Bleak Horizons False Dawn

Bleak Horizons False Dawn

A Story by Daniel Braun

A half-celestial/deep gnome, a human monk, a warrior rock gnome and halfling rogue try to stop a disease originated in a mine from spreading, threatening to decimate the whole area. Evil is afoot.


Bleak Horizons False Dawn


THE small band of elves crept through the Fireani Forest. For a forest claimed by his own country of Kyonin, he hoped that no roving border patrols of other countries who often crossed over into the forest for protection would not come ambling by. It was bad enough that Queen Telandria Edasseril had handpicked his unit to go on a search and find mission to find sentient gorillas of all things. They had traveled nearly one-hundred miles without a singular incident of any encounterjust the grace of Ketephys that they had not encountered no orcs, ogres, or gnolls while in the Fireani. The elf leader mused, thinking what it would be like trying to explain to the humanoid races that they were seeking a race of intelligent gorillas and prevention of this would end in their destruction. The humanoids would probably just scratch their dumb ole heads with a “duh” expression on their faces and charge into their own slaughter.

The scout signaled for Moonleaf, to come forward. He did so, taking in the nearby positions of other elves camouflaged in patterns of browns and greens. Everything about them from their clothes to the leather strings attached to their bows to quiet the release of arrows spoke of stealth. With a nod, he crept to where the scout had motioned him to look.

Parting the hawthorn bush slightly, Moonleaf gasp at the scene before him. There in the boughs of Elder and Oak trees sat a village of wooden design. The buildings sported the typical village look, if one did not count the swaying walking bridges and vine ropes linked between the them. All the buildings had plank sidewalks that extended from the underneath the foundations to accommodate people, oddly enough as high as the village set in the treesnone of the sidewalks had rails.

They watched as a large pair of black furred gorillas picked up a spider monkey and held him up to their faces growling something, which Moonleaf looked at the scout astonishingly. He mouthed the words silently, “They speak the common tongue.”

The spider monkey was talking rapidly in gibberish, more like screaming like a monkey should, when the two larger cousins of the monkey tossed him off the edge of one of the sidewalks. He fell abruptly about fifty feet before he managed to snag a branch with his feet and handsshook his fist at the gorillas and scampered back up towards the village.

Upon the boardwalk, a female gorilla berated an orangutan about how much a lashing he would get if his dirty hands soiled her new packages of clothing. The dress she wore even from this distance made of blue silk, its radiance showing to the elves below. Two more gorillas led a chimpanzee away in manacles apparently toward a jail, as it was hard to tell what building was what from the elves view. They didn’t have to be eye-level with the village to know that slavery was customary to the sentient gorillas.

Moonleaf’s fingers flew rapidity in sign language telling his special unit to creep forward, half-walking, half-duck walking once more. Derived from the sign language of the Drow, Moonleaf’s people used it in combat situations or rapid communication. Not a sound heard, except for the rustle of some leaves stirred up by the wind.

Moonleaf followed the scout through the center of two hawthorns in a perfectly executed stealth move. The elven commander couldn’t help but smile at the well-trained elves. Each elf was not more then twenty feet away from each other, but nearly invisible, spreading out in a fan-shaped pattern as to maximize their potential. The fan-shaped pattern had all the advantages, if the right or left flank came under heavy attack, then those flanks could wheel in toward the center for support, if the center started to collapse, then the flanks could wheel in catching the enemy in a pincher movement. Elves of all races were master of skirmishes in forest and thousands of years of war had taught the elves what maneuvers worked best.

A reverie enraptured the commander’s attention of what had brought them to this point. Had it not been for a woodsman trying to sell a carcass of a sentient gorilla in the market square of Ladara, his unit wouldn’t be here searching for sentient gorillas. The woodsman claimed he heard the sentient gorilla cussing in the common tongue at the ettin, which he fought. The woodsman watched the fight in rapt anticipation wondering who would win he told the gathering crowd, both creatures trading vicious blows, neither giving nor receiving quarter. In the end, the sentient gorilla try as he might could barely hold up his great sword, then the valiant sentient gorilla tripped over a root, the ettin took full advantage and broke his skull open.

The woodsman waited until the ettin poked the gorilla to make sure it was dead, taking the great sword from him and then wandering away. Knowing that none would believe him, the woodsman gathered the large carcass by propping up his wood cart, hitching rope to a set of mules, dragging the carcass onto the wood cart used to haul wood and then exchanging the cart for his wagon at his home, decided to journey to Ladara to sell the carcass.

Word soon buzzed around to the ever-listening ears of one of the Queens powerful right hand man, Selvenira. The mighty wizard had a penchant for gathering information, more like, being in the right place at the right time for information. He seemed to know more about the underlings of Ladara then the rogues and assassins who made it their trade. Several coupes had been thwarted from disgruntled races by the keenly-eared wizard. He even knew about an assassination plot to kill the queen for her refusal to commit elves to commit them to the Great Warshe even took it one step further by unapologetically withdrawing from all concerns beyond her borders.

Within hours, Queen Telandria Edasseril sent for the humble woodsman perpetrating a claim of sentient gorillas. She listened carefully to the accounts of the woodman, thinking that like others before him, the elf had spun a yarn to boost the selling of the carcass. He wasn’t the first or she sure, the last person to claim to have witnessed seeing a sentient gorilla.

The elves, particularly those that lived near the Fireani Forest had made several such reports of sentient gorillas. Because no one had any hard evidence, these were dismissed as being mistaken for another of Golarian’s creatures. True, Golarian had creatures like great, and mighty dragons to the humble domestic cat, but none ever heard tell of sentient gorilla. In all those instances, some sort of proof had been attained to the creature’s breath of life, none so with the sentient gorillas.

Now though, this elven woodsman had actually brought the carcass back. The punch dagger the woodsman showed to her court didn't grab Edasseril's attention, nor the well-designed leather sheath that held the dagger. For those could have been traded or simply taken by the gorilla for himself, Telandria Edasseril had experienced herself gorillas using simple tools. In her younger years, she had encountered a group of gorillas that went on a rampage once a year using tactics like barbarians.

No, none of these so much as made the Queen raise an eyebrow and she was about to dismiss the simple gatherer of woods, his tirade wearing thin on her mind. Selvenira, who had been hovering over the dead body, turned the body on its side. When the woodsman had pulled the sheathed punch dagger from the small of the gorillas back to his front sliding the sheath along the leather belt, Selvenira thought he saw something. He cut the leather belt with his own dagger and held up a small leather pouch of recognition.

Telandria Edasseril gasped, along with others crowded around her court could see what Selvenira held up. A spell pouch dangled from the belt in his hand. If the gorilla had a spell pouch on him, it could mean he would have to be intelligent enough to work spells. Even the lowliest sorcerer or wizard had a good deal more intelligence then the average person. Very few dumb wizards were ever heard of. As to prove the point further, Selvenira pulled out a key component to a sleep spell, a pinch of sand rested in a tiny clay container. In another container, a live cricket scuttled out, chirped once, then leaped to the nearest open window. Rose petals lie yet in a tiny third container.

Within the hour, Moonleaf responded to the call of the personal audience with the ruler of Kyonin. She had Selvenira brief him on what they witnessed, then asked him to go on a search and find mission for her to find this community of sentient gorillas. He musedit is not like he could refuse. Well… he could if he fancied being the scorn of his queen for quite some time. The story intrigued him anyway and his unit could use a different direction these days. Search and destroy missions of orcs, ogres and gnolls grew boring after awhile, even if sometimes on a whim the humanoids would actually come up with sound tactics to improve their chance of living. As Telandria Edasseril explained, they would follow the woodsman who brought the carcass to Ladara back to where he found it and then through what ever means necessary find and report to her of any communities of sentient gorillas.

That had been two weeks ago, he had thought it would be a simple mission. After all, skeptical of them existing, thinking it would give his unit some rest and relaxation trying to find them, he accepted her mission with cheerfulness. How hard could it be to find gorillas living in a forest? Two weeks later sloughing through the dense forest had changed his mind. He had thought of given up on the task, reporting to the Queen, that the gorilla the woodsman brought had been a singularity, probably trained in the Arts by some demented human wizard. Elves, practical as they were, would never stoop to the level of training an animal to become a practitioner of the Arts.

His scout came back from the field saying he had overcome two orcs trying to surprise him. In their fear of being slain, they told the scout of a treetop village abound with “talking monkeys”, very nearby. The scout knew no elven canopy towers were built this far into Fireani wood. Surmising, that a chance break in the search by some elven-fearing orcs gave them the information that they were seeking all along, he reported quickly back to Moonleaf.

A mile later they discovered too late they were within the perimeter of the village. A yell erupted behind to his left. Several more yells, all elven echoed familiar words, “Qunche attarta,” meaning literally, were under attack. Moonleaf snapped his head around to see gorillas of all shades of browns and blacks materialize seemingly out of nowhere. Some slid down vines, others landed with the aid of weird looking poles that looked like upgraded versions of man-catchers. Clanging of metal on metal, the snapping of crossbows, and yells of excitement, fear and fury erupted all around the commander.

He quickly put his back to that of the scout, just as he did, a large gorilla of short clipped black fur with red markings in the shape of a squiggly line running under his forearms, down his sides ending in his knees, strolled casually his way. It made him look as if the markings gave him powers beyond his belief.

In a way it did, just before making eye contact with Moonleaf, the gorilla slid down the vine then let go while still thirty feet up. He landedhis feet turned outward and squatted to absorb the impact. The elf’s ears could not ignore the thumping sound of the gorilla landing.

As if part of the tree itself, a rather orange-black colored gorilla flipped over backwards, his feet grasping the branch above, faced the scout upside down. In his hands, a polished quarterstaff with iron shod on the ends, in his face, a snarl registered with the scout. Moonleaf didn’t have to look around to know gorillas were surrounding his unit. So much for proven tactics.

The upside-down gorilla blocked the swish of the scout’s long sword, then spun the quarterstaff, slipping it inside the scouts defenses aiming a crushing blow at the scout’s head. Fear showed in the scout’s eyes for a brief second, his unweaponed hand shot up catching the descending quarterstaff. He let out a yelp as the weapon smacked his palma smile pursed his lips thinking he had turned the odds. The upside-down gorilla let go of the branch with his feet, flipping right-side up, snarling again at the elf, his quarterstaff already coming to bear once again on his head.

Search and find the good queen said, huh, avoid all combat if possible,” the elven scout mocked, ducking the quarterstaff blow.

Moonleaf nodded his head, stabbing at the red-marked gorilla to keep him awaysomehow, the gorilla had produced a double orcish ax patting the blade menacingly advancing toward Moonleaf.

That is what our good queen said, Quickfox, and to explain our mission is one of peace,” Moonleaf chimed back in elvish. The only reply back came from a metallic sound of a long sword blocking an iron shod.

The gorilla swung the ax in an overhead swing meant for a quick death. As the ax neared the top of its arc, Moonleaf spun ninety degrees to his left feeling the swipe of the big ax pass harmlessly by his side. At the same time, he turned his broadsword so the flat of the blade smacked loudly in the gorillas unprotected side, knocking the wind out of it. A definite grunt from loss of air wobbled past gorilla lips while his feet did their best to keep the body from falling. He looked like some of the entertainers of Ladara doing a jig heading off the stage. Unable to support the increasing gravity, the legs of the gorilla skipped out from under him toppling the beast to the ground hard.

Snaps of crossbows sped into flesh followed immediately by howls of pain. A quick look around at his unit told Moonleaf, they had clustered in small groups of three or four, holding back the gorillas with the ranged weapons. Others had notched arrows and let them loose, scoring bloody marks on the gorillas, testimony to the accuracy of the elves. When it came to saving their skins or trying to avoid combat, the unit went with the former. A queen’s statement didn’t count when your life became dangerously threatened.

The gorillas had increased their number by double the size of the elves. Still more were sliding down vines, running down wooden ramps near the base of the trees, in general converging on the elves.

Seven to one odds, their bigger, stronger and mad as hell,” Quickfox declared with a quick look over his shoulder. He had pulled out a rapier, while holding a longsword in the other hand, saluted his enemy with the rapier by bringing the blade side to the bridge of his nose, then waited for the slow death coming to him.

Gee, Quickfox, you really know how to raise morale to the unit and you’re my second?” Moonleaf countered. His own enemy had tucked his feet under him snapping to a kip-up position, a glare of red in his eyes as they met Moonleaf’s.

Caught off guard by the beast charge, Moonleaf accepted the bull rush, thumping the gorilla on the head in return. Instead of moving with Moonleaf, possibly causing Quickfox to become tangled in his liege as well and most likely both of them winding up prone on the forest floor, the gorilla stopped moving once his bulk hit Moonleaf. The elven commander flew straight back into the backside of Quickfox, his feet somehow keeping pace with his body.

Years of training and teamwork paid off in those few seconds. Once he felt his body colliding with the scout, he rolled to the right, planted his right foot, then bringing his left foot into a wide, reverse spinning kick. A boot heel connected with a furry chin resounding in a loud crack, followed by a bellow. For what seemed eternity the large gorilla stood there, a clouded-over look in his eyes. Then like a falling tree, the gorilla, fell backwards, his hands not even coming out to his sides to maintain balance. Moonleaf winced as the ape’s head hit a rock making a sickening sound.

Quickfox’s enemy waded into combat, the quarterstaff swinging furiously end over end in a swooping low-high arc of intricate pattern. The tumbling ends of the staff seemed a blur to the elf’s eyes. Again, a series of clanging metal on metal sent cascading sparks showering both opponents.

In a riposte move that belied him, Quickfox darted the rapier in the ever-swirling offense/defense the gorilla had set up, catching the quarterstaff for a parry then sliding down the shaft to poke the gorilla solid in the chest. Immediately following the riposte came the longsword, weaving over and under the still swirling quarterstaff, finding flesh and punching through to create a bloody wound, then snapped back forming a lazy X defense with the rapier. The gorilla snarled, coming on more furiously then before.

Gorillas charged the small pockets of elves banded together only to find themselves riddled with arrows. Every gorilla stopped charging, discovering not one but three or more arrows sticking deep in their chest. They had been shot with arrows before, but not so many in as quick succession of time. Most of the elven units breathed a sign of relief, thinking the gorillas would retreat some ground.

They would have been right had it not been for a long brown, shaggy-haired gorilla, bigger by a foot and hundred pounds of the other gorillas. He plucked the arrows out as if they were thorns caught in his fur, raised a spiked club over his head and declared something the elves couldn’t understand but comprehended very well. A wake of gorillas followed his charging path.

The elves prepared to meet this onslaught by spreading out, archers taking the outside edges of the thin battle line. Those towards the inside, nearer the outside drew gleaming longswords, the one in the middle drawing both a longsword and rapier.

A quarterstaff caught the longsword near the hilt, and then spun it out of the scout’s grasp flinging it many feet away. In the same motion, the quarterstaff powered by the gorillas massive arms swept under the scout’s legs flipping him to his back. Quickfox’s enemy spun the iron-shod weapon until the staff became vertical and drove it downward to his head. The scout closed his eyes asking Ketephys for a quick death.

At the last second, a foot kicked the staff sending its deadly trajectory off to the side of Quickfox’s head. A spray of dirt flowered up from the impact, the quarterstaff burying itself in the ground almost to the top of the iron shod head.

Sorry your glory is denied you today big fella,” the commanding voice of Moonleaf could be heard in Quickfox’s ears. Opening his eyes, he saw Moonleaf’s broadsword slash at an angle through the center of the staff, then reversed the way it had came angling more sharply to slice a thick line across the gorillas chest. Even as the gorilla started to fall, the force of blade slashing him overcame his natural gravity sending him flailing over backwards, a rasping grunt escaping his lips before unconsciousness overtook him.

Quickfox rolled to his feet, backed away from the moaning gorilla before speaking with a grin, “Great, another favor that I owe you, how can I ever catch up if you keep saving my life?”

That is the whole ideal, besides you know how I feel about filling vacancies it gives me a headache,” Moonleaf shot back.

Before the scout could think of anything to reply, there came a clash of ringing steel on steel, a popping of bolts and buzzing of arrows although the strings attached to the bowstrings meant them to be quiet.

Turning to see, Moonleaf saw most of his unit had banded together as one, they must have fought their way back to each other while him and Quickfox had their own fights. Many bodies lay scattered about, none of them elven from what Moonleaf could see. All the downed gorillas seem to be moving to some degree, which Moonleaf thanked Findeladlara for that. It amazed him at the efficiently of his unit. Faced with death, outnumbered, they still managed to drive back the enemy without killing.

In the chaos of battle, neither the elves nor the gorillas were losing. Swords clanged, the occasional arrow thumping into small wooden shields that some gorillas wore. To drive them back, every now and then one of the gorillas standing on the outside of the battle would launch a javelin into the battle, most of the time skimming off an elf’s or nearby gorillas armor falling useless to the ground.

After several long, agonizing minutes, the tide of the skirmish changed abruptly in favor of the gorillasa long brown shaggy haired gorilla head butted an elf, and then clipped the next in the head with the spiked club. Slowly, but surely the elves fell one by one from the resurgence of morale the shaggy one had given his race. Both elven commander and scout ran to the skirmish trying to rally the ever-dwindling band of elves.

Moonleaf danced through the battle, his broadsword parrying a death blow meant for his kin here, slicing cleanly into a thigh of a gorilla there. His second followed hot on his heels, both longsword and rapier finding holes in gorilla defenses causing small piercing or long shallow gashes about the gorillas. Both mirrored each other in style, leaving a bloody wake after them. Several times a blade of each other would parry the same blade aimed at one or the other, and then both would be off dancing and stabbing again.

All their efforts were for naughtseveral gorillas had repeatedly rallied around a central figure, a gorilla with long brown shaggy hair. Like Moonleaf, he too left several enemies wounded around him, however every time the elven leader struck a enemy down, four or five gorillas would join ranks swelling them like a bee sting and defeating the purpose of the two elf’s wound track record.

It wasn’t that Moonleaf’s weapons didn’t cross paths with the long brown haired gorilla. They did, several times, but with the constant flow of battle all around them, all either one could manage was a off timed blow before another gorilla would intervene or a elf needed to be saved by the commander’s broadsword. The gorilla didn’t need his weapon to parryhis strength alone often slapped sword blows from finding their mark on gorilla bodies.

Perhaps two deities wanted to see them clash, perhaps it was fate or perhaps it was inexorable the two met up alone with no other allies around. With neither a word nor gesture, both closed the short distance separating them, broadsword and spiked club both brought to bear death.

The gorilla charged hard, upon nearing the elf swung his club low to high crosswise, the spike pointing up forcing the elf to sidestep rolling his body along the outside arc of the club trying to slash his longsword into the gorilla’s shoulder. A pinkish colored thick hand simply shoved the shoulder of the elf nearly knocking him off his feet, the sword finding nothing but air.

Moonleaf in return slashed the broadsword in a looping cross fashion batting away the gorilla’s club in several attempts to penetrate the highly-geared offensive maneuvers it become vain to do so for the gorilla. As much as he withdrew the club and presented it as a parry, Moonleaf’s broadsword had found its way to the other side of the club, thus forcing the gorilla to bat away the sword in ever-wider strokes.

With the club played out to it full length defensive, Moonleaf wove the blade over the club smacking the brute across the head forcing him to take a knee. Before he could stand, Moonleaf forearmed him across the bridge of the nose. There was an instant spat of blood as the gorilla tumbled a backwards somersault recovering to his feet.

Moonleaf saw the maneuver, returning to the sword weaving, striking so viciously, the gorilla became forced to fight from a kneeling position. No matter how or what maneuver he tried, the elf’s swordsmanship kept working the spiked club further and further to the outside leaving the gorilla open for a second smack to the temple.

Aggravated, the gorilla leaped over Moonleaf’s head just barely missing the sweeping arc of the elf’s blade. His feet grabbed the branch, propelling himself over the branch to he came upside down, plucking a dagger from a sheath, and plunging it into the elves backside.

Moonleaf felt the dagger slip between the links of his elven chain, only to be stopped by the tight fitting chain links of the armor. The elf let out a painful groan as the gorilla’s momentum transferred to the dagger propelling Moonleaf several feet forward. He tucked into a ball, rolled coming to his feet, and spun to face his adversary. It was too late!

Landing on his feet from upside down, the gorilla charged spearing the elf with his head. Moonleaf thought for sure he felt something crack in his chest when the gorilla hit him wrapping his arms around him in the process and riding him to the ground.

Somehow, Moonleaf’s strength overcame the gorilla, the thought of a 400 pound beast on top wailing away with a wicked club added resolve to his meddle, so he tucked his chin to his chest, and rolled up to his feet trapping the gorilla in cradle pin. The gorilla roared at the embarrassment kicking frantically to be free. Pushing off the beast’s rump to steady himself, he let his blade drop until he had it in a reverse grip. Kneeling on the gorilla’s chest and preparing to run the blade through the gorilla’s heart from this angle, he heard a single word of a deep-throat nature that could only belong to someone in command.


Moonleaf felt a small prick to his neck as he turned to see whom the disembodied voice belonged too. His enemy had slyly placed one of his daggers at his jugular vein when he raised his sword to run him through. It seemed if the gorilla was to die, so was Moonleaf.

His voice carried authority, for all fighting stopped instantly. There before Moonleaf, an elder gorilla stood, with peacock feathers sticking out of his fur in a fan-shaped fashion. His gray eyes spoke of wisdom in aging akin to the oldest dragon, while his body spoke of frailty like a dead twig. Beads adorned his neck in a multitude of colors, leather wristbands engraved with small patterns set on his wrist and ankles. He wore no armor or carried any weapon, but Moonleaf scowled at the sight, thinking in his brain, the grizzled one unquestionably could produce one should the need arise.

I should let the gorillas tear your elven brothers apart,” motioning to Moonleaf, “You after all are trespassing. It does not surprise methere had been rumors of an elven squad looking for us. Yes, I have contacts in various places also, even near your precious city of Ladara. I see by your look you’re perplexed, so allow me a measure of your time. We knew of the woodsman who toted off the carcass of our brother. It just so happens he had about a days travel on us, and by the time, we caught up with him, he had entered the city. We then hoped that it would blow over and he made a fool. It seems here of late, perhaps because of boredom, your queen took an interest in our brethren. Once she did, we retreated back to our home and awaited to see what would come of it,” motioning for the elf and gorilla to get up.

That would mean you just arrived only hours before us, so then this isn’t really…” Moonleaf cut off his second giving him a stern look in the process. Quickfox wasn’t so good at diplomatic negations no matter what the situation.

I apologize that you mistook this for an attack. Actually, the good queen sends her regards. You see, she sent us on a search and find mission. Upon discovering your village, we were seen and these gorillas surrounded us taking us to the fight. We would have been just of happy not to drawn any blades. I did try to order using the flat of the blades and arrows to non-lethal parts of the body, but your gorillas kept pressing us and it became clear they were out for death, so we had to step up our tactics also to keep alive.”

The two groups stood behind their respective leaders, the long brown shaggy one eyeing Moonleaf very carefully. Not an elf or gorilla had attempted to sheaf their weapons, both feared that any second the battle would erupt again.

Like I said, you were trespassing,” spitting a wad of tobacco juice that landed on the boot of Quickfox. The elf had already been in motion before the hand of Moonleaf rested on top of his, a simple nod of the commander’s head told him that Moonleaf didn’t approve.

It seemed that neither side had caused any grievous injuries. The gorillas had plucked out most of the arrows sticking in them, letting the blood clot on their furthe elves, those the shaggy brute had attacked wiped the blood from their heads and arms on their tunics. He sighed before speaking againgood thing there wasn’t any death, be a lot harder to make negations.

Well, if you hadn’t been hidden in the middle of Fireani wood, trespassing might not of happened. I understand you’re reclusive, but my men would not have provoked the attack. Nor do I think your gorillas provoked the attack, naturally, they were defending their homes to what they saw as an invasion. Now it seems to me, that both sides got their egos hurt and nothing much more. Moving on, I come under peace from Queen Telandria Edasseril, Perfect Flower of Kyonin,” using the full title to his chagrin.

She has asked if the sentient gorillas would want to become allies in hopes of keeping our enemies at bay, those primarily of the River Kingdoms.”

The elder gorilla held up his hand fearing Moonleaf would continue, “A few things here, these are not my gorillas, I do not own them, they follow me because of who I am. All gorillas serve Gronga, our chief god willingly. Second, let me guess, your precious queen, perfect flower of whatever and whatever followed that, wants the gorillas to become allies to stop the invading forces from River Kingdoms that occur every summer, most times using the Fireani wood and Sulk wood forest for massive cover operations. Feeling she did not want any elves to die in human lands, closing the borders to all but a few emissaries, yet she wants us to put our lives on the line to help her and all we get is gratitude out of it!,” Emphasizing the last part of his statement.

Grumbling could be heard throughout the gorillas, the elder had made a strong point. Moonleaf look exasperated, the elder did have a solid point. Before he could reply, Quickfox, one never to hold his tongue lashed back.

You are in our country living here, you should show some gratitude and watch how you address the queen, ally negations or not, I will not have my queen insulted. You don’t see Moonleaf addressing you as Wrinkle face of a Thousand Years that time forgot!”

The elder gorilla laughed, holding his hand up for the second time to keep Moonleaf from protesting.

That is because I’m am old boy, try two-hundred years old, I’m also a Gorilla Chieftain, that is why my people revere me, not because I’m old.” He laughed again, “If it will soften your temper boy, I will not insult your queen, and bloodshed is not of me, although some of the berserkers out on patrol might disagree. I suppose your good queen, would like an audience with a leader here, but you haven’t told me what we will get back out of it other then her graces gratitude,” placing his meaty arms across his chest.

With a very stern look to Quickfox, Moonleaf stepped up separated himself from the other elves. “The elves would of course be your ally against any enemies you might have in the country of Kyonin. We would also do joint coalitions with your gorillas, letting them stand watch with us in our treetop forts, we would pledge elves to help you with the River Kingdoms and would send elves to protect your villages from revenge.” He paused. “Queen Telandria Edasseril has authorized me to give this document to you, stating the conditions I have named and more, such as rebuilding your villages in times of war and setting up trade with your community,” handling the document to the Gorilla Chieftain.

The Chieftain unrolled the crisp parchment, noticing it was absent of smudges or stains, looking as if the document was handwritten minutes ago. It must have been a very important document to survive a trip from Ladara and be smudge free. For a second, he thought of sending a runner to the queen protesting how dingily the scroll looked. That would fix that. Other gorillas crowded around the Chieftain, trying to read over his shoulder. Moonleaf wondered if all gorillas could read, that would make them more intelligent then his queen had surmised.

Hmm, says here the queen would like us to move to the eastern edge of the Tanglebriar forest to establish better relations and that our culture will be unchanged.” A babble of Gorillanese broke out, some pointing weapons at the elves as they spoke.

The Chieftain held his hand up, continuing reading aloud, “ But says the queen will either tear down the village and move it or allow us to make a new village our way and promises aid in doing so. It goes on to say a variety or weapons, armor and the like will given to us to help establish peace, and to keep the River Kingdoms at bay.” Some oohs and awes came up at that point from the assembled gorillas.

Moonleaf nodded his head, “It also says that if after a year, if the gorillas are not happy, she will move you back to your location and all gorillas will be given diplomatic immunity provided they abide by the alliance set forth.”

Finally, the big long brown hair shaggy gorilla that fought Moonleaf moments ago to a standstill spoke slowly. “Zarg, what is diplomatic immunity?”

Apparently, not all gorillas were as smart as Moonleaf had given them credit.

Zarg cocked an eyebrow, “It means you can go on killing those patrols of bugbears and the elves will not hold you responsible Gump,” Zarg answered, as the shaggy gorilla beamed a smile.

He rolled the parchment up, slipping into the leather case provided with it. For what seemed another eternity, the gorilla Chieftain gazed over at the assemblage of the two races finally speaking.

I will meet with the elders on this situation, you tell the good queen to expect my entourage and me in a month. I will give her an answer then. In the meantime, take your wounded and leave. If you are caught in gorilla territory before the month is up, the alliance is off and you will be killed.”

He turned to leave, when a loud ahem cleared the throat of Moonleaf. Turing back, he raised his eyebrows, “Yes, what is it?”

Your called yourself an Chieftain, and stated they revere you,” pointing to the gorillas, “What exactly is a Chieftain?” Moonleaf asked curiously.

The gorillas consider me a demi-god,” he answered flatly.

I see, I appreciate you letting us part on neutral terms,” Moonleaf chose his words carefully, elves didn’t need to be explained the power of a demi-god even if in title only. Moonleaf didn’t feel like seeing if the elder was bluffing or not. By now, half the village had assembled around the elder Chieftain. If the Chieftain were giving them time to walk away, by Findeladlara he would take it

The gorillas parted letting the elves march through the middle of their ranks to the forest from where they came from. The elves filed past in pairs of twos hands rested nervously on their weapon hilts or bow handles.

For many miles, Moonleaf didn’t speak to Quickfox, then when he was sure no prying ears were around he spoke quietly, “The queens elite search and destroy unit almost got their elven ears handed to them back there. They had us beat and they know it, the elder called the halt to the skirmish to save our blood, remind me to stick with search and destroy missions or not play diplomat again.”

Quickfox grinned, “I don’t know, I thought we did pretty good considering all things. Besides, you had the gorilla beat, no problem! I had your back the whole time,” hacking at some underbrush with a small machete.

It seemed to the elves, they had hacked their way into Tanglebriar wood hours ago and now had to hack there way out, as if the forest was trying to prevent them of getting away quickly.

Your kidding me right Quickfox, you were no where near me, in fact I looked for you several times and couldn’t find you, I had thought you dead.”

Quickfox chuckled, “I was alive and well thank you,” he paused, “Your right my liege, I wasn’t there,” catching an expressionless look from Moonleaf. “I climbed a tree and had my bow sighted on the gorilla’s head you were fighting in case you would of missed your death stroke.”

Moonleaf stopped, a lump forming in his throat before he spoke. ‘Trying to even the score for me saving you,” he croaked.

Something like that, Moonleaf,” the scout verbalized changing the subject when he saw a tear forming in his commander’s eyes. Moonleaf clasped him on the shoulder and then hacked at underbrush. “My liege, do you think this alliance will hold between us?”


Neither will I, hard to have an alliance when your allies die of old age hundreds of years before you, no one can live long enough to become veterans like us-except dwarves and they just not elf material, hell very old treats look younger then them and they live less!”

Moonleaf broke out laughing. “I was thinking about the same thing, when he called you boy, Quickfox, yet your one-hundred seventy years old, your life is already mature.

It became Quickfox’s turn to laugh, “Must have been feeling guilty about his age.”

They both broke up in mirth, at the stupid statement. Other elves that overheard snickered. Elven jokes about time, a classic.

Chapter One


THE slate-skinned svirfneblin/half-celestial looked around his home one last time. He felt saddened to have to leave his deepdark home Dorsensotte practically all his life.

Arwkin lived on the outskirts of Dorsensotte, ever since the svirfneblin king declared him an outlaw for piracy on the nearby underground lake of Chicoseeka.

A claim Arwkin did not deny. He was a rogue after all and a damn good one.

He did not blame his mother for getting him started in his thievery habits. She had been a pirate ever since he was a child. Therefore, by the time his seventeenth birthday rolled around, he envied the nightlife more and the pirate life less.

Plundering ships lacked a certain finesse that robbing houses of the rich offered, though he made it a point to never rob the common gnome on the street or the poor. Attributed it to his celestial side of things.

Deep gnomes-his race of peaceful underground beings akin to the rock gnomes usually gave and gained in their communities. When one of their own became outlawed, the whole community shunned them.

Such was Arwkin's folly.

He shook his head at the thought, he probably would not have been declared an outlaw had he not stole from the king of his own community. Such actions brought political powers of immense calling in the rogue’s direction, forcing him to flee the city to the outskirts where he lived like a starving creature.

The deep gnome had etched out a living by robbing the rich and giving to the poor. Being poor did not matter to him as long as others around him enjoyed life some. The lack of funds did not bother him either, he could if he wanted to make a substantial living as a rogue, but to him, the thrill of taking the richer peoples money and redistributing it to he poor kept him satisfied.

It wouldn’t matter if he never took the golden scepter of the kinghe knew in his heart, he still would be branded outlaw, not so much as criminal standards but racial ones. His half-celestial heritage marked him as odd or weird by other deep gnomes. Celestials mated with humans, not gnomes. It was unheard of. So most thought of him as weird before he turned to thievery.

His friends or those who counted as friends always asked him if he ever knew his farther and what it was like to be a half-celestial, sometimes to the point he would have to order them out of his house.

There came a knock at the stone doorliving on the outskirts of Dorsensotte really meant living in a cave. Thank the gods, the area around Dorsensotte had so many caves and sinkholes, that the king's secret police would never find him. Well, they would eventually, but that would be years away yet.

The knock came again, distinct and rapid. Arwkin pulled a lever allowing a metal bar to retain itself back in the wallthe smallest of a grating sound could be heard as the small stone door swung inward from a central pivot spot. There stood his younger brother in earth-colored tone clothing with a small bag in one hand and a stiletto dagger in the other.

His hair shaped down into a V at the forehead then sprouted into wildly directional wisp on the tops and sides. It seemed out of contrast with the thick burly straight, black eyebrows, emerald green eyes and flashing white smile. He continued grinning as the stone door pivoted one hundred eighty degrees closing with a snick, just as the deep gnome stepped into his brother’s home.

Arwkin had to suppress a smile, even at fifty-one years younger then his brother, his brother looked more like a beaming, smiling child. Unlike most svirfneblin, Fonkin shaved the traditional goatee beard most males worn. He giggled with delight when an older gnome always mistook him for a teenager. Usually when he mentioned his name, the older gnome would be stammering an apology.

“You look well for someone on the lamb,” Fonkin commented, standing with his arms crossed. His actions dictating, he did not want to see his brother leave.

Arwkin's long-bushy, brown beard almost touched his knees, almost blending in with his earthtone clothing he wore. His gray-white angelic wings, lay against his back in a relaxed state. An mischief of honoryness came across his chestnut brown eyes; his straight brown hair tied back in a ponytail did nothing to give him credibility to his name.

Arwkin eyed his brother, as he smoked his long-stemmed pipe in long draws as if nothing bothered him in the world.

Fonkin had earned his bread and butter by being one of the kings infamous scout patrols. His name had earned him far more renown then his actual battles. Practically every deep gnome in Dorsensotte had heard of the stories of his battles with dominions of the deep, drow, illithids, and beholders to name a few. Fonkin never thought much of it he just liked busting heads.

Being in the kings employ allowed him the double side of a coin, coming in handy to warn his brother when the secret police were close or when the king would order a house-to house search thinking someone had hid the rogue out.

The truth of the matter they usually did.

“I see your all packed little brother, it is just as well, hard to sprout your wings and fly down here,” he teased rolling the small money bag over his thumb. “I took this from the king himself, tickles me pink to see him rant and rave about thieves in his house only to find it on his dresser or stuffed deep in his throne room chair.”

Arwkin grinned, acknowledging the joke played on their king. King Zook was a miser of a gnome, ruling the community with an iron hand of political and criminal force. While none could prove his discredits, the common gnome folk suspected him of about every crooked scheme that became exposed to the public.

Zookie the Nookie became his nickname for all his political crimes. The common folk would of ousted him long ago except for two thingsa king once elected served twenty-five years minimum, regardless, and no one, not a gnome, dwarf, elf or multitude of other beings residing in and around Dorsensotte could prove anything discreditable to the king.

Of course, Zook ensured it stayed that way, those who had dirt on the king, either kept their mouths shut or ended up on the run like Arwkin. The outlaws could only hope that the twenty-five years would pass rather quickly. Too bad, Zook had been ruling for only seven of those twenty-five years.

“Aye, you would think the Nookie would keep a firmer hand on his scout leader, he might need to know where he is at a moments notice. I don’t know how one with all your fame can escape his attention for long?” Arwkin mused, hefting a backpack.

“He thinks it will be jinx his number one scout leader if he sends someone to hail me. Besides, who wants to tail a deep gnome for hours that looks at boots,” bringing a low-boot of shiny black forward.

Again, Arwkin nodded understanding the deceit behind it. The king had sent others to tail Fonkin repeatedly over the years. They would report the fighter-sometimes rogue would spend his day buying boots or trinkets. Fonkin could and did repeatedly give them the slip, more often the one tailing Fonkin had set outside the shop waiting patiently for hours for him to come out. Giving up, they would go see if he actually was in the store and to their amazement he would be.

The scout leader always wondered at the duplicity of the tail. One would think if the populace disliked your king, then they would dislike you by association. It didn’t help the king's tail wore their traditional guard uniform, the purple, and black standing out like the glowing fungus found in deepdark.

It didn’t help the tail, that Fonkin always sweetened the hands of nearly everyone, when he wished to visit his outlaw brother. Thus, the business shop owners made almost any excuse for Fonkin when the tail came in. They would send out errand boys to track him down, pretended he would be changing clothes, have others imitate his voice, or any number of things to keep them occupied.

The deep gnome had an instinct when the tail would start to hone in on him, always appearing out of the backroom, side room or behind the tail just to see the look on his face.

“Shamil is not here I see,” noting the absence of his sister. He saw the twinkle in his half-brother’s eyes. “I see. You must of visited her and mother Scheppen last night. I take it they took it well, giving you blessings on your going away and return.”

For the third time, the younger deep gnome nodded. He wondered briefly if those on the surface world referred to their mothers by their last name. To a deep gnome, you never called her mother without her clan name attached, to them, that would be the most disrespectful.

The most evil of a gnome may murder at mayhem, but disrespecting his clan by not adding a clan name to which he referred too, whether it is a mother, farther, or grandfather would brand him more then the actual crime itself.

“Your journey will be long and arduous little brother, I know it will be years before we meet again. However, I agree with you, the timing is now. Zook has become obsessed with finding you, since you’re the only one who stole his scepter and never replaced it. Yes, it does serves the old miser right, but this is the fifth time this week he has ordered house-to house searches. Sooner of later my luck will run out and I will lead them to your doorstep. Our cousins, the rock gnomes whom I been in contact with as much as you assure me that the food and weapon catches are in place. I will leave your presence. Drop me a gnome-stone every now and then.”

Arwkin smiled, a gnome-stone was a rock with gnomish writing on it, carved into the stone. Sometimes the writing was written in an acidic juice of a vermin. The stone would be heated up causing the gnomish writing to appear. It was, like all gnomish inventions, clever and intended to fool the enemy.

“I shall return one day to Dorsensotte older brother. It is not the safety of my life I fear, but yours and the clan. Once it is discovered you harbored me, no amount of pleas by our clan would save your life, regardless of the position of office you have. Being half-celestial has made me start to want to make changes in my life. Instead of eking out a living like, a rodent, constantly on the run, I feel I could do so much more on the surface. It is a calling I must attend to. Seek your place well Fonkin.”

The two brothers parted company after a hug and handshake, one heading toward the surface, and the other heading back to the city community of Dorsensotte.

* * * * *

The caverns leading to the surface were no rougher then usual. Although, Arwkin had never been to the surface, he had heard from other deep gnomes of what it looked like.

Anticipation, excited as he was about his travels, didn’t cause him to lose his caution he had honed over the years. He kept to the larger cavern systems that had well-worn paths. He knew, by doing, he increased his chances of meeting somebody or somethingnevertheless, he knew he would make good time.

Time is what he needed most, he had to put some distance between himself and any patrols of Dorsensotte, preferably the less chance he came across a patrol the better. While he undoubtedly figured he could outrun or out hide a patrol, he really wanted to avoid them all together.

He crossed into another series of caverns, by passing immense caverns and transversing the smaller caves and tunnels. If he had to fight something, he wanted to minimize the distancethe better to close and quicker to kill. A big cavern could offer a hundred hiding places or worse the creatures hiding could be out of range of his weapons.

Arwkin only had a light crossbow and mighty short bow for ranged weapons, so he definitely didn’t want to fight anything out of the range of those two weapons, especially the light crossbow. Sure, he could use the bandoleer of daggers strapped to his chest as ranged weapons, but Arwkin liked to use the weapon in melee to compliment his gnome hook hammer which he never really gained proficient in use.

Fonkin reminded him constantly to practice with the weapon, but it didn’t feel right-a rogue using a gnomish hook hammer. Still, at his brother’s persistence, he would practice with it on the occasion. Now he wished he had practiced with it more.

An odd sense overtook Arwkin at the last secondby then it had been too late. He blundered into a web, stuck fast. A look above told the deep gnome/half-celestial that a monstrous spider (to him) descended its web, fangs bared.

Somehow, the web hadn’t entangled him as bad as he thought; only one strand had held him fast. With a quick jerk, he broke out of the web, just as the spider scuttled to just above his head, its fangs making a scissor sound. Arwkin tried to backpedal, but the spider came to fast, it scrambled forward and bit him, its fangs piercing his leggings.

The bite didn’t hurt so much from the three-foot long spider as the poison he could feel coursing through his body. Already, he could feel his leg twitching. He held the scream he wanted to yell out in check. Taking advantage of the situation, the spider tried to bite again, however, Arwkin backpedaled another five feet away, gritted his teeth and resolved to kill the spider before it killed him.

He fired a crossbow bolt, watched in horror as the bolt went wide, knocking some rock chips onto the spider’s web. The spider spun around, its rear spinnerets facing the rogue launching a sticky glob of web that covered the gnome, this time the web completely engulfed him holding him fast to the cavern floor.

The rogue called upon his innate abilities of his half-celestial side; first, he waggled his fingers and tried to cause blindness over the creature. It did no good; the spider shrugged it off like water off a penguin’s back. Arwkin saw his life flash before his eyes, saw the four-inch fangs gouge deep in his skin, then insert an enzyme that would turn his insides to goo, where the spider could suck them out at his leisure. Nevertheless, for some reason, the spider did not rush forth to finish off his prey; he merely kept a ten-foot distance, slowly circling. The gnome did not know if the spider toyed with his meals or just wary of him.

Taking an opportunity of the lull, Arwkin enveloped himself in a blur spell. A golden shimmer appeared for a brief second, then his form took on a constant waving, flickering shape.

The spider seemed to smile, and then rushed in again at the gnome’s legs, mandibles stretched wide. This is going to hurt a lot, thought Arwkin. The spider’s mandibles caught only airthe blur spell had worked. In fact, instead of attacking again, it set back on its rear four legs watching the distorting shape of the gnome.

“Nivi Rhombodazzle surely has blessed me this day!” he exclaimed to himself, putting a final burst of energized strength into the webs. A snap like firewood popping followed the gnome’s grunt. Arwkin pulled two daggers in rapid succession from a bandoleer, did a rolling somersault to one side of the spider, and plunged both daggers into its thorax.

Fluid, blood and gore spewed out onto the gnome. It only enraged him as he twisted the daggers further, the spider’s thorax enveloped his handshe had plunged them that far. With a final clack of its mandibles, the spider shuddered a final death throe and died. Arwkin pulled the gooey daggers from the dead spider, wiped as much gook on the spider as he could then stomped in his head to make sure.

He mentally noted he had let his guard down, with his superior darkvision over the spiders, he should have spotted the spider well before the monster spotted himhidden or not. How could he forget to look out for such vermin? They would be the most common foe in the deepdark and here he was more worried about deep gnome patrols.

“Stupid gnome!” he told himself, “You could have been flying all this time and probably could of avoided big-ugly spiders.”

He knew that his celestial wings gave him good maneuverability, much like in comparison to a beholder. Meaning the deep gnome/half-celestial could fly backwards, turn sharp corners, turn in place, ascend and descend sharply.

Arwkin shook his head, berating himself for not thinking about his wings earlier. He then realized that the stigmata of trying to live his life as a full deep gnome had kept him from using his wings often. His shaming rationalized his mind to walk or run for all things instead of flying. He told himself from then on he wasn’t going to live with those stigmatas.

Of course, zipping around in caverns would give him little time to react should he encounter something more deadly. He would not be able to approach with as much caution had he been on foot. In spite of that, Arwkin decided he would fly as much as could to the surface. His darkvision should give him plenty of warning about critters or anything else.

He would just have to know where to look. Besides, Arwkin urgently wanted to reach the surface in a couple of days, if nothing else to truly be free of the king’s searches for him.

Deep gnome patrols he knew would search everywhere for him, covering many miles of the deepdark. They would not venture up to the surface for him, their own fears, and taboos keeping them in the deepdark, in fact very few denizens of deepdark liked to venture to the surface much―drow and mind flayer on occasion, beholders more then them, the other races hardly ever seeing daylight.

Taking flight, Arwkin felt the rush of air between his wings. He briefly looked over his shoulder to see his angelic wings spread out. It felt good after literally unfolding his wings to exercise them in the deepdark. The rogue flew through the cavern system again avoiding the larger caverns and taking the smaller ones. Even though he assured himself he could out fly most anything, he didn’t want to face any battles in a large cavern-a risk that did not weigh heavily on his side and gnomes didn’t like giving any advantage to an enemy.

After some time, he became tired, knowing he had traveled for quite some time. Finding a small niche in a side tunnel, he made his camp. There would be no fire tonightfire in the deepdark drew the enemy like a bear to fish.

He ate some of rations reflecting back on the day. Feeling sleepy, he knew couldn’t afford a good nights rest, so he propped himself in a sitting position to the side of the niche opening. At the back of the niche, he piled his winter blanket and bedroll along with some rocks to make it look like someone was resting there. Any nasty investigating would go nosing around the blanket, and hopefully Arwkin would wake up and give the nasty a vicious nosebleedrogue stylea dagger to the ear.

A smart critter could see the ruse for what it was, or anyone or thing could simply look to the side of the niche first, making the game up in both cases. A chance he would have to take. His light crossbow prepped and ready on his lap, his bandoleer adjusted so he could quickly draw out a couple daggers, he promptly fell asleep.

* * * * *

The deep gnome woke several hours later. A reptilian creature with a single row of bony spines on his back, curved horns atop his nose, and multi-legged ruffled its snout through his bedroll and blanket. Even with the creature's back and tail to him, Arwkin recognized the creature immediately; he didn’t need to count the eight legs to know a basilisk was sniffing his bedroll. He definitely would not be giving this creature a nosebleed. Basilisk had a petrifying gaze that mimicked the spell turn to stone, then afterward, the creature would crunch the stone statue in its strong teeth effectively killing them.

Knowing he had seconds to spare, before the creature turned around, Arwkin let out a breath of air very slowly, he hated to lose his bedroll and blanket to the reptilian creature, but what choice did he have, he didn’t relish being turned to stone then eaten by the creature.

Even though, a small creature by basilisk standards would take a couple days to finish him off, he still did not relish the thought of it the basilisk chomping his arm or leg. He shook his head knowing that the creature would get his bedroll and blanketmore sleepless nights to come.

If he tried to fly, the rustle of his wings might alert the basilisk, something he couldn’t afford, despite the fact angelic wings were supposed to allow one to fly silently. More exaggeration that human attributed to those beings.

Carefully scooping up his daggers, replacing them in the bandoleer, he reached down to beltpouch and took out two potions. The first, white, and cottony in color he drank quickly, followed by the second, which was thick, black, and syrupy. He made a face, no matter what the hype about magical potions, they tasted rancor.

The potion of spider climbing, the first potion he drank helped him climb better; his only way of escape that would keep him from becoming stone, for he knew he simply couldn’t outrun the creature, basilisk were relentless in their pursuit of prey. The second a potion of sneak and hide he hoped to allow him to hide undetected.

His hands became sticky, the magical potion forcing the secretions through the pores of his skins. Slipping his backpack halfway on, he climbed quickly up and out the niche. Thinking himself safe, his foot scraped the smallest pebble sending it rolling to the cavern floor where it landed with a very slight plunk.

The basilisk snapped his head around to the entrance, then charged out to the corridor seconds later, whipping his head to the left and right. It smelled the air continuously, then growled, moving off down the corridor. Arwkin, who had climbed a short distance to where the niche entrance met the ceiling, stopped, hoping basilisk did not learn to climb. He kept his face to the wall in front of him, not even bothering to look down to see if the beast had wandered off.

Deep gnomes didn’t chance anything, it would give the basilisk the ultimate fate catching him perched above him staring into the beast’s eyes, turning to stone and crumbling into pieces when he hit the floor. The basilisk made several passes underneath Arwkin coming and going in both directions. If it had not been for all his years spent as a rogue, he would of slipped off the minute precipice, a short fall, maybe bruising the deep gnome at the most, a short fall the basilisk would come running to investigate.

Finally, after what seemed eternity, Arwkin couldn’t hear the basilisk anymore rummaging down both the corridors. To make sure, he dropped his dagger; it landed on the cavern floor with a loud clanging noise. No basilisk came running down the corridor to investigate a possible meal. He let go of his hold dropping the short distance to the floor. Picking up his dagger, he made his way into the niche he had just been sleeping in. A shambles of material ripped and torn asunder, that not even a tailor would try to repair it, lay scattered about.

He picked up the bedroll or a large piece of it; maybe it would at least make a good pillow. Stuffing it in his backpack, he peeked out the niche opening cautiously, with one eye. Not that looking at basilisk with one eye, had he been standing there waiting, as Arwkin imagined would be any difference then looking at him with two eyes. Finding no waiting basilisk, he took to flight.

He hoped that had been the first and last encounter with a basilisk, being caught by King Zook’s patrol had more pleasantries then being turned to stone and eventually eaten.

* * * * *

Chapter Two


WHAT terrible damn luck! Arwkin almost convinced himself, he should just go home and turn himself over to the king. He had been flying avoiding the larger caverns as usual maneuvering his way to the top.

Suddenly, he rounded a bend, flying into a gang of Darkland hobgoblins setting around a fire, talking excitedly in a derivative of hobgoblin.

Darkland hobgoblins were relatives of hobgoblins, although much smaller then their bigger cousins. They were hairless, with orange-red skin, having yellow eyes and three-inch long fangs. This gang sported the decency to wear loin clothes, so one wouldn’t have to gaze upon their warty, paunchy bodies.

The cavern ceiling dipped to about six feet or less in heightperfect for the Darkland hobgoblins. No way to avoid them, nowhere to turn, the deep gnome did his only logical choice given the situation. He simply flew onward hoping to fly right by them. His hope diminished to fear at once, acting as one, all of them jumped up brandishing small clubs, started swinging at the half-celestial/deep gnome flew by.

He felt the brushing of clubs banging off his armor, but no real damage done. On he flew, glancing back for a second, as he turned his head forward, to his horror, the opening of the exit was severely diminished in size. Arwkin tried in vain to make himself small hoping beyond hope he could squeeze through.

His hopes became dashed when he slammed into the opening, his broad shoulders, and backpack refusing to come through the exit. Hearing and seeing the crash, the Darkland hobgoblin gang shouting harsh words to each other, ran to the exittheir prey lay stunned at the floor. Rushing up to the deep gnome, they beat him about the head and body. The blows were ineffectual though, just caused Arwkin to place his hands over his head.

Several seconds later, tumbling forward through the lot, Arwkin rolled to his feet, spun, rapier and gnomish hook hammer in hands, skewering one of the Darkland hobgoblins with the deadly thin blade and slightly missing the other.

The dark hobgoblin let out a flourish of hobgoblin in what Arwkin determined could only be cuss-words Arwkin shoved the rapier deeper in his gut for emphasis then pulled out quickly. He launched a booted foot to his midsection sending the dark hobgoblin sprawling down holding his gut, a stream of blood flowing out of the puncture wound.

Again, the Darkland hobgoblins set about him beating about his body with their clubs, one trying to bite him in particular. Again, thanks in partially to his half celestial tough skin; the blows were ineffectual but annoying. He went into a series of finesse thrust and slashes, but the Darkland hobgoblins jumped behind small stalagmites avoiding the vicious blows.

Scooting from behind the stalagmites, the guerrilla tactics eventually worked much to the frustration of the deep gnome.

A club from one of the Darkland hobgoblins clipped him in the head forcing him to take a step back. Accepting the hit, the deep gnome thrust quickly at the Darkland hobgoblins who clipped himout of vengeance and to prove a point to the dark hobgoblin gang.

The rapier found its mark piercing the Darkland hobgoblins heart. Arwkin, once more thrust the rapier up to the hilt, then stared briefly at the dead dark hobgoblin, ugly, yellow beady eyes, shoving him off his blade. The effect became immediate, the two remaining Darkland hobgoblins withdrew cautiously backing up towards their fire, their clubs held level.

Arwkin didn’t let the situation end that easy, he reached down picked up his light crossbow, which had bounced from his hands to here. Surprised that it still held a loaded bolt, he brought the crossbow to eye level, sighting and fired at the pair of Darkland hobgoblins.

The bolt burst into one of the Darkland hobgoblin's head in a spray of blood splattering all brain matter all over the other. The force of the bolt drove the Darkland hobgoblin's three-feet backwards right into a small stalagmite that impaled itself through his backbone, adding to the gore.

That was all it took, for the surviving Darkland hobgoblins to flee, screaming “demon child” in broken hobgoblin, he didn’t even bother to run around the fire, trampling through it instead. This added to his screams as a bit of his loin cloth caught fire, forcing him to roll quickly on the ground, then jumping up screaming, a trail of smoke coming through his legs.

Arwkin laughed at the smoking Darkland hobgoblin fleeing, then quickly searched the dead bodies. As suspected, it didn’t reveal much, their clubs and filthy loincloths. He returned to the small fire they had lit, not believing the stupidity of lighting a fire in the deepdark.

Well, he thought, it is not stupid if you’re confident in who comes along. Kicking around the fire, he discovered a saltshaker, ornately carved in gold with a cork in the bottom. Shaped in the form of a slumbering dragon, the Darkland hobgoblins didn’t realize what treasure had lurked beneath their ashen logs, most likely from previous campers who must of forgot about it.

Since Darkland hobgoblins were to lazy to build new fires, they just made theirs on top of previous campfires. The ornate piece could of fell into the nearby ashes, eventually covered up. Figuring it might net him fifty-sixty gold pieces; he tucked the treasure in his beltpouch.

About to leave, something shiny caught his eye in a nook in the cave wall. Pulling out the bundle, a single silver piece plinked to the floor. The bundle became a small backpack after he wiped off the encrusted mud; it contained a couple of hundred silver pieces. Another bundle could be felt further in the nook, Arwkin pulled it out as well rummaging through it

The silver pieces were stamped in the drow language. This had to be a drow merchant secret locale. Instead of carrying money with themdrow merchants would hide it in niches and then when the time came to make transactions, the merchant would pull the coins from the hiding place, make the transaction, perhaps hiding the remaining money way further down the winding tunnels. Normally, merchant caches were well guarded with creatures, spells, or both. Peering behind a set of stalagmites, Arwkin saw the answer.

There, piled like cord-wood; the bodies of five more Darkland hobgoblins, black holes had burned in the center of their chest and the slight smell of charred flesh filled his nostrils. Feeling the bodies, he surmised they couldn’t be more then a few hours old.

The burned holes in their chest told Arwkin the Darkland hobgoblins had triggered a spell trap, most likely a chain lighting spell. Realization set in that since he discovered so much silver, the merchant hadn’t yet made their transaction. He quickly replaced the bundles, and then a sly look overtook his face. He pulled the second bundle out again and scratched a name “Zook,” on the leather, replaced it and left.

Arwkin imagined the look on the drow's face, when the merchant pulled the bundles out of his cache to find a name on them. Certainly, the merchant’s guards would discover the Darkland hobgoblins bodies and the three further up the tunnel. It would enrage the drow merchant and enlighten him at the same time, to know that a gang of Darkland hobgoblins had set off his spell trap.

The merchant would find only a few coins missing, noting lost―drow merchants were wealthy entrepreneurs in deepdark. Once the merchant realized who Zook was, and everybody in deepdark knew the deep gnome king. Just the ideal of such meddling by a deep gnome king might make the deal go sour with whoever the drow merchant supposed to meet with at the time.

The next two days, Arwkin made good time. He had no more problems with the denizens of deepdark. In fact, the caverns and tunnels became more straight and less curving or spacious. Nothing stirred in the deepdark, it was like he was all alone or his reputation finally started to proceed him, he wryly thought. Either way, he was glad. He thanked Nivi Rhombodazzle, then flew on out of a cave to the surface.

For if he had to of fight anything that day, it would of taken away the joy of the sight he beheld. The starry night sky radiated thousands of pinpoints of light sending a warm glow over the land. Mountains, unlike those he never seen before touched the sky. Below him, a lush fertile plain stretched on for miles. Reaching into his belt pouch, Arwkin slowed his flight so he could read a map given to him by some a group of rock gnomes; his brother had arranged a meeting with.

It also gave his contact a rough estimate when Arwkin would make his way to the surface.

The meeting was in case the coup-de-tat that surely would happen in the years to come-once the common deep gnome got tired of Zook’s crookedness. The rock gnomes had agreed that once that day came and Zook’s reign failed, several families would be allowed to live in their community, of which Arwkin’s family was one. In the discussion, the rock gnomes had produced an accurate overland map of Kyonin showing the approximate location of their community burrow. Gnomes never gave exact locations of their homes regardless.

Arwkin took in the beauty of Kyonin repeatedly. Deepdark while having beautiful spots of fungus gardens and underground lakes didn’t compare to this land. He envied his rock gnome cousins more then ever. The beauty of the land; his emotions toward it probably came from his celestial side. After all most celestials were messengers of deities, when worlds were young and none could deny the artistry of the deity.

The half-celestial/half-gnome flew close to the ground to enable his contact to spot him as also arranged by his brother. A new elation overtook him as he flew, flapping his wings joyously, feeling the cool night wind rustling through them. It felt different then the stale air of deepdark. Perhaps, he thought, Nivi Rhombodazzle had meant him to be free of his sobriety of trying to fit in the deepdark.

A rock tapped his ribcage hard enough to get his attention. Arwkin came to a hover, slowly turning in place. Not thirty paces away a rock gnome stood, a brass helm upon his head, small rubies and emeralds set in the center. His chain mail bore shoulder epaulets with small intricate patterns on them, giving the rock gnome a broad-shouldered look. His choice of weapons had fearsome qualities backed by a warrior attitude. A short sword of excellent quality lay sheathed in a scabbard, along with a metal shield painted tan with orange gnomish glyph's.

His green and light green tabard pants stood out brightly in the moonlight, being tucked in a pair of well-crafted leather boots. The gnome stood there, his black coal eyes piercing into the darkness, his goatee giving him a look of destiny.

The rock gnome nodded taking the strange deep gnome in. A gray steel helm crested his head, black beady eyes looking back at him and a thick bushy beard that made him resemble a dwarf more then anything.

Studded leather, from which a pair of white angelic wings protruded, a bandoleer of daggers across his chest and the barely visible hilts of two more protruding from low-shod thick-soled boots told the rock gnome the traveler was in the rogue profession. Just a guess, he knew, but he was willing to bet his sword on it.

An assortment of other weapons dangled from his body in various places; a rapier in a scabbard on his left hip, a gnomish hook hammer on his right in a belt loop, and a high quality short bow slung across his shoulders, then there was the light crossbow aiming at him. The rock gnome simply turned and started down a zigzag path along the mountainside.

Thinking it might be best to walk, Arwkin landed a good twenty paces behind the gnome. As he walked, he noticed the small path sometimes went to the edge of cliff faces then cut back closer to the mountainside.

He mused at the cleverness of the gnomish footpath. Bigger creatures such as giants trying to follow the path would simply misjudge the sturdiness of the footpath, would step to the edge, their weight causing it to crumble plummeting them to their deaths. It also served to cause whoever following the path to simply become confused from the number of switchbacks and zigzagging footpath.

As it was, the path sometimes even lay against the mountainside, being there would be the horizontal part of the path missing. Arwkin mused again; his people had similar paths against the walls. The trick was to run as fast as possible up the mountainside path while maintaining your footing. He ran up the short path, leaning toward the mountain as he descended noting the rock gnome looked from the corner of his eye.

Arwkin maintained the twenty pace interval despite several disappearances and appearances by the rock gnome. Illusions, the deep gnome noted. However, he didn’t see through all the illusions, he knew them for what they were. He is testing me, the deep gnome thought. Besides, the illusions served for defense in case the duo had been followed. Arwkin didn’t blame the rock gnome for trying to fool him; he wouldn’t let a stranger into his homeeven one that was a distant cousin without testing him. Gnomes took very defensive, elaborate measures to prevent their homes from being detected probably more so then elves and dwarves.

After some time, they came to what could have been the only entrance to the burrow. The deep gnomes motioned for his distant cousin to stand back some. Arwkin didn’t bulge, so the gnome just shrugged his shoulders and made some gestures speaking the language of Terran for his magical spell. There came a snick in the rock face, a small door pivoted from a central hinge outward revealing a warm glowing light from within.

If the gnome tried to impress Arwkin with an open spell, he had underestimated the deep gnome. The opening had a flight of short steep stairs that complimented the seemingly larger portal. Designed to fool the enemy, bigger creatures rushing down the stairs would most likely trip where upon landing, a bucket of acid would pour up on them.

The rock gnome didn’t bother to look over his shoulder to see if Arwkin would set off the bucket of acid hidden in the recess of the opening into the common room. A barely visible wire ran across the archway into the wall, then to the bucket. It would be maintained; replacing the bucket and making sure the acid in the bucket had enough to do its job. Arwkin strode confidently into the common room not once looking down; without showing any emotion, the rock gnome stretched his hand showing Arwkin should set on the plush couches.

The deep gnome conscious of his surroundings took his short bow, rapier, and gnomish hook hammer off him laying them on a small serving table. He didn’t want to insult his host by puncturing the couch with a weapon end.

The common room the deep gnome noted had several couches arranged in a semi-circle to allow for talking. Several other rock gnomes set on the various couches.

Even Arwkin knew communication worked better, when the arrangement was in a semi or full circle. Likewise, it served as perfect cover against invaders, the rock gnomes using the couches for ranged cover before retreating into another room.

Burrows were made of circular rooms connected by tunnels, eventually the tunnels all led to a huge community room. Here the gnomes would make their next to last stand-their last stand would be to give up the burrows trying to trap the enemy within and hopefully destroying it with fire, magic and any number of sources.

The gnome leaders sat about the couch with their own long-stemmed piped in their hands, tobacco pouches at their side. With a nod to the leaders, Arwkin took out his own long-stemmed pipe and tobacco pouch, passing it to the gnome next to him. The gnome grinned, excited to smoke a new type of tobacco, especially a type from deepdark.

“It comes from fungus that glows brightly, but when it is crushed and ground, it turns light green, losing its luster. The tobacco has a rich, tarty taste,” the first thing Arwkin had said to any of the gnomes gathered.

The gnome said thanks, took some and passed it to the next person, at the same time, a bag of tobacco was pressed into his hand.

“It comes from a leaf that is left in the sun until it is almost rotted away, then taken and crushed, the longer you leave it in the sun, the darker and stronger it taste,” the gnome said in jest to Arwkin's remark.

After a few minutes of smoking, the rock gnomes and the deeo gnome agreed, the tobacco different and very good. They divided their tobacco among themselves so they each had different types. All gnomes had their tobacco pouches made so that the pouch divided into many smaller pouches―no gnome, even one from deepdark smoked just one type of tabacco.

Arwkin talked about his plans to become a traveling merchant to the gnomes. They listened intently then prompted him to tell them stories of beholders, drow, mind flayers, and the fearsome deep dragon.

Therefore, Arwkin told them, not stories, but the truth with his encounters with the deepdark races. When he finished, he asked them to tell him of the surface. They told him how the elves were different, the races of man, the world in brief, and everything else. Arwkin soaked it all in hanging onto every word.

Both groups talked late in the night, then retired, the host having shown Arwkin his own small room. He laid down on the soft feather bed, feeling the aches of sleeping on hard ground seep into his body. Thinking about the day, he fell asleep. His cousins did promptly so too, they had been up since the dawn looking out for him, having taken out a giant earlier in the day to make sure the path was clear for the deep gnome.

The next morning Arwkin woke to a new smell, to him it reminded him of fungus cakes from deepdark, but this smell had a richer, fuller smell to it. He gathered his equipment, wandering to the communal eating area. There at the head of the oaken table set the gnome who brought him in. He learned last night in conversation his nameZeekuraiha of Nimh Clan Sparklegem.

Gnomes loved names, their mother gave them a name, their farther gave them a name, aunts and uncles gave him a nickname, his clan elders gave him a name and so forth. In a gnome’s lifetime, he might acquire a dozen or more names. The little folk loved setting around telling all there names-the one with the funniest name won a prize. When dealing with humans and some elves, a gnome would shorten his name to a personal name, a clan name, and nickname due to their unappreciative sense of humor. Of course, to further inflict insult to injury a gnome would always say the funniest sounding name first to further watch the scowled faces.

He sat next to the gnome as indicated by the patting of his hand on the wooden chair. Looking over the laden of food being brought out by female gnomes, Arwkin felt a growling in the pit of his stomach.

Cakes, fruits, and meats lay in heaps on wooden plates across the table. Zeekuraiha grabbed a muffin from a passing tray popping it into his mouth, smiling as the female gnome scolded him for bad manners. His eyes twinkled as he reached for another, but the female was too quick for him, smacking his hand with enough force to mean no. Soon the table became full as other gnomes made their way to breakfast.

Most of the conversations that morning was directed in the forms of questions about Arwkin’s homeland, furthermore, most were repeated questions from the night before. He didn’t mind as he asked a few more repeated questions of his own. The gnomish children try, as they might not too, would point, giggle and stare at the half-celestial/deep gnome. Even some of the rock gnomes tried hard not to stare at the angelic set of wings protruding slightly from his back.

One of the first things Arwkin told the gathered gnomes last night of how his mother had mated with a celestial thus producing him. The other gnomes sat in awe, and agreed with him that he would be destined for something grander in life or had been on the receiving end of a whimsical celestial. The gnomes were not in total disbelief, after all, celestials had mated with just about every humanoid race at one time or another. True, it was very rare for them to mate with the smaller folk, dwarves, halflings and gnomes.

Finally, Zeekuriaha, who as well as being what the gnomes called a forward observation scout-one who primarily guides friendly allies to the hidden burrow, took another duty seriously; clanmaster of the Nimh. He motioned the others to talk amongst them selves, indicating by his stern stare, that he and Arwkin would talk privately.

“So you’re going to try your luck as a merchant. Very profitable business for a gnome to go into. A few rock gnomes from our community have become such.”

“It seemed like the thing to do, one of the ways to see the surface world, maybe it will lead to adventure,” Arwkin spoke, eating the last fruit muffin. “I thank you for your hospitality and all that your clan has done, my family will repay you should you ever need our services. I take it you procured the services I ask for?”

“Your welcome, we try to help out our under dwelling cousins whenever we can, although few return the favors. With the exception of your family and a few others, I guess its the way we live opposed as to the way you live,” nodding his head yes to the question Arwkin asked. “All that you asked is procured in the city of Kivud’s Pass, it's on your map we gave you. The metal chest you requested bolted to the wagon frame had to be sent to Ladara producing an overhead of two-hundred fifty gold pieces.”

Without thought, Arwkin reached down and unclipped a beltpouch, then laid it discretely on the table. Arwkin knew the comment was not directed at him, Zeekuriaha was right; most deep gnomes took rock gnomes for granted, being somewhat haughty towards their cousins. Culture differences certainly played a part. Perhaps too, the deep gnomes felt they faced greater danger everyday then the rock gnomes, he wasn’t sure.

As for the overhead, Arwkin knew he could have owed the debt for years and the subject would never have been brought up again. If who he owed it too was other then a gnome, he might of paid in installments, however, even so, he didn’t like debts over his head especially those to another gnome. Most gnomes, including the evil ones had a measure of respect to their fellow gnomes. They might befoul the other humanoid races from time to time, but very few would do so to their own race.

The clanmaster handed him a pair of wooden glasses with small shutters across the eye openings. “Your eyes will sting for the first few days from the sun, these will help lessen the pain. Do not look directly at the sun until your eyes are well adjusted, doing so can have bad consequences for you.”

He clasped him about the shoulder; Arwkin did the same, and then accompanied him to the burrow door. Only the clanmaster and one other gnome led Arwkin to the door. For security purposes, the deep gnome knew; if a enemy saw only three gnomes emerging from a burrows, they may assume it is just three gnomesnothing else, as everyone knew rock gnomes traveled extensively in two’s and threes. The deep gnome knew that already other rock gnomes would have filtered out of the burrow into the surrounding terrain. They would be following him for a few miles to ensure he himself didn’t cross any enemies and to keep an eye out on himcousin or not.

With a wave of farewell, the half deep gnome put on the wooden glasses, then took flight towards a small village in the distance at the base of mountain.

Chapter Three

Adventures Assemble

GHOST entered the small hanlett. The town normally would be busy with the decorations of the up coming Harvest Feast, a seven day long ritual celebrating the summer solstice, except it seemed to the monk, no one would be celebrating anything this year.

The town resembled her name and that didn’t suit well with the monk. Not a soul stirred among the main street. Not even the winos that would at least pop their heads up in a drunken stupor to watch the cute monk sashay by. At five foot six and one hundred thirty two pounds, Ghost had quite an athletic body honed to perfection; men recognized enough of her womanly charms to whistle under their breath.

The blue-eyed, long-blonde, leggy monk couldn’t blame them for not paying attention to her today. Erotic thoughts with her, barely registered in the minds of those who could turn a thought toward that. For one, the monk took a vow of celibacy, those who seemed to glare a little to long at her low-cut blue silk monk outfit with white seams got a stern look as a warning or worse flipped onto their backs wandering what just happened.

Second, a devoted follower of Grandmother Andoletta, an deity of old that insisted all that followed her carried a walking stick and learned to weave baskets in their spare time. Ghost took that devotion one step further―all her containers made of wicker. It was a contrast of notion to see a beautiful young woman carrying and using a walking stick. She was always asked if she was sick or crippled until she explained who she served.

In this region of Kynoin, people still worshiped the deities of Calishia, Desna and Nethys not the Grandmother. Andoletta's concept of religion just didn't seem to to fit in the elven idyllic life.

Barring that, she was one of a few handful of humans that were allowed to live in the country under Queen Tessalaria's laws.

The monastery gathered fruits and vegetables and distributed it to the poor throughout the year plus had come to the aid of not only the hamlet, but had defended several groups of elves passing through the area from all manner of creatures or threats.

It was this kindness and acts of other why the good queen allowed the monastery to stay. For her part and eight other monks, that lived at a monastery outside a small hamlet known as Kivud's Pass. The hamlet was comprised on a very small number of human miners brought into Kyonin to mine the nearby caverns in a small range of the Five Kings Mountain Range.

And what man could think of that, when a disease struck Kivud’s Pass?

Almost every able-bodied man that had worked in the mines had been struck hard with it. The diseased caused big, inflamed welts to cover the body, which constantly leaked a foul liquid of snot green no matter how much gauze was applied. High fevers, pain, and limited mobility soon followed by a wasteful death. Ghost felt sorry for the hamlet, and wandered how her monastery would fare with over half the hamlet’s main work force sick and dying.

The monastery sold fruits, vegetables, and breads from their gardens to support the minimal things a monk needed in their life. The miners were the biggest buyers of the wares; often the monks would have to return to the monastery to gather more fruits and vegetables to sell to them.

She quickened her pace; she did not come to sell food today. She came to get answers. Her order within the monastery, the Way of the Twisted Wind asked her to investigate the strange disease that taken such a stranglehold over the town. The gloom could be seen everywhere as one-quarter of the town’s shops remained closed-brought in contact with the disease.

The sun seemed to get in on the action too, casting long shadows into abandoned streets and alleys. Even the drunk she passed so often, who usually reached his hand out to touch her hip, winding up with a slap to the face didn’t lift his eyes nor raise a hand to touch her.

Ghost stopped for a second, looking at the drunken bum, as he stared back at her. She started to berate him, then realized he wasn’t staring at her, but through her to a smaller chain of mountains of the Five Kings Mountain Range. Mountains, more specifically where the Kivud’s Pass mine was located. His look distant and dismal told Ghost she could have been standing nude in front of him and it would not change whatever deep lonely thought occupied his mind.

Walking more quickly, she found what she sought, a temple dedicated to Windlass, Elder of Divinity. She thought all temples of him would be grand and opulentnot this one.

The temple, little more then a hovel or once a shop converted to a temple looked about as dismissal as the town. It needed some minor repairs; the wooden steps leading to the doors cracked in several places, the wooden doors themselves had several wormholes and knots in them. Still, the place felt like a resonance of power as Ghost stepped to the large doors clanging the brass knocker of Windlass, Elder of Divinity.

“Hello is anyone home?” she called incessantly. She went to knock again, but not realizing her strength pulled the door open with an ominous creaking. Peering inside, she saw a small chapel, four rows of benches on either side balanced the single half stained glass window showing Windlass, Elder of Divinity destroying a demon simply by pointing at him. A wooden altar set upon a single step dais, a blue silk altar cloth showing the face of Windlass, Elder of Divinity hanging down all four sides.

Ghost could see two shadowy alcoves behind the dais, where between them a tapestry of Windlass, Elder of Divinity smiting more undead, this time a coven of vampires in a ruined castle.

A low moan escaped the alcoves caught her ear. Shutting the door fearing for a second, the temple may have come under sway of evilperhaps the demon pictured in the stain glass had come back for revenge.

“May I help you sister monk?” a thick baritone voice asked from behind, obviously her monks outfit of silk turquoise blue giving away her profession. She spun around quickly; two kama’s materializing in each hand, going into a defensive stance. There stood an aged man in faded blue robes and wearing brown leather jackboots. The ever-present insignia of Windlass, Elder of Divinity over the left breast stared back at the monk.

The cleric shrank back some, upon seeing the weapons in the females hands, even though in his arms was a bundle of fruits, vegetables and breads, his weapon hand rested upon his iron-shod, gold plated mace. His eyes narrowed, then recognizing the monk from the monastery, laughed and walked towards her, kicking the already seeming abused door with his boot to open it.

“I am Samuel. Come in sister, always good to see a religious member visit even if the philosophy is not quite the same. I apologize for no one answering your call, my assistant is traveling the outskirts of the town, trying to help the plague-ridden farmers who can’t make it in,” shaking his head as if there were no hope.

“So now it is a plague,” Ghost murmured under her breath. “Precisely what I came to talk to you about brother priest, my order, The Way of the Twisted Wind sent me to find out more of this plague. We are curious how it came about, its symptoms, and whether it will affect the sentient gorillas over in Asabu-Atiwuville. We are thinking of employing a couple of the gorillas to do some work for us in exchange not only for money for the workers, but fruits, nuts and vegetables to the community.”

Samuel nodded in agreement, throwing the fruit litterally on the altar, “There is talk in Kivud’s Pass of paying the gorillas to mine the silver if this plaque doesn’t come to an end. Forgive me if I do not share your sentiments about the gorillas, if you have any. I have been to Asabu-Atiwuville, seeing how the gorillas have come along since their move from Fireani Forest. They have taken advantage of the diplomatic immunity status to far! Did you know that our precious queen has forbid an elf to raise a hand to a gorilla except in defense? They are leering, staring at you as if you do not belong in their city, rude, and make snide remarks to the elves in front of them in their own language and behind them to their backs. Most of the elves who tried to co-exist with the gorillas gave up and moved back to other elven villages or Ladara.”

It was Ghost turn to nod, she had heard of such rumors regarding the behavior towards non-gorillas. She understood Farther Samuel’s intolerance of them. His pointed ears marked him as elven or half-elven, so his inclination towards the gorillas was just. Quite a few elves didn’t agree with the way Queen Telandria Edasseril handled the discovery of the gorillas. They were further irked upon the relocation of the gorillas from their forest homes to the edge of the Fireani Forest.

“As for how it came about,” the farther spoke throwing his hands up in front of him, “the council assumed that the miners contacted it someway in the Kivud Mine, since most of the first ones to become sick were miners. It must of spread to their families through contact, killing about fifty townspeople so far. I cannot answer your question as to whether it will affect the sentient gorillas. I suppose if they avoid this town and the people infected it will not affect them,” the priest said solemnly.

“If you need to know the symptoms,” he motioned the monk to follow him into the shadowy alcove Ghost noticed before. Lit by a single torch, the alcove led into a hallway lending to the temple an air of depression about it, giving Ghost the shivers. She was used to light and airy places of harmony or happiness. “Here, sister put this scarf over your nose and mouth, while I do not think this is an airborne plaque, it is best not to chance it. As long as you don’t touch anybody, you should be fine.”

Cleric Samuel noticed the monk staring at him, looking for a similar scarf in his hand. “Windlass, Elder of Divinity protects me from the plague, bless him, although my prayers to him have fallen deaf of late. Punishment, I guess for some former transgressions in the past.” He opened the small wooden door to a cacophony of low moans and entered.

Ghost followed, realizing where she had heard the single moan from earlier. The small room held an assortment of people, mostly male, but some women and children too, laying about on cots and blankets. All had white linen robes on, Ghost guessing the cleric had to burn their clothes less the plague spread further.

Then she got a good look at a man on a nearby cot, blisters seeped from his body, a green pus fluid flecking his robe. His eyes were hollow as if he was dead, and didn’t know it, his lips cracked and swollen. A smell of puke, urine and vomit filled the air from some urine buckets, forcing Ghost to hold her breath, not wanting to show a sign of disrespect to the persons in the room.

A feeling of anger overcame the monk. How could Windlass, Elder of Divinity ignore the cries of his people? Especially the common folk, who suffered so much already. The rich folk had money-coffers of gold they could donate to the temples to make sure they got healed-after all when you got the attention of a patriarch with gold to back it up; any spell you need could be prayed for. At least that’s become the common theme after the Golarian Wars. She wanted to see justice served, whether a deity or some other being had been instrumental in the plague. Ghost vowed to find out if it was the last thing she did.

Suddenly a realization overcame her about what the half-elf spoke. “Windlass, Elder of Divinity has not granted you a cure disease spell, that is why you feel like it is your fault.”

The humble cleric shook his head yes bowing it in a shame. “I’m not a worthy supplicant it seems.”

To Ghost’s amazement, none of the sick who clearly heard the ongoing conversation, startled asking questions of what do you mean your not a worthy supplicant or why has Windlass, Elder of Divinity abandoned us? She started to berate Windlass, Elder of Divinity in front of his priest, and then wisely remembered she was standing in the deities’ temple and lesser things said about deities in their own temples had marked the accuser in death. Instead she threw open the door and marched out, calling back to the priest.

“I’m not happy about this situation, but I vow to get to the bottom of this, if I have to put together some able-bodied persons to investigate myself. Do what you can farther!”

Samuel watched her walk briskly out the temple, pulling the door a little harder shut then needed. A smile broke over the cleric’s face. Someone finally decided to do something about the plague. Maybe Windlass, Elder of Divinity had another plan of beating the disease? He uttered a silent thank you to the Elder of Divinity, going to the altar and grabbing the bundle of food, returning to the small room, distributing it to the sick. The moans of “bless you farther” was lost on him, his thoughts on the monk woman, wishing the call of Windlass, Elder of Divinity would take him back to the adventuring life. Nonetheless, the plague would be looked into; that would be enough for him.

* * * * *

Kaaj trudged down the western corridor towards a large cave. He finished stepping way around the pressure plate setting, centered at the end of the pit trap. The trap had been roughly cut from the stone by the miners in an effort to keep creatures from wandering up from the boughs of the mines.

Two wooden door-sized planks had been fastened to the ledges then covered with dirt. Kaaj smiled at the cleverness, the pit operated by a pressure plate of weight. The thick wooden planks had small foot-size coiled springs underneath it forcing the pit covers to spring back up, sealing the victim to his doom. Only a very tall creature would be able to jump up catch the springs pulling the doors down. Too bad, for the miner’s he had seen the pit trap catch a lone rogue the other night.

After climbing down and relieving the human rogue of his valuables, it gave Kaaj time to study the trap. To allow one to walk across the pit, three sets of oiled iron bars were slotted into the pit lit edges, where dowel holes had been made. The pit lids were brought up above the level of the pit until they met at an angle then lowered.

All that was left to do would be to take a pick and place it in the small holes of the pit covers from which if one looked closed enough could see the iron bars underneath, and pull in the opposite direction. The iron bars had holes drilled through them throughout the bar, which lined up with the holes of the pit cover. A team of miners could change the status of the pit covers from a pit to actually being able to walk across it in a few minutes time.

A chorus of shouting, the clanging of metal on metal, suddenly broke out somewhere up the tunnel and to the left. Kaaj loped back up to the small central four-way looking back to the main entrance. Peering around the corner, he saw small reptilian-faced men with reddish brown skin and horns on their heads engaged with the miners in a skirmish.

Kaaj scowled at firstkobolds, a score or more he thought. The creatures would ruin his plans, for he needed some miners to carry the plague back to the town. His mind raced of the hundred different ways why he shouldn’t join the fray killing as many of the creatures as possible for ruining what he planned for months.

The orc cleric smiled a nearly toothless grin. This might be better. For I can use the kobolds for protection from humans and further my plans as well, he thought. The orc had already predicted the kobolds would defeat the miners in a short amount of time, unless the miner's rallied. The bodies of miners littered the main entrance, while Kaaj could only see a small handful of kobolds along with them. He nodded his head as if he knew the outcome of the skirmish.

A kobold detached from the wall, the shadows suddenly expelling him. He held a wicked curving dagger in his hand, moving toward an unsuspecting miner. A quick stab to the miner’s backside, then moving swiftly to another miner doing the same, leaving both men dead in seconds. Kaaj shook his head in amusement, trudging back the way he had come.

A kobold assassin had challenged any hope of the miners coming back with a rally, as if there was any hope for the miners in the first place. Twenty-five kobolds to ten human miners didn’t mount too much of a hope. However, the kobolds chief deity, yet to be named as the kobolds were always arguing over what permanent name should be attached to him, had taught the kobolds to survive at any cost, and fighting two to one odds certainly would be survival at any cost for them.

Kaaj passed through a large cavern continuing his way to his haven. The kobolds would slaughter miners, and then leave them for other miners to discover. kobolds were not bright as far as Kaaj could see. Instead of keeping one alive, then torturing him some, sending him back to the town to spread the word of what happened-primarily to invoke fear in the townthey just would kill all the miners. It didn’t matterdead miners had their uses as well as living kobolds He grunted a menacing laugh; Verex had given him insight this day.

* * * * *

The rock gnome rode her pony casually into Kivud’s Pass oblivious to the small number of residents out on the streets. Residents who had survived the plague by avoidance watched her mount walk steadily down the street. Beady eyes followed her every move, glancing up to the masterwork cutlass made for her size strapped across her back. Evident at this range, it could be seen the weapon had been forged with great artisan-shipsilver gilding that crisscrossed both the hilt and pommel making it a desirable weapon.

Everything about the small gnome spoke wealth. Her scale mail hinted under her black leather chemise―clearly what armor had shown, had been forged with great artisanship. A scholar cap rested on her long brown her, allowing big, right brown eyes to peek out beneath short cut bangs.

Four daggers hung in a small bandolier through her ample cleavage. To some Xia felt like they were talking to a miniature human teen-ager, though the cutlass in the well-oiled scabbard said they were dealing with a mature woman―a deadly woman at that. Thowing ax's peeked out of the tops of her low boots that overlapped green striped cannons.

The pony she rode, beautiful specimen, had a tawny tan with a white mane to it. Horseshoes, either newly fit or just highly polished, allowed all to see and hear the clop of its hoofs. Her bridle and saddle alone still had the new leather smell to them, weather-worn, they could still fetch their original price.

She passed the unsavory mixture of racesthat over time had infiltrated the mostly human hamlet, eyeing her from the shadows with ease. No one, not especially the unsavory types would try to rob her or threaten her in any way and she knew it. The unsavory types knew it too, one even nodding no to a newcomer rogue who was about to step out behind her tailing her. The more experienced rogue pointed to her then drew his finger across his throat pointing back to the newcomer. The newcomer took one look at the gnome warrior, and slunk back into the shadows. He shivered at the thought of the cutlass coming around chopping his head off.

Xia stopped at an inn in front of her, reading the fading hanging sign on a post, blowing slightly in the wind. It read “THE SILVER NUGGET.” Someone had scrawled with chalk below in the empty wooden space, “Kivud’s miners other watering hole.” Xia placed her small hands on her shapely hips. She had been told she should have been a human because of her cuteness.

“Sounds like my kind of place,” she told herself. “Maybe someone will have need of my sword,” she muttered halfheartedly Business for adventure had been slow lately and her gold coins were running low. She laughed at the irony of what she thought. Xia was wealthy beyond her means, inherited land estates from her mother who at one time was asked politely bought land and sold it back to humans in the area at a profit.

She entered expecting the inn to be on the classy side, not because she flaunted her wealth or needed to socialize in such places, because of the lettering of the sign had been done in silver; it fell in between her expectations.

The lettering repeated over the fireplace in silver, but an added plaque in silver showed an etching of a miner discovering a lode of apparently silver. The etching in quite good detail showed the look of surprise on the miners face as he held the silver nugget up to his face to get a better look with his lantern. Several sized nuggets lined the mantle, each with a little plaque by them giving a name and date of discovery; one as big as a melon dominated the center of the mantle.

Xia doubted the nuggets were real, being left in the open unprotected like that. Surely, the bartender didn’t trust his clientele that much. As she neared the mantle, a human picked up a nugget biting it and looking doubtful as to its realness. Flecks of silver paint left on his mouth proving his doubt. The bartender immediately started yelling at the man telling him the nuggets were for looking not eating, extending his yelling into a stern lecture at the human for even touching the “fake nugget.”

She pulled herself up to the bar-stool, noticing for the first time, the inn customers were doing little talking. In fact, other then the one man explaining whom in Kivud’s Pass had come down with the plague and who hadn’t, no one else talked. None seem really to listen to the monotone voice man, some even interrupting him to order another drink, but the man continued undaunted in his list, sometimes adding a comment to somebody he named, if he stated the plague killed him.

Xia nudged the man beside her, asking him why the man ranted on like that. The man turned to her, eyes bleary from crying, then told the rock gnome warrior the plague had taken his wife, yet he survived the plague.

Others she realized were telling similar stories just in very low-key voices. The more she listened the more depressed she got. Unable to bear it anymore, she hopped off the stool, taking her silver inlaid tankard of ale with her.

The only other patron not sitting around the bar being depressed was a blond woman in a silk blue with white seamed loose fitting outfitwearing jackboots of all things, with her legs crossed, stretched out on the table while she leaned back in a chair.

Two leather-wrapped grips rested right at her shoulders, obviously that attached to some sort of blades told Xia, that this wasn't a regular patron. Under the blades, a wicker backpack lay of exquisive quality. An eastern type sword it seemed from looking at the grip and pommel rested in its scabbard, almost touching the floor. A walking stick made of wicker, rested in her lap.

Xia searcher her memory, she had been told about encountering people with walking sticks and wicker baskets. She searched her memory again, certain dispositions of people had something to do with it. Then it came to her like a thief in the night.

The loosely clad woman was a follower of Andoletta-Grandmother Crow. Not much was known of the old deity, except she was most kind deity, but one who could snap in a minute if done wrong or seen wrongdoing. Her followers were required to carry their walking sticks and wicker baskets with them where ever they went. It seemed that this patron had carried it a little bit further, she had belt pouches, a bedroll, and a special holder on her leg to hold an inverted light crossbow.

“Get her another of what ever she is drinking,” Xia instructed the barkeep, making her way over to the woman, despite the sputtering of the barkeep about having to boil water to make the tea, and tea wasn’t normally served in here. Xia stopped halfway, flipped the barkeep a couple of coins demanding to get the woman what she wanted.

“To the River of Lost Souls with it,” she pronounced aloud, throwing her hand up in disgust. “Just buy everyone a round and get that woman whatever she is drinking. Put it on my tab, and I will pay you when I’m through talking to her!”

Ghost pulled a chair in with her foot; Xia stopped it deftly with the toe of her boot, and then scooted atop it. “Tough crowd of miserableholics, whatever happened to fun and happiness?” the rock gnome asked jerking her thumb over her shoulder.

“Or proper respect? Do you always set where you please, invited or not?” Ghost intoned, never once taking her eyes off the gnome.

“Sorry, got ahead of myself here, Xia of Nack-Mack Clan, Noggin-buster here. Rock gnome, in case you asked. Mind if I set here? You got to be better then those depressing persons,” pulling up the chair while the monk stared at her hard again for the second time.

“I should of known it would be complicated, I forgot how much you gnomes love names. Ghost is my name, not like this town, but more like the wind. My monastery is just outside of town. If you had been listening to the riff-raft, you would know this town is besieged by a plague. Are you seeking adventure or just want somebody to talk too?” the loosely garbed woman asked.

“I thought monks were not the adventuring type, less they were on a quest, but I see from the look in your eyes that you are on some kind of quest. So yes, I am looking for an adventure, and plague you say, that doesn't sound to nice for this town. No wonder everybody is so dreary,” the rock gnome verbalized, throwing her hands up.

“I suspect fowl play and could use a swords-woman like you. I can’t pay you at all; I’m hoping your warrior training instills your sense of righting a wrong in you. From your fine clothing, and emerald encrusted pommel cutlass, you don’t need any coin,” the astute monk chimed in at the last second.

Xia patted her favorite weapon, “To the point, I like that, clears up all the hearsay that you get often. Therefore, you’re looking for a sword for hire to investigate the plague. Not into it for the wealth, I don’t need wealth, parents set me up pretty good,” Xia shot back.

The monk nodded figuring as much, “Do you know about diseases specifically like the plague were dealing with here? I hope you’re up to the task.”

The gnome set there looking stoical, leaning forward, then looked straight into the soft blue eyes of the monk. “Have you ever been buried under piles of dead bodies, mainly goblinoids, for three days? The stench of the death, those dead eyes looking inches away from your face, you unable to move or do anything as the battle raged on around you. I know the question your asking how did I wind up in that pile in the first place. Short story, I was knocked out cold by a mountain giant who assumed me for dead. Hence, he tossed me into the dead pile, which then had only a few bodies. Course, as the dead grew so did the pile, by the time I came from unconscious; tens of bodies had been thrown on top of me. So, yes I know quite a lot about death, disease and plagues!”.

Ghost blinked, the gnome had come back from death, not only that she had faced a giant, the monk although hearing about giants had never faced one in combat, her enemies were limited to goblinoids and the occasional undead. She told the gnome she was sorry for her ordeal she had gone through, and her drilling her like that, she just wanted to be sure the company she was putting together would be able to face the trials to come.

“One question, why Andoletta?”

Ghost smiled, “So you noticed eh,”, grabbing her walking stick, fondling the smooth finish. “Very few do, I think she chose me, not the other way around. I like helping people and Dilettante-Grandmother Crow as we refer to her helped me choose that path.

“Do you have a religious choice?” Ghost asked looking at the rock gnomes face to see if she was lying. So many people claimed to follow a certain deity only because everybody else followed them, jumping on the bandwagon so to speak.

Xia laughed, “Are you asking me if I follow a deity? No I don't follow a particular one, though I will ask anyone that is listening at the time to bless me. I guess I have never relied on a deity to look after me.”

“You might want to think of following one soon, seeking the bringer of this plague could very well be the death of you.”

“I will take my chances thank you, excuse me a moment.”

Xia walked to the bar, “Look fellows, me and that monk back here are going to investigate the plague starting with the mine where many say the plague originated, it is not hard to figure where it came from, you can’t talk to someone without knowing,” she emphasized.

“She is putting together a party as we speak, so if I buy you all a drink, will you please uplift your spirits and tell this young gnome a joke or two.”

Bobs of heads nodding yes went all the way down the bar, the closet one turning to confirm the headcount. After a minute, he started talking to the very cute, busty gnome; she was very cute after all.

Chapter Four

The Meeting

MAYOR Cristofar grabbed the crystal paperweight from the deft halflings hands for what seemed the hundredth time.

“Hammer don’t you have something else to do? Go bother the patrons of the Silver Nugget or something. Here is an idea, go visit the town of Asabu-Atiwuville, I hear it is quite the rage, now days,” giving the halfling rogue a stern glare.

“Boring Cristofar, who wants to watch a race doing everyday normal things, besides what have you learned about the plague? Are you going to hire some help to investigate the mines? What about the missing disappearance of the recent miners? What about….”

The mayor held his hand up; he wished that he had not asked the halfling to join him that night for a drink. Now, ever since, the halfling took it up to be chummy with the mayor, often barging in on important meetings, propping himself up on his favorite chair, telling the mayor and his council to carry on. For most of the time, the halflings rogue could be ignored. Other times when his incessant curiosity got the better of him, Cristofar would have to call for his bodyguards to remove the halflings from his office. Hammer always managed to slip by them, but he would be gone for a day or so. Cristofar thought this might be one of those times.

How he managed to escape the plague, the mayor would never know. Hammer had virtually gone all over the town when the plaque broke out, taking no precautions whatsoever. His penchant for warding off the disease amazed the mayor, as if deities had ordained him immune. Perhaps, it was the nonchalant attitude that got him through this mess, Cristofar did not know. He did know that if he didn’t find a party of adventures, a caravan band, or something to hook Hammer up with soon, he would throttle the halfling himself.

“Hammer do me one favor, go downstairs and check the roster to see if anyone has signed up for an excursion to Kivud’s mine,” silently signaling for his ever present bodyguards out in the hallway to enter his office.

“Don’t bother Cris,” catching the silent sign much to the always surprise of the mayor. He slipped down off his chair, scooting between the legs of the reaching guard. Then his barefoot could be heard descending the stairs. “When are you going to get better guards, those couldn’t catch a turtle if they were Quicklings!”

Mayor Cristofar sighed a relief; the sly halflings had left for now. Looking out his window, he saw a deep toned gnome talking to the local groom. He could see an exchange of presumably goldthe gnome handling over a small, leather bag and a moment later after a handshake, the small humanoid climbed aboard a nice buck wagon with four mules in harnesses. As the mules pulled the wagon past his window, he swore he saw the gnome arch his back extending a pair of angelic gray wings. He looked again, but the buck wagon had turned the corner. He cursed, thinking the halflings had something to do with it.

* * * * *

K'odm watched the orcish shaman make his way across the huge cave, probably for more instructions to guard the opening to the mine entrance. The draconian humanoid knew that the wily orc could decimate half his band by himself. Kaaj had verified that, in his clerical powers at his disposal when the orc first showed them.

The kobold warrior wished he had access to a lighting bolt spell sending it Kaaj’s waykilling him. Unfortunately, he did not know such a spell. Therefore, he sent two of his best warriors down to greet the cleric as he neared the warren of the kobolds.

Actually, the warrens was part of the mining tunnel. At one time, the miners started mining in the current cave the kobolds use as a warren. It didn't pan out so the miners turned their attention elsewhere. Hemp rope ran through metal eye-hooks at the floor and top of the caves allowed the use of a poor man's pulley system. Smaller eyehooks had been driven through the rope, then bent around the rope to hold it, so that various bags, packs, buckets could be hauled up to top.

Kodm's actions for fighting the miners the other day, had cost his tribe their own consequences. Soon after, Kaaj approached the war band as they pillaged the miners. The kobolds hurled half spears to drive him off, but Kaaj stood his ground. Not a half spear came within a yard of him. The orcish shaman called for peace saying he had observed the skirmish and only wanted some help in escorting the dead miners off deeper in the caves for his own doing. He had pointed out, that if more miners came and saw the dead bodies, it would raise the suspicions of the town. They could and would most likely send out a force to not only take back the mines but eradicate the kobolds as well.

After thinking it over, K'odm agreed to let the orc take four of his warriors with him to dispose of the miner’s bodies further in the mines. They came back a couple of hours later. The kobold leader had a suspicion the way his warriors acted, walking slowly behind the orc.

When K'odm asked the orc why his warriors looked tired and sick, Kaaj showed him instead, taking the four warriors and himself to his private chambers, Kaaj had the kobolds show their bodies―their arms and legs covered with boils, blisters and weeping pus sores.

Kaaj informed K'odm in orcish, for the kolbod leader knew the language fairly well, that the fight with the miners had allowed some burning plague to take place. The miners were infected at the hands of his deity Verex the Destroyer. The kobolds engaging them became infected upon contact. Realizing this through visions of his deity, Verex the Destroyer, his deity had caused the disease, Kaaj was spared for his deity's quest.

Verex allowed the kobold warriors that went with Kaaj, infected to show that they were inferior to him. Only by a plea by Kaaj saved the tribe from decimation, telling the deity, he should spare the draconian humanoids if they agreed to work under Kaaj.

At first, K'odm thought about killing the mad orc cleric. Thinking about it meant his tribe would still die of the plaque with only the orc being able to ask the proper aqcuisence from his deity to remove the plaque or so he claimed. Since, the four were most infected, he sent five other warriors with them to guard the eastern areas of the mine, specifically the dining area, and storage facilities. The sly kobold chief told them they would be only infected if they actually touched their brethren, which although partially false, the coughing of the infected could spread to them.

His less infected warriors along with his two small sons would stay in the lower chambers of the mine making sure none passed within Kaaj's territory while the maddened orcish cleric completed his plans-whatever they may be, for Kaaj would say naught about them. For now, strange as it seems, he had to place his faith in Kaaj. K'odm knew praying to Merlokrepthe kobolds chief deity for now, would fall to the wayside. He would just be told in a matter of days or weeks to survive at any cost from Merlokrep. He had no clerics in his tribal party, so Merlokrep would be less inclined to hear their prayers. Trust in an orc that is all he had. With a sigh, he sent two more warriors out to greet the clerical orc.

* * * * *

Arwkin made good time to the gorilla village. To him it looked like your typical village, small one, or two room cottages on the outskirts, with the business located near the town square. Asabu-Atiwuville, once belonging to elves, had been mostly deserted when the gorillas started arriving. The few elves who lived there had the option of staying or leaving. One thing Arwkin did noticean absence of elves or other races.

He became enraptured at it all, the rock gnomes had told him of this village, and the best place to hire bodyguards for his business. Arwkin had hoped for humanoids, but readily agreed when the rock gnomes told him, the sentient gorillas were the best. He had wanted to travel and see the world anyway, what better excuse did he need.

They ranged in all sizes, being predominantly black furred. Everyone one of gorillas, walking in the village had a marsupial servant to carry goods for them. Lemurs, apes and baboons walked behind their gorilla masters, heads bowed low enough to see, but not high enough to look anyone in their eyes, toting one to three of the gorilla's packages.

Behind Arwkin two very huge redish, long-haired gorillas took bets on who would win a fight, the carnivorous ape in a steel hinged, locked bamboo cage or the orangutan being given instructions on how to fight with a sickle. The instructor looking nervously at the white ape, hoping the steel locks would hold as it who rattled his cage every now and then.

Merchants, also eager to get in on the action, from their stalls hawking goods bet furiously with each other over who would win. Arwkin tried to ignore the shouts concentrating on a few supplies he needed at one of the stalls. He raised his voice to the vendor, a gorilla with brown, and white marking resembling an overgrown cow in Arwkin’s mind. One of the particulars he sold caught the deep gnomes eye. A certain type of fungi, which made for good eating. It was akin to a sweet tart when flavored with sugar coatings. The vendor must have procured it from contacts who made trips to deepdark.

“Aye, how much for a quarter pound of the Darlsoul Fungi?” he asked in the common tongue, catching the eye of the vendor when he pronounced the fungi correctly. Arwkin had been told by Zeekuraiha to use the common tongue to anyone he wished to talk to, since almost not an elf or from Kyonin used that language.

The gorilla vendor looked around to see if other gorillas heard the deep gnome. Though not illegal, selling anything from deepdark might arise to suspicions, which might lead to questions the vendor would prefer not to answer.

The cow-faced looking gorilla ignored him, continuing talking in a strange language to a vendor beside him. Again, Arwkin repeated the question, thinking he had not heard him due to the rising commotion. Once more, the gorilla ignored him talking to the other vendor, obviously engaged in betting with the amount of gold coins exchanging between the two.

A little perturbed, the deep gnome shouted over the din of noise, “I say, how much for your fungi!”

“For you, seven silver nobles,” glancing a quick look around again, but a little more relaxed now that the deep gnome didn't use its true name, then going back to talking in a series of grunts and clicks with his teeth to the other vendor.

“Seven nobles, why back in Kivud’s Pass, a man could get them for three silver nobles. Why so much?” It seemed that his question became answered, a rusty colored gorilla with brown hands, face and feet stopped at the vendor purchased the same thing Arwkin had asked for, then handled over three silver nobles thanked the vendor and left.

“The old prejudice business,“ the deep gnome told himself under his breath.

A roar came from behind him, turning he saw the orangutan swinging the sickle furiously trying to keep the white ape from him. The instructor shook and bowed his head at the same time while bringing his hand to his forehead peeping out through fingers. He immediately closed them when the white carnivorous ape scratched a bloody furrow down the chest of the orangutan.

“You there small one, move this cart along or face a stiff fine,” a booming voice above the fight came from Arwkin’s left. “Your holding up traffic,” as the deep gnome looked around noticing plenty of room streetwise for others to go around.

“There is no one being held up, they have all that room to the left of me, and I’m the only one with a wagon, everyone else is on foot,” he protested.

“Precisely, and your holding up traffic,” the pure black gorilla stated, tapping a small bag on his belt, nodding to his pardner, who fingered a set of manacles.

A lilting male voice, interrupted the gorilla, “Excuse me, I will take responsibility of the um, er gnome's transportation.”

Arwkin caught the restrain in the elves voice, the elf had taken a long look at Arwkin, coming to the conclusion he certainly wasn't a rock or hill gnome but of some cousin race. The steely gray helm on his head, big nose and low hardened boots let the elf make an dangerous assumption. The deep gnome knew just by a glance at the elf, that he had met a svirfneblin before.

For the second time, Arwkin turned his head to the opposite direction. Two elves, one male, one female stood slightly behind and to the left of him. The male dressed in bright yellows, with a green sash and dark green boots. His companion in light blue shirt and leggings looked onward at the gorilla. Her green sparking eyes seem to hold him in a trance. Both wore their hair shoulder length with the sides tucked behind their pointed ears. The traditional longbow and longswords slanted across their backs and hung from scabbards at their sides.

“Fine with me if you want to be held accountable for a small-one, don’t say I didn’t warn you if the sergeant comes and forces you to pay for blocking,” shrugging his shoulders, moving off down the street, whipping two spiders monkeys who got underfoot of him.

The elven couple stepped closer, “They can be a bit rude, especially if you’re an outsider, can not say I’d blame him for wanting to be whipping a gnome who is far from deepdark,” the female elf spoke with a flash of a grin in her eyes.

Arwkin knew he should have pulled his hood over his head. It wouldn’t of matter he really thought, elves were known for their keen eyesight.

“May I buy you two a drink for getting me out of that hot spot,” pointing to the retreating gorilla.

“You may over at the Jungle Lounge,” the male elf indicated by pointing back again over the deep gnomes shoulders. “You never did explain your long travels from home?” he asked.

Arwkin muttered under his breath, he hoped they would forget that, “Uh doing a bit of surface merchandising,” noticing their nods of approval.

“Well meet you inside,” the male had to almost shout, the roar of the crowd so loud.

The orangutan started getting tired trying to keep the white carnivorous ape from biting or doing anything to him. He made a desperate wild swing at the head of the ape, the sickle missed by a mile. In one fluid moment, the white ape grabbed him up in a bear hug while sinking three-inch yellow fanged teeth into the orangutan’s neck. Blood soaked the furs between the both of them, as the orangutan went into a death jerk. Not satisfied, the white ape bit harder while applying pressure to the lower back, the sickle fell from the orangutan’s hand followed by a sharp crack. The white ape let the odd-angled orangutan drop to the street. A roar went up from the gathered crowd, and a flurry of gold coins reluctantly exchanged hands.

Arwkin watched the carnivous ape being handled back into his cage with man-catchers, then wheeled the wagon towards the tavern the elves had indicated, he had seen enough. He could never figure out why a race would want to subject control their race. Still in the history of Golarian, races had done so.

The sign of the Jungle Lounge showed a black gorilla bursting out of a jungle with a blackjack of beer. Two humans though they had the hint of being elves with pulled back bows had expressions of surprise on their faces. The sign had been capped in beech hide, giving it a bamboo-like appearance.

Opening the tavern swinging doors, the half-celestial/deep gnome was assaulted with a strange mixture of sights and sounds. First, monkeys of every size served as waiters, personal groomers, servers, and cleaners. Gorillas lounged in hammocks, leaned back against tree trunks that had been purposely grown to form seat branches, hollows, and tables. Several such branches served as supports of the lodge.

Other gorillas hung from rope swings that had a small slender board placed between them for seating. Tables, legless hung from overhead supports of branches and rafters a good six to seven feet off the ground. Instead of a stairway, a large hole had been cut in the roof where a knotted rope ran through the center of it. As it was, a rather ugly gorilla with a tan face showing several scars descended from the upper story hole in a ceiling via a knotted rope.

A Dakkon marsupial approached them telling them in a soft voice to follow her. At first, several stares accommodated the trio, then business as usual, the gorillas going back to their own language of grunts, and sign language consisting of jabs and pokes into them. She indicated their seats, a table and four swings suspended with hemp rope above the ground. The elves grabbed hold of the swings sliding into their seats easily. The female offered a hand, which Arwkin took as he hoisted himself into the precarious seat. No sooner then he was settled in he almost lost his balance and had to grab for the ropes of the swing immediately. The Dakkon among others looked on, when the ropes came to a standstill, she asked them what they wanted.

“I don’t suppose you have fermented mushroom ale”, already seeing the ape waitress shaking her head no, muttering under his breath, he ordered a blackjack of beer. The two elves ordered the house wine.

Arwkin watched the intelligent female ape sashay away, then looked around at the clientele. He could just barely make out a soused dwarf having slumbered off onto the trunk of a tree. In a corner, an elf and halfling played a game of bones. To his left, two rock gnomes bartered over a game of cards, both trying hard not to let on to the other they were cheating by the cards held underneath in their hands. For the most part there were gorillas and their cousin servants everywhere in the tavern, understandably so being a gorilla village.

“I'm curious do you know about Kyonin's strict isolation policy set by the council of Queen Telandia Edasseril, bearer of the viridian crown?” the male elf asked using his queen's full title

The deep gnome looked around nervously, “When I came up out of Deepdark, a couple of my cousin gnomes filled me in on some of the by laws, on one hand Queen Edasseril allows places like Erages and Omestra because those places were here before the elves left for Starfall, I was told. To clarify, the gnomes living in Omestra did not touch a single property of the elves. Living in trees in treehouses, and since as I was told again, elves don't hold trees as personal property, but do go to great lengths to protect such.”

The two elves waited for him to go on.

On the other hand, you have the hamlet of Kivud's Pass, where Queen Edasseril allowed human miners into the country to mine the caverns nearby for silver, a passport I guess you can say and will return to whatever country they came from when then mines plays out. Then you have Asabu-Atiwuville, a rebuilt elven village for the gorilla senients, yet as with similar laws in Deepdark,you still have other races that infiltrate the system. The dwarf and the halfling in this tavern prove it.”

The Dakkon arrived then with their drinks, so the three engaged in small talk unil she left.

Arwkin looked around nervously again, the elves caught onto his nervousness.

“Don't worry good gnome, were not scouts or a ranger patrol to turn you in, in fact we asked you about the law to warn you to be careful,” the female said in low tones.

“I appreciate it.”

A rather large gorilla could be heard in the common tongue carrying on about the comings of Gronga, the gorilla’s chief deity, and how the races would pay for the gorillas suffering. He went on and on about the race of gorillas for quite a few minutes.

“That is Zaire, a gorilla chieftainthey are supposed to be favored by Gronga by having regenerative powers,” the female elf put in, leaning back, taking a sip of the wine, while her consort nodded.

“He is bad blood deep gnome, he wants the gorillas to return to their old ways of the jungle and all the time is trying to convince others of his kind to go back to the jungle in a tactical territorial control,” the male elf finished.

“In other words, he wants control of this village and every village he interacts with as he makes his way back toward the jungle,”Arwkin said.

Arwkin tried to imitate the elves laid back posture, but immediately again had to grab the rope, sloshing beer on the floor. He could hear gorillas nearby laughing at his antics.

“Relax, deep gnome, and it will come to you,” the elven female said, leaning back further to show the ease of it all.

Arwkin didn’t bother to tell her that the balance part would come easy had it not been for the angelic wings tucked under his cloak.

His luck not getting better, the Chieftain appeared at his side, "What good gnome brings you to our fair village?” Zaire asked in a gruff voice while sipping a bumper glass of cider.

Not knowing the angle the gorilla was going or that Zaire was setting him up, he spoke the truth, “ I came here to hire gorillas for my merchant caravan starting real soon, I figure since you have ten times the muscle of a normal human I …”

“You see.” Turning to face the crowd, “even the gnome plans to use us for as he sees fit, menial labor to keep us from rising up. Perhaps you came to see if we could help with the plague in Kivud’s Pass? Why should we help a bunch of humans that would never help us? You see the justice, Queen Telandria Edasseril gave us, she relocated us for her purpose only, and to weaken our state of mind so her elven nation can catch us unaware. I say we gather our forces and attack them first as we retreat back into the jungle to be a …”

“You will kindly note how you address my queen and what traitorous sayings leave that mouth of yours!”

Zaire half turned, to see the male elf having whipped out his longsword pointing it at the gorilla’s neck. “Chieftain or not, you can’t speak when your dead,” the elf finished, leveling the sword.

Zaire motioned for the three gorillas he sat with to remain seated, then stepped back putting some distance between the blade and his neck.

“My good elf, I over reacted, I’m merely frustrated at persons like him, who wants to exploit us and risk us to the plague,” jabbing a finger Arwkin's way.

“I can handle this elf,” Arwkin replied, waving away what the elf about to reply, sitting the blackjack of beer on the table, then back flipping over the swing landing on his feet, he spun and faced the gorilla.

He poked a fat finger in the thigh of the towering gorilla, “I don’t take kindly to my words being twisted mister, and I said I would hire as in give you and your race money. Second, I don’t know of any plague in Kivud’s Pass, having just come from there, but I was only there for a few minutes. No one said you had to help the citizens at all, which is your business. I also do not think being a bodyguard and kicking creatures scum of Golarian criminal’s butts does not qualify as menial task. Furthermore, the way I see it, if you want to go back to your durn forest so bad, go by yourself and leave the gorillas who doesn’t want to go to their own doing instead of badgering and making threats. I have been hearing you go on and on for the last few minutes, if the good queen has wrought so much misery on you why are you still here? Besides, whatever squabbles you have with the elven race or the village of Kivud’s Pass don’t include me in it period!”

The Jungle Lounge had its quietest moment in history then. Zaire snarled but made no remark back, gathering his composure he spoke in a cool demeaning voice, “I could snap your neck in the blink of an eye and none of these people would even care, except for your friends, do you really think my own race would suddenly clap you on the back just because you stood up to me. I don’t think so. My people need direction and only us Chieftain’s can give it too them.”

“That may be so but you will die with me,” Arwkin nodded to the gorillas ribs.

There Zaire could see he held a dagger between the third and fourth rib. The dagger blow would not kill him outright, but he would suffer stomach pains and die of bleeding. This Zaire knew because he had killed numerous opponents himself this way. Once again, his three companions raised themselves from their table. Zaire held up a hand, indicating for them to stay put.

“This is not over gnome, trust me on this.”

“Yes, it is Zaire, it has been over and you know it,” a feminine voice came out of nowhere.

“A strider, “the male elf heard his female companion whisper.

The gorilla was a light brown colored, almost a cinnamon with a black face and hands. She wore a chain mail jack in tarnished condition that a boomerang and elephant goad with an iron shod clicked against as she walked towards him. Muscle bands adorned her wrist and biceps as well as her ankles.

“You call yourself a chieftain, yet you goad our race into fighting the elven race all because you want to go back to the old ways. What perplexes me is why can you and your cronies who claim to put Gronga before all, just go back to the Fireani Forest? Why do you feel you have to retreat and cause war?”

“Watch your tongue woman, you are very close to blasphemy,” moving further from Arwkin and confronting the strider.

“I will not need to crush your skull Zaire, Gronga will do it for me when he comes to Golarian You will be the first to die for your false belief in him. Then you call out blasphemy. The town of Kivud’s Pass is experiencing a plague and yet repeatedly the people of that village have opened their hearts lending us food, water, and weapons, yet you and others take their offering generously then spit on them. Gronga taught us to be respectful of others if they are respectful of you; it is our law, yet you ignore it blatantly. You will fall under the blasphemous calling of Gronga. You will be the first one he will crush underfoot.”

Zaire drew out a morning star in one motion swinging for the strider’s head. “You are a crazy ape and need to die!” he shouted.

A large hand intercepted the morning star catching it by the chain near the ball. Zaire’s eyes became disbelief as the strider cleric stepped nose to nose with the Chieftain. Her other hand held his other hand by the wrist.

“Not today by your hand Zaire. Unlike you, I carry the favor of Gronga.”

She shoved him backwards, causing him to topple into the band of three that accompanied him wherever he went, turning around she marched outside. Arwkin took one look around, not another single elf or gnome other then the two who accompanied him in the lounge remained, apparently, they all had scooted out the door during the argument.

“Not my kind of place anyway,” he pronounced following hot on the heels of the strider, the two elves wished him luck. Zaire took one look at the elves, longtime customers, grunted and went back to his ramblings with his table.

A few seconds later, he changed his mind, shoved one of the cronies in the arm, jerking his thumb to follow him. As Zaire and his gang strode after the duo, a large gorilla with a two-handed sword blocked the exit. A light steel shield on his back for extra defense.

Sit down Zaire, let the strider and the gnome go, your grievances for them this day ends here”, the large sentient gorilla avowed. He opened the tavern swinging door and waved the couple on.

There was an exchange of roars behind Arwkin as he exited, he scowled, starting to turn back to the tavern. The strider yelled over her shoulder, “Grizzt can handle himself. You should follow me gnome to your wagon as Grizzt can contain those three, but Zaire has spies all over. It won't be long before their combing the village for you and while I think your a formidable fighter, I doubt you can handle half a village.”

Arwkin got her message very well and walked faster.

Catching up with the strider, Arwkin walked with her a few strides not saying a word. The strider spoke first, “I can not believe of his haughtiness, he could care less whether his race lives or dies for as long as he comes out on top. A war with the elves will end in our decimation. Tell me deep gnome does your race enslave others of their kind through their wills?”

“Is my hertiage that visible?” Arkwin mumbled, wishing he would really learn to pull his hood up.

The strider smiled bobbing her head.

“Every race does, just the nature of things,” noting again, how his dark skin betrayed him, he consciously brought his hood up over his head.

“I can not set here and not help out the village in some way gnome, I must help. I know where naught your journeys are taken you, but mine are clearly defined for me.”

Arwkin sighed, “I guess my merchant career can wait, and I feel I must go along with you to help the cause though not for exactly the same cause. Mine is more instinctive, I guess you can call it a calling.”

He threw off the cloak revealing the feathery white angelic wings. “Have you ever met a half-celestial/half-deep gnome before today?”

The sentient gorilla seemed unphased. “Not half-celestial/half-deep gnome, but I have met a celestial, it was her that guided me to Gronga.” She clasped the gnome on the back, causing him to wince. “Your deity and mine set us on this path together for a reason.”

“Wish my deity would just explain why he allowed my mother to have the honors of celestial mating?”

“Maybe he wanted you to be a good boy,” she quipped back.

“I’m a rogue how good can I be?” Arwkin asked.

Both fell to laughing as she climbed aboard his wagon, causing the boards to groan erroneously.

Chapter Five

Kavud's Mine

THE assemblage marched along slowly to the mountains, Arwkin driving the wagon, Xia on her pony, at his side engaging in talk; Hammer rode in the back of the wagon while Ghost and Rogg walked behind the wagon. They had left early that morning and though the mine was only half a days journey away, they found it slow going. Partly this slowness came about because of the stubbornness of the mules that would stop for no reason, forcing the gnome from the Darklands to cajole them for several minutes.

It took some doing, but with a little cooperation, Ghost got Xia and Hammer to join her for an excursion to the mines. They met Arwkin and Rogg on the way; within minutes they too joined the party.

Arwkin even revealed his celestial side, explaining how it happened. At first, the other five were in awe, then accepted it. Of couse they have heard of celestials, just not those mated with a gnome. After a few questions, they accepted Arwking for what he was. He told them he preferred to be called a deep gnome around other strangers then a half-celestial. Furthermore he would not disclose his angelic wings unless he absolutely had too.

Getting nearer to the mountain range, they spied a man walking towards them in half-plate, a heavy crossbow cocked and ready in his hand aimed toward the road, a heavy mace at his side.

His face had a ruddy complexion to it marking him as a drinker or someone who seen too much of the sun. Beady brown eyes took in everything and anything making him seem more roguish then a warrior. The coif he wore reinforced with strips of metal, a single piece of metal coming down to the bottom of his nose seemed more out of place then an angel in Hades. Beaten and dented, the single cheap gem protruding from the center caught the attention of Arwkin and Hammer whom the halfling had moved from his comfortable resting place to see what was going on.

The man weary of the group stepped to the side of the road, keeping his crossbow pointed to the ground, able to be brought up level instantly.

“Pass with good standing or fight with dishonor,” the warrior hailed to them. A common hailing in Kyonin meaning to let the man pass without doing him harm or fight him now if you plan on robbing or murdering him.

“You may pass warrior, we have no interest in you or afterlife, in fact were more interested in saving the town of where your heading then anything else. It is advisable that you keeping on passing through Kivud’s Pass unless your deity walks personally by your side,” the blue-eyed monk put in, noticing the warrior didn’t seem to surprised by the warning.

“Ah the plague, you mean, interesting news, I was just on my way to bastion the strength of Windlass, Elder of Divinity, lending aid to what I can to infuse the Divinity's one glory,” the stature warrior exclaimed with zeal and enthusiasm.

“Warrior worshiping a deity and speaking of him as if he is his right-hand servant could only mean either he is a Templar, which is a form of a …”

“Paladin,” the halfling finishing the unspoken word left out by the deep gnome. Both rogues let out a deep groan immediately.

If any two types definitely did not share a common view, the rogue and the paladin fit into that theme. Like life and death, though they meshed, neither one felt comfortable with the other. Xia having never seen men of such faith hoped that the holy warrior would join the group, not only because the more the merrier, but to keep both the rogue rascals under bay.

“We are headed to Kivud's Mines, where we think the source of the plague lies. It seems all the miners who have come down with the plague worked in the mines. I don't doubt your faith warrior of virtue, but I have been to the temple of Windlass, Elder of Divinity speaking to a Farther Samuel. It seems that Windlass, Elder of Divinity has stripped him of his clerical powers for what reasons remains unclear.”

“I know of this Farther Samuel, he is a good man. If Windlass, Elder of Divinity has stripped him of powers, then my quest is naught as he is more divined in power then me. He has sought the Divinity's faith more years then I have aged.”

Ghost nodded, “Trust me, there would be little you can do, except follow the Farther around as he rewraps the victims arms and legs, praying for them. I think the Farther's failing is of his own device, it has nothing to do with this plague which is external, brought into Kivud's Pass. You might serve Windlass, Elder of Divinity by helping us find about the plague in Kivud's Mine.

“You might have a point. The rumors I have heard is that the plague originated at the mines. You do not look like one to tell a falsehood to lure me away from Windlass, Elder of Divinity. I will join you in your mission to see what evil is sending the plague to the hamlett.”

Another groan escaped the lips of Arwkin and Hammer simultaneously, when the paladin who named himself as Sudar, accepted the agreement.

They got a snicker when Ghost told the holy warrior that it was her outfit and she ran it. The snicker turned to looks of surprise when the paladin merely shrugged his shoulders, telling her to lead on. Hammer looked at Arwkin and he looked at the halfling, then both shrugged their shoulders. Arwkin drove on.

* * * * *

A few hours later, they had arrived at the base of the mountain that served as the location to the mine entrance. The sun’s rays played havoc on early mid-morning frost rimmed ground. Whole patches of rocky barren glistened under the heated star, while other patches had a pearly-white sheen to them indicating an unwary adventurer would likely slip and fall. Even at this distance, all could see mining equipment, picks and shovels strewn about leading to the entrance, a littering of all kinds of mining equipment formed a scattered path leading into the darkened shaft fifty-feet above the adventuring party.

“Damn, looks like someone fought with everything they had,” Sudar pointed to the hillside of destroyed equipment. The badly trashed equipment didn’t prove that a skirmish had taken place; for all he knew, the miners discarded their broken and useless equipment outside, though deep in his heart he didn’t believe it. He had seen a couple of skirmishes in his lifetime and these were telltale signs of such.

Xia’s mouth formed an O as shock overtook her. It wasn’t the cuss-word, after all, she was a seasoned veteran of many skirmishes and none cussed worse then soldier on a field of battle. In her mind, paladins were above the pious and devout, like a deities right-hand man.

Sudar noticed the shock and shot her a look like he cussed all the time. Hammer longing for some excitement skipped out of the rolling wagon, already inquisitive showing in his eyes, he skipped lightly up the hill before Arwkin elevated his voice slightly.

“Aye, you better beholding that eagerness in check, don’t know what could be up in that mine shaft after seeing this kind of destruction. Less you want your career to end as soon as you started it”

Hammer wisely took his advice and stopped on a frosty patch of rock barren not noticing the incredulous looks from those below.

The others heard Arwkin mutter under his breath about how damn halfling are always wandering off, and unseen nods of yes followed his statement. Shaking his head, he drove the wagon around a clump of bushes, effectively hiding most of it from the road.

Waiting patiently, for what seemed a long time as the gnome finished camouflaging the wagon.. He unhitched the mules, tethered them to a near by tree, grabbed his backpack, taking one last look at his wooden strongbox bolted to the carriage, snuggled securely under the bench seat.

If bandits came along while they were in the mine-shaft spotting the camouflaged wagon, they would surly keep the mules and Xia’s pony whom she brought up, tethering to the opposite side of the wagon of the mules and try to break into the strongbox chest as well.

Rogg assured him that bandits would have a hard time breaking open a steel chest with a padlock on three sides. With a sigh, he trudged toward his companions. Of the entire one that could understand what it would mean to lose valuable transportation, Xia seemed as downtrodden as she.

Approaching the mine entrance, as if they had adventured before, the two rogues took the lead, already discussing that Arwkin would maintain a distance about thirty feet from Hammer, who would be roughly thirty feet from the main party. The paladin and the monk would walk abreast with the gnome warrior in the middle and the sentient gorilla strider taking up rear guard.

Stepping into the mine-shaft, a cold current lashed them bringing a stale, putrid smell with it. The current and smell seemed to serve as a deterrent, but the group only nodded to each other before proceeding.

Lighting a sputtering torch with flint, Sudar nodded to the deep gnome to move out. He caught the eye of Ghost whose stare reminded him of who was in charge and he put his hand up to show no offense noting to Ghost it was out of habit. She nodded the understanding letting it be known it was her outfit, and she gave the orders.

Arwkin moved silently down the tunnel, his sturdy boots barely making a sound, disappearing from the shadowy light of the torch. Hammer followed mere seconds later staying at the edge of the torchlight. Both rogues moved like a cat, their footfalls barely heard after a few feet, better yet both flowed in and out of the shadows as if its substance clung to their bodies.

They had barely started when Xia motioned Sudar to bring the torch closer to a shoring. Ghost let out a low whistle for the rogues to halt for a few seconds or make their way back to the party as they had prearranged on their travels over here; which one fit the situation best at the time.

Several nicks and chunks of woods were on missing from the shoring. Grabbing Sudar’s hand she lowered the torch to his waist. All three leaned closer to the hand-size dark stain near the wall base. Bloodseveral more were scattered about the waist-height of a human.

“Seems like someone made their last stand here from the amount of blood stains, notice there was none outside,” the husky voice of the gorilla cleric chimed in. She had peered over their backs upon Sudar bringing the torch closer to the shoring.

“And there is no bodies here either, as much blood there should be bodies, at least one to find, even whatever killed the miners would undoubtedly leave a body or two,” heaving her shoulders as she didn’t know either.

“They were dragged somewhere then, see that bloodstain there how it is smeared, it is inconsistent with a slash or piercing wound, the blood would of not…”, Xia stopped mid-sentence noticing the three staring at her. Over her shoulder, a small silhouette glided in from the darkness making an “ahem” noise to let them know he was there.

“Arwkin, stated he was investigating a little further ahead and would be back shortly, I would of tailed him, but then you four would of wondered where we went and made a fuss, so I came back here,” Hammer disclosed with snug authority. “So what do we have here?” Peering between legs to see what the torchlight displayed. “Aw, blood lots of it and several wood chips,” he added casually.

Once again, ignoring his last sentence, Ghost, Rogg and Sudar turned their faces to Xia for an explanation. Xia could see if she didn’t answer them, the stares from their eyes alone would ruin her sight. “Oh that!” she exclaimed, “I became good at tracking in my outfit, sorta like a natural at it, then my unit suffered ninety seven percent of its loses in an ambush, so they took me out of medium infantry unit and made me a healer can you believe that.”

Ghost laughed softly, “Actually after all you told me, I would.”

* * * * *

Deciding the mystery of the wood chips and dark stains would have to wait, they surged ahead, once again Arwkin taking the lead. Hammer followed closely; neither one of the rogues making a sound. The rough, hewn stone mine tunnel turned into a small, roughly rectangular chamber. Scattered chunks of a metallic rock gleamed in Sudar’s torchlight-small silver chunks embedded in the nearby walls. A pair of overturned carts lay near the middle of the chamber. All could see the lower half of something jutting out from one of the cart’s edgesa body from the looks of it and beyond living. Dust covered the body as if he actually died by working. Completing the ghostly scene, smashed lanterns littered the chamber as if whoever the culprits were hated any form of light.

Arwkin checked the exits, reporting what he saw. Two exits lead from the chamber. The left one steeped upward ending in a simple wooden door; no light spilled from underneath. The right tunnel steeped downward quite a distance, then seemed to open into a monstrous cave. The others with darkvision confirmed this within the limits of their darkvision, though Arwkin being vastly superior was able to give more details.

Sudar hefted his mace before speaking, “I don’t like this,” pointing to the overturned cart with his other hand. Ghost noddedthe cart did look out of place.

“You three inspect that cart real quick,” she said, pointing to Arwkin, Sudar and Xia. “Myself and Rogg will go up to that door up on the left exit. Hammer inspect that sloping tunnel to the right, if nothing is there of interest, come back and provide backup from the shadows, where your skills is noted best.” She noted the halfling smiled at the statement.

With nods, the segmented groups moved off, Rogg lighting another torch then handling it to Ghost. Xia examined the body closely without touching it. It defiantly had a torso of a male human. The torchlight revealed through torn pants a sickly-yellow skin; many wounds as if done by small piercing weapons covered his lower torso.

The piercing wounds were not deep evidenced by the lack of blood and force, but they were numerous in nature. The rock gnome noted like others of her size; those that lacked raw strength and force probably made the piercing marks. Having seen similar marks before in the Great War, she surmised they were spear wounds half-spears at that. Many races used half-spears, she let her mind wander which ones used that particular type of weapon in combat. Xia shook her headthe list was excessively long.

Xia had the paladin ease the cart up barely an inch off the body. He had passed his torch to her and she now held it close to the cart. Its radiance showed a miner she recognized, Necaj Starr, the chief engineer. His wife, Arianna had hired an artist who drew an excellent rendering of her husband up in the Silver Nugget tavern as a missing person.

Necaj’s hollow eyes shadowed death. As in contrast to the lifeless body, a glint of something flashed in the flickering torchlight. A silver ore nugget lay partially hidden under the dead man’s torn shirt.

She saw the trap for what it was then. A small splice of rope trailed from under the body, running under the cart. She stood up holding the torchlight up, seeing the spliced rope leading toward the nearest wall then up it and over to the ceiling. The rope had been stuffed in cracks of the wall and ceiling holding it in place. The rope connected to a stone-like item wedged in a small crevice.

Arwkin, too had seen the glint from the man’s shirt. He had also looked up under the overturned cart seeing what Xia saw. The silver beckoned to him, not out of greed but more out of curiosity. Motioning Sudar to lift the cart up a little more, he placed his hand on the glinting ore piece pulling it towards him. Funny it was attached to a small cord of rope. Xia yelled, throwing herself at Arwkin pinning him to the ground, covering herself with hands over her head in the process.

A thunderous roar filled the intersection raining down a shower of small rocks over them. Arwkin and Sudar immediately went deaf; a complete silence filled their heads. Sudar, who had heard the shout of the rock gnome, as she launched herself at Arwkin, dropped the cart, diving for cover as well, ended up landing on the dropped torch, putting it out.

* * * * *

Ghost and Rogg approached the upward tunnel containing the wooden door. Motioning for the three hundred and fifty pound sentient gorilla to be as quite as she could, Ghost pressed her ear to the door. Even as she tried to listen, she could hear the clinking of Rogg’s chainmail. She had almost second thoughts about bringing the huge cleric of Gronga with her. Stealth and armor did not mix. Still, she needed some protection on her side. Sudar, even though well armored, his and her thought patternshim being to goody-goody and hers being more soldier attitude didn’t mesh. The option was to bring either Xia or Rogg. She needed the striking beauty of the rock gnome to keep the rogues in line, which left Rogg.

Ghost thought she heard a smattering of tiny, yet strong voices behind the door. She looked at the door apprehensively―it was a simple wooden door with the iron flanges on her side, meaning the door pulled towards her, giving up the best element of surprise.

Ghost tested the door with a sturdy push. It gave a slight nudge as the wooden bar placed behind gave off a “thunk” hitting the lock brace. The monk nodded to the heightened strong sentient gorilla, she already had her iron-shod quarterstaff out prepared for any enemy on the other side. Just as Rogg prepared to bash the door down, a bang followed by a low rumbling filled the air behind them where the party of Arwkin, Sudar and Xia had been left.

* * * * *

Hammer strode cautiously down the mine tunnel. Here, the limestone tunnel became more irregular, not quite as smooth as in the entrance way. The cold current of air, blew at the single shutter, he had left open on the hooded lantern, but couldn't put the flame out within.

He walked further then quickly stopped, his hairy barefoot resting slightly above the floor. Something didn’t feel right to him. Getting down on his hands and knees, Hammer traced a tiny groove running lengthwise along the floor. The groove became a corner groove looking like an inverted L (�"�), and then he did the same for the other corner. He didn’t bother to trace the other two corners already knowing he discovered a pit trap.

Two wooden doors had been haphazardly fastened to the ledges then covered with crushed stone and chips ostensibly looked like a rough patch of the tunnel. The trap doors left a small ledge, running lengthwise to move across. If someone discovered it like he did, they would have to move along the six-inch ledge or just jump the entire thing.

Before he sprung it, he looked into a great cavern beyond the trapped corridor. Hammer could see part of the right wall of the cave where a field of boulders lay from a recent cave-in. It looked safe, he did not see anything out of the normal nor did he hear noises of anyone moving around.

He noticed an iron lever to the left, running symmetrical to the tunnel wall at the far end of the trap. Holding his hooded lantern slightly higher, he saw it sunk into rough, inch wide trough in the tunnel floor. He chuckled, and guessed the vertical iron lever fastened via a bolt to parallel thick, flat iron bar.

A simple concept, more likely built by the miners. A person would move the lever toward the wall, the vertical level would force itself into the trough wall, thus usually extending three larger iron bars across the wooden door slats holding them in place. When the lever slowly retracted, the pressure of the wooden door lids held it in place intil someone walked over it. Hammer couldn't figure out for the life of him why the miner just didn't build the trap doors of iron also. Perhaps they intended to and just ran out of time.

“Lets see what this trap holds,” Hammer chuckled to him self.

Hammer stomped his big foot down on a portion of the wooden covering. It fell away banging slightly against the pit wall. Surveying the ten-foot deep as wide pit.

The small rogue saw a partially decomposed body of a human dressed in stained leather jerkin, probably another rogue trying his luck after hearing of the demise of the miners.

The dead human lay slumped against the pit wall. Several wounds still showing on his partially fleshed bones. The human’s neck lay at a strange angle indicating a broken neck in the fall. Hammer was not sure if the human fell first or was wounded and pushed into the pit.

Hammer snapped out of his admiration for the trapa muffled boom rolled down the tunnel, followed by a shout―Xia’s. His mind raced, then it came to him―the mine cart.

Hammer had thought to tell the half-celestial/deep gnome about the possibility of such a trap. He had figured that Arwkin, being a rogue after all, had the same caliper as him. Guess not he thought, running up the slope

* * * * *

The reptilian-like man spoke gruffly in Draconian as a dull roar slipped past into the cavern.

“Someone is trying to get to us. Prepare yourselves.” Ur-mak spoke loudly to the other kobolds.

For a few seconds, they stood there with their half-spears leaning against their ratty, rusted chainmail. Ur-mak barked another command, all eight of the kobolds scurried into action flipping two picnic tables full of day’s old food, scattering earthenware everywhere. Dragging the picnic tables towards the door behind them into they rested in an inverted V position. Ur-mak’s eyes went to the shadows; he could barely see the kobold assassin there, waiting for the action to begin.

Another kobold, his beady eyes full of hate asked, “Do you think it is the miners returning in force for us to slaughter in Merlokrep's glory?”

Ur-mak stared at the reptilian-like man of his race deciding whether he should run him through right now with his short sword or let Merlokrep, the chief deity of the kobolds, let him have his own shortcomings. Merlokrep always prophesied “Survival of the strongest at any cost.”

Ghost swore she heard gruff voices, followed by clattering of earthenware as she ran back towards the chamber of the overturned cart, where she last left the group of three.

So much for the element of surprise, she thought. Ever almost silent, the sentient gorilla made a sign to her deity, then lumbered behind the monk, no surprise on that one.

* * * * *

K'odm and a few other kobolds heard the wooden doors of the pit fall against the sides of the pit. Mounted coiled springs reduced the noise and wear and tear of the trap doors, but not enough for complete silence. Someone out in the tunnel had fallen prey to the trap. Perhaps it was another human wanderer exploring the mines or a returning miner trying to discover the whereabouts of the now dead.

K'odm had to make sure that whoever set the trap off could be dealt with quickly. He sent a scout down from his cave, high in the wall of the greater cave to investigate. The scout filtered down through the boulder strewn field on the left side of the greater cave.

Looking over a boulder, his darkvision showed him a fat halfling lying on his side peering down into the trap, presumably checking for more traps or the mechanical lever. The scout scowled deeply, he could move no closer without revealing himself to the halfling. The most he could do was to slink back to his chief reporting what he saw.

At that moment, a dull roar rumbled down the mine tunnel. Someone had set off the thunderstone trap in the processing chamber his fellow kobolds had rigged up to the dead miner.

For a brief second, the scout wandered what the other kobolds holed up in the dining area were doing. Surely, they were preparing a defense as he hustled past the boulder field to his home. He did not have to go far, his fellow race poured out of the cave scrabbling down the makeshift wooden ladder they rigged up.

Had he stayed around a few seconds longer, the kobold scout might of changed his mind about putting a wicked arrow in the halfling, who sprung to his feet, fading deftly back into the shadows.

Chapter Six

False Hope

GHOST came running lightly up, preceded by the more lumbering Rogg. She heard voices in the darkness, then her torchlight showed the scene. Xia was trying to explain to Sudar, he kept putting his hands to his ears then displaying them out in front of him as he didn't understand. Sudar understood what had happened, but he couldn't read lips very well. Had Xia known, he had been the recipient of a thunderstone or two in his career, she would of moved on to the deep gnome.

Arwkin however, did not realize he had set off a thunderstone, constantly repeating himself in larger volumes, that is, until Hammer arrived slinking from the shadows.

Hammer steadied his rogue friend speaking Rogues Tongue to him. The language was a combination of words, gestures and body language used by rogues to talk about illegal operations or proceedings that a rogue wouldn’t want listening law officials to know about.

Xia went on unaware of the secret language passing between the rogues, trying to explain to Sudar what had happened.

The thunderstone―a rather new invention, ended up being no more then a gas trapped in a ruby-like stone, when dropped or thrown, the stone shattered releasing the gas that reacted violently with air, causing the explosion. Once found, it would be taken to a jewlers for polishing down to a hand-held object then kept or sold.

Ghost stopped the talking of Xia. “He is trying to indicate he knows why he is deaf, and that he can't read your lips.” Ghost had been deaf mutes before. Certain characteristics when it came to describing things such as bangs and not understanding lip reaping were universal.

Arwkin indicated through the Rogues Tongue he understood Hammer and that he could read lips most of the time. Hammer turned to the group explaining about Arwkin's unique ability.

“Ok, so Arwkin and Sudar are deaf, but it seems the rogue knows how to read lips,” she said more for the benefit of the sentient gorilla then everybody else at the intersection and whatever hid beyond that door, me and Rogg we were inspecting knows were here,” the monk astutely noted.

“Remember the miner’s story of how the kobolds let him escape to warn the townspeople of their ruthlessness,” the hairfoot halfling chimed in.

The others looked at him quizzed. “Surely you heard.” Nods of no, “But it was only last week,” he gasp. Quickly he summoned up the miners story.

“So were dealing with kobolds,” Xia smiled, drawing her specially made cutlass. “Just kill a few and the rest will run,” taking a few swings of the infamous type pirate sword.

“I know you told me you fought them in the Great War Xia, I suppose you being a holy warrior Sudar, you have fought them too, I don't know anything about the creatures other then basic knowledge” Ghost admitted, turning towards the paladin, which he nodded.

“Kobolds are a reptilian-like race that tend to be cowardly but have a sadistic nature to them. Their short like us gnomes, have reddish looking skin, small horns on their heads. They spend most of their time fortifying their lairs. kobolds as a race are evil incarnate deserve nothing shorter then death.”

“It would be hard convincing anyone with goodness in them to spare their lives. Evil is born to them; their own deity fought constantly with good-aligned beings out of nothing hatred that is more then pure. They are found serving all man of evil creatures, mad wizards, dragons, minotaurs, drow and a few other unscrupulous beings. To me, there is no mercy to be shown to them. Killing them all ensures no evil escapes. One more thing, their mortal enemies of gnomes,” Xia shot back.

Hammer nodded, not surprised at the alacrity of the rock gnome, “Don’t forget they are nocturnal, light sensitive and will be devious, doing anything they can to ensure a win. And by the way, I discovered a pit trap right before a big cave entrance. I set it off purposefully to study it, but can tell you, that kobolds would of not put any ingenuity into such a trap, so the miners made it. All I could see into the cave without going further in was a huge boulder field. Then I heard the thunderstone trap go off, scampered back here as fast as I could.”

“We will keep that in mind when we venture down that passageway. A sprung trap will keep others or other things from coming up. I just wander how they fit in the plague?” Ghost asked.

“Maybe everything and maybe nothing. We will not find out standing here,” Rogg commented, leaning the iron-shod quarterstaff against her shoulder, seemingly bored.

Ghost decided to rearrange the battle positions. Rogg would now take the front line middle, the female warrior and paladin flanking her. Ghost would take the middle of the second line with both rogues flanking her. They had returned to the door where her and Rogg had been.

Though both Arwkin and Sudar still deaf, they understood the command and moved appropriately. For now, they decided that Hammer would act like a liaison between Ghost and Arwkin. If she needed something for the deep gnome to do, she would tell Hammer and he would relay it to Arwkin.

As for Sudar, she or anyone else would have to talk directly and slowly to him. The paladin seemed to understand uncannily as if he knew what to do before Ghost told him.

Xia pressed her ear to the door quickly, indicating she heard nothing by a nod of her head, though they had a good sense what kind of creature lay in wait for them. Moving back some from the door, knowing it already locked, the huge sentient gorilla put her shoulder to it.

The simple wooden door wrenched itself from its hinges from the brutal hit. It spun sideways catching a tri-pod with a small cauldron suspended with rope from the apex of the tri-pod. Food spilled from the cauldron onto the floor, spreading out in a sloppy puddle.

Sudar’s torch revealed a rudimentary dining area. Two of the four picnic tables formed a barricade at the far end of the room. Draconic voices went up in the air. Light crossbows could be seen, the crossbows positioned on the overturned tables, the creatures behind the tables using them as a steady firing platform.

Four crossbows fired, three bolts bounced immediately off Sudar’s half-plate he wore. The fourth skimmed off Rogg’s chainmail.

Sudar charged the short distance, his blue tabard of Windlass, Elder of Divinity, flapping up his back, his holy symbol clinking loudly against his armor. He aimed a swift kick at the under lapping adjoining table, forcing the kobolds behind them to back step. One of the kobolds did not move quickly enough, the moving table smashed into his skull, he fell like a suddenly unattended puppet on a marionette string.

Hammer and Arwkin whipped up light crossbows they had been holding, stepped into the space left by Sudar and fired. Hammer had an awkward shot, being slightly off-balance. His aim however was true, the bolt caught one of the kobolds in the eye. A shriek, and then the reptilian humanoid fell over, a thin line of blood running down his cheek. Arwkin’s bolt found its mark also, catching a kobold who had been peering over the table. The bolt severed a carotid artery; the little reptilian-like man went down without so much as a gurgle.

Xia tumbled towards the kobolds using the two untouched picnic tables as cover. Her moves consisted of half-somersaults and twist. She came off her tumbling, flexing the specially made cutlass in a short jab at the nearest kobold. The blade sliced flesh effortlessly, catching a kobold standing at the end of the table. Driving the blade deeper in the creature’s ribcage, Xia smirked.

“Tell Merlokrep hello for me,” seeing the expression of hate leave the kobold’s face. Before any other kobolds could react, Xia tumbled a partial distance backwards, well out of reach of the half-spears they waved angrily in the air.

Ghost left the shattered doorframe, advancing rapidly to the kobold defensive position, leaping from one of the right side-up tables. Her inexperience of never combating kobolds forgotten, she became like a farmer sowing wheat.

Her kamas, forms of a small sickles used by ancient peoples flashed from their resting place. Had not the kobold tripped over another kobold bunched up behind him, the weapon would have sliced his skull from top to neck. As it was, one kama chopped directly into the wood of the picnic table; the other only found air.

Rogg took a glance down the tunnel from which they came, the illuminating radius showed by her torch revealed a dimness a few feet from the broken door, then darkness. At lest no nasty surprises from the rear she thought. She wanted desperately to join in the fight, but she knew she would only serve to tie up the others.

With two rogues slinking down the walls, Ghost and Xia towards the center of the confined area, and Sudar charging right down the middle just a few seconds ago, her wide girth would cause one or more of her comrades to compensate drastically with their weapons.

Besides, she had the only stable torch, Sudar’s flickered madly nowif her torch were to drop in battle, neither her, the monk, the halfling or the paladin would be able to see. They would have to fight virtually blinded. She sighed, pulling the huge quarterstaff again up to her shoulder, perhaps the action would come to her.

Sudar punched his fist at a kobold. Since he stood directly on the other side of the overturned picnic table, it offered no cover for the kobolds. His height alone allowed him to reach across the feasible cover offered by the tables. A squishing sound issued from a kobold’s nostrils. The paladin felt the nose cartilage crack, then push into the little creature’s brain. The kobold flew backward upon impact, hitting the door behind him, sagged, dead before his knees completely buckled. Sudar followed the hit up by drawing a heavy mace. The remaining kobolds shrieked back in fear, whining.

A kobold barked an order. The four kobolds that had been behind their fellow brethren sidestepped, then quickly raised crossbows, firing. A classical ambush. Again, a bolt skimmed off the paladin’s half-plate. Another bolt caught him in the thigh. He winced at the pain. The other two bolts shot wide. Curses could be heard; at least Sudar thought they were curses in a strange language as the bolts missed their target. Truly, Windlass, Elder of Divinity was with him today.

Rogg stared at the bolts sticking in her chest. Amazingly, they had slipped between the links of her chainmail penetrating deeply. She could feel her life ebb draining out of her. She knew death was coming as she hovered on the verge and murmured a short prayer to Gronga.

This time she knew that Gronga would not answer her call to live. It was her time to die. She felt helpless. Rogg had come to the Serpentine Mountain with her newly acquired friend Arwkin to find out about the plague infesting Kivud’s Pass, finding a monk for such a mission had recruited both her and him. Now, she would never know if they defeated the plague or not. Furthermore, without her asking for unity with the elves, Zaire, a gorilla chieftain, would convince the population of gorilla sentients to revert to their old ways. The Kyonin Elves would become bitter enemies once again.

She wandered as unconsciousness overtook her if the paladin would heal her forcing Gronga to make a judgment call. Paladins were direct go-betweens of their deities, inheriting some of the deity’s power. One of those abilities to “lay on hands” or heal wounds came from the deity.

Blackness prevailed at the edge of her vision. She watched a small shadow detach itself from the wall becoming animated. The shadow held a venomous blade, the poisonous so thick it dripped to the floor. A wicked grin crossed the face of the kobold assassin. He stood directly behind the paladin preparing to end his holy life. Rogg could see the expressions of the half-celestial/deep gnome. His wings fluttered briefly showing agitation. Hammer likewise had a storied look on his face. Neither one would be able to reach the assassin in time before the deadly deed took place.

A boomerang twice the size of a normal one connected hard against the kobold assassin. The creature’s neck immediately bent forward as a loud thack sounded throughout the area then a clatter of a weapon hitting the floor.

Like a drunken man, the kobold took a step forward, a step back then crumpled to the floor. An indention the size of a grapefruit appeared in the skinless head. All turned their heads tracing the broken form and the weapon lying nearby to its owner. Two bolts had penetrated her chest; the huge gorilla had slumped against the wall. Bloodstains followed the slump down the wall.

“Rogg, No!” yelled Arwkin, his voice seemed louder to him since being temporarily deaf. Anger showed in his face. He looked again at the gorilla sentient, she had stopped twitching, her eyes now stared at himlifeless.

Despite the loss of Rogg, the remaining five members had their work cut out for them. Of the nine kobolds behind the overturned picnic tables, plus one kobold assassin that Rogg had killed in her dying minutes, four remained being potentially dangerous. No one in the group could divert the kobolds attention long enough for anyone else to check on Rogg.

Hammer reached across his vest where two daggers hung in a bandoleer style sheaths. A flick of his wrist, sent one dagger flying into a kobold, burying to the hilt in his throat. Surprisingly, the small humanoid did not die instantly, but hung on preciously to his life refusing to falter.

Arwkin jumped onto the outside edge of the table, his angelic wings assisted him to keep a balance on the narrow edge. The cowering kobolds all had startled looks on their faces. They had seen rock gnomes and knew there were obliviously different offshoots of those races, evident in this case by the deep earth brown color of Arwkin’s skin.

To see a half-celestial/deep gnome perched on the edge of an overturned picnic table with a gnome hook-hammer in his hands blew their minds. To further see him swing that weapon into the neck of one kobold, and then jerk it out with the same ferocity that he leaped onto the table’s edge caused looks of pure shock. Blood sprayed out from the dead creature adding further shock value.

“I’m still not done revenging you Rogg!” Arwkin shouted to the creatures that shrank back more.

Xia stepped up beside the paladin showing no fear; her very expensive oiled scale mail would have registered to a more cunning race to maybe keep her as a prisoner. They could not of registered how deadly the gorgeous looking small gnome became with her cutlass. She had after all, served as a smuggler before turning her life around.

She made a jab with her specially made cutlass made for her small size jabbed at the chest of a kobold, then in the same motion she swished the blade sideways cutting deep under the leather jerkin. The creature gurgled, a look of awe and fear of her in his eyes. She had literally attacked blindly angling the blade over the picnic table without as much as tiptoeing to see if she scored a hit.

“Neither am I,” she replied to the rogue half-celestial/deep gnome, withdrawing her blade watching the poor kobold grab his entrails.

Ghost, to the left of the rock gnome worked the kamas intricately past a kobold’s short spear, and then with a feint, brought the second Kama in wide slashing half his face off. Blood bubbled forth and the kobold fell back dead. The monk looked around the room. The kobolds that had hemmed themselves in behind the overturned picnic tables forming an inverted V, had also sealed their doom by allowing Ghost’s group to close with them.

Arwkin hovered on the very edge of the left side, then Ghost, Xia, Sudar and Hammer sliding, jinking in and out of the shadows looking for another mark to hit.

The monk wandered why also the losing kobolds did not go through the door behind them when they had a chance. By the time her group would of gotten the picnic tables out of the way, the band of creatures would have been long gone, or at least set up in another part of the mine complex. As it was, their defense was falling apart, it seemed. Then it dawned on her that the skirmish was over. It had been too quick for them to react. The last kobold threw down his arms saying repeatedly.

“Ihm kartola, Ihm kartola,” obliviously meaning I surrender.

Hammer repeated, “He says he surrenders.”

They should of shot their comrade a look of how he learned kobold, but instead Arwkin and Sudar raised their weapons simultaneously ready to strike the kobold down.

Xia shouted, “No! We need information from him.”

It would of literally, fell on deaf ears had not Hammer translated to the rock gnome while Ghost steadied the human with his hand. Xia rushed over explaining to the paladin.

Sudar’s mace fell to his side; he spoke a quick prayer to Windlass, Elder of Divinity, hanging his head in shame. He had almost killed out of sheer rage over the death of Rogg. Unvarying the kobold was evil through and through, he had surrendered, Windlass, Elder of Divinity was a merciful deity and did not condemn execution style killings. A glance backward showed the deep gnome at Rogg’s side. Tears fell from his eyes to her chest glistening the full plate armor.

Ghost believed in the take no prisoners attitude―most of the time. Prisoners were a painthey ate good, forced someone to watch them all the time and dramatically slowed down the progress of any mission. She didn’t see the sly wink of the halfling.

Xia slid a cord of rope from her backpack binding the kobold’s hands. Quickly, she searched him pulling a dagger from his loincloth and few silver nobles from a pocket.

“We will take Rogg back to Kivud’s Pass, a mine is no place for an honorable death,” the paladin put in hearing his own voice inside his head, acknowledging the other nods.

The recently discovered race of sentient gorillas had not weighed their measures on Sudar. He could take or leave the race, although in his heart he felt as a race they deserved their chance in the world.

Some sentient gorillas wanted to return to the wilds, the way the Kyonin Elves found them instead of living in the village developed for them. There were reports of hostilities between elves and sentient gorillas. Yet the elves in the capital of Ladara had rumbling’s what the Queen had done.

He walked over to the crumpled form of the female sentient gorilla cleric. She seemed to be a peace. What had she called her deityGronga? He folded her hands on her chest, spoke a pray to Gronga to speed her soul on her way to the deities home plane then stood up walking a few paces away. He wanted to give Arwkin his grieving time.

Arwkin still kneeling at the clerics side articulated “good-bye” in a strange unused languageCelestial. For a brief moment, he thought he heard a reply back in the Celestial language. Shaking his head, he stood, then walked back towards the rest of the party.

Ghost came over looking directly at Sudar, “She was a good warrior, it’s hard to believe our journey has only begun, yet hers has ended in one sense and is beginning in another. She will be carried down to the wagon. Then we will finish exploring beyond that door and the other tunnel we saw, before heading back to Kivud’s Pass. We must find a clue to this plague,” speaking deliberately to the paladin in a slow monotone.

He, of course did not understand lip reading nor did he possess the skill, the deep gnome had. She practically had to kiss him for the words to be understood.

As a warrior, Sudar understood that the cause of the plague had to be found, an entire town rested on it, but surely they time to transport the body back to Kivud’s Pass. He made this protest to Ghost.

The monk nodded understanding, “There is hostilities at Kivud’s Pass about the sentient gorillas. Farther Samuel of your own faith has even expressed his views. If we pursue taking Rogg back to her hometown, we lose another day. I’m very sorry. It would mean that another three to four victims would die of the plague. I don’t think you would want that would you?”

The paladin shook his head, of course not; he fully understood the parliament of the plague that cursed the town. Ghost had filled him in very well on his travels over to the mines with her.

Off to the side, Xia had asked Hammer, “Are you hurt, plenty of ammunition going off there?”

Hammer noticed she had asked in a coyly caring way. He mused, watching her glance at his curly top and piercing blue eyes. As much as he hated to admit it, the rock gnome had elven beautiful qualities about her. Long blond hair with orange streaks, an olive skin, good body build and a personality of honorable, mischievous yet wild and tempting was one of her many qualities. Her face grew ashen as she looked towards Rogg’s way.

“Don’t worry, it will take more then a few crossbow bolts from kobolds to take me out. After all, halflings are the most blessed of the humanoid races,” noticing the look of concern on her face.

“So I have heard Chaldira Zuzaristan does seem to bless the fur-foots well, but still be careful,” she coyly replied, referring to the main deity of the halflings.

She turned her attention to the prisoner kobold, calling Hammer over since he spoke the draconian. She asked a question, then Hammer translated, asking him where his other brothers where, stating she knew there was more then just nine of them.

Xia further pointed out they wouldn’t be operating with this small a band with a kobold assassin in their mist. At first, the kobold refused any answers. He let out a whelp when her cutlass flashed along his head nicking an ear. Before he could register what happened, she laid the point of the cutlass less then an inch from his eye.

“The next nick is the sight,” she announced coolly leveling the blade, not a quiver forthcoming from the cutlass.

The creature broke, “I’m doomed! Our leader, sent us here to die, the disease has already affected us,” he croaked revealing closely to Xia his pus-ridden sores on his hands.

“Ghost, you might want to come closer!” Xia raised her voice. “Don’t touch any of the kobolds, their tainted,” as Arwkin behind her knelt in front of a kobold about to search them. Hammer told the rogue what she alledged in some sort of sign language and soft spoken whispers. It had to be their infernal Rogues Tongue that those of their profession picked up.

Ghost wandered over, and Xia spoke, her eyes never leaving the kobold, “Hammer will translate for you, this one has the plague, he has the same pus-ridden sores that you mentioned were on the villagers.”

Ghost eyed the halfling incrediously, Xia indicated the creature should show the monk; her cutlass never wavered from the rapidly blinking eye. The kobold did so without hesitation. Ghost nodded in satisfaction.

“Ask him, Where did he get the plague from and does everyone have it?” she asked Hammer who spoke to the kobold.

The creature cocked his head slightly, smiling, “The demon gave it to us, from which he passed onto K'odm,” thinking to frighten the monk with a mention of the human word demon. His chargrin rang true when he saw her expression.

Indeed as the word “demon” came out of the creature’s mouth, Ghost gasp. Naturally, the halfling ever the curious stepped closer to the conversation. The female gnome checked herself, maintaining a stolid look, mainly because she still held the cutlass at the kobold’s eye.

Arwkin being temporarily deaf busied himself; kicking kobold bodies to see if they were really dead, not just playing it. He seemed upset to know he couldn’t check the kobolds over like he normally could.

“K'odm is your leader?” Hammer asked, putting the two together and rapidly translating to Ghost what she surmised before the kobold could answer.

The creature pointed to a crumpled form, “That was K'odm.”

Hammer doubted the evil creature. Arwkin came over producing a beautiful oval-shaped amethyst gemstone and an iron key, both wrapped in a ragged loincloth from one of the creatures. He had picked up the fallen torch, Rogg had dropped upon her death, and now hooking the key on his gnome hook-hammer passed the torch under the key several times. He inched the amethyst stone under a dagger blade doing the same. “Aye, just in case,” he proclaimed.

Hammer immediately scampered off, cutting loincloths of the fallen kobolds. Xia had to suppress a laugh, because Ghost stared at both rogues like how dare they filch the dead at a time like this. She told the half-celestial that should he come down with the plague, then he deserved his fate. The small rogue agreed bobbing his head yes, turning the key and gemstone repeatedly in his hands.

Ghost glanced back at the kobold cursing under his breath. “What did he say?” she asked the halfling in earshot range.

Hammer looked up from his professional duties of relieving dead kobolds of their treasure, “He is cussing us for taking from his race, though its not like he wouldn’t do the same.”

Ghost asked Hammer to tell him why the demon chose them to give the plague to. “Also tell him, we know K'odm is not here among the dead, I have to agree with your sound mind, that if they had an assassin in league with them, they would be a bigger band,” she pointed out to the dead form with the goo still dripping off his dagger clutched in his hand.

Hammer nodded, then translated once again. The kobold studied the group before him; he weighed what he should tell them as to what the demon would do to him should he tell. He personally had never seen the demon before, imagining a horrible terrible beast, wicked claws and slavering teeth, ten-feet tall rendering him to bits.

It seemed they were going to kill him anyway, he might as well tell all. Perhaps they could rid the demon. It was the demon’s fault because of their condition. They had successfully overran the miners killing them almost to a man, things were good, the mine theirs to do what they wanted.

Then the demon’s emissary showed up threatening to wipe out the kobolds unless they solidified around him. Days later, the demon’s emissary told K'odm that the kobolds has displeased him, their punishment would be a plague. If they survived the plague, he would promise them greatness so much that even Merlokrep would be pleased.

“K'odm is my chief. An orc controlled by a demon came to us threatening to give us the plague if we did not follow the demon’s commands. In the end, he told us if we disobeyed, the demon gave him permission to place a plague on us,” making the statement short and to the point.

Once the halfling told them what the little lizard man told him, the kobold saw the female warrior-monk bought it. The other female scowled, naturally a gnome would not believe him if they had someway of knowing the absolute truth. In his mind, he told the truth. Hell, little details never mattered much anyway not from a kobolds point of view.

“But you kobolds, you came here, what, through or over the mountains to the mine complex, then wiped out the miners setting up camp, which means you watched the miners for a period of time before you slaughtered them. Kobolds would not overrun a large group of anything unless they thought they would be successful. That means you studied the movements, shifts and actions of the miners, then like the cowards you are slaughtered them probably in their sleep. I don’t see none of your race standing toe to toe with anyone,” Hammer spoke canidly.

Being a curious race, Hammer could acquaint the occasional killing by defense, but not wholesale slaughter by any race, especially those killed by kobolds.

Sudar stood watch by the far door, his mace ready for action as the other four dragged dead kobold after dead kobold through the door they entered. They had poured some holy water on their hands, then Sudar cast a bless spell, one of the few he had learned. They stacked the dead kolbolds like cordwood at the entrance. The idea was while they moved Rogg’s body back to the wagon; they didn’t want any of the dead kobold’s brothers to happen upon them through the undiscovered door.

Course, once the dim-witted creatures saw the streaks of blood in the dining area, they would figure out a skirmish had broken out. No use providing them with any more clues then necessary.

Chapter Seven

Consequences of

ONCE the first body had been dragged past the prisoner, he spoke slowly, sarcasm in his voice, “We fought the miners years ago for this territory and lost. This time we won. Merlokrep says survival of the strongest makes the strong survive. The human miners lost the chance to survive. We won fairly.”

“I say I just run you through and end the world of one less kobold,” the female rock gnome pressed, her sword making short swishes inches in front of the prisoner’s stomach. He just shrugged , not knowing what she stated, but figuring as much through her actions.

Arwkin stopped in the middle of dragging a dead kobold out the door accentuating his hatred for the race as well. The deep gnome had his hook hammer buried in its chest and merely pulled the creature along, he kept to the warning of Xia, not touching them. Just in case the holy water and bless spell didn't work. Afterward, he would pass the torch flame under his weapon several times destroying any vestiges of the plague.

Since the halfling had translated more or less the important things to the rogue, he spoke in common, “Aye, one orc could not overcome a group of kobolds with a demon’s help. Besides why would a demon want to use kobolds, he would be suited to hobgoblins. I’m half-celestial as you all know, and while I have never personally fought demons, down in Deepdark you hear the occasional story of demons usually aided by drow. Demons associate with power not weakness. If you ask me, the orc and the demon are the same. Just this one thinks he is sly. Even if the same, he couldn’t overtake a group of kobolds unless he had some power. Maybe a minor magic item or two. Just my two coppers.” With a look at the prisoner, he continued his grisly job.

The more Ghost thought about it, the more sense his line of reasoning became.

They blindfolded, gagged and tied the kobold with pieces of torn cloth and rope, then carried on with their plansthe kobold thinking they were going to kill him passed out.

* * * * *

Rogg turned out to be very heavy considering she weighed over three-hundred fifty pounds, taking the combined strength of Sudar, Ghost and Xia to lift the body. Both the rogues helped some, each carrying an arm or leg that would flop down. The going was slow taking nearly an hour to move the short distance. Once at the wagon, they laid her carefully in the back, covering her with a leather tarp that Arwkin had conveinitly bought for other purposes. Arwkin pulled the wagon deeper into the scrub, doing his best to camouflage it.

The others waited for the half-celestial; he had been the most closet to Rogg. He whispered a final good-bye to her.

Arwkin had known the sentient gorilla cleric a short while, but had felt a band of kinship with her immediately. He had expressed his view about being an outsider to her over the past few days. She in return, had expressed her thoughts of her race being discovered by the elves of Kyonin. How Zaire would try to charge the peace with the elves knowing he would break the fragile tentative peace as it was. How Gronga, the sentient gorillas chief deity would someday return taking all his creation to live in a vast jungle.

Arwkin trudged up the path where the others silently waited, now she would never see these dreams believed. With a final look, he avowed, “Lets do this for her.”

Sudar protested a final time at taking Rogg back to town, but Ghost reminded him of the importance of the task. He shrugged his shoulders, spoke a prayer to Windlass, Elder of Divinity to keep her safe.

* * * * *

They returned to the dining area, the scene had not changed, except the prisoner kobold had come to, whimpered at the footfalls. Hearing no notable sounds coming from the far door, they advanced through the unlocked door. Torchlight carried by Ghost revealed a short tunnel ending at another simple wooden door. At a nod from Ghost, Arwkin went to work.

With the sentient gorilla gone, Ghost let the three smaller humanoids have the front rank, placing Xia in the middle. Her and Sudar took the back rank, though the paladin insisted at the first sign of danger to let him up front. All three stated they would be more then happy to let him. In the current positions, the humans could fire over the heads of the gnomes and halfling or cover the real guard. This would allow the smaller humanoids to filter to the outside of middle ranks of the humans, thus they had an all-around offensive/defensive perimeter.

Hammer watched the more experienced deep gnome slide several feet of waxed, spliced rope containing a metal loop at one end between the door and frame. The string then fished through the frame until he felt the metal loop touch the floor, then peeping under the door, Arwkin used a long hooked lockpick to retrieve the spliced rope. Holding both ends of the rope, he lifted up until the rope caught on the bar across the door, opening it with a snick sound. Sliding the door carefully an inch or two more, he grabbed the bar with his free hand, motioned Xia to slip inside with him. As she did, he placed the wooden bar on the floor to the right of the door.

Ghost and Sudar moved up flanking the halfling. An immediate cussing came from behind the doorArwkin's definitely, proceeded by a multitude of the unmistakable sound of crossbows firing. Several crossbow bolts struck the inside door, their bolts trailing an audible hum to the other side. The monk kicked the flimsy door open, her torchlight revealed a twenty-foot wide and who knows how long larder room. Various foodstuffs were stacked on shelves five-foot high on both sides. To the left and right corners, hogshead barrels stacked neatly two high, blotting out any foodstuffs view able from the doorway or even up close for that matter.

A figure appeared from behind the door, his arm bloody, causing all three standing in the doorway to react taking a step back, bringing their weapons up in defense. Arwkin had been shot with a crossbow bolt.

“Kobolds at the end of the room behind barrels,” he rumbled in low common, grimacing from the pain, he pointed with his good hand.

Xia quickly nodded, confirming Arwkin’s words, she had been on the right side and down a ways from the door when Ghost kicked it open a few seconds ago. Raising her light crossbow, she took a small breath held it, sighted down the stock and fired. The bolt thunked into a bag of flour atop a barrel, spurting a stream of white powder onto a kobold hiding behind it.

More snicks of crossbow bolts whizzed by the monk’s head. A grunt from the paladin forced her to look in his direction. Two bolts had slipped under the edge of his half-plate. Twin rivulets of blood flowed down his stomach.

Ghost, who had still been at the door, holding the torch, saw something coming fast out of the corner of her perception. She reflexively placed the torch in front of the speeding object. The bolt skimmed off the torch handle into the tunnel beyond her. Sudar gave her a quizzed look of wonder; she just nodded, started to pull him back away from the danger. He shook his head, motioning her to get into the room. With a quick lip sync of “I’m sorry”, she moved away from him.

Hustling down the pantry way lengthwise, Ghost did indeed see eight kobolds cowering behind hogshead barrels speaking rapidly in their language. Ignoring the conversation, she reached into one of many pockets in her monk outfit; flicking two throwing stars barely an instant later.

They hit a kobold giving him a comical expression his eyes rolled upwards to look at the well-placed throwing stars in his forehead. With a low grunt, he dropped his crossbow toppling backwards into the pantry shelf. A few earthenware pots tumbled down onto his head, adding further injury to the dead humanoid. The honey from one of the overturned clay pots smearing his bloody face, marking him in an eerie way.

More crossbow bolts fired off from the remaining kobolds. With amazing accuracy, the monk knocked two asides with her hand. The other two, however, penetrated deeply under her breastbone driving her back a step. Blood instantly soaked her monk robes. She felt cold and clammy.

The halfling moved closer down the left side of the pantry way, staying hidden in the shadows. He raised his crossbow and fired, but gave the impression of aghast as the bolt plunged into the top of a barrel with a loud thunk.

Alarmed, the kobolds instinctively hunkered down, then scanned the shadows intensely looking for the unseen enemyexcited draconic barks and points of hands where the bolt came from filled the air. Hammer didn’t like the direction they pointed, being very close to where he lurked. He hoped the jig wasn’t up for him.

Arwkin nudged closer keeping pace with the halfling opposite the pantyway, whom he could clearly see slithering along the shadows.

He invoked a minor spell by mere thought, followed by a gesture at the kobolds. Seconds later, a creature screamed clutching his eyes. He immediately bumped into another kobold loading his crossbow. The bolt went off piecing a creature in front of him.

The kobold stared bug-eyed at the bolt protruding from his chest. He fell over where another promptly stepped upon him to gain an advantage of seeing over the barrels, ignoring the blood gushing out of the dead kobold pooling around his toes.

Arwkin watched the mayhem from his position, amused at his celestial capability, he hardly used. He could only invoke the innate spell-like ability once per day, but that was enough. The spell had run its course blinding one creature, inadvertently killing another, adding confusion to about half the group.

Xia dropped her crossbow, simultaneously shrugging out of her equipment�"frame backpack. The extra weight would slow her down impeding her fighting capacity. She charged down the center of the pantry, mastercrafted cutlass held high overhead, then jabbing the thick blade between two hogshead barrels, the cutlass slicing down into the groin of a standing kobold. A rush of blood splattered the barrels as she withdrew the infamous pirate known weapon.

“So you’re looking to fight little ole me,” she laughed manically. The ancient hatred between the two races showed evident by the scowls on all their faces. “It’s a good day for kobold killing,” she hissed to them.

* * * * *

They had left the kobold prisoner tied up to the wooden table. The small humanoid struggled futile against the taunt ropes, as he heard the chaos of battle in the next room. He knew his brothers would fight vainly to the end. The creature struggled more; if he could escape, he could run tell K'odm in the lower caverns about the invading group.

He smirked, it didn’t matter that the lightly armed warrior-female didn’t buy the lie about one of the dead being his leader. Though that wicked gnome translated her statements, she never pressed the whereabouts of K'odm More importantly then that, Chizark recognized the blue tabard the warrior wore.

Windlass, Elder of Divinity had warriors serving him surely, but even the most fool of fools knew that Windlass, Elder of Divinity enthralled paladins greatly. The way the warrior acted told Chizark he was no ordinary fighter. No definitely a paladin, perhaps a templar at the minimal. He licked his lips, if his band could kill a paladin, what prestige Merlokrep would give them. Maybe the deity would lift this cursed plague.

Another shudder ran through him, paladins served deities of good. The paladin would fight bravely using every ounce of his powers to destroy the kobolds. He had sworn an oath to Windlass, Elder of Divinity to eradicate evil. Many of his brothers would dies as the result. Then a grin etched across his face, murmuring, “Survival of the fittest Merlokrep says.”

He struggled hopelessly in vain with the taunt ropes.

Chapter Eight


THE kobolds loaded their light crossbows again, then rapidly fired at Xia. Bolts careened off her scalemail and small steel shield, one bolt rebounding back to the firer, missing him by a fraction of an inch.

Still in the shadows, the halfling fired his light crossbow again. Once more, the bolt thudded into the hogshead barrel. A stream of colorful oathes in presumed halfling followed the miss. Xia turned shortly to look where she thought the halfling hid. A sly smile crossed her face. Indeed, the stout halfling had earned a token of friendship with her.

Abruptly, she became concerned about Hammer. The kobolds were behind excellent cover, could launch ranged fire virtually all day at him. Already, Xia could hear their yapping to aim at the shadows. She didn’t want to see him die like Rogg.

Then she shook her head, would he reciprocate the feelings back? She didn’t know why she felt this towards the halfling instead of her own race, she couldn’t explain it-just some mystical soul connection. Xia had been in the halfling’s company a few days. She could feel the cogs of friendship wheel turning, allowing the cogs of the love wheel to move.

For now, Xia would keep her feelings to herself. If the halfling bared some interest in back, she would then pursue her feelings. She looked one more time to the left, sighing. She had to focus on her art of war, spoke a quick prayer to any deities listening to let the halfling live another day.

Of the five creatures left alive, four had surmised the approximate location of their near-invisible enemy. Crossbows fired, the snicks sounding like several doors closing at the same time. The kobolds stared at the shadows though they couldn’t see the enemy clearly, two bolts seemed to magically wobble, blood pouring from their entry points, staining a vest-like cloth. The creatures shouted draconic barks of victory. A position had been established, the blood making a telltale sign whenever the unseen person went.

Hammer grunted, the force of the bolts shortly pinning him against the wall. Both bolts had pierced the light armor fairly deeply into his chest.

The rogue silently cursed the blood staining his clothing. Once the kobolds saw the blood, they would have him marked, constantly firing crossbows bolts his way. This would limit his ability to hide. He knew that even if he staunched the blood flow, the kobolds using their darkvision would find him, the dark stained clothing showing up as white against black in their vision. The only option leftexpose his position, attacking the kobolds openlya suicide risk from a rogues point of view.

There wasn’t much Sudar could do to help. He had removed the two crossbow bolts from just beneath the edge of his armor. Most crossbow bolts did not have flanged tips, unlike bow arrows that had to push the arrow on through as not to do greater damage if pulled out, a bolt could easily be pulled out, though sometimes this caused greater blood loss.

Sudar called upon his healing powers of Windlass, Elder of Divinity, touching the wounds. A brief flash of light and a tingling feel erupted from his hands. Sudar looked down at his wounds. The bleeding had certainly stopped, but the wounds didn’t heal; small neat holes showed in his stomach, just beneath the edge of the half-plate.

The paladin knew exactly why his “lay on hands” never worked one-hundred percent. Like all deities, Windlass, Elder of Divinity blessed the paladin to heal based on his socialism of being with people.

Paladins were radiant stars of deities that is,-if paladins had charismatic and leadership qualities those deities sought often. Sudar lacked those qualities to be sure. In reality, an ugly fist fight had broken his nose many years ago in his youth. The cartridge had never fully healed leaving his nose and part of cheeks always discolored. This caused most people, even friends, associates, and the like to assume he drank a lot or sunburned easily. It also led to insecurities of the paladin with drawing into himself.

Sudar couldn’t fathom for one moment, why the Elder of Divinity God had chosen him to be his right-hand man, his link to the world to right wrongs of his dogma. While Sudar constantly wrestled with the afore mentioned thoughts, the paladin knew he had been chosen and that meant he could , no he would follow the plans laid out by Windlass, Elder of Divinity with absolute faith.

He further surmised that Windlass, Elder of Divinity wanted him to be a simple paladin for the common people. As testament to his simpleness, Windlass, Elder of Divinity had come to him in a vision showing that Sudar would one day be a great paladin. Windlass, Elder of Divinity’s vision showed him the truth and in that, truth was some ugliness.

Thus, he was shown that he would suffer like a normal human beingwould not be immune to disease, could not detect the presence of evil like most paladins, would not be ever able to call a special mount granted in the service of the deity, nor be able to cure disease or the most potent-the ability to turn the undead. It seemed that Sudar would be relinquished to nothing more them a templar to his church.

His given paladin abilities seemed to be outmatched by his non-paladin abilities. Windlass, Elder of Divinity had granted him the resistance of certain enchantments, his lay of hands, his ability to project a circle of circle of power should he procure a holy sword and an ability to smite evilan truly devastating power to deal destructive damage with a weapon when he called upon Windlass, Elder of Divinity’s name. With these, Windlass, Elder of Divinity instructed him to go forth with his name protecting all that was righteousness in Windlass, Elder of Divinity’s eyes.

To Sudar, the lack of his abilities normally granted to other paladins showed a test of faith to the Sun God, not merely a projection of his power. Sudar may die, but he would not falter his faith or religion by any means.

Little did Sudar know how that faith would be tested in the next few minutes or the next few weeks for that matter.

The skirmish wasn’t going well, out of eight kobolds, five still lived. Arwkin and Xia had been untouched by the kobold’s crossbow bolts. The other three members, had taken a bolt or two.

Arwkin glanced over to where the halfling had hidden him self from the kobolds. It took but a moment to find the pudgy outline form of Hammer without using the bolts sticking from his chest as a compass point. Arwkin shook his head, it may be even doubtful for him to continue, the halfling had lost quite a lot of blood, more then Arwkin realized at first. A rogue and a fighter against five with better cover, He gritted his teeth on that one.

Arwkin decided to risk it, he snapped his angelic wings, rushing forth from under shadow. The assisted run brought him to the back side of one of the creatures. It didn’t matter the kobolds heard the rapid rustle of wings, it didn’t matter that three of them startled to turn their short spears to the source of noise. The half-celestial/deep gnome materialized out of the inky darkness as if he had been there all along. A hook-hammera double headed weapon with a sharpened point on one end (the hook) and the other forged in a black shaped hammer, appeared in his hand.

He swung the blunt end, smacking it solidly against the kobold’s lower back. Spinal cord crushed inward snapping, nerves and tendons exploded into tremendous pain tearing from the spine. The creature felt itgreat pain and death in the same instanta contradiction to any death wound received in battle, it should have been one or the other were the kobold’s last thoughts.

Arwkin pivoted around the falling kobold body, swinging the hook section of the weapon in another kobold’s ribcage. The hook punctured deep, straight to the heart. He jerked the weapon back savagely, a death glaze in his eyes. Blood gushed out of the ragged hole left by the hook end of the hammer.

The three remaining kobolds, being the same three who had heard the half-celestial/deep gnome stood in shock. They had never seen a gnome much less a deep gnome kill two of their own so fast. The creatures now saw the off-white wings attached to the gnome, his swarthy skin blending into the wings, then fading to charcoal gray to white at the joints. The strange appearance they looked upon added further credit to him.

The sudden appearance of the half-deep gnome distracted the kobolds enough for them to forget about Xia. As skillful as a squirrel, she jumped to the top of the hogshead barrel, her boots finding purchase on the barrel’s rims. She drove her steel shield against one creature providing a barrier if he tried to help his brethren as the well-crafted cutlass sliced left to right severing the head of the other.

Her eyes flashed a demeanor of undulated hatred, but held the skillful pose of a seasoned warrior. “Do you really want to get wild?” she asked audibly over the ongoing skirmish.

A kobold leered, he held his light crossbow leveled at her, the other hand held a ripcord. Xia’s eyes followed it up to the wall overhead to where she could see the ripcord attached to a trio of burly sacks. The sacks were right above her head. She glanced back, her eyes darting to the crossbow noticing for the first time, the bolt was missing.

Xia tried to backpedal fast to get out of the way. The creature pulled the cord sending the sacks squarely about her head. She collapsed to the ground under the immense weight. The fighter in her tried vainly to move afterwards, only her fingers inched along at a snails pace, blackness loomed at the edge of her vision as a billowing white cloud filled the room obscuring all vision.

“Xia!” both rogues shouted in unison.

A kobold scampered to her last known position, feeling for her body by touch, the hogshead barrel she stood on, having tipped over, rolled slightly to the left; its coopering giving it a metallic ring as it rolled to a stop. The creature rose his half-spear plunging it towards the gnome body. His aim very poor, attributes of the flour cloud, missed completely, striking near the head of the rock gnome. How little did he know how close he came to ending the gnomes life.

The flour cloud made darkvision impossible, the enemy became invisible like him. Hammer cursed silently to himself, then smiled. If he couldn’t see them, maybe they couldn’t see him. That didn’t make fighting them any better on his terms. Hammer tried to listen to the positions of where the kobolds had been last. He heard the scrabbling of someone, then a short word in kobold. “Die,” ensued by a scrape of metal on stone.

Hammer’s mind instantly thought out the scene covered by the flour, as soon as the sacks hit Xia, he saw a kobold scramble toward her with a half-spear. He reacted tumbling toward that thought, his hand touching the hogshead barrel, he vaulted over it, completed another somersault, then his foot bumped into somethinga body.

At less then a foot, he could barely see the kobold raise his half-spear up; this time the creature would not miss stabbing Xia, the half spear would drive deep in the face of the rock gnome killing her at once.

Her radiant allures came to him, her liquid brown, soft eyes entranced his mind. Her long, straight blonde hair with streaks of orange in it. It all came flooding to him. His trance continued, when he first met her, he compared her with a beautiful sprite, a tiny woodland creature of exquisite beauty. Those pretty looks translated to an ever outgoing personality. If he couldn’t stop the kobold, that beautiful personality plus gnome would never be able to make him laugh again.

He plunged the dagger deep into the back of the kobold, the dagger cutting the spinal cord, its deepness penetrating to its lung. Gurgling sounds erupted from the kobold still kneeling atop of Xia. Splotches of blood dripped to her face. Hammer shoved the quite dead creature over. Squinting, he could see Xia didn’t look to bad, one of the flour sacks had landed on the side of her face leaving a welt mark. He felt for a pulse found one, relieved to find she had only been knocked unconscious.

Sudar’s vision went white, one minute he saw the skirmish going fine, the next he saw the kobold pulling the ripcord. Everyone vanished behind the cloud, the contents of the burlap bag thrown up on impact with the rock gnome. He barely winced, not having time, when the bags slammed down on Xia. Knowing he was still out of combat for the next twenty seconds or so, he fumbled off his backpack, reaching into it to retrieve a pink potion. Twisting the cork off, he drank greedily of its contents. Sudar’s wounds started closing, knitting the punctured skin holes of what his lay on hands ability couldn’t do.

Steadying himself, he lurched toward the cloud dust settling towards the floor. The cloud still large in volume, had lowered its height and width from ten feet high and ten feet wide to about half of that. Sudar could see nothing, the radius of the torch showed out to about fifteen feet revealing only the pantry shelves on the sides, yet he knew there had to be more kobolds at the end of the pantry way

A scraping sound, he turned toward the source. A dire weasel scampered from behind some sacks lying in a nearby corner. Sudar brought the masterwork heavy mace in front of him for defense, thinking to keep the weasel at bay. Too late, the weasel already inside the reach of the weapon, sank his teeth into Sudar’s leg. Pain and blood mixed together sending up an alarming grimace from him.

The paladin screamed trying ineffectively to at first shake the dire weasel off his leg, then resorted to thumping it lightly across the head with his mace. Sudar wasn’t an animal activist, he wasn’t trying to lightly hit the creature, it just so happens, the attack so veracious, the pain so mind numbing, he couldn’t physically put enough strength behind his blows to do any damage.

The paladin screaming forced Arwkin to look over his shoulder seeing a very faint shadow of something near Sudar. His darkvision far superior to the rock gnome, could faintly see through the flour cloud, so he whipped out a dagger from a bandoleer, throwing it in the same motion striking the big weasel in the neck.

Blood welled from under the dagger’s blade, causing the weasel to shake the leg of Sudar more violently.

Ghost rolled up to a sitting position having staunched the blood some of her wounds. A white powdery substance lay everywhere. A fine mist hung tenaciously in the air obscuring vision. She could barely see her hand in front of her face, the mist so thick. Ghost could hear gruff chuckling coming to her right and the scream from one of her own behind her. She couldn’t help whomever it was if she tried, in the flour cloud, she could barely see in front of herself. The voices were not in common Ghost noted and belly crawled toward the sources of sound. Feeling a barrel and hearing draconic voices directly above her, she slowly drew a kama in each hand.

Wishing she had more light, since the flour cloud covered her torch smothering it, she figured she might as well get some use out of her other weapon. With blind fury, she rolled to her back, kippup to her feet, then spun catching the kobold there, off guard. The kobold’s body loomed briefly into view, the shock on his face at seeing anyone this close registered well in her face.

By coincidence, Ghost shocked at seeing him, she had acted solely off the voice of the creature, The kamas struck each to an armpit severing muscle and bone, one punctured an lung, the other the heart, blood sprayed out from the heart showering the right side of her arm. A final shudder sent the kobold slowly falling to the floor. The little creature tried to no avail to grab the barrel lip. His hand stayed but a second there before falling with the rest of him to the floor.

Sudar tried to scream, but only gurgled as the dire weasel shook violently the last vestiges of his life. He lifted his hands to Windlass, Elder of Divinity expecting the deity to be there guiding him to his home plane. Nothing, but inky darkness, not even a tunnel of light he had heard so much about came to him. “Windlass, Elder of Divinity,” he uttered in a hoarse whisper then blackness.

The dire weasel shook the paladin’s leg a few more times to ensure his death. His muzzle covered in blood, the creature licked some of the blood off with its tongue. This only sent it into frenzy and it starting sniffing the air. The weasel smelled death, kobolds and live flesh all in an instant. Its head darted toward the rear of the pantry way, the scent of live unkobold flesh lingered.

The halfling slapped Xia around the face to bring her out of unconsciousness. The female warrior slowly stirred to life looking up at the halfling. She propped herself up looking around. At first, she thought her vision betrayed her for beyond the halfling all she could see was white, then she remembered the sacks of flour, her head swam with pain, it seemed like ages ago.

“The kobolds, the others, did we get them? She asked, trying to get up. Hammer pressed her back to the floor nodding.

“We got them, at least I don’t hear their yapping, this damn cloud makes it hard to tell.” As he spoke, a figure materialized out of the whiteness, a sleeve splattered with blood showed on the prominent feature.

Hammer instinctively placed his hand at the bandoleer at his chest, preparing to throw it at the outlined shadow if necessary. The features softened, becoming more human and less shadow, Ghost stepped up to the pair. It took them all a second to realize who exactly had done the screamingSudar.

Arwkin snapped his grayish-white angelic wings propelling him forward like an arrow through the cloud. The giant weasel, leaped at him snapping his vicious teeth at him catching him in the throat. Unable to control his flight, the half-deep gnome fell errantly to the floor skidding just a few feet from the downed paladin. He tried to scream but the dire weasel had latched onto his throat, ripping, shaking it aggressively.

Hammer heard the snarls and crash of something over his shoulder, already in motion sprinting towards the source, pulling his shortsword out of its sheath. There on the ground in front of him lay both a dire weasel and Arwkin engaged in battle. “Hurry, we must help the paladin,” he shouted over his shoulder.

“The paladin needs help?” Xia asks innocently stumbling to her feet.

The weasel obviously had the advantage, its teeth locked into the throat of the half-celestial/deep gnome. Blood adorned his shirt as the creature shook him, causing the gnome to abate at attacking the creature back.

In desperation, Hammer swung the shortsword at the weasel, but at the last moment, the struggling pair rolled away from him, the shortsword striking the floor.

“Damn it hold him still Arwkin,” not hearing the gurgled reply that came back.

Ghost hustled blindly up, coming out of the flour cloud into the blackness, then light, a torch lay still burning where it apparently dropped by the paladin as the weasel attacked him. Poor Sudar lay outstretched, his leg torn to the bone, blood still seeping out of the ragged wound. A look to the near left showed the half-celestial rolling around with a weasel, a demi-human sized weasel at that, on top, shaking the hell out of the rogue.

There was just as much blood spilled from Arwkin as there was Sudar. Maneuvering herself close, she let a flurry of blows loose with her kamas. The farmer’s implements, considered deadly weapons in the hands of monks, ripped two gouges in the dire weasels side, revealing fining honed muscles beneath the fur.

The creature hissed in agony, stopped shaking the gnome around. Like a stubborn pit bull dog with locked jaws, the weasel hung tenaciously on refusing to let go of the rogue.

The halfling rogue jabbed the shortsword into the non-moving weasel finishing it off. As soon as its mouth came open, Hammer kicked the head, forcing it away from his friend’s throat. Arwkin moaned, apparently weakened from the fight.

“Sudar,” he weakly conversed, pointing to the downed form of the paladin

“Rest easy, Xia will help you soon,” the female warrior said, going straight to the paladin.

“My backpack,” blood throthing from Arwkin's throat, “Is some tear-away clothing to use.” Hammer flipped the half-deep gnome on his side, digging into the backpack. Fortunate for him, the tear-away clothing lay near the top.

Tear-away clothing, a relative new invention came in three varieties, common, good and fine. It consisted of loosely sewed garments so when grabbed the clothing would relatively tear away. Rogues liked it for the ability in part to wear as a disguise, then shred the clothing reverting to their original clothing underneath.

Xia knelt at the paladin’s side. It looked grim, blood trickled at a steady rate out of the rent leg. She tried applying her doctor skills to the leg, but it kept bleeding. She ripped off part of his shirt, tying it into a tourniquet but to no avail, the leg kept bleeding, even adding the clothing Hammer offered. Finally, after several attempts, she shook her head to the nearby duo. Out of respect, she reached up and closed the open eyes looking like they were begging someone to help him in his final moments. Xia turned her attention to Arwkin,

The monk had tears in her blue eyes. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this, first Rogg, now Sudar in the space of one hour.

All she wanted to do was gather a group of adventures together and find out who or what caused the plague in Kivud’s Pass. Now, it seemed she wouldn’t be able to even do that. They certainly would have to call it off now, cutting their losses and returning later.

The death of Sudar hit her harder then Rogg, perhaps of their race, both being human. She berated her self for not listening to the paladin when he begged to end the mission and take Rogg back to town. She had stubbornly refused, thinking that the answer to the plague lay within their grasp of the hour. How wrong she had been, an inexperienced warrior refusing advice from an experience warrior and it had cost her greatly. Now two lie dead. She burst into sniffles holding her head down low.

While the half celestial/half deep gnome looked bad, he would live to continue his rogue skills another day to be sure. The weasel had caused a loss of a lot of blood, but nothing a few days rest would cure. The female warrior bandaged him up as best she could staunching the blood. He looked rather odd with a partially torn blue shirt around his neck. Hammer made the comment, of how anyone should be able to see the blue bandage should his friend try to hide in the shadows.

“Aye, stupid dire weasel caught me off guard, leaped right at my throat as I flew to the good guy,” a trace of sadness in his voice. He walked over and kicked the weasel hard sending its body rolling away.

Xia placed her hands on her hips, like she always did, when she had something important to say, “Had not Sudar noticed the dire weasel, it would have been one of us dead now, he did what he was supposed to do, guard our rear. Granted he died, he died like a warrior. For that, he earns my respect.”

She turned her attention towards the monk, “Ghost, I don’t have to tell you that we have lost this battle, but not the war. We should return to Kivud’s Pass, rest up and recruit a few more persons to come back out here with us in a couple days. I know, that may mean the loss of one or two more people with the plague, but we have no choice. We have lost two in an hour, we weren’t prepared to lose anyone and you know it, but we did. I beg of you to think this over,” a firmness in her voice, showing her absoluteness on the issue.

“I know when I’m beat warrior, my apologies to the rest of you for not seeing the grave of the situation. I lost my head, its not that I don’t care about Rogg when she died, just that I felt that was the way of things, so I pushed to go on. I really thought her death would bring justice to us quickly in finding the curse of this plague. Then the paladin died by some dire weasel. I will be damned If I knew how that creature came into the skirmish. I could swear that all I saw were kobolds.”

She hung her head again, then spoke from that position. “As a monk, I’m devoted to my monastery and the philosophies of the Twisted Wind. One such philosophy says, keep your friends in your heart in all states of their existence, like the wind, you touch them on their faces, hands and hair but you also touch their soul. I sincerely believe that.”

Arwkin spoke up although hoarsely, “We know what is behind the plague Ghost, a damned orc. We may not know where about he is in this mine complex, but we know he is here. We kill the orc and I bet a Bocque, that the plague goes away,” referring to a drink that look like a caramelized sherry but tasted like a smoked, scorched skin of a piece of chicken.

The carrying of the paladin came much easier then had Rogg, mainly because he weighed about one-third the weight of the sentient gorilla. They had him out of the mine, laid out on the wagon in fifteen minutes. Quickly they covered him, and the dead miner with the other tarps, tied them down and left.

Xia rode her pony this time instead of letting it trail behind the wagon, Ghost sat between Arwkin, who still insisted on driving the mules, and Hammer. Silence their allay for now, they moved toward a rapidly setting sun.

Chapter Nine

Shock and Awe

THE group of kobolds watched the procession of the adventures carrying one of their own, from the safety of a lower tunnel. They had crept up the range of their darkvision waiting what seemed like for eternity after the scout had alerted them of a halfling that set off the pit trap. K'odm and his band watched the group of six disappear towards the dining room area. Other kobolds had insisted on sneaking up on the group, but K'odm held them back.

Only he knew why he had sent the other kobolds to guard the dining area. Not because of their cowardliness or displeasure by him, no, he had sent them solely to their fate for the reason that they were contagious.

Of course, he had told the remaining group a blatant lie, saying they were an scouting patrol in case the miners returned. He spit, not paying attention where the spittle landed, cursing the damned orc who landed them in this mess in the first place. A kobold wiped the spittle off his cheek without even thinking about it, his concentration focused on the disappeared group ahead.

An ideal came to the leader. He told his band to start counting softly starting at one, when a kobold stuttered after the count reached thirteen, he told him to come forward . K'odm instructed the kobold to hide under one of the carts, the cart that they hadn’t rigged with a trap to hear what is going on, then report back to him in a hour.

The creature at first balked at the ideal but the fierce look of the leader and a promise that Merlokrep would ensure his survival put the creature in an accepting position. The kobold crept up to the overturned cart, scampered underneath and waited.

He didn’t have to wait long, twenty minutes perhaps, when he heard voices, he couldn’t make out what they were saying, but obliviously they were grunting a great deal. A peek from under the cart showed five members, two gnomes, two humans and a halfling carrying a furry creature that resembled a gorilla. It took awhile for him to figure out why a group of adventures would carry a massive gorilla out of the mines. His first thoughts were maybe the gorilla was one of the group’s pet. Then it dawned on him dimwitted as he was, that the creature had been the largest of the group, the kobolds thought to a huge man.

Something clicked in the back of his mind. The gorilla could be nothing less then a sentient gorilla. The new recently discovered race that elves had discovered in Kyonin.

He grew giddy, his own brethren race has slain a sentient gorilla. The kobold couldn’t wait until his leader K'odm learned what the kobolds had killed in the dining or pantry room. He head words, raising the cart to listen in, it sounded gibberish to him, though some of the words were in common. A single grunt and then fading footsteps.

There came a soft tapping on the cart. The kobold froze thinking the group had tricked him knowing he was there all along. A voice in draconic came through the cart not bothering to lift the cart up so he wouldn't expose his voice to the group who might be near by.

“Listen up you ninny, K'odm says to stay here for another hour, he saw the great victory of our brethren. They killed a big warrior, which is good. K'odm thinks they will return to do some more exploring so be quiet and stay alert.”

The kobold inside the cart spoke back hurriedly, “I can do that. Perhaps, Merlokrep will be pleased indeed, we will be honored when we meet him in death, our glory will be above all other tribes.”

Once again the sound of fading footsteps. His bretheren either refused to answer or didn't hear him.

In a way, K'odm hoped the group of adventures or whatever they called themselves would wipe out the remaining kobolds holed up in the pantry. He figured, dead kobolds couldn’t spread the plague like live ones could.

Subsequently, they would just have to do the bidding of the orc until K'odm came up with a plan to kill him. At least this way, they wouldn’t have to worry about dying from contagious kobolds.

On the other hand, the band had killed a sentient gorilla, that in it self had to be quite a victory for them. Perhaps, he would go talk to them, telling them Merlokrep had found away to get rid of their plague, convincing them to openly attack the orc shaman. Merlokrep would look favorably upon them, after all they had probably been the first race to kill a sentient gorilla.

This could work, he thought to himself. Although, not a particularly bright warleader, K'odm had enough wisdom to play kobolds off against each other, often telling them lies to get what he wanted out of them.

Pride would certainly be a factor in this one, their morale would be high. Convincing them to fight the orc guaranteeing them that victory would be on their side would definitely make a impression upon Merlokrep, but the favor would go to K'odm not his lower status kobolds.

One of the creatures caught him thinking, a gleam in his eyes. The creature at a intense look from K'odm turned away. He dare not look back toward his leader again for awhile.

When the group brought the second person of their group out, the kobold band grew in excited whispers. They could hardly contain their enthusiasm, that K'odm ordered them further back down the tunnel so as not to alert the leaving group.

The one kobold who had been in the mine cart, crawled out from under, scampering back to the kobold band. He shook his head, saying, “Their dead, they killed them, their dead.”

“Of course their dead, you saw for yourselves our brethren killed them, did you expect anything less!” K'odm demanded.

The creature cowed down, “No, our brethren are dead, stacked like cordwood outside the door, I saw it with my own eyes. At least this many,” showing a handful of fingers.

“What the Wurms Teeth?” K'odm roared a common saying, not caring if the adventures heard him or not. He waved his warband on with him as he took off at a run.

Sure enough, the scout had not lied, all nine of them including the kobold assassin that had unfortunately came down with the plague. Several showed severed heads, limbs and puncture wounds consistent with a skirmish. K'odm turned and punched the scout kobold, yelling at him that he should of came and told them as soon as he realized what the group did.

The creature remained silent, not daring to say that K'odm told him to stay in the cart one hour regardless.

The warband followed K'odm through the dining room, sidestepping food and earthenware scattered about. The warleader went directly to the pantry room. Upon opening the door, he roared, at the entrance lay a dead weasel, the kobold’s pet. More kobolds lay scattered about the long pantry way A white powder covered the back portion of the room.

Turning toward his band that crowded behind him, his outburst of anger forgotten, he gestured behind him, “This is what happens when you earn the disfavor of Merlokrep. You lose. Obliviously, superior forces over-matched our brethren, but they were unprepared too. Had they listened to me and posted a guard, they would be alive today. Unlike the great cavern, where we have the luxury to have a trap before the entrance, they have none. In order to survive, you must remain vigilant. Survival of the strong means you have to have it up here in your head too. Use common sense and you will live, ignore it and ….”, he trailed off, gesturing to the scene behind him.

All the kobolds saw the carnage behind K'odm. Whatever skill the enemies had, they used it ruthlessly heads lay near severed, several kobolds had deep cuts, most had more then one.

“Touch nothing, they deserved their fate,” turning K'odm strode off.

* * * * *

“I been thinking,” Ghost announced after an hour of traveling in silence. The two small humanoids beside her looked to her as if she had changed her mind deciding to go back into the mines.

“Since we have to drop Rogg off at the town of Asabu-Atiwuville,” seeing the half-celestial nod of her pronunciation, “There is a temple there that is growing in popularity, though it does seem weird the gorillas don’t bother it since it is a non-gorilla building.”

She continued catching the stare of Arwkin, perceptibly the monk had ventured to the gorilla town without mentioning it to them, “The temple is called The Mythical Temple of Theology. I hear that the clerics there are quite good, and I was thinking that we could convince one to use a raise dead spell on Sudar. I would ask for Rogg as well, but I don’t know nor do I think the clerics know enough about her deity to use such a spell. As you may or may not know, the success depends on whether the spirit has traveled to its home plane or not and the willingness of the deity to relinquish the spirit back to the material plane. As for the miner, I believe he is beyond help, though we will drop the body off at Kivud’s Pass so the family can bury him.”

Xia brought her pony a little closer to the wagon, listening to the monk’s words. She smiled to herself, Ghost for all appearances of demeanor had a soft spot. She came across as the boss, go-getter type person who didn’t give a damn about anyone but herself.

Inside, Xia must of known that life in the monastery made a person caring towards the outside world. Most likely, their devoutness to their spiritualism, the rock gnome reckoned.

Most monks she had heard of were quite like Ghost in their devotion to the monastery and its practices. The difference lay in Ghost’s attitude towards clothing, while other monks wrapped themselves up in monk outfits that showed at most the hands and face, Ghost’s outfit had been slit at the hip revealing shapely legs, the sleeves had been shortened to just above the elbow and she hardly ever wore the cowl over her head. The monk professed she dressed the way she did for ease of fighting, though Xia thought the monk liked to seem flirtatious enough to draw an eye toward her or two. Not, that the roving eyes would get them far, Ghost preached celibacy either by word or punches to the head, if they didn’t get the message.

“I don’t think it is a good ideal to bring Rogg’s body back to Asabu-Atiwuville, at least not yet,” the half-celestial/deep gnome spoke. “When I was there with her, just before coming to Kivud’s Pass, a lot of resentment had heated up between the elves and the sentient gorillas. Us bringing her there, despite the fact that we have no elves among us could cause us trouble. The gorillas are in between deciding to stay at the town or revert to the old ways. Particularly, one sentient gorilla, Zaire is trying to revert them to do the latter. In short, non-gorillas are not very welcomed there.”

He went on to tell the story of his day spent there. After he had finished, she agreed with him, they would leave the cleric Amazon at the hands of her monastery temporally, where her body would be put into a vault to keep from decomposing as bad until they could decide how to get her to her hometown without risking injury to themselves from the rebellious gorillas.

Darkness settled in rather quickly as to add its fear to the small group’s mind, bringing with it the passing faces of those who now rode in the back of the wagon, perhaps seeking their own enlightenment of a different journey.

Chapter Ten

The Long Day

THEY arrived in Kivud’s Pass just as the sun slid behind the horizon, the last rays fading, almost bringing instantly the gloom of knowing what lay in wait for the town. Not many people were out this time of night, those that were had visited the taverns to put some hope in their dampening spirits.

Arwkin had parked the wagon around the back way of the mayor’s office, which essentially being above the Silver Nugget. Hammer bid them to wait, while he went through a back entrance. The halfling should have only known the front entrance, but Hammer had drunk with the mayor pretending drunkenness when the mayor revealed it in a slurring speech.

At this hour, the mayor’s personal guards would be in the tavern drinking their copper commons away, having been dismissed at dusk. This allowed Hammer to ease up the steps, shut the supposedly secret backdoor, knocking lightly on the mayor’s office door.

Mayor Cristopher at times slept in an extra room when politics or worrisome demanded his time. This was one such time.

There came a rumbling of a human voice, several lock bolts slid back allowing the mayor to open the door a mere space. A series of chain locks could be seen, a weary looking human looked past the chain locks groaning, “Hammer, I should of known that somehow even you would manage to find boredom with a adventuring party. What’s the matter, they had little coin for you to pawn?”

The halfling smiled at the condescending tones the mayor supplied about him. He tempted to answer him with a yes to see him groan more, “We found the body of the chief engineer, Mr. Tungsten, he had been dead for quite some time. But we also have two more bodies with us,” letting the news sink in. The mayor expected the name of two more miners, gasped upon hearing the names of Rogg and Sudar, who Hammer quickly filled in of her profession and how they met the paladin on the road.

Hammer also quickly explained the details of how the skirmishes ended the lives of Rogg and Sudar. Mayor Cristopher offered his sympathies saying he would inform the wife of the miner right away. When the halfling informed them of Ghost’s plan to drop off the sentient gorilla at the monastery, he nodded, if anyone could remain neutral about the hostilities of the sentient gorillas, the monks could. Distanced far enough away from the town of Kivud’s Pass, her body interred there would not cause hostile reactions like it could in the temple of Windlass, Elder of Divinity here.

Hammer didn’t tell the mayor of their plans with Sudar, just noting they would be returning him to his hometown to be buried, then Ghost would recruit some more people once again. He left then, going down the front of the stairs, drawing the attention of the mayor’s two guards who wondered how he slipped past them the first time. They immediately wondered upstairs encountering the mayor in his sleeping ropes wide awake, they started to return downstairs to pursue the rascal halfling, but the mayor told them he had a secret errand for them to do.

A few minutes later, the two guards stared defiantly at the halfling perched atop the wagon, other friends of his waiting around for them to remove the body. Ghost had pulled the leather tarp back over the other two bodies so only the miner’s body exposed to the guards. One of them gasp a cry recognizing the face of the dead miner, but quickly composed himself, hoisted the body, taking the lead through the back entrance. Arwkin snapped the reins urging the mules to plod onward.

* * * * *

The team of mules carrying three passengers arrived at the monastery of the Twisted Wind an hour later. A typical monastery to the eyes. Building walls had been covered in alabaster, its white gleaming in the waxing moons. The wall revealed frescoes of various winds pushing boats across seas, blowing gently across farmer’s faces, being destructive as hurricanes, tornadoes, and nearly a dozen more adorned the walls, their faint outlines visible in the darkness. Strange trees, as if their trunks were twisted by the winds them selves lined a dirt roadway to large wooden doors bound in iron.

As Hammer had told the group at the back of the mayor’s office, Ghost told the same, telling the party to wait here to they were received by the night orderly. She banged the bell loudly beside the doors, the tones clearly heard in the nighttime stillness. A very small portal opened in the doors, a voice asking her a series of questions. Ghost gave some concealed hand sign, one of the heavy wooden doors opened just enough for her to slip in, then quickly shut, the chains heard running through the two rings, and a loud click as the padlock shut tight.

A few minutes later, a female, her face a look of concern opened the small portal to check on the visitors, then undid the paddle lock to the doors. She wore braies- breeches designed by the latest artist of the time, in this case lighter colored swirls. Over this she wore a common gown embroidered with the emblem of the Twisted Wind, at which a rather large gem sparkled into the night lay sewn into itsome sort of yellowish corundum, Xia surmised getting a close look at the gem. Boots, soft, high made the ensemble seem awkward, but at this hour, no one paid attention.

Ghost is busy with her head master, she will be with you shortly. It seems your party has suffered an unfortunate death, I’m sorry to hear such bad news. We will take the sentient gorilla off your hands now,” motioning for attendants waiting in shadows nearby forward. As if the gorilla hardly weighed an ounce, the six monks skillfully lifted her off the wagon, walking her through an alcove. “We will also take the paladin and put him in a chapel, prays will be spoken to keep the body from decaying, though it would be easier to try and keep his soul here then the sentient gorilla, but I understand your fears of taking the sentient gorilla to their city with all the civil disturbances going on.

She waited letting then take it all in before speaking again, “I’m Valya, your attendant until Ghost returns. You may place your wagon across the courtyard in the small stall over there. We do not have much in stabling, but your mules will be rested. Once you have unharnessed the mules, and seen to their comfort, you will meet us back here in the courtyard .”

Arwkin taking the cue, snapped the reins, the mules plodded forward. Damn, that is a big enough jewel she wears, almost as big as my fist. Aye, wonder why Ghost doesn’t have one, thinking as he neared the small stable.

Waiting on Arwkin, Hammer nodded to Valya, “One can’t help notice that rather large gem sewn into your gown, does it denote a rank or station here?”

Valya nodded yes, “It denotes that I have mastered a series of philosophies here at the Twisted Wind. We are given a rather large expensive gem to be sewn in one article of clothing. I chose my gown. It is really quite beautiful,” fingering the fiery yellow corundum.

Arwkin returned shortly, at his presence, Vayla led them across the courtyard to what looked like a small inn. She opened the door, several made beds, with small foot lockers lay within.

Ghost assumed you will be staying at least tonight, for it will take that long for her to complete her duties with the head master. Taking a body and keeping it from making its onward journal, is a hectic process. Prayers must be maintained, a vigil must be kept. Your friend, my sister in station will be part of this process. I leave you now, an attendant is next door should you need me for an emergency.” With that, Vayla bowed and shut the door behind her leaving the three to find a bed of their liking.

That gem is enough to buy us lodging for a month in one of the finest inns in Ladara,” Hammer pointed out after the monk had left.

Your not kidding,” Xia added, “but monks live a aesthetic lifestyle, hence why there are several beds in this room. You notice, no water bowls, probably receive those in the morning. I guess Ghost has to be in sort of ritual for preparing Rogg’s body. I didn’t know monks could keep the soul sustained, but apparently, they do.”

Arwkin nodded, selecting a bed that felt rock hard, “Some higher ups, probably do, it is probably best they do that until Ghost decides what to do with the body. I just hope this will not cause repercussions with the village. Aye, you should of heard Zaire that day, like he hated all non-gorillas. The stare he gave me when I walked out of that tavern,” a tremble ran through his veins.

Just another mad monkey in the world of bananas,” the halfling ventured back, kicking off his low boots, leaning back on a comfortable, fluffy bed. Xia snickered, Arwkin at first shot the halfling an incredulous stare then laughed along with the rock gnome.

Weary from a long day, Xia didn’t pay attention to the curious stares of the halfling as she stripped out of her scale armor. When she had placed her dagger under her pillow and her master-worked cutlass within reach, she finally looked over. Hammer had this dumbfound look on his face, as if lost in a crowd.

What?” she asked.

Nothing, just noting how a warrior places her weapons different then us rogues.”

You don’t place your weapons within reach when you sleep?” she offered.

Most assuredly I do,” peeling back the cover showing the double-sheathed bandoleer strapped to his chest. There, two well-worn handled daggers lay in oil sheaths. The sheaths seemed to be in better condition then the daggers. He reached under his rump half turning to do so, pulling out a short sword, the grip tucked under the pillow. The other shortsword lay like Xia’s cutlass, on the floor within easy reach.

I just keep mine closer then you do,” he replied laughing softly for he could hear the breathing rhythms of Arwkin. They both glanced over, the half-deep gnome had fallen asleep with his weapons displayed about his body, most notably, the hook-hammer clutched in his right hand propping it up from the floor.

Xia started to go and pull the hook hammer slowly from his grasp, less it should fall later in the night making a noise. Having been a mercenary, she was conscientious of every potential noise that could alert the enemy, whether they were in an ally’s house or not. Just as she neared his hand, the celestial gnome spoke without lifting an eyelid to see who it was.

Leave it, it will be fine, surviving in deepdark sometimes means sleeping in unusual positions,” he answered slowly.

Though she couldn’t tell, Xia nodded her head, swearing the gnome had seen her movements under those sleeping lids.

She started to apologize then realized it would be pointless, the deep gnome had survived many years without her, apologizing might make it seem her being foolish.

She crept back to her own bed, now hearing the subtle snores of the halfling, she rearranged her weapons, took a look at the boys, sighed and fell asleep, not noticing that Hammer stole one last glance at her before he too fell asleep.

They would find their sleep troubled by the events of what happened today. All three slept lightly hearing each other toss and turn in their beds. Nightmares of the death of kobolds, Rogg, and Sudar flooded their minds. Xia slept the most unsoundly, even years of military service, mercenary service and living on a pirate ship did not ease the tension in her sleep. Repeatedly they crept in her dreams replaying the day’s events in slow motion; an outside voice in her head blaming her for the deaths of friends.

* * * * *

By the time they had woke the next morning, someone had slipped into their room and placed water bowls filled with ice-cold water. The three rejoiced at the cold water on their skins. No sooner had they washed up, a knock came at the door, in entered Ghost looking very much like she had slept for twelve hours. She had in her hands, armfuls of fruits, cheeses and breads.

The monk could tell the three slept fitfully, most likely yesterday’s event wore at them in their sleep. She smiled to ease their burden of looks. They of course tried to ask her all manner of questions, which most she evaded carefully. When the ever curious halfling asked her how the ritual of keeping Rogg’s soul went, she hushed him telling him, it is better that he did not know the process, but her order managed to keep the soul hovering around Rogg for now.

The monk told them that as soon as they were done with breakfast, they would head out towards The Church of Mythical Theology. She further instructed them, she had some last minute details to attend to, then slipped out the door.

Within a half hour, the group ready, mounted up, they left to the waves of good byes from Valya and few others. Ghost embraced Vayla telling her she would return soon with good news. Vayla nodded her head, touched her gemstone and walked away. The night orderly hated good byes especially those with Ghost, in their younger years they had grown into sisterhood and now every time Ghost went away, Vayla’s heart became burdened as if she would never see Ghost again.

* * * * *

The sentient gorilla followed his brother easily up the rope to the loft. To the left and right of them several other sentient gorillas climbed similar ropes. There stored neatly in the loft were religious trappings used by the Church of Mythical Darkness. Here a portable bloodstained altar, there a candelabra, candles and other religious items set until their use.

The first sentient gorillas came off the rope straight onto the loft, using his upper strength to propel him self onto the loft floor. He selected a religious item and passed it to the second sentient gorilla who in turn passed it someone else hanging onto the rope with ease and so on as two other gorillas joined him in the procession until the items reached the floor of the dormitory.

Once the gorilla descended the ropes they stood in two lines holding their religious items, they awaited a short prayer by their priest to their dark deity. The priest upon finishing spoke a short word in Gorillanese, causing a seven-foot wide Formica disk to lower from the ceiling, sliding snugly into a hole cut in the floor, then continuing through it until it came to a stop seven feet from another visible floor. A thick rope tied to an iron ring in the middle of the disk, hung to a similar iron ring connected to the rafter beams which the disk descended.

The priest nodded his head and the sentient gorillas standing in front of him, shimmied down the rope with ease, a portable bloodstained altar in his arm. The second followed with the altar cloth tucked in a pocket, then the priest, followed by the rest.

The priest garbed in crushed black velvet robes, took up a position at the altar watching the assembled group place the items about the temple. The items placed; the sentient gorillas busted the easily breakable Formica stone floor with their hands. Work would continue until not a single shale remained.

As the gorillas worked, they heard a grating sound. A disk with a Formica top slid into place on the temple floor but unlike his disk did not continue through the hole. A signal went up to the priest. He nodded his head, knowing that the magical disk that settled into the wooden hole in the floor of the temple allowed the followers of Mythical Light to soundproof their dormitory.

The dormitories of the two sects were above and below the temple. The hole in the temple's ceiling served as the entrance to one dormitory and a hold in the floor served as another.

When neither sect worshiped their deities, the openings were not closed by the magical disk, instead the disk, floated as the one disk did now. The rope served as a climbing point into and out of the dormitory not as weight-holding point for the disk, as it led one to believe.

The striping of the Formica almost completed, the priest recited today’s prayer service through his mind. The service changed daily in words but the message remained the sameBe loyal to Mythical Deity of Darkness and she would reward one favorably with pleasures of sacrifices, murder and mayhem. Be unloyal and face death.

Lifting off the last shale, the priest as always noticed the natural polish, but knew, due to its softness, would get scuffed up at the slightest dent or ding put into it. Actually, he mentally noted, the Formica floor had good durability in view of the fact that the followers were cautious with their religious items, placing them with the utmost care in their places.

The priest and his followers removed the old Formica to cleanse the temple of purity and light, just as the followers of Mythical Light would remove today’s Formica to cleanse the impurity and darkness. They had done this for scores of years, each removing the Formica shale’s from the previous ceremony. An ongoing cycle of pleasing their deities, to cleanse what both perceived as filth and disgust of each sect.

A howler monkey, brought in from the rear of the temple, shackled to sharpened manacles so that every time it moved, the manacles cut into its flesh forcing it to live up to its name, ferociously shook the bamboo cage.

Several cuts showed on the monkey’s arms and legs. Blood stains clotted the bottom of the cage. Two attendants opened the cage, the priest spoke a word and the manacles attached to the cage snapped open. The attendants jerked violently at several normal manacles with chains attached around the howler forcing the monkey through the cage opening.

The dais of marble consisting of four quartered square of two black and two white pieces opposite of each other, had iron rings set in each. The sentient gorillas led the howler to the dais, flipped him savagely onto his back, ran the chains through the rings, then padlocked them shut. The howler tried to squirm but the chains pulled taunt, ceased the squirming almost immediately.

The priest approached the dais, speaking in Gorillanese to the howler. The howler became quiet; a look of fear crossed its face, a series of words in the same language begged for its life. Lifting a gauntlet, the priest flexed the sharpened fingertips of the metal glove. He drew the weapon down the center chest of the howler peeling the skin, revealing the pinkish muscle underneath. The howler begged more, practically screaming at the priest for its life. Stopping, he looked the howler in the eyes. “It is your time, our deity has given us the sign,” which upon saying roused a chant from his followers.

The priest plunged his razor-sharp gauntlet into the chest cavity of the howler, then yanking back a bloody beating heart, holding it out for everyone to see. The howler screamed louder, unbelieving the sight before its eyes. The chant rose in fever, the sentient gorillas stomping as well. Slowly the beating heart turned an ichlorish black forcing the howler to intensify its screams. The last of the heart turned black; the howler immediately ceased living, his face frozen with the last look of horror on his face. The chant stopped as well.

Leading them in a quick thanks to the deity of darkness, he raised the black unbeating heart skyward, then cast the blackened heart to the altar top where it disintegrated.

Silence followed for several seconds, all the followers bowed their heads at the priest casting. On cue, they raised their heads as one unity. A nod from the priest caused a bustle of activity. Pews were folded back into the walls, their legs tucked under, then the whole pews latching to swivel latch iron braces.

Blood on the dais wiped up, candles blown out then taken out of the candelabra set about the room. Ceiling to floor curtains showing vile scenes of the mythical darkness followers murdering, torturing, bowing down to demons, all while a greater demonic figure of the curtain looked on from above, seemingly pleased with the view below, were folded and given to a sentient gorilla.

The same two attendants undid the padlocks and chains attached to the howler, lifted him up, throwing him violently in the bamboo cage, picked up the cage carrying him toward a set of double doors at the rear of the temple. When they came back in, the sentient gorillas had formed two ranks. They took their places at the rear of these ranks, handed a religious item without a word from the keepers. The priest climbed the rope first followed by the two who carried the portable altar and alter cloth. The last sentient gorilla pulled himself up into his dormitory, then the priest spoke a word, the disk floated up filling the opening with a soft grating sound. Silence once again flowed into the temple.

* * * * *

Chapter Eleven

Asabu-Atiwuville Again

ARWKIN rolled the wagon to a stop just outside the village. Grateful, that the Temple of Mythical Theology lay on the outside of the sentient gorilla village of Asabu-Atiwuville, he looked to the monk who just nodded beckoning him to go on. The temple looked more like an over-sized building then a functionary of worship. The building stood nearly fifty-feet high, had a flat roof and pillared courtyard. A small rectory jutted out from the courtyard dividing two sets of broad steps that lead upwards into the courtyard.

A building just as tall as the courtyard but the roof ended in a golden dome stretched upwards. As they approached from the road, painted murals showed sentient gorillas farming fields, trading with others in a market square, praying to unknown deity above, fighting creatures of unknown descriptions, gorilla clerics in white ropes faith healing the wounded and tending the sick garlanded the rectory walls.

Arwkin read into the murals, by painting such of gorillas, it would not only appeal to the sentient gorillas, but convince them that living an life not used too, could be attained. Propaganda in its weakest forms became a subtle injunction of control. In his lifetime, he had seen several races resort to propaganda forms to expectantly erase the memories of subjection of other races.

Ghost decided that maybe it would be best if her and Xia went about seeing someone to tend the paladin, the other two demi-humans could watch over the cart and Sudar’s body until they returned.

Approaching the dual set of stairs, a magic mouth appeared in the center of the back of the rectory. “Evil to the left, good to the right, be sure to leave your tithe of five silver nobles for the day at the rectory,” it declared in a booming voice sure to bring someone investigating.

The rock gnome looked to the human monk, a smile on her face, “I’m assuming he was good, he didn’t seem tainted to me.”

Your so funny,” she quipped, taking the broad stairs to the right. Xia shrugged her shoulders, following Ghost.

At the top of the stairs, they encountered a pillared courtyard running lengthwise to them, half the pillars running lengthwise and the short side closet to the rectory the color of coal black, the other half painted in white. Inside the courtyard, two gigantic squares, one black and the other white formed the interior ground.

To the right, a marble sidewalk formed with alternating squares of black and white, further down the sidewalk, a set of double doors could barely be seen on the right-hand side. From their position, a solid white marble path ran a short distance to the left meeting a black marble path, both paths ending in an open doorway the pair presumed.

Xia looked to Ghost; “You got me on this one, the double doors down there or to the rectory?”

If the temple is laid out like other temples across the Golarian, I’m assuming that the double doors lead to the interior of it. Most temples require an tithe before they do you a service, so to the rectory it is.”

The entrance of the rectory had a gray wall from floor to ceiling dividing it into two separate sections. One side, all white had three long pews and a small alter of obsidian. The altar had a coin-box attached to it, and to the coin-box a padlock. On the altar itself, set a candelabrum of ivory appearance, holding seven milky-white candles. The same bas-reliefs shown outside covered the walls, except the gray wall, which remained gray.

Some sort of motif looked downward from the ceiling, a benevolent deity spreading his hands as to encompass the bas-reliefs. Even if one had never been in this rectory before, an aura of good prevailed throughout the small room, giving Ghost and Xia shivers. As soon as they entered, the candles lit up at if an unseen presence lurked about, adding luminescence to the bas-reliefs.

I don’t pray to this deity,” Ghost murmured to herself, “I hope that paying the tithe, we are not expected to convert on the spot. There are some temples in Golarian like that you know,” looking to the gnome for her approval.

I don’t pray to this one either Ghost,” Xia acknowledged overhearing her. “The way our luck runs, if you don’t convert, you get sent straight to Hades,” she joked trying to relieve some tension between them. The monk stared hard at Xia for her comment, as if she would invoke the wraith of the deity represented in the rectory.

Ghost fished in her pockets, digging up silver nobles here and there until the five nobles were accumulated, dumping them in the coin-box Xia watched, knowing she could just throw a gold orb in the box covering them both, but she knew the monk would protest greatly. She really wondered how the monk got by day to day on just a few coins, whereas others in her place would of resorted to criminal means to survive.

Ghost stepped away from the coin-box awaiting Xia, who merely reached into her beltpouch and grabbed a small handful of gold orbs tossing them into the box. She shrugged her shoulders, the monk looking incredulously on now as if she tried to bribe the deity. Xia could see no wrong giving more then the magic mouth requested.

They waited a few minutes as expected, a priest wearing the same color robe as the rectory room they were in, walked towards them from the double doors they had seen earlier. Upon closing with the guest, Ghost and Xia saw that instead of a human priesta sentient gorilla walked toward them. His face a leathery brown color coordinated with his tan fur. His sallow-looking robe had a broad sash about it, embroidered in detail of miniature sentient gorillas doing various things; ironic to the plain iron morning star he wore at his side. His face of stone, hidden in the depths of a great cowl, scoured some upon seeing the human and gnome, turned pliable upon coming closer to the pair.

I’m Gora, the daytime attendant for the Church of Mythical Theology, do you require assistance in praying with the deity of Mythical Light?” he asked in all seriousness.

Not really,” Xia answered, “We have other business with your church,” nodding to Ghost to take over, finding herself staring at the tall sentient gorilla. The second one she had ever seen, she found them interesting like a sage reading an ancient tome, taking every single piece of knowledge in for reference later.

Ghost studied the sentient gorilla before her, still shocked not by so much of the race before her, but of the information, she received about the Church of Mythical Theology. Her information given to her told her that the church followers were primary human. She scorned herself mentally for not checking out the source of information. Although, she had come to this village many timeshad passed the church as much, she just assumed the information given to her came as the truth. She knew they had traveled to far to change their minds and find another church to perform a raise dead. Besides, finding another church might take a day or two moredays the paladin’s soul couldn’t afford to wait.

We have a paladin outside with some friends that we need raised from the dead. He is a devoted follower of Windlass, Elder of Divinity in case that will be a problem,” the monk questioned with solemn in her voice.

Gora, a surprised look on his face, replied nothing for a few seconds. Clearly, he had expected the other business to be trivial. “I see, a paladin of Windlass, Elder of Divinity, we don’t get much asking for that especially from your kind, um I mean we don’t see to many humans here.”

More elves and they probably go to their own temples to raise their dead,” Xia shot back faster then she intended, starting to apologize for her rudeness, only to be stopped by Gora nodding his head no.

No its okay, your right, the elves go to their own temples, which though I don’t harbor any hatred against them, it is just as good they go to their own temples,” he shook his head continuing, “Though it didn’t always used to be this way.”

Ghost nodded her head now, “We know about the friction developing between your race and the elves, you will not have to worry, there is none of them in our party, just me, her, a halfling and well, a half-celestial/deep gnome. I don’t know if you ever seen that particular offshoot mating, but he looks like a deep gnome with wings.”

No, I haven’t. That eases things a bit, how long has the paladin been dead?” the rustling of his robes belying the softness of his voice.

About a day, we came as fast as we could, but we had found another human dead as well at the mines of Kivud’s Pass and had to drop him off for a proper burial with his family. He had been dead a week maybe more.” Ghost answered.

I have heard of both the town and the mines, they have fallen on hard times haven’t they? A plague is progressing through the town right?” scrutinizing the demi-humans faces and arms. With a hmmp, he seemed satisfied.

Xia and Ghost both nodded not wanting to add any more information less it backfire on them and end up facing all the followers if not the town of sentient gorillas.

Going back to the previous subject, he motioned them to leave the rectory, “Less then two days you say, yes, he has a chance. Come lets go get your friend, and try to give him a chance to live one more time. Can you bring him around the back way? There is a door there―it will be easier to get him through the temple without causing trouble. A dead human seen being carried in the temple by other sentient gorillas wouldn’t cause so much a stir, but humans are usually associated with elves, and through that association is how trouble could begin. There is enough trouble in this village with Zaire, a gorilla chieftain who is trying to stir political uprisings within the area.”

At the mention of the gorilla chieftain, Ghost and Xia exchanged subtle looks between themselves. Arwkin had mentioned the name; furthermore, he had stated how the gorilla chieftain had tried to start a fight with him that day. Political adversary, or complete rule the world dictator type, he made for a dangerous enemy.

Gora seem preoccupied, not noticing the exchange of looks the two gave each other.

There is one more item of discussion. One of your kind accompanied Arwkin, the half-deep gnome/half celestial to the mines of Kivud's Pass. She died fighting valiantly against kobolds who had overtaken the mine. My condolences, she was very brave,” Ghost stated flatly hoping that by telling the truth, it would ease the pain.

A look of shock and anger passed momentarily through the sentient gorilla's face.

We brought her to my monstery, The Twisting Wind, where my monk sister prepared her body as best she could. We knew bringing her here might cause trouble, but you may send an entourage to retrieve her. There will be no problems I assure you.” Ghost added quickly.

This changes things, after we retrieve the paladin, I will send a delegation to retrieve her body. You did the right thing. I will announce to the community that she succumbed to her wounds, but I'm afraid it will go over well, especially with Zaire, who is also a sympathizer for the Church of Mythical Dark, the sect opposite of us. He feels any gorilla going to Kivud's Pass to help the humans was coerced and brainwashed,” the good cleric responded, shaking his head slowly.

Do us a favor and leave us out of it, we prefer you not mention us at all. We have enough problems back at the mines without adding to it, that a bunch of sentient gorillas showing up ticked off of us,” Xia retorted.

Gora nodded, “I will do what I can, though Zaire has lots of spies, none in the Church of Mythical Light I assure you.. We need to get preparations started, meet me in a few minutes at the backside of the temple.”

With that, a swish of his robe, Gora headed out of the rectory.

Might I ask of you one more question?” Xia asked her hands open to show her question shouldn't offend the sentient gorilla.

Ghost looked at her like where is she going with this. Xia merely winked as Gora looked around then motioned for the fighter to come to her.

When Xia and Ghost did so, he whispered as low as he could, though his voice still carried loudly. “I cannot cross back into the rectory, doing so activates a silent signal to the temple which will call a cleric of dark to investigate, speak quickly ask your question little one.”

I'm sure the monk is wandering just as much as me, how two sects exist in the same temple with radically different views and not destroy each other. Doesn't the sect of the dark go against Gronga, your chief deity?”

Gora leveled his staff against Xia a few feet away. Both immediately took a defensive stance.

Answering the questions in reverse, the sentient gorilla replied, “Gronga accepts both Churches of Light and Dark, because they are universal in their teachings―He is still worshiped in both sects, just not in the traditional ways. Though, I have heard rumors that the church of dark, sacrifices our own kind and sometimes cousins of ours―the non-sentient gorillas for their cause. None of this can be proven of course, least not directly by the Church of Light, as were forbidden to interfere with the other sect and them with us. Again, I am empathizing it is just rumors―nothing more.”

The two adventures noticed he seemed saying not only to them, but others who might be listening in. They both knew divine casters had access to many spells that allowed them to listen into conversations.

They nodded to the cleric acknowledging the information would stay as only rumors.

In addition, when both sects come to disagreements, we fight there,” pointing between two columns.

It all made sense to Ghost and Xia now, the two different colored columns, sidewalks, and the giant black and white squares inside the columns.

The contestants enter from their prospective sects and fight, I'm guessing either to the finish if the disagreement grave enough, otherwise it is some variant of the first blood,” Ghost answered the gnawing question the fighter wanting to ask.

Gora only nodded, then walked towards the sidewalk painted white. Further down, he opened a painted white wooden door, disappearing.

He took the news of Rogg's death well,” Xia answered sarcastically to which Ghost only nodded refusing to bite.

I have a bad feeling about her death. We will see this Zaire sentient gorilla down the road―rest assured. On a further note, I hope we don't get pulled into what will eventually be a war between the sentient gorillas and the elves,” the monk said objectively.

I have a feeling by delivering Rogg, were already involved. I wish Arwkin would not of let Rogg accompany us to the mines, though without her strength we all would be dead,” Xia returned.

That is probably true, but with wars and all things political, you don't know how much your involved usually until it is way too late.”

The rock gnome grunted then both left the rectory, every watching their backs.


The back side of the temple showed vile painted black and green murals of sentient gorillas wearing black robes, beatings, muggings, killing other smaller monkeys, sentient gorilla priest befriending evil creatures, commanding undead creatures, and one a priest causing wounds to appear on white-robe sentient gorilla.

The dark side of the Church of Mythical Theology, the deep gnome noted to himself. He wondered if they made the right choice in this matter.

A single wooden door opened in the mural of the sentient gorilla befriending an evil creature, a demon from the looks of it. Gora noticed the shocked look on the four companions, but he paid them no mind, acting as if the scenery before them a natural thing. Four attendants filed past him, one carrying a burial cloth and two a wooden stretcher. The four hardly noticed them lifting the paladin off the wagon, placing the burial cloth over him and returning from whence they came.

Give us a week, he will need that long to rest up. Raising dead is not taken lightly, your ultimately messing with a deity’s plan, so there is some divination going to the paladin’s deity in this case. If his soul is not willing to be returned or if Windlass, Elder of Divinity has decided that he has other plans for him, we will keep his body in a stasis so that decomposition does not set in, and deliver him back to at the end of the week,”

With that, he thanked them for coming to the Church of Mythical Theology, bid them good morning, and then shut the door.

And that is the good priest?” Hammer inquired still looking at the murals before him.

I’m still amazed that a evil and good group of clerics can exist in the same temple,” Ghost chimed staring like the halfling.

Wait, both evil and good clerics are here, why didn't somebody tell me. That can only be trouble. I hope were not staying.”

Aye, in my homeland of Deepdark, deep gnomes trade sometime with drow merchants. Course, there is mistrust there, but no one hardly resorts to warfare.” Arwkin spoke nonchalant barely snapping the reins against the mule’s shoulders.

Were missing the fact, that they’re sentient gorillas,” Xia finally spoke. “From what you told us Arwkin, they enslave their own kind, and yet they all worship a main deity and none other. Perhaps this deity, Gronga has a dual side to him.”

Xia had a pointstill it didn’t ease the queasiness they all felt in the pit of their stomachs.

Chapter Twelve

The Return

RETURNING to Kivud's Pass, the adventures resupplied as quietly as possible. No one seemed to care that the adventures were back in town trying to save the townsfolk. The plague had taken its emotional toll on the town and they all seemed dreary and sulking.

Ghost informed Mayor Cristofar of them returning to the mine, now full of kobolds. She did not mention, they knew an orc cleric, apparently very much in Nulgeth's favor the villain behind the plague. She just assured him, the plague would pass shortly and life would resume as normal to the town.

The mayor gave her his best wishes, thanked her for taking Hammer along with her. She had to smirk on that statement, imagining the deft halfling gave the mayor nothing but grief.

They rode in silence, with Hammer riding on the buckboard and Ghost walking or jogging at times behind the wagon. Xia as usual rode her pony. About a quarter mile before the mines, Arwkin pulled the wagon to a stop.

When Ghost asked what was going on, the other three humanoids snickered.

“Scouting ahead particularly to see if the mine entrance is guarded by kobolds, which I'm sure they are, since we know a orc is the demon and leading them,” Hammer alleged with a flourish, as he hopped out of the wagon.

“From what you told me, kobolds are subterranean creatures. I would think the sunlight at the entrance would keep them to the darkness more. I understand all they have to do is keep within the shadows, but as we know the sun, when high in the sky shines straight down the entrance for quite some time,” the monk addressed what she thought was a problem for the kobolds.

Arwkin joined Hammer, each speaking to the other in low whispers. Xia snickered, the rogues were speaking in a thieves cant or a language other then common that Ghost didn't know. Demi-humans were that way, preferring to talk among themselves in situations then involve humans. Ghost seemed not to notice.

Xia cleared her throat, diverting her attention to her. “They would normally not guard such an entrance that allowed much sunlight in. You forget, Ghost, they are being ordered around by an orca shaman most likely and orcs always have sentries on alert. So he probably forced the kobolds to be his sentries.”

Ghost nodded, it made sense to her.

Hammer took off up the hill, moving slowing at first then picking up speed. He seemed to vanish from time to time and only be seen when scampering to another scrub.

Arwkin waited for his colleague to get halfway up the hill before he started out, then matched the rogue in movements. As with Hammer, Ghost and Xia could only see a sign of his movement from time to time.

Xia smirked, “Those boys will be gone for some time, meanwhile we need to get this wagon off the main road and we will watch their return. We don't need any surprises,” hopping from her pony to the buckboard as if it were nothing, slightly whistling at the mules, who plodded forward.

Arwkin and Hammer returned about an hour later, sweating under the noon day sun of Golarian. Both carried their light cross bows in their hands. Arwkin threw two half-spears from his backpack made for small-sized persons in the back of the wagon. He then noticed that the wagon had moved, looking around, saw Xia wink at him.

They reported two kobold sentries posted about thirty feet back from the main entrance, but they need to hurry, as no telling when a sentry shift might take place.

Ghost and Xia wasted no time following the two rogues up to the top of the mine shaft. Sure enough, as the rogues had said, about thirty feet from the mine entrance, two kobolds laid on their backs, crossbows bolts through their chest

What did you do, lure them to you?” Ghost asked both rogues.

Something like that, actually we got close enough to them to snipe them without with crossbows,” Hammer quipped.

Ghost lifted the hooded lantern, not much had changed at the mine entrance. Lots of miner's equipment in the form or broken picks, shattered lanterns and burned out torches littered the floor.

Arwkin as usual opted to scout about fifty feet ahead informing Hammer if he found anything. Hammer would scurry on the outer fringes of the marching order while Xia took the left and Ghost took the right.

Before they even got to the intersection where the mine cart laid tuned upside-down, Hammer emerged from the shadows telling the monk and the fighter the kobolds they killed were gone.

“What do you mean gone?” as she followed the halfling to just outside the door to the mess hall.

The door left open just enough for Arwkin to investigate further, but the kobolds were gone. No sign of being carried off by blood drippings, in fact their were numerous spots on the stone ground, where blood had spilled out from grievous wounds, but none of the blood had smear trails or significant drips of blood leading anywhere. The monk shook her head unable to explain.

“The kobold we captured, referred to a demon that took control of his fellow kobolds, is most likely an orc shaman as we discussed. It said the demon gave the plague to them. I'm thinking that also this orc shaman can raise the dead, after all, he is most likely in the divine favor of Verex, the orc's main deity.”

“That would not beyond an orc shaman of any deity. The 'lil' bugger is then using dead bodies of kobolds to create zombies. Aye, I hate undead.”

“Makes sense to me,” Xia nodded, working out with a few swishes of her masterwork cutlass while feinting with her small steel shield.

“Great, now we have to fight undead as well and have not a cleric among us. Good luck with that,” the halfling rogue responded sarcastically

“We are still committed to finding this orc shaman, destroying him and freeing Kivud's Pass from the plague. So lets worry about the undead when we encounter it, but beware of it in any case. I take it there were no more kobolds in the mess hall or pantry Arwkin?”

“Aye, there is none, but when we finish dispatching this scum of a orc, I say we go back to the pantry and load up what we can to take, sell or give back to the community.”

Ghost laughed,”For a half-celestial, you sure don't act like one, but your coming around. I'm sure the town of Kivud's Pass would greatly appreciate you giving back to them what was rightfully theirs in the first place. Very noble of you Arwkin”

The deep gnome dropped his head muttering, while Hammer just stared very hard at him, moving toward the opposite passageway of the mess hall.

“I will handle this,” Hammer decried, spinning a dagger on his fingers. “Since I disabled the trap there before.

Hammer crept down the corridor to the pit trap operated by a pressure plate detecting no movement beyond. Placing the lantern on the floor near the pit trap, he noticed as before, the thick wooden planks had coiled springs underneath them forcing the pit covers to spring back upsealing the victim to his doom.

Hammer once again traced a tiny groove running lengthwise along the floor. The groove became a corner groove looking like an inverted L (�"�), and then he did the same for the other corner. He moved along the ledge deftly, then found the small lever that slid a board width-wise across the trap making it safe.

Confident it would hold, he let out a small whistle, then headed into the giant cavern. The cavern stretched far beyond the light range of the hooded lantern shadowy huge stalagmites rose up from the uneven floor, and probably just as many stalactites grew from the unseen ceiling. Some kind of partially luminescence blue-green moss covered the man-sized stalagmites Glints of something, he presumed silverhe was in a silver mine, flecked here and there on the stalagmites and beyond.

To his left, just at the edge of the hooded lantern's light and halfway up a wall, a gaping hole punctured the rocky wall. Rope cables extended out of the black hole to the ground. The miners had found a natural cavern and driven pitons for the rope bridge ropes to ease of transportation of themselves and supplies, Hammer assumed.

Something moved behind a stalagmite, but he couldn't tell what it was. Then he detected another movement behind a different stalagmite.

Alarmed he might be walking into an ambush, the deft halfling acted nonchalantly like he had seen nothing of interest and casually walked back through the entrance.

Meeting Arwkin halfway up the the tunnel, he told the deep gnome to be prepared for an ambush in the cavern and that afterwards, they both might have access so silver. Arwkin's eyes got as big a saucers, then he nodded, following the halfling back to the group.

At the T-intersection, where Ghost and Xia patiently waited with their weapons bearing, Hammer told a slightly different version from what he told the deep gnome. He left out the part about the flecks being silver. Arwkin, for his part, did not dispute what Hammer said.

Knowing they were about to be involved in a ranged fire fight, Ghost decided that her and Xia would use light crossbows to harass the kobolds/orcs while Arwkin and Hammer would use sneak tactics to get close, backstabbing them. It involved Hammer taking a torch with him and throwing it in the proximity of where the kobolds/orcs were around the stalagmites. If luck held―the torch didn't get blown out or doused.

Without some kind of light, Hammer was severely limited in sight. He had no training in blind-fighting, like Ghost, though she admitted her training wasn't complete. They would have to rely solely on Arwkin at that point to do the dirty work.

* * * * *

Kod'm noticed something sneaking down the passageway, a single light portraying its position. Though he couldn't see exactly what or who they were, he roughly made out four, maybe five people.

“The light will betray us, at first chance take it out or the person carrying it,” Kod'm articulated his words in Draconian very carefully to one kobold in particular of the four with him.

A kobold with a patch over his eye nodded., sneaking a grin back at his commander. Another kobold hand signaled a group of kobolds twenty feet over hiding behind another stalagmite, who acknowledged by reading their half-spears and light cross-bows.

* * * * *

As one, both Ghost and Xia elevated their voice, “There, behind the stalagmite.”

Xia knelt, firing from a kneeling position with the light crossbow at the same time. The bolt clacked off something in the darkness.

“Damn!”, she shouted aloud, catching the utmost look from the monk for a second before shrugging.

Hammer darted forward into the darkness, at the same time an air draft wafted, extending his shadow forward. He caught two crossbow bolts for his actions in his chest. The halfling winced but continued tumbling into the darkness.

Luck portrayed him there as well, tripping over loose gravel in the cavern, sprawling out against the wall, yelping in pain. The three could hear his crossbow clattering to the floor.

A slimy black and brown frog suddenly appeared in front of Ghost and Xia. It hopped forward, then shimmered out of sight. She thought she heard an odd word in a strange language but couldn't be sure.

“Magic”, she heard herself exclaim.

“Hammer is down, hurt badly, he took two bolts straight on. The creatures have seen him.” The half-celestial/deep gnome announced, trying to not be too descriptive of the koboldsthus alerting them, before disappearing into the shadows opposite the halfling.

The rough tunnel abruptly filled with crossbow bolts, one each striking the monk and fighter. Ghost quickly pulled the bolt out of her thigh, stifling the pain that followed. Xia did the same, although a little more slowly.

“We must continue to harass the kobolds to give Arwkin a chance and check on Hammer!” Xia decried, dropping prone and starting to reload her crossbow. Ghost slid against the far wall putting her out of line of sight of the kobolds shooting at her.

“Its going to take more then that Xia, I got a plan.”

“What might that be, offer them fruits and vegetables as a parley,” the rock gnome responded sarcastically

Another clatter of bolts answered her. Ghost grunted again as one knicked her thigh.

She grimaced, fishing in her pockets for a wrap and moving a little further back up the tunnel, restricting hers and her enemies line of sight. She quickly wrapped the temporarily bandage around her thigh.

“How far do you think the kobolds are from you?” she asked the rock gnome in a pitched voice.

Xia looked over her shoulder at the distance voice, noticed the bandage, then replied, “About forty feet out, behind that large stalagmite I would say. Mind filling me in on your plan Ghost.”

“One of them kobolds cast a summoning spell, but it fizzled for some reason. That was the frog the size of a house cat that appeared in front of you ” she answered.

“The only reason I know is because I can do the same thing. You will be my ears and eyes, little one and I will do the rest.”

Xia heard a low murmuring resonant chant that rose and fell with inflections and gestures. She was amazed the monk could even concentrate on casting a spell, though she had never heard of such from a monk. Xia reminded herself she would ask Ghost about that ability she had.

Her darkvision saw five tiny weasels shimmer into view right in front of the stalagmite acting as cover for them. There were seconds of confusion as the weasels attacked.

Two shrieks in their language echoed throughout the cavern. At least two of the weasels had ferociously bitten a koboldonce they did bite, they would attach themselves, shaking their heads like a pit bull until they or their opponent dead. Of course, most of the weasel's opponents were chickens and other small animals―not kobolds.

The kobolds momentarily revealed themselves, but Xia in the process of loading her light crossbow, cussed yet again. She imagined the scowled face of the monk for doing so. She did so love agitating the monk.

* * * * *

Kod'm looked to his left where it seemed chaos reigned among his troops. Five weasels were darting among the kobolds causing havoc. Two of his kobolds had done died to the vermin's bite, evident by the blood soaking their fur.

“How did those get by you?” He asked his second.

“They did not Sorcerer Kod'm, they just appeared right beside the stalagmite.”

Kod'm nodded, hanging onto the title Sorcerer, his fellow kobold addressed him by.

Kod'm folded his arms across his chest, listening for a few seconds of the chaos the little creatures were causing to his troops. One of those four he saw had the ability to summon monsters as a spell like he did. That meant they brought some sort of spell-caster with them. Nasty thingsother spell-casters.

“What was that blur of motion we saw at the entrance? Did you make it out?” he asked his second―another kobold assassin.

Something deft and small, pudgy but stealthy. The only detail I really saw before it plunged into shadows near the entrance was a mop of curly hair,” his second answered readjusting his crossbow toward the weasels.

It was a halfling,” one of the other kobolds shot back peering over his shoulder at his leader as if he should of knew all along.

The assassin clipped him with the cuff of his hand along his dog-ears, the kobold shrank down not daring to raise a hand back.

That information would have been helpful a minute ago before he got to cover idiot!” his voice barely above a whisper and shaking his head at the audacity of such.

The kobold assassin and another kobold shifted their crossbows aiming carefully at one of the weasels. The other two kobolds in that group were hoping around trying to stab the rodents with their half-spears

“No, you go toward our cave home, in case the halfling tries to light some kind of light. From his antics, I highly doubt he has blind-fighting skills, so he will have to have some kind of light to see by, that will reveal his presence. Once you get to the wall, make your way to the halfling and kill him. Beware there is four in their party and one of them is a nasty sorcerer or wizard.”

The assassin nodded moving off, his shadow blending into darkness perfectly until not even Kod'm―the kobold with the sharpest eyes could see him.

You three keep your eyes on the south wall near the entrance about five feet from it, shoot anything that moves toward or away from that spot,” Kod'm barked.

The kobolds shifted their gaze toward their brethren in the skirmish. They would be on their own. Only the strongest survive, the weak faltered.

* * * * *

Xia stood up, grabbing her small shield also. This shoot out was getting nowhere, she had to close the distance and fast. Her masterwork scalemail should protect her enough from half-spears and crossbow bolts she reasoned―at least to get close enough to them.

Ghost shouted something at her that went unheard.

She charged, leaving her crossbow and hefting a throwing ax.

Lightly skipping over the rough terrain, she heard the clack of two light crossbow bolts. Somehow, even with the weasels threatening the kobolds, they had a sense of mind to focus on the perceived greater enemy.

Both bolts hit her in the thigh, inducing a stumble in her charge. She hit the ground hard, skidding to a stop, half-way to the kobolds, rolled to a sitting position, placing her shield as best she could between her and her enemies. The fighter looked down, the blood was pouring out of her thigh, but she would live. Nothing a little binding wouldn't do.

She called out to Arwkin in the gnome language. “Arwkin, you there? I know Hammer is hurt like me, but I can't see him. Ghost is manipulating the weasels to attack the kobolds.”

Aye, Hammer is in the shadows. Like you, he caught bolts and is tending his wounds. I figured the weasels were on our side―this time.”

Our plan is falling apart, we will never prevail, they have us in missile firepower,” the confidence gone in her voice, and most likely failing in her resolve.

Hammer is not dead, he is bidding his time and knows basic gnome, so he is picking up certain phrases, that were talking about. Just do what you always done, find your inner strength. Were the good guys remember!”

Hammer did indeed pick up certain words his two fellow adventures were speaking. He just hoped the kobolds didn't hone in on their conversation and knew gnome too. The two had quit conversation, meaning they were aware of the kobolds honing in or even knowing Gnome.

The halfling tried not to groan from the bolts he had taken. Pulling them out, lightly binded his leg. He had been through worse. Shrugging the masterwork backpack off his back quickly, he reached in, pulling out a improved torch and quickly lit it with flint and steel. Before the kobolds could react, he tossed it. The torch landed just as exactly where he intended―ten feet away from the kobolds behind the stalagmite.

That done, he leaned back letting his eyes adjust to the increasing light. It would allow him to see thirty feet into the shadows. That was inconsequential, compared to what the torch would cause to the kobolds sensitivity to light. It would cause their aim to be off and anything they did requiring vision would suffer as well.

* * * * *

Kod'm scowled, the halfling despite taken two bolts had managed to toss a torch that would hinder their combat abilities.

“Lets see how the curly-foot likes the cold,” he exclaimed more to himself then to anybody else. Still he got snickers from the three members in his group.

He lended himself to a spell, recalling the invocations easily then peered out to take a look at the halfling who finally exposed himself.

A ray of freezing air and cold projected out of a fingertip of Kod'm striking the improved torch, covering in a thin-blue sheet of ice. The cavern plunged into darkness again. A small cheer rose up from his troops that lent Kod'm a smile.

His assassin, he presumed made it across the cavern to the far wall and would be moving stealthily toward the halfling or anybody else to finish them off.

Kod'm's small group waited patiently for someone to move to the halfling or the halfling to move away from the wall. Sooner or later, someone would make a move.

The smaller group managed to stab a weasel with a half-spear killing one weasel. It shrieked in death throes as the kobold stabbed it in glee.

* * * * *

Arwkin watched the kobold with the patch over his eye, wearing hide armor of some long forgotten animal and carrying a punch dagger in his hand cross the cavern to the west wall, where the shadows enveloped him.

The half-celestial/deep gnome very slowly took a short bow from his back and a single arrow. He preferred this over the light crossbow as he could notch arrows faster then he could load bolts―just in case it all went south he told himself, and it often did.

The weasel hopped about looking for an opening but found none. It hissed and darted in and out at the kobolds, but the dragon-kin were used to keeping vermin at bay, They used their half-spears to effectively keep the weasel from getting an hold on them with its bite.

Ghost speed out of the corridor toward the second stalagmite pillar. As she neared, she saw three smaller kobolds huddling around the natural stone formation and a taller one hanging back. The monk couldn't get to the one who obviously the leader of the group, so she did the next best thing.

The double-chained kamas sliced through the light crossbow the front-row kobold carried, splintering wood and snapping the string just as the kobold raised it to fire. Upon the sting cut―the bolt, luckily for her went wide striking the far side of the wall. A blank look perceived to form upon the cousin of the dragon.

She settled into a twisted wind stance knowing the worst to come and hoping that her adventures in arms would be able to get to the same position as her.

* * * * *

Chapter Thirteen

Meanwhile Back at

XIA stood up, abandoning one plan for another. She didn't have time to stow away her light crossbow, she'd come back for it later after this skirmish.

She hoped it would be a skirmish anyway, no way to tell what the spacious cavern held. There could be twenty to fifty of the creatures hiding in reserve, all part of a bigger tribe.

The reports from the miners stated that a small tribe had taken over, coming up from some known tunnel. The miners would not of exaggerated to enlist greater help, such as those of herself, Ghost, Xia and Arwkin. Having done so would cause the heroes most likely to enlist more help, causing a cascade effect. Once everyone found out the kobolds―a smaller tribe then what stated, it surely would of caused discontent among the miners and them.

She lumbered forward with her shield in one hand and throwing ax in the other, until there a distance of five feet stood between her and Ghost.

Four of them huh, well―three and a leader pointing to Kod'm. You look like you been busy?”

Our plan of rooting them out didn't work” she spoke avoiding a thrust by a half-spear as the other two kobolds dropped their crossbows, reaching over their backs, grabbing their half-spears from leather quivers on their backs. “So I improvised.”

Xia struck down a kobold with her throwing ax, catching it in the chest, hearing it shrieked as it fell away. She quickly stepped up to where it fell, so the two others couldn't close the gap.

So your wanting to fight little ole me, are you?” She asked the remaining three kobolds in gnomish. They of course ignored the barb, trying to poke at her with their half-spears.

Their leader spoke something in their language to them, Xia didn't understand what he said, but it seemed to be along the lines of no surrender.

Hammer cursed at the ray of blue frost that put out his improved torch. “Those are not exactly cheap,” he muttered. He pulled two daggers out of his bandolier, crawling forward toward the last place he had seen the stalagmite hiding the kobolds.

I guess we will have to do this the old fashioned way then.

* * * * *

Kod'm hummed a short enchantment, stepping forward, a blue nimbus surrounding his hand fanned out enveloping Ghost and Xia

The monk dropped to a crouch as the audible and visible roar of flames shot over her head. Xia, though she was not the target of the spell, ducked also. She had seen what burning hands as a spell, could do. The flame spell had it been successful caught material items on fire as well. Nothing like yourself and material items burning up and then the material items on you burning up on you as well, leaving scattered ashes for the winds.

Kod'm spoke something again in a language she didn't understand but certainly comprehended well. After all cussing became second nature to her.

Both the kobolds behind Kod'm shot their half-spears forward, but the human and rock gnome just too agile for them to hit.

At the other stalagmite, the two kobolds managed to kill the weasel, his shrieks fading off into the dark.

Ghost felt the life force of the weasel extinguish―a short gasp left her lungs. Those who summoned creatures as spells had an minute connection with the creatures they summoned. Though not a great sense existed between them, it was enough to let one or the other feel when one of the other died.

* * * * *

Arwkin threw back the contents of a potion of jump into his mouth, taking off at a short run. A thrown dagger struck him in the chest as he achieved flight. He grunted, accepted the hit, unfurling out his wings to gain lift at the same time.

For a few seconds as he continued to gain height, a dizziness overcame him, his limbs became semi-rigid. Poison! He knew immediately because he had been and survived several attacks of poison. The damn kobold naturally had poisoned his dagger. Sneaky b*****d! Arwkin fought through it, gritting his teeth, flapping his wing, spiraling to shake the lethargy out.

The ceiling approached fast―an inverted flip at the apex solved that, then diving at his adversary At the halfway point, he loosened the arrow, he kept nocked in the shortbow throughout the ordeal.

Caught off-guard, the kobold assassin could only scream as he watched the short arrow pierced his chest cleanly through his heart.

The dagger the assassin had poised to throw fell from his hand, clattering to the floor, then he too fell to the floor―dead.

Kod'm screamed seeing the loss of his best fighter, pointing fingers at the Ghost and Xia as Arwkin landed gently beside the dead body casually reaching down, taking the kobold's weapons, wiping them on the dead assassin and then taking a beltpouch. He held the beltpouch up in in a mock salute to Kod'm.

Aye, quit your belly-achin, spoils of war, you ninny! Like you never done it yourself before,” he growled.

Xia hefted and threw her ax at Kod'm, penetrating the tough hide of the kobold leader. The ax blade struck, spinning him one-hundred eighty degrees and forcing him to take a step back. A thick line of blood ran down his chest, plopping to the ground in huge spots. Kod'm grabbed his chest grimacing, the fighter had hit him hard. If not attended to soon, the kobold leader would die!

Hammer fast crawled in the darkness toward his last memory where the kobolds hid behind the stalagmite. By sheer luck, he heard voices, he didn't recognize. The rogue halfling fairly sure, that neither the half-celestial/deep gnome nor the rock gnome spoke those languages, though Xia a little more guarded with what languages she told she spoke to Hammer, then Arwkin did. Still, he would bet his dagger on it.

He shoved the dagger forward, figuring he has crawled as far as he could without revealing himself.

Three things happened at once.

First, whatever piece of flesh he struck was definitely not a soft-killing spot, it was more like a hardened muscle. Second, a scream erupted from one of the kobolds. And third, the scream should not of came from above, but beside him.

That told him, the kobolds saw him skittering shadowfully across the cave floor―courtesy of their darkvision. He was in big trouble

Arwkin threw one of the newly acquired daggers from the assassin he lifted them off from. The dagger whizzed by Kod'm, striking the stalagmite with a clang. Kod'm whirled around, coming to his senses quickly.

Attack that deep gnome that killed our assassin, use your light crossbows,” he barked to the furthest kobolds. “You two keep the gnome and human busy.!”

A voice called out from the darkness, translating what the kobold leader had shouted. This was followed by kobold curses..

Both kobolds jabbed at their adversaries, one of them scoring a minor hit on Ghost, who just grunted. To their left, the two kobolds prepared to move out.

Kod'm made an invection with his voice, rising and falling the syibills to a spell. He centered it between the winged deep gnome, fighter and spiritual human.

The sounds of four more kobolds moving down the mine-shaft where the pit trap lay became loud to him and the four kobolds in the huge cavern.

The rock gnome fighter, spiritual human and the winged deep gnome seemed unaffected by the ghost sound illusion. The spell did not force them to become startled and inactive as the Kod'm had hoped.

Xia grabbed another throwing ax from the inside of her high-cuffed boots. It impacted with great accuracy on the chest of the Kod'm, knocking him to the floor. A splintering of bones followed the impact, and bloody trail where Kod'm lay―unmoving and very still.

The kobolds broke―the two that were moving upon Arwkin fled west back up through the mine tunnel towards the entrance. The other two fled east deeper in the cavern; their barking in a Draconian language almost comical.

Hammer heard the scurrying of feet and could hear the screaming in something other then koboldish, a derivative of Draconian.

The halfling flung a dagger into the darkness, hearing it finally clang somewhere else. Cursing erupted from his lips knowing his prey got away.

Arwkin snapped his angelic wings, propelling him to one fleeing, screaming kobold, saying something in orcish he sure. Not that the deep gnome knew even basic orcish―he had been around the brutes long enough to recognized a word or two when he heard it.

Aye, I will be back in a bit. I believe you can hold down the fort without me for a few,” he yelled to his three adventures flying out of sight.

Overbearing the terrified kobold, he planted his gnome hook into his shoulder. A spurt of blood rose three-feet in the air, covering his armor as he flew through. The kobold never screamed, just went down.

The other one continued to run full-out, still screaming something in orcish.

Hmmm, what is the little bugger up to. Perhaps he should live, Arwkin thought, catching an updraft to slow his pace. He could see the kobold heading toward another mine tunnel, on the east side of the huge cavern. There, another tunnel ran for a short distance then opened up into a smaller cavern. Arwkin wrinkled his nose, hovering in place, as the lilth kobold made his way into the cavern and continuing.

What is he up too and and what is that smell?” he asked aloud to himself, then eased behind a stalagmite just in case, the kobold looked over his shoulder.

* * * * *

Ghost ran at the kobold, guessing where it would be. When she heard its footsteps, she speared the creature against the wall. The monk felt her shoulder connect with the small creature, then the force of her body drive it into the wall. Though she didn't intend to kill it, wanting instead to interrogate it as a prisoner, the crack of its head against the wall told her otherwise. She made a face, hearing the sound of the other one scamper across the pit trap.

The creature had nowhere to go of course, but it eventually could make contact with others of its kind. Ghost didn't want that to happen. What if those goblinoids had some form of the plague too?―it would be an epidemic to stop. No better to eradicate all those involved, then have to deal with this same problem later.

The monk looked around or tried to look around into the blackness. Just because she had blind-fighting skill didn't mean she could see in the dark. Arwkin was gone chasing another kobold, Xia had just killed their leader and Hammer nowhere to be found in this blasted darkness.

Chapter Fourteen

Treachery Within

EVENTUALLY the three got things organized, Ghost lit a hooded lantern allowing her and Hammer to see. They gathered up their thrown weapons that missed the kobolds, Xia pulling her throwing ax from Kod'm and wiping on his loincloth. The group found a handful of gold pieces on each kobold along with their half-spears and light crossbows. Kod'm had only a spell pouch on them, half used.

When Arwkin came back, the other three adventures had bound their wounds, some of his comrades showed bloody bandages, indicating were worse then they put on. They had laid his quarter of the treasure laid out in front of him, which consisted of some gold, three moss agates gems, and pile of crossbow bolts. All the kobolds half-spears, light crossbows and the remaining bolts were piled against a stalagmite

You been busy I see. Ghost you got a old cloak and Xia got a new brooch, moonstone is it? Where did this come from?”

Xia pointed to a dark hole in the western wall, where a rope ladder of wooden slats lay against the rough wall.

Their warren, Aye, anything else up there?” he asked as if he knew what was going on.

Their were a couple of kobold babies, but no females,” Xia answered casually. “We left them to their fate. I don't think a one of us is into killing babies, though knowing kobolds are evil through and through.”

I see, well I followed the kobold as far as I could. He fled east through a normal sized mine-shaft into a cavern with a bowl shaped floor. A wave of intense heat, more stifling and nuisance then anything over-washes a person at the entrance. Here is where it gets interesting.”

The others looked at him to continue speaking. The half-celestial/deep gnome looked over his shoulder once before continuing.

It was littered with corpses, human, which I presume are the miners and kobolds. Rats are everywhere in the cavern floor, but some of them were on their backs, twitching as if a gas had passed through the area.”

The kobold passed through this area rather hastily as his morale broken from Xia killing his leader,” winking at the rock gnome, “So I doubt, he even paid attention, however as he did pass, animated corpses rose up to attack him. Four humans and four kobold zombies to be precise, though he had scampered up a slight incline and through another tunnel on the other side of the bowl-shaped cavern by the time they could do anything. The little bugger never once looked back.”

That is where the missing kobolds went that we killed,” Hammer interjected. “The orc must have had the zombies carry them back to this cavern.”

The other three nodded, it made perfect sense.

I then started to feel nauseous myself, so I left, but not before hearing the sound of rushing water from the eastern tunnel the kobold crossed into.”

Ugh undead, most likely an underground river , Hammer lamented “We're not equipped to handle the undead. We need Rogg or somebody like her.”

Yes we do, but we can't afford to have someone ride back to town to enlist the aid of a cleric, if one can be found. Were on our own and under a time constraint. Did you forget about Sudar? What do we know of zombies?” inquired Ghost.

Xia had had enough of the impatient monk. “First of all Ghost, were all wounded badly and out of healing potions. Yes, I too want to stop the plague as bad as you, but I don't want to become the plague. I also feel that were close to finding this demon, but we need to heal.”

The monk said nothing, knowing the fighter correct. It would do no good to get them all killed. Her insistence earlier had cost the deaths of Rogg and Sudar weighed heavily on her mind.

I got an idea!” Arwkin suddenly exclaimed, “I will fly back to Asabu-Atiwuville to procure potions of healing for us, as the town of Kivud's Pass will not have any potions on hand because of the plague. I expect payment later from each and every one of you, though the prices for such will be high in the gorilla town.”

Hammer snickered, while Ghost and Xia nodded.

I thought you were ran out of Asabu-Atiwuville along with Rogg?” Ghost asked, folding her arms over her chest.

No, just a little skirmish in a monkey tavern with Zaire. I doubt I will see him again as I plan on avoiding that tavern. I'm pretty sure I saw a wizard's tower and I will check on that status of Sudar while I'm there. I could be back around the mid of night if I left in a few minutes.”

That would leave us a rogue down, which is not a big deal with me here, but my bigger concern is this,” Hammer emphasized with his hands. “The orc masquerading as a demon is going to come out of his hidey- hole, which I suspect is on the other side of the this bowl-shaped cavern you described Arwkin and when he sees all these kobolds working for him―dead, he is going to be furious.”

Ghost cleared her throat, “Everybody has input their suggestions and everybody is correct on their points. Xia is right, were badly off, so Arwkin is the fastest among us and can be to Asabu-Atiwuville and back by midnight, he should go. Perhaps he can recruit a cleric or two along the way and have them show up later. He did become pretty good friends with Rogg, so maybe another sentient gorilla will want to help our cause. If not at least the Temple of Light and Dark can sell us some healing potions.”

Me and Hammer will take these dead kobolds using the mine cart to move their bodies, and throw them off the entrance. I doubt the orc will come near the entrance and it will show anybody passing by on their way to Kivud's Pass that kobolds are not welcomed at the mines at all. It might inspire the surrounding towns including the Pass to conscript an army enough to force the remaining kobolds to live elsewhere.”

More nods of agreement.

I'm sure that once the morale-broken kobold comes to his senses, he will inform the orc of what happened and like you said Hammer, will come to investigate. So we must fool the orc into thinking we were a random group of adventures that came, killed a few kobolds, then left finding nothing of interest,” she said flatly gaining nods of approval.

Your thinking that the one kobold who escaped will come back to check on the babies, gather them up and move on, not wanting to do the orc's dirty work. I agree if he is not controlled―he still will check on the children.”

Ghost nodded, Arwkin's thinking like hers.

Hammer spoke, “I can use that warren as a damn good defense. We take the kobold children, place them near this eastern entrance but don't let no harm come to them. Eventually, the kobold will come to get them, I'm sure the babies will not wander far if we leave some rations. I pull up that rope ladder to ensure they don't creep back in. I can keep anybody pretty much pinned down with crossbow fire, like the scaleys did us, that tries to cross into the to the cavern entrance.”

Sounds feasible to me. Gold will weigh Arwkin down, so if you have any identified potions, gems, anything easy to carry worth something and not heavy, you don't want or gems, give to the rogue so he can trade them for healing items. Here Arwkin, is a potion of aid,” the monk added, handing it to him.

My only potion of jump, spend it well,” Hammer pressed the tiny vial into his hand with a grunt, not too happy to give up anything to another rogue.

Xia gave him the recently found moonstone. “In my saddle bags is six silver bars and three copper bars. I'm sure your expertise can pick the locks, but do not cut my saddlebags to get to them. Understand deep gnome!” she emphasized the last word.

As you wish”.

* * * * *

Kaaj seemed annoyed what the little kobold told him. One moment he was sitting atop the only pinnacle of stone in this cavern, meditatingthe next a kobold come stumbling in.

At first, a smile creased his face, welcoming what he thought another outcast member of the kobold war-band. The kobold would make a fine zombie.

Then the idiot starting yelling “Demon” at the the top of his lungs irritating Kaaj to no end.

Sighing and given up on his meditation, he trekked down the small path that wound down the pinnacle, stopping to trace his hands over glyphs that told the history of his clan.

What is it? Your demon is busy. Did Kod'm send you to tell me he is willing to accept his fate and let me change him over to something more powerful?” Kaaj asked, marring the koboldish language badly.

He stopped himself, wandering how the single kobold got past his zombies in the cavern prior.

No, no demon. They were all killed by gnomes and humans retaking the mine. I'm the only one left―well me and some children if they didn't kill them first,” the kobold supposed in a flat, whimsical voice.

One gnome flies―he has wings and almost ran me down. Merlokrep will be so mad, if we don't avenge my brothers,” he suddenly lamented loudly.

Kaaj scoffed, “Didn't your god die horribly at Falcon's Hollow in the Darkwood Vale in Andorian? He wasn't really a god you know just because he had the title Kobold King”.

No, you lie! He lived and he is a god!” the kobold shrieked. “If your god not stronger, Merlokrep would help us out, defeat your god and get rid of this plague you bring. Kod'm was right you are only for yourself.”

This is why I serve Verex the Despoiler, he believes in destroying everything, to crush a enemy to dust beneath his feet. It is why I will prevail.”

Kaaj reached out touching the angry, frightened kobold―infecting him with the plague. “Verex overlooks Merlokrep but likes him somewhat. It is Verex who guided Merlokrep to try and kidnap those human children for the greater sacrifice.”

The smaller goblinoid looked verily over to the orc humanoid, he didn't believe him, but what choice did he have.

* * * * *

Arwkin flew out the mine shaft to his wagon, not surprised in the least it had not been tampered with..Not many travelers or miners came up the road from Kivud's Pass. The word of the plague had spread quickly and naturally everyone thought just coming in mere sight of the mine caused the plague. Arwkin snickered on how easily people believed about anything. Then again, in a world filled with uncertainly, one had to take precautions, even if one believed in the absurd.

Easily picking the locks on Xia's saddlebags, he hefted the copper and silver bars, putting them into his masterwork backpack, that held more then it looked like it could.

Pulling out feed bags for the two mules and one pony, he had tied two of them to the mules, figuring he would feed and water them quickly before he left, when Xia's pony whinnied, stomping his feet. The mules tried to bray few seconds later through the feedbags.

He dropped to a crouch, scampered under a mule and under the wagon closet to shrubbery. There he saw it―a large shape doing a good job of moving stealthily toward the wagon.

The humanoid had tallness to it, perhaps about seven feet if not more and a girth across its chest as large as a barrel turned sideways. It had ape-like features, wore splintmail and carried a two-bladed sword, one-handed.

Arwkin recognized it as a sentient gorilla, furthermore it had been one of the gorillas who Rogg spoke of being trustworthy.

Still, that didn't mean Arwkin would let down his defenses. Years in the middle layer of Darklands known as Sekammin taught the half-celestial/half-deep gnome that trust was earned individually.

That is far enough, sentient gorilla. One more step and you will find several bolts in your thick hide,” the hidden voice spoke.

Arwkin watched the sentient gorilla looked frantically around to see the source of the voice, adopting his own defensive stance―his two-bladed sword twirling very slowly in a circle.

I'm not out to behest battle with yo. I'm Grizzt, a damn good friend of Rogg before Gronga took her. If you heard of her, she is like me a sentient gorilla who practices the cleric profession. I am told she left with a particular deep gnome toward a mine where a possible plague is. After her death, I came to find out how she died and join her cause. Tell me voice with no body am I at least close to the mines?” the sentient gorilla spoke gruffly in near perfect Common―better then the gnome.

Aye, you are close Grizzt. Stay where you are or I will have my wizard cast blindness on you.”

The rogue left the cover of the wagon appearing blur-like, revealing himself to the sentient gorilla. Indeed, though he did not need to close with Grizzt, he did so out of curiosity.

Lowering his crossbow, though the sentient gorilla kept shaking his head at the wavering, shimmering image of Arwkin, he also kept looking around expecting more crossbow men to pop up from cover.

I'm the deep gnome you seek. You allowed me and Rogg to escape that day in Asabu-Atiwuville by guarding the tavern door. You made sure Zaire and his cronies didn't follow us.”

Grizzt nodded, “Zaire wants to rebel against the Kyonin Elves, while he doesn't want all of Kyonin, he wants a good chunk of it.”

So did Treerazor and he still is trying hundreds of years later. The Kyonin Elves will not take kindly to being spit on after they graciously offered to move the gorilla sentients to a newly rebuilt village and have been trying to form relations with them.”

Try telling Zaire that, he believes that our Chief Deity Gronga will come to his aid, wiping all the elves out who oppose him. I see him as a leader of a false prophet, a gorilla with an insane vision. Someone hellbent on destruction. But I also came to continue Rogg's quest of the finding the source of this plague before it spreads to my village,” he alleged with determination in his eyes.

She died from kobolds, several crossbow shots in fact while trying to close quarters with them. I'm sorry for you loss. I considered her a close friend and I don't say that lightly as I have few that I consider friends.”

Grizzt once again nodded before speaking. “Only I saw her before she laid to rest high in a bough of a tree. She looked very peaceful. Thank you for being her friend among the non-gorillas. I am at your service,” Grizzt responded.

He reached out, offering his huge hand, which Arwkin shook warily dropping his blur ability. The large creature's eyes blinked several times before resting.

I have to fly to your village to procure magical healing elixirs, or a wand or two for the adventures with me. They don't think they will be naturally healed in time before they confront the orc causing the plague,” Arwkin answered solemnly.

Then quickly added, “Isn't there a wizards tower in your village?”Quickly unfolding his wings to show Grizzt his celestial side.

It took a moment but demonstrable his knowledge for the planes, Grizzt spoke out, “Your an half-celestial/deep gnome. I thought they mostly mated with humans. Yes, there is a wizard tower in Asabu-Atiwuville by the name of Grepplin, but he doesn't like non-gorillas much. So there is an orc causing this whole damn plague?”

I thought they mated with humans also until I discovered my heritage. Since you plan on helping Rogg out with her cause, when you venture into the mines, you will find a female human named Ghost, a halfling named Hammer, and a female rock gnome named Xia within the mine complex. Then there is me, Arwkin. They could really use your help. You will find them camped out in the first off-branch of the mine near the entrance.”

And this orc?,” Grizzt prompted

I really must go Grizzt, I am expected back by mid of night. Ghost or one of the others will fill you in about the orc, there is too much to tell and not enough time. They will need your might of arm to keep them safe until then. Do not feel the orc is just another orc, he has zombies under his control, that makes him powerful.”

Undead huh, I have fought an undead or two. No worries Arwkin, do what you have to do and I will protect them to the best of my ability until you get back.”

Arwkin muttered to himself as he leaped into the air, “Aye, I hope you do.”

* * * * *

Chapter Fifthteen

Plans in Action

ARWKIN arrived at the village a few hours later. The afternoon sun had slipped behind some dark clouds foretelling of thunderstorms later in the evening. Gliding to a descent just outside the village, he kept low, skimming to just above the treetops when he could or low to the ground when he couldn't. He was surprised that he didn't run into any patrols after Grizzt told him of Zaire's plan.

Then again, Zaire probably spent more time drumming up support for his cause, then actually caring for the defense of his village. True, Zaire wasn't the leadera sentient gorilla Intellect held that position, so the defense fell to him, but one would think if one wanted the support of the community―they would see to it the community defended. Of course Zaire gained support by corrupt tactics, no need to win the hearts and minds of the village.

The usual activity continued in Asabu-Atiwuville, sentient gorillas trading with each other on a normal trade level, but charging or trading for higher values for non-gorillas.

As usual too, a few humanoids wandered the streets― here a couple of elves―there a halfling or two, across the street, some gnomes. Walking toward him, half-elves.

Ever since Queen Telandria Edasseril degree that the village of Asabu-Atiwuville would function like the city of Greengold allowing the trade and commerce of foreign merchants―a handful of the humanoids had migrated to Asabu-Atiwuville.

The gorillas didn't like or see this as profit and stabilization of their village. They had long expressed that they only agreed to move from the Fireani Forest to the plains just outside the forest as to further their own protection and build trade and relations with only the elves―not the other humanoids.

To them, the other humanoids were a measure of checks and balances ensuring the gorillas never became a gated or isolationist community. Furthermore, since no gorilla trusted the elves that much in the first place, other humanoids were insulated to the village for the ears and eyes of the elves.

Slavery within the gorillas own species continued― there a baboon carrying something behind a female gorilla, his head held low purposefully―in front of them, a howler monkey on chain like a dog, scrabbled on the road occasionally jerked by the gorilla couple to make him howl. Across the street, a gorilla shopkeeper berated some chimpanzees for not getting high enough with cleaning rages on his windowsill.

A patrol of rough looking black sentient gorillas wearing chainmail shirts, carrying no weapons but sporting fierce claws accosted him, asking him his business. When he pointed to the wizard tower and told them to see the 'Grepplin', they snorted, handed him back his papers that allowed to visit and/or live within Asabu-Atiwuville for the time constraints of two-days.

I wish my race had less darker skin colors; no wonder we wore cloaks so as not to be profiled, he mumbled to himself, pulling the hood over his head that he forgot.

The tower, the single-most tallest building in Asabu-Atiwuville consisted of a huge blocks of brownstone silhouetted itself against the clouds, appeared in excellent condition―maybe six years old or less. Obvious elven architecture could be seen throughout. Instead of tall, thin windows, it has several short, wide window, that used trees and their branches as curtains. Its roof was flat having several trees living on it that lifted their branches higher into the sky as if they welcomed Gronga―their chief deity to climb down from what plane he lived on to join them.

Most likely built as a gift from the Queen to allow the gorillas to feign as much as possible the feel of being back in the Fireani Forest; their practice of magical things and to show off how the elves could intertwine the non-living and living together.

Tall willow trees surrounded the base of the tower, their branches and leaves overlapping forming a natural tunnel to the single iron-bound door with a huge iron knocker on it.

Arwkin rapped the knocker hard, the door fell open a peek by his fifth knock. A pink face chimpanzee peeked out.

Master, one of then half humanoids is at the door, this one had dark skin and is short. Should I send it away?” the chimpanzee spoke in common.

A disembodied voice floated around the door. “Yes, I have no business with such races, their always nosy and want me to go on quest. I am better then that.”

The chimp started to shut the door only to find a foot wedged in it. “That would be ill-advisable friend. I'd hate to disable the magic sleep trap on that door, allowing something more frightening in.”

The chimp stammered, “He-, Hey now, Ho-, How did you know about that,? You been spying on the master? I'm going to call an patrol on you half-human.”

The door tore from the chimpanzee's grasp, A white gorilla with fierce blue-green eyes, wearing a black robe with arcane symbols on it, stared at the smaller humanoid, “Yes, I'm most curious how you knew about that.”

He tapped an staff taller then him with an miniature gnarled tree set atop the it against the door. A sequence of colorful lights lit up the door-frame “Lets see if you know what those spell traps are, would you like to try knocking on the door again?” reaching to shut the door.

Arwkin moved his foot closer to the door. “If I tell you how I knew about the sleep trap spell and at least two of the spells you just put on your door, will you let me in to buy a used wand of healing and some magical healing potions?”

Master, he is half-human, you said you never would...”

I say a lot of half truths Ezeriah,” Grepplin interrupted, “Now hush and go check to see if I have some magical elixirs about, preferably of the healing kind.”

The chimpanzee shook its head muttering as it moved off to do his task.

Grepplin tapped his feet. Arwkin looked up, “Oh that, can I come in first, it is common knowledge that wizards often have the door trapped when its open, but often deactivate those traps with a command word when they themselves are standing in the doorway.”

Hmm,” letting the deep gnome in, but watching him warily. “Touch nothing rogue. You can figure out how I knew your profession while you tell me how you knew of the spell traps I cast on the door.”

Arwkin found himself in a undecorative foyer with several exits, all curving, darkened hallways.

Most wizards want to be left alone―are not into killing anyone. Sleep is the most common spell trap to leave them at the doorstep for their buddies to pick them up.”

Grepplin hmmphed again, “And those I reactivated with my staff?”

Same princeable, wizard―well your not really a wizard are you? Your one of them sorcerers are you not?. Your tower just doesn't feel like a wizard tower. Anyway, sorcerers don't like killing people at their doorstep. I would say two of the spells are a low-grade lightening bolt and unseen servant.

It seems I need to quit thinking like the asymmetrical sorcerer.”

How did you know I was a rogue?” Arwkin asked.

Your eyes darted everywhere and anywhere within the first thirty seconds,” Grepplin laughed.

Why would you ask a sorcerer about a half-charged wand of healing? I'm just curious as your the the third to ask me for such. The other two told me it was none of my damn business. Well they get to explain their actions to their gods,” waving his staff for emphasis. “Your luck would much improve with the Church of Theological Light and Dark” Grepplin asked and stated, moving to a desk, pulling open a compartment, laying an ivory colored wand on top.

Aye it is risky to ask such from the arcane then the divine, but sorcerers and their counterpartswizards, are always running into trouble, anything from demons to zombies are sent after them and they always seem to be in need of healing but are not the kind to want to receive the blessings of a clerics deity, so they revert to having wands of curing about themselves.”

Boy, you must of hung around a wizard or three in your time. Your right on the mark about that one. This one here is a wand of curing light wounds, it is exactly one quarter charged, which means it has exactly twenty-five charges and I just because I like your tenaciously and wit, doesn't mean it is cheap. For you deep gnome, five thousand gold.”

The price wouldn't have anything to do with the non-gorilla in me would it?” fishing out all the potions his three adventures gave him, then the copper and silver bars that Xia told him he could have.

No, I'm prejudiced against everyone, keeps them out of my business.” He looked over the items that Arwkin had laid out on the plain desk, scooting the undersized chair closer to inspect the items. He lifted a couple of potions, showing a frown on his face, but smiled when he hefted the silver bars.

Ezeriah came through a darkened hallway about that time with three sliver vials in one hand and two in the other. “Great, now your trading with the half-human on my desk. You have your own desk Master, don't defile mine,” he wailed.

If your going to call me a half-human, then call me a half-celestial/half-deep gnome, expanding his grayish- white angelic wings and flapping them in the still air.

Ezeriah almost fumbled the potions at that point, half-way managing to place three out of the five on the desk, the other two tumbled with a clink.

Grepplin had pulled out a jewelers eye peering at the moonstone when the chimp reached up tapping him on the shoulder.

Cant you see I'm busy servant, do you want to eat this month or not!” Looking up, seeing Arwkin with his wings out he put down the moonstone, “Well, never in Gronga's ears have I seen such a thing. I thought they mated with humans.”

Silence followed for a few seconds as the pair marveled at the deep gnome. “That still doesn't change the price.”

Arwkin sighed, least the chimpanzees quit whining about the use of his desk.

With all you got here, your about two-hundred eighty nine gold pieces short for the wand and potions. However, you have amused me by flashing your wings and shutting my monkey up for now. I tell you what, take him off my hands and I will throw in a scroll too,” he winked.

Master, you insult me, I rather be teleported to a live volcano.”

That can be arranged Ezeriah,” watching the chimp gulp and say nothing more.

I might think about that, I can only lower his profession by making him a stable-boy for my mules,” Arwkin winked back, placing the vials carefully about his vest and tucking the wand into his backpack.

Ezeriah decided that an exit strategy was his best course. He muttered shaking his head as he always did.

The rogue thanked the sorcerer then made his own exit before the old sentient gorilla changed his mind or turned him into a toad on a whim.

The orange red sun had dipped lower, more darkened clouds coalesced around and booming thunder echoed in the distance―not a good omen, Arwkin thought


Arwkin forewent going into any taverns, less the same thing happen as last time. This time there would be no Rogg or Grizzt to watch his back―besides even if he could handle himself, as stressed as the deep gnome had been for last couple days―one drink might lead to five.

He decided instead, to purchase something to quench his thirst from a market stall, willing to pay the higher price then if he went to an tavern.

He had half gulped his beer down when a brown gorilla hand tapped him on the shoulder. Thinking it was another patrol, Arwkin turned around prepared to give then a tongue lashing about harassment.

What he saw was average brown, furred gorilla with a tan leathery face wearing a black and white large checkered, hooded robe and sandals. Clerical vestments hung from its neck. A sad look on its face.

Arwkin's hand went to his weapon belt as he recognized the sentient gorilla immediately―Gora, the gorilla who took Sudar's body to bring him back to life or give him up to his deity, not but a day and half ago.

That was quick, So how is Sudar, is he alive and breathing or gone to do his duties with Windlass.”

Gora grabbed him at his shoulders, causing him to spill his beer. “Over in that alley, even there it is not safe, but time is of essence,” he hoarsely whispered.

The rogue followed, no stranger to secrets told in alley and dark shadows.

Both glanced around, seeing the nondescript ally clear, then Gora rapped sharply with his tan knuckles on a wall. At first nothing happened, Gora smiled meekly at the deep gnome, then went to rap again. An inverted �"�appeared in the wall, then swung open briskly. An gray faced orangutan grabbed Arwkin first, pulled him inside, then motioned for Gora to follow. It took a quick look both ways then shut the secret door.

I don't appreciate being ape-handled. What you going to kidnap me now over that dispute with Zaire!” Arwkin yelled, reaching for his gnome hook-hammer that he hardly ever used, but figured it be the one to use to take as many down as he could.

Gora's leathery hands grabbed his, “No Arwkin, were on your side. It was necessary that Hindo get you in here quickly, otherwise you might have been seen. Its a wonder nobody paid much attention to you since you arrived. Not only is Zaire's paramilitary force is out to kidnap non-gorillas, but the Church of Dark is aware of your presence too.”

Aye, I see, I must be popular, What is going on Gora? Surely you don't fear for my life that much. Rogg is dead, I'm sure you know that by now, and I explained her death and my sorrow. You did retrieve her body from the monastery of the Twisted Wind, Didn't you?”

Everything is fine with Rogg, with the exception of Zaire accusing your party of treachery but what else is knew. Its Sudar, the Church of Dark kidnapped him from us. They plan to sacrifice him to the Eternal Darkness at a place called the Swamp Tree about a days ride from here.”

Arwkin looked around for he first time, since pulled into the room. It was a twenty foot square room with a few tables and chairs placed about. He could see no other exits but he sure another one―perhaps in that corner and just as secret as the one he entered existed. Several sentient gorillas and their cousins, their clothing arranging from Gora's clerical vestments to the foppish trader adorned them looked at him.

Kidnapping of a dead body to sacrifice, this doesn't make sense. How could they do this within your protection? You told Ghost and Xia that neither one could interfere with the other.”

We were betrayed at the Church, involving having a second and third to watch a duel. Somehow it evolved in a bloody brawl and the Church of Dark had aid in some of the sentient gorillas in the village. We had to retreat to the barracks. It was there we discovered that the Church of Dark had left the magical disk down that lifts them up to their barracks above us―a prayer hall sits between the upper barracks of them and lower barracks of us. The upper barracks was empty, stripped of everything we presume the night before,” the sentient gorilla hastily explained.

Arwkin nodded for him to continue, though he didn't like so far how the story preceded. Others in the room crowded close, they had something at stake in this too.

Sudar had been laid out in the Hall of Gronga where we worked the last full day to either restore his life or let Windlass, Elder of Divinity take him. We believed that we were making progress bringing Sudar back into the fold of life, that Windlass wasn't ready to receive him. Then yesterday evening the Church of Dark betrayed us and took him from us.”

How do you know where they took him? Arwkin asked. “Did you have such prior knowledge?

I didn't until I looked at the calender yesterday, then consulted some records regarding its date. All I could find out was the Church of Dark sacrificed a human being of good, preferably a cleric, paladin or ranger every eighty-eight years.

That didn't tell me much. One of my scouts told me that he saw the Lost Brotherhood of the Dark, our new name for them, on the road a few hours ahead. We mounted up a force and set after them, ambushing them. We managed to capture one, and after several spells of charm and illusion, he told us that they were going to the Swamp Tree at Lake Zurog. After that he snatched a dagger from a nearby guard, slicing his throat wide open.”

Fanatics,”Arwkin replied, shrugging his shoulders, “At least you got some information about Sudar's kidnapping before he did himself in. One lesser evil to deal with.”

The rogue shook his head, “I'm not a Kyoninite, and don't know every nook and cranny of Kyonin, but I don't believe such a lake exist. The only lake I know of is Lake Encarta.”

I thought the same thing, but I think the lake is through one of the aiudara, what the elves call their elf gates and I further think it is with the Tanglegate. Think further, the only known swamp in Kyonin is Tanglebriar and since the acolyte mentioned the Swamp Tree, it only makes sense.”

Aye, ever since I made my way up from the Darklands, I been told of the horrible deeds of Treerazor, I didn't want to meet him then, and I damn sure don't want meet him now. I find it hard to believe such a powerful demon would want anything to do with Sudar. Its not like he is a direct avatar of Windlass. He can barely heal others or do hardly any paladin type stuff.,” the half-celestial/deep gnome disclosed exasperated, throwing his hands up in the air.

Gora smiled as much as a gorilla could, “As much as the Lost Brotherhood of Dark wishes they could claim Treerazer as a staunch ally, I doubt he acknowledges them in the same regard. The Tanglebriar has many cults that superficially say they are in league with the demon, but few actually are.” Grunts of agreement came with his statement, many making signs to the Church of Light.

How long does Sudar have before Windlass will take him? Arwkin asked Gora, pacing the small interior.

We were able to put a serum in him that slows the rate of decomposition. Our rituals held his spirit close to his body will last another four days, then as you know Pharasma, the Lady of the Graves, takes him on his journey of the River of Souls, though I'm sure she will send him to Windlass, Elder of Divinity's homeland.”

Then, I will take some healing potions back to my friends by the mid of night, destroy this orc, that were sure is causing the plague for the village, then along with the others head out to this Swamp Tree. You do have a map or at least directions to the point where you ambushed them right?”

Yes, I do. I will give it to you before you leave. We will go ahead of you, try to find information back to you about the Swamp Tree, then will send runners to you. I sent you Grizzt as an aid, I hope he made it.”

I met him as I exited the mines. We talked briefly then I left, directing him to where he could find Ghost, Hammer and Xia―the others interested in putting this orc down for good,” Arwkin explained.

An orangutan, the same one who pulled him roughly into the secret room held his finger up, getting everyone's attention. “This Kivud's Pass is not far from the Sellan River. You might gain passage to a river boat or raft at the Lighthouse of Sanctuary. Their is a pier that extends off the cliff-faced lighthouse that often the river-goer will tie up to for the night.”

That would spare you a few days overland travel,” another one of the gorilla's said.

Arwkin nodded.

Then it is agreed, me and few others will hunt for the Swamp Tree. You get back to your friends, help them defeat this plague, help the village recover, then come looking for us via our runners who will guide you. Then we will help you recover Sudar.”

Arwkin nodded again, it seemed it was going to be close to wrap all this up and save the soul of Sudar. Funny how time ruled the world.


Hammer lay on his paunchy stomach, light cross-bow in his hands, looking across the torch-lit cavern; he could barely hear the kobold children via echoes of the cave, playing at the other exit, a good fifty or sixty feet away. Everything else was quiet―too quiet.

Grizzt and Xia had stationed themselves behind one of the stalagmites closer to the exit. They would be the first to engage what the Orc threw at them. The hope was, he would throw regular kobolds at them first, hence the baby kobolds, then orcs, then undead―that was the hope anyway.

Ghost was somewhere out there in the big cavern acting as a floater/buffer between him and the two fighters. She would coordinated the tactics between him and Grizzt, Xia, if necessary.

Hammer thought back how they met the other fighter just recently. The sentient gorilla had yelled down the tunnel with the trap, startling the three who had been trying to rest. The fight with the kobolds, though they had over decidedly won the skirmish had taken its toll..

Startled, they jumped to their feet as best they could―Hammer faded into the shadows, Xia and Ghost stood their ground.

At first, Ghost whispered to Xia, that the Orc demon had recruited the sentient gorillas that Arwkin had told them about tens of miles away. They both knew it that was the case, they were in for a fight of their lives.

Then the sentinel gorilla explained how he met Arwkin outside the mine complex, that he came here to help them see this plague through.

The three sighed a breath of relief, they gladly welcomed the big warrior. They quickly formulated a defense plan until Arwkin could come back with healing potions.

Now; midnight had come and gone, no Arwkin had shown up. At that point, the four decided to do as much as they could to stop the Orc masquerading as a demon.

Xia heard a shuffling, she peered at the exit, her darkvision superior to Grizzt's low-light vision. Though Ghost couldn't see in the dark also, nor did she have the qualities of the rock gnome or the sentient gorilla, they remedied that problem with torches stuck in crevices of caves. The adventures placed the torches so their radius had barely overlapped each other, allowing Ghost, Grizzt, and Hammer to operate efficiently.

The rock gnome gasp out loud, an whole assembled mass, shuffl3e toward them―human zombie miners, kobold zombies, with giant rat zombies squeaking on the outside of the ranks.

Grizzt tightened the grip on his light steel shield, “We were not totally unprepared for this. Arwkin warned us, we might face the undead.”

As to prove him right, several zombies moaned at once sending a creepy echoing throughout the cavern.

Do they really have to do that weird moan, each and every time?” Xia asked Grizzt.

I'm afraid so, legend says that is their curse for turning into the undead,” Grizzt answered her.

Yes, but I hate them just the same, I....”

Two baby dragon-like voices cut her off, heard even above the footsteps. Then the two baby kobolds waddled toward the zombie mass. They had temporally forgotten about the kobold babies they were using for bait.

Both races looked at each other then broke their cover. Xia swore, she heard Ghost cussing for the first time ever.


Xia shot forward like a striking cobra, snatched up the tiny kobold children, then turned to run, when the dirty fingernails of a human zombie who she didn't anticipate could act that fast, raked her arm. Just so where the greaves of her scale mail couldn't afford protection.

The undead hissed; then reached down, polishing a tarnished belt buckle with its decaying skin as if it were something of importance. Xia swore the damn thing smiled as bloody furrows appeared in that unprotected spot. The fighter winced but still prepared to run back to safety with the children. She didn't even notice, another human zombie swiping and missing her.

Ghost came in blindly fast to the other side of Xia, her blue white monk uniform flashing her lovely legs and jack boots, in her hands―those deadly double-chained kamas to bear against the zombie who missed the fighter earlier.

Xia get the babies to safety, I can hold the line for a short time, but I need you and Grizzt very soon,” she said. Xia could only nod, combat happening so fast.

The farmer's implements sank deep behind the legs of the human zombie miner―still having his miner hat on. Very little blood yielded from the strikes. It didn't matter to the Ghost Hungry Monk, grabbing the chain connected between the weapons, she pulled with all her might up and towards her but zombie just to strong to trip.

Realizing this, instead she yanked out one kama, sending chunks of human rotted muscle flying, jerked the leg up, snap kicking the zombie to the stomach at the same time. This time the zombie toppled clumsily to the ground.

A giant rat with most of its muzzle and one-side exposed leaped at the kama-wielding monk, however the monk saw it coming, stepping nimbly aside. Her kamas flashed in response, one catching into the death smelling rib-cage―the other at its foot. Again, the weapons did not do a lot of damage, very little if any blood spurted out of the cuts she made. Again, the monk wasn't worried about actually trying to kill the zombies with her kamas.

With equaled ease, Ghost twisted the kamas, tripping and flipping over the giant rat to its back. The rat squeaked as much as it could, sounding more like a kitten's meow. She heard a small thump as the rat hit his head and another meow. It lay there oddly on its back, trying to shake the lethargy out of its head.

I hate zombie pets,” she murmured.

Unfortunately, Ghost didn't see a zombie punch her with a white-tendon revealing hand to her rib-cage.

The zombie's fist hurt and she sucked up as much breath as she could, grimacing to ward off the pain.

Grizzt roared, lumbering forward, buttressing Xia and the kobold children against the rough cave wall. He slammed his light shield into the zombie miner closet to him―this one still carrying the remnants of a lantern in his hand.

A chain of events happened. The human zombies's chest caved in from concussive blow of the steel shield. It grunted from such―flailing its arms wildly, trying to maintain balance, tripping over a giant zombie rat which squeaked loudly that followed it; then the human zombie slid five feet down the incline into a zombie kobold, pushing it back five feet.

The resulting maneuver left gaps in the front, and rear ranks of the nine deep assembled zombies. It also let Grizzt look down the incline of the tunnel.

At the very back of the assemblage―thanks to the torch Hammer placed near the exit of the giant cavern that its incline led down, Grizzt could barely make out an orc wearing an open robe revealing chainmail underneath and carrying a heavy mace in one hand. Some kind of large talisman hung from his neck.

The two locked gazes for mere seconds before the chaos of combat forced Grizzt to move back losing sight of his and everyone's goal.

A mere second later, Grizzt heard the the giant rat on the far left squeal loudly. A bolt stuck in the top of its body―Hammer had taken a chance to shoot into the skirmish but made a mighty shot at so far a distance.

That is our signal, fall back just enough,” Ghost spoke loudly. She looked over seeing the blood running down the sleeve of Xia's shirt, as she slumped against the exit wall. “Xia your hurt bad, I insist you take those children along with you to their warren. Tell Hammer, he have make sure his shots count and scamper down if he sees us in trouble.”

The rock gnome nodded, she knew was to hurt to fight. Oh, she could, but she believed in living.

Damn it Arwkin, where in the Darklands are you? She asked herself, taking a few steps for a breather from the sentient gorilla.

She sighed as a zombie kobold with a missing ear and tail shuffled forward. Its tongue hanging out grotesque.

Chapter Sixteen

One Wily Orc

Jaak spoke the final invocation of a spell, rubbing charcoal into his hand and flinging bat fur into the air. Instantly, the front rank, the rank with the pesky adventures and everything it seemed behind then went dark. The darkness swallowed the light of the torches in the area nearest the exit.

Jaak heard shouts of people, that was good. It proved when him and the zombies approaching, seeing the torches that the adventures needed to rely on them.

These people were clever though, stretching lit torches all way around the cave, each torchlight in the radius of another, but it didn't matter. The darkness spell was centered on a smashed lamp carried by a zombie. He doubted they would figure it out, and by the time they did―it be way too late.

Xia heard the growl of Grizzt, and the scream of Ghost seconds after the area plunged into darkness. She had experienced it before.

Somebody, most likely the orc cast a darkness spell. Turn around and flee to the next light source. It had to have been cast on a near by zombie or object,” she yelled, moving herself directly to the next torch socketed in a stalagmite.

The move all but played her out, slumping against the rock pinnacle, letting the kobold children down. They immediately scampered behind the stalagmites. Xia watched them go, afraid at first she made the wrong decision, but could see by the way they moved, they had played among the stalagmites many times.

I pray to whatever deity is listening right now to make them safe and for Arwkin to get here fast,” she whispered to herself, making an ostentatious sign probably nowhere near the deities sign.

Give us hope,” she quickly added.

Ghost reached behind her back, flipping the flap up, grabbing a small bag, specially placed near the top by memory. She hurled it directly at the feet of the zombie carrying a broken lantern in one hand. It smashed open sending tar, resin and other sticky substances the zombie miner's boots.

The zombie looked down at the mess on its boots, groaned and took a step forward.

Damn it Andoletta, can you just help me once,” Ghost shouted out.” So much for the tanglebag idea.

She withdrew to within the radius of the torchlight near Xia, still slumping. “Tanglefoot bag didn't even slow the undead down. Were in deep do-do,” she mumbled to the near-dead fighter, pulling out her katana, going into a set of offensive exercises.

Xia laughed, then grabbed her ribs. “I would say so, but we must fight on. Ouch. We have to figure out which zombie has the object on him shedding the light from the darkness spell,”she noted, as they watched Grizzt hold the line for a few seconds then come shuffling back to them in a withdraw tactic.

He had smacked a giant zombie rat upside the head with the flat of the blade realizing it did more damage then trying to slice it open.

They heal to fast from slicing weapons, use the flats of your blades or bludgeoning weapons,” he bellowed, watching as the zombies shuffled forward.

I forgot all about that,” Xia murmured, “Supposedly the impact spreads around more damaging what vitals they have left.”

A twinkling of shattered glass faintly heard cut the fighter from saying more, then the area around the front and middle ranks erupted in flames. All reacted by put their hands up in front of their faces Zombies put their hands up as if they would defend them from the flames. Two zombies and a giant rat zombies burned up rather quickly, their blackened forms and smell of burned flesh lent its smell to that section of the cavern.

The little halfling did it, he managed to shoot the bolts with the alchemical fire flask attached, its a miracle,” Grizzt announced going to pat Xia, then Ghost on the shoulders. Both gave him looks of no, so he didn't.

That took out three of them anyway, a lot more to go,” Ghost stated, “But that was a long range shot, we need to move to where the next torch is stationed, plus we still haven't figured out where or what object that darkness spell originated from.”

The two nodded, if they didn't figure out soon, not only would the monk and two fighters not able to see, but whatever object the zombie carried on him containing the darkness spell would envelope any light source they had.

A plunking sound and shatter or rock came above their heads; suddenly Ghost struck her hand up and out in front of her face, deflecting another small round stone.

The trio could see where a kobold zombie had stepped over the charred human zombie, just now resting his sling. One cattie-corner from him also had a sling in his scaley hands. Three-quarter spears rested in leather quivers on their backs.

Zombies using weapons, who would of thought?” Ghost asked annoyed that they could even use such.

Most zombies retain a partial sentience if they had a profession in life that allowed them to use such,” Grizzt spoke candidly “And all kobolds use three-quarter spears and slings everyday.”

Xia reached down and picked up a light cross-bow she had set there hours ago, pulling the trigger. The kobold zombie's head exploded in bits and gore as the bolt penetrated the brain. It fell at Ghost's feet, a rotten beltpouch spilling small rounded stones.

That was my one emergency use,” she exclaimed. “I told you that placing our cross-bows at various places would help out.”

Nice shot, except that was my kill and turn to dance with death. Now I have to wander into the foray and kill something without it killing me back,” she lamented running forth with her kamas held in a eastern style attack, a ki shout on her lips.

The monk literally skipped into the spell darkness, going blind instantly. However she remembered where the last zombie kobold stood before the darkness enclosed her. She struck with one kama feeling it hook and slice behind the neck, followed up with the other likewise, then extended her arms outward, feeling the head come off and hearing it plop on the ground, followed by the slumping of the zombie kobold. She took two steps back putting her on the outside edge of the supernatural light.

She would only see microseconds before an undead struck her from the darkness.

Unfortunately for her, the giant rat zombie decided to take advantage of the slowed human, biting her and slamming into her as well. She crumpled like a rag doll being thrown into a corner, her kamas clanging to the floor.

A zombie kicked her fallen body, causing a sluice of blood to issue forth were the rat bit her leg.

Ghost!” Xia screamed, “I'm sorry she sobbed, trying to run to her but Grizzt held her fast.”

Don't be stupid small one, she is already dead, they would kill you too if you tried to rescue her.”

Xia for some reason found comfort in leg , holding onto it as it was a teddy bear.

Let ole Grizzt do something here,” he motioned detaching the rock gnome from his leg, lumbering forward. He swung the two-handed sword around his head once as the human zombie looked at him then clapped its hands together in a macabre. The big sword missed, striking the cavern floor. Sparks followed the groove in the floor as the metal struck silver.

Yeah that worked out real well,” Xia halfway sobered up.

Grr, your messing with my mojo kid.”

Grizzt had been taught to fight blind in the dark, similar to recognition of the monk's recognizance Instead of backpedaling like the monk invoking attacks of opportunity, he swung his sword in vertical tight circles, knowing that was his best defense for now.

A bolt skipped of the stalagmite Xia leaned against. An echo of 'sorry' rang distant off the cavern wall, then a second shot through the snout of the giant rat. It flipped on its back, tried to use it bone revealing claws to pull the bolt out, spasm and died.

The halfling had done it again. A one shot kill at the long range of the crossbow for sure. Grizzt shook his head, the luck of halflings had been known to turn the tides of battles. Blessed be for the hairfoot.

Your welcome,” came a echoing reply followed by a “Thank you Hammer”.

Grizzt promptly gave him a sign in society not considered very polite at all.

A snap like a sheet popped by the wind followed by a downdraft rushed by Xia A winged being carrying a glowing blue wand and several small belt pouches to his waist.

Arwkin,” she beamed, “Your back.”

The winged deep gnome landed on the other side of Ghost, a few feet away from any zombies. Touching the wand to her, a burst of yellow light shot through her,

She stirred, then as if death returned her to the living she gasp for air, sitting up. Just as anticipated a human zombie and kobold zombie reached for her. Arwkin smacked their hands with the wand, interjecting the same yellow light. They both crumbled to shambles instantly.

Positive energy kills them. Quick grab a beltpouch Grizzt and retreat to where Xia is. I will take care of this. Grizzt slowly started backing away.

The only zombie left hurled a stone, it popped Arwkin on the chest, stinging him, then the zombie turned his neck completely around, bemusing the gnome.

An compulsion of immobilization slid over him, as he heard the orc not ten feet away finish an invocation. He fought it, but slowly he felt becoming rigid but not stone-like in petrifaction The rogue screamed at the top of his lungs, snapped his wings shooting upward―the compulsion sliding off him like water off a duck's back.

The lone, surviving kobold surged forward, three-quarters spear in hand, past Ghost. She threw something quickly―a heavy rope wrapping around his leg, followed by a heavy dart attached to the rope―stabbing him. The surviving kobold reached down to pull out the dart but found himself tripping, winding up face to face with a lady in a blue loose fitting garment.

Hello,” Ghost blew the kobold a kiss, punching him to the head knocking the creature out. “You should of died with the rest, “ she declared calmly, kicking to her feet with a kippup.

Looking down the incline they saw the orc loping in a half run. At the bottom of the bowl-shaped basin, they heard him mumble loudly some words, then continued up its incline.

Hundreds of red eyes looked back at the three.


The swarm of rats killed by the plague the adventures assumed, now returned to life as zombies seemed content to stay in the bowl-shaped cavern. It meant coming up with some ingenuity to get past them to get to the orc.

Hammer poured one flask after another spreading out oil as best as he could, watching it roll down the incline toward the bottom of the bowl-shaped cavern. Some of the zombie rats squeaked upon smelling the oil moving further away, but still nibbling on rotten remains. At this close, if the rogue gave himself away, the rats would swarm all over him.

He motioned Arwkin forward nodding in approval of his silent moving, not even a rock scraped his foot. The deep gnome signaled the other three to get ready.

With sigh, the half-celestial/deep gnome snapped his wings, propelling him forward off the incline, he dipped low at first from a cold air current, but another flap of the gray angelic wings brought him up toward the ceiling. Dozens of rats looked up and started to follow him―their eyes and mouths greedy for fresh meat.

Arwkin threw the alchemical fire vials, at the same time Hammer jumped up and down yelling. The zombie rats surged toward him, doing their best to scrabble up the slick incline, just as the vial impacted stone, igniting.

A flash of flame shot up roasting dozens of them, then caught the spread oil, rolling up the incline like a runaway coach wagon. A wall of flame and heat surged toward Hammer, making it unbearable,but the plan had worked.

What few rats didn't fry immediately in flash fire/wall of flame scattered to the darkened corners of the cavern.

Arwkin landed on the other incline, watching the tunnel. His job―to make sure the orc didn't surprise them or had left some other zombie to deal with the group.

Hammer pumped his feet as fast as he could run―the stone tunnel floor became hot, burning his shoe-less feet, some of the fire still raged around him. A zombie rat leaped at him, but he shot it clean with a crossbow bolt, watching the bolt carry the rat into the shadows.

Close by on his heel, Xia followed with just her cutlass. She imitated the rogue slicing a jumping rat in half, sending its parts to the darkened crevices. Lumbering after her, his chainmail clanking and carrying a large steel shield, the sentient gorilla used it to sweep rats off the path.

One by one, they made it to the other incline leading out, all except Ghost, she had waited for everyone to get clear. She shot down the incline, ducking, dodging and at one point doing a circle kick, smacking a rat into a wall. Hammer smashed a stone flask filled with oil, and from the last torch light the oil. A wall of flame shot up putting a barrier for any remaining rats that tried being brave.

That went well,” Xia whispered, though she cringed at the still squealing rats. Grizzt noted a column of smoke drifted down into the bowl-shaped cavern and up the other incline. If the smoke had gone the other way, it could be possible that Kaaj could detect it, alerting him to their presence.

Well were out of alchemical fire vials, that was our last flask of oil, this is our last torch, Ghost's lantern is burning low and we still have an orc to face,” Hammer grumbled.

Aye, but its got to be done. Lift your chin, Hammer I'm sure this orc has some good treasure on him.”

They moved on.

The group came up on a rectangular cavern.

Dominating the center of the cavern, a single jagged pillar or rock, surrounded by a pool reflecting blue green moss. Rushing water could be heard on the far side of the pinnacle, evident an underground spring that fed the pool and stream that gurgled and churned through a dark hole in the south wall. Several larger glyphs growing in the same blue green illumination as the moss wound around the pillar.

We would fight an orc in a luminescence cavern after we used up almost our our light sources,” Hammer lamented, getting chuckles from the rest.

No sooner the halfling spoke, then a feeling of dread overcame them all except Arwkin. The rogue felt it too, but he resisted the despair effects. He started to say something to the rest, hoping his voice would calm them down, when Grizzt turned, knocking Xia down lumbering back the way he came, dropping his shield in the process

Hey watch it you big lout, wait hes right,” dropping her own cutlass, following the sentient gorilla.

Ghost quizzed for a second, “What in Andoletta-Grandmother Crow's foot is going on Arwkin.?

The rogue just manage to say, “It's some kind of fear effect, try to resist,” he himself was shaken and nervous she could tell. With a sidelong glance, she ran after her comrades, Arwkin tried to grab her, but she too fast.

I suppose we need to go after them Hammer, if they can overcome the feelings, they will be able to endure,” turning to look behind him, but the halfling had failed too to resist, scampering after his friends.

Aye, buggers,” Arwkin told himself.

Ghost outran the other three but stopped about thirty feet down the incline of the bowl-shaped cavern. Grizzt lumbered on by, ignoring the zombie rats jumping on him, gnawing his flesh. The monk called out his name to get him to half to no avail. Xia and Hammer came down the incline stopping about where Ghost stood.

Some kind of fear effect, I think we all felt it in our souls. Thing is we don't know if it is a static or mobile effect,” Xia believed, catching her breath.

Must of been in place before we hit the cavern,” Hammer added.

They heard a flap of wings, Arwkin rushed by them. “I'm going to try to help the big guy, one of you can use this,” a parchment tumbled to the ground, where Hammer deftly picked it up, where Ghost gently took it from him.

She unfurled the scroll after reading the title, “Its a scroll of Protection from Evil, I forgot I have one in my backpack. It will help,” shrugging off her backpack.

Question Hammer, I know your cloak is magical like mine and coincidence that we both found one, but did you feel like the cloak tried to protect you from this fear thing back there, like it clouded your mine for an instant?”

Hammer nodded, “They say such cloaks have been invented,” fingering the softness of the cloak.”

Un huh, just checking. Ah here it is, you can have this one Xia. I wish we had one more for Grizzt, but we don't. I'm not sure if Arwkin could invoke his own personal protection from evil aura onto Grizzt or extend it to him. I wondered when he was going to use it.”

They heard a loud holler as if something big fell, that echoed down the cave. A few minutes later, Grizzt appeared none the worse with Arwkin in toe. They beat back the few zombie rats that dared to approach them, traveling back up the incline.

The gnome tripped me,” Grizzt spoke, rubbing his elbows.”

Aye, only way I could get him to stop.”

The other three laughed some.

Onward and upwards so to speak they went.


Kaaj felt satisfaction in seeing the group leave. His portion of bane he drank right before the adventures came to his sanctuary. Even the winged gnome―the kobold right after all, after a few seconds flew out of the cavern.

He had long prepared for this, speaking with giddish and thanking Verex for the opportunity to destroy his enemies or greet his maker―either way, a win-win situation for him.

Casting a Protection from Good spell on himself, he peered around the pinnacle looking out for the adventures―assuredly they would come back. He was safe, except maybe for that winged gnome, an abomination of nature for sure, who might reach him with his flight. Other then that, ranged fire would miss him, meaning they would have to engage him in melee―something he sure he more experienced with. Even if one of the adventures better then him in combat―the single pathway up to the top of the pinnacle meant only one combatant at a time.

Verex, promise me the deaths of this group and I in return will plague all the country, destroying the elves within and out , and even the mighty Treerazer will bow down to your commands,” the orc decried, then hushed, some said to speak his names under such blasphemy caused him to tune in to the speaker.

He checked his gear, ran through his spell repertoire list and patiently waited. Just a matter of time and his plan would come to full fruition


The orc shaman watched the halfling try to sneak in the cavern, sure he stuck to the shadows of the north wall, blending in here and there, almost disappearing at times, however the orc shaman knew the cavern well. He had claimed it as his home for the last four months―the halfling would have to do better then he currently doing to slip past the orc.

The halfling may have been more stealthily if he had a inkling of where the orc might be in the large cavern. No doubt any of the adventures would seek him at the top of the pinnacle, and they too would be more cautious if they knew they had and invisible enemy.

Arwkin snapped his wings, forcing lift under them, flying to the pinnacle in a few seconds, there he hovered-he saw nothing, except a very small encampment―part of the trail, the waterfall ran across tumbling to the murky pond below which fed into a river that eventually fed the town's water supply―probably where the orc slept, he could see no trace of where a fire lit to keep the humanoid warm, nothing of the sort. The orc had been there―but where?

He could see if anyone had to fight the orc on the single trail, combat would be challenging at best and disastrous at worse. It would be a single combatant fight no matter who went up the path. The half-celestial/deep gnome winced, it would be difficult for Xia or the large sentient gorilla to fight the orc there―he truly wished them luck.

The deep gnome circled back to the fighters hovering, “The orc is not at the top of the pinnacle as far as I can see, it is possible he is hidden or elsewhere.”

Both the fighters nodded, they would keep a sharper lookout for the orc who had masqueraded as a demon for so long, as the half-celestial flew off slowly circling the pinnacle of protruding rock.

The two fighters, one a light crossbow, the other with a heavy crossbow, ran toward the pinnacle looking for any sign of trouble―the rock cropping gave them trouble. At its smallest point to the center of the spire of rock, one had to leap about ten feet. There was plenty of back up room to get a running start―the problem lied in if they missed the edge and fell back of how deep the pool and current really was.

A parallel of fear of which like Grizzt had never encountered overcame him. Worse then what overtook him at the entrance. This was a raw, primal gnawing of one's gut, as if the perversion overcoming him would shake him to his very core―to his soul.

The large, sentient ape gritted his teeth, shaking his mane, gripping his two-handed sword. “You will not overcome me again beast,” he yelled into the purples and yellows of the caverns. “I will not let you take over me again!” he shouted.

Kaaj cursed from three-quarters of his way down from the pinnacle, the large furred creature resisted one of his spells that would of sent him slobbering like a weakling toward the upper end of the caverns.

Ghost stepped into the large cavern, quaffed a potion then took off at a run toward the pinnacle of rock, She easily cleared the ten feet of pool water surrounding the pillar, landing a good fifteen feet up the craggy wall―her jack boots finding purchase on a rock ledge less then two inches wide, her fingers dug deep in a crevice.

Kaaj didn't see the monk jump and land on his pinnacle or he would of definitely of taken on the greater threat―but he didn't his concentration on the the rock gnome and sentient something in front of him, preparing to jump to the pinnacle of rock. Even if they did resolve the challenge, he looked it as personal combat between the two of them.

Verex, let me send the fighters to oblivion and turn this dump infested cave into your glory!” he whispered silently to his deity. 

© 2017 Daniel Braun

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Added on March 2, 2017
Last Updated on March 2, 2017
Tags: tolkeneqque, fantasy, elves, dwarves, dragons, disease, medevial, high-fantasy, magic


Daniel Braun
Daniel Braun

Pineville, MO

I'm a experienced writer, writing from many genres including, fantasy-low, medium, high, dark, magical, historical and the fantastic. I write science fiction-space exploration, apocalypse, wasteland, .. more..