The Chronicles of the Seekers of Faerun - Chapter Seven

Adventure Date: November 28, 2008

Last Updated: May 20, 2009


Sister Kendra Dellapadriac
Curator Servant of Oghma
Leaves of Learning, Highmoon
Midsummer 35
1770 DR Year of the Swan

Brother Landry d’Ewart
Monk/priest Servant of Oghma
Bristar Branch


May the Binder’s Lamp of Learning guide your path. Please forgive the lateness of this reply, but so many events have taken my time. Let me explain. Your discovery was such a treasure and the amount of consternation it caused was incredible. Until now all our information regarding the Seekers hunting down of Bareris came from other sources. But these are Swan’s own words! Part of the consternation was due to the fact that at about the same time you found the letter, here at the main library, I also had found a long lost letter and in exactly the same manner! I am of the mind that our Lord of Learning has a cosmic sense of humor. The one I found continues in two parts the hunting down of the mad Red Wizard. Unlike yours it deals mainly with the Seeker’s adventures in the keep of Bareris, their battles there and what they found. There are only small references to the interplay of the Seeker group. The badinage between Swan and Neon was particularly illuminating. It showed a comfort level and acceptance of each other’s personalities that at first reading is puzzling. How had they managed to reach such maturity? It assumes that the reader already has learned of these relationships. Of course the intended reader was Lilia Vulpae and the first part of the letter (yours) already detailed the relationships and feelings of the young Swan.

Regardless, once these letters (mine) were authenticated, we let it be known to scholars and sages that this new discovery was available for perusal here at the library. They immediately began to flock to us here, insisting on reading them and paying for copies to be made. Our brother and sister scribes could barely keep pace. To make matters worse, they arrived in large numbers the day of Swan’s birthday when Highmoon was already overflowing with pilgrims, Swan Cult members, buskers, and normal summer tourists. The streets were always packed and the celebrations were non-stop. We were forced to find accommodation for these learnened ones here at the library. This meant of course that our acolyte priests and monks had to vacate their sleeping quarters. This produced much grumbling. Oh, the pouring over the letters, dissection of each word and nuance. The seminars and, conferences and panel discussions that ensued. Then your letter arrived. Then all became more emotional and heated. We had instances where venerable historians challenged aged scholars to duels at dawn! Can you believe it? Old men who could barley stand without aid, would attempt to pummel each other because one had called the other’s theory outmode in return to being called prejudiced and ignorant. All this against a background of Swan celebrations, confrontations between sages and cult members, revelers and the city watch, historians and story tellers. Needless to say, all took place in a highly charged atmosphere of rumors of sightings of magical swans saving children from rabid dogs, shape shifting swanmays and other holy signs. We need to bring some order from this chaos, a residue of the Spellplague.

I have sent you copies of the discovered letters to keep in Bristar. Read, and enjoy. Perhaps we can discuss our thoughts on these matters next we meet.

Your fellow Servant of Oghma

…The stairs still smelled of decayed zombie. I was ahead, bow at the ready. Risca was one-step back.

As we descended, the smell began to change to one more familiar; like the odor in the giant ant nest, but with a difference. I had determined that we were traveling east as we descended. After 15’ or so the stairway ended into a stone walled room. There were thick wooden doors in the centers of the north and south walls. The floor at the northeast side was all in rubble with what looked like a small tunnel had been dug out. But the most interesting sight was in the middle of the room, having apparently come up the tiny tunnel.

It was a beetle. But what a beetle! Mother, it was the size of a mastiff. All black, red compound eyes, small head and thorax with an overlarge, rounded abdomen. The front held pincers while a strange tube like protuberance extended out the rear. I had never seen anything like it. The body was covered in a thick carapace, almost like plate mail. Spotting us it scurried about on six tiny legs, making skree noises.

Suddenly, I heard “Risca Smash!” as he ran passed me into the room. “No Risca, wait” I shouted, but too late. Risca engaged the beetle. With a mighty swing, his long sword slashed into the beetle. It squealed and spun around fast. Before Risca could return slash, a cloud of yellow mist ejected from its lancet. The mist enveloped the dwarf. He let out a cry. “It burns, it burns!”

I loosed my arrow. It stuck but could not penetrate deep into the armor-like shell. I would need to find a softer spot to inflict damage. Gideon’s crossbow bolt whizzed past, striking the giant insect. It too did not penetrate deeply. I sensed, more than saw Neon, attempting to reach us. He had been at the back, guarding our rear as we descended. “Hang on, Swan”, he called out. But before anything else could happen, massive Okul hurled past, spear set for a charge.

“Okul, a second one! Coming up from the rubble.” I yelled as he raced by me. I had spotted a second beetle head emerging from the tunnel.

Okul turned and raced for it. As he passed the first beetle, it turned its back to him to unleash a second cloud engulfing the kensai. Okul kept running even as blisters began to form as on his exposed, now reddened skin. His spear caught the emerging beetle between its head and thorax. His momentum continued the push, severing the head. With a squeak, it died. The thick hide of the original beetle again deflected Risca’s sword slash. Okul turned, took two steps and spear lunged it. So powerful was the trust that not even the armor carapace could stop it. The spearhead drove deep into the insect and emerged out the other side. Liquid innards spewed everywhere. He then pulled it in and swept it through the insect’s body, dividing the body laterally in two. Both halves flopped over.

I raced over to Risca. All of Risca’s exposed skin, especially his face, was red and blistered. I recognized the effect. “Bug acid. You idiot! This is for rushing in all alone.” I slapped one side of his head. “And this is for scaring me when you got hurt.’ I slapped the other side. “And this is because you will be alright.” I hugged him hard.

“Oi, let off, me gurl. I’s burn and itch al’ov’r.”

Neon approached. His look of concern replaced with a mischievous twinkle. “Hey Swan. The rest of us are all right as well. Do we all get a hug? I think we all need a hug. How about group hugs with you in the middle, O.K.? Be great for the ‘group’ morale.

I had taken out my bar of strong soap. I sighed; relieved that Risca’s hurts would mend. I responded nicely, “Shut up! Shut up! Pass over your water skin.”

Taking it, I poured some water over the soap and worked a lather. I began to wash over Risca’s damaged skin and blisters. “Ranger lore mother taught me. Strong soap will take the itch and burn away from insect bites and stings. Won’t cure it, but speeds up the natural healing and allows you to concentrate on other matters. It has so many other uses in the field as well. Standard scout equipment.”

“Well, well. Imagine that. And here I thought you carried it in case, uh, certain items needed, uh, …lube…ree…kay…shun.” He chuckled.

“Shut up!! Risca, how does that feel?”

“Good. Itch little’, he replied glaring at Neon. Sword na good fa big bugs. Next big bug, Guifoon n me, we chop it down like tree. Right Guifoon?”

I left off Risca and went to help Gideon attend to Okul. I soap lathered him as well.

“Ah! Itch and burn feeling lessening. Thank you Swan.”

“No, thank you for being there for Risca.’

He gave a hearty laugh. “Do we Seekers not stand together? Besides the runt is now beholding to me. And you know how much he hates that.” He laughed again.

Kilzadi joined us. All this time he had been investigating the two doors. ‘South door”, he said to Gideon. “We should go south”

“Why” asked Okul? “Divination, augury?

“No”, responded the mage. “Just a feeling”

Gideon shrugged. “One way is as good as another now. We keep south as long as we can. Then we will see. Neon, south door, please.” The rogue nodded. He used his search abilities around, on and by the door and around the door. Finally he placed a funnel device against the door with the spout end in his ear. In a short time he reported to us. “No surprises here. Didn’t hear anything. Oh, the door seems to be jammed.” Then he half bowed to me with a sweeping gesture towards the door.

“Does the locksmith’s daughter wish to verify?”

“No. I trust your talents.”

He grinned. “Ah Swan. Would that you trusted all my talents. Talents guaranteed to make you…uh… but wait…it depends…are you a moaner, a grunter, a screamer, or some combination? Must remember to ask Inialos.”

“Shut up. Shut up. And finally shut up.” Neon looked up and rolled his eyes. “Gods, I love it when they are so commanding.”

Gideon interrupted. “All right people. Enough banter. Remember where we are and why. Time for seriousness. Risca, Okul, bash through the door. Swan, cover them. Kilzadi, you’re with me. Neon, watch our backs. Let’s do it Seekers!”

Risca gave Neon an evil grin and patted Guifoon as he and Okul walked to the door. There, they both leaned and pushed against it. With a low groan it opened up into a short corridor, which led to a rectangular room. There were two pillars centered in the room, one near the east wall, and one near the west. There was only one door, in the northwest corner. The southwest corner contained the same kind of rubble beetle tunnel as before. A faded tapestry hung on the walls, showing scenes of Haptooth Hill, overshadowed by Dracandros tower and keep in its full glory.

Cautiously and quietly we advanced. The room seemed empty. Careful searching revealed nothing. Kilzadi appraised the tapestry and declared it valuable. So we rolled it up into the bag of holding. Gideon pointed to the door. “Same procedure. As quietly as possible. Swan, you’re closest. Start please.”

I nodded. Using all the skills father taught me, I searched out the door and its environs. I reported back.

“Just like the last one. Nothing unusual except that it is jammed and will have to be bashed open.”

As he had done to me previously, I mockingly half bowed to Neon and gestured towards the door. “Does the sailor’s son wish to verify?”

He grinned and shook his head. “No Cygni. I trust yourrrer talents. I just want to experience them personally. All your talented parts, …hands,… lips…tongue…, whatever.”

And so I teased back. “Oh, I know you do. But the closest you will get is…hearsay... So, as you said… just ask Inialos.” The others were quietly listening to this interplay; Risca with a smirk, knowing that I would best Neon, Okul bemused and Kilzadi amused.

Gideon lifted his face and arms in supplication. “Mighty Kossuth, your servant implores you. Give me the necessary strength. Please you two! Can we save all this for later- once we are safely out of here; our purpose fulfilled?”

As one we both turned to him. “Worry not my good friend Gideon”, I began, “when the Seekers are in need of our skills and talents…”

“We know our duty”, finished Neon. “We will not let anything distract with that. The Seekers can depend on us.” We turned to face each other again. “Gideon’s right, Ninniach. Let’s finish this first. For Aleena.” He nodded. “For Aleena. Let’s do it”

“Seekers.” Gideon pointed to the door. “Like before.” Okul and Risca went to the door and began to push. I covered them. The door budged a little. They strained. This opened the door a little more. A mouse could now fit through. They looked at each other and backed up halfway into the room. They rushed at the door. KA-BOOM! It sounded like the Hammer of Thunder God Thor striking the Celestial Anvil of the Seven Heavens! The door moved a bit more. Now a weasel could squeeze through. They backed up and repeated the same maneuver. KA-BOOM! My ears hurt. The door would now allow a fat weasel to squeeze through. “

Well” spoke up Kilzadi, in a loud voice, “no need to be quiet now. “All of Faerun can hear us.

Looking over, I could see Neon shaking his head in resignation while it seemed that Gideon was again pleading to his god for endurance. Our two fighters, ashamed of their failure, tried again. This time with determination. KA-BOOM! The door swung open! Nothing leaped out at us. No discharge of weapons or energies occurred. Instead the door seemed to be in the southeast corner of a large, dimly lit room. Shadows seemed to be moving and the shady silhouette of a humanoid could be discerned in the southwest corner in line with the now opened door.

“Scout time,” I whispered to the group. “Cover me. Once I’m well hidden, stir things up.”

Bow ready, I slipped into the darkness. Moving silently, I stayed in the shadows along the wall, well hidden. It was difficult to see well. Halfway in I stopped and waited.

In the light of the opened doorway, I could see Neon step up and shoot an arrow at the humanoid figure. At the same time, Okul and Risca ran in towards it. The arrow struck with a ‘thunk’. There was no reaction. Gideon entered; mace in one hand, lantern in the other. Beside him, Kilzadi had his crossbow set and ready. The lantern light illuminated the room. I do not know who was more surprised, myself or the beetle beside me. My combat training stood me in good stead. I reacted without thinking. Even before it finished turning to bring its rear lancet to bear, I had tumbled past. A mist of acid sprayed the area I had just vacated. My somersault brought me facing it. Too far for it to reach me with its pincers but it was in close range of my bow. It squealed, opened its pincers and lumbered towards me. I fired, deep into the center of the pincer joint. It collapsed. I had found the weak spot!

Meanwhile the others were distracted by the sight and sound of a second beetle emerging from another by now familiar tunnel rubble, visible in the northeast corner.

Neon and Kilzadi both fired. The arrow and bolt both struck the thick carapace without seemingly doing much damage. Mother, you’d think they would have learned by now.

Okul and Risca both charged at it, from different sides. Okul drew closer to the beetle. It spun around and sprayed at him. The cloud mist enveloped him, dropping him to his knees gasping and wheezing. This left Risca alone to confront the giant insect.

I had reloaded and ran to help Risca. Mother, you know how fast I am. In no time, I had run past the rogue and mage. “Back me up. Wait for a clear shot!” I called out.

With a ‘Crush for Crull’ Risca chopped into the beetle. So powerful was the blow that Guifoon became wedged inside the carapace. The bug squealed and quickly turned onto Risca who was attempting to free the battle-axe. Huge pincers clamped onto his wrist and lifted him up in the air. “le’go, ya stoopid bug” the dwarf bellowed using his free fist to strike repeatedly against the side of the insect’s head. A weighty hit near its eye caused the beetle to squeal and open its pincer, thereby dropping Risca to the floor. He lay hurt. The monster lunged down at him. The dwarf rolled to one side. The pincers hit the hard stone floor instead of softer dwarf flesh. One snapped. With another squeal, it reared up.

By now I had been in position and waiting for this chance. I fired my arrow. Right into the weak spot; the pincer center. With a last squeal, it flopped over, dead. I rushed over to tend to Risca. Gideon was already tending to Okul.

Kneeling beside my good friend, I ordered, “Hold still.” His wrist was mangled. Only his hard, dense dwarven bones had prevented it from being severed. “Guifoon” he questioned? “Guifoon is fine. Now be quiet and let me work.” Using the healing wand, I intoned the reviving energies of Solonor Thelandria. A silver-green light from the wand suffused over him. His wounds, bruises, cuts and scratches all began to knit and heal.

“Ah, me gurl, Thas feels gud. Tank ye.”

I gave silent thanks to the Great Archer. “Try, please try and take better care of yourself,” I pleaded. “For my sake, at least.”

He beamed up at me. “But Swan, me gurl, yo’s now a clerr-rick. I’s get hurt, yo’s fix me up. So, I’s can take more chances. Be more a hero.” “Idiot” I muttered, hugging him close. “I don’t want you to be a hero. I just want you not to get hurt. If something should ever happen to me, who will take care of you then? Uh, who?” I gave him one last shake and squeeze. Then I rose to help Gideon with Okul.

Poor Okul. He had been sprayed twice already. New blisters had formed and old ones opened. Much skin had peeled off, the rest reddened. “Just remove the itch and burn. I’ll be fine” he requested. We did as best we could and then joined the others at the humanoid figure.

The light revealed it to be a stone statue, hands outstretched forward.. The statue was of a human wizard, thrice life size. It depicted a Red Wizard. It was damaged, corroded and eroded. The interesting part was the open chest cavity from which Neon’s arrow still protruded.

Just a normal stone statue, as far as I could tell”, Neon informed the rest of us. “No secrets.”

“ It is most obvious that something was removed from the chest compartment”, continued Kilzadi. “Oh, it’s also a statue of Dracandros, the old wizard mentor of our quarry, Bareris”.

“Well”, responded Gideon, “at least we know we are on the right track. Only two choices left; north or south door”. These doors had become visible once the room had been more illuminated. “Since we are going south, until further notice, then, ‘let’s do it’.

“Neon”, I whispered to him alone. “Two more kills.”

“Yes,” he whispered back. “Well done. But two beetles do not make a kobold. Only two kobolds can make a kobold. We two can make ecstasy together. Shall we do it’?

“Ha-ha.” We did the door.

Checking the south door revealed no traps and no noises. The door was not jammed and so we slowly opened it to reveal a well-lit 10-foot corridor. The corridor branched west to another doorway and continued south to open up into another square room. The room had a door in the northeast corner and, again, the familiar tunnel rubble in the southwest corner. It was apparently empty except for a crushed beetle in front of the west door.

Risca inhaled deeply. “Bug squashed long time,” he informed us while we choked a bit on the odor of decomposition. Normal sized insect vermin scurried away from the large corpse as we entered.

“No way south”, Neon informed Gideon. “Only west or east.” The priest of Kossuth nodded. “Let’s back track then. East.” The rogue nodded back and led us carefully around the beetle corpse to the east door. Doing his search, he reported. “Just another stuck door.”

“All right”, Gideon replied. “Just as before. Bash it open. Swan you cover. You two, looking and Neon and Kilzadi, stay behind. Watch the other doors. Go!”

This time it only took two loud attempts for Risca and Okul to knock the door open. They were getting better at door bashing. The door swung into another rectangular room. A small stone chest was located in the southwest end, while the once again rubble tunnel was in the southeast end.

The rest of the room was vacant…except for the three beetles, which immediately charged at us. Risca intercepted the left most one, with myself following close behind. The center one headed for Gideon who stood his ground, while Okul charged at the right most.

Gideon shouted out in frustration. “Getting tired of these bugs.” He raised his morningstar. “The Holy Fires of Kossuth smite you!” A flame seemed to travel along his arm into the weapon. It seemed to have caught on fire. He brought it down hard on the head of the attacking beetle. There was a loud cannonade as the morningstar crushed its way through the thick carapace, exploding bits and pieces of insect innards all around. The flames died out but so did the beetle.

Okul swerved at the last instant to bring his spearhead stabbing under the right most beetle. With a mighty heave of muscle, he flipped it onto its back. As it lay there, legs wiggling, he repeatedly stabbed it through its head. One final convulsion and it stopped wiggling.

Risca and I were not so fortunate. He managed to chop a blow but was pincer slashed in return. I fired to distract it. Not having a clear shot between its pincers, I shot into its eye. With a loud ‘skree’ it veered towards me and lunged. It took another chop from Guifoon, all the while Risca yelling and cursing it. A second arrow struck it. Neon’s! I lean-twisted under its lunge, rolling behind it. Sitting up, I had a view of the doorway. Kilzadi stood, watching the battle intently, in case his magic was needed. He was unaware of a fourth beetle emerging quickly and quietly from the tunnel behind him. I shouted a warning to him.

Then I became too busy to see him turn and speak a word of arcane power. I failed to see a firebolt emerge from his hand; strike the insect, causing it to burst into fame and burn. The air filled with the choking odor of burned bug.

I’d became busy, because as Risca chopped it again, and Neon arrowed it again, I saw its lancet begin to pulse, in preparation for a spraying. At me! I fired into its lancet and began a tumble. The arrow caused it to jerk. It still sprayed but that small jerk gave me time for my tumble to carry me out of the danger area.

But that was the moment Gideon’s beetle’s head exploded. I slipped on a piece of bug gut and could not recover my balance, as now the entire floor was slippery with oozy guts. I landed on my back very hard, breath knocked out, arms and legs akimbo. Looking up, all I could see was the massive head and pincers about to bear down. ‘Not good,” I thought. I heard both Risca and Neon shouting my name. I saw Guifoon chop under the pincers and then suddenly, Risca was there, straining, still cursing, pushing up on his battleaxe, and keeping those pincers from me. Then I saw and heard Neon’s arrow fly over my prone body and strike at the pincer center. The weak spot. The giant insect keeled over.

Two faces peered down, one dwarf, the other half-elf. Both totally filled with extreme worry, fear, and concern. I spoke quickly. “I’m fine. Just thought I would rest a bit while you two magnificent heroes took out that bug. Thank you for the show, gentlemen.” Great relief flooded into both their looks.

“Thas me gurl” Risca responded, voice full of pride and allayment.” As tough as a dwarf.”

Of course, Neon being Neon could not leave it alone. As his apprehension became mitigated, he replied, “Swan, Swan. What a display. I always wanted to see you in the ‘helpless, ready to be taken, spread-eagle position’. It is one of my favorites. Now I know. It is an image I will use often whenever I think of you. Thank you.”

“Oh, shut up and help me up.” Two strong but gentle arms wrapped around me and lifted.

For a short instant in time, we stood leaning against each other, enjoying each other’s bodies, his arms tight around me. “Are you sure you’re O.K.? he breathed into my ear. “Yes, fine. Thank you”, I managed to whisper. Then the others arrived. We broke apart.

“Well?” queried Gideon. “I’m fine. Just had my wind knocked out. No problem.” Gideon nodded his satisfaction. “Thanks for the warning Swan”, uttered Kilzadi. I waved him off with an “As Okul says, ‘do we Seekers not stand together?’ We are comrades in arms. We do as we must for each other.” He nodded his appreciation.

Gideon turned to Risca. “Let me check out that gash.”

“No! Me gurl do it.”

I smiled. “I’ll take care of it, Gideon. Why don’t the rest of you finish up the room?”

As they left, Neon turned back to me. “My kill”

I blew out a raspberry. “Your rule. Not a kobold. Does not count.” He grinned and joined the others.

I lifted Risca’s arm to examine the gash. Not serious, thank the gods. Again, The Keen-Eye’s healing energies knitted the wound. As I worked, I asked him why he didn’t allow Gideon to heal him.

“What? Not when I’s got me choice. Gideon’s healing is like fiery red pepper. Yours like cool green mint. And sides, your hands feel nicer. And sides your me clerr-rick gurl. Watch ya starin at?”

“You big, brave wonderful friend. I’m blessed that you care so much.” I said this as I enfolded him in an embrace, clutching him tightly. “You risked yourself to help me. You held off that beetle long enough for Neon to shoot.” You most likely saved me” My eyes moistened.

“Hey! Let off! Ya squeezing. Yas always squeezing me. Let off gurl! He sounded happy though, despite his protests.

“Only when I’m not slapping some sense into your head’, I stated as I slowly released him.

“Come on, gurl. L’s join ‘e others before ‘ems take em all, le’ve us nuttin.”

We joined the rest of the Seekers. They had opened up the stone chest. Kilzadi was holding up a stone orb-perfectly amber and perfectly round. Regarding it closely, he seemed deep in thought. Neon had a pair of boots in his hands. Seeing me approach, he held them out. “Swan. What do you think? Kilzadi says they radiate magic.”

I examined them. To me it was obvious. “Wood elf made”, I declared. Waterproof otter skin over rabbit fur. The stitching indicates the Ferret tribe. Kind of boots used to help move silently through the forests. Enchanted to fit any size foot. I wonder how they got to be here?”

Neon shrugged. Try them out then. You would be the best Seeker to use them. Help with your scouting.” I did so. They fitted perfectly. They felt good on my feet. Walking around, I was lighter step and much more quiet. I gave a prayer of thanks and forgiveness to the previous owner.

“Hey, Risca”, Neon called out. Do you have room to carry the 480gp we found in the chest?” “Well I’s…the dwarf began.

“That was 500gp’ interrupted Kilzadi, still staring deep at the orb. “Not all of us are barbarians. Some of us know how to count past 100. We are not that easily fooled, Neon.”

Risca growled, deciding whom to take out first; the cheater or the insulter.

Moving unheard behind Neon, my elbow jabbed him in the back. He grunted out in surprise and pain. “Don’t cheat your comrade in arms”, I spoke sharply. “Equal risks, equal shares.

I put my hand over the orb, forcing the sorcerer to look up from it to me. “You of all of us should know better. In a short time, that barbarian, as you call him, might be in a position to save you. Treat him well. We Seekers stand together.”

We stared at each other. Then, he slowly nodded and turned to the dwarf. “Risca, please accept my apology. I spoke hastily and out of turn. It will not be repeated.

“I also,” Neon continued, rubbing at the small of his back. “I want to apologize to all of you. I have been on my own for so long, that I am always looking for an edge. So, I act without thinking, almost second nature now. Who would miss a few coins, right?

The four of us stood, looking at each other. “Aw. l’s forget all this’, rumbled Risca, staring at the floor. Mother, something happened to the four of us around that chest. We strengthen our ties towards each other. We came to respect each other’s abilities and so became more of a team. As events unfolded, this proved to be important.

Gideon and Okul joined us. They had been searching the room. “Nothing except for some very large beetle eggs near that rubble. We smashed them all up,” Okul began.

“Explains all these bugs. They must have started a nest,” finished Gideon. “Anything here?”

“Some elven boots that we thought best Swan use, half a mil gold coins, and this orb”, summarized Kilzadi. “Anyone mind if I carry it? There is an intrigue about it. Just a feeling I have.” There were no objections. We put the coins in the holding bag and re-entered the room with the crushed beetle.

Neon looked at us. “My turn for the door check. Cover me.” While the rest of us kept careful watch on the other two doorways and the bug tunnel, the half-elf stepped around the squashed insect to stand directly in front of the door. In a short time he turned to us. Just like the other doors, s far, except this one opens in. I couldn’t hear anything. Here we go.” He began to pull on the door. Of course, as he did so, he had to step back in order to make room for the swinging door.

All this time, I had been puzzling about what could squash that bug so fast, so near the door. Seeing him step back towards the dead bug, it suddenly became obvious to me.

“NO! Ninniach, jump away!” I screamed out. It was a trap! Mother, he almost made it. If that insect corpse wasn’t in the way, he would of. Hearing me, he did not hesitate. There was no doubt or question. His reflexes took over instinctively and he leaped.

But he had to go sideways instead of backwards. That’s how he got caught. He had to leap extended laterally instead of a curl somersault. And so the massive block of stone, falling from the ceiling caught him from the waist down.

With a reverberating sound, it crushed his lower torso to the floor.

“No’” I shouted in anguish. ”Help him! Help him!”

I raced to him. Kneeling, I cradled his head. “Ninniach, Stay with me! Stay!”

The massive stone block lifted upwards as the door began to swing shut in order to reset the trap. We could all see that every bone from his hips down had been crushed. He was beyond my power to heal. Through tear-filled eyes, I saw that he was weakening quickly.

He opened his mouth to speak. Blood filled it. “Cygni” he managed.

“No, don’t talk. Just stay. Don’t leave me with regrets.” I pressed him against my chest, rocking him gently.

Gideon was suddenly there, kneeling beside me. Hands outstretched over Neon’s broken body, the cleric chanted a prayer. Flames that shed no heat burst out all along the rogue’s lower body. As they burned, bones and flesh began to mend and heal. It must not have been painless as Neon gasped out. I whispered a silent thanks to the mercy of Kossuth.

“Cygni” Neon tried again. ”Cygni, I must tell you” The flow of blood had stopped. Still rocking him, his face pressed on my bosom, I looked over to Gideon. The last flame died out and Neon appeared whole and healthy. Only his ripped and blood soaked leggings remained ruined.

Gideon looked back and nodded his relief. “Glory be to Kossuth” he sighed. I sighed back, releasing all my tension.

I murmured into his ear. “Yes, Ninniach, what do you wish to say?” I leaned my ear into his mouth. “Your breasts”, he whispered. “An enigma. They feel both soft and firm at the same time. I can’t wait to taste them.” Mother, I knew then that all was fine with him. I whispered back, “Is the pain gone now? A snuggling of his face into my chest was my answer. “Good”, I said. “Then I can do this!” Without any warning, I released his head. It struck the floor with a thud.

“Ouch! Swan! That hurt!” “Good. It was supposed to. Now, get up and thank everyone for saving your sorry butt. We’ve wasted enough time. Wash out your mouth .It smells of blood. You can borrow my soap. See, another use for it.”

He sat up, with that silly grin that so many women cannot resist. “Being that close to you was well worth the pain, Swan. Thank you one and all.” All this was spoken with sincerity.

“Well, if you’re feeling so much better, let’s see about disarming this trap.” Neon and I disabled it. The door opened into a 15’ corridor. Directly facing us on the east wall was another door. There was also a door on the south wall, halfway in. The corridor also branched north at that point for 10 more feet, ending in another door.

“My turn to take the point” I informed Gideon. Give Neon more recovery time. Original plan-always south when possible?” The priest nodded his assent.

I proceeded cautiously, continuously on guard and searching for anything unusual. Finding none and hearing nothing, I gently opened the door. It opened to a small landing. A set of stairs descended down into darkness. Gently closing the door, I silently moved to the east one. Here, I could hear voices. I could not understand the words, but I recognized the language as draconic and the high pitched squeals as kobolds. I returned to the others and reported.

Gideon planned our next move. “We’ll take out the kobolds. Swan, spike the other doors shut. We don’t want surprises coming through. We’ll bash down the east door and catch them by surprise. Let’s do it Seekers!”

All went according to plan except for …you guessed it…the door bashing. By the time both doors were spiked closed, Okul and Risca had tried three times to break down the door. Noises of kobolds shouting and dragging objects could be heard from the other side.

“All part of the master plan, right Gideon?” Kilzadi smiled sarcastically. “Pretend we are so incompetent that we will surprise them as they are helpless with laughter.”

Neon added, “Gideon, I think the Seekers should be seeking an expert door basher. Know any dire badgers that will work for food? How about a dire goat? Gideon just stood shaking his head as the pair tried again. I could see that they were taking this assault against the door personally. They would not quit until it opened. “As soon as that door opens, use ranged weapons. Just keep shooting,” was his response. It took five more bashes but the door burst open at last.

Inside the now visible large room were six kobolds. They had slid and overturned bunk beds to use as cover. They could be barley seen. As soon as the door opened they launched their attack as we did ours. Two of their slingers launched stones. At the same time that I, Neon, and yes, even Risca fired our bows. Gideon and Kilzadi behind us, waiting for when they were needed.

Their missiles missed as our arrows thudded into deep padded mattresses. Okul simply rushed in with his long spear. Three screaming kobold spearmen leaped out to meet his charge. He pushed down all three spears with a swipe of his own and on the return swing sliced through the chest of one, splitting it in half. With a crazed yell, one of the remaining two counter-swiped. Okul, with a leap over the bunk knocked over the spear such that it impaled the third kobold. The survivor shrieked in fear and turned to run only to be pierced through by the warrior’s large spear. It died instantly. In almost no time, Okul single handedly had caused the death of half the kobolds. His skill with that spear is a wonder to behold.

As this was occurring, we kept on firing our arrows. Now I could see a piece of the kobold hiding behind the bunk. It was all I needed as a target. My second arrow passed through its head. Neon’s second arrow took out the one beside it. This left only one kobold in the room. It gave a shriek of fear as it began to turn away. Risca’s second shot struck the mattress

“Damns bow” he called out! Na gut! I’m chargin.”

“You just need some practice,” I answered back. ”I’ll help you. Don’t worry.”

Even as I readied my next shot, Neon, in dropping his bow, jostled my arm. I lost my aim “Watch it! Be careful. Give me room!” I yelled at him. Ignoring me he raced in after the surviving kobold. He leaped-frog over the bunk, and twisted to escape its lunge. While still in the air, he preformed a coup d’estoc. This enabled him to plunge his entire rapier through its eye and out the other side. It twitched and died as its brain matter leaked out. All this prevented me from getting in a clean shot. I could not see the kobold. I held my fire for fear of hitting Neon.

We all then entered cautiously. I handed Neon back his bow. “What were you ever thinking of, rushing in like that?” I inquired. “You ruined my shot. You blocked my view. I could have shot you, injured you.” I glared at him. “You’re not that clumsy.”

“So, no slap in the head like Risca got? No ‘you caused me worry’?” I snorted. “I like him more.” He grinned that grin. “I needed that last kill Swan. These were kobolds so they count for our wager. That’s one for you and two for me. So by my reckoning, we are now tied. I can’t let you get too far ahead.”

“And so you risked yourself to spoil and block my shot?” “Wasn’t much of a risk. I had faith that you would not shoot at me.” I narrowed my eyes. “Not this time anyway.” He laughed. “Come, let us help the others.”

The others were busily searching through the room. There was a door in the north wall and one in the west wall. Retrieving my arrow from the kobold corpse, I noticed that it had a bag stuffed inside its jerkin. The bag looked exactly like the one Gideon carried. From inside the bag, I pulled out a few copper coins and a small amber stone. I drew everyone’s attention to it.

“Another bag of holding? Great.” This from Kilzadi. “Anyone mind if I carry it? Been needing something like it for a while now. No? Thanks Swan.” He began to place his belongings in the bag.

Risca spoke. “Leave it! No smell right,” he sniffed.

Kilzadi raised his eyebrows. “What? Leave it? No. I need it.”

Risca sniffed again and shrugged. “No smell right. Ya’ choose.”

“I’m keeping it”

We decided to keep the same direction and so headed for the west door. We heard no noise and so knocked the door open. It opened into a 5’ corridor, which then opened up into a wider room, completely dark. Risca reported that his dark vision showed nothing.

There was a door in the north wall and a second door in the west wall.(There seemed to be a pattern here. It was as if we were going around the periphery of this level.).Most interesting, he reported what seemed to be a well.

Using Gideon’s lantern and Kilzadi’s starry gloves shedding light, we approached the well. It seemed to be an ordinary well, 20’ deep to the water, rope and bucket. Since no one was willing to climb down the well, we moved on to the west door. Again hearing nothing, we bashed it open. It led into a 5’ corridor with another door directly across.

Trapfinding revealed nothing. Listening at this door, once again we heard the unmistakable speech of kobolds.

“All right Seekers. Just like before. Let’s do it!” Gideon requested. But it took four tries to get the door opened.

“Yep” Kilzadi retorted, “no surprises here. Just like before.”

Risca turned to me. “No bow” and drew out his Black Blade steel sword. “This better for kobolds. Even better than Guifoon for kobolds.”

This time we were the ones who received a surprise. Risca led the charge with a ‘Seekers Assemble. “Tempus Victory” Okul screamed right after. Then that fool Neon followed in with his own “Avast me hearties” laughing all the while. Apparently it is some kind of river pirate saying.

This left only myself, Kilzadi and Gideon for ranged attacks. I with granpar’s bow and they with crossbows.

We were all surprised because, despite the loud commotion in breaking down the door, the kobolds were all facing the other way. They had their backs to us. It was a large dining room and the six little reptilians had overturned several tables to hide behind.

They were all facing the only other door in the room; in the west wall. It was as if whatever was on the other side of that door was more deadly than we were. Okul got the first kill. His longer reach spear gutted one even as they were turning around at the sound of the battle cries.

Risca was next. A down arc swing of Guifoon beheaded another. The head flew off from the force of the blow.

Then Neon with a side step performed a coup de taille with his rapier, literally disemboweling another of the little humanoids.

That’s when I released my arrow. It caught my target through the head, killing it instantly. Mother, these headshots are becoming favorites of mine.

“Fire! Shoot!” I urged the priest and mage.

“Can’t Swan,” answered Kilzadi. The Seekers are moving around too much and getting in the way.”

It was true. The three Seekers were now moving to engage the two remaining kobolds.

Okul was the next to strike. His spear pierced through yet another kobold.

I could see Neon jumping and maneuvering towards the last remaining kobold, who by this time was paralyzed with terror.

“Not this time, Neon” I thought to myself.

Having quickly reloaded, I shot without careful aiming. My arrow struck first, through its neck, driving it backward.

In the ensuing quiet, we all met in the room. It was atypical dining area. Our attention was on the west door.

What could have frightened the kobolds so much?

Neon approached me. “That last arrow was a bit close Swan.”

This time I grinned at him “Not really” Lots of room. You know that I would never shoot you intentionally. Besides, I needed the kill. Couldn’t let you get too far ahead,” I quoted. “Let’s see, two for me, one for you. So by my reckoning, I am ahead by one.”

The room held nothing of interest. The only door was the west one. Nothing could be heard through it, although Neon might have heard a crunch sound, but he wasn’t sure.

“O.K. people, careful on this next one. Okul, Risca, lets get it opened quickly, plea-sse? Neon, Swan -cover them.”

We readied our bows. In one bash, the door was forced open. It opened up into a huge, darkened room. Thick cobwebs and dust lay everywhere. They obscured vision. There was an odor of rot, a charnel smell, somewhat familiar. I tried to place the smell.

Okul took out a flask of oil and looked questionably at Gideon. The cleric nodded. The big man lit the flask and hurled it into the room. It burst with a whoosh. Cobwebs sizzled away and disintegrated like hairs in a match. Vision improved. There were four large pillars in the room. We could now see silhouettes against the far wall. Two larger ones seemed to be devouring a smaller one.

I suddenly remembered. That odor. In the Zhent citadel. ‘Ghouls’ I shouted. It was the sound of my voice or the light or fire that finally got their attention.

They sprinted towards us, their stench gagging, overpowering.

“Eat this!” Okul launched a fire sling bullet. Striking the lead ghoul, it coated the undead monster in flames. Shrieking, the monster kept approaching.

“This too!” My arrow took it in the chest, knocking it backwards. It collapsed as it burned, spewing rotten fluids.

“Have some desert,” Neon laughed as his arrow took the second ghoul in the chest. It staggered but continued forward.

Kilzadi fired his cross bow.” With some extra sugar” he jokingly added. The bolt also struck its chest, further slowing it. Though weakened, it shrieked and continued forward in a mindless desire to kill and devour.

With a scream of “Eat my steel,” Risca ran to meet it. Ducking under its claw swipe, his magical sword slashed a deep cut into its chest. Undead ichors streamed out. The dwarf gagged loudly.

Then Okul was there. “The after dinner aperitif,” he called, as his spear striking, gutted the monster.

The stench was quickly becoming nauseating.

“Burn it!” commanded Gideon, as he poured oil on it.

Kilzadi lit a tindertwig and threw it on the doused ghoul. With a satisfactory ‘whoosh’ it caught fire.

Okul thrust his spearhead into the flames to burn off lingering ghoul guts. “Someone fire me up a torch. I’ll lead and burn a path through these cobwebs,” he spoke to the group. His scales glistened in the dancing flame light.

Neon spoke. “Cobwebs usually indicate spiders. Careful watch everyone.”

“Sound advice,” responded Gideon. “We’re finished here. Move out Seekers.”

Okul lead. His torch burned a path through the cobwebs. We followed close behind alert for danger. As the cobwebs were singed away, the room became brighter. We could see more.

We came to a grisly sight. The ghouls had been devouring a kobold. Its corpse lay on the floor; flesh and organs chewed and shredded. Bones had been ripped out and gnawed. A surge of pity flowed through me. No one deserved to die in that manner, not even a kobold. My disgust and enmity for undead grew.

“Burn that as well,” instructed Gideon. “We don’t want it to rise up as a ghoul.”

The room was large with only a single door in the middle of the north wall.

We examined the four large pillars. There was nothing of note, except for claw marks and scratches where presumably the ghouls used to sharpen their claws.

Searching the rest of the room revealed nothing. Neither Neon nor I could discern anything unusual at the door. Okul and Risca bashed it open in one go. It opened into a 15’ by 15’ room. There was a door directly opposite in the center of the north wall. In the center of the east wall was a set of stairs leading up. But the most interesting object in the room was the stone statue.

“Our friend Dracandros again,” remarked Kilzadi upon spying it. It had the same features and dress as the statue in the bug room. The posture was different. This one had one hand extended out, palm up and fingers cupped. The other hand pulled back to the ear, palm flat and vertical. It resembled a wizard in the act of having just cast a spell. There was no cavity in this statue. It was whole.

“I’ll guard the bottom of the stairs,” offered Okul.

“Good,” agreed Gideon. “Risca and I will watch the doors. You three check it out. You are the best qualified.”

Neon and I led Kilzadi to the statue, searching on the way. We arrived, signaled the all clear. The others took their positions.

“Over here,” Neon called. “Very faint inscription. Almost missed it.” He had been examining the base of the statue.

Kilzadi and I came around. I couldn’t read it but the sorcerer could.

“It is written in draconic,” he informed us. It states ‘the orb is the key’. Hum…I wonder…”

He walked to the front of the statue. Stared at it for a minute. Then he took out the amber stone orb and placed in the outstretched hand. It fitted perfectly. No sooner had he done so, there was an audible click. The statue’s chest fell open to reveal a cavity.

But this one was not empty. It contained a scroll case and a scimitar sheathed in its scabbard.

He cast a quick spell, one that detects dweomers. He staggered back. “Kilzadi,” I questioned with concern.

He held up a hand. “No, I’m alright. Did not expect such intensity. The scroll case is what one expects but the scimitar is potent. The aura caught me unprepared.”

He reached in and took out the scroll case. Opening one end he pulled out a scroll and unrolled it and read the script.

“A spell for invisibility. Useful.” He replaced it back in the case.

Then slowly he took out the scabbard.

The hilt was red gold with gold wiring for a surer grip. The cross piece was a single ‘S’ shape made of the same material. The center of the ‘S’ held a fire opal. Its reddish light blinking slowly. Almost like an eye. Unsheathed slowly, the blade presented itself to be made of a strange yellowish white metallic material.

“Looks like bone” suggested Neon. “The shape and coloration is suggestive of a claw. A very large claw. Like the claw of a dragon.”

I stared at him. “And just how many dragon claws have you seen up close?”

He smiled. “My secret” was his response.

Kilzadi interrupted before we could continue on the subject of dragon claws.

“The blade has an excellent keen edge. It feels warm to the touch. Interesting. It needs further study. Any objections to my using it until then?”

No one had any. There was nothing else in the statue or in the rest of the room.

We moved on to the north door and quickly knocked it open. It opened into corridor as far as we could see. Ten feet in was a junction with corridor to the east. Then feet past the junction, the north corridor widened and then turned east. It was dim and hard to see, so Risca set out to use his dark vision. I followed close behind. Reaching the junction, he peered around.

The east corridor, after 10’ opened into a room. In front of the opening, behind an overturned table were, you guessed it mother, more kobolds. Risca let out a cry. “Seekers assemble!” and prepared his charge.

I gripped his arm hard. “Wait” I ordered. I knew the humanoids were in a defensive position and unlikely to rush us. I thought I had spotted tiny red objects moving down the corridor towards us. I lit a sunrod and hurled it. There were snarls and squeaks. The light revealed the red objects to be the eyes of 7 huge dire rats bounding towards us.

“Incoming Rats! I shouted in warning. And that’s how the battle began.

To divert the rats, I tumbled through them with side rolls and back flips. Those beasts were fast. I received a bite and a claw scratch for my trouble. Half the pack reversed and chased after me. The rest continued forward.

Sitting up I could see that Gideon had placed himself in front of the three oncoming rats, shield and morningstar held ready. Okul had rushed into the east corridor engage the kobolds. Neon followed close behind. Risca and Kilzadi paired together at the junction. The mage had the claw scimitar at the ready.

I had out distanced the rats enough that I had time to arm my bow, turn and fire. My arrow took the lead rat through its snarling mouth and out the back of its head. It squeaked and died. I turned and ran further down the corridor; three salivating rats close on my heels, eager to rend and kill.

Two rats leaped at Gideon. With a cry of ‘Kossuth’, he shield blocked one knocking it back. At the same time he upper swung his morningstar into the lower jaw of the second. The force of the blow snapped the rat’s neck. The weapon smashed its way through the head spewing a fountain of blood, teeth, and jawbone bits, pieces of skull and brain matter. He then found himself beset by two snarly rats, which were quick to dodge in and out, biting and scratching.

Meanwhile Okul and Neon engaged the kobolds. There were 6 of them shielded by the overturned table. Two wore better armor and carried swords, the rest spears and slings. Okul led the attack. The sword kobold parried. These kobolds were seemly better combatants than the previous ones encountered. Okul, well trained in mêlée did not resist the parry. He pushed in direction of the parry to simultaneously block the spear thrust of, and impale, the next kobold in line. This exposed him to a slash from the sword kobold. He grunted as he took the hit and swung his spear around. The shaft caught the humanoid at the knees. Continuing its sweep, it knocked over the creature to the floor. The last vision the kobold had was of the large spearhead moving swiftly towards its head. The impact was so powerful that the spear embedded itself in the stone floor as kobold blood launched to the ceiling.

Neon had side vaulted the table and was met by the second sword kobold and a spear kobold. He grinned his death grin. A battle of blade against blade ensued. It was short. The rogue made an easy lunge, one that could be parried easily. The sword kobold took the bait. As it began to parry, Neon did a ‘contre-degagement’ to sidespin in the opposite direction of the parry. This was followed by a side step to ‘contre-parade’. This put him on the opposite side of the sword, which allowed him to do a ‘coule’. The rapier slid down the length of the sword, keeping the sword edge away from him as he slid the rapier point into the heart of the kobold. Three fencing moves in rapid succession produced a dead kobold. “That’s one,” he counted and grinned again.

Risca and Kilzadi were just about to rush in to aid their companions when Kilzadi gave a gasp. Only his magical shielding prevented more damage. A spear had thrust into his side. Both turned to meet 4 kobolds that had snuck down the stairs in the statue room. The sight of them infuriated Risca.

“It’s clobbering time!” he hollered in rage. He leaped at them. A shield smash knocked one to the floor. The magic long sword sung down chopping right through the backbone.

Kilzadi used his new scimitar to fend off two of them. There seemed to be a reddish glow inside the blade.

Risca crouched as he swung his sword at another kobold. The keen edged blade sundered a leg. It screamed as it toppled. He beheaded it on the return swing. Kobold blood splashed everywhere.

Kilzadi took two more slashes. Ignoring his pain and the blood raining down, he managed to parry the next thrust and slid the scimitar into the kobold’s chest. “Die!” There was a sizzling sound. The sound of frying flesh. With a scream it wilted. “Interesting!” The remaining kobold turned to run only to be greeted by and a screaming dwarf with a blood smeared sword. The decapitation was swift. More kobold blood rained down on the sorcerer and dwarf.

Okul now faced two spearmen. One thrust at him. Unable to remove his own spear in time, he reached out and grabbed onto the thrusting spear. Drawing back his fist, he pulled on the spear, drawing the kobold to him. With a growl he unleashed his punch. The spikes on the gauntlet passed through its forehead, followed by the clenched fist. The dead kobold now dangled off his wrist like a gruesome bracelet. Pieces of skull bone and brains erupted like a volcano. This left him totally exposed. The second spearman began to thrust a killing blow.

Neon quickly sidestepped into a ‘depassement’. This allowed him to avoid and move past the spear carrying kobold that had lunged at him. Still grinning he then ‘riposted’ into attack mode immediately. A ‘coup de taille’ followed; the chopping motion of his rapier driving the point into the kobold’s eye, deep into its brain. In the blink of an eye, another three fencing moves; another dead kobold. “That’s two”. The count continued.

Okul did the only thing he could do to deflect the killing blow. He spun his arm so that the suspended bracelet kobold arced into the thrusting spear to deflect its path. The spear kobold’s eyes widen in surprise. Not because of Okul’s action which, certainly, ordinarily would have surprised it. No, the reason for the surprise was the sudden appearance of a rapier blade emerging through its forehead.

“My kill, Okul!” emphasized Neon, withdrawing the rapier from inside the kobold’s head. “Three each!”

Okul knocked off his dangling kobold and freed his spear. “We’ll talk later. The Seekers need us.” They raced back into the main hallway.

Blood smeared, with eyes of fury, Risca searched for more enemies. He ignored Kilzadi leaning against the wall, applying a compress against the most serious slash.

He noticed Okul and Neon emerging into view and ignored them. Then he spotted Gideon.

Gideon had been battling the two wolfhound sized rats all the while. It was a standoff between their speed and his plate armor. Neither could seriously inflict a telling blow on the other. One rat had broken some of its teeth attempting to bite through the armor. Both rats supported wounds. Gideon showed bites and claw furrows. He grimly and with only grunts of exertion held off the rats.

With a cry of ‘Crush for Crull, Risca charged the rats. Okul and Neon watched him run pass and then chased after him.

One rat left off attacking Gideon to turn and leap at what it thought to be a smaller and easier target. Big mistake! The rat and Black Blade met in mid air. The sword won as it sliced through spilling rat innards all around.

The second rat leaped at the priest. This time Gideon position his shield to act as a catapult as the rat landed on it. He swung the shield up and over, using his strength to hurl the animal over his head behind him.

“Risca, catch!” he called out. As the helpless rat arched over, it too met the Black Blade in mid air, suffering the same fate as its companion. Gideon then paused to catch his breath.

“Swan!” Neon shouted as he and Okul ran past. With voice full of concern and worry, he repeated. “Find Swan!”

“Me gurl!” thundered Risca. “Find me gurl! Now!” Still in a frenzy, he chased after them.

The rats were gaining on me as the north corridor ended in a ‘T’-junction. To the west was a set of stairs heading down. Beside the stairs was a small alcove holding what seemed to be another statue. With no desire to change levels, I veered to the east. The corridor continued for another 10’. Then it split north and south. The north side turned east again. The south part opened into a small room. Cautious of not distancing myself too much from the Seekers, I headed into the room. Besides, I could position myself in a corner as to not be surrounded. At the opening, I slipped on what was fresh rat dung. I tried to catch my balance, but again was not successful. Mother, I have vowed to practice my tumbling and calisthenics on slippery surfaces from now on. I need to be able to keep my balance under those conditions.

Anyway, I managed to twist as I fell in order to land on my back. My pack and equipment took the brunt of the fall. I landed on what seemed to be a large collection of dried foliage, cloth scraps, bones and bits of leather and metal. It covered the entire room. I had found the rat nest. And the rats found me. The fall had released my bow from my grip. The rats came bounding in. One leaped just as I managed to draw my short sword. With no time to do anything else, I just pointed it straight up at the falling rat. It impaled itself on the sword. Its weight carried it down right to the hilt. Snarling, saliva drooling on me, it bit into my shoulder. I raised myself to my knees as, two-handed; I slid the blade through its belly, disemboweling it. Steaming guts coated my shirt and pants.

Then I was on my feet fending off the other two.

Mother, those rats were as quick as I and there were two of them. We dodged, leaped, feinted and scored hits against each other. It was like a complicated dance. My arms took the brunt of bites and scratches. I promised myself that I would some sort of protection there. Perhaps like Okul’s dastanas. I was tiring faster than the rats from my wounds and the dancing around. I would have to change my tactics soon.

Just as I was pondering a rush out the door, Neon and Okul appeared. “Swan maneuver two!” hollered out Neon. I had trust in them. Maneuver two calls for one to have two opponents, one on either side and then drop low so that two friends can use ranged weapons on the opponents. I stopped dodging and fell flat to the floor between the rats.

If maneuver two failed, they would be ripping my flesh soon. It did not fail. Even as I breathed in rat stink, a spear and arrow struck.

Only one with Okul’s massive strength could hurl that great spear like a javelin. His toss skewered a rat through both sets of ribs. Neon’s arrow impaled the other’s heart. Squeaking, the rats fell dead beside me.

Both Seekers were suddenly tossed aside as Risca rushed in. He looked around for something to kill. “Swan, me gurl? Ya’s o.k.?”

“I’m fine Risca. I’ll be better in a minute. See?”

Rising, I was covered in gore and blood, some my own, most not. I put my arm on his shoulder to help pull myself up.

“Ya’s smell gut, but ya’s sure?” I nodded and gave him an affectionate little hug.

“Quits squeezing. Ya’s sure? His gaze took in the dead rats. He pointed his sword to the disemboweled one. “Ya’s do that?”

“Yes, me and my ‘squirrel sticker’,” I replied using Risca’s term for my short sword. “All those hours spend with it sparring against you has paid off.”

“And ya’s hold off the other two wit it.” He beamed with pride. “Tha’s me gurl. Learnin to fight good like a dwarf should.”

I turned to Neon and Okul who had walked in beside us. I put one arm around each of them and hugged them to me. “I really thank you both.”

Okul patted me on the back. “No need. We are friends.” As if that, for him, explained all. He left to retrieve his spear.

I put my free arm around Neon “You’re sure you’re o.k.,” he asked staring directly into my eyes? Nodding, I surprised him. I kissed him hard. Both of us had come close to death. I needed reassurance. He returned it. We broke off after a long minute. He wrinkled his nose.

“Gods, Swan! Why is it whenever you demonstrate your affection, you’re covered in gore, blood, and offal?”

“Just with you, Ninniach. Just to be different from the perfumed pet-fems you’re accustomed to” I joked.

“You are different to me Swan. In many ways” he replied in a slow serious voice.

Then he spoke in a much lighter tone, with a twinkle in his eye. “No need to thank me. I need you alive, at least until we finish up here, so that I can collect my winnings. I scored three more kobolds. Okul will verify. So, that puts me ahead.”

“Neon, it’s not over until the fat lizard sings.” He laughed.

Kilzadi and Gideon joined us then. Gideon had healed himself and the sorcerer. He looked around at us and the dead rats. “All is well here? Good! Okul let me see to those gashes. What about the rest of you?”

“Fine here” replied Neon. “Not a scratch”

“Nah need hot pepper” Risca grunted out.

“Take care of Okul, Gideon. Thanks. I’ll take care of me

I went to fetch granpar’s bow and to search for an item that had caught my eye while dancing with the rats. I found it hidden under a pile of detritus. Freeing it, it was revealed as a worn out, holed leather scabbard. A roughened black boned hilt with a ‘n’ shaped cross guard stuck out. I pulled out the blade. The grip was easy and non-slip It looked old, with rust spots showing at random. Nothing that could not be cleaned and oiled. I recognized the metal, from my arrow heads, to be cold iron. A dull grey color. But I had never seen anything like the blade shape before. It was a short sword, which tapered but then widened near the point. The design and build were masterful. One edge was still razor sharp, even after all this time. The other edge was serrated, angled such that it would cause ragged tears in flesh as it was thrust in and withdrawn out. A few practice swings proved it to be comfortable and well balanced. It was an item of masterwork. Much better than my militia sword. I decided to keep it.

“Risca, can you tell what make this sword is?” I asked. I knew that Risca in his travels had become familiar with many makes of many weapon types.

He stared at it at spat. “Ya’s donna wants it. Leave it!”

“No, I’ve decided to keep it. So tell me if you know.”

He spat again. “Ya choose. Worse tan rats…orcs”

That surprised me. “Orcish made? What a history it must have to end up so far from home in a dire rat nest in Battledale. Well it starts a new stage in its story now. I need to give it a name. A good Orcish name. A fine blade like this should have its maker celebrated. Let me see…”

I stared at it again. It was designed to shred and tear, even as it slashed and stabbed. It came to me. With a grin, I told Risca; “Gutripper. I’ll call it Gutripper.”

“Gutripper?” echoed Neon. “A bit bloodthirsty, don’t you think?”

I stood there, covered in blood, sliced organ bits, refuse and excrement dripping off me.

I gave him an evil grin and saluted him with Gutripper. “That’s the kind of girl I am.”

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