The Rod of Ruin

Chapter 2

Iron Tooth Falls

With the sun now high overhead De-val looked around at the clearing. The bloody bodies of their Kobold enemies were scattered everywhere. He tried to catch his breath and stop his hands from shaking. Where his lightning had failed a strong grip and a foot of water had sufficed, and he could still feel the thrashing of the lizard men as he held them under water.

Grumble and Valsharress stood near the stone circle, Valsharress’ Bear lying dead next to the large Koblod it had mauled. She was seemingly unconcerned.

Through the trees, he could see Amon sitting further up the hill, surrounded by corpses. His pale complexion and black garb looked especially out of place in the dappled afternoon sun, and in stark contrast to the deep green grass and pooling blood. De-val looked ahead of the group at the waterfall; he knew one of the Koblods had escaped through the falls to the cavern within.

“Perhaps we should look for another way in, it seems they are waiting for us?”

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As the party regrouped, Valsharress’ keen eyes had picked up movement from behind the falls. The dark, shimmering shapes of Kobolds stood silently beyond the water, watching them as they approached. The group began working their way up the left of the falls and soon another smaller entrance was found. Chattering was heard from within and after a failed attempt to contact the figures hiding in the dark Amon charged in and managed to grab the hiding figure.

Another Kobold. De-val realised, at that moment, the Lord had been right to send the party out. The hills are infested with these creatures. The Koblod twisted and writhed in Amon’s grip, hissing in its incoherent bastard language. Whilst it managed to strike Amon with a club, Amon’s grip did not waiver. As the party moved in to help, from the depths of the cave three other lizard warriors moved purposefully towards them.

De-val lit the cave up, first with lighting; hitting lizard flesh and cave wall alike, showers of sparks raining on the melee. Then he summoned an orb of the purest light and cast it out into the darkness. With the cave now visible to all, Grumble rushed to Amon’s aid striking one of the foes from behind, an audible crack echoed throughout the cave as spine met stone fist.

Both Valsharress and Amon struck with staff and sword, downing the final enemy. As the last Kobold fell, greater light abruptly filled the space.

“ENOUGH!” A booming voice reverberated throughout the cavern.

A stocky creature unlike the others stepped out. De-val recognised him as a Hobgoblin – much larger than a goblin and heavily built, in his hand a large axe.

“I am Iron Tooth. These are my caves you have invaded! My people you have killed! Leave now!” he gurgled. Common was not his native tongue, and he spoke with a mangled intensity.

“What business do you and your kind have in these lands?” Valsharress retorted.

“I claim these lands for my clan.” Iron Tooth growled his reply.

With the extra light Iron Tooth had cast in the space, the party noticed that in a chamber behind the Hobgoblin there is the glint of gold. De-val’s heart skipped a beat.

De-val considered Iron Tooth’s request. Between Amon’s recklessness, Valsharress’ mission to cleanse the forest and his own desire to obtain the lord’s bounty for ridding the area of Iron Tooth’s clan, walking away would never be an option. With this gold he can start to truly write his name on the history books. Putting his hands up in a welcoming gesture, De-val slowly started to walk towards Iron Tooth.

“Oh great Iron Tooth! We did not realise it was you who was dwelling in this place. Please let us leave with your blessing.” De-val reached out towards Iron Tooth’s right hand where he grasped his weapon; “Let us part as friends. We shall carry your words to the Lord and let everyone know this place belongs to King Iron Tooth.”

The Hobgoblin paused and a shifted his axe to his left hand somewhat apprehensively. After a moment of hesitation, he clasped De-val’s hand. De-val’s face broke into a manic grin and the lines across his body began to glow, lighting streaming across his frame and up Iron Tooth’s arm. His arm blistered as the smell of burning hair fills the air. The handshake had become a thrashing death grip.

As the lighting started to fade across his skin, so too did De-val’s smile. This has not worked out as he intended… Iron Tooth, in turn, increased his grip on the Genasi’s hand and the Hobgoblin began to return the smile; revealing cracked gums and a mouthful of chipped and spoiled teeth. Iron Tooth’s namesake tooth-of-iron began glowing white-hot, surrounded by burnt and oozing flesh.

“Kill them all!” He cried.

Iron Tooth roughly pushed De-val back towards the group and disappeared into the lengthening shadows of the chamber. In that darkness, the shadows come alive in violent anger, and combat was again enjoined.

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The sound of Kobold cries echo around the dark room, matched by the sound of panicked adventurers. Some of the party rush after Iron Tooth and are felled by a trap; a spiked log tumbling from the roof and rendering them prone. Others engage in running skirmishes through the dark tunnels. There is bloodshed on both sides.

Realising that their chances of survival very much depended on getting out of the Kobold’s natural habitat , they seek the relative shelter of the outdoors. But not before fire suddenly sweeps over Valsharress as a lizard Mage joined the fray. She is forced to dive through the water fall to extinguish the flames.

Bloodied but unbowed, the party regroup outside the waterfall. There is no clear consensus as to how to handle the coming attack and they split off to take positions.

Amon disappears into the foliage and Grumble waits in the shallow water to ambush the first unlucky creature to come through the falls. Valsharress and De-val push further back to the stone circle. Still smarting from the fire, Valsharress places a stone in her sling and blindly flings it through the waterfall. Miraculously it strikes home- a cry followed by further obscenities can be heard behind the water-wall.

De-val, thinking briefly that anything the Druid can do, he can do better, also picks up a stone. “There’s plenty more where that came from!” He cries, before hurling it blindly into the falls. While it passes through the cascading water, all that can be heard from inside the cave is the sound of sound of rock on rock.

“Maybe not.”

Valsharress has had enough, and decides to entice the creatures to bring the combat into the light by throwing half a dead corpse of a Koblod through the falls. It has the desired effect.

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Amon Al’abun’na-ir had literally spent years hiding in trees. There was something about being perched in a tree-top waiting for a victim that felt almost normal. Or at least as normal as he had felt since emerging from a coffin some hundred years after dying…

To his right a Kobold splashed out of the falls and into Grumble’s waiting blows. To his left, further Kobold’s attempted to flank his companions. Amon was vaguely aware of yelling and splashing as the others pursued or subdued further enemies.

But he remained high in the trees, almost motionless. Waiting.

And then his moment came.

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AS TAKEN FROM PAIZO’S “Classic Monsters Revisited”:

“Aggressive, xenophobic, yet industrious small humanoid creatures, Kobolds are noted for their skill at building traps and preparing ambushes. It had long been thought that Kobold’s were goblinoids, but after strenuous debate amongst scholars of Goblin hereditary, they have been defined as reptilian humanoids, whose relationship to the Ancient Dragons remain largely unknown. They are dangerous in groups, but easily spooked.”

The Kobold moved slowly through the grass towards the enemy. He had fought many intruders before, seeing his brothers fall to the mighty and the powerful. But he had always survived, and lived to feast on the flesh of the fallen. Because this was their home, and their home was worth fighting for. And if he didn’t fight, Iron Tooth would surely string him up as he had done to the cowardly before…

The Stone creature was distracted and he knew this was his chance. He moved forward with his scimitar raised…

Then, suddenly, the sky turned to fire and from within the fire, death appeared.

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The battle had ended and Iron Tooth was dead. The Kobolds were not just defeated but dispirited, and if there had been a survivor, then the story of this battle would surely live on for generations. These dark caves would never again be safe for their kind; the ghosts of their fallen brethren would never settle. The Kobold Mage had lay down his staff, and marched his defeated self into the light. Behind him Kobold hatchlings shivered and squinted into the sun. His only task now was to ensure the survival of the clan – the survival of the hatchlings.

Before he himself died, the Mage endured a final indignity as the creature in black burnt one of the hatchings in the fire. But when the knife slipped into his throat, he took his last breath safe that the others had escaped into the water and to whatever safety a Kobold’s short life could have…

There was some dissent as to what the fate would be of the tiny kobolds (Grumble supposed they must be younglings) that the now dying Wyrmpriest had been protecting.
“They’re just babies! We’re not murdering babies – Grumble, stop him!” Cried De-val as Amon tried to gather the small group of, presumably terrified, Kobolds together.

“This is the job we are being paid to complete.” Rumbled Grumble.
He saw the humour in being asked to intercede on the Kobolds behalf whilst being slick with ichor from one of their kin he had reduced to sticky red goo moments earlier. But my group must stay whole – he put a restraining hand on Amon’s shoulder but diplomacy was not a skill he had much call to hone.

“Wait.” he began.

But Amon Al’abun’na-ir would not be swayed, least of all by an automaton, he shook off Grumble’s hand but the pause allowed the young Kobolds to scatter off into the underbrush. Amon glared at De-val.

“Well done. Now a new generation will grow to harass Winterhaven.”

“They were innocents! They might choose another path.” De-val folded his arms.

“You know NOTHING of revenge.” Finished Amon, and stalked off into the cave.

As Valsharress and Grumble left to put out the blaze Amon Al’abun’na-irhad used to great effect, De-val began burying the burnt child.

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After the fire was doused Grumble searched the fallen Iron Tooth wrenching the metal fang from it’s jaw. He found a small box and a chain-mail shirt whose slight magical field felt fuzzy to his stone hand.

Once the others joined Amon in the treasure room they noticed that whilst a heavy chest remained, a certain glimmer was missing from the chamber. Ever the diplomat De-val rounded on Amon.

“Where is the gold?” he demanded.

“What gold?” Replied Amon, blank faced and turned away. “We have no key for the chest.” He said to the group at large.

De-val was about to retort when he noticed Grumble step forward and draw his broadsword. Too late De-val realised what was intended and before he could yell a warning Grumble thrust the sturdy blade into the lock. He gave a mighty twist and was suddenly engulfed in flame and knocked back. Only taking minor damage – the trap was meant more for the contents – he moved forward to inspect what remained; One very charred book.

Valsharress sighed and muttered under her breath. De-val very carefully looked over the blackened remains and was able to make out a now familiar sigil; the Severed Limb [was it the severed limb? Damn my memory and lack of notes – Sean].

Valsharress could see how angry De-Val was at the loss of both clues and treasure. She moved toward Amon and spoke with a soft lilting tone.

“Whilst riches hold little interest to me, there are others who are not so… freed. I would ask you, in the interest of maintaining civil relations, to distribute a share of the gold to those who value it.”

Amon sneered as he turned to leave. He passed De-Val and tossed a single gold coin to him. De-val snapped the coin out of the air whilst furious electricity danced across his face. Valsharress strode to catch up to Amon to try once more for civility, but Amon had disappeared into the caverns gloom.

“I’ll kill him! After all we went through. All that gold!” De-Val raged.

“What will he spend it on out here?” Asked Valsharress calmly. “He cannot make it back to town before us with such a burden.”

Unbeknownst to the party, Amon had no interest in his burden.

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Later, on the path home, they found Amon waiting for them. He sat cross-legged in the dirt of the road, waiting. He clearly had no gold on him.

“Where is it? Where’s the gold?” De-Val was apoplectic.

Amon shrugged. “I have no interest in gold.”

Briefly De-Val lit up, his outrage coursing across his skin in flashes of electricity. But just as Grumble prepared to step between the two of them and circumvent their inevitable conflict, De-Val stopped. A flicker of confusion played across his face, but only for a moment. And, then, suddenly, he turned on his heel and raced back toward the caves, his limbs a blur.

“I’ll find it!” He called over his shoulder, his confidence as as powerful as his greed, as he disappeared into the distance.

The others watched him go with a mix of amusement, confusion and disdain.

Grumble turned to the disagreeable skinny fellow and held out his hand. He might have been made ‘born’ a soldier, but he had learnt social graces. “I am Grumble.”

Amon didn’t take it.

“It may have been easier for us all if you had not stolen his gold.” opined Valsharress.

Amon rose slowly to his feet and waved Grumble’s hand away. “My name is Amon Al’abun’na-ir.”

Grumble straightened. “A pleasure to meet you, Amon. This is Valsharress.”

Amon flicked his dark eyes in her direction, but as with all of their encounters since they had met in battle, Amon seemed to look past her. His eyes were drawn to the shadows that played between the trees lining the road. Then he turned and began heading towards the town.

Grumble and Valsharress looked at one another. “Are all humans like this?” She asked.

Grumble shrugged his heavy shoulders. “He is no human. He may once have been… but he is not one now.”

They followed along in silence.

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Once back in town, they sought out Lord Padraig at the Manor House. They were surprised to find De-Val waiting for them. He was liberally covered in dirt.

“Did you find the gold?” Asked Valsharress, noting that if he had, he didn’t have it on him.

“I’ll do the talking.” he replied as he began moving inside. They others followed.

The Lord seemed a little surprised to see them. “I have… I have employed adventurers before you know…” He began. “I have sent men and women to their deaths in an effort to rid these lands of this Kobold blight. What proof do you offer me that you have killed them, and not simply walked the forest for a day to free me of my purse?”

De-Val proudly spoke up. “Lord Padraig… we offer you…”

Before he could finish, Amon stepped past him in a dark blur and grasped the Lord by his tunic.

“We have murdered children in your name…” He hissed.

The Lord’s patrician air fell away immediately “I… I didn’t expect you to…” He stammered.

Grumble placed a calming hand on Amon’s shoulder. Amon flicked his head back and snarled at the Warforged, his face more animal than man. His eyes flickered with golden rage.

Valsharress managed to slide the Lord to one side whilst Amon was distracted. “We were successful.” She soothed. “We have proof.”

De-Val opened Grumble’s pack, and removed a lump of sharpened iron. At one end it was blackened and moist.

“They were led by a Hobgoblin named Iron Tooth.” De-Val proudly proclaimed.

It took a moment for the Lord to fully understand what was happening. His attention was difficult to draw away from the tall, insane man in the corner. But when he did eventually focus on the tooth, he was immediately disgusted. “Oh. Good lord.” He became pale.

“So… Payment?” De-Val enthused.

“Of course.” The Lord moved to a chest on the shelves marked ‘city coffers’, and fumbled with the lock. Behind him Valsharress locked Amon with a stern glare and nodded towards the door. To the surprise of all, he took the hint and left the room.

De-Val’s eyes fairly glowed as the Lord produced a sack of coins. It was all he could do not to help the Lord as he slowly counted out their bounty. He imagined the many healing potions he might buy…

After a time, Lord Padraig reached 100 gold pieces, and set them out in three neat piles. He returned a now very empty coin pouch to the chest and moved to shake De-Val’s hand.

“I can’t tell you how much…”

“Is that it? De-Val interrupted.

The Lord was taken aback. “We are only a small community… this represents so much of our… The Kobolds you see – they prevented trade. No-one wanted to travel here. We’re reliant on the tourist industry…” His words spilled out in a rush.

Valsharress took his offered hand. “We are honoured to serve. This is more than enough.”

“Is it?” Questioned De-Val.

“It is.” She relied firmly.

Defeated, De-Val shook Padraig’s hand. They collected their bounty and made their way to the Tavern. A long day of battle had drained them.

Amon was already resting when they arrived, and reasoning that he was less disagreeable when asleep than when he was awake, they left him be and retired.

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In the dead of night, De’Val’s eyes snapped open, awakened from dark dreams of money just beyond his reach that quickly fled beyond recall, which De’Val suspected to be a cold blessing.

Sitting up sharply, De’Val saw the world around him through a cloudy lens- he was still in his rented room, but strange shadows twisted and distorted where shadows should not lie, and the edges of surfaces seem to ripple gently like blood-tinged water was flowing over them.

Noticing that Grumble was no longer present standing watch in the room they shared, De’Val stepped into the corridor, looking up and down the hallway of the tavern. To his left he saw a strange being. It was dark, sucking light in towards itself in a way that almost hurt his lightning-infused eyes to look upon. The being itself had demonic features, like the face of a gargoyle that had come to life, stone skin cracking and shifting as it moved.

Though he was a being that felt fear, De’Val had never let it conquer him. He stepped forward. The creature stepped back in turn.

“I am De’Val.” he declared. “Speak your name.”

The being stepped forward to close the gap and held out its right hand in greeting. De’Val’s thoughts flashed to earlier in the day when he had held his hand out to Irontooth in just the same way, and what the consequence had been for that fool hobgoblin. To judge the creature’s response, he held out his left hand instead.

The gargoyle-create looked down at his newly proffered hand. Slowly, with a grinding noise that vibrated his bones, De’Val saw the stony right hand of the create slowly revolve so that it could take his grasp. Once the hand had rotated it stayed still, waiting for De’Val to make his decision. Shrugging, he took the four-clawed hand of the beast when-

-FOOM! De’Val’s hand arced in a familiar pain as a burst of energy slammed into his palm and he was flung backwards down the corridor, sliding on his back across the hardwood floor.

In an instant the shadows and ripples that had been distorting reality were gone, and De’Val found himself lying in the corridor. He looked up to see the demon… but in its place stood Amon, his pale visage looking down at De’Val in confusion and anger.

“Did you see it?” asked De’Val, his mind rapidly trying to put together what had occurred.

Amon’s nostrils flared in rage-masked confusion as he looked down at De’Val. Without a word, he turned and entered his room, slamming the door behind him.

Turning back to the open door of his room, De’Val saw Grumble, standing watch just where he had been before De’Val had slept. De’Val didn’t know what strange sight he had just witnessed, but the burn on his palm told him one thing- it was no dream.

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The door to the old tower opened a crack at Amon’s knock. The old man from the tavern looked through it, looked up and down, hesitated, then drew the large, thick door open to permit him entry.

“I wasn’t sure you’d come,” he began “And to be honest, I’m not sure which possibility I hoped for. Still, you’re here and you are welcome in the house of Valthrun. That’s me, I should say. This is my tower.” he said with a gesture about the room.

Amon looked down at the old man, unsure what to make of him, or indeed if he should make anything or him, or anyone. A vestige of his old humanity reminded him of his societal duty:

“Amon.” he said, coldly extending a hand. Valthrun took it briefly, shook it, and shivered.

“Please… come upstairs.”

The room at the base of the tower was simple and sparse- there was a trapdoor in the centre of the room and a coat-rack by the door. Valthrun himself was ascending a circular staircase that wrapped the wall of the tower, extending into the next floor and beyond. Following the old man, Amon found the next floor was in stark contrast to the spartan nature of the first room- it was piled high with junk. Books, relics, scrolls, bottles- anything and everything lay in huge, unorganized towers, threatening to totter over at any moment.

Valthrun cleared two chairs by a fireplace and poured two earthen cups of a strong-smelling tea. Amon regarded the tea but left it untouched. Valthrun took a messy sip, a little spilling over his beard as his hand trembled.

“Hard times for the village. First the kobolds…”

“…the kobolds will trouble you no more.” Amon interjected.

Valthrun looked up from his tea. “Yes… thank you for that. Would that kobolds were our greatest problem. They are animals, doing as animals do. What I fear is beyond the natural world. The dead have been rising from the grave… and I suspect you are among their number.”

Amon said nothing, but his silence spoke volumes nonetheless.

Valthrun nodded thoughtfully. “You’re not mindless, though, wanting only to tear flesh. That’s different, and I wonder why. They say the key to undoing evil lies within it’s own twisted machinations. How did you come to be…” he gestured at Amon’s preternaturally still body “…as you are?”

Amon’s instinct was to say nothing. What did this old fool from a no-name village in the middle of fuck-knows-where have to say that would illuminate him. Still, he could not deny his own confusion. He sighed without breath.

“I awoke in a coffin, two days ago. It was bound and covered in strange markings. I have been told…” he shook his head in disbelief. “…I am told it is one hundred years since I lived. The coffin was in a cart… a cart bound for this village.” he snarled, his anger over his lack of control taking him over as he spoke. “And as for the urge to tear flesh, old man, let me assure you that it is there, and it’s taking all my will not to kill you and every other fool I encounter. The only thing that stops me is the need to know who did this to me!”

Amon realised he had stood and was now looming over the man, who looked up at him sadly.

“My friend… you could kill every living thing in this world, and it still would not sate the hunger to kill inside you. That is your mind, rebelling against what it has become. Unlife. Now it wants to drag every other thing down with it. The only thing that can bring you peace is to find who…. who bought you back, and why.”

Amon felt his anger subsiding as the enormity of his task unfolded before him.

“Did you retain the images, the patterns on the coffin, I mean?”

Amon kicked himself for his stupidity.

“No.” Valthrun looked surprised, and disappointed.

“That would have been helpful. No matter.”

He refilled his cup, swirling the liquid to stir up the leaves.

“I know little of the necromantic arts myself- never could stand the smell. But I have a colleague- a friend, really- who has studied the living dead, and is in fact investigating the recent plague. Goes by the name of ”/characters/douven-stahl" class=“wiki-content-link”>Douven Stahl. He’s gone down to the old dragon burial site, said there might be some clue or other there about what’s been happening. He said he’d be gone for a day at most, but that was over a week ago- I worry for his safety. If anyone knows why might have happened to you, it’ll be him. Could you seek him out for me?"

He hastily scribbled a map and handed it to Amon, who quickly recognized the landmark T-junction shape of the road around Winterhaven.

“I’ll find this man- for my own reasons, and for yours.”

Valthrun put a hand to Amon’s shoulder, thought better of it, then quickly withdrew it under Amon’s withering glance.

“We’ll get to the bottom of this.”

Amon stood to leave.

“Once last thing,” Valthrun added. “That friend of yours, the machine.”

“Grumble?” Amon asked.

“Yes, the mechanoid. It’s patterns, the marking on it’s armour, they seemed… familiar to me.”

“He told me he was just an abandoned war-construct.”

“It did, did it? I suppose they can be told to think anything.” he muttered. “Send it my way, if you can. I suspect there is more to it that even it knows.”

Amon nodded, and departed.

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