enough to explain when you emerge victorious!”

The ghost of Sir Brandt pointed, and as Mangre turned he was stuck in the chest by the battle axe of the already recovered goblin.

Gasping for breath, Mangre fell, bleeding from the nose. Gino leapt over the dwarf and with a mighty swing, decapitated the creature before it had a chance to reset it’s feet.

M dwarf5

Layleth’s fight was going slightly better, but knowing she had no chance to defeat the spellcasting goblin unless she broke it’s barrier, she lept back as two bolts sizzled past her. Dropping her sword she swung her bow off her back and had an arrow nocked before the goblin could begin casting again. Arrow after arrow thumped into and bounced off her opponent, deflecting into the air and the ground at the goblin’s feet.

Suddenly the goblin twisted, and looking down in surprise, Layleth noted that her last arrow had hit. The goblin reached up and touched the arrow protruding from its shoulder and with a snarl leapt forward at the elf, but Sir Brandt was there.

“Your marksmanship is quite superb, my lithe friend,” Sir Brandt complimented as he shoved the goblin back. “Mayhap we should finish this villain off, that I might tend to your wounded?”

Layleth nodded in agreement. As Sir Brandt distracted the goblin, she ran forward, scooping up her Falchion as she came. At the last moment she jumped and flipped over the goblin, landing behind it. Still facing the way she had come, she brought the blade up and flipped it over in her grip, reversing the direction of her weapon. Down came the tip of the falchion, and it as it slipped under her arm, it exploded through the front of the goblins chest. The goblin slumped and she twisted the blade, exploding it’s heart.

The fight over, Sir Brandt went about healing Mangre.

“Your wounds seem superficial, sir dwarf, though it has been long and long since I have felt the sting of battle, and thus I may be incorrect in my assumption.”

“Yeah, well, I supposed I should thank ye, and maybe yer boy as well,” Mangre said as he sat up wincing. Looking over at Quinn, the dwarf grudgingly spoke, “Yer alright, boy. I guess ye can stay so long as ye keep me alive.”

“T-t-thanks!” Quinn replied, “I’m kind of glad Sir Brandt decided to help you. He doesn’t always like the people I travel with and I was worried he’d let you die.”

“If he let me die, ye can be sure that I’d be findin’ him on the Astral Plane and kickin’ his little ghostie arse,” Mangre laughed. He turned to see Sir Brandt’s reaction but the knight was already gone.

“Well at least I don’t have to hear him jabberjaw all archaic-like in between fights,” Mangre said.

Quinn cocked his head to the side.

“Sir Brandt says if you keep making jokes like that, he won’t heal you next time,” the boy said very seriously.

As the party laughed, Layleth reminded them of the task at hand.

“We need to be at the village by dusk,” she reminded them. “We’re not even close to done yet.”

Together, and with more respect for each other than they had when they started, the party left the carnage of battle behind them and faded into the trees.

The goblins at Kiris Dahn had no idea what they were in for.

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Unemployment and a Lack of Ale
Chapter 1 of Stellar Redemption

I started my day like any other: face down in the gutter. There’s been no jobs for new Adventuring Companies since The Pillars of the Red Hired us about a month back. Those jackass Slayers and Farstriders get all the damn work. Layleth, Kuri and I have been on retainer, which gives me just enough coin to buy myself ale-enough to forget how bad things can get. Layleth is our resident princess, and I don’t mean that in a good way. She’s prissy and keeps rambling on about how Hobgoblins razed her village. Big deal, I lost my entire clan by mistake. Kuri…I don’t know what that one’s deal is. It’s just a big pile of rocks that talks in pictures. I hate trying to communicate with that one. I need to quit drinking.

On second thought, no I don’t.

As I stumble out of the alley and reach into my belt pouch, I realize that last night’s bender may have been more than it seemed. I’m broke, probably robbed. At least I still have the gold coin I keep for special occasions in my boot heel. Oh well, maybe I’ll head over to the Arena and see if there’s an underdog or two who wants to keep me fortified with Dwarven Holy Water.

As I push my way through the crowd, I spot the board with the odds. Gino is the underdog today. Damn Goliath; you’d think he’d be a better fighter for a Barbarian. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him actually be the champion of the day. He’s only the underdog by a margin of ten-to-one, so I bet on him. The Human that took my money was rude. I throw up on him to teach him a lesson. As I make my way to my seat, I keep hoping that Moradin comes through for me today. I don’t want to spend a sober night alone again. Ever since Clan Alebrewer had to pull up stakes and evacuate our mountain home, I haven’t been able to sleep. Sure, I was fighting back the Goblin hordes as they stormed our homes, and sure I’m probably the best of the lot of them, but I guess they were so scared they forgot to take a head count. They left me! Their best fighter! I’m sure they’re wondering where I’ve been for the last decade. They probably sit home at night, wherever they are and worry about me. Well they shouldn’t! I’m the best at what I do! Just because I’ve spent the last ten years in the bottom of a tankard doesn’t mean I still don’t have it, I could probably take that stupid Goliath one-on-one! Speaking of the Goliath, as I find my seat I look up at the board to see when he’s scheduled to fight, and it turns out that he’s next. I sit down just as the gates come up. It’s Gino the Goliath Barbarian against an Elf. The Elf is a two-weapon sort, and she looks like she knows how to use those blades. This should be interesting.

M dwarf5

Not a bad fight. Gino looks like he got the crap beat out of him, but that last little move he pulled, matching the Elf’s mobility with some of that famous Goliath brawn did the trick. They’ll be cleaning Elf-juice off the sand for weeks. As I collect my winnings, I can’t help but think about how useful having that kind of brute in our group would be. I make my way down to the arena entrance and wait for Gino to come out. As he does, I pull him away from the main group of fighters and steer him towards the nearest tavern. I can’t imagine he’s very smart so I’m going to have to talk fast.

As we push are way into the tavern the crowds part in front of him. This could be handy.

“Ever wonder if there’s more to fighting than the arena?,” I ask.

He answers with a stupid look so I jump up and pull him down to my level. No small feat considering there is almost 3 feet between his collar and my arm.

“Come with me, and I’ll make you a star! No more arenas, no more crowds, just you, me, a few others, the open road and all the gold and adventure you could possibly want!”

I think he’s starting to get it. He smiles and nods like the big dumb Goliath he is, and follows me up to the bar. I buy him a drink, and order two for myself. I throw out some coins and we sit there in silence for a few minutes. Finally, wiping the foam from my beard, I lead the big ox to the Pillars of the Red Guild Hall.

On the way, I fill him in on the members of our little soon-to-be quartet.

“Ok,” I start, “so far it’s just me and two others. That makes three. You can count right? Good. Now you know me, I’m the dwarf that just bought you a drink. I’m your friend. You and me, we can kick the rears of pretty much anybody we want, so stick with me and we can do some damage. The other two are strange. One’s an elf… Layleth. I think she’s a princess or something. At least, that’s how she acts. She’s always talking about her brother and how her village was ransacked by Hobgoblins. She may seem prissy, but don’t misjudge her, she’s as deadly with her Falchion and her Bow as anybody. She’s a little too compassionate for my taste, but other folks like her, so she’s useful.”

“The other one…well, you’d have to see it to believe it.”

Gino looks confused so I elaborate.

“It’s what’s called a Shardmind. Calls itself Kuri. It’s basically a bunch of telepathic rocks that look like a person. He talks in pictures, so it’ll take some getting used to, but it won’t bother you if you don’t bother it. It’s a spell caster of some sort, but it knows what it’s doing, so when the energy bolts start flying, stay out of its way.”

I can see that my description doesn’t do much for the Barbarian, so I figure I’ll let him find out for himself.

As we make our way into the Guild Hall, I see a movement out of the corner of my eye. I can’t tell what it is, and by the time I turn to look, whatever it was is gone.

M dwarf5

We’ve been sitting at the guild hall for a while and my supply of coin, and thus my supply of ale, is dwindling. I’m just about to suggest to Gino that maybe he could go another round at the arena when Allic Galemar walks in.

“Good news everybody! I’ve got a Top Secret Mission for you all!”

Allic is a wizard, or “Archmage” as he refers to himself. He’s a small hunched over man in his mid sixties, bald, and walks with a staff. He’s hard of hearing, can’t remember much, and licks his lips a lot. I don’t like him, but he pays for my drinking, so I guess he’s not as bad as he seems. I just don’t know how such a doddering old fool gets to be in charge of an operation like this.

Layleth speaks up first.

“What’s so ‘Top Secret’ about the mission?,” she asks.

Allic looks confused, “Nothing…everybody knows about it, so why would it be Top Secret?”

“But you just said-”

“Never mind! I need to you four to go to Treona’s place. She has a Top Secret Mission for you!”

This is the way our discussions usually run, which is probably one of the reasons I drink so much.

We make our way to Treona’s place and wood splinters as Gino knocks on the door. Yeah, he’s going to be useful.

The door opens and a dark-skinned human woman in her mid-thirties ushers us inside. She is smoking a paper roll of smoke-weed, and the whole area reeks of the acrid smelling weed smoke. She talks in a manner more akin to Gnomes than humans; fast and almost high pitched.

“Thank you for coming, do you bring the letter from Allic as to which group of adventurers he is sending?”

“We are the group,” Layleth says.

“Oh that can’t be right, Allic said he would be sending one of his groups, and you aren’t the Farstriders or the Slayers, or even the Green Hand. This won’t do. This won’t do at all. Were you followed? I think I saw someone following you but I can’t be sure. Are you sure you really an adventuring party? You don’t look like one. I can’t believe Allic didn’t send the Green Hand. I’m going to have words with that one, but oh, where are my manners? Please make yourselves at home, and-”

By Moradin, but this woman can talk! I’ve had enough and interrupt her.

“Do you have any ale?,” I ask.

“Yes, please have a seat, and I’ll have my servant fetch it for you. Does anybody else need anything?,” she looks at Kuri, “do you need a seat? Do you even sit? I can’t imagine you need anything we need, if I’m correct in my assumption that you are, indeed a Shardmind?,” she gives a short laugh and cocks her head to the side. A vacant looks flashes across her face as she stares at Kuri and she shakes her head, “wait right here I’ll be right back.”

Several minutes, and several Tankards later, Treona walks into the room.

“This is Lord Kiris, he needs you to go and get a Slaying Stone from Kiris Dahn.”

We all look to him and he gets that blank look on his face as Kuri asks a question.

“The town of Kiris Dahn is located on Southwest tip of the Gorizbadd Woods,” he begins, “Built by human hands, Kiris Dahn stood strong against invaders for decades after the fall of the empire of Nerath. It had magical stones, created by Tiefling artisans known as the Architects of Victory, that could kill anyone who attacked the town. The number of stones dwindled until all were spent.”

“Eight years ago, the citizens of Kiris Dahn abandoned the town when faced with invading goblin hordes. The goblins overran the town and renamed it Gorizbadd. The town quickly fell into ruin, since goblins were far more interested in vandalism than in proper maintenance.”

Another blank look from Kiris.

“Recently, Treona discovered old records that indicate one Slaying Stone still remains. Treona and I would like for you to get that Stone, and bring it back here to be destroyed.”

As the conversation goes back and forth between Kuri and Kiris, I sit back and think about it. I hate Goblins. I’d do it for free if I didn’t need money for more drink, but I do love to drink. I interrupt.

“How much will you pay us, and is there anything else in the area that could potentially get us paid more? Also, Treona, give me one of your rolled smoke-weeds. I find I am…more agreeable when drinking and smoking.”

As I light the rolled smoke-weed, I listen to what they are asking of us. We have to sneak into a Goblin town, check three or four locations for the Slaying Stone, and either bring it back destroyed or bring it back to be destroyed. The Stone doesn’t work outside of the town, so we don’t have to worry about accidentally using it once we leave the immediate geographic area, and if we bring back a few books from the library for Treona, we get paid an extra ten gold coins a book. Not a bad deal…that much gold would buy me a lot of ale.

The negotiations wrap up and we get set to head out to the town of Kiris Dahn. I put the smoke-weed out on the floor, and just to prevent any fire hazards, I pour out what’s left of my tankard on the lit roll. We have a job! Finally a paying job! Things are looking up for us…and I need a drink.

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