Session One Hundred Forty-Seven - November 3, 2018

Wherein the ongoing story of the FtF campaign may be found ...

Session One Hundred Forty-Seven - November 3, 2018

Postby Matt » Sat Nov 24, 2018 7:32 pm

Kelen 3, 733

Dawn finds Narad having packed ample provisions for the day’s trek up into the mountains. To the delight of Sir Baris, this includes a generous ration of ale. Soon they set off on a trail heading east under a glum, overcast sky, their breaths visible in the cold, bracing air. Mount Esig remains within sight to the northeast even here. Sergeant Kelak leads the way with Lord Ewen directly behind, with squire Goreg maintaining his post a step or two to the rear of his lord. Arva, Cekiya, and one of the Khuzan soldiers, Mizad, occupies the center of the column, followed by Sir Baris, who is constantly hefting and examining his new axe, as if testing its balance in his hand. The third Khuzan, Mulen, brings up the rear.

Not too long after they start off, the trail forks, with the Taz river flowing westward back toward the lake along the righthand path. Sergeant Kelak chooses the left fork, and they begin their climb to the north-east.

Mulen, stumping along behind Sir Baris as they march upward, notices him ogling his new axe. “Looks like you enjoy that,” he rumbles in Khuzan, amused.

Sir Baris hefts the weapon in appreciation, allowing the morning light to catch the runes on the blade. “It says Badass,” he enthuses. “At least, that’s what they said.”

“Ah …” the dwarf squints dubiously.

Arva, unable to resist inserting herself, falls back and asks Mulen, “How do you pronounce what it says?”

“Well ...” Mulen coughs and seems to hesitate, but only for the briefest of moments. “It’s like this ...” He proceeds to enunciate a highly guttural series of Khuzan syllables. Arva repeats this several times, so she can get the pronunciation correct, which causes Sergeant Kelak at the head of the column to glance sharply over his shoulder.

Arva looks up at Sir Baris and says, “It suits you.” The knight beams.

As they continue along the path, they catch glimpses through the trees of another smallish river running to the south of the trail. Their surroundings become more alpine as they climb, tall swaying pines and firs replacing the deciduous trees which dominated the landscape surrounding the lake.

Cekiya, silent and unobtrusive at the center of the small column, is not looking at trees. Her attention is drawn to a really large shape in the sky, now abruptly diving. She calls out a bland assessment, “Death from above,” which brings Lord Ewen’s head around quickly as the sky is eclipsed by a vast, churning motion.

An enormous scaled tail sweeps amongst them and hammers Sergeant Kelak across the right shoulder, staggering him, then whipsaws back and sweeps toward Lord Ewen, Goreg and Mizad. The Baron manages to skip-rope over the reptilian limb, but it bowls the squire and dwarf over like nine-pins.

Sergeant Kelak, clutching a bruised and bleeding shoulder, is bellowing for them all to get off the trail and take cover among the trees. Sir Baris has unslung his shield, casting about above for a glimpse of the beast, as he sidesteps off the trail and ducks behind a sheltering trunk. The others are scrambling for cover as great, beating wings roil the treetops and buffet them with down-thrusts from above. Sir Baris locates the great form circling in the air and guesses it must be a good twenty-five feet from nose to tail.

Mulen, using another tree for shelter somewhere behind Goreg, says laconically, “I think that’s the wyrm.”

Arva points to the north. “Is that another one?” Sure enough, another reptilian form, considerably smaller, is circling at a distance.

“I gather these two are smaller than the Zuthwyrn, Sergeant Kelak?” Lord Ewen calls, peering at the larger dragon winging around above them.

“Oh yeah. I’m not sure what the small one is.”

“I gather it is trying to persuade us to move on.”

“Ah, it’s just playing. If it really wanted us, the claws would grab you, two at time. Sometimes it might allow you to ... return to the surface, if you take my meaning. Other times, it might just take you off to become an hors d’oeuvre.”

Lord Ewen has a moment to briefly reflect upon whether he is accurately translating Kelak’s original Khuzan on that last remark, and observing that the smaller of the two winged reptiles is almost black in color, while the larger one is closer to gray. Lord Ewen wonders if the larger qualifies as the most enormous creature he has ever beheld in his life.

Then the large one is banking around and descending again, its massive chest swelling, sucking in a large draught of air. Cries of warning sound among the group as they take cover and brace themselves, the great winged beast diving fast toward the trees above, wings swept back. It opens it’s jaws and cone of ice and frost and rime billows forth, stripping the limbs from the treetops above and raining instantly-frozen debris down upon them like a sudden hailstorm. The visible extent of the actual cone misses all in the group save the dwarf Mizad, who is only partially shielded by the tree he has sheltered behind. As the great dragon climbs up and away with its great bat-like wings powerfully driving it skyward, Mizad stumbles out from behind the tree, staggered by the blow, his entire left arm and part of his face frozen solid.

Lord Ewen, tracking the dragon as it climbs, looses a hasty blast of Deryni power and grazes the beast on its flank.

The great wings give a powerful down-thrust and the wyrm abruptly peels off to the right, churning upward. There it turns and hangs, hovering well above the woodland canopy, beating its wings to maintain altitude as the huge lizard head cranes and peers downward, surveying the small figures below.

They all hear a female voice, strange and reverberant, somehow brittle and watery at the same time, sound within their heads. The humans in the group hear the words in Harnic.

“So, a Stinger.”

Lord Ewen, stepping from behind a tree, eyes the creature above and follows an impulse. Speaking aloud for the benefit of his companions, he also attempts to direct his words internally, in the direction of the liquid female voice in his mind.

“Take heed, oh Wyrm, lest you feel my sting in earnest!”

Sergeant Kelak casts a sharp glance at the Baron. “Are you able to talk to this thing?”

The female voice, glittering like a shower of ice crystals, laughs. “You bellow well, Stinger.”

Kelak, obviously able to hear the dragon’s response, grunts and stares, incredulous. Lord Ewen ignores him.

“If you wish to slake your hunger, oh Wyrm, we know where you might find richer hunting than here.”

High above, she rears her long neck and head upward, haughty and magnificent. “Do you parley with me like a common street-monger?”

Lord Ewen has noticed that the smaller, darker dragon doesn’t fly anywhere near the large one, hovering well away from the current interaction. He tries a different tack.

“Is that smaller wyrm your progeny, whom you seek to instruct in the ways of the hunt?”

The dragon scoffs, lashing her great tail in agitated dismissal. “Progeny! No, that one is but a nuisance. It is no kith and kin to me.”

Lord Ewen glances at Sergeant Kelak, who keeps his eye on the hovering dragon above while speaking in a low voice from the corner of his mouth. “This one is a Dhiverin, an ice dragon of sorts. I’ll bet it’s the offspring of the Zuthwyrm.”

Lord Ewen nods, considering. “Do you have a name, oh Wyrm?”

“I do, Stinger. My name is Vannylex.”

The Baron nods in the direction of Sergeant Kelak. “This doughty warrior wonders if you are kin to the Zuthwyrm, of great honor and renown.”

“Indeed, you are well informed for a Stinger. The great Zuthwyrm is my sire.”

“And do you, Vannylex, claim these lands as your hunting grounds?”

She sniffs, her wings stretching wide. “As good a term as any.”

“I tell you then: there is little here but these doughty, stringy fellows.”

“You will make enough of a morsel.”

“Do you know of Pyxyn, that place teaming with morsels more succulent than I?”

“I know that the flesh of humans is far tastier than the orcs.” The dragon above drifts leftward as her wings pulse, as if seeking a better view of those down below. “You have more to say. You are holding back, Stinger.”

“Aw shit ...” Sir Baris grumbles impatiently from behind a tree.

Mulen, shaking his head and fingering his axe, says, “How are we supposed to do this, again?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Sergeant Kelak opines sidewise from his beard.

Lord Ewen ignores the exchange, intent upon the creature above. “And yet the orcs of Pyxyn would keep a great Wyrm sated for many weeks and months, and my flesh just a passing pleasure for one such as you.”

“Years even, but why should I bother? Now, it is a pity you don’t have horses, then I should not resist. But I would say, oh Stinger, that I would eat you last.”

“It would be far more entertaining for you and I to hunt the orcs of Pyxyn together.”

“Oh, ho, an alliance is it to be?”

“And why not?”

“I make you a counterproposal.” She allows herself to drift downward somewhat, to just above treetop level, her scales iridescent in the sunlight. “There is, not too far from your position, a certain member of your kind who has vexed me.”

Lord Ewen glances at Sergeant Kelak, who shrugs. “When one of our kind vexes a dragon, it usually vexes itself.”

Vannylex continues, as if not hearing or heeding the Khuzan.

“If you were to do me the boon of removing my vexation, to get it out of my scales, so to speak, then I might be inclined to look in on Pyxyn.”

“You intrigue me, oh Wyrm. Where might I find this source of vexation?”

“Just up the trail, not far from where you are, you will find a cave hidden from view. That is the source of my vexation.”

Lord Ewen nods. “My companions will look into this cave, and this vexation.”

“Two more things ...”

“You drive a hard bargain, oh Wyrm.”

“You haven’t heard the two more things ... From time to time the stubby ones must bring me horseflesh.”

Sergeant Kelak grates his teeth, his beard bristling. “Fine, fine,” he growls.

Lord Ewen grins. “The stubby one here agrees. You said two things.”

“Yes. The nuisance over there,” her craning neck indicates the small winged dragon maintaining a discreet distance. “You must bring it with you, or kill it. I wish it gone.”

“Can it speak as you do, oh Wyrm?”

The dragon declines to dignify the question with a response. “I shall drive it into the cave, and there you will find it. I suppose it is only sporting to mention that there are orcs in the cave.”

The Baron nods, satisfied. “The day is cloudy, and propitious for hunting. We will undertake this endeavor, as we relish a challenge. And you shall keep your word to me, oh Wyrm, and remember this bargain you have made with the Stinger.”

“A bargain has been struck. What is your true name, Stinger?”

“I am known by my fellows as Ternua.”

“Ter-nu-a.” She tastes the word. “I like Stinger better.”

Vannylex swoops off in the general direction the of the trail the group was ascending, and then heads straight toward the little one, which tries to get away. An aerial dance ensues as the larger dragon herds the smaller one away and out of sight.

Sergeant Kelak is chewing his beard. “Well, that’s a kick in the eggs! None of that makes any sense.”

Lord Ewen eyes him with surprise. “Are dragons usually logical?”

“I don’t know. This one isn’t.” He coughs and spits on the ground.

The Baron is unperturbed. “I for one am glad I came along. This is turning out to be far more interesting than I had anticipated.”

Kelak harrumphs. “Well, I’m glad to provide a diversion.”

Arva asks, “Do we want to do what she suggested?”

Sir Baris is counting up the total number of threats. “We know there’s some orcs in that cave, and a little dragon is now in the cave, and then there’s the vexation.”

While they discuss this, poor Mizad is stomping about in frustrated circles, swinging his inert left arm and trying to massage alive the left half of his face with the fingers of his right hand. His creased dwarven features looks oddly lopsided and forlorn. Arva is solicitous.

“It’s a little numb, but its still there,” he croaks, casting his one pivotable eye upon the useless limb.

“Sergeant Kelak, what do you know of the cave she referenced?” Lord Ewen asks.

“We were going to use it as a forward base. Ruined tower, could possibly enter that way, also a cave, not certain how to get in that. Probably figure it out.”

“I gather the small Wyrm is to be herded into the cave. It might be best for us to use the tower as a means of entrance.”

Kelak shakes his head sourly. “The dragon was speaking imprecisely. The smaller dragon was certainly driven into the tower. The cave is closed. Khuzan secret door. If we go in by the tower, we deal with the dragon first.”

“Is this an extensive cave complex?”

“Wasn't the last time I was here.”

Arva asks if the cave complex could have been expanded, and Kelak allows that the dwarves might have expanded it since his last visit.

“How far is it from the cave entrance to the tower, on a straight line?” Sergeant Kelak mutters an estimate.

As they fall back into their order of march, Sergeant Kelak suggests hugging the escarpment to the left of the trail. Not long afterward they easily find a beaten path leading right to the dwarven door, which Kelak examines, announcing that he should have no trouble opening it. As he begins studying it, someone observes that they have no source of light to illuminate the interior once in.

After several covert false starts, which Lord Ewen conceals with some remarks regarding the need for perfect silence so that he might not be distracted, the Deryni manages to illuminate the blade of his sword and hold it forth. Sergeant Kelak shakes his head, but the other dwarves appear mildly impressed.

Kelak presses a concealed button, and the door swings aside. Just inside the threshold, an orc wheels about, fumbling for its weapon.

Sergeant Kelak, cleaving downward with his short-handled halberd, splits the gargun’s face, cleaving its head in half down through the clavicle, exposing its beating heart, gouts of blood pumping from the now cloven organ. The dead orc silently topples.

Kelak plants his foot on the orc’s chest and pulls out his poleaxe. He shushes the group, and orders them into file. He tells Mizad to bring up the rear, as the poor dwarf has insufficiently thawed from the dragon blast. Sir Baris, brought forward behind Mulen, asks redundantly if the Khuzan has seen his new axe, then somehow slips ahead of him, proudly holding his new dwarven shield, more newly adorned with his arms, before him.

The light from Lord Ewen’s sword reveals twenty-five feet of razor-straight, finished stone corridor, vaulted for support. At the end of this hallway a small chamber opens out, rough-hewn and carved from the rock of the right side of the corridor, though here supported by wooden posts and beams. Visible as they approach are a table, bench and some stools, a dim glow emanating from out of view to the far right of the table. As they creep closer, catching sight of crates, a barrel, rough lumber, and assorted kitchen implements, a voice is abruptly heard as well, and it is obvious that the inhabitants have detected the approaching light from the Baron’s sword.

Sergeant Kelak growls, “Charge!” and plunges in, careening around to the right, poleaxe aloft. Sir Baris barrels in close behind, but finds one of three orcs already dead at Kelak’s feet and the remaining two cowering near a small fireplace occupied by a single, rough-hewn pot.

Sergeant Kelak gestures, “Someone go to the left, keep watch on that opening there!” He efficiently cuts down the remaining pair of gargun as Goreg and Sir Baris sweep forward, Lord Ewen extending his sword to illuminate. At the far left-hand extent of the kitchen, a rough-hewn tunnel extends due south, while the finished, dwarven corridor continues westward toward the tower.

“These three are hyeka, but that one was a khanu,” Sergeant Kelak thumbs back over his shoulder toward the entrance. “The hyeka were probably slaves.” He barks a laugh. “I freed them.”

Lord Ewen suggests scouting the south tunnel first, before continuing on westward.

Kelak nods in agreement. “But we’ll leave somebody here. The west tunnel leads to the tower, and that’s where the small dragon came in. If it had gotten down this far already, of course, these three would have been lunch. Mizad, you, and one of your people, Lord Ewen, stay here and guard.”

Arva volunteers, and as the others set off into the southern tunnel, Cekiya lingers behind as well. As soon as the others are out of sight, she winks at Arva and Mizad, and melts into the darkness of the westward corridor.

Sergeant Kelak plunges into the southern tunnel, followed by Lord Ewen, Sir Baris and Goreg. The way forward curves slightly to the right after fifteen feet, and ahead they hear the unpleasant grunting sound and stench of a gargun voiding its bowels. The floor of the tunnel is comprised of semi-packed earth and stone, and directly ahead a wooden board approximately three foot by six foot has been laid upon the ground. Immediately before the board, a side tunnel branches to the left.

As the light from Lord Ewen’s blade reveals the board, he and Sergeant Kelak discern around the bend to the right a dead-end cul-de-sac in the stone wall encompassing a sunken sump in the floor. There, squatting upon its haunches, they perceive the most enormous gargun any of them has ever beheld, it’s height while squatting almost as tall as Sir Baris standing erect. The giant, thickly muscled gargun spies the interlopers, reaches behind and draws an equally impressive mang without bothering to finish what it had been doing, and roars a furious challenge, displaying hooked yellow teeth below flaring nostrils and slitted eyes. It draws itself up to its full seven foot height.

Lord Ewen and Sergeant Kelak move as one to close with the huge gargun, trapping the beast in the dead end astride its own sewage. Confined by the breadth of the tunnel, however, Lord Ewen is restricted to thrusting with his glowing bastard sword, which makes the lighting crazily erratic, while Sergeant Kelak wields his poleaxe overhand. The massive orc slaps aside the sword with a resounding clang, then chops backhanded at the descending poleaxe, crunching audibly into the haft just below the heavy blade of the weapon. The head of the polearm spins loose and drops into the sludge of the orc privy, leaving Sergeant Kelak momentarily dumbfounded, with nothing but the split wooden shaft in his hands as the light ducks and weaves with the movement of the Baron’s sword.

Lord Ewen repeatedly intercepts the huge orc’s hacking mang with his shield, looking for an opportunity to strike, while Sergeant Kelak is reaching behind himself and drawing forth a stout-looking mace. Choosing his moment well, Lord Ewen drives past the orc’s guard with the point of his sword, skewering the huge beast’s left hand. The towering orc roars in pain and wrenches the limb free, its yellowish eyes bulging now in fury, but it manages to block a canny follow-up thrust from the Baron and seems steady enough on its feet in spite of the severity of the injury.

Down the side corridor to the left, Sir Baris and Goreg hear the snarling voices of orcs rushing toward the commotion. The two humans stand shoulder to shoulder, peering into the dim, wildly gyrating light cast behind them by Lord Ewen’s illuminated sword, perceiving only shifting shadows and phantoms before them as Sir Baris braces himself with his shield before him.

Two hideous orcs lurch into sight and engage them, the larger adorned with a crude necklace hung with numerous dangling brassy rings who slashes at Sir Baris with an actual human’s broadsword. Sir Baris puts his shield to good use and swings his axe overhand in the cramped space, striking a thumping blow to the orc’s chest which topples it backward, where it is almost immediately trampled by another orc to its rear. The shaken orc manages to retain its broadsword in the scuffle and crabwalks backward as an upcoming Gargun vaults over it to get at Sir Baris. The knight, pressed, blocks the incoming flurry of blows, the second orc before him hacking at his shield until abruptly the gargun blade breaks and the orc shrinks back in dismay.

Sir Baris exults, “Ha! You’d better run!”

To his left, Goreg thrusts and thrusts, although the orc across from him plies its mang with skill, continually bringing the blade up in time to deflect the squire’s blows. The gargun repeatedly lashes back at Goreg, but the squire’s new dwarven shield is more than equal to the task of absorbing the blows from the frantic orc. Timing his thrust like a veteran, Goreg lunges forward and stabs his foe in the left thigh, causing the orc to howl and clutch at the wound amidst spurting goops of thick blood.

At his side, Sir Baris is slow to bring his own shield up, allowing a gargun mang to mar the knight’s right shoulder armor, his torn surcoat flapping open on one side. This affront to the spit and polish of his armor seems to recall Sir Baris to the fundamental pleasures in life, such as killing orcs, and he buries his axe in the face of a gargun attempting to grappling with him. Sir Baris screams incoherently at the orcs as the well-equipped orc steps back up, broadsword at the ready and necklace full of rings jangling.

“Back for more, eh!” the knight bellows.

Meanwhile, laboring across from the gigantic gargun standing bestride the privy, Lord Ewen misaims his blade and briefly sets himself off-balance, only interposing his shield awkwardly in the nick of time, resulting in the knight shield cleaving in two under the blow from the oversized mang.

“You need to thrust instead of parry when you do that,” Sergeant Kelak quips dryly as he aims a low blow, thumping the gargun in the abdomen with his mace.

Lord Ewen grimaces, tossing the useless plank of wood into the sump and blocking the follow-on blow from the giant gargun with his glowing blade, the sound of metal on metal ringing in the malodorous confines of the tunnel. The orc swats aside the Baron’s return blow, but Sergeant Kelak takes the opportunity to hammer the orc on its right foot with his mace, eliciting a grunt of pained surprise from above. The mace came up flinging orc excrement.

Squire Goreg exchanges a rapid series of savage blows and parries with the next orc in line, biding his time with skill until he seizes on a misstep by the gargun and spears forward, driving his sword blade through the hip of the orc. The result is a spraying bleeder. Ignoring the wound, the creature deftly blocks Goreg’s next swing, but fails to anticipate the squire aiming high next. Stabbed through the nose, the orc dies instantly.

As the combat rages on in the tunnels, Cekiya has been unable to resist the allure of the dwarven corridor. Peering into the murky darkness, which the flickering light from the kitchen fails to dispel, she murmurs a brief but earnest prayer and is rewarded by the blessing of the eyesight of Dekejis. The tempting corridor becomes illuminated by reddish light. Casting a quick glance over her shoulder, she slips down the corridor and creeps along the right wall until she spies a door ahead, perhaps two hundred feet down from the kitchen. As she pads closer, Cekiya detects an incredible reek emanating from beyond the door, the heavy, gagging stench of the most powerful human body odor she has ever encountered. Used to the noisome environs of Tashal’s sewer system, and happily complacent in countless crypts and unsavory dives, Cekiya nonetheless blanches at the intensity of this pungent manifestation of poor human hygiene, and swallows hard as she reaches the door, the odor seeming to move in palpable waves in the air about her. She quixotically raises her hand to knock upon the door, pauses, and then shakes her head and hurriedly retraces her steps. When she arrives back at the kitchen, Arva recoils in horror when she catches the smell wafting from Cekiya’s hair.

Back in the tunnels, Sir Baris is spending more time plying his shield than his axe, finding himself repeatedly wrong-footed by the large orc with the broadsword. Sir Baris curses the confined space he is forced to fight in, careful not to interfere with Goreg who is breathing heavily and laboring to good effect to his immediate left. The knight is having trouble even seeing his foe in the dimly dancing light from Lord Ewen’s sword, somewhere behind him and around the corner to the right, but the sturdy orc repeatedly stabbing at him appears to enjoy perfect vision, aiming savage blows which Sir Baris only blocks in the nick of time with his shield.

Meanwhile, the gigantic orc is belaboring Lord Ewen with savage slashes from the huge mang, the Baron parrying skillfully with his sword and hoping to occupy the beast sufficiently to allow Sergeant Kelak to gain some tactical advantage with the mace. The dwarf and the Baron have begun to develop a mutual rhythm fighting side by side against this foe, two experienced fighters discerning the other’s tactical strengths and adjusting their own in order to maximize their effectiveness against a shared enemy. In spite of this, the enormous gargun manages to wield its mang in a blur of interweaving thrusts and parries, blocking the human blade and dwarven mace in a flurry of thwarting blows.

Lord Ewen concludes that he must forgo prudent parrying and instead counterstrike repeatedly against the giant orc, trusting to his armor in hopes of overwhelming the gargun with the sheer number of incoming blows with which it needs to contend. The Baron quickly pays the price for this change in tactics, as the towering orc brings the mang down in a crunching blow to the top of his helmet, ringing his ears and denting the helm. Lord Ewen is rewarded, however, with a spearing thrust through the orc’s thickly muscled shoulder. Wrenching the blade out in a spray of dark gargun blood, Lord Ewen is astonished that the beast remains standing, swatting away one of Sergeant Kelak’s mace blows just in time.

Lord Ewen strikes and counterstrikes again, and the curved blade of the mang lays a savage gash upon the Baron’s left shoulder armor. But Lord Ewen’s sword hits home again as well, a glancing stab across the orc’s abdomen which evinces a twisting spasm of pain from the giant. Sergeant Kelak winds up and sledgehammers the head of his mace into the very same spot on the creature’s midsection. This finally drives the orc backwards against the wall behind it. Doubling over and slumping downward into the muck of the privy, half supported by the wall to its rear, the gargun thrashes and attempts to get its mang up in time.

Too late. Lunging in triumph, Lord Ewen drives his glowing sword blade straight through its thickly corded neck, twists the blade for good measure, and wrenches it free in a heavy spray of blood. The huge gargun sags and belches gouts of fluid, thrashing and subsiding into the stinking privy.

Barking approbation, Sergeant Kelak thumps Lord Ewen repeatedly on the arm, his eyes bright and beard bristling. “Well fought, well fought! Now that was a thrust, instead of a parry!”

Laboring manfully beside Sir Baris, squire Goreg cleaves off his opponent’s blade with a vicious plunging strike, leaving the gargun impotently grasping the stump of its weapon. Sir Baris is aware of the mang blade clattering to the ground beside him while he has to block his own opponent’s swing with his shield after another ineffective hack of the axe. He blocks again, and just as he times his next blow and launches it, the light behind him plunges wildly and briefly extinguishes, causing the knight to mis-aim an easily blocked strike. To his left, Goreg leans into his own swing and neatly trepans the skull of his disarmed gargun, killing his third orc of the day.

Lord Ewen has briefly thrust his sword toward the other opening, finding a doorway to a chamber with a large bed and stout posts holding up the ceiling. Satisfied that no immediate threats lie within, Lord Ewen moves to the rear of Goreg and Sir Baris and holds his sword aloft to illuminate the ongoing battle, Sergeant Kelak crowding in to offer tactical advise and commentary on the melee.

The sudden blossoming of steady light over his left shoulder elicits a savage cry of satisfaction from Sir Baris, who blocks an incoming blow with a downward chop, breaking the broadsword of his foe as if taking inspiration from the squire. Before the big orc can recover, Sir Baris spears it through the cheek and then buries his new axe in its face.

Sergeant Kelak chortles, “You silly fool, you bugger’em on the other end!”

Sir Baris, finding no further gargun immediately beyond his last foe, exults, “Bring it on!”

Squire Goreg has already exchanged blows with a fresh foe, and swiftly slays it. Sir Baris and Goreg then advance, shoulder to shoulder, sweeping a pair of remaining gargun into a hasty retreat to the far end of the tunnel. The path splits there, and the two gargun make a fatal error, going separate ways and thereby allowing themselves to be swiftly dispatched piecemeal.

Some time later, the party has regrouped in the kitchen. Cekiya leads them down the dwarven corridor to the closed door, the party reeling from the nauseating odor as they approach, but determined to forge ahead. Lord Ewen briefly trances and then extends his senses into the space beyond the door, taking care not to inadvertently enhance his olfactory sense. A modest sized room lies beyond the door, with the dwarven corridor continuing on through the far wall. The room is full of supplies, a brazier, curtain, bed, and two chests. The ceiling is supported by two stone pillars. It is somehow clear to the Baron that the room is absolutely crawling with fleas. Lord Ewen grimaces and wordlessly gestures for Cekiya to unlock the door. Cekiya brings her lock pick set up and, whispering to herself, easily opens the door.

“You know,” a voice at the back of the line wheezes, “on second thought I’m going to skip dinner.”

The overwhelming stench triggers everyone’s gag reflex, but they press forward nonetheless. A cursory search of the room reveals no hidden inhabitants, so they hurry on into the dwarven corridor. The stench diminishes a bit as they put distance between themselves and the room. The corridor ends twenty feet later, with a spiral staircase going up. The Baron and Kelak stand gasping at the base of the stairs, peering upward.

“Sergeant Kelak, how many floors exist of the tower above?”

“It’s entirely destroyed above ground. This should lead to the lowest, the storage level.”

“We should be looking for fewmets,” Goreg suggests suddenly. This is greeted by blank stares all around, and an arched eyebrow from the Baron. “Fewmets,” the squire repeats in a helpful tone, “dragon spoor.”

Lord Ewen nods. “We have ascertained that Goreg somehow knows the word for dragon spoor. Excellent.” He returns his gaze to the staircase. “Cekiya, scout ahead.” He touches his glowing sword to her dagger, transferring the light to the smaller blade. Sergeant Kelak shakes his head skeptically.

Arva, in an aside to one of the other dwarves, mutters, “He thinks he’s his father.”

Cekiya climbs swiftly to the chamber above, her blade’s glow revealing stone walls shaped like a segment of a circle surrounding her. The stench is present up here, though less intense. She sees a well, notices that two walls on either side of her are partially broken down, a portion of a crumbled arch visible above. Cekiya creeps around to the right, heeding the voices in her head whispering directions in her ear. She finds another quarter chamber in even worse shape, rubble strewn across the floor and a gaping hole in the wall with daylight slanting in. She retraces her steps and explores further to the left of the stairs, finding a collapsed prison cell with broken bars, as well as a perch as if for a falcon, only larger. Crouching down and poking about with her lighted dagger blade, she examines some debris under the perch.

“Fewmets,” she whispers with smug satisfaction to the voices.

A few moments later, Cekiya stands before the Baron and Sergeant Kelak and presents her report. “I’ve seen the light.” Kelak sourly eyes Lord Ewen, who ignores the dwarf and asks, “Any dragon?”

“Just fewmets,” Cekiya pronounces brightly. Lord Ewen casts a baleful glance at Goreg.

The group climbs to the tower, and Arva ascends through the hole admitting sunlight in search of some fresh air. Below she sees lots of tracks, one set more prominent atop the others. Arva calls down and relates her findings, and all clamber up through the breach in the wall and out into the clearing of the woods around the ruined tower.

Up in the sky, the small dragon is circling. Sir Baris and two of the dwarves suddenly collapse and fall to the ground, evidently asleep or dead.

An eerie silence hangs over the clearing. Casting about in vain for some glimpse of a foe, Lord Ewen directs them to gather their prone friends and retreat to the shelter of the tower. Before that task can be begun, however, Goreg screams aloud as a sharp, debilitating pain lances through his head, staggering him. Arva as well is hit with sudden cramps and doubles over.

“He’ll stop,” a sly male voice says within each of their minds, “if you go away and never come back.”

Sergeant Kelak is gripping his mace in white-knuckled fury and glaring about the clearing. “I’m getting bloody sick of this!”

Lord Ewen addresses the small black dragon circling above. “And who is this craven foe, little wyrm, who strikes from the shadows and will not show himself to me?”

“Your better!”

Not caring for that retort, the Baron extends his olfactory sense and is rewarded with overwhelming, reeking waves emanating from the direction of big tree due east of the ruins. Lord Ewen sees a scrap of robe betraying a hidden figure perched above, and immediately launches a blast of Deryni power at him. A solid hit yields a cry, and a small figure tumbles from the tree to the ground. Cekiya bolts over to him and, receiving a nod from the Baron, neatly delivers a coup de grace. The small dragon above begins to spiral downward and crashes into the undergrowth somewhere down the hill by the stream.

Sir Baris awakens and stretches, blinking in the bright afternoon sun. “What’s going on?” The two dwarves beside him stir.

A dark shadow falls upon them from above. Vannylex pumps her great wings, hovering at treetop level.

“You have held up your end of the bargain. The vexation is no more.”

“My task is done, oh Wyrm. And now I ask that you hold up your end of the bargain.”

“I shall. But, from time to time, I shall return, for the horses.” With a great flap of her wings, she arches and climbs swiftly up and away, wheels, and then soars toward the mountain peaks above.

Sergeant Kelak strokes his beard and glowers about him. “Well, that’s a job well done.”

Lord Ewen has descended the steep slope and is crouching before the inert body of the diminutive black dragon. His hand rests upon the shimmering scales of the creature, his brow furrowed. Arva gets the impression somehow that a contest of wills is underway.

The winged reptile stirs, and Lord Ewen speaks softly but firmly. “You serve me now, wyrm. What is your name?”

“I am Qorsad the Swift,” the sly voice responds. “I am no wyrm. I am an amphithere.”

“Then amphithere you shall be. How long have you served that sorry creature?”

“Not long. One of your years. He had somehow ensnared the greater dragon, held her by arcane means. She tried to refuse him, but every time she found her head turned away. He vexed her, she said.”

“Your former master, he had possessions of an arcane nature?”

“I suppose he must have.”

“And lived in this tower here.”


Lord Ewen rises as Qorsad the Swift experiments with stretching his wings, still stiff from his fall.

“I have bent this amphithere to my will,” Lord Ewen announces to the group. “No harm is to come to it.”

Sergeant Kelak eyes the Baron, his beard jutting. “You don’t say,” he says flatly. “My lord, this is strangest mission I have ever been on in my life.”

Cekiya plunders the unwholesome body of the filthy sorcerer, finding a knife, ink-pot, quills, and some scraps of parchment. Lord Ewen object reads the items but detects no dweomer.

Goreg and Sir Baris take out the gargun bodies from the complex and burn them with assistance from Mulen and Mizad. Bracing themselves, they diligently search the chests in the sorcerer’s room, take two books containing strange and unrecognizable writing, and gratefully retreat to the fresh air of the waning daylight. They set a guard rotation for the night and plan to head back to the lake at first light.

Kelen 4, 733

They return to Narad’s tower by midday. It is clear from Narad’s reaction that the entire party has the sorcerer’s stench clinging to their bodies and belongings.

Lord Ewen, finding himself on better terms with Sergeant Kelak than he had been when they had set out, attempts to elicit some advice from the old soldier as to how to change dwarven minds when military exigencies suggest the need to alter traditional habits.

Kelak gnaws on his beard over a tankard of ale. “Hard to say. Things don’t change here. By the time we decide to make a change,” he nods at the human, “you’re dead.” He shrugs. “It helps if everyone already agrees.”

Kelen 5, 733

They reverse their route on the Taz river. As they climb on board the boat, the sailors are clearly offended by the odor. They manage to tack back to the city of Azadmere, arriving on the seventh day of Kelen.

Kelen 8, 733

Lord Relkazan, unflinching in his dwarven stoicism, blandly orders up mandatory bathing for all upon their return to quarters. He peers unflappably at Qorsad, clearly intent upon taking everything in stride.

Lord Ewen attempts to be reassuring. “Yes, he shouldn’t give any trouble at all. If some scraps can be sent up from kitchen from time to time, it might be sufficient to slake his hunger.”

Lord Relkazan ponders. “A pony may be more appropriate,” he concludes with obvious reluctance.

Goreg bursts in with a question. “Aside from Clan Garibath, what are the three other great mercantile clans of Azadmere?”

Lord Relkazan pivots. “Squire, I find it astonishing that such a question is the very first on your lips after a wyrm hunt.”

“There was much time to think on the trip.”

“No doubt. The four mercantile clans of Azadmere are Garibath, Horik, Tharin, and Rakin.”

Lord Ewen takes over. “Lord Relkazan, what protocol would I follow to consult with those clan heads regarding the upcoming caravan this season, to hear their thoughts on security?”

“Well, you are not a mercantyler yourself, so that road is closed. You should write a letter.”

“I will do so. In that case, would it be improper for me to ask you to review such a letter prior to sending, simply to scan it, that I might avoid committing an inadvertence?”

“Oh, I am afraid it would be. As ambassador from the Queen of Kaldor, your business is hers, and my business is that of my king’s. I should add as well, if you wish to entertain here, it cannot be done at the expense of my king.”

“I am not without funds, Lord Relkazan, as I have demonstrated already.”

“Indeed,” he allows. “I would say the weaponcrafters of this city have been pleased with your custom.”
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