Monthly Archives: July 2009


Pressed against the cave mouth and not turning Feldard thrust his arm out to wave for silence as Maruc approached. Maruc stopped a few feet away and took in the bloodspattered entrance. Feldarded knuckles whitened around the haft of his trusty axe and Maruc knew what was coming. Feldard turned and silently mouthed, “Goblins.” Maruc glanced back down the stream toward Hasan and Stephan, then start gesticulating wildy for them to get there. Now!

At least before Feldard decided to take on the whole goblin raid force himself with some light quip like, ‘Whats your problem? They’re only Goblins.’ or some terrible Dwarven warcry. Still by the sound of the excited Goblin voices stealth wasn’t much of an option. So as with most battle situations, the Dwarf was invariably right. Unsubtle, but right.

Miklos watched Maruc’s wild display with mounting alarm, then threw himself against the cliff wall to get out of the way of the elf and the warrior, guessing that Maruc and Feldard were in need of more physical help.

The confined space of the cave favoured melee Miklos knew well from his experiences in the tunnels of Specularum. He would have to think on his feet if he was to be any use.

With the others forewarned, Feldard once more put into practice his Goblinese trying to disguise his dwarven accent—he remained out of immediate sight—keeping to the side of the entrance. “We’re the reinforcements… sent for by Vlaak. What’s the hurry? Isn’t the mine secured yet? What are your numbers like?”

“Thank Fiery Eyes! Lord of Depth and Darkness! Help has come! Hup! Hup!”

The goblins within let out yowls of support—although some of them sounded a bit strained. The dwarf estimated their number to be around eight. He did not hear any wolves. It sounded like they were approaching the entrance.

Maruc offered a swift prayer to Halav.



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At the Entrance to the Mine

Readying his bow, Stephan muttered, “This does not look good. Let’s stay here, under cover, a bit longer. I don’t relish the thought of crossing that open area.”

His eyes scanned the cliff top. “I see no sign of anyone lurking.” Looking down, “The fires appear well extinguished. I wager they’re gone. But the question is, did they move on or….are they all in that hole?” Stephan indicated the mine entrance.

“Why tarry?” asked the elf. “We’ll be going down that hole soon enough, the Ilsundal himself may not know what’s in there. But if we must enter, we may as well do so well ahead of nightfall. Perhaps we’ll have a bit more of a chance against nocturnal creatures like goblinfolk.”

Stephan responded to Hasan in what he hoped was equally quiet tones. “Agreed. We’ll be going in that hole and doing so before darkfall might be best. Still,” the fighter again scanned the open area between them and the mine entrance, “I think we ought to just sit tight and observe for a bit before proceeding. Can’t hurt to take things in a bit before venturing forth.”

Miklos’s eyes swiveled from the Dymrakian to the dwarf and buried his head in his hand. If he knew the dwarf at all, the only thing so far that had given him pause for thought was the sight of an ancient red dragon. He was about to make some witty comment when he was caught by Feldard’s sweeping gaze.

The dwarf looked over the area with an engineers’ eye. He noted the mine’s stability. Impressive—whoever put together this operation knew what they were doing. Then hefted his axe. “The longer we wait, the less chance of us finding survivors alive, and if the goblins are down there if we wait, we give them more time to organize themselves and it’ll be harder to slip in. I’m going in.” Feldard stated and set off towards the mine.

“Well, I guess that settles it,” Stephan muttered with no little irritation.

“I’ll cover him and any of the rest of you that go now,” he said while checking the fit of his arrow in the bow. “Once you’re about half way there, I’ll follow myself. Hasan, what say you help me cover with your bow? Then we’ll both follow on.”

Hasan looked at the dwarf’s receding figure; bearing armor and provisions Feldard was nearly a perfect square. He then nodded at Stefan and watched as Miklos and Maruc, the unlikely pair, city mage and village priest, scrambled after their even less likely guide. Looking at his own partner in this venture, Hasan realized the whole troop was oddly constructed. Though he hardly knew her, Hasan missed Saeth. And Rahasia.

The priest turned to the rangy elf. “Best he goes first eh?” He picked up his Halavist emblazoned shield, its enamel glinted in the afternoon glow. He watched the dwarf, with surprising stealth, approach the edge of the cave mouth. The gurgling steam covering much of the noise of his footsteps. Maruc doubted anyone would be alive down in the mine, but his duty must be to check. “Poor souls. I hope the miners made a good account of themselves. But I don’t see any corpses.” That was odd, a breached barricade, with no corpses? Goblins were not known for clearing up after themselves. Shaking out his flail he followed the path the dwarf took.

Miklos smiled as he stood next to Stephan, watching the dwarf then the priest sidle up to the entrance. “And I was complaining about the claustrophobia of woods. Well, it looks like you’ve drawn rearguard old chap. I’ll see you down there.” Miklos hobbled the horse and cart, then started of down the bank of the stream.

The dwarf was close to the entrance, with the others not far behind.

“Well, let’s you and I now go,” said Stephan to the priest. “Seems nothing is afoot here. The business, I’m sure, will be in that black hole.”

The dwarf studied the rocks. They were stained with goblin blood. Clearly there had been some sort of battle to gain entrance to the mine. From the looks of it, the miners had inflicted some goblin casualties, for some of the bloodmarks indicated that more than one body had been dragged inside.

He was standing to the side of the entrance. He could hear movement from inside the cave.

A goblin voice called out. Then another. Only the dwarf could hear what they were saying—fortunately he understood their tongue.

“Who goes there?”

“Quick, come help us!”


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Toward the Smoke


Whispering to Hasan and the others in general Stephan said, “Aye. Does the trail head toward the smoke?”

The fighter searched the ground himself but could not see any signs. He looked back along their path — always paranoid of being followed — and was comforted to see Feldard not minding whatever it was that held the elf and humans’ attention. He was instead keeping watch, looking to and fro in measured gazes. His eyes caught Stephan’s and the dwarf gave the barest of acknowledgments with a slight rise of the cheeks and minuscule nod. Stephan, for his part, gave a much more human nod and the look that only seasoned soldiers, blooded together on the battlefield, could exchange. The dwarf understood the human gesture of camaraderie having fought along side the tall folk for decades.

Stephan turned back to see what Hasan was discerning in the tumble of undergrowth. In a continued whisper Stephan said, “Barring other signs of trail, I say we head toward that smoke.”

“We face a dilemma,” Hasan responded. “There is no doubt in my mind the goblins headed deep into the forest, to the south of where the smoke rises. Yet, smoke led us to Sukiskyn and the troubles there. It has us on our path of late. Why not follow it again?”

Feldard was becoming more and more used to this particular human gesture of camaraderie.

After acknowledging Stephan’s nod, the dwarf scanned behind the group once more. He waited for the elf to find the route. While he waited, he dug out a small piece of dried meat and gnawed on it, his surly gaze never stopping in its roving.

Maruc squinted at the horizon. I took him some moments to locate the twisting smoke. “I’m impressed. I would have missed it. That’s a fair distance away, that must be a serious fire. Its a plain sign as it is more or less in the direction we travel. A day or two at most I’d say, depending on the forest.”

Miklos was a city boy, the forest was something to be endured not enjoyed. The thought of the fresh air of the Black Peak foothills sounded much better than the heavy humidity of this wood. “Lets press on chaps,” he said impatiently.

* * * * *

The group traveled until the sun began to set and then they quickly made camp. The dangers of the forest had been evident, as during the day they encountered a small pack of wild boars. Thankfully, Hasan masterfully guided them around the wild beasts. Later, during the night, it was on Maruc and Miklos’s watch that a trio of wolves breached camp. Everyone awoke with a start and drove off the animals, luckily avoiding anything more than a few cuts and bruises in the process.

The next day they set off once again. The smoke was no longer visible, and there was some question whether they had made the right decision to abandon the Wolfskull tracks. However, Hasan was confident that he could guide them to the spot. Stephan, who had the most experience traveling in this area of the Dymrak was also fairly sure that they were headed in the right direction.

As they moved through areas of the thick brush and intermittent areas of relatively clear forest, there was a sense that they were being watched. Their eyes darted about the forest as they continued their route, but any followers they might have had remained unseen.

It was late afternoon when they at last reached their destination. Against the side of a mountain spur, they saw what, until recently, had been a functioning mine. In the wood around the area, they found familiar-looking goblin campsites, evidenced by the animal bones, rotten fruit rinds and other rubbish typical of the goblins. Hasan found dire wolf tracks—the Wolfskull again. About two dozen in number, surmised the elf.

As they looked on from a distance, they saw wooden chutes that had once directed water from the dam to separate dirt and stone from the mine’s precious material, now lay destroyed. The entrance had apparently been blockaded with stone—a hasty barrier against the goblin siege. At some point, the makeshift fortification had been breached—loose stones lay spread out at the mine entrance, and a sizeable hole provided access to the interior.


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On the Trail Again


Stephan was eager to start finding new goblin trail and followed Hasan’s lead as quietly as possible. He was amazed at the silence of the elf and several times was startled, during their infrequent and brief breaks, by Hasan’s sudden yet silent appearance just behind his shoulder. “Ah, yes,” Stephan would say, trying not to be too noisy. “I think I can see a bit of the trail you’re following. But you seem able to string all the clues together to keep us moving at a quick pace!”, he said in hushed tones. Hasan simply nodded–an affirmation, at least, of Stephan’s presence–and moved on.

At home. Or near enough after the excruciating depths of the cursed temple and several days aship, thought the elf as he slid easily deeper into the Dymrak. A great forest, like his own beloved Radlebb, but different, less vital, thinner and yet deeper under its resinous canopy beneath the air and sun. Little stirred alongside the quartet that followed him, which bother Hasan, who would have expected to have spooked a half dozen white-bobbed hart in the cool dawn hours. Still, if such elusive prey were missed, there was no missing the trail of the dozen or two goblins they followed, despite the rain between the groups. The goblins traveled directly, with little sense for the land’s contours. Stopping to refresh himself at a slow-moving rivulet, Hasan found rough black hair and pungency—at least one dire survived the tribal battle. He waited for the humans and dwarf to catch him. Noon approached. Nothing yet surprised in the Dymrak.

The dwarf followed the party as rear guard, his lack of stealth and slow pace made him ideal to keep at the rear. Feldard didn’t mind the loss of position out here in the woods. It wasn’t like it was—back when he was vying against Saeth for lead position in the temple ruins.

Feldard glanced back along their path. All seemed quiet and clear. That was good.

After the rains, the forest smelt of fresh leaves mixed with the mustiness of decaying wood. As he trudged along he watched the beams of pale sunlight that sort the ground ahead. Darting between the beams like some flighty moth Hasan lead them as if they traveled a well-used road. The priest marveled at his expertise. “Now that is magic in my book,” he said ruefully to the mage beside him.

“Ha, a wood is a wood. Is a wood.” Miklos added finally, as if he’d made some deep philosophical comment. To be honest, he wasn’t thinking about the journey. He was more wrapped up with trying to make the loose ends of clues they had discovered make sense. Hobgoblins and goblins, towers and human bandits. Traitor elves and the Sons of Night. The Dread Night with its legions of the damned. All unsolved. All like festering boils on the skin of the future awaiting their time to ripen.

All these delays, sidetracking them from their true purpose? And what where the true details of that purpose? He looked at Maruc striding next to him. Ha! To place your decisions in the hands of a God? It’s too easy. Miklos knew the answer the priest would give him before he asked the question.

“Are we going the right direction? I mean really. Are we being sidetracked? We’ve spent day’s in the forest and now we are chasing shadows and Hobgoblins and Goblins and Towers. With no mention of the greater picture. We’ve not had closure on the Sons of Night, we don’t know how many enclaves fester out there. We may be being artfully manipulated.”

Maruc turned his trademark grin on the mage. “Trust in Halav!”

Miklos sighed.

He watched the elf stop and stoop down, stand up and wait. He stopped by Hasan, as the others gathered.

The way ahead was unclear. The path of the goblins had been wiped clean by the rains, but the elf was confident he could pick it up again. After the rain stopped, any tracks left in the mud would be obvious to even a child. It was just a matter of picking up the trail at some point further into the forest. He would also keep his eye out for the Vyalia. Their traces would be much more difficult to pick up than that of goblinkind, but the group was due for some good luck.

The elf took his eyes off the earth and scanned the sky for signs of any ill-weather. His keen vision picked up on something far in the distance. It was smoke. The point of origin looked to be the beginnings of the mountains that stretched out from the eastern most point of the Black Peak mountain range.


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Back Into The Dymrak

“Thank you Pyotr,” said Stephan. “It will help much if we can use some of the horses and resupply our arrows and such. We’ll take only what horses we need, of course. The rest can be used to replenish the Sukiskyn coffers.”

The dwarf wasn’t pleased at having to backtrack to the Sukiskyn holdings, but the ale did make the return a bit more palatable.

The tour of the Sukiskyn clan treasures was brief. Feldard’s own family treasury held much, much more. But there were a few items to which he showed some interest.. the gold-plated hunting horn… and that patterned tapestry. It intrigued him. “Where did this thing come from? It looks rather antique.”

“Yes, sir dwarf,” answered Pyotr. “This tapestry has been in our generations. So long that none of us are even certain of its origins. Kuzma thinks it may even date back to the time of the Three.”

Miklos enjoyed the distraction of the treasures of the clan. It enabled him the divorce himself, for a while, from the pressing dangers he’d found himself in. “Fascinating histories, Pyotr. Thank you.”

When discussions after dinner turned to back to the goblins, Feldard listened in. The realization that the others would want to continue on via horseback prompted the dwarf to comment. “Such fine horses would only attract attention and make our party even more a target. We should continue on by foot.”

“Aye, Feldard, there is truth in what you say. But the horses would afford us much needed speed. Horses are common in these parts and having such should not attract undue attention. Of course, if you speak of horse thieves, that’s another matter.”

“I don’t think we’l need the horses, either,” chimed in Hasan. “Not that I won’t take one when, err, if it is needed for our next step. But now we will have to penetrate the goblin lair, and horses will not help in that. Too much time has been lost. The goblins will have returned to their homes and will be ready to defend them after the losses they suffered here. We will need to strike decisively when we have the chance, for surely all the Dymrak knows we are here. But come, tonight let us rest, and on the morrow, we off as dawn breaks.” And Hasan went to bed.

“I will defer to Hasan’s assessment of our needs in tracking the gobs.”

Stephan turned to his brother, “Your offer is most gracious and, as Hasan says, if our pursuit of the destruction of evil in Dymrak would benefit from it, we may return to accept your offer.”

Before leaving in the morning, Pyotr proffered the Sukiskyn family ring back to Stephan. “That was a quickly fulfilled oath, little brother!” He said with a smile.

“Nay, Tumish”, Stephan used the Traldarian term of brother endearment, “I’ll not take the ring back till your household is restored in a gob-free Dymrak. There’s much work yet to be done!”

“But brother, your pig-headedness is showing again. Surely you can see you deserve your ring back.”

“Again, nay, Tumish. My heart refuses it given the situation in Dymrak. It’s absence, and this scar, will keep me on task.”

Satisfied but perplexed, Pyotr pocketed the ring. “I’ll keep it safe till you achieve your goals. And I’m sure you will, Tumish!”

“I was wondering how we could track at speed. But horses can be looked after. All we need is a loyal ostler.” Miklos’s eyes strayed to Matvey, then to the women folk and dimissed the idea. “Perhaps not. We cannot delay our pursuit either way. The consensus is we follow the trail of destruction to the Southeast.”

Maruc bid the over generous clan fairwell as he joined the party outside the hastily constructed corral. “Nice family Stephan.” He crushed the pang in self pity and envy. To have loving bothers and sisters? A mother? All of Maruc’s memories were ash and ruin blown away on the wind. Halav had filled the emptiness. But He felt remote. This clan was real and urgent, troubled and strong. Bah! Halav was testing him again.

He marched beside the confident steps of the dwarf rying the keep his emotions of his face. Grinning, always grinning. Thats what Maruc always did.

And so the eclectic band of adventurers once again set forth into the Dymrak. They travelled on foot, and headed back toward where they had last left the trail of the goblins as they departed the horse bandit encampment.


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A Muted Feast

Maruc’s broad grin touched his lips again. “Don’t worry about Nicolai’s ashes, he’ll keep.”

“Gregor, I see you haven’t mentioned further sightings of the goblins. This leads me to believe you came here by a circuitous route, deliberately and wisely avoiding them. Else you would have arrived here before we had, had you fled before them.” observed Miklos, “The pattern of advance is simple and expedient.”

Miklos continued, “Logic therefore dictates one course of action is to follow their path of destruction. If anything, we shall discover where they mustered originally. There may be clues we find on the way. And we still have no idea of the origin of the token.”

“And we may yet meet a Vyalian elf who might provide more information,” added Maruc. “Assuming that Mistress Fyodoryll here is not a common example of the local elven population.”

Stephan couldn’t hide his contempt when addressing Fyodoryll. “Well, she-elf, are you one of these Vyalians? Or do you know how we can contact them?”

“How do you contact the Vyalia? You don’t,” she replied, laughing. “Those ones keep to themselves.”

“Following the gobs’ war path backwards may yield information,“ agreed Stephan. “We could still make a trip to High Forge to see if any news of the attacks has arrived there and see to Feldard’s promise.”

Again looking upon Fyodoryll with bitterness, Stephan asked, “Did the gobs who sold to you say anything? You’ll be doing yourself a favor to tell us all you know. Where were they headed? Did they mention their orders?”

“They went back to their tribehome, I suppose,” she replied. “It was a quick transaction, and I didn’t ask.”

“Since no one recognises the tower emblem and we are blessed with folk with a wide knowledge of the Dymrak, I can only assume no one is aware of any ruined or long abandoned towers within the forest?” Miklos paused a second looking around the room. “Then this does not refer to a local structure.”

With his prisoners now in the hands of the Sukiskyn, and the horse-trader elf unwilling or unable to give up any further information Feldard looked over the rough drawn map. He couldn’t understand why the humans and elf thought traveling AWAY from the goblins current trail would help any. They had been heading southeast. So southeast is the direction the party should go—and the dwarf was blunt about stating so. “Goblins are not devious, they aren’t overly smart. It’s not like they would think to double back on their tracks or change directions without an obstacle being in their way. Their lair lies to the southeast. If chasing them is what you folk think we need to do.. then that is the direction we need to go. Hasan can pick up their trail further along. It’ll likely be more visible after the rain. What with the mud and all.”

“Into the heart of the forest is surely our path,” agreed Hasan. “Our only choices now are whether to retrace the line of attack, along the northern outskirts of this wood, take up the trail from Fyodoryl’s trading post, or perhaps we could travel down the river, which also seems to come from the forestheart. That may be our fastest way, though ambush again would be a danger. Still, with a speedy boat, that might be our fastest path. I am comfortable with any of these paths.”

While the group discussed their next move, the Sukiskynians were busy preparing a feast. Traditionally, a great meal would be served in the hall to welcome guests to the homestead. Though the group was saddened at the loss of Taras, they were determined to show their gratitude to the newcomers, and celebrate their own survival. A large pig was roasted, and various family members endeavoured to provide entertainment. Mash sang. Kuzma told stories of old Traladaran legend. The women danced. Gregor and his lumbermen told jokes.

Pyotr took the group on a quick tour of the clan’s treasures. The large, ornately carved antique chair of the clanhead. A stuffed eagle and great dire wolf’s head. A gold-plated hunting horn. And two great tapestries. One depicted wild, running horses, and the other was very old, with a large, woven colorful geometric pattern.

After the food was consumed, Traladaran ale flowed freely amongst the family and their guests. Despite their attempt at putting their troubles aside for the night, discussions shifted back to the goblins. Pyotr made it clear that everything the family owned was available to the group—provisions, equipment and, of course, the horses obtained from Fyodoryll.


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Back at Sukiskyn


Hasan stepped forward. “These takings cannot be accepted. While it is the authorities of this land that are responsible for your safety, we are here now and cannot ignore the evil you face. We will help you root out these slavetakers. You must have some sense of where the goblin clans lived. Who here can guide us there? Who here would join us in an attack? Now is the time for the people of the Dymrak to band together.” The Quiet Way be damned, he thought to himself.

After he listened to his companions’ reactions to his proposal of an attack on the goblin lairs, Hasan went to Fyodoryll a last time. “Your time for a decision has come. You can help us. Come now to try to end this scourge, and make amends to this family, so your trading may start anew in peace. Or you will stay here in this homestead, subject to their protection.” Hasan nodded at the floor below, which was scrubbed but still showed some black blood and grit between its rough pine timbers. “They protected two goblins that attacked their home here.”

Fyodoryll considered her options, and went with the latter. She was not about to risk her neck getting caught up in some human-goblinoid conflict.

“Gregor.” Maruc nodded, “Yuri, Grisha and Grishkal, I am Maruc. The dwarf with the big axe is Feldard and this elf is Prince Hasan. The dashing fellow in the corner is Miklos, Stephan you know I think. Pyrtor do you have a map of the surrounding area? Can you mark on Cherkass, Hokol and Segenyev as well?” when Pyrtor returned with the map he asked, “Gregor can you detail goblin numbers, and note when each settlement was attacked and if possible which clans were involved. And if possible which way they fled each assault?”

The men provided further detail. The lumber camp had been attacked the night before Sukiskyn. Cherkass the night before, Segenyev and Hokol prior to that. When Gregor described the attackers, it was evident that it had been the same crew that attacked Sukiskyn.

“Yuri? If I may ask you a question. Did anyone mention the name Vlaak? And do you recognize the tower image on this token?” he said producing the silvered disk.

Yuri shook his head. He had not seen the tower. Miklos continued on to ask the others, but none recognized the structure.

Feldard greeted each of the newcomers with a gruff grunt and a nod, then continued his watch over the still bound and gagged elf.

It was becoming less and less surprising how quickly his companions lost sight of their own tasks that needed to be seen to—not that aiding these clans wasn’t important—but Feldard was impatient to get on with getting to High Forge and then Threshhold. He’d made a promise to his fallen companion Nicolai and it was an oath he intended to keep.

“It is good to see you again,” Stephan greeted the four. “But I’m sorry it’s under such a pall.”

Stephan listened carefully to Gregor and the others. He was glad his new companions were also listening. The more minds on this the better, he thought.

Stephan asked, “Did you hear of a hobgoblin called ‘Vlaak’? He is a leader, we believe, of the group that attacked Sukiskyn.”

Unfortunately, none of the men knew much of the goblins of the Dymrak, and had not heard of Vlaak.

Aside to Feldard, Stephan said, “Master dwarf, I am torn. I would see you fulfill your oath but we must not let an opportunity to strike elude us.”

Stephan feeling of desperation was evident on his face.

“This slavery…it must stop. You say the gobs are taking slaves. Could this be the main purpose of their raids? We must discover where the slaves are being taken and learn what they being forced to do.”

Stephan considered the possibilities. They did not know the location of the Wolfskull lair, and the trail had been wiped away by the rains. They did know that the goblins were headed to the southeast. It would seem that they would have to rely on word of mouth as he had suggested previously. But, who could they ask? The Red Blade king was dead, and they had no other goblins to interrogate. There were the Vyalia elves, of course. They had intimate knowledge of all parts of the Dymrak. They were reclusive and spread out though—not easy to find.

The untamed wild inlands of the deep forest were dangerous and not well-travelled by civilized folk.


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