The Chronicles of the Seekers of Faerun - Chapter Eight

Adventure Date: January 2, 2009

Last Updated: November 17, 2009

This chapter in The Chronicles of the Seekers of Faerun is currently lost in the mists that time forgot.

…And so, mother, I strapped on Gutripper, and cleaned up a bit. Stepping out of the rat nest I joined the others. They had gathered around the statue of Dracandros, the one I had passed by earlier. This one was different than the previous ones. First it was made of some crystal-like material instead of stone and second it depicted the wizard with both hands outstretched as if in supplication.

Risca and Okul were at the top of the darkened downward leading stairway. Gideon, Neon and Kilzadi had just finished inspecting the statue as I arrived.

“Well, didn’t find anything on or in the statue,” reported Neon.

“I’ll try the amber stone orb again,” suggested Kilzadi. “Let us see what happens.”

Reaching into his magical bag, he let out a cry of pain filled surprise. “Ahh! It bites! It’s pulling me in! Pull it off! Pull it off!” Reacting quickly, Neon grabbed the closed end of the bag and began to pull back on it.

“Gods, it’s incredibly strong! Will need help here!” The last part he shouted. I could actually see Kilzadi’s arm move into the bag. But the bag remained the same size regardless of much of his arm was being ingested. By now it had moved up to the sorcerer’s elbow. Gideon grabbed the sorcerer around the waist. Risca and Okul came running in.

“Need some muscle here”, grimaced the priest of Kossuth. “No Risca! Don’t cut off his arm!” The dwarf stopped Guifoon barely above Kilzadi’s shoulder.

“Huh?” Risca exclaimed. “ Best way. I cut. You cure. Kilzadi free.’

“No, you bloody barbarian”, screamed out Kilzadi. “Just pull it off!”

Swiftly grasping the situation, Okul latched onto the bag beside Neon and ordered, “Risca, grab onto Gideon. On the count of three, pull back in unison. One, two, and three...”

All four Seekers heaved back at the same time. Kilzadi grimaced in pain as the bag ripped down his arm. Bloodied furrows indicated where sharp teeth had scraped away flesh. But his arm was free. The bag, hurled to the floor, gave a quiver and lay innocuous.

“I’s tolds ya’. I’s tolds ya. Na smell right.” repeated Risca. Gideon moved in to tend Kilzadi.

I whispered a quick prayer. “Some good news anyway. No poison that I can detect”

“Just what was… is that?” inquired Neon, using his rapier to poke the now harmless looking bag.

“They’re commonly called ‘bags of devouring’,” replied Kilzadi.

Tiny cold flames raced up and down his arm as Gideon healed him.

“They are some kind of inter-dimensional creature, which mimics magical bags. I’m afraid that all the equipment we previously placed inside is now unreachable. Mostly mine.”

“Make sure” stated Risca as he lifted the Black Blade to strike into the bag.

“No! Wait Risca”, gasped Kilzadi, as the flames petered out. “We can always sell it to a collector or a sage or to a wizard. It is still worth money. Here, I’ll carry it.” None of us could argue against that. Kilzadi was the one most knowledgeable of such a matter. Would that I had followed my own counsel. It may have avoided the unpleasantness that followed.

“Well, that seems to be over. Well done all! O.K. fearless leader, which way next?” Neon inquired of Gideon.

“I don’t want to head down until we investigate this level more”, replied the cleric. “And there is a lot we still have to explore behind us. Since we are here now, thanks to our scout”; I shrugged as they all turned to stare at me. What’s a girl to do?

Gideon continued. “My suggestion is we continue forward a little ways. Then back track to where we fought that last bunch of kobolds. There were many doors there and I want to make sure we got them all.”

“Sounds like a plan”, finished Neon. “Hey, scout-girl, how about some scouting action? Scout ahead or for head or whatever. The rest of us will follow mesmerized by those swaying feline hips of yours, hoping for some action, and oomph…” The rest of what he was going to say was interrupted by the quick strike of my elbow hard into his chest. Mother, once we know we are all safe, the Seekers indulge in humor. It is to release tension after deadly combat. We tease and lambaste each other. It relaxes us and bonds us. Of course Neon’s teasing always has some off tone bent to it. In your adventuring days what did your group do? Something else for us to discuss next time we are together.

“Oh Neon, do be more careful!” I faced the remaining Seekers. There you have it, gentlemen: a good demonstration of the drawback of having ‘swaying hips’ in an adventuring party. So mesmerized do ‘the male members’ become that they are easy prey for the ‘prodding elbow’. Observe how foolish one looks.” Neon was doubled over and gasping for breathes.

Okul grinned. “Friend Neon, you do resemble a gaping fish at the moment.”

Gideon joined in the badinage. “More like a drowning mouse, I would say. What sayest thou, Risca?”

“E looks bent over. Hit ‘im in the back, me gurl. It’ll straighten ‘im up. Right Kill-Zeddee?”

“Well he does look foolish, bent over like that. But it’s Neon. He always looks foolish. It’s the way he dresses, I think.”

Neon had by now straightened up. He was also beginning to breathe properly again. He eyed us all and spoke. “You realize that I will have to repay you all twofold for this? Especially you, Swan.”

Little realizing how prophetic my words was to be, I responded. “Oh good! Neon will compose a song about me. In the meantime, I should do some scouting. Yes?”

“Yes”, replied Gideon. “It is time again to focus on the reason we are here. Lead us, scout girl.” I narrowed my eyes at him.

Once again, I took my usual place at the head of our band. I led the Seekers east, past the rat nest and beyond. After a bit, the corridor reached a north-south junction. Cautiously I first listened but could not hear anything. I peeped around. To the north, the corridor continued for 10’ more and then turned east again. To the south it opened up into a door less 10’x10’ room.

I silently approached the room and peered in. As my vision adjusted, I could discern a skeleton lying on the floor. A rapier clutched in one bony hand. Tattered bits of clothing poked between the bones. The room seemed to be empty otherwise. I motioned to Gideon to move up beside me. I pointed to the skeleton. He nodded and mumbled a prayer.

“Not undead, as far as I can tell”, he reported. “Just seems to be a normal skeleton, whatever that means. I nodded back. “Fine. Cover me. I’m going in.”

“All right. Just be careful.”

Senses at full alert, I stepped into the room and approached the skeleton. Getting closer, I could determine that it was an elven skeleton. There was what looked like gold dust under its ribcage. I recognized it as the same dust we encountered in the upper level. The rapier appeared to be pointing to a certain section of the far wall. There written in elfish were the words, ‘Beware the yellow mould.’ Well, that explained much. I moved nearer to the skeleton and kicked away the rapier. There was no reaction. The yellowed bones looked old and dried out.

I whispered a prayer of forgiveness and one of blessing over the grinning skull. It was all I could do for the lost soul at that moment. I leaned over and picked up the rapier. Its weight and balance indicated a masterly wrought weapon. Examining the hilt caused me to gasp loudly in surprise.

There, in gold, was embossed the family crest of Imryll Eluarshee, the Deeping Princess of Cormanthar. She who renounced her nobility and royal inheritance for the love of a human. She who after her banishment from the elven court founded what was to become Deepingdale. Imryll, the First Mother of our nation, Heroine of Deepingdale, who invited all elves and humans to live together in harmony and shared values. Mother, you once told me that granpar could trace back his lineage to a half-elf daughter of Imryll. So in a sense I am related to her as well. How this rapier got here, whom the skeleton was I could not fathom. Another mystery!

Mother, you must have received the rapier and this letter by now. I had Uncle Holfast send them to you before leaving for Harrowdale. Please try and find its owner or return it to the Eluarshee family as our gift. Suddenly a voice broke me out of my reverie. I suppose I had been motionless too long.

“Swan, Swan, talk to us!” This from Neon. He sounded full of concern.

“Me gurl, me gurl” hissed out Risca. Other Seekers then joined in.

“Swan, sister, all is well?” demanded Okul in his deep accented voice.

“Swan, say something!” ordered Gideon.

“Is she able to move?” inquired Kilzadi

I answered back before any of them could do something foolish.

“All’s well. I’m coming out now.” Rapier in hand, I rejoined the Seekers. I described what I had seen and found. I also told them that I was going to keep the rapier. Its value could be taken out of my share of the reward. I would brook no argument. They had passed it around, each examining it in their own way.

Kilzadi shrugged. “It is not magical. Do with it as you wish.

Risca commented, “Well made for an elfie blade. Hays, I mades a rhymes.”

I affectionately knuckle rubbed his head. “Hays gurl, let off.”

“That crest on the hilt. Something to do with Deepingdale, I recall. “This from Neon.

“Yes, something to do with Deepingdale”, I repeated, taking it from him. I wrapped the rapier in my blanket tied it to my backpack. I addressed the group but stared only at Neon as I continued. “Remind me to relate the origin and history of Deepingdale when we have time. Perhaps over several tankards. It may cause you to understand me and my beliefs better.”

“Ah, several tankards. Must be a good story then. I look forward to it,” responded Okul. “Sounds good, Swan. We’ll take you up on that.” Gideon interjected. “All right Seekers, battle marching order.”

The group moved on eastwards.

We came to a short set of stairs that went down 10’. There the corridor continued for another 20’ or so. Then another set of short stairs brought it back up to our level and faded into black. At the bottom of each stairway, the corridor turned south.

Gideon surveyed the area. “Swan…” he began. I forestalled his question.

“East”, I replied. “We are going in the same direction as when we first descended. As all corridors are branching south, we must assume this corridor is the periphery of this level.

He nodded agreement. “Bareris won’t be on the periphery. Seekers, we check out those two south corridors. Then we head back and into the interior. These two little stairs are a good land mark for when we come around.”

“Sounds like a plan, boss man”, piped up Neon. “Hey, scout-girl…”I whirled and pointed my finger at him. “Don’t say it! Don’t even think it!”

With an expression of total innocence on his face, he raised his hands in mock surrender.

“Mercy, Swan. I was just going to ask you to be careful going down those stairs.”

I felt contrite. “Sorry Neon. I thought… never mind.” I turned and started down searching as I went. Barely on the first step, he spoke again; “Careful with those swaying hips. They’re noble. Don’t bruise them against the wall.”

Turning once again to face him, he gave me a smile, a wink and a wave. I smiled back ‘giving him the finger’. This just widened his grin.

I reached the bottom of the small staircase without incident. The Seekers were trailing a little behind, following my footsteps. I checked the south branch corridor at the stair bottom. It veered south 5’ and opened into a 10’ x 10’ room. The room was pitch black. Signaling to the Seekers to back me up, I silently and well hidden entered the room. My boots kicked up dust in the blackness. I breathed some in. I instantly began to choke, hack and sneeze. This effect told me it was the same dust we encountered in the harpy room. Yellow mold! Reacting quickly, I quickly ran out, holding my breath.

As I emerged into the corridor, the Seekers burst into action! Okul grabbed me and commanded. “Hold still and close your eyes. Were going to rinse it off.” I complied, and then heard water bags being opened. I felt water being poured over my clothes. Then water cascaded over my head and face. As it washed away the mold spores, I heard Neon, “Gods, Swan, this is not quite what I had in mind when I said I wanted to make you wet.”

Trying to respond just made me cough repeatedly. Risca thrust a water bag into my hand.

“’Ere. Rinse mouth and nose.” Then Kilzadi spoke. ”You may open your eyes now.”

Opening them; I could see that I was soaked. Around my boots was a yellow pool of mold. My clothes and skin had been cleaned. The Seekers were all peering at me anxiously. I took a mouthful of water and gargled. I spit out yellowed water. I took a second mouthful and, closing my mouth, blew through my nose to spew more yellowed water.

“Well”, remarked Neon, “I guess a girl snorting out mucus like fluids does make her look more sexy. Who would have thought?”

I hacked out a response. “Only if you are depraved.” I took a large swallow of water. I felt much better.

Gideon spoke: “You’ll be O.K.? I nodded. “All right then. Stay a bit. Recover. Risca, you and Kilzadi guard the bottom of those next stairs. Okul, Neon, you two work well together. Check out the next branch. Swan and I will join up in a bit.” They all nodded and left to do their assigned tasks. Gideon turned back to me. He patted my back. “Let me know when you are ready to continue.”

I did one last gargle and spit. “I’m fine now. Let’s go.” He nodded. We caught up just as Okul and Neon were standing in front of the south branch. The corridor here also extended south 5’ and opened into a 10’ x 10’ room. The difference was that this room seemed to be covered with spider webs.

“We do just like we did in the ghoul room,” stated Okul. “Hey Gideon, hold this for me.” He tossed his spear to the priest. Then lit a torch and pulled out his heavy mace. To Neon, who had his rapier drawn;” you stab them, I’ll squash them.”

Neon nodded and addressed me. “Hey Swan. Watch and learn how to scout out a room.” I bit back a retort while notching an arrow. “Just be careful you two,” I managed to whisper.

Okul used the torch to burn away cobwebs. Neon moved along the side of the path this made, while Okul kept moving straight, burning as he went. They got half way in when the action began.

Out of the shadows, a red-eyed, hairy black spider leaped at Neon. The size of a large serving platter, its mandibles leaked a viscous fluid as they clanged together. It was fast! But Neon was faster! He side stepped sideways and lunged. The rapier impaled the creature. The spider spurted smelly ichors. Dashing it to the floor, the half-elf put his heavy boot on its head and slashed it in two.

Just as he was straightening up, Okul yelled out, “Stay low!” Instinctively and well battle trained, Neon froze in place. A second spider had come leaping out of the darkness. Okul swung his mace over Neon’s crouched head. The blow connected. The spider was knocked, dazed, to the floor. Before the large vermin could recover, a follow up blow squashed it flat. Sickly white spider innards and greenish fluids sprayed both Seekers.

It was at that point that spider number three dropped silently from the ceiling behind them and scuttled towards them. Even as Gideon shouted his warning, I loosed my arrow. It struck, as the two Seekers spun around to confront the spider. My arrow passed through its abdomen, unbalancing and slowing it. This gave them time to react. Neon’s rapier sliced off its head as Okul’s heavy boot squished the body.

The commotion attracted Risca who with ‘yews need help? Yep, yews need help,’ ran into the room. Gideon signaled me to stay and moved in to determine if any needed healing. Okul began burning away the cobwebs in earnest. The four Seekers then disappeared from sight as the room-veered east. It became quieter.

Then mother something unusual happened. Kilzadi initiated a conversation with me. He was standing a few feet away, watching the stairs and fingering the handle of his new scimitar. The one he had taken to calling ‘Crimdrac’s Claw’.

“Swan, do you realize that the Seekers is an apt name for our little group? We are all seeking something. Something of great import to ourselves.”

My jaw dropped in total surprise. I turned my head to him “Are you talking to me instead of about me?

He chuckled as he turned his head to face me.

“Weren’t expecting that were you?” Still confused, I shook my head. He continued. “Good. I want to be unpredictable. A predictable mage is easily defeated. Whenever opportunity presents itself, I do the unpredictable.”

He tilted his head at me. You are so very beautiful. Yet, you seem unaware of it. Your shyness does not allow you to use it to your advantage. You think of yourself as ‘average’. You have no idea how desirable your natural beauty and wholesomeness makes you. I envy your lovers.”

“Wha, what?” I managed to stammer. He smiled and turned back to watching the stairs.

“Oh yes. Believe me. I am a connoisseur of female beauty.”

“Connoisseur, is it? I thought the term was lecher.”

He chuckled. “Like your Neon?”

“He is NOT ‘my Neon’ and there is a large difference between lechery and lisserig. The difference explains why Neon’s women always welcome him back with warmth and love, while yours undertake to stick a stiletto into your rectum.”

“Oh, what interesting imagery you use.”

“A word of caution. Try not to betray Gwenect. Drow females are not noted for their forgiveness of males.”

“I truly love the woman I am with, Swan.”

“Yes, only until the next one comes along.”

He chuckled again. “I’m glad we are having this conversation. It is long overdue. I think we can become good friends. No?”

By impulse, I examined him objectively through a woman’s vision. I saw a man with hair darker than negative energy; straight-backed, tall and lean. Dark grey eyes set above a hawkish nose and thin lips. Skin, unblemished, bronze, and darkly browned by the desert sun. An exotic combination, unseen in the Dalelands. Very attractive. The overall effect was one of extreme handsomeness. I had never seen him in this manner before. I had always considered him to be the mysterious ‘mighty mage of magic’ as Gwenect referred to him. Just someone I had recently come to trust and depend on, a fellow Seeker. I could understand now why she was fond of him and why he never seemed to lack for female companionship. Despite that he seemed to flit from woman to woman like a jackrabbit in a cabbage patch. Leaving behind desolation, ruin and broken hearts.

He continued talking as I examined him. “I hope you like what you see.”

“Anyway, what are we all seeking? Let’s begin with Gideon. Our trusted leader, Gideon. He trusts your opinion in matters divine. Were you aware of that? Our fire cleric seeks knowledge. Knowledge of his past self, -who he is, his family, how he got to be at the monastery, his history with the Red Wizards, why Kossuth chose him. Those sorts of things. He wishes to solve this personal puzzle.”

“Now Okul. The older brother you never had. I say that because he treats you as a little sister. He never had a family life, with just him and his grandfather. Solid stoic Okul. All he seeks for is acceptance. Acceptance of who and what he is. He wants to be part of a family. But also he seeks something else. He seeks vengeance. Vengeance against those responsible for destroying his family. He seeks them out to crush them. He also seeks to confront his father: to accuse him of desertion. To understand why. Desertion for leaving them helpless. Do you concur so far?”

“Yes. I suppose.”

“Good. To continue then. Risca. Your very good friend Risca. Your surrogate father. He sees himself as your guardian, teacher and protector. He seeks to train you as he would be doing to the young dwarfs were he not in exile. He does this because you accepted him for what he is, with no passing of judgment Thus, he can maintain his dwarf heritage. Risca seeks a way home. A redemption. Away by which his banishment may be lifted, his feeling of guilt assuaged and so return to his tribe.

And finally Neon. Ah, where to start with Neon?” Here he glanced at me.

“You know, you should scratch that itch and sooner rather than later. You keep him off balance as you send him crossed signals, because you are unsure of yourself. So to be safe, you both have fallen into a routine of innuendos and snide remarks. Regardless, Neon seeks adventure, fame and fortune. He seeks to love and be loved. Oh, and he can love deeply make no mistake about that. He seeks to pen his achievements in verse and song as to outlive him. To leave behind a legacy. One, which will be admired by all. But all this he seeks to do away from the shadow of his mother. He seeks to do this on his own. Again do you concur?”

I did agree somewhat about Risca but felt that there was more to Neon, something deeper. But this was not the time to discuss it. “Yes”, I replied. “And my itches are my own concern.”

He chuckled and responded. “Oh, well said. Now, I believe that which we seek is somehow connected with our dreams of darkness. The fact that we share them gives us common ground. In the unraveling of those dreams we will all find our goals. And so we work together. We coordinate. Our team play improves. Also…”

I interrupted. “There are two Seekers as yet unmentioned.”

“Ah, yes. I wondered if you would mark that.” He faced me again and grinned. “Why don’t you do me and I will do you?”

My eyebrows rose at this double-entendre. Was I seeing an aspect of Kilzadi I had not noticed before?

I began. “All right, then. Let’s see… Kilzadi ‘The Desert Fox’ Litecaster. He who wants to be Unpredictable. He whom I used to believe was uncaring, cold and aloof. He seeks power and prestige in all things magical. He seeks for complete control of elemental fire. To bend that elemental power to his wishes. He seeks riches, fortune and fame only for as much as it will extend his power. He seeks to be counted amongst the first of all spell casters in Faerun. He wishes to return home amidst great fanfare. How did I do?”

“Close. Very close. Well-spoken. Intelligent, astute and perceptive. You should be a mage.”

I snorted. “I lack the necessary arrogance.”

He quaffawed. “Witty as well as beautiful. All right. My turn.

Swan Morgana Battlestar. The shy Seeker. She who was aloof and suspicious of me. The Deepingdale girl who seeks to completely rule herself. She seeks to reconcile the elf way and the human way. She seeks to find a way that incorporates the best of both. A melding of systems. Thus, she will not have to choose between them. Thus she can have all her loves without guilt. Perhaps even be polyandrous. She also seeks to safeguard the culture of the Dalelands, her tribe and family. How did I do?”

“Close. Very close. Well-spoken. Intelligent, astute and perceptive. You should be a cleric.”

He quaffawed again. “I lack the necessary devotion.”

Before either of us could continue there was the sound of sudden footsteps. The Seekers were returning. Risca and Gideon led. Neon and Okul followed.

“Finds nuthin” Risca spat out. Just oll broke wood chest.” Added Gideon, “If there was anything there, it is long gone. No clue about Bareris’ whereabouts. What about out here? Anything while we were in that room?

`Kilzadi answered with a grin at me. “Nothing regarding Bareris. Swan and I were having a wonderful conversation and discussing the merits of her becoming my apprentice.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh, pleassse!” Ignoring their puzzled looks and Neon’s frown I addressed Gideon. “Do we stick to the plan? Backtrack?”

He nodded. “Back to the last kobold room. Okul and Neon noticed doors there. Lead us Swan.”

“Fine. O.K. boys. Follow my swaying hips. And try to keep up this time.”

I turned and trotted back the way we came. My senses on full alert. I could hear the rest of the Seekers keeping pace a short distance behind. I led them past the yellow mold and rapier rooms. Past the dire rat nest. A quick glance showed then rat corpses already being swarmed by normal vermin.

Reaching the crystal statue, I slowed and cautiously approached the top of the dark stairs leading down to the next level. Hearing and spotting nothing, I turned left to follow the corridor south. The Seekers kept pace. Passing more dead dire rats, we came across kobold corpses. I slowed, turned left (east) and stealthy approached the kobold room. At the doorway, I scanned the room.

The destruction caused by Okul and Neon was self-evident. Kobold guts and body parts were strewn about. Blood covered the floor and walls of the 30’x30’ room. Directly in front of me on the east wall was a door. A south door was located in the southeast corner. Remembering the dictum to always go south whenever possible, we headed for the south door. Finding nothing unusual about it, we opened it.

It opened onto 10’more of corridor which ended at a T-junction. Signally the others to wait, I silently and well hidden approached the junction and peered around the corner. To my right (west) the corridor ended after only 5’. To my left (east) it ended after 15’ at a door in the west wall. Directly across from me, on the south wall, 5’ apart were two more doors. At the threshold of my acute hearing, I could discern noise from the two most easterly doors. I signaled to the Seekers to approach quietly. I reported my discoveries.

“Yes, I can just barely hear it as well”, confirmed Neon.

Gideon thought a moment. “All right-Swan –you and Neon check out the quiet door first. Then work yourselves to the other two. The rest of us will cover you from here.”

We nodded and slipped out. Reaching the most western door, we both confirmed the absence of bobby traps. As Neon attempted to pick the keyhole, he whispered to me.

“So what’s all this between you and Kilzadi?” Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Tell you about it later when there’s time.”

He glanced up at me. “O.K. it’s a date.”

I watched as he jiggled one picklock after another. I enjoyed watching Neon concentrating on his work. It was even more enjoyable to watch him become more and more frustrated. I smiled to myself. “Problem?”

“By Kossuth’s fiery scrotum!’ he swore. “Can’t seem to unlock this. Here you try.”

“Oh good one Ninniach. Must remember to tell Gideon about your respect of Kossuth. No need for me to try. I won’t be able to pick it either. It will have to be bashed or eroded. Or opened magically Let’s head to the next door.”

“Huh? You won’t even make an attempt?”

“Dear one, two seconds after you first tried, I realized this was a triple safe, double deluxe gnomish made key lock. Remember, I’m the locksmith’s daughter. We don’t carry the tools to pick open this one.

“What? What? What did you call me?”

“What? What are you babbling on about? I didn’t call you anything. I’m just telling you that we, at this time, cannot open this door.”

“Ice devil’s frozen anus! Swan, why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“Oh, another good one. Showing our creativity are we? Two reasons. First, it would not have made any difference. You would have kept trying regardless, some kind of macho thing –I mimicked in a low tone ‘I can pick open any door’ and secondly, I like to watch you at work. Besides, look at the good side.”

“There’s a good side to all this?”

“Oh yes. These types of key holes are usually used only for something precious…or dangerous…or both, I guess.” I could see Neon’s newborn interest glimmer in his beautiful golden, emerald speckled eyes. “We’ll come back later and open it. Now let’s try the next door. The Seekers are getting anxious.”

We could see the Seekers at the junction opening, waving and gesturing frantically. Very humorous to see, actually. Cherished Risca, almost apoplexic at his inaction; faithful friend Gideon, concerned about our delay; unfathomable (by me at least) Kilzadi, leaning nonchalantly against a wall, large grin on his face, throwing little finger waves at us. Only stoic Okul stood still, overlooking Risca’s head, leaning both hands on his spear, and watching us carefully.

We snuck along to the neighboring door and listened. Mother, imagine our astonishment! We both stared at each other, mouths agape. What we heard were elven lullabies. The kind you and grammar would often sing to me. I immediately suspected some kind of trick or trap. This door keyhole looked very pickable.

I pointed to the last door on the east wall. Neon nodded and we quietly approached and listened. A familiar sound reached us. Kobolds! Lots and lots of kobolds!

Much barks, growls and shuffling of little feet. We grinned to each other as we both had the same thought- the game continues!

We quickly and quietly returned and reported to the Seekers. After some thought Gideon decided: “We’ll leave that unpickable door for now. But I don’t like the idea of leaving that elf-singing door behind us as we tackle kobolds. Who knows what can emerge from it behind us.”

“So, we do that first. Okul, you and Risca stay by the kobold door. Once we are done, we break down the kobold door and take them out. ‘

“Gud plan” muttered Risca. “We’s kill kobolds. Whatcha doin’ me gurl?”

I was cutting plugs from my bar soap. “Going to block my ears”, I responded. “Remember those harpies upstairs? Elven lullabies? Really? Anyone else want plugs? Observe Neon; another use for ordinary soap.” All the Seekers except Okul and Risca who were to watch the other door, partook of my caution.

We took our positions without incident. Neon picked the door. Gideon and Kilzadi had their crossbows ready. I had loaded granpar’s bow. At Gideon’s nod, Neon flung open the door and stood aside.

What we saw was the last thing anyone expected. Behind the door, the corridor continued for 10’ more and ended at a south wall. There in front of that wall was an urn! A knee high, blue-grey ceramic urn, upon which in various bright colors were images and characters designed for a small child. To my practiced eye, there was no doubt. The urn was elf made, moon elf at that. The lullabies seemed to be emanating from inside the urn. At Gideon’s second nod, Neon approached the urn. Carefully checking it and the surrounding floor and wall, he shrugged and beckoned us in.

“It seems to be just what it looks like”, he explained as we approached- an urn that sings elven lullabies.”

Kilzadi bent down and mouthed an incantation. “Most interesting tidbit. It does have small magical dweomers. Let us put it in Gideon’s bag for later examination.”

Another mystery, mother. This place seemed full of them. Gutripper, the Eluarshee rapier and now the singing urn. What a story each could tell us. How many more mysteries awaited?

We quickly joined Risca and Okul at the east door.

“Still lots of noise and shuffling going on”, remarked Okul.

Gideon, ever wary, turned to Kilzadi. “Can you make out what they are saying? Anything else there besides kobolds?”

Kilzadi put his ear to the door. “Sounds like someone, some kind of chief, giving orders. They know we are here. Something about a large reward for killing us, as well as revenge. All I can make out are kobolds.”

“All right then! Risca, Okul-bash down that door. Charge in. Neon. You and your rapier, give them some close in support. I’ll back you all up in case you need some healing. Kilzadi, Swan, some long-range support. Let’s do it Seekers!”

At those words, Okul lifted his massive leg and snapped it forward. His heavy boot crushed against the door jam, bursting open the door. Risca screamed out one of his favorite battle cries. ‘It’s clobbering time!’ Shield high and tight to chest, Black Blade in guard position, ready for slash or stab, he rushed in. Neon was close behind, rapier ready.

Okul was next, moving off to the opposite side of Risca with Gideon in tow. This unblocked my view through the doorway as I stepped through, bow ready. Kilzadi stood beside me, surveying the situation.

The room was huge. Its chamber H’ shaped. A door stood at each end of the arms of the ‘H’. Directly across from us, at the center of the east wall, was a large stone chair. Standing on top of this chair, hopping on one leg and then the other was a larger chieftain kobold. It appeared to be wearing a tabard with a claw grasping a scythe. Several other kobolds near the chair also wore the same tabard. Brandishing a large sword, the chief screamed orders at the other smaller kobolds.

The room was glutted with the small draconoids. Using a new tactic, they swarmed us.

Risca’s battle cry was loud and terrifying. But it was a whisper of love compared to the roar of rage and loathing that emerged from deep inside Okul. His bellow resembled a dragon’s scream of wrath! “Scything Claw! - I kill you all! I kill you all.” Okul had related to us, the story of the slaughter of his family at Gildenglade. Recognizing the tabards he went into frenzy. Here was an opportunity for vengeance.

Okul sped into the group of screaming kobolds that quickly surrounded him. Lashing out with his great spear, he slit the throat of one. Blood gushed, fountain-like, spraying all nearby. As he turned to face the others, he took two spear thrusts into back and side. He barely noticed. His spear powered by his immense strength, sliced through a kobold at the waist and continued on to stab its companion through the chest. More blood and body fluids sprayed all around.

Gideon arrived, his mace crushing the skull of a sling whirling kobold. Brain bits exploded. Okul skewered another kobold. The cleric laid his wand on the big fighter. Healing energies danced tiny flames over Okul’s back.

Rejuvenated, Okul laid about him. His spear flashed and streaked. Two more kobolds spilled out their intestines. Single-handedly he began to push back the kobold tide.

Risca and Neon had engaged the tide on their side of the room. Frantic, and screaming, waving spears and swords the kobolds came at them.

Risca ducked a spear thrust, and still crouched, sliced off the ankle of his opponent. Howling in agony, the creature fell forward. Risca’s shield edge came down hard, crushing its neck. At the same time, Black Blade gutted its neighbor. Straightening, he immediately shield smashed another and as it staggered back, decapitated it. Blood and guts spewed all around. Risca, in his element, howled his enjoyment. “Crull! Crull!”

Neon tumbled in between two of the approaching kobolds. Twirling and lunging, his rapier pierced the back of the nearest one, through the heart and out the front. Even as he pulled out his rapier, the second kobold turned and raised his sword to strike. It never completed the blow. Risca was suddenly at its side to slice off its sword arm. It only managed a short scream as the dwarf’s return swing decapitated it. More blood and guts spewed out to cover the two Seekers. Risca continued to howl.

Three kobolds were charging at Kilzadi and me.

“Battle mode, Kilzadi”, I shouted, even as I fired granpar’s bow. The arrow blew out the lead kobold’s chest. Instantly dead, it was knocked back into its companions, slowing them down. I reloaded. I expected to hear a spell chant. Instead, Kilzadi, true to form, did the unpredictable.

He shouted in Draconic (as I learned later) “Come to me, little ones. My weapon thirsts for your blood.” Unsheathing Crimdrac’s Claw, he rushed them. This left me as the only ranged support.

“Stop,” I shouted to his back, “what are you doing? Risca and Neon need our help!” I fired. My second arrow dealt quick death by penetrating a kobold’s skull. Kilzadi engaged the lead kobold. Precisely, he blocked a sword thrust and stabbed up. His scimitar slid deep into its belly. It screamed and died as the Claw sizzled its flesh. The stink of burning meat joined the odor of blood and spilled organs. “Yessss!” he yelled out. Then he rushed off towards Neon and Risca. Angrily I followed closely behind.

Those two Seekers were now completely engulfed by rabid kobolds. Too many to hold entirely at bay. Neon was bleeding from several slashes. Even as he deftly disemboweled another, two more seemed to take its place.

Okul had transformed into a kobold-killing machine. He was methodically slaughtering his way towards the chieftain. Covered completely in blood and gore, his great spear would slice one way and then stab in another. With each thrust, more blood and gore would fly, as another kobold would die. He kept shouting, “Scything Claw, I kill you all!”

Gideon, realizing that for the time being, Okul could manage without him, turned his attention to Risca and Neon.

The chieftain, sensing his immediate danger, leaped up and down on his large stone chair, screaming out orders to his followers. Quickly a large number of the humanoids surged away from Risca and Neon to interpose themselves between the stone chair and the rampaging Okul. This eased the pressure on the Seekers and gave them a respite. It also allowed Kilzadi and Gideon to approach the pair without incident.

Risca had just finished slicing a kobold in half. The area around him was now clear of them. Red-raged eyes noticed the chieftain hopping on the chair-throne. The way before him was now fairly clear of kobolds. With a scream of ‘Risca Smash’ he rushed towards the head kobold. This left Neon alone to face the remaining kobolds. They quickly surrounded him.

Neon ducked and twirled to avoid two separate thrusts. From his crouched position, he stabbed up into the entrails of a kobold. Even as it died, he straightened and pirouetted to block another sword thrust. But he was exposed to three others. One gave a draconic scream as it prepared a death stab into Neon’s back. My arrow passed into its skull before it could complete the blow. It sprayed brain matter over Ninniach. Before I could reload and shoot again, Kilzadi and Gideon arrived.

A kobold moved aside as to not be skewered by Neon’s rapier. This put it directly in front of the rushing mage. With a yell of “my Claw thirsts”, Kilzadi slashed into its chest. The Claw cut through organs and bones while cooking the flesh. It died instantly as its blood boiled.

A second kobold had made ready to spear stab Neon. “The power of Kossuth!” beseeched the priest as his mace crashed into its back. There was a loud crack as its spine shattered.

Now there were only two to face the half-elf rogue. Neon front somersaulted to duck under a sword slash. This brought him to the unprotected side of the kobold. Rising, his rapier found its way under the armpit and into the heart of the humanoid. Spinning, he used the now dead, impaled kobold as a shield to absorb the sword thrust of the last kobold. Freeing his rapier, he back flipped to land behind its back. Even as he straightened to lunge forward, I had already reloaded and shot. My arrow sunk deep into its heart. It was already dead before he was halfway through his lunge. There were no more kobolds left standing. As I raced to him, Gideon was using his wand to heal up his wounds.

In the meanwhile Risca reached the stone chair. “I crush for Crull”, he screamed out.

The chieftain spun around. Seeing a hated racial enemy, challenging him, he screamed back, “Die dwarven slime. Die!” Without warning, it leaped off the chair at Risca. Its sword was gripped two-handed. The chief landed on his feet at the same time that his sword swung at Risca’s neck. Had the strike been successful, it would have decapitated Risca.

But the dwarf had engaged many aerial foes in the past. Even as the chief had first begun its leap, the dwarf had raised his shield above his head and spun sideways. The shield took the brunt of the sword’s force. At the same time then, Risca spun back with Black Blade extended in a cropping motion. His aim was to cut off the kobold’s knees as it landed. But the chieftain was also an experienced fighter. It quickly brought its sword around to parry the Black Blade. Then even faster it reversed into an upward slice. Risca managed to block the slice with the edge of his shield. Then he did the unusual. He simultaneously attacked with both sword and shield. He swung the sword in a downward arc while pushing forward with his shield. The kobold managed to deflect the sword only to be shield smashed off balance. This made it too slow to deflect Risca’s return swing. Black Blade, powered by Risca’s strength, severed the chieftain’s arm and continued on cutting diagonally through its torso. It collapsed bisected. Risca covered in gore, raised shield and sword to the air. “Crull! Crull” he whooped triumphantly

Only five kobolds remained alive in the room. They were all that stood between the rampaging Okul and the now vacant stone throne chair. The death of their chief broke their confidence. In unison, in terror, they turned and ran for the northeastern door. Okul, covered in blood, sweat and guts gave chase. Like a mantra, he had never stopped from refraining “Scything Claw, I kill you all!”

I reached Neon just as Gideon had finished the healing. Kilzadi had stopped to watch Risca duel with the chieftain. His pupils were bright with excitement and anticipation.

“Ninniach, are you hurt? How is he Gideon? The questions tumbled out of me.

Gideon responded first. “All’s well here Swan.” Neon grinned at the priest. “See Gideon. She cares. She really does care for me. Cutting it a bit too close with those arrows weren’t we… scout girl?”

With those teasing words I knew that all was fine with Neon.” I was still too infuriated to joke back. I turned to confront Kilzadi. It was at that that point that we heard Risca’s triumphant bellow and the sound of fear crazed kobolds running towards us.

In order to reach the door, the kobolds had to first pass by Risca and then the rest of us. As they tried to scurry past the dwarf, he lashed out at the nearest one within reach. His black broadsword easily penetrated through its lungs. It squawked and died. The dragonoids were not even trying to defend themselves. They just wanted to escape. The rest raced past with Okul in hot pursuit. In one motion Risca let go of the sword hilt and dropped his shield. Unstrapping Guifoon, two hands on its shaft, he hurled the heavy battle-axe. It whistled as it spun through the air. With the sound of a butcher blade’s hacking meat, the axe head embedded itself into a kobold’s back. Instantly dead, it slid along the blood-strewed floor.

A cry of ‘Risca smash’ arose.

Kilzadi lashed out at the kobold that was attempting to side step him. His ‘Claw’ bit deep into its neck. The blood vaporized as it gushed out. It gurgled and died. “This feels wonderful,” the mage shouted to us. I would deal with him later.

The two remaining kobolds reached the northeast door. They pushed it open and scurried inside. At this point, Okul caught up. Neon and I ran after them. I had the advantage. I had a lead and my bow was ready.

Okul thrust his spear into the slower kobold.

Then it happened.

It may have been that he slipped or the angle of penetration was off or some combination. The spearhead and shaft passed cleanly through and the point impacted the stone floor. There was a thunder sound as the spear splintered. Okul stopped with wonder and dismay on his face.

This allowed me to rush past. The door had opened into what was evidently a large mess hall. Two large dining tables were centered in the room. Broken and battered chairs surrounded them. The tabletops were covered in meat scraps and bloodied bones of all descriptions. There was a door in the center of the west wall and a door to my right in the southeast wall. The center of the east wall opened into a corridor. The last kobold was about to reach and turn down this corridor. With a long practiced motion, I brought up granpar’s bow into firing position and let fly the arrow. A head shot! The impact knocked the creature down to slide across the garbage littered floor. It twitched once and was still.

Neon joined me. He signaled for me to keep to the right while he took to the left. Nodding, I quietly made my way along the south wall to the closed door. Listening, I could hear nothing. The door was unlocked. Opening it slowly and peering inside, I saw an empty barracks. Blankets were flung around on straw beds. Directly across from, 40’ distant was a closed door. Not entering, I continued to ease my way along east wall and peered around the corner. The corridor continued for about 30’. There it ended in a T-junction and darkness. Ten feet in from the mess hall, a door stood on the south wall. I turned to observe Neon.

He had reached the west door and was signaling me to join him. When I did, he whispered, “No noise detected. Door not locked. Cover me.” I guarded him as rapier in hand, he flung open the door. We looked into a large kitchen area. An immense fireplace occupied the north wall. A burnt carcass of some sort hung on a spit over the glowing embers. Battered pots and pans were strewn about. Directly across from us on the west wall was a door. To our right, centered on the south wall was a second door.

Neon smiled at me. “Swannee, this is kobold country. By my count, you’re one ahead. Let’s follow it through. Just me and you.”

“Think that wise? To get so far ahead of the others?”

“Just these doors. We look through. Either we can cope or we head back.” Then he mimicked a whiny little boy’s voice “Pleassse, Mother Swan? Just for meee?”

“Fine. We look and then we head back.” Something in my voice alerted Neon. He reverted to a serious and normal tone.

“You sound angry. What’s wrong?”

I waved it away. “Later. I’ll take care of it later.” Neon just gave me a long stare and, to his credit did not probe further.

“O.K. then. Just let me know if I can be of any help.” I nodded.

Silently we moved across to the east door. Hearing nothing, we opened the door to be assailed by the stench of blood and gore. Dead kobolds were scattered about. It was the room where Neon and Okul together had eliminated kobolds. Looking south, we could see the open door leading to the singing urn area. We had come around.

“Well Swan, any wager that the south kitchen door leads us back to the others?”

“A fool’s wager. I think we have run out of kobolds.”

“There may still be one or two in hiding. They may yet get flushed out. What was it you said? Oh yes. It’s not over till the fat lizard sings. Let’s head back.”

We returned to the kitchen and its south door. Listening we could hear the Seekers on the other side. Neon grinned at me and made to open the door. My hand latched his wrist.

“You are feeling well now?” I confessed to him.” When I saw you alone outnumbered, bleeding and being wounded, surrounded by those kobolds, I was afraid for you. You almost died on me once already today. All I had to aid you with were my arrows and my bow ability. It may not have been enough

“Swan, Swan, dear Cygni.” Suddenly his arms were around me. “Thank you for your concern. But please have some faith in my ability. I never worry about you” he lied… “Well not a whole lot anyway, because I don’t doubt your ability. Besides with your bow watching out for me, I am practically invincible. Ah, this is not the time or place. We will have to continue and finish this later.” Then he gave that joke grin. “Somewhere more convenient, say my bedroom?”

I grinned back at him as a sense of relief flushed through me. “In your dreams Ninniach. In your dreams. Are we going to stay like this for much longer or join the others? I say this because we could both use a bath, you more than me.”

“Oh, Swanee. The deeds we have done in my dreams Let’s join the others before they get panicky.” He began to hum his song’ ha-ha, ha-ha, stayin’ alive, stayin alive’.

Nodding, I opened the door. Sure enough, it opened into the northeast corner of the throne room. Entering, we saw Risca examining the scores of colored tiny gems embedded in the stone throne chair. Okul sat alone in a corner, away from the gore. He held the broken pieces of his spear and looked completely dejected. Gideon and Kilzadi were bent over a parchment note. They were totally preoccupied. Seeing them, my anger returned but Okul’s distress was my first priority.

“I’m going to check on Okul. Make sure he’s alright.”

“Good”, replied Neon. “I’ll go give Risca a hand. Jewels’ R’ Me.” He continued humming.

Wordlessly, I sat beside the huge warrior. Leaning my head on his shoulder I wrapped both my arms around his massive bicep. Most people are repulsed by his disfigurement, those shiny golden scales growing down his arms and along his neck and back. I happen to like them, their look and their feel. Bumpy but smoother and warmer than skin. They seem proper for him. He spoke first as I rubbed my hands along his scaly arm.

“Little sister, it was my grandfather’s spear. His legacy to me.” I could hear his pain. And I understood! Should something happen to granpar’s bow I would be less restrained. I most likely would be shouting curses at fate and damning fortune.

I so wanted to console him. “Please, brother mine. Listen. The gods give their priests the power to repair and mend. Carry the pieces and tomorrow, I will seek Solonar’s blessing and mend it. It will be good as new.’

“Yes, that is what Gideon told me he would do. But he cannot enchant it.”

“No. For that we will need to seek out a powerful mage. As we will. I promise you. Till then, should the need arise, Solonar’s grace will bestow it a temporary enchantment.”

“You will do this for me? Thank you little sister. Now that last kobold…” He grit his teeth.

“Dead. For sure dead. One less Scything Claw clan. We have killed them all here.”

“Again my thanks. I feel better now. Come, let us join the others now.”

We arose and made for the group. Anger now at full height, I made straight for Kilzadi. I could hear Risca telling Neon, “glass, glass, worthless glass.”

Kilzadi was explaining to Gideon:

“It’s written in draconic. Bareris has ordered the kobolds to stop us from going to the dungeons below. So, I assume that’s where he is. Also it states that if they fail to stop us. his dragon would do to them what its mother did to Glidenglade. Then there is more of that ember stuff and She who whispers to him as well as descending into darkness stuff

Just as he rambled on about back in Ashabenford. Ah, here comes my possible future apprentice. Hey Swan, we were just…argh!”

His last words choked out as my left hand reached out and gripped his throat, squeezing vigorously. Simultaneously my right hand gripped and ‘the Claw’ and unsheathed it. Holding the edge pressed up against his nose, I felt its heat. A sudden urge to slice traveled up my arm. I resisted the urge. So quick and unexpected was my action that the others had no time to react. Looking into Kilzadi’s now blue-puffed face, I spoke.

“Move, even twitch, and I will cut your nose off. I swear it.”

Gideon reacted first. “Swan, stop it! Let go! What’s going on?”

“Stand back! All of you!

Then Neon. “I’m on your side Swan. Just don’t do anything rash right now.

Risca stepped up.” Me gurl. You’s kill ‘im now?” He shrugged. “O.K. Wants help?

Finally Okul. With the voice of reason. “Swan. Just tell us what is the problem. We can help”

“The problem?” I snarled still staring intently at Kilzadi. “The problem is this. We were to provide range support. Instead Mr. Unpredictable here decides that he is an expert duelist. So instead of support, he engages the enemy. Not only does this leave me as the sole support, but it reduces my help for you, as I now had to watch over him as well. The chances that we would all be overwhelmed by sheer numbers increases. If it wasn’t for Okul…Anyway remember he is the only one who can read and speak Draconic. Who knows what he told them or them him. Was this the whole idea, Kilzadi? Were we all to die here? All except you? Was this the big moment you were waiting for? A mage engaging in hand-to-hand combat and loving it? Oh really?”

“May I spea…gah! As Kilzadi tried to speak, I squeezed more intensely. Gideon again. “Swan, at least let him talk. Let him give his side. Then we can decide.”

I eased the pressure to enable him to talk.

“Ah Swan” he gasped. “Just when we were about to become such good friends. Oh well. I am not the traitor. But I do have intelligence. When I saw the situation, I had three options.”

“First I could provide range support with my crossbow. I could probably get off one shot to your three and I have poor aim. Your bow alone could provide ten times better support. I would be next to useless.”

“Second I could use my magic. But my magic is limited. The spells I carry would have removed some kobolds, but not enough to make a difference. Also it would also have hurt our comrades who were deep inside the room. That would have left us with no magic for when we really needed it for no gain.”

“Third, I could use my ‘Claw’. I can kill more kobolds that way than with my crossbow, save my magic, and support the Seekers in close. There is something about that scimitar that greatly improves my combat skills. It compels action. It wants its wielder to slash and burn. You sensed it yourself but resisted the urge. I could see it in your face at the time. I would have lost my nose otherwise.”

“And so I chose the third option because that was the best way I could support the Seekers. And I can guarantee that before this day is over, you will be grateful I saved my magic. Now make your choice!”

Mother, he was so right about that. I will describe those events later.

“I believe him Swan” spoke up Gideon. “You should release him.”

Neon had been looking back and forth between Kilzadi and me. “I believe him as well.”

“’Es did kill lot’o ‘kobolds” piped in Risca. “’Es fight gud. But if yas want to kill him, O.K.”

Again Okul, in that voice of reason “He did have the perfect situation to use his magic against us, if he so desired. I believe him.”

I could not fault anything said. My anger evaporated as mist on a warm morning. ‘Claw’ clanged as I let it slip to the stone floor. I slowly removed my hand and stepped back. Kilzadi stroked his neck where my fingers had left marks.

“Witty, beautiful and much, much stronger than she appears” he remarked. Gideon broke the awkwardness of the moment.

“All right Seekers. Let’s finish up. There are two south doors left in this room to check out as well as that unpickable door earlier. Let’s collect what we can here and try out those doors.”

Kilzadi sheathed his ‘Claw’ and walked away towards the hallway door. Not looking at me and not speaking. Okul patted me on the back and followed. Risca came up to me. He gripped my hand. “Youse me gurl. Always. Hey Okul, waits up.”

That left Neon and Gideon. Gideon nodded at the half elf. Neon brushed a lock of hair off my forehead. He whispered, “It will be fine Swan. We can talk later.” Then he was off.

Gideon let out a long sigh. “Swan, you did with best of intend for the Seekers. We all understand that. But now we have a situation. I really wish you had let us in on your suspicions first. Then it may not have escalated to this point. He sighed again. The Seekers must trust each other, especially in battle. We must know that we can depend on each other. Each of us has our own specialty. It is the blending of these specialties that allows us to become more effective. We alone determine the best way to use our abilities. We alone can make the adjustments needed to best fit the situation. As Kilzadi did. But now there is a gap between yourself and Kilzadi. This gap must be closed and trust re-established. This you must initiate and make it true.”

I felt like an incredibly naïve militia recruit getting dressed down by her sergeant for doing something incredibly naïve. Thereby putting her unit at risk. I was ashamed.

I nodded. “Leave it to me, Gideon. I’ll get it done.”

“I know you will Swan. Now then, let’s join the others.

Arriving we found the others gathered around a treasure chest. Apparently, Okul and Risca had crashed open the door. The room was the chieftain’s bedroom. Neon had found a key under the bed, which opened the chest. Inside the chest, were bags of gold coins, an emerald studded silver bracelet and a wand like object. Kilzadi approached Gideon. He ignored me. Showing Gideon the wand, he began.

“Interesting symbols inscribed here. This one is obvious. It is the Red Wizard mark. Beside it is the coat of arms of Scardale. Below them is the Mark of the Dragon

Below that is this eye surrounded by seven stars. The symbol of a deity. Which one I do not know.”

I had the knowledge to recognize it. But then so did Gideon. Before I could speak out, “Mystra”, he blurted. “Goddess of magic. She who controls the Weave. Why are all these symbols here at the same time? Most unusual. Is it magical?

Kilzadi nodded yes.

“Keep it then. We’ll need to investigate it later. All right Seekers. Take everything of value and let us be on our way. To the unchecked door. Swan, you know the routine. Lead on!”

Off we went. Back to the throne room and the southwest door. There was no teasing and lambasting now. Instead a tension hung over us. My fault. Wondering if a simple apology would work, Risca caught up to me.

“Swan, me gurl. Wees still kill ‘em. Then get us new magic man. Only if yas want to.” So unexpected was this and so Risca like that I burst out a chortle. Risca’s straightforward solution. You have a problem? Just remove the source of the problem. Then you don’t have a problem. Risca logic.

I put an arm around his shoulder and hugged him to me. “Oh you sweet, darling Risca. Thank you for your faith in me. No we cannot kill him. I will think of something else.”

Why should ye care? Now, quits squeezing, gurl. Yas always squeezing me. Or rubbin me head.”

“I care because I care about the Seekers. Gideon’s right. We have to go back to trusting and relying on each other. No suspicions. I caused this tension and I have to resolve it. Now hush and let me work.’

We had arrived at the door. Listening, I could hear nothing. The door held no surprises nor was it locked. Opening it an eye’s width, I peered in. Once I saw the other side, I opened it wide. It was the well room. “Hays, I know this” blurted Risca. The others arrived. They all saw. Gideon turned to me. I understood his unspoken question.

“Now we know how wide this level is. If I am right, then the next door should open into the very first room on this level that we fought kobolds.”

“O.K. let’s see if you are right Swan.”

I led the group to the southeast door. Again, no noise and the door was normal and unlocked. Even opening it a crack allowed the stench of blood and gore to escape. Sure enough, it was as I predicted. Rats and other scavengers scampered away as the door opened fully. The corpses of now chewed and devoured kobold innards and bones lay strewn about. We all recognized the room.

“Well, now we know”, spoke Gideon. “So Swan, then that door you saw in the south wall of the barracks …’

“Should be the north door I spiked shut. There should be 30’ of corridor and another door spiked close that opens to stairs leading down. These are the doors I spiked before we fought the first kobolds.” I noticed how the other Seekers kept their thoughts to themselves. There was no badinage, no making fun, and no other comments. “This must change”, I thought. “We must go back to the way it was. Back to the close knit group we were becoming.”

“Let’s check it.” Gideon finished.

Risca kept pace with me as we made our way into and through the mess hall and into the barracks. I needed to occupy my thoughts with something other than the present tension.

“Risca”, I began, “there is something about your battle cries I do not quite understand.”

“Ah”, he interrupted. “I’s tells ya and tells ya. Battle cries gud for ya. Theys focus ya and gives ya energy boost. Best theys make yer enemy hesitate or flinch. Theys bump morale and reduce fear. Theys gud! Ya should do it. More dwarven. Show yer soul.”

“Yes, yes, Risca. I understand. But I meant the actual cries. ‘Risca Smash’ and ‘Its Clobbering Time’ I comprehend. But it’s this Crull I don’t, as in ‘Crush for Crull’. What is Crull? A hero? A god?

He looked at me surprised. “Ah, me gurl. Crull is ole dwarf word. It mean essence of dwarf ness. What it mean to fight like dwarf. Strong, steadfast, no flinch I’s beats ya cause I’s dwarf and so cannot lose. I’s crush ya, cause I’s cannot shame the spirit of dwarf and so are unbeatable. Crap bricks because now ya face dwarf warrior. Crull. Now understand?”

“Uh, I think so.”

“Gud. Best way is use it.”

We arrived at the south barracks door. Once again, the door was normal in all respects and unlocked. But it would not open. There was definitely a blockage on the other side that could only be a spike. No noise could be heard. Gideon beckoned Okul. The dragon blooded kicked down the door. Sure enough, it burst open to reveal a corridor area. Directly across was the closed door I had mentioned. My spikes were still in place. To our right (east) the door into the kobold room lay open. To our left (west) was a closed door.

I pointed out to Gideon. “That door straight ahead. Behind it are stairs leading down. That other one should be the trapped door where Neon almost died. Should lead into the beetle area.”

The fire priest nodded. “Fine. We stick to the original plan. We stay on this level until we return to the spider room. The only unknown is the corridor out of the mess hall. Let’s go Seekers.”

Soon we arrived. The corridor stretched east ending at the T-junction. Gideon indicated the south wall door I had located earlier. Approaching it, my nose was assaulted with the odor of refuse. It got stronger the closer I approached. The others gathered round, all wrinkling their nose. The door opened into a 20’ by 20’ room. It was full of rotting garbage, bones and other offal. An identical door was located directly across. On the wall beside this door, draconic script flickered in the torchlight. An arrow pointed to the door. Gideon turned to Kilzadi. “Well?’ he asked.

The sorcerer read “Warning-large bugs here. Keep out.” The priest nodded. “We go to the junction.

And so we did. It was Risca who kept pace with me, not Neon. The handsome rogue kept to the rear. He seemed to be deep in thought about something. At the junction the corridor diverged south for 10’ending at a wooden door. It continued north for 10’, where it doubled in width for another 10’, before narrowing and continuing for another30’. Then it veered west and out of sight.

“Risca. Cover me. That door on the right should be the north door of the room where we first fought the beetles and you got bug burned. I’m going to check it. He nodded. “Bees careful, me gurl.”

I reached the door without incident. All was quiet. The door was not locked, and so I slowly opened it and peeked in. Once again, my scouting abilities proved correct. I could see the stairs that we had first descended as well as the dead beetle carcasses being scavenged. I turned back.

Reaching the junction, I reported to the others. Kilzadi still refused to look at me.

“We go north’, decided Gideon. “Swan-take point. Risca-go with her.”

And so we did. As we approached the widen area, Risca stopped me. “That nae look right’, he stated, pointing Black Blade at the stone floor. I trust Risca’s opinion regarding stonework. Slowing down, I began to carefully search out that area. In a short time I found it. A minute spacing encircled the floor stones. This depressed when I leaned my hand on it. Which in turn exposed a wire leading to a pressure lever. It was a piston pressure trap; only triggered when sufficient weight was placed on it.

“Well done Risca.” He grinned at me. I signaled to Neon. I could have tried to disarm it, but he was much better than I. Locks were my forte. Arriving, he knelt beside me and quickly took in the situation. I pointed out the hidden lever.

“Ah, he said. Kobold runs over. No problem as it is too light to trigger the trap. Whatever is chasing it, a Swan or a dwarf, is too heavy and triggers the trap. Floor falls away. Most likely a pit underneath it. Shall we test my theory?”

“Just disarm it or I’ll do it alone”, I spat out. I was still in no mood for teasing.

“Easy Swan. I’ll do it. Just give me a hand.”

Working together, we soon had the trap disabled. The group continued northwards, only now Neon walked with Risca, with me a step behind. We reached the corner where the corridor turned to the west. It was dark. The corridor continued into the darkness. Twenty feet from us it branched south. With caution we approached the branch and looked around the corner. The branch corridor led to a set of stairs, which descended down into more darkness. On the wall was more draconic script. We waited for Kilzadi to translate.

“Use other stairs. Order of Bareris”, he told us.

Then he confronted me. This could be a logic problem for you, Swan. If I were the traitor, would I be lying now to get you to use the other stairs, or telling the truth now to get you to use the other stairs? What if these stairs are the right stairs and I was mixing the truth with a lie? Well? What do you choose?

Gideon intervened before anything nasty or regretful could occur. “I choose to continue. Let’s go! Now!”

We continued west. Suddenly the corridor widened again into a 10’ by 10’ space before narrowing and continuing on. But there was a most amazing sight. Hovering in the air near the ceiling in this space were several gold coins. There was no mistaking them.

“Anyone seen anything like that before?” inquired Okul. “Some kind of levitation trap?

“No magic I can determine” added Kilzadi. “Of course I may be lying.” This he added for my benefit.

“Well if there’s no magic and it may be a trap, then sounds like a job for Ninniach” continued Neon. “Back me up Risca.” Neon did an examination around the widened area. He turned to us and yelled back “No trap I can detect.” Then before any of us could tell them to wait up or maintain caution, the two idiots proceeded to walk into the area. There was a pop squish sound and the two of them froze in place. To my sight they became a bit blurry. Then the coins, Risca and Neon appeared to moving closer to us. The rest of us galvanized into action.

My heart was in my throat. Both Risca and Neon were entrapped at the same time. Both were in danger! I remember screaming. “Help them! Help them now!” I fired an arrow into the gold coins. It slowed perceptively and came to a stop behind the coins, seemly suspended in the air. It seemed to have encountered some resistance.

“Gelatinous cube” yelled out Kilzadi. “Acid based!” “Grab them! Get them out!” He began an incantation.

Gideon began a prayer even as he hurled his alchemist fire flask. It seemly stopped in mid air and burst into flames. The flames seem to burn in the air. There was an odor of burnt acidic vapors.

Okul had already leaped forward heavy mace was in hand. He swung it in a downward arc. His arm jerked as if the mace had struck something massive. It continued along the arc and now we could see droplets of jellied gobs spray out behind the mace. Some landed on him. “Burns! Acid” he bellowed. With no hesitation, with his empty hand, he reached out and grabbed onto Risca. He gasped as his hand and arm began to blister. A mighty jerk back and Risca was hauled out with a large pop suction sound. He appeared to be unconscious and all his exposed skin was a cherry red.

I could now see a large semi-transparent pseudopod manifest in the air and swing towards Okul. “Duck!” I screamed out even as I shot my next arrow. Okul did. The pseudopod missed and my second arrow had the same effect as the first one. Okul took Risca behind us.

Then two events happened almost simultaneously even as I wailed out Neon’s name. A bolt of fire raced from Kilzadi’s hand to strike at the coin region. There was burning with black smoke forming. Again one could smell burnt acidic vapors. My eyes began to water. Kilzadi began another incantation.

Gideon raced up and with both hands grabbed onto Neon. He began to pull back on the half elf. The acid had no effect on the priest. His prayer had been answered. With a large popping sound Neon was freed. He also appeared to be unconscious. He too had reddened, blistered skin.

Gideon dragged him behind us as well. I knew that the priest would begin the healing process. That left only Kilzadi and me to buy them the needed time. We were interposed between the Seekers and this gelatinous cube monster.

It moved even closer. Too close for me to reload and shoot in time. Especially when another psuedopod manifested and swung at me. Ducking and stepping back, I unsheathed Gutripper. As I swung it, a second fire bolt passed close by my head striking the near invisible cube. Again the bolt burned off bits of the monster. The hallway filled with acrid fumes.

Gutripper lived up to its name. I could feel it slicing and ripping its way through what felt like a thick, viscous jelly. Suddenly Kilzadi was standing beside me. The Claw was in his hand.

“Together Swan” he whooped. He stabbed forward with the Claw as I began my return down swing.

“Feel my Claw,” he shouted out. The scimitar burned its way into the cube jelly, sizzling as it penetrated.

I had gripped Gutripper by both hands. As I swung I released all my fear, rage and fury in a giant vociferation.

“Crush for Crrrrruulllllll!” I trumpeted out.

Half way through Gutripper’s swing, there was a large sound like a balloon bursting. In an instant, Kilzadi and I were awash in an acidic jellied fluid. Bits of it sprayed onto our faces and clothes. The coins and both my arrows fell to the floor. The creature was destroyed.

Ignoring the acid stings, I raised both a clenched fist and Gutripper “Crull! Crull! Crull!” I blared down the corridor. Risca was right. It felt exhilarating.

“There she goes again” Neon’s familiar voice sounded behind me. “As bloodthirsty as ever. Arrow blast some brains here. Rip out some guts over there.”

I turned. Both Neon and Risca had been propped sitting up against the wall. Side by side. Gideon and Okul had just finished attending to them.

Risca’s eyes beamed with pride. “Me gurl! I’s news it. I’s news it all the time. Dwarf soul. Dwarf soul.”

Their burns have been fixed up,” reported Gideon. “Short on water to clean them up as well as the rest of us. Good team work, you and Kilzadi.”

I remembered that they had used a lot of their water in cleaning me from the yellow mold. I withdrew a vial from my belt and tossed it to Gideon.

“Here, that should be enough. Should get several gallons of water from it. Let me know if you need more.”

“And this is…” he began, staring at the white powder in the vial.

“Standard scout issue. Powdered water. Just add a drop of water and watch it fill up the containers.”

Now came the difficult part. I turned towards Kilzadi. He was wiping clean himself and Claw.

He stopped when he noticed me staring.

“Listen. Everyone. I need to tell Kilzadi and I want you all to hear.” I took a deep breath and began.

“Kilzadi, you are right and I was wrong. Never again will I doubt your knowledge of the use of effective magic. Never again will I doubt your strategy. I want to thank you for being able to save Risca and Neon. I want to thank you for using your magic to destroy that creature. Should you have done as I thought you should, there would not have been any magic left to help us.”

“We fought shoulder to shoulder. Together we did what neither of us alone could do. We fought as comrades. We fought together as fellow Seekers. We trusted each other.

“I wish to remove this awkwardness between us. I want the Seekers to know that they can depend on each other. I want us to stand united with no suspicions or trepidations. I want us to regain our sense of camaraderie and humor.”

“Kilzadi, I wish to be your good friend. I want you to forgive me for suspecting you. I want you to forgive me for not treating you as a fellow Seeker. I speak truly from my heart.”

There was silence. All the while the sorcerer had been focused on my words and me. Then he replied. “You wish my forgiveness? You want to be my friend? You now have no doubts about my intentions?”

“Yes, yes and yes.”

A shadow of a smile seemed to flit across his lips. His stare glistened. Again he showed himself to be unpredictable.

“So prove it. Wrap your arms around my neck, lean yourself hard against me and kiss me deep.”

I startled, totally surprised by the request. There was no way I could have predicted that. The others watched impassively. Before me stood a handsome man, a fellow Seeker. But there were no surprises. After all, I had seen him and Gwenect making love in the woods. I smiled at the memory.

With no hesitation, I walked up to him, embraced his neck, and placed my mouth against his.

He put one hand around my waist, the other just below it on my derrière and pulled me in close. At the same time, his lips pressed mine open as his tongue entered and explored my mouth.

I allowed this until I could feel him relaxing into the kiss. Then gripping him such that he could not pull away, I thrust in my tongue and roughly probed all around, tongues dueling

He inhaled sharply in surprise but could not pull back. Then just as I sensed that he was beginning to enjoy himself, I broke the kiss.

“Swan” he gasped for air. “That was …”

“Totally unpredictable?” I inquired freeing his arms from me. There was no resistance.

“Well, did I prove my earnestness?”

“Uh? Oh yes. Yes indeed. He cleared his throat. Perhaps once we return, we may have a quiet intimate candlelight dinner. Just the two of us. As good friends of course.”

I laughed. “Don’t push it, mighty mage of magic.”

He laughed back. “Can’t blame a connoisseur for trying. Swan, you are a girl after my own heart. Witty, beautiful, strong and oh, so tasty.” He smacked his lips.

“Kilzadi, if I was after your heart, it would be with a cleaver in my hand. Ready for carving.”

“Neon, you are correct. Add bloodthirsty to that list.”

We had a laugh at this. We both realized that the tension between us had vanished. The gap had been closed. We were relaxed with each other. The friendly teasing had returned. All for a kiss. Who would have thought?

I turned to the others “I think we are set to continue now. The Seekers are back.”

Of course Neon could not leave it be.

“Hey Swan, please suspect me of being the traitor. Then we can kiss and make up as well.”

Kilzadi answered, again rubbing at his throat. “Only after she nearly crushes your larynx first.”

Purposefully disregarding their banter, I knelt facing Risca and Neon as they still sat recovering. Ignoring Neon, I addressed myself to Risca.

“I’m surprised at you. The veteran warrior that you are. How could you do something so asinine as walk blissfully into a monster’s maw? How could you not realize that something was amiss-no magic, no traps but the coins still floated?”

I gestured to Neon. “Him I understand. His greed shuts down his brain. But you do not have that shortcoming. Uhm…, because I am your good friend, it behooves me to do something to remind you not to be so silly again. Uhm… let me see…”

Now I turned to Neon. “You! You are in luck. Thank Tymora. I am going to remind you at the same time. So both of you please remember this any time your brain begins to shut down.”

Even as I spoke the last words, I gripped both their heads and slammed them together! There was a loud crack of bone hitting bone.

Risca’s ow was matched by Neon’s large ouch.

“Next time I will not be so gentle” I ended as I stood up.

Okul actually grinned. “Friend Gideon, I do believe the Seekers are back.”

Gideon returned the grin. “Yes, friend Okul. I must most heartily agree. Glory to Kossuth. A monster is destroyed and Sister Swan is bashing Seeker heads together or slapping them silly. Yes, I would say that we have become normal again. All right everyone, now that all our brains are working, its time to move on. Follow the Swan.”

I moved close to the south wall, attempting to bypass the worse of the ooze’s slushy digestive juices. I wanted to determine if any of my arrows were salvageable. As I walked carefully, my hand was moving along the wall. Suddenly I felt a tiny grove, almost imperceptible. Someone whose father had not made her practice lock picking while blindfolded would not have sensed it. I stopped and examined the area most carefully. Yes, there it was. A fine smaller than hair outline. It appeared to be the outline of a door. Reaching for my lock pick tool, I traced it to where the lock would be. A quick insert and turn and the door opened enough to get my fingers in.

“Boys, found something here” I called out to the team.

Immediately Risca was at my side, ready to attack or defend. I pried the stone door. It opened with a grind sound to reveal a 15’ old, unused dust filled corridor. That was all we could see as it then veered east. We coughed as ancient dust billowed out. Amazingly, there on the inside wall, next to the door was what appeared to be a series of musical notes.

With one hand preventing Risca from barging in, I waved up to Kilzadi. Spying the notes he whispered a chant. “Not glyphs. No magic on the walls. Perhaps they are as they seem to be, just inscribed musical notes,” he concluded.

“Then Neon should take a look…” I began to suggest when Risca interrupted.

“Na need the red elf. ‘Ems music. Listen.” With that he began to sing the notes. Mother, I swear by the Holy Silver Arrow that the voice that erupted from Risca’s throat had bard like qualities. He sang out a whole section. The singing was soothing and so reminiscent of one of your elven lullabies. It was as if Risca was just mouthing the music while a true bard sang. I gaped in astonishment as Risca’s clear, deep solid base voice echoed down the corridors. Kilzadi was as dumfounded as I. The rest of the Seekers behind us could only jaw drop in wonderment.

“Risca,” I began, “how can you…I mean you can’t read all that well yet…and…”

“Bah! Readin and music not the same. Learned music and singing from me Pappy. He was the skald of our tribe. The history singer. I was to follow in his footsteps. Guess no can sing good.”

“Oh, my darling Risca” I began as I wrapped myself around him and hugged hard. It was beautiful, magnificent!”

“Again with the squeezing! Lays off gurl. No squeezing!

I could hear the love and pride in his voice as he tried to push me back.

“Well, today is a day of revelations. Who would have thought? An altruistic scout. A bardic barbarian.” This from Kilzadi.

“Yes” I responded. “Let us not forget the markup of our mage.”

“As Gideon says,” he replied laughing “lets do it!” And so we entered.

In front, my boots made deep footprints in the dust-laden floor. We reached the corner without incident. Here the corridor veered east. Peering around the corner, I spied the dust filled corridor continuing unchanged for another 10’ before widening into a 10’ by 10’ area. In this area were two large wooden chests. Each with a huge metal padlock. They had been here for a long time, unused, as indicated by the thick coating of dust that covered them. One was in the southeast corner, the other in the northwest corner. Occupying the southwest corner was another crystal statue of Dracandros. It too was dust covered and seemed to have a sneer imprinted on its face as it overlooked the passageway.

By now the others had caught up.

“Old treasure chests” exclaimed Neon rubbing his hands with glee.

“Wait for it” cautioned Gideon. “Kilzadi?”

The mage mumbled a spell. “There is magic here. From one chest.”

“So, we use care. Swan?”

“This place is old. It must predate Bareris. No one or thing has been in here for a long time. The statue indicates it has to do with Dracandros’ I replied

“All right then. Neon, I suggest checking the statue first. Then the chests. We will cover you from here. Swan, go with him half way.”

Neon interlaced his fingers and cracked his knuckles.” Another job for the master trap finder and lock picker. Stand aside gentlemen and let an expert get to work. Come along Swan.”

We moved in. halfway, I stopped, against the wall, bow ready. This allowed the others a clear view of the area.

“Ninniach, watch out for floating coins, O.K?” Thus, I cautioned him to be careful.

“Don’t worry. My head is still ringing from your last lesson. A lesson well learned. So I guess it’s true.

“What is?”

“That saying that you always hurt the one you love.” Before I could retort, he chuckled and walked swiftly on.

He reached the statue and began to search around. Dust clouds formed as he investigated.

“No traps I can find here” he called out. “Actually, seems to be just as it appears to be, another crystal statue. Time to check the chests.”

At these words, the rest of us moved into the area. I approached one chest while Neon was investigating the other. Checking it over, I found no surprises. Risca joined me as I examined the padlock. It was rusted shut. There would not be any lock picking on this one. I reached into my backpack and retrieved a vial of caustic acid. I poured it into the padlock in the manner that father taught me. The manner that was useful in dissolving a locking mechanism. Or at least weakening it enough that it could be forced open. Soon the odor of acidified metal was noticeable. “Well the acid should have worked by now,” I told Risca.

With no hesitation he grasped the padlock and yanked hard. There was an audile snap as the lock was released.

“Yep. Gud job, me gurl”

Together we lifted up and opened the chest. Inside were several leather bags of coins. Many copper, silver and gold pieces, each in their own bag.

Risca grinned. “Gud haul me gurl. Gud haul.” He looked over to the others. “Coins here. Whatcha get there?”

Neon had picked the lock and had opened the other chest. The one Kilzadi had said had magic. Inside they had found scrolls, vials and a mithral chain shirt.

“Gideon spoke then. “Seekers, we put all this in the magic bag and check them out later. Time to move along. Neon, take point. The rest follow. Swan, give me a hand here.”

They left as Gideon and I placed the items and bags into his magic bag. It still astounded me that it got no heavier or larger despite all the items that were inside it. Mother, I just have to get myself something similar. I am carrying too much weight. I realize it has been building up my strength and stamina all these years, but it slows me down too much. Gideon addressed me as we worked.

“I just wanted to tell you. Job well done Swan. The Seekers are back as a functioning unit. Could not have done better myself.”

“Oh really? Fine then. Next time you get to tongue kiss Kilzadi and have him cop a feel.”

He laughed at this. Then in a more serious tone asked, “did it cost much?”

I thought seriously for a few moments. I appraised it objectively. “No, not at all. He is very handsome, an excellent kisser. His body feels good and firm. Actually it was quite pleasant and enjoyable. In fact very agreeable. I like him a lot more now. Its just that”…I searched for the right words. Kilzadi’s own words came to mind.

“He does not make me want to scratch an itch. Do you understand?”

“I believe so. Just cut him some slack, Swan. Cut them all some slack.”

Sighing, I replied. “Yes, but this traitor business bothers me. Bothers me much.”

“I also. But it will resolve itself somehow. Now let us rejoin them before they get into more trouble.”

And so we exited back into the main corridor and continued eastwards. In a short time we reached the others. They were grouped together 20’ away staring down the corridor. As we reached them, we could see why. There in front of us was a small set of stairs leading down. Then the corridor continued for 20’ to an identical set of stairs leading up. Between the two stairs the corridor branched twice to the south.

Okul spoke first. “This looks familiar does it not?

It was the landmark that marked the completion of this level. There below us were the spider room and the yellow mold room.

“Well that’s it then” remarked Gideon. “No place left to go except down.”

“There are three sets of stairs going down that we know of”, added Kilzadi. One is on the opposite side of this level, the one Swan spiked closed. The second is behind us with the warning to use ‘the other stairs and the third should be straight ahead beside the crystal statue by the dire rats’ nest.”

“The first is too far away now, we will heed the warning of the second and so that leaves the third one. Straight ahead, everyone’, concluded Gideon.

And so, mother, it seemed a déjà vu. We followed that corridor for the third time. It was like an old friend. Quickly we reached the stairs.

Cautiously we proceeded down. The stairs descended 10’ onto a corridor which turned south. Peering around the corner, the corridor continued south for 10’ and then widened and veered east. Motioning to the others to stay a few steps behind me, I moved down the corridor as quietly as possible. I was halfway to the turn, when it happened. There was a loud creak as if a door opening. A large shadow of a gigantic humanoid became visible and moved around the corner. The owner of the shadow soon followed. It turned the corner and spied us.

It was ugly and smelly. More than twice my height and quadruple my mass, it had a dull brown thick hide covered with dark, warty bumps. Long, unkempt and greasy hair covered its head, shoulders, arms and back. Its jaw protruded out and sharp fanglike teeth raced around its thick lips. A dirty, grimy, flea infested fur pelt encircled its waist. Its hands held a massive spiked club. Mother, it was my first ogre sighting!

Upon seeing us, it hollered out in a strange language (we later learned it was a giant dialect) and immediately charged us.

I had stopped moving and as it charged, fired my bow. I hit its chest but it did not seem to feel the arrow or even slow down. Before I could react, there was the sound of a Risca Smash’ and a ‘Tempuusss’ as both Risca and Okul sped past me to intercept the beast.

The three met with a sound of thunder. What a wonder to watch Okul and Risca together fight a foe. Because Risca had a shield, he purposely took the first blow. Ogres rely on brute strength and have no sense of combat tactics. Which is a good thing to my way of thinking.

The ogre swung at Risca who took the strike on his shield in such a way as to pin the spike. It was a heavy blow that almost knocked him to his knees. Only his strength in his legs and knees kept him upright. Because the club was stuck for those precious moments, the ogre was defenseless against Okul’s follow up blow. His mace struck hard against the brute’s shoulder. The strength behind the hit was enough to snap the shoulder bone. The ogre reared back as it screamed out in pain and rage.

This allowed Risca to thrust Black Blade hilt deep into its genitals and up into its intestines. It now bent forward in agony as blood filled its mouth. Okul two handedly brought down his mace on the back of the exposed skull. It split like a rotten melon. Brain and skull bits sprayed in a reddish cloud.

Still screaming battle cries, the two Seekers raced around the corner. By now the rest of us were close behind. An open door showed the corridor continuing east as far as we could see. There were two doors along the south wall, one 15’ in, the other 35’ in. Along the north wall, from the 20’ in to the 40’ in was an open area.

But what concerned us at the moment was what was emerging from those places. Pairs of ogres, shouting in that unknown language. These brutes were practically identical to the slain one. All except for one, which was bigger, bulkier and seemed to be wearing a bracelet. He engaged Okul.

Risca and Okul passed through the door, each to engage one of the nearest ogres.

Gideon shouted out, “Swan, Neon, hold the doorway. Range support.” Then he began to speak a prayer. Kilzadi had already incanted a spell.

“Neon shouted as I loaded granpar’s bow, “Swan you’re with Risca. I’ll take Okul.”

I nodded as he loaded his own bow.

At his last word, a fiery missile erupted from Kilzadi’s hand and sped towards the middle two ogres. It left a trail of flame as it raced through the air. Passing them it exploded and engulfed them inside a huge ball of fire. They had time for a short scream as they were incinerated. Greasy black smoke and the smell of burnt meat filled the corridor. The stone floor, walls and ceiling blackened from the fireball’s heat. Kilzadi began another incantation.

Neon and I both released our arrows. Both of them struck the nearest ogres, one arrow each. Neither arrow seemed to do any observable damage. We reloaded.

Okul and Risca each engaged their ogres. Okul blocked the downward swing of the brute’s club with his mace. The two titans strained against each other, club to mace. Muscles knotted on each of their arms. Slowly Okul was pushed back.

Then Okul relaxed his arms and spun sideways. The ogre, now overbalanced, lurched forwards. Okul allowed his mace to slide underneath the club and then swung it up, catching the ogre’s chin from underneath. There was a bone crushing sound as the jawbone broke and teeth were snapped off. The ogre yelped in pain as its head was bent back. Okul did a half turn to place himself behind the monster and swung the mace up. This caught the back of the head. The blow was sufficient to cave in its skull. More brain matter splattered the dragon-blooded warrior as the ogre collapsed.

Risca was not as fortunate. The screaming ogre towered over him. Risca was roaring one of his battle cries. He shield smashed its knees while swinging Black blade at its ankles. The ogre crumbled to its knees but still managed to swing its club hard. Risca twisted quickly to shied block it, but not quickly enough. He managed to deter the club such that he received only a glancing blow to his helmet. Yet so powerful was the strike that even a glancing blow was enough to drive him to his knees, stunned. His shield and sword dropped to the floor as he knelt dazed and confused. The screaming monster raised its club for the final deathblow.

All this occurred in the time it took me to reload and Gideon to finish his prayer.

Spying Risca’s plight, I screamed a ‘NO’ as I rushed in to aid him. To do something! Even as I took a step into the corridor, Kossuth answered Gideon’s prayer and blessed us all.

I could feel the god’s blessing as a calming running through my body. Time seemed to slow and I became deaf to the sounds around me. My target, the ogre’s forehead loomed larger in my sight. It became a much easier target. I knew there would only be one chance at this. With what seemed all the time in the world, I brought up granpar’s bow, drew back to its limit and took careful aim at the center of that forehead. I released the arrow. Later the Seekers were to tell me that this all happened in the blink of an eye. I stepped in a few paces and fired my arrow.

It struck true. The point powered into the beast’s cranium and emerged through the back of its skull, spewing out blood and brain fluids. The creature wobbled and collapsed onto its side. Oh mother, I am really, really fond of those headshots! They are so final!

Sound and smells returned instantly. I could feel my heart beating rapidly and my breath gasping. I sped to Risca and knelt beside him. His head was rocking and his eyes seemed crossed.

Grabbing him around the shoulders. I shouted into his ear “Risca, Risca, Talk to me. How are you doing?

He looked into my face. He was still groggy. “Me gurl, me gurl. Whys there tree of yahs?”

By now the last two remaining ogres had just about reached us. Kilzadi had finished his incantation. I swear that I felt the magic essence flow by me as an invisible vibration in the air. I definitely did feel the wind as Neon leaped over us to interpose himself in front of the ogres. The floor did shake as Okul did the same. It did not matter. As the magic wave reached the ogres, they stopped their shouts and movement. Then quickly and quietly they collapsed to the floor and began to snore.

Kilzadi shouted from the doorway. “They are just asleep. Kill them!”

Neon needed no further encouragement. Rushing to the nearest sleeping ogre, He rammed his rapier hilt deep into a closed eye and into its brain. It convulsed and the snoring stopped. Okul leaned over the second one and sliced across its throat deep with his dagger. Blood pumped out as it too died in its sleep. Mother, you must explain to me that when I do something similar, I am considered bloodthirsty, whereas their acts are ‘for the good of the group’ or ‘to best protect ourselves’.

All was now quiet. As I helped Risca to his feet, Gideon and Kilzadi joined us. Neon and Okul maintained a guard. We waited several minutes, but nothing changed.

“ O.K. now, gurl. Yahs can let go.” Risca told me. “Tanks fer that headshot”, he added staring at the dead ogre. Yahs shoot gud. Always say so. No squeezing now.”

“Oh Risca. Dear Risca. Fine No hugs. Just stand still for a minute. Your eyes are still rolling around.” I touched my curing wand to him. With Solonar’s grace, his eyes stopped dancing and he stood firmer.

“Ah, cool green mint. Feels gud. Tankee gurl. And tank your god too.”

Gideon moved up to us. “Everyone else is fine. How is he?”

“I’s fine. Me gurl fix me”, Risca spoke out before I could answer.

Good.! Seekers, we search the area quickly and then move on.”

Okul had removed the bracelet from the largest ogre and was showing it to Kilzadi. It had a large “D” symbol embossed in blue glass.

“Well”, he inquired of the mage.

Kilzadi answered. “There is a magical aura on it. Its purpose I cannot as yet fathom.”

Okul shrugged. “It looks nice on my arm. I’ll just wear it anyway.”

Neon and Gideon had gone into the nearest open doorway into what was the ogre’s barracks. Huge fur covered beds filled the room. Under one they had found a bag of coins.

Risca and I had gone into the second open doorway. It entered into a storeroom. The room was filled with crates, barrels and sacks. Searching revealed nothing of interest, only mundane equipment.

Okul and Kilzadi searched out the open are across the corridor. It was an extremely large space, being the ogre’s dining area. A 5’ tall table was surrounded by tree stumps dominated the room. Utensils and carving knives and platters were strewn around.

We gathered together. Gideon gave his orders.

“There may be more of these brutes around. We go weapons ready. I feel we are getting closer to Bareris. Everyone on full alert. Lead us out Swan.”

And so eastwards we went. Soon the corridor ended as an opening into a large room cautiously, I approached and peered in. The 15’long, 20’ wide room was well lit. It was empty except for a huge tapestry running along the entire 20’ of the east wall. It hung about a foot of the floor, so we could see the corridor continue in the south east corner.

The tapestry depicted a giant crazed looked Bareris looming over the fortress on Haptooth hill with the area aflame.

Kilzadi made a hand pass and whispered a short spell. “There is magic on that tapestry. Everyone be careful.”

We carefully entered. There was no reaction, even as we got closer and closer to the tapestry. Finally we all stood in front of it.

“Fairly exquisite workmanship” spoke up Kilzadi. “Gold threading. “He barely touched the thread when the tapestry shimmered. A red crystal statue of Bareris began to step through the shimmering. It had the same crazed look that I remember on the Red Wizard. A voice spoke out all around us, “Who dares invade my sanctum? Die invaders, Die!”

We all took steps back except for Risca. With a cry of ‘Risca Smash’ he ran at it and swung the Black Blade. Striking just above the knee, the sword chipped off pieces of crystal. The statue did not flinch or hesitate. Instead, feeling no pain, it lashed out with both fists at the barbarian dwarf. Risca took both blows on his shield. One he could have braced against, but not both. The force of the blows sent him careening through the air. He landed hard, lay still and began to emit deep groans. The statue then turned its attention to us.

“Well that should wake up his brain, hey Swan?” Neon addressed me even as he brought up his bow to shoot. < p>I was too busy aiming to respond. How do you hurt a large piece of crystal? Neon and I both fired. Our arrows struck true, but the only effect before thy bounced off was to chip the crystal. It ran towards us. We split off into opposite directions. This allowed the others to attack freely.

Okul released a sling bullet. It made a notch in the crystal creature, who did not even slow down.

Gideon and Kilzadi both fired their crossbows. At close range, the heavier bolts did more damage than arrows, which meant only that they knocked off bigger chips.

Neon instructed us. “Everyone, aim at the same place, aim for its heart. It’s just a big crystal. Perhaps we can crack it along a flaw line.”

I let him shoot first. He hit its heart. The arrow had the same effect as before. It chipped the hit area and bounced off. The construct turned towards him and charged. It was fast! Only his agility saved him as he managed to somersault beneath its swinging fist.

I ran to place myself in front of it, between it and Neon. I aimed at the heart notch and fired. My hit arrow struck, deepening the notch as it too bounced off. It ran at me. Whatever this thing was, it was not too smart. It seemed to attack whoever was closest and upright. We had it running hither and thither. I led it to such a position that the Seekers had good sight and short range to shoot at it.

Okul’s sling bullet barely hit before the two crossbow bolts slammed into it. All near the heart area. A small hairline crack appeared just above and below the heart dent. It was barely discernible. But then, mother you always said that I had sharp eyes.

“It’s working”, I shouted to the group. “I see a crack. I’m going for it.”

Even as I was speaking, I loaded my bow with a serpent-tongued arrow. The thinner double barbs would be better suited to penetrate the crack then a normal arrow. I ran to place myself in front of it. It stopped chasing Kilzadi and turned to me. I concentrated on the tiny crack as it ran towards me.

“Great Archer, help guide my aim”, I prayed as I fired.

The Keen-Eyed heard my prayer. The arrow struck and stuck into the crack. The crack then grew longer and wider. It reached up to the top of its head and down its torso. Then, with a loud snap, the crystal statue broke in half. Each half became inert.

The Seekers shouted their glee “good aim Swan’ from Kilzadi and ‘well done little sister’ from Okul and of course ‘great cleavage shot Swannie’ from I need not say who, I bowed my head as Gideon rushed to check Risca.

“Your loyal servant thanks you Solonor Thelandria. Thank you for your grace.”

Then I hurried over to aid Gideon. Risca was now sitting up. Kossuth’s little healing flames danced around the dwarf’s head and shoulders.

“Ugh, fiery red pepper. It burns me head while it heals”, complained Risca. “Me gurl, I’s need cooling off.”

“Just be grateful for the healing grace of Kossuth, barbarian”, admonished Gideon.

“He’ll be fine Swan. He was just knocked on the noggin. Luckily his noggin is tough and durable.”

“Me shield has a big dent now”, exclaimed Risca

“That’s because it’s less hard than your head,” added Okul. The large warrior was helping Risca to his feet. “Next time use your head to protect your shield. That way, nothing will get dented.”

“Please, nah make jokes dragon bottom…oops dragon blooded”, ems too painful to listen to”, retorted Risca.

Grinning at this repartee, I knew they were all well.

“Seekers over here.” Kilzadi’s voice prevented any further bantering. He and Neon were checking out the tapestry one more time. “The magic is gone. There should be no more statues emerging from it.”

We all gathered round, weapons ready. Neon lifted up the flap in the southeast corner. Nothing happened. The corridor continued for 5’ behind the tapestry, ending in a door. Gideon motioned me ahead. Quietly, I approached and searched around. There seemed to be no surprises. I could not hear any sounds or spot anything unusual. The door was not locked.

Taking care, I opened the door a bit to peer inside. I saw a fairly large room, 20’ by 15’. The door was centered on its west wall. Directly across was another door on the east wall. A third huge and massive door centered the south wall. But the most intriguing part was along the center of the north wall.

It was a black stone altar. On the top burned several red candles, their light illuminating the room with a reddish glow, blood-like. More intriguing, there was a large portrait of Bareris hanging over the altar. The expression he wore was a cross between benevolence and sternness. Strewed about the altar base were various coins, dead rats and bats and what appeared to be a potion flask. There appeared to be nothing else. I entered and, waited a moment. Nothing happened. I waved in the Seekers.

We searched around. The east door was unlocked. The south door was locked. We milled around the altar checking things out. It seemed the altar was just a big slab of stone.

I sided up to Gideon and asked, “Is he absolutely insane? Setting himself up to be worshiped? He thinks himself as a god?”

Gideon just shrugged while staring at the portrait. “More proof of his insanity we do not need. The question is when did he go insane? Was there not some reference to a descent into darkness? I fear that certain deities are fomenting an evil plan here.”

“Then let us hope that other deities are opposing this plan.”

“Gideon laughed. “Swan, they are. Through their agents and chosen ones, such as you and I.”

“Me!? I don’t think so. You most likely. But I’m just as minor as a cleric can be and still be a cleric. Barely one step ahead of a novice. The Great Archer accepted me, true, but I lack the great gifts of the divine Mostly I’m a simple girl scout from Deepingdale.”

He laughed again. “Swan, there is nothing simple about you at all. You wear the Silver Arrow on your vest to declare your devotion for all to see. You have referred to yourself as a cleric of war. Your prayers are answered and at times you hear the voice of your patron deity. How many minor clerics can lay claim to that? Simple indeed. No, we are both being prepared for an important undertaking. Your destiny will entail more than a simple girl scout from Deepingdale. That I fear may be a curse rather than a blessing.”

I thought for a moment. “I will do as the Keen-Eyed bids.”

This made him laugh anew. “Spoken as a priest of true faith. Of course you will. It is our faith that maintains us. I told you that at the beginning. Remember? The time you had doubts that you could be a priest of Solonor. In times of deepest darkness and doubt, your faith will be your shield. My past is still a mystery to me. Honestly, at times I have despaired of uncovering my life. My faith wavered just a bit. But then I look upon you. Even with just small blessings, your faith is ever steadfast. You are my example. My faith is stronger because of you.”

We were interrupted before we could continue.

“Not much here”, reported Neon as he joined us. The other Seekers also gathered around. The east door leads to more corridors which then turn north and south. The north part shows stairs leading up. I think it is the stairs we were warned not to take. The south part proceeds for a while and then turns west again. The south door is locked but I could not hear anything on the other side. So which way boss man?”

Kilzadi then spoke up. “Bareris’ minions came here to worship and leave offerings. There must be a reason why the south door is locked. Neon claims it is a complicated lock, so I am assuming Bareris did not want them going through the door.”

“Complicated yes, but not inoperable. Its what is termed a three handed job.” added Neon. “I’m sure that between myself and Crystal-Cracker here, we could open it. Right Swannie Sure-Shot?”

I just sighed and nodded.

Gideon reached his decision. “Fine then. Open it and we go through. Otherwise we use the open door.”

And so Neon and I examined the lock. “Well?’ he asked.

“Yes, I agree. A three handed job.” What that means is that three tools have to be used simultaneously. Two to hold down internal tumblers while a third is used to spring the lock. Since a lock picker usually works alone, they would need three hands or equivalent to pick it.

Neon took out his pick tools. “Here, you use the number 2 and 4 on the tumblers. Make sure they don’t turn. I’ll open it with the number 5.”

Neon’s set of lock pickers were more masterly wrought than my own. “A fine set of tools, Ninniach. Easy to handle.’

He chuckled at this. “I have another masterly tool that you could handle. A one or two handed job or both. Your choice.” He peered at me for my reaction.

I gave him an evil grin. “I can always change Gutripper to Toolcutter. Then you can call me Swannie Emasculator. In a soprano voice of course. What do you think?”

We both laughed. I was pleased at how comfortably we could tease each other.

With a click, Neon unlocked the door. “Got it!”

We all became serious again. Guardedly, we opened the door. The corridor continue south for 20’, ending at another door. But 10’ in the corridor also branched west and east. We proceeded with caution. We reached the intersection and looked around the corners.. to the east, the corridor advanced 10’ before ending in a door. It was westwards that held the surprise. The corridor became a 40’ passageway that held 6 alcoves, evenly spaced in pairs, one alcove directly across from another. Inside the alcoves was a blue crystal statue of Dracandros. Each had a sneer on its face. We had 3 directions to go now but no one hesitated. We all seemed to know that the passage way was the path to take.

As soon as we stepped into the passageway, each statue’s head turned to face us.

With one more step Okul gave out a cry. “Look everyone.”

The ogre’s bracelet he wore began to glow. A deep blue light shone from the “D” casting our blues shadows from wall to wall.

“This must be how the ogres safely managed to walk this passageway” declared Kilzadi.

“It’s your theory, you test it”, muttered Neon.

“Get to the first alcoves. Let’s see what happens. Everyone, be ready to retreat”, shouted out Gideon.

We approached the first pair of alcoves. The statues kept turning their heads to keep us in view. Other than that there was no other reaction. We passed the first pair and approached the second. The results were the same. We made it to the end of the passage. It reverted back to corridor but turned south for 15’ ending in a door. As we entered the corridor, the blue light winked out. It seemed Kilzadi was correct.

At the door, all appeared normal. We could discern no sound and the door was unlocked. It opened into another large 20’ by 15’ room. Directly across from us were two doors on the south wall, separated by 5’. A door was centered on the east wall and another centered on the west wall.

As we opened the door, a loud deep voice sounded from inside the room. “Say the name and pass safely”, it boomed out. Then there was silence. We waited but there was no further activity. We looked at each other.

“Anyone recognize that voice?” asked Gideon? No one did.

“Only two names would be asked for” continued Kilzadi. “Either… Bareris” he shouted out.

“Or… Dracandros” finished Okul as he blasted out the name. As silence once again descended, nothing changed.

I entered first. The room was quiet and completely empty. I hugged the walls as I circumnavigated the room. Half way done, Neon entered and did the same in the opposite direction. We met at the two doors.

“I found nothing”, I reported. The doors are not locked. You?” He shrugged. “The same.” We waved in the others.

“So just a big, empty room with 4 doors and a booming voice” remarked Gideon. “Any suggestions?”

“We open the doors, one at a time and then decide which one to take, is my proposal”, said Kilzadi. “But I am getting conflicting auras of magic here and…”

Risca interrupted. “Tired waiting. Good plan. Ime start.” Before he could be stopped he pushed open the west door.

To all our amazement it just opened into an empty 5’ by 5’ space. My suspicions arose. Risca stepped inside to check the stonewalls.

“Risca” I called. “Get out.”

He turned to me. “ Is O.K. me gurl. Nuttin here. Lest me finish.” To check the last wall in the space, he had to shut the door. He did and the rest of us waited. And waited.

“Something’s wrong”, I screamed and pushed in the door. The space was empty!

I cried out in anguish, “Risca! Risss cah! I leaped in and searched frantically for some clue, anything. I found nothing.

“I turned to the others. “He’s gone! Do something!” I must have screamed the words.

“Check the other doors.” This from Kilzadi.

Okul reached in, plucked me out and shook me. “Little sister. Stop! Think! Think!”

I took a deep calming breath. “Yes, your are right. Time to think. Thank you big brother. What did happen? What was different? Everything seemed to be well until…”

The remaining Seekers had pushed open the other three doors. They all opened into apparently empty 5’ by 5’ spaces.

“…until he closed the door”, I finished. “Something happened when he closed the door”

Just then we heard a pounding. It seemed to originate from the other side of the wall where Risca disappeared.

“I think we have to duplicate what Risca did”, deduced Gideon.

“Okul, you first for muscle backup. Then you, Kilzadi, in case magic is needed. Then Neon, then me, and then you last, Swan. You watch our backs, until were all gone.

“But…” I started to protest.

“You last Swan!” His tone indicated the discussion was finished. My training took over and I snapped to attention.

“Yes sir!” I realized then what he was attempting to do. Should only one Seeker survive what was it to come in order to report back, he wanted it to be me.

Okul patted my shoulder. “The short one will be fine, sister. Don’t fret.” He stepped into the space and closed the door behind him. After a moment, we pushed open the door. Okul was gone and the pounding had stopped.

It was Kilzadi’s turn. He waved. “See you all on the other side. Then he too was gone in the same manner.

Neon gripped my hand. “I’ll warn Risca that he caused you worry. That should make him quake in fear. He winked at me.

I gripped back. “Watch yourself and watch the others. Nodding, he stepped in closed the door and was gone.

Gideon turned to me. Once I have gone through, wait a moment and open the door. Should anything have changed, anything at all, no matter how minute, retrace our steps out and report back. Understood? Good.”

He stepped in and shut the door. I waited a bit and then opened it. I looked into the empty space. Nothing seemed to be different. I stepped in and closed the door. A door appeared in front of me. I pushed it open. I found myself looking into another large room. The Seekers were all there gathered around something on the floor near the base of a dais.

Neon spied me. “Ah, there she is. Come on in Swan and see what we found.”

The room was richly decorated in shades of marble with gold trimming. Rich, thick carpets covered the floor. Magnificent tapestries depicting images of Bareris hung on the walls. Along the north wall was a dais, upon which sat a jewel-encrusted throne. Directly across from me, on the west wall was another open door. It revealed a treasure room with two huge chests. They were overfilled to the brim with gold coins. Coins had even spilled out onto the floor.

I stepped in and spotted Risca. A sense of relief flushed through me, as I made straight for him.

Kilzadi watched me approach and grinned. “Uh oh. Risca, I recognize that look. She’s either going to choke you or cut your nose off or both.”

Risca’s puppy-like smile at me disappeared at these words. He began to back away.

“Yas mad at me and wants to knock more sense into me.”

I answered still walking towards him. “Oh yes and yes.”

“Yas going to pull out all me beard hairs?” The Seekers stood by with giant grins at this exchange.

“No, even worse.”

“Yas going to rip out me guts?”

“No even worse.”

By now he had backed up against a wall and no place left to retreat.

“Wat can be worse?”

“This!” Faster than he could dodge I wrapped both arms around his head and hugged him to me close. Then I placed a set of knuckles on top of his head and vigorously moved them up and down. This brought chuckles from the watching Seekers.

We must have looked very unusual. A slender human girl, hugging a burly scarred dwarf warrior. Risca could have picked me up, equipment and up and thrown me one-handed to the other side of the room. Yet he showed his affection for me by allowing me to express my own affection and relief in this manner.

“Arg! Gurl! Please, no squeezin and knuckle rubbin. I surrender. I surrender! Mercy!”

“Why do you persist in causing me grief? Why?” I rubbed harder and faster.

“Arg! Mercy gurl, mercy. It’s me nature. Ow! Guifoon, tells ‘er to stop. Ow!”

I ended with a little rap to his head. Then still hugging him asked, “Are you fine? Need healing?”

“Nah. Come see what I kilt.” Disengaging from my embrace, his big smile returned. “I kilt Bareris. Come see.”

A quite surprised “What?” was all I could manage as he led me to the group.

There I saw what was hidden before. On the floor, quite dead, was a strange looking humanoid. Our companions were standing around it. It wore the robes and cape of a Red Wizard. They appeared oversized for it. Genderless, its pale, hairless flesh had an oily leather appearance. The limbs and torso appeared gaunt and frail. A bulbous head, overly large sat atop of a long, skinny neck. The nose was two long parallel vertical slits. The white bulging eyes were without pupils. Two sword slashes were evident. One across the shoulder and the killing blow through its abdomen. Both wounds leaked a clear, colorless thick fluid.

“That’s Bareris? I asked.

“Its wat he turned into after I’s kilt him” Risca answered.

“So what is it?”

Gideon addressed the question. “ Risca was going to relate the events that occurred. We were waiting for you. Now that you have finished pummeling him, he can do so. But first, tell her, Kilzadi.”

“Huh? Oh yes. That, my sweet-kissing bird, is a doppleganger. A creature that can assume the form of any humanoid and its memories so exactly that even a mother could not tell the difference. In Calimshan, they are used often by pashas and sultans as assassins against rivals.”

“So Bareris was one of these dopplegangers? I inquired. “And watch your tongue. This bird may tweak it.

He laughed. “Perhaps he was. But then this doppleganger would have to be able to cast Red Wizard spells. They are not noted for their spell casting abilities.”

Gideon interrupted. “Now tell us what happened to you Risca.”

Risca began. “Well, yahs know that I’s was checkin out the walls. Then door closed and in me front new door shows. I’s open it and steps into this room. Bareris is on throne. Hes shout he kill me then yahs. Hes moves his hands like makes spell.” Here Risca imitated a hand waving gesture.

“I’s scream ‘Crull’ and charge. No spell. Hes pulls dagger and jumps off chair. Hes slash at me. Black Blade cuts em. Hes try and drink potion. I’s shield block em and stabs em dead. Hes poor fighter. I’s try and git back to yahs but canst open door. So I’s bang away to make noise. In awhile door opens and Okul step out. Then Kill Zeddi. Then red elf. Red elf open other door. Then Gideon and at last me gurl.”

“So here we all are, together again. Good. Lets check things out”, requested Gideon. We searcher the dais and throne without finding much.

“These jewels are all glass fakes,” Neon informed us. We headed for the treasure room.

Neon rubbed his hands gleefully as we surveyed the vast wealth before us. We could not help but step on coins as we entered.

“This could be the mother lode”, he exclaimed.

One chest contained nothing but gold coins. The second chest, along with a massive number of gold coins, also held two crystal wands, one blue, and one red. There were also vials containing colored liquids.

As we were examining them, Risca made a startling discovery.

“”Ems not gold! Ems all copper!” This he shouted out.

“Yipe, true enough’, verified Neon. “These coins are all copper with a gold paint. Do we really want to carry out all this copper?”

We all stopped our searching to look to Gideon.

He answered, “So, a fake throne with fake jewels, a fake wizard and now fake treasure. We have been misled. We’ll take the wands and the vials for later examination. We’ll retrace our path until we come to another door and continue from there. Lets do it Seekers.”

And so we headed to the door that we had all entered from. All except for Neon who had decided to ‘look around some more’. Good thing he did so, mother.

As the rest of us gathered about the entry, he called out, “Gideon, we have just come to another door. But it’s masterfully locked. I’ll need to borrow the locksmith’s daughter again.”

Joining him, we could trace out the outline of a secret door in the center of the south wall.

“Now why would there be a locked secret door in a fake throne room?” mused Gideon. “It can be unlocked?” he inquired.

“With Swan’s help, yes” responded Neon.

“Fine then. You two unlock it. But do not open it until the rest of us are prepared for battle. The step to the side and open it on my order. I am suspicious of this.”

And that’s what we did, mother. I stood back and loaded granpar’s bow. The others were all ready. Gideon nodded at Neon, who then pushed open, the door.

I barely caught a glimpse of the ornate large room now exposed as Bareris stepped out. Actually there were five Barerises looking exactly as I remembered. The action began immediately.

He did not step out calmly but leaped out shouting, raving and gesturing with his hands. “Mine, the Darkness is mine! Die, all die. Clerics first!”

“He’s using mirror image” burst out Kilzadi even as he began an incantation. So did Gideon. Risca and Okul charged screaming battle cries as Neon twisted around the corner to stab with his rapier. None of them were faster than my arrow which I had launched as the door opened. It struck a Bareris, which promptly winked out. I had hit an image! I quickly reloaded.

Neon stabbed deep into Baresis’ chest. It also winked out. Another image! He repositioned himself for another strike.

Kilzadi’s spell casting was brief and quick. Two silvery balls of force discharged from his outstretched hand. Each magic missile struck unerringly. One each to a Bareris. Two more images winked out. Just our luck, mother. The Seekers struck first but only at images. A lot of pain could have been avoided if only one of us had hit the true wizard.

The Red Wizard finished his own spell. Black tentacles, such as those that killed Aleena, erupted from under my feet. They lifted me up as they entangled me. I could see that Gideon was similarly affected.

“Die, You all die!” screamed the mad wizard turning and running back inside the room.”

At the sight of our entanglement, the Seekers halted their pursuit of Bareris. They were all reminded of Aleena’s fate.

“Swan! Gideon! Swan!” shouted Neon.

“Me Gurl! Me Gurl!” screamed out Risca.

“No”, I managed to be heard. “Don’t stop. Get him. Go! Go! Avenge Aleena! Go now!

“Kill him. Kill Bareris! Now! That’s an order!” joined in Gideon even as black tentacles wrapped themselves around his body to immobilize him..

Okul was the first to react. My big, brave brother Okul. With a cry of ‘Tempusss’ he followed Bareris into the room.

Seeing my predicament, Risca’s battle rage came upon him. He foamed globs of spittle as his eyes reddened. His muscles bulged and tensed. He bellowed so loudly that the tapestries flapped from the air currents.

“Bareris, I’s kill ya! I’s chop ya! I’s grind ya!” At each word sprays of spittle spewed out to cover his chin and beard. With that he ran into the room.

Kilzadi grasped Neon’s arm. “Come. We must go after him. Before he can escape. Now!” With one last imploring look at me, the rogue followed

I remember watching Aleena die. I remember watching those black tentacles tear her apart. As they were doing to me. I used all the techniques father had taught me to escape. Somehow ropes seemed easier than those magical tentacles. But I was able to counteract their pulling effects with my twisting, bending and writhing.

What I was not able to do was stop the unrelentless pressure. I could feel my ribs, hip and leg bones being crushed. The pain was becoming unbearable.

Gideon was yelling at me. “Swan! Swan! Hang in there. Stay with me. Use the healing potions. The healing potions Swan!” He was referring to the many healing potions we each had strapped to our belts.

Gideon had an advantage over me despite being a trapped fly in a spider web. He wore plate armor. The pressure and pull on him was felt less. But he too would be in danger soon.

I managed to pull out, uncork and drink a potion. I could immediately feel my bones reknitting while my lungs filled with air. I felt relief, but then the pressure restarted.

Okul was a few short steps behind Bareris. The room he sprinted into was again huge and opulent. It was the duplicate of the fake room except for one item; in the center of the room was a 10’ by 10’ pool. It was filled with crystal clear water.

Bareris sped around the pool for the throne on the dais against the south wall. As Okul rounded the same pool corner, a watery arm and fist formed from pool water and smashed him to the ground. Then the pool water rose in the shape of watery torso of a vaguely humanoid figure. A water elemental!

Two powerful fists came slamming down at Okul. He managed to roll away and gain his feet. They smacked onto the floor, shattering chips from the stone tiles. They rose for another strike. Okul screamed out as he two-handed his mace through the watery wrist. It was like hitting a waterfall. The mace passed through and water sprayed all over. He had no idea if his blows could do any harm to the creature. He just knew he had to keep it occupied so others could pass by.

Risca entered but did not pause to aid Okul. He was set on engaging Bareris. Spying the wizard at the base of the dais he thundered a ‘Crush for Crull’ and charged. Bareris spoke a spell. A black ray shot out from his hand, striking Risca in the chest. The dwarf could feel his strength failing. His sword and armor and shield suddenly felt too heavy. Still in his rage, he continued to advance

When the second black ray struck, Risca became too weak to stand. Collapsing to the floor he heard the wizard’s maniacal laughter. “She wants me! Only me. Now you dieee! Unsheathing a glowing dagger, he advanced towards Risca.

Risca was now too weak to rage. Nor could he defend himself. Still he would not surrender. He started to crawl towards Bareris shouting ‘Crull, Crull’. To the moment of death, he would avenge his friends, especially his ‘gurl’.

Kilzadi and Neon were now in the room. “Help Risca, not me” shouted out Okul. They quickly understood the situation. Kilzadi pulled out a scroll and began to read.

Neon’s hatred and pent-up wrath against Aleena’s murderer vomited forth. He sprang towards Bareris shouting “You insane bastard! I will kill you!”

Seeing Neon rushing him, the mad wizard cackled. He pulled out a flask and drank its contents. As Neon reached him and thrust with his rapier, Bareris began to shimmer. His body took on a transparent, incorporeal, gaseous form. The rapier passed through it as through air.

The wizard gave forth a demented laughter. “Your turn to die.” He reached out to touch Neon.

“Where is Kilzadi?” was the rogue’s thought as he back flipped out of harm’s way and riposted for another stab. The sorcerer was nowhere to be seen.

The second stab also just passed through the wizard harmlessly. This enticed more wild laughter. Again Neon dodged to safety. But something changed.

Neon felt it as a warm wind sucking moisture as it blew by. Bareris’ body resolidified. The wizard stared down at himself in shock.

“What?” was all he could manage as Kilzadi became visible behind him.

“Dispelling is a bitch, hey wizard?” mocked the sorcerer. Bareris spun around to face Kilzadi his face a mask of hatred. He spotted Claw on Kilzadi’s hip.

“Crimdrac’s Claw? Mine! Give it! Mine!” the wizard roared. “Here, have this first!” Kilzadi roared back. Before Bareris could react, the sorcerer pushed down the bag of devouring over Bareris’ bald, tattooed head. The bag quivered and then began to move down, engulfing as it went.

Bareris howled in agony. He reached up and gripped the bag. He then uttered a Word of Power. Electrical energies poured out crackling and sparking. Enough energy to disintegrate the bag. Residual energy burned away skin from the wizard’s scalp. More howls of agony ensued. Long furrows of blood appeared where the bag’s teeth had latched onto flesh. Deranged eyes regarded Kilzadi. The Red Wizard started a spell.

It was not completed as just then a rapier thrust its way through the wizard's back with such a force it emerged entirely through the chest. Neon screamed out his vengeance. "For Aleena-Die, you bastard die!!!"

Kilzadi had drawn out the Claw "Here you want this, take it!! He thrust Claw deep into the wizard’s chest. Sizzling, it emerged through the chest parallel to the rapier.

“Yesss” Kilzadi called out. “It feels good!”

So insane was the wizard that even as his mouth filled with blood, he gripped both blades, so that they could not be removed and began another incantation. At this point I entered the room.

I had felt that I was undergoing eternal damnation on some level of Hell. The magic tentacles would crush me. I would drink a potion, so reviving myself, just so the agony would commence once again. This pattern would repeat again and again. I was in constant torment. I remembered grammar’s wise words. My thoughts of you, father, and Inialos coupled with Gideon’s encouragement kept me struggling furiously. It became a race. What would end first the spell or my potions?

Gideon too was forced to undergo the same routine. But because his armor protected him, he needed only one potion to my two.

With no warning, the black tentacles suddenly disappeared. We fell. Now I had the advantage over Gideon. My lighter armor and agility allowed me to land on my feet while Gideon in his plate crashed heavily onto the floor. I reclaimed my bow and ran for the throne room, drawing an arrow as I did so.

“Swan wait” Gideon called to me. I could not. I am a war cleric. I heard the sounds of combat. My Seekers needed me. “Meet you inside” I called back.

Entering at full speed, my battle senses took in the melee.

Okul was bruised and battered everywhere. A lesser fighter would have fallen before now. He had taken many, mighty hits from this water creature. His own retaliatory blows did not seem to have any effect. He was exhausted. As a soldier of Tempus retreat from direct combat was unthinkable. He was consoled that he was keeping this creature from engaging the Seekers. A blow knocked him to his knees. He lacked the energy to rise. The creature prepared for the knockout blow. Suddenly, it stopped and drained back into the pool water. Okul took a deep breath and stood.

He witnessed Bareris being skewered but not dying. He hastened towards the melee. A feeling of exhilaration filled him as he spied Swan rushing into the room.

I saw Okul running towards the wizard. I saw Neon and Kilzadi attempting to withdraw their blades. I saw Risca, beloved Risca, crawling towards the scene of combat. And I saw the real Bareris! I lost all emotion. Mother, this has happened to me before. To me it takes a chunk of time. To others it happens in a second. I become external to myself. There is no hate, just a cold realization that, yes, I am going to kill. In the same way that the sun rises, I am going to kill you. In the same way that snow is white, I am going to kill you. It is inevitable. This is for Aleena, I thought. You are now going to die now, Bareris. Let’s see; arrow just so, bow pull just so, adjust aim just so and release arrow. I released the arrow.

Risca had been tirelessly crawling towards the melee. He was ‘Crull’. Then he heard familiar thunder footsteps. “Yes Okul, kill ‘em gud,” he thought. Then a miracle.

He heard the softer pad of familiar footsteps. Could it be? Then the familiar twang of a certain bow. This was followed by the familiar whistle of a released arrow. Only one person he knew could make those sounds. A sense of relief, great joy and bliss flooded through him. A sense that he had not felt in a long time. She lived! His gurl lived! His dwarf soul gurl was here!

Risca was not religious. He went through the rituals, as it was the crull thing to do. But that instant was to mark the start of a new relationship between him and the dwarven gods. One that would eventually turn him into a true believer. He sent out a prayer. “Gods of me fathers, tank ye. Tank ye!

My arrow struck. A near heart shot, directly between the two blades protruding from the chest. The Red Wizard shuddered as the arrow struck. Neon and Kilzadi were able to withdraw their blades and stab again. Die, bastard die” swore Neon. As Claw once again bit and burned into Bareris, Kilzadi shouted out “this is so good!”

Even so the deranged wizard clung to life. He even began another incantation.

Okul arrived. Shouting the sound of a great dragon enraged he drew back his spiked fist. “For my family!” He smashed the gauntlet into the head of the wizard. Brain bits scattered. Skull bone pieces exploded and blood squirted.

Bareris finally died. At this point, Gideon entered the room…

And so Landry, the letter ends here. As a revelation into the Seekers it is invaluable, being Swan’s own account. We know how it ends. It leads into the so-called First Miracle, the resurrection of Swan. The historical events are detailed in the Journals of EtY, in the History as Romantic Novel volumes of Lord Tornado No and even in the Oral Stories of Risca Foraker Take care and may we meet soon. Our Lord of Lore guide you and the Mother Swan protect you.

Your sister in Oghma


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