The Tide of Shadows - Chapter 5

Adventure Date: September 10, 2010

Last Updated: July 27, 2011


The Shadow Stalkers arrived at a non-descript storehouse at the north end of Triboar. There, to greet them was an average looking moon elf, dressed in Waterhavian formal wear. He was tossing a multi-coloured ball from hand to hand.

“Welcome Stalkers. I am Jamin Clover. Thank you for your participation. Be assured that no one will be hurt by this game. The rules are simple enough. Inside this ball is a key. The key unlocks a gate inside the warehouse. But only one attempt at unlocking is allowed. The gate must then be lifted. It opens into a darkened room. Inside the room are two gongs. Striking the gongs in the correct order will shatter a glass case. Inside the case is the healing belt. Ready to begin? Yes? Then we begin!”

Shouting the last words, he tossed the ball, high into the air. Quick as her name implied, Kat leaped up and caught it. She twisted the ball, this way and that , but it refused to open.

“I can barely feel the edges” the gnome spit out. “They are barely microscopic. Here, desert storm, you try.” She tossed the ball to Shribryn who deftly caught it.

Shribryn’s blindness had elevated her tactile touch to great sensitivity. The almost imperceptive hairline cracks were as deep gouges to her. Determining how it fit together, it was a simple matter to reverse it. The ball opened exposing the key.

“Key, key, give it to me”, Kat bounced up and down excitedly. “Keys R Us.”

“Well done, Stalkers. The first piece of the puzzle solved” noted Jamin

They entered the warehouse to stand in front of the gate. Kat studied the key’s teeth. Then, taking out a pick tool, she inserted it into the lock, and listened carefully as she moved it around inside the lock.

“Aha! Gottcha”. Inserting the key upside down, she gave a half circle turn left and then a full circle right, followed by a quarter circle left. The lock clicked open.

Jamin clapped. “Second puzzle solved in record time. My compliments.”

“Scarface, time for some muscle” cried out Kat gleefully.

Ska’arr stood in front of the gate. Grasping the handles, he crouched and began to heave. As the massive gate rose off the floor, a thick slippery oil gushed out. It coated the floor and Ska’arr began to slip.

“Can’t balance myself to lift” he called out.

Foolish male was Raven’s thought. Leaping, she straddled the gate, feet on the walls on either side.

“Ska’arr, follow my instructions. Push me hard into the wall to brace me.” As he did so, her powerful arms lifted up on the handles causing the gate to lift all the way.

“Stalkers, your ingenuity amazes me” declared the moon elf.

“Ray--ven, Ray--ven” Kat shouted as her hands clapped together.

The gate opened into a small room darker than Raven’s hair.

“Light” invoked Pelias casting a simple spell into the room.

Now they could see that the room was small with a table at its centre. Resting on the table were two gongs, one small, one large, a gong beater and a glass case. The case held a black belt with a white healing symbol engraving.

Raven walked up to the table. Which gong to strike first? She knew that higher pitched sounds would cause glass to shatter. She also knew that the smaller gong would produce the higher vibration. These were two well known facts. So why the two gongs…unless.

She picked up the beater and struck the larger gong dead center. Very high pitched sounds filled the room. The glass shattered.

“Oh, excellently done” announced Jamin. This is where most others fail the puzzle. How did you know to strike the larger one?”

Because I am female and so cannot be outwitted by you. She answered “It was too obvious. This was to be a puzzle and where else to hide a much smaller gong than inside a larger one?” She then picked up the belt, noting the command words ‘Lucky Bastards’. This elf’s sense of humour is typical male and so is crude. As expected.

She then strapped on the belt. It was a perfect fit.

“Again my compliments Stalkers. What teamwork. As agreed, the belt is yours to keep. You will find it perfectly functional. Thank you for this enjoyment.”

“Right then” spoke up Ska’arr. “Stalkers, I suggest that we hasten to gather our equipment and all meet at the west gate. Time is flying. I also suggest that we eat on the march.” They all agreed and each went their own way.

Ro-Lund-Do hastened to the Six Windows. A ways behind followed Kat and Raven, also headed to their room.

“Hey Raven bird, notice how Scarface does not act dumb anymore. Also that he seems to be taking a leader’s role. And that the rest of us follow because he is finally making sense.”

Raven was staring at Ro-Lund-Do’s back. “Uhmm” she replied lost in some thought

“OK, darlin’ whisper to me, what’s on your mind.”

“Jamin complemented us on our teamwork. But did you not notice who in our little group did nothing? Just stood back and watched the rest of us. As usual.”

“Oh that. Yes, it was fairly obvious. Still there was nothing he could have done that one of us could not have done better.”

“Exactly my point Whisper. So why do we allow his presence? Especially if he is not really needed?”

“Well, he has been helpful in the past and Nighteyes has endorsed him. That should mean something. And I like him.”

“I suppose. But we will continue to watch him closely. I hope your faith in him is not misplaced.”

Ro-Lund-Do collected his prepared backpack. His new spell book, he secured safely. This he did not want to lose. Little Drac snuggled into his thick hair. The familiar gave out feelings of happiness and contentment. Placing his wide brimmed hat to better hide the bat, he gave one last look around. Nothing here we cannot afford to lose. Let us be off.

Yes Scuro. Another step in our quest.

It was nearing noon as the group reassembled at the west gate. Beast took point with Ska,arr and Kat leading. Raven followed with Shribryn and Pelias behind as a pair; the necromancer alone at the rear.

He preferred it that way. It was distant from Raven and he once again got to admire the Bedine girl’s swaying hips.

They were barely fifteen minutes on the road when Raven turned to look back.

“Pelias” she exclaimed. “What is wrong? Are you ill?”

The young priest, who all this time had eyes only for his companion, replied “What? What do you mean? Then he finally saw his hands. “By Mystra’s magic!” he shouted in surprise. His skin and only his skin had turned a brilliant red.

“Cooked lobster” joined in Kat. “Pelias is cooked lobster.”

“What has happened? What has happened to Pelias? Someone tell me! I sense no change” commanded Shribryn.

“On guard Stalkers” ordered Ska’arr. We may be under attack.”

They waited awhile but nothing further occurred. Beast sat looking at his master with a somewhat puzzled expression; “as if to say, too early for a rest, is it not?”

Odd. Our spellcraft detected no nearby casting.

True. Whatever caused his skin change must have occurred before we left. Another mystery.

After a bit of time, the ranger suggested moving on. “As long as you are certain you are all right” he addressed Pelias.

“Yes, yes, let us continue. I feel fine. I am at a loss to explain this.”

“Hold my hand, Pelias. That way I will be able to detect any changes” suggested Shribryn.

“Gladly. Thank you.”

And so they continued on. After a journey of six hours, the sun low in the sky, the road transformed into a wide dirt pathway.

Ska’arr suddenly put his hand up for a halt. “Do you see them Whisper?” he asked.

“Do you mean those birds circling, about half hour down the road?”

“Yes, but not just birds, they are carrion birds. Stalkers, on guard!”

They kept advancing, but more cautiously. Soon the odour of burnt wood became evident. In time they reached a copse in the widening of the trail. There they looked upon burned wagons and crates strewed about. Dead bodies of men and horses showed weapon and animal bite damage. They had been slaughtered. Most had been picked at by the carrion birds and other scavengers of the forest.

The Stalkers walked in to investigate more closely. Ska’arr, using his ranger abilities, found goblin feet marks along with the prints of large wolves. Worgs! Then his blood boiled as he also discovered orc tracks. He noted that the bodies had been dead for several hours. Must have been ambushed as we left Triboar.

Two wagons, bearing the crest of the Cart and Coin still seemed serviceable.

“Ska’arr this wagon seat seems odd” noted Raven. More solid and overbuilt for the wagon size. Look there is a compartment here.”

Opening it, they found a large wooden chest. It was wrapped with metal straps and its metal hinges were locked.

“Finally a job for lil' ole me. Stand back darlins’. First we make sure there are no unpleasant surprises.” Using her expertise search skills, Kat could not find anything unusual. “Nope, just a regular chest. Now we open to get the goodies.”

As Kat first began to work, the fog had begun to thicken and spread. As she worked, it filled in the entire copse. As she took out her 'business tools', it became impossible to see more than five feet.

The beast began to growl. From the west, came goblin war cries and the snarling of worgs. From the east were heard the distinct grunts of orc warriors. The Stalkers were caught in-between.

"Hey, we're being attacked." Kat stated the obvious. "Ticks me off that they didn't wait until we got the goodies. For that they pay dearly." She moved silently, vanishing into the fog.

"Pelias, stay close to me. The fog does not hinder me. We will fight them together. Agreed?"

"Agreed, Shribryn. Agreed." She led him towards the goblins.

Ska'arr heard the orcs. He was drawn to them like a blowfly to carrion. I dedicate these kills to you mother. Beast accompanied him into the fog.

Raven watched as Ska'arr and beast disappeared into the fog. Towards the orcs. So I will go against the goblins. She too merged with the fog.

The fog severely limited Ro-Lund-Do's vision. He heard the others begin their engagement with the enemy. Little Drac, need your help. He felt the little familiar shift position on his head.

Suddenly, vision returned in the form of echolocation. He clearly saw forms and figures, easily recognizable. He saw five large orc warriors approaching. He counted fourteen goblin cutthroats; three mounted on worgs, closing in from the opposite direction. Their movements suggested that they also were hindered by the unnatural fog. He watched as the Stalkers closed in to engage.

Well, this should be interesting. The blind fighting the blind.

Prepare for combat. Armour and protection. I am more battle trained. Allow me control. Silver eyes shrunk and intensified as Lord Scuro took command.

Even as he used the death force to cast mage armour and protection against evil, he watched as the gnome rogue drew first blood.

Kat's keen ears detected the footsteps of an orc warrior. Its unwashed odour indicated that it was close, almost in the sight range of five feet. Without making a sound, she circled away, only to approach it from the rear. It came into sight; a smelly orc, head swinging side to side as it looked for someone to kill. Its back presented a large target.

It died not knowing the cause of its death. Once in range, Kat's twin short swords struck. One bit deep into the creature's spine, while the second, penetrated its back to reach its heart.

Well that was easy. So, leave the rest for Ska'arr and play a gnome's favourite game of 'hunt down the goblins'. With a mischievous grin, she headed towards them.

Ska'arr heard the death gurgle of an orc. In orcish he taunted the rest." Tremble sons of sows. I will shred you. I will crush your bones. Come, cowards. Who will be the first to face Ska'arr Orc-Killer? Who will be the first to die?" Beast howled. Angry shouts greeted his words.

He heard feet behind him. He whirled, ready to unleash his spiked chain. Scuro stepped out of the fog.

"Hold Ska'arr. I've come to help." So saying he touched the strength wand to the ranger and spoke the trigger words. "I have the Power!" Arcane energy flowed into the ranger. Ska'arr could feel his strength increasing as his weapons and equipment felt lighter.

Ska'arr could not help but notice that the necromancer's voice sounded a bit different or that his eyes were intense silver, shinning even through the fog.

"My thanks Ro-Lund-Do. Now if only I could see through this damned fog, as to when those orcs got into range of my chain. I could strike from a distance. Keep close to me, then. Use my body for cover. Beast will also guard you." Ska'arr's voice gave vent to his hatred and frustration.

"Oh, that. There are three orcs approaching to this spot. Each floundering in the fog as well. One in that direction, about fifteen feet away." He pointed. "A second over that way, also about fifteen feet away and a third there, now in range should you decide to use your chain. Which I recommend you do."

Without hesitation, Ska'arr lashed out in the indicated direction. His increased strength added more impetus to the cast. There was a satisfying sound of metal spikes penetrating flesh. This was followed by a scream of pain and the sound of a body falling to the ground. Drawing in the chain showed its head spikes covered in blood and strips of ripped flesh.

"Well struck, Ska'arr. The spikes have torn out its throat." Before Ska'arr could ask how he knew this, the Death Priest continued. "The second one will in range shortly, over there. Then I suggest, moving ten steps that way and lashing out at the third one. All right?"

Ska'arr heard the orcs. His desire to kill them so dominated his mind that he did not even question how the necromancer knew their location in the blinding fog. That happened later.

"Yes. Good teamwork, eh, Ro-Lund-Do. You point them out and I will take care of the rest."

"Good then. Don't forget to collect their ears. Every bit of money is needed. I'm on my way to help the others.' With those words, he faded into the fog, leaving the fast approaching orcs to the mercy of the ranger's spiked chain and the teeth of the Beast.

Shribryn and Pelias heard the cries of the goblins and the snarls of the worgs getting louder. The sounds seem to be all around them. The priest could not see them through the fog. The Bedine girl's blindsense had pinpointed the rush of two worgs.

"Pelias, prepare for combat. They will be on us shortly."

Pelias called forth his sorcerer's abilities. An invisible force instantly covered his body, protecting it like fine armour. At the same time, he implored a blessing from Mystra.

"Great goddess, bless the Stalkers. Help give us victory, I beseech you."

Shribryn felt the divine energy of Pelias' prayer flood through her. She could feel an extra sharpness and accuracy in her sense of attack. And just in time.

Appearing out of the gloomy fog, were two slavering worgs, each carrying a howling goblin rider.

Each worg was twice as massive as a normal wolf. Their orange-red eyes combined with their thick black fur to give the impression of evil incarnate. Their feral snouts and faces complimented the effect.

One leaped at Shribryn, the other at Pelias. "Pelias, watch out" she managed to warn, even as she tumbled underneath the worg's toothy lunge.

Pelias was not as lucky. He managed to sidestep the second worg's attack but not before its canines ripped down along his arm, drawing bloodied furrows. He was helpless to stop his cry of pain, but was still able to use sorcery. Arcane energy ripped through the worg, causing it great agony. It yelped and retreated, despite the curses of its goblin rider. This allowed time for the young priest to channel divine healing energy into his wound. And to magically prepare for the next attack.

The sounds of the battling worgs and her fellow Stalkers reached Kat just as she was removing her twin swords from the back of a goblin. She had just finished sneaking up on it for a deadly backstab. At that instant, Mystra,s blessing flowed into her.

Eh, thanks cleric boy. Get ready darlin’, I’m a comin’.

As she began to step silently into the thickened unnatural fog, she spotted yet another goblin trying to find its own way. But first a little business to take care of. She grinned evilly.

Raven hastened towards the cries of combat. Then in front of her, breaking through the cold cloud of mist emerged a slavering worg and its goblin rider. With no hesitation nor being slowed by surprise she leaped up and forward. In mid air, Mystra’s blessing came upon her.

Her jump carried her over the lunging animal. As she passed over, she kicked out. Her heavy leather boot caught the goblin rider in the face. The force of the blow snapped back its head, practically perpendicular to its neck. There was an audible snap as its spine broke. Now she only had the worg to deal with.

Shribryn's senses pinpointed the attacking worg. She again tumbled underneath it, her jambyia scoring a snarl of rage as it gashed along its underbelly. Then she felt vibrations in the ground and knew them as goblins running towards them.

Instead of rising, she continued her tumble. A goblin ran by in the fog, unable to spot her. Wraith like, she appeared in front of it, her curved dagger digging into its heart. It died gurgling blood. But more arrived. As well the worg and rider had by now turned back to the fray. She and Pelias were heavily outnumbered. Without help, they would soon be in a lot of trouble.

Ska'arr had just killed the last standing orc. The others died under the lashing of his spiked chain, but this one was close and personal. While the Beast had kept it engaged he had managed to come close enough to drive his long dagger into its face. Very satisfying. The blessing of Mystra had increased his accuracy. He could hear but not see the combat at the other end of the copse.

"Come Beast, we go help the others." With a last bite at the now still corpse, the war dog turned to follow its master.

Scuro surveyed the situation. As in days past, when he had commanded armies, he could see the whole battle at once and so make tactical decisions. He watched as Kat stalked the goblins, like a cat would stalk mice. She is doing fine. He spotted Ska'arr and Beast hurrying to join in. He regarded Raven as she spun around in the air landing to face the attacking worg in combat stance.

Worry about her last if at al. Besides the worg may tear out her throat before any help can arrive. Oh, pleasant thought. Our two 'friends' most need our help now.

Good choice Scuro. It will help solidify our 'friendship' with them. And give those who are suspicious some pause as to our belonging to the group. Besides we are fond of them. He drew upon the Death Force.

Pelias was ready for the next attack. Even as the goblin rider got the worg to turn and charge the priest, his spell was released. A blue streaking magic missile, shaped as Mystra's star slammed into the wolf-like creature. The worg screamed as the missile burned into its fur.

Before it could recover, a second missile struck it. But this one had the appearance of a greyish sphere trailing smoke. Its arcane energy too, burned its way into the now howling worg.

Ah, Ro-Lund-Do, thank you friend.

The necromancer's missile had thrown the worg off stride. This allowed Pelias to cast again. A second blue star shaped missile blasted into the worg. The worg became insane with fury. It leaped at the priest, intent on shredding him.

Shribryn was fighting defensively. So far she had managed to keep three goblins and the goblin-worg pair at bay. But not without cost. The goblin rider's spiked club had struck her arm, numbing it and puncturing it. She was bleeding out. Time was now her enemy. Her opponents sensed this, and circled her warily, allowing her to weaken more before they closed in for the kill.

Then a bolt of fire like a comet's tail whooshed through the fog. It struck the worg, burning fur and skin. The force of the bolt was enough to stagger the animal and knock it back. It was, for an instant, out of the fight. The Bedine girl used the opportunity to put more distance between her and the goblins. She was thinking of moving closer to Pelias. But such a move would expose her back to the three humanoids. Just as she was about take her chances, the goblin closest to her seemly seemed to grow metal arms out of its chest, as it collapsed to the ground. Then a very familiar voice called out.

"Hey desert girl, don't take all the gobbies. Leave some for me, darlin'. The Kat is now back."

Raven had spun around to face the on coming worg. But she had made a mistake. She underestimated its speed, because of its huge size. She paid for that mistake in the form of a bite along her shoulder. She would not err again. The worg, having tasted her, wanted more. It snapped at her, only to have its fang teeth snap on empty air. Raven sidestepped and kicked out at its head. The precise, powerful blow staggered and dazed the creature. An immediate second kick brought it to its knees, uncertain of what was happening.

The monk then straddled the worg, and clenching both hands, slammed her fists into the sides of the creature's skull. Bone cracked. She then repeated the action. The skull imploded. For a split second, she envisioned Ro-Lund-Do's skull instead of the worg's. The thought brought a smile to her face.

Rising from the dead worg, she examined her shoulder. The bite was deep. She sighed and spoke the words 'Lucky Bastards'. This activated the healing belt's magic and her wounds began to close, even as the pain subsided. She then ran towards the sound of the combat.

Scuro saw the effect of his fire bolt on the worg. Running low on magic. Will save it in case we need it later

Fine then. Do not engage hand to hand. Too dangerous. Use the crossbow. Suggest moving closer. Remember we can see them, but they cannot see us. Get really close.

Good tactic Ro-Lund-Do.

Of course. I am you, remember.

As the worg leaped at Pelias, two events occurred almost simultaneously. First a crossbow bolt whistled out of the fog to punch its way through the worg's rider's chest. The goblin, which had been screaming and brandishing its war club, died in mid yell.

Second, a large war dog, growling and snapping, also leaped out of the fog, crashing into the worg. The Beast's timely jump most likely prevented Pelias from serious harm. The two large animals savaged each other.

Each inflicted cruel bites on each other. Each tried for a throat grip. Worgs are intelligent fighters. It did the unexpected. It went for Beast's paw. It bit right through and began to chew and shred the muscle and bone. The pain must have been excruciating. But still, the faithful Beast fought on. It would never submit.

Then a spiked chain lashed out of the fog and wrapped itself around the worg's hind legs. The worg was now immobile. An enraged Ska'arr stepped out. Gripping the chain, he swung the free end at the worg's head, Spikes smashed through its head, embedding themselves into the brain. "Let go my dog" were the last words the worg ever heard, regardless that it could not understand them.

The Beast whimpered and held out its mangled and torn paw to the ranger.

"No let me" ordered Pelias. "It was me he most likely saved. I owe him." The priest knelt beside the dog and prayed. Goddess, again I beseech you. Heal and sooth this noble animal." He then gently touched the useless paw. Mystra heard and answered his prayer. Divine healing energy flowed from priest to animal. The paw literally mended itself before their astonished eyes.

Pelias bowed his head. "Thank you great goddess." Then a second miracle occurred. With no prompting, the Beast slid a large wet tongue across the priest's face and wagged his tail at him.

"Never seen him to that before on his own" mumbled Ska'arr. Any further comments stopped as louder cries of fighting were heard.

"Shribryn!' shouted Pelias, deep worry in his voice."Hang on. We're on our way."

The finale of the combat drew near. How the tide had turned. Once separated in the fog, the Stalkers converged together. Once outnumbered by the raiders, they now were the largest force. The remaining goblins and the worg were ignorant of their imminent doom.

Shribry and Kat were beginning to find their cooperative fighting techniques. They weaved, tumbled, leaped and somersaulted in ways to distract the humanoids and the worg. They offered no standing target and protected each other's back. Still, because they had not done this before and because Kat was fog-blinded while Shribryn sensed motion, a few mistakes occurred. Mistakes which cost Kat a claw gouge along her thigh and Shribryn another bone jarring club blow.

"Go Kat, retreat. Disappear into the fog. I will cover you" gasped out Shribryn.

"What? And leave you without a dancing partner? I think not my desert darlin'."

Just then they both heard Pelias shout. "Hear that, darlin'? We are so naughty. We're making the boys come. No time for retreating. I'll go left this time." Left was towards the charging worg and rider.

At those words, the two female Stalkers tumbled across each other, presenting confusing targets to their opponents. Shribryn's drew on her powers, her jambyia tracing fiery trails in the air. This kept the goblins at bay for another brief instant.

Kat ended her tumble by diving underneath the worg, her short sword drawing a gouge on its hind leg as it sped by. The monster turned to bite at her.

"Hurry up boys" she called out into the fog. "Its rude to keep ladies waiting."

A crossbow bolt streaked into view, unerringly striking the goblin rider, knocking it off its saddle.

Kat dodged the worg. She knew only one Stalker used a heavy crossbow. Good shot beanpole. Prove my trust in you.

She braced herself for the worg's next attack. Dance and stay alive darlin'. Stay alive.

Pelias erupted onto the scene just as the worg lunged and Kat rolled out of the way. He released his spell. Waves of great pain roiled through the worg. It gave one last snarl and died as its heart burst.

Kat stood up and pointed. Pelias understood completely. He ran towards Shribryn.

"Ah, young love. Hi Ska'arr. Hello Beast. Good fight eh darlins'?"

Shribryn was weakening fast. She could not hold out much longer. One arm was more than useless and she was weak from loss of blood. The goblins sensed this and closed in on three sides, wanting the kill. They gabbled at each other in their crude tongue. One wanted her taken alive, so that they could abuse her, before killing her and bring the corpse to their master.

One leaped at her as it lunged. In mid air a leg extended out of the fog, kicking it with such force as to break its ribs and sent it flying away, hollering in pain, into the depths of the mist.

The rest of Raven appeared. With no hesitation she drove a pointed hand into the chest of the second goblin. As it bent over in shock, she followed through her flurry of blows, her second hand chopping into the back of its head, snapping its neck. She whirled battle stance ready, to face the last goblin, only to see Shribryn's curved desert dagger burst out its chest.

Shribryn was hurt and exhausted. Standing over the dead goblin, she could feel herself wanting to just lie down and rest. Two arms, strong yet gentle folded around her, steadying her.

"Rest sister. The battle is over. All is well now" whispered Raven.

Pelias joined them. "Shribryn?" he questioned running up to her and easing her away from Raven. He went to his knees cradling her as he did so.

"She is weak from blood loss and her arm bone is shattered. Heal her priest. Heal her now." Raven's tone brooked no argument.

"Yes, oh yes" he answered, taking up his healing wand, Yes, however much it takes."

"Pelias" murmured Shribryn as the wand worked its healing magic on her wounds, "you are unhurt? Good. Then we will share water again soon."

"Yes, yes we will. That is a promise." She smiled then, as if he had confessed something to her. Something that she had been hoping to hear.

Kat, Ska'arr and Beast reached them as Pelias was administering to Shribryn.

"Ah, that looks so sweet" blurted Kat. Then she threw Raven a questioning look.

"She will be fine" the monk responded to the look, "once the healing is complete."

"Good news then. Hey desert girl, we get to practice our dancing together again. Only I get to lead next time darlin'. O.K?"

"Anyone else hurt and need healing?" inquired the ranger looking specifically at Kat's thigh gashes. "Get those attended to.

"Well since cleric boy is busy with his desert heart, I'll go get priest man."

The mention of the Death priest brought anger to Raven. "Again, missing. Never around when he is needed. Did he actually help us in the fight? Has anyone seen him since battle was joined?

"Calm, Raven, calm. Yes and yes. Let me tell you…" replied the ranger.

Kat's sharp ears picked up the sound of the necromancer's footsteps.

"Yes, Tell Raven all about it while I go fetch the silver beanpole." With that she walked into the fog.

Scuro had watched the latest activities with detachment. He evaluated the battlefield. He regarded the corpses of orcs, goblins and worgs. There seemed to be naught else nearby. He watched as the Stalkers gathered around. About to join them, something caught his eye. A movement in the grass. He then made it out. A smile crossed the Imax's face. It was not a nice smile. He headed for the small bundle in the grass.

The goblin had been crawling away slowly and as quietly as it could. He knew that no one could see him in the fog. His whole front, chest, ribs were in agony. It hurt him to breathe. Still he dragged himself along. He wanted to report to his master. He reached the tall grass outside the copse. He felt a faint stirring of hope. Then he heard it, the snapping sound of a ground twig. Behind him! Someone had stepped on it.

About to lift his head, a heavy boot stepped on his back, pinning him.

"Well, well what have we got here?" The goblin knew the sounds for human, but did not understand the language. The boot flipped him, not gently onto his back. Then the boot landed on his broken chest, causing a grunt of pain. The goblin stared up into one of the tallest, strangest human it had ever seen; too skinny, silver haired and with almost glowing silver eyes.

"Look little Drac, it’s a goblin. A frightened little goblin. Hello goblin. Oh, you do not understand me do you? Well, you are not alone in that. Hardly anyone understands High Netherese anymore."

The human crouched closer, still talking in that unintelligible language.

"So, little goblin, thought you could crawl away into the fog? That no one could spot you? Return home? Live to kill another day? You hurt don't you? Yes, she can deal painful hurts, can she not? I understand completely and I almost sympathize."

He drew out his dagger and placed it along the goblin's throat. Fear and terror shone in the goblin's eyes. "I first wanted to kill you, but then I thought, why not keep him as a prisoner to interrogate?" He removed his dagger from the throat. One could see relief in the goblin's eyes.

"But then, how much can you really tell us." As he spoke those words, Scuro replaced his razor sharp dagger and drew it across the throat. Goblin blood gushed out in spurts away from the crouching necromancer.

"Oh very professionally done beanpole darlin'. One would be forced to think that you are somewhat of a throat slitting expert. All that blood and not one drop on you. Now, how could that be? Your voice sounds a little different as well"

Scuro whirled, dripping dagger in hand, to face Kat. He had not heard her approach. The gnome was staring at him intently, all sorts of questions visible in her look.

Quick. Give me control!

"Now your eyes are less bright" the rogue continued as Ro-Lund-Do peered at her instead of Scuro.

"Eh, Whisper. You startled me. Yes, as a novice in the Great Temple, I was the one assigned to help the priests with the animal sacrifices. In a short time one became proficient at slicing throats as to avoid the thrashing bleeding animal."

Oh, a well-conceived explanation. Well done my alter ego.

"Oh, I see. And you were teasing that gobbie in what language?"

"Uh, are you familiar with Duparanese?" Well obviously not. Well I use a rare dialect of it, temple tongue and all that. I think in it, cast my spells using it and when alone or think that there are no little gnome girls sneaking up on me, I tend to use it."

Again, well done.

"I really want to believe you, darlin'."

"Oh you should little, Whisper. You should. You are my friend I would not lie." Only just as much as needed. For your own good actually.

"You have been injured. Come here. Let me tend to it." He kneeled to place his hands on her lacerations and recited a prayer to convert some of his Death energy into healing magic.

Doing this brought their faces close together, only inches apart. He could make out. individual freckles lining across the bridge of her nose. Kat's blue eyes bore into his silver ones. Their look was serious.

"Don't betray my trust in you, beanpole. You may need me later."

"I won't. Worry not about that. "We may not be able to keep her trust.

Perhaps not. But we will do our best until it definitely becomes unavoidable.

"It's just that at times you seem to do or say something that makes the rest of us suspicious. Especially Raven. So do be careful. Some of us are rooting for you."

Interesting. What does she really mean by that? "Yes of course. And thank you Kat.

Kat's normal good humour erupted forth. "Well now, long, tall silver, many, many men, all much better than you, all would have paid good coin to place their hands where yours are now. So unless you are rich, and willing to pay, I suggest you stop rubbing your hands along my thigh, irresistible as it is. It has been healed already."

The Netherese barked out a laugh. "There is never enough coin for you Kat. You are priceless."

"So don't leave home without me, darlin'. Come, the others are waiting. So how is that you could fire your crossbow so accurately in this fog? Which seems to be thinning out by the way."

"I use magical means to see through obscurements and darkness. The fog did not hinder my sight."

"That should explain it then. The two reached the others "Found him, me darlins'. And am now completely healed. So, Scarface, what's next?"

"Are we all set then?" inquired the ranger. I suggest we search the bodies, for anything useful, collect the orc ears and, Kat, since you are dying to, you can open that chest we found. Then I suggest we continue on to the Wiccannish Inn. We should reach it in a reasonable time and can rest and eat there. Any questions? No? Good. So, on with it."

The Stalkers dispersed. Ro-Lund-Do was collecting all useful weapons and equipment from the goblins and the orcs. Raven walked up to him.

Fornicating devils! Can't she ever leave us alone?

"Well met Ro-Lund-Do."

Is she being polite? Be careful.

Raven continued. "The others told me how you helped during the fighting. Just wanted to say good work. And keep it up. That's all." She turned away to continue her own gathering leaving the necromancer astonished.

What just happened here?

Any further thoughts were interrupted.

"Darlins', come see!" They all convened at Kat and the now opened chest. "Ok magic boys, do your job." Pelias incanted a spell that detected magic. Kat reached in and pulled out a scroll. She handed it to the priest.

Pelias unrolled it and read 'Mage Armour' spell. Her Ro-Lund-Do you take it. I am already carrying too much."

Kat took out a wand. "Evocation" determined Pelias.

Next a trumpet looking horn, made of a shiny brass type metal. "Abjuration."

Last a belt holding three identical bone handle daggers. "Transmutation."

"That's all folks" Kat reported.

"We all ready then?" announced Ska'arr. "Take the items. We will see about sorting them later. Let's go Stalkers.

Each Stalker took up their load and followed the Beast and Ska'arr down the trail.

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