The Rod of Ruin

Chapter 6
Back door

After a short rest the party further investigated the dank chamber. De-Val cast light onto Grumble’s hand and he waded slowly into the murky water, searching. Using his now luminous appendage he found that the bottom of the pool was covered in bones. It was not especially surprising and Grumble brought several to the surface. They were a mix of many creatures; goblin, hobgoblin and two small human skulls that, upon inspection, were clearly the bones of the water sprites.

“I’ll take these” Grumble informed the startled party.

De-Val shot a furtive look to the others. “Maybe children’s bones aren’t the best souvenirs from an adventure? Gold? Yes. Sword? Yes. Children’s bones? No…”

Grumble, unperturbed, placed the two small skulls inside his backpack.

“Right. Good talk.” De-Val said in a resigned tone.

Leaving the chamber the sounds of rats echoed around the cavern. Amon placed his ear to the cave floor for a moment then motioned down one of the side corridors.

As they turned the corner the air was filled with a nose-wrinkling snake-like musk.

“Kruthik” Amon whispered.

As the party crept forward they saw the same types of Kruthik as they had fought before. However, this time though there were many more, and of varying sizes. They skittered about, sliver creatures with a horrific blend of both insect and reptile features. Limbs ending in scythe like claws. One as large as a human clung to the wall.

De-Val whispered to his companions, “They see through their feet. Tremors in the ground.”

He fixed his eyes on Grumble and emphasised the word tremors.

Grumble shrugged. “We go slowly?”

Amon, quietly, lead the company forward. But their optimism was short-lived and only a few steps further into the chamber, the smaller Kruthik’s started making high pitched clicking noses and scurrying about. As they watched, many rushed into holes in the walls, out of sight, but not out of their thinking.

The largest Kruthik, obviously the den mother, scurried along the wall directly toward Amon. Before anyone could react, it’s back arched and poisonous spikes erupted from it. He was immediately hit, the spike embedding into his shoulder, green poison oozing out of the wound.

The cavern erupted into a sea of movement, one of the smaller horrors biting at Grumble’s leg inefficiently, its mandibles unable to pierce his stony skin.

As Grumble and Amon spring into action, battling the Kruthik’s that rushed headlong towards the party, they were suddenly bathed in light from behind. Lightning fired wildly out from behind them; exploding rocks and arcing across the roof. A spectacular show with little effect. And, much as lightning follows thunder; the light show was followed by a barrage of expletives from De-Val.

Valshress, her view of the battle obscured, whipped out her sling and attempted to wound the baby Kruthik that attacked Grumble, but the tight quarters make her shot too hard, and the stone skipped wide. As she did so, Grumble’s green flame blade cast the party in dancing light, and he severed some of the young Kruthik’s limbs in a swift blow.

Amon grit his teeth and took hold of the spike in his arm. He’d done more painful things, he reasoned, as he tore the poison spike from himself and drove it into head of a Kruthik that was leaping at his face. His momentum drove the spike down through the beast’s head, pinning its corpse to the ground. He was briefly pleased with himself, but as he began to feel the poison creeping into his veins he was aware of the den mother Kruthik rushing forward. Swiftly, it hung from the roof directly in front of him. In one grotesque movement it both checked over her now dead young and snapped at Amon.

De-Val pushed his way forward, past Amon and into the battle proper. His eyes were shut, a slight smile playing across his crystalline lips. As he summoned his inner calm, light began to play across his face and his eyes snapped open. His gaze was entirely focused on the mother Kruthik. Information about the creature flooded his mind; strengths, weaknesses, everything he knew and more. Armed with this new information, De-Val attempted to freeze the den mother… only to fill the corridor in a light dusting of ice. Again, as spring follows winter, De-Val swore loudly.

The darkness behind the den mother Kruthik seemed to pool and darken in an unnatural way. After a moment, the shadows converged into the form of a cave bear. From behind the raging battle, Valsharess had summoned her companion.

For a moment, the bear sniffed at the air and allowed it self to adjust to the dank surroundings. But only for a moment. The cave bear let out a roar and enjoined battle; slashing at the den mother with its brutal claws.

The battle rages. Grumble continued to hack at his foe, each blow ringing through the chamber. Amon plunged his poison spike back into the den mother, returning her deadly gift, and feeling vaguely pleased about the irony. His blow elicits piercing screams from the Kruthik mother, and she struck out at Amon in defence. As she does so, Grumble teleported behind the fiend only to have the floor give way, a pit trap sprung. He tumbled roughly into the shadows, his embarrassment more acute than his injuries.

Behind all this, Valshress’ and De-Val’s battle continued. Her instincts heightened, Valsharess span and deflected another small Kruthik as it leapt at her, only to have a second one emerge from the wall next to her and leap on her back. De-Val, seeing Valshress fighting two beasts, attempted to cast lighting to free his comrade. He succeeded only in showering the pair in sparks. And again, as failure follows casting, De-Val swore loudly.
Valshress lashed out at the enemy in front of her killing it. Nearby, her cave bear continued to tear at the Kruthik mother. Alongside this battle, Grumble attempted to extract himself from the pit. Amon, for his part, fought on.

And so it went.

De-Val, distracted, did not hear the Kruthik before it flashes from the gaping hole in the wall, but whatever stealth it mustered is made up for by his own high pitch scream. Valshress, still occupied with the beast on her back, watched in horror as De-Val is pulled into the dark walls of the chamber. After a moment filled with the sound of struggling, lighting streaks from the cavity in the wall, casting ghastly shadows on the wall. De-Val tumbled out again, covered in blood. The blood of his enemy.

The den mother Kruthik reared and fired another round of poison spikes. Both Grumble and Amon are stuck, and Amon still weak from the poison, temporally tumbles to the floor. Grumble takes this distraction as an opening and leaps forward impaling the Kruthik mother, killing her. Her death cry reverberates through her children, but the battle is won.

The party quickly mopped up the rest of the younglings before healing up and moving
further into the dungeon. They all agreed to do what they can to avoid fighting malevolent insect creatures in the future.

Further along the next corridor, it became apparent that the ground seemed to be slowly sloping up. These corridors were largely silent, except for the distant scurrying of rats. The air was stale. No one had come through here for some time. Not even the Kruthik’s. They round a corner and enter a large room with a set of stairs in the far wall.

But between them and the stairs is a massive mound of red jelly.

A melee swiftly starts. Grumble and Valshress attack the gelatinous form. De-Val draws on his knowledge of the arcane and quickly relays the strengths and weaknesses of the beast to the group, but it is of little help, as Grumble’s first attack results in his great sword taking acid damage. Displaying greater caution than she had in the past, Valshress summons her wooden form while her cave bear circles around the gooey adversary.

The crimson jelly rears up before smashing down, leaving a burning coat of acid on Grumble.

Amon is suddenly aware of a scurrying sound from behind the battle. The scurrying of rat feet. Were they hiding? Are they simply opportunists? Are they in league with the blob? Amon did not take too long to ponder the realities of rat combat, as he was quickly overwhelmed by a pack of unusually large rats. With quick reflexes and even quicker thinking, he seized one of the giant rodents and flung it into the corrosive blob.

The band watched in revulsion as the rat sinks into the quivering form, it’s struggling soon stops as it begins to dissolve, and within moments not even its skeleton remains.
Valshress and Grumble continue their assault, but soon find that that striking the acidic foe has the deadly and infuriation result of it splitting its mass into smaller duplicates of itself.
Grumble, for his part, realises the peril of filling the room full of murderous corrosive clones, and wards himself against acid. His increased protection from its acidic attacks allows his to cleave more chunks off the main jelly body, and using his teleporting ability he flicks around the room slashing as he goes. A whirling dervish of immutable death. Or at least as whirling as a stone warrior can be.

As this happens, a smile creeps across De-Val’s face. He had always enjoyed a target rich environment, despite his consistent misfires. He thrust out his arms as lightning crackles down his limbs, leaping into two of the smaller blobs and reducing them to ash.
Despite her companion’s efforts, Valshress found herself surrounded by a swiftly growing army of gelatinous death. She called upon her dryad armour to shelter from the ongoing acid storm, whilst both her bear and her staff struck out; both killing and making more opponent’s. From behind her, another rat another rat sails over the fight and lodges into the largest mass of jelly. It is soon gone.

Amon fumbled against the largest of the rats. The penultimate dog-sized rat took issue with his flinging of its companions, and scurried up Amon’s arm, yellow teeth gnashing at his face. Inspired, Amon bit its head off and spit it at his rat-mate, killing it.

The room again lit up, and two more blobs were electrified by De-Val’s mystic lighting. Perhaps he was finally getting the hang of this? As the final remaining gelatinous bulk crawls over Grumble and pinned him to the ground, Valshress and her bear together slammed into it causing it to rupture and die.

Another battle won, another battle won disgustingly. The party spends several long minuets cleaning glop off themselves (or out of their mouths in Amon’s case). De-Val searches about and finds a small pit full of ex-adventures gold before also finding the largest mass of the jelly’s remains and pissing upon it. No one else says a thing.

Before them are a set of strong wooden doors, locked from the other side. Whatever they seek is most likely through here.

Amon turns to the party, his sharp features breaking into a rictus grin. “I have an idea”

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Chapter 5
Tunneling toward the Keep

They entered the cave in two by two cover formation. Or at least they would have, had any but Grumble known what that was, or had experience in soldiering. They were all warriors certainly, Grumble mused, but not soldiers. Valsharress was sort of a soldier, her being part of some group that protected forests or some such, but he doubted the Hamadryad put much stock in, say, siege tactics. De’Val certainly wouldn’t be the soldiering type since the pay tended to be pretty poor and Amon Al’abun’na-ir was too much a lone wolf for soldiering. Certainly they had battled together many times but Grumble got the feeling Amon was mostly fighting in the same place and against the same enemies rather than actually fighting with the group. Grumble shrugged. That would come. They’d only be together a couple of days and were only just learning what each could do.

He looked about the cave, dim light from the entrance showed several smaller shafts branching off from the main tunnel. They were large enough for a man to crawl through – provided the man wasn’t a hulking Warforged – and looked to Grumble to have been made by a creature rather than being just cracks. He turned to ask Amon if he knew what beast could make such tunnels. He was gone.

Amon shimmied through the confines of the little tunnel. It was clearly made by a creature of some kind and Amon meant to kill it. He hated tunneling creatures as he hated all creatures. He heard a chittering sound but couldn’t tell where it came from in the echos.

De’Val looked around sharply as a chittering sound echoed around him. He, Grumble, and Valsharress had taken the left fork in the cave and found a larger chamber. Several smaller tunnels ran off from the walls but it was too dark to see where they led. A surprised and angry yell burst from a tunnel to their right followed by more chittering.

“Do you know what tha..Aargh!” De’Val cursed as a large segmented thing with sharp looking pincers leaped at him from another tunnel.

Valsharress’ form morphed and grew until her now familiar armoured form stood tall. She swung her staff at the new menace, striking it’s hard carapace. It squealed and darted back down a tunnel.

The other sounds of fighting to the left continued. Grumble strode over to the entrance and reached as far in as he could. His hand found cloth and he heaved, pulling a green ichor covered Amon out. They both collapsed backwards as a pincered head poked out of the hole Amon had just left. Grumble extricated himself and stepped backward to get space to draw his sword only to fall through a brittle covering and into a pit, walls smooth and floor a harsh mess of wooden spikes.

“Ray of FROST!” came De’Val’s cry and freezing sleet covered the insect. It vanished backward as more chittering came from all around.

Valsharress looked meaningfully at De’Val as she pulled a flask if oil from her pouch. She threw it down one of the tunnels as De’Val began to do the same. The flasks shattered and oil splattered over the earthen walls. De’Val let loose a lightning strike that lit first one entrance then another. He couldn’t be sure if screams could be heard over the conflagration but silence descended once the flames died down. Valsharress helped as Grumble climbed out of the pit and shrugged off the minor damage taken by the fall.

The cave continued from the far end of the chamber and the group began moving out. Another pit was found, like the first but missing the covering Grumble had stepped though. This one had a dead creature like the ones they had briefly fought.

“Kruthik’s.” Amon said now that he could get a good look at one.

“Any weaknesses we should know about?” Asked De’Val but Amon ignored him.

This time they came silently. One jumped at Grumble from a dark corner as he was looking down into the pit and slashed at his back, it’s sharpened mandible skittering off the Warforged’s armoured hide. A second fell from the ceiling onto Valsharress’ back and tried to gnaw at her tough wooden armour whilst the third burst from a side tunnel and swung a scythe-like mandible at De’Val’s leg.

Grumble spun, sword in hand and opened the Kruthik’s face with his blade, coating the floor in green blood. As Valsharress slammed her back into the cave wall trying to crush the beast the cave was lit up blue by the lightning that cascaded around De’Val’s arm and shot out into his foe. Small blue electric arcs played over the dying beast as it curled it’s legs up into itself. Again Valsharress slammed her back into the cave wall and as she came forward the foul insectoid lost it’s grip and fell to the floor. Valsharress wasted no time in stabbing the butt of her staff down into its middle and gave a half twist as green liquid pooled around the corpse.

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Chapter 3
Winterhaven

Amon had left the Inn early and gone, Light Above knew where, but Valsharress would not waste the day looking for him. She was too curious as to the possible magical properties of the staff she had liberated from the Kobold Mage. And so, De-Val and Grumble in tow, she inquired of the Inn Keeper of Rafton’s if there were anyone likely to be knowledgeable about such things in town.

The same woman that had served them previously was again behind the bar, and Valsharress briefly wondered if there were any other staff at all, and if this woman ever got any rest. But she was keen enough to help them with their inquiry.

“There is Sister Linora, at the Church of Avandra.” she answered, her voice wavering much less so talking to the strange woman as it did the huge automaton who had yelled at her the other day. Don’t stare at it! She thought, her eyes darting back to Valsharress. “A-and an elderly gentleman, Valthrun, who lives in the tall tower. He knows more than anyone, I’d wager.”

Thanking the Inn Keeper and turning to her remaining companions, Valsharress sighed to herself to think of these two… beings as comrades, but it is clear I cannot fulfil my mission alone.

“I will go to Sister Linora first, you two may wait here if you wish or…”
“We’ll come too, Churches are often wealthy places. Eh, Grumble?” smiled De-Val, and elbowed Grumble in the side. “Besides, perhaps this Linora will know about… dreams.” he finished, frowning.

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Grumble had travelled with treasure hunters for years and had cultivated a certain sense for riches. This Church did not trigger that sense. Like the town, it was obviously well built but had fallen on hard times. With no traders getting in or out, the town was suffering, and the Church with it. Although people obviously still worshipped, as a large congregation was just leaving as they approached. Valsharress gestured for Grumble and De-Val to remain while she approached Sister Linora.

There were children among the flock, and two of them came running up to Grumble. One of them started climbing up his back.
“What are you?” asked the other, wide eyed.
“I am Warforged.” Grumble spoke and reached behind him to pluck the child from his back. “I am not for climbing.”
“Are you here to kill the zombies?” asked the climber.
“Zombies?” began Grumble but De-Val had stepped forward.
“Hey kids, want to see a magic trick?” he asked grinning.
He waved his hands around theatrically –
“Hocus-pocus!”
- and pressed his thumbs upon the two children’s foreheads. They turned to each other.
“You’ve got Avandra’s luck on your face!” exclaimed one.
“So do you! Mum, mum!” The children ran off laughing.

Valsharress had finished talking to Sister Linora, who had turned out not to know anything about the staff other than that Valthrun might be able to identify it, and turned to see Grumble striding up.
“The children spoke of zombies.” he boomed. Valsharress wondered if the big automaton realized just how loud he was.

A clearly shaken Sister Linora tried to compose herself. “I wish I could tell you that was just the imaginings of a child. But the fact is Winterhaven has had many troubles in recent times. Whilst Kobolds have been the more direct threat – now vanquished I understand…” she nodded thanks to the two warriors “More sinister events have started… our dead have… begun to rise.”

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De-Val and Grumble shared a brief look as their minds turned to the disagreeable, homicidal man they’d recently freed from a coffin, and the three of them made their excuses to leave.

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Ever since they’d entered Winterhaven, they’d been told to seek out Valthrun. Of course, being the somewhat motley crew that they were, it had taken many days and countless battles to finally reach him. He lived at the centre of town, in a tower that extended into the air a few levels, before ending abruptly.

Valsharress had seen Trees, great ancient Trees, older than the oldest of her kind, similarly mangled by lightning; leaving little more than a proud, curtailed stump. She wondered what forces must have been at work to destroy so solid a thing as this tower.

De-Val knocked at the door, and after a moment of shuffling and creaking, it opened.

Valthrun was thin and stooped, but he had sharp eyes nestled under wild, silver eyebrows. He was clearly not surprised to see them.

“He sent you, then?” He questioned as he ushered them in.

“Who sent..?” De-Val replied, but it was too late. Valthrun was already half-way up the stairs. Just as he was about to disappear from view, he looked back over his shoulder at the trio.

“You have to stay downstairs!” He waved distractedly at Grumble, “The stairs are too old.”

Grumble agreed; this old tower was not built with his kind in mind.

“But I want an etching later!” Valthrun cackled as he disappeared to the first floor.

Somewhat taken aback, Valsharress and De-Val followed.

On the first floor was a study, piled high with books and caskets and chests and papers. A small stove fed out the small window and candles encased in glass were scattered about, casting haphazard shapes across the room. Something about them seemed to Valsharress to recall a deep bruise, and the idea made her somewhat uneasy. At the centre of the room were two big, old, worn chairs and Valthrun gestured for them to sit as he busied himself with making tea.

Valsharress sat, but De-Val was otherwise occupied. His eyes fairly span in their sockets as he looked about the room. His hands began to involuntarily twitch Who knows what could be upstairs!

“We were…” Valsharress began, but she was interrupted by Valthrun thrusting a cup of tea into her hand.

“The other one didn’t have any.” He said to no-one in particular.

“We were sent to talk to you.” Valsharress pressed on.

“Yes, yes. I know. But I don’t know.” He shuffled papers as he talked.

“Don’t know what?”

“I know why you’re here, but I don’t have any answers. Douven Stahl… he might.”

“Who is Douven Stahl?”

“Who is… Who is Douven Stahl? He’s…” Valthrun was briefly focussed by his annoyance enough to top shuffling about the papers that lined many of the shelves. “He’s the one who can help you.”

“Yes… Right… Where can we find him then?”

“Yes, exactly. Find him. That’s what you need to do. He’s at the dig site. I think.” With a flourish, Valthrun produced a map of and laid it down between them.

“Here!” He thrust a bony finger at a point on the map in the near south. “Tell me…” He began.

“Yes?”

“Is your Genasi friend going to steal anything?”

De-Val was snapped back from his scheming by mention of his name. “I wasn’t!”

A mad grin spread across Valthrun’s face, exposing yellow, crooked teeth. “There’s a treasure greater than those within this Tower. Douven Stahl knows this.”

Having oriented herself in regards to the map and the dig, Valsharress stood, placing her tea aside, untouched. “We shall find your friend. But I also need to know about this.”

She produced the Kobold mage’s staff from… somewhere… and held it our for Valthrun’s inspection.

For a moment, he stopped moving and his attention was locked on the jewel embedded in it’s gnarled end. He reached out, slowly, before drawing his hand back. “Put it next to the stove. I’ll tell you what I can when you find…”

“Find Douven Stahl, yes…” Sighed Valsharress.

“Excellent!” Valthrun span away from from her as she settled the staff in the corner and whipped a roll of paper from a shelf before heading for the stairs. De-Val lingered for a moment as Valsharress followed, then he too headed down.

Just inside the door, they found Valthrun placing a rickety wooden step at Grumbles feet, before climbing it unsteadily and slapping the blank paper right in the Warforged’s face. Valthrun fumbled in the pockets of his tattered robe for a moment before producing a bright red stone, and set about taking a rubbing of Grumble’s etchings.

“You’re the first Warforged I’ve ever met, you know” He happily exclaimed.

Grumble began to reply, his voice muffled by paper, but was cut short. “Don’t move! You’ll ruin the etching!” cried the scholar.

After a moment’s further rubbing, Valthrun drew back the paper and considered the markings. “I will find out what I can about this.” he declared as he climbed down off the stool. He tapped his etching stone against Grumble’s chest; the sound was sharp and clear. “I will find out what I can…”

He opened the door and ushered them out into the warming morning air. “I’ll be here when you get back. And then we’ll talk some more!” And with that, he closed the door.

“We didn’t get to talk to begin with…” De-Val murmured.

“What is our objective?” Grumble asked.

“We are to find a man named Douven Stahl. Valthrun seems to think he’ll have the answers we seek.”

“All we do is chase our tails for the eccentrics of this stupid town.” De-Val’s kicked at the dirt as his hair sparked petulantly.

“Shall we find Amon before we leave?”

Valsharress tilted her head and squinted at the sun. Her mind was briefly drawn back to the deep shadows on Valthrun’s study.

“He was here before us.”

“How do you know?” Asked De-Val.

“I just…” A brief shudder skipped through her body. “Valthrun has only one thing on his mind. No doubt he set Amon the same task. If we leave now, we can catch him.”

“Then it is settled. What is our destination?”

Valsharress looked to the South. “A big hole in the ground.”

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Out on the road, Amon moved quickly and quietly towards the dig site. Valthrun’s words echoed in his head. “Who will you then kill when you’ve killed the whole world?”

He doubled his pace.

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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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Chapter 1
A bloody road

The sun was shining and the day was clear, De-val could hear the birds singing as he walked towards Winterhaven. The ‘Adventurers Wanted’ scroll was tucked into his leather backpack, never far from his thoughts. What a find, an opportunity for fortune and glory. A way to write his name upon the tomes of destiny.

When he rounds the bend in the road and sees the cart his first thoughts are of requesting a lift into town. Once he draws closer, he notices the strewn debris and that the cart seems to be lopsided- his thoughts immediately turn to danger. Suddenly he notices the birds seem oddly quiet and while the sun still shines he feels no heat on his skin.

Stealthily he circles around the cart, moving through the forest to its right. From this vantage point he can see that the horses are dead and the cart’s canvas top is torn. He sits for a moment taking in his surroundings- no sound emits from the cart and as there are no obvious signs of danger, he carefully approaches to see if there is anyone in need of aid or if there’s anything of value to be found.

As De-val sifts through the goods that are scattered around the back of the cart he finds one object that seems most strange: a head, but not a human head; it seems to be made of stone. As he picks it up and turns it from side to side the eyes begin to emit a strange red glow, as if powered by some far-off source.

As its red eyes start to fill it asks: “Please reattach me.”

De-val hides his shock by asking: “And you would be?”

Grumble.” the head proclaims in a tone deeper than the voice of any severed head has a right to be.

While regarding the head with some suspicion, De-val throws back the back flap of the cart, only to have one question answered and another asked.

Inside a masculine stone body sits without a head. It is obviously comprised of the same materials as the head and otherwise is completely intact, a sword is buckled to its belt and backpack tucked behind it.

Next to the body, taking up the remaining space of the cart, is a large wooden box, covered in ornate arcane symbols. Having studied magic in Kryral, De-val recognises these as protection wards- he notes that the box has also been tied closed with ropes. To keep thieves out? It dawns upon him that this box looks a lot like a coffin- perhaps to keep something in?

As De-val knocks gingerly on the casket, he hears muffled movement and then a return knock. A high pitched cry from behind De-val breaks his attention from the mysterious cart. He feels the hiss of air as a blade narrowly misses his back, he spins around to find a Kobold glaring at him.

A four foot lizardman rocks back to take another swipe with its rusted blade. Its mismatched armour would be comical if not for the blood stains.

Reacting on instinct and years of academy training, in one smooth move De-val tosses the stone head over his shoulder and thrusts out his other hand calling the powers of ice and death into being.

“Ray of Frost!”

A shimmer of power emits around his hand before the air turns brittle- the Koblod is covered in a fine layer of clear ice and the force of the arcane spell tips the lizardman backwards. As it hits the hard dirt road it shatters into a million pieces of frozen meat.

At the exact same time as the ray of frost hits the Koblod, the strange sound of stone on stone came grinding from the cart, as De-val turned back he saw the head had landed square onto the stone robot’s shoulders as was now reattaching itself.

In a voice like gravel being crushed it rumbles: “Thank you.” Its mechanical arm whips a sword out an in an arc that slices the ropes from the coffin, the coffin lid explodes spewing shattered wood splinters. A haunted figure sits up, waxen in complexion and dressed in full black. He seems disorientated.

De-val barely has time to notice the golden tinge to the eyes of this stranger when from further down the road a guttural roar is responded to from the surrounding woods by the same sort of high pitched cries of the now slain Koblod.

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De-val steps back from the cart to give the machine man Grumble room to step out, only to be hit in the head by a bola.

He winces in pain, noticing Koblods are rushing from the forest just up the road. Standing on a boulder further still up the road is a huge Koblod barking orders in a foul language unknown to De-val.

He sees the Koblod that tossed the bola ducking down behind a rock, as it pop its head up to throw another De-val again calls fourth icy death only to have the incantation miss and cover the outcrop of stones in ice.

Grumble grabs the cart and tries to upturn it to provide cover from the oncoming threat. Unfortunately due to the missing wheel the cart merely lurches forward a few feet before becoming embedded intp the ground.

The figure in black leaps through the tattered roof of the cart and balances on its beams, notching a bolt to his crossbow and firing into the shoulder of the huge koblod leader. The leader bites the bolt and pulls it from his shoulder, barking further commands.

The bola koblod made De-val pay for missing and again hit him with a skillful throw.
Suddenly behind the koblod leader two tall elms began to bend in an unnatural way- they twist around each other until they have made a complete circle. Soft green light ripples from its centre. A figure steps forth, elfin in appearance and strikingly beautiful. As she approaches the koblod leader, she calls out to the forces of nature and summons a bear from beneath the earth. The bear charges forward and in one great swipe kills a koblod and disfigures the leader, parts of his face hanging by mere sinews.

Grumble rushes to the front of the cart taking on two koblods. One is almost as large as the leader, he swings his sword, channeling power through its blade, but misses. They both strike out at Grumble, their blades bouncing off his stone skin seemingly doing little damage.

The figure in black somersaults off the roof of the cart knocking larger koblod down, as he rolls to the ground he fires his crossbow into the back of the smaller koblod, killing it instantly.

As De-val had moved to the back of the cart to avoid further bola’s he now closes his eyes and draws the power of storms unto to himself. The light goes dim around him and the sound of rolling thunder can be heard as if it’s both far way and crashing onto you. Across his body are carved channels of light, “Arc Lighting!” A forked bolt of lightning springs from his hands, it curves over the cart and strikes a kobold coming from the forest. The explosion sends chunks of charred meat showering the trees, the other bolt hits the downed larger koblod. It writhes in pain, vomiting on Grumble’s feet.

The koblod leader swipes at the bear stabbing into its flanks. The bear attacks again this time finishing the job and clawing what little remained of the leaders face away. His lifeless body sliders from the rocks.

Only the downed koblod, the bola koblod and one other small koblod remains. Grumble steps up onto the cart and leaps off, hammering his feet down onto the downed koblods neck, a pulping noise heard as the head is forced from its body.

The figure in black unsheathes his sword and strikes out at one of the two remaining koblods. As his sword struck both figures clutched at their heads, blood pouring from their eyes.

As De-val looks around for other threats the elf walks towards him. As she draws close he notices that while she resembles an elf, an elf she is not. Her skin has a fine bark quality. He realises that she must be a Hamadryad. When she speaks her voice has the clarity and conviction of one who is at peace with nature, “Why are you in these woods?”


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The fight had gone well enough, Grumble mused. Not brilliantly but considering his head had only just been reattached to his body he thought he had done okay. Being separated like that had been a little unsettling, more so since the ‘How I came to be that way’ memory seemed to be missing.

“Why are you in these woods?” the Hamadryad asked again, but she wasn’t really talking to Grumble. Mostly real-born didn’t ask many questions of Warforged other than “Who sent you?! Arrgh!” he thought. The one that had come from the coffin was silent as the crystal-haired man explained that his name was De-Val and told of a small piece of paper and a missing prince.

The bear that Grumble had seen fighting the kobolds was trampling some clothes while De-Val looked on, ashen faced. De-Val had mentioned selling them and since he had been the one to do the reattaching Grumble decided that this electric blue man would be his new companion. Loyalty was of the utmost importance and you couldn’t be loyal if there was no one to be loyal too. Grumble picked up the muddied rags.

The coffin man, De-Val had called Sulky-face, asked what the date was and then struck De-Val when he said Wednesday. Grumble moved to stand between them, but wasn’t sure of the group-status of this man, so did not strike back. Had not Sulky-face fought with them in the battle just now? “It is 1479 DR.” This answer seemed to startle him.

After some deliberating the others seemed to come to an agreement on direction and Grumble followed along with the bear until the five of them reached Winterhaven. Approaching the gate towards last light Grumble noticed many villagers hurrying to get into the keep. These parts must not be safe after dark.

They entered a Tavern and De-Val ordered rooms. The Hamadryad, Valsharress, bought a drink for Grumble, who took it with some surprise. Though he didn’t drink he knew that real-born saw this as a gesture of companionship rather than a simple goblet of liquid and could count on the fingers of one hand how often it had been intended for him.

After making a big show of offering his companions a room (which no one took up) De-Val went to bed and Grumble took up watch within the small room. Several hours later Amon Al’abun’na-ir entered and had a restless, fitful sleep.

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If Amon had learnt anything from the past few hours it was this; his own personal hell seemed to look very much like The North.

First there had been darkness and confusion. Then he had been freed from his confines and instinct had swept him along in its violent wake. He had killed hundreds of times before, but this was new, and he had felt that things were askew even before a Kobold had fallen screaming at his feet after only a glance. Where once his killing was in the name of order, the pure antagonism that poured out of him felt connected to something else. It was as if he were merely a puppet or a tool. A blunt object of unrelenting force and violence.

He had found himself in the company of a chatty Genasi, a simpering Warforged and a far too-trusting Hamadryad. It was no more ridiculous to travel with them for the time-being than it was to be new-born after nearly a century of death, so he had followed along to the township.

That night, in the Inn, he had met an old man named Valthrun. He offered answers but wrapped them in further mystery.

Later, Amon slept fitfully and rose early. Whilst his new companions argued about trading and whose personal objective to pursue, Amon kept his own counsel. As much as he wanted to know more about his resurrection there was a nagging feeling in the back of his mind… He fairly shook with a desire, a need, for… something…

Amon was not disappointed when his companions eventually accepted the task of slaughtering more Kobolds from the local lord.

And so they had set out to the East.

It was not long until they came across a further group of Kobolds, alongside one of their less evolved brethren. The battle was short, but bloody. The Genasi endlessly attempted to electrocute the Kobolds by luring them into the stream. The Hamadryad and the Warforged battled extensively with the Kobold Commander amidst some mystical ruin.

All the while Amon fairly delighted in his skirmish. Each blow he struck chattered through his nerves and settled his longing. Each blow he took allowed his festering black blood to spew forth, a reminder that he was no more truly alive than he had been when he was in a coffin.

After the battle, he sat quietly in the clearing, surrounded by the detritus of the beasts he had slain, bleeding but unbowed. And for the first time since he had risen he felt almost at peace. Nearby, he heard his new companions chattering excitedly. There were further creatures to kill beyond the waterfall.

Somewhere at the back of him mind, the longing returned; quiet, but insistent – an itch needing a scratch. Amon pulled himself slowly to his feet and followed.

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