The Burning Staff

Best Laid Plans
Chapter 22

Sleep did not come for many of The Company that night and breakfast was eaten mostly in silence as they solemnly thought on the task ahead. They knew not how many goblins were here on Torsea only how many had tried to kill them so far.

Wuthraad and Tallis were on the last guard shift of the night shortly before sunrise though none of their companions were still asleep except Alauda, who had taken first shift and studied her spellbook. It was Tallis who first heard barking but most of The Company had weapons already drawn as she turned to alert them. Hanibal did not speak to Alauda as he shook her awake but the look on his face told her all she needed to know, she slowly began to recite some arcane verse as she saw her latest would be killers. Goblins again, this time riding worgs. The battle was hard and fast, Alauda and Hanibal used their best offensive spells to neutralize the worg riders while the blades of their companions made short work of the rest. Wuthraad utilized the protective divine magic of Barukthram as well as his healing spells to perfectly compliment the party in a well executed strategic out matching of the intellectually and physically inferior goblins. The 6 of them made short work of the 8 goblins and 4 worgs and the spirits were high as the sun rose on Torsea.

It was around mid-morning as they followed the goblin tracks north of the ravine when they found something. The ravine had collapsed, or been collapsed somehow and been left covered in rock debris at such an angle to make it climbable without much trouble. Hawk was sure the goblin lair lay ahead of them in the ravine somewhere as the tracks seemed to converge on this spot. The rest of the party stopped to rest some distance back from the ravine in the woods as Hawk ventured further east to investigate. He came one hour or so later with the news they expected him to bring, he had found what looked like the goblin’s lair. He told them of how the ravine continued east not much longer, they were near the edge of the island and in the end of the ravine was a cave. He had seen several goblins outside guarding a large cave entrance, small wood spike walls had been built in spots around on several levels of elevation. He mentioned at least 4 guards he saw when he was there but he could not see inside the cave for any clue to how many goblins were inside.

The course of action was subject of much debate and the party were almost set to begin their return to Garndan Toreif to report their finding and collect their reward but it was Nathron who convinced them to consider otherwise. Why cut the reward short he thought, were they to return now their reward would be less than if they were to kill a few more goblins first. Judging by their previous run-ins he felt goblins no match for them. His confidence and bravado were quick to rub off on Hawk and surprisingly Wuthraad was the next most keen to strike.

A plan was made to ambush the next goblin patrol to climb the broken ravine wall, taking advantage of both higher ground and the element of surprise. The last flasks of oil in their possession were poured out on the rocks with the intention that Hanibal would ignite them at the right moment with his last remaining spell, burning hands. Alauda did not feel good about the plan, she felt without any spells for the day that she would be next to useless, having had used all of her daily castings of magic missile in the fight earlier that day. She would have preferred they rest another night first at least. She decided her spot in the ambush would be in a tree, about ten feet from the edge of the ravine and the fallen rocks, giving her a good vantage point to strike with her sling anyone ascending, Tallis took place in another tree at the other side of the ravines break. Hanibal lay on his belly near the spilled oil ready to ignite it with bis spell, Wuthraad, Hawk and Nathron would wait just back from the edge ready to rush forward at the right moment.

They built a fire, moved some rocks in place as make-shift seats and built their ambush. They moved dead goblins from the last battle and placed them on the rocks, holding them in place with tree branches cut into stakes. Their fake goblin patrol group sitting round a camp fire looked quite convincing from enough distance, and the light of the fire dancing around made it that much harder to make out that the figures sat there in fact sat deadly still.

All they could do now was wait.

Mind The Gap
Chapter 21

One thing they all knew about goblins was that they hated the sun, and above ground would be active mostly nocturnally, they chose to spend the night in the more defensible church than out in the woods, no giant could ever fit up the stairs, and they could see anyone or anything coming a good way off from up there. In the morning Wuthraad wrote a note to Baruka Harthemis, the high priest of this, the Elven Church Of Barukthram telling him of what had occurred there the previous night, and that he and his comrades in arms would seek out him and the other priests of Barukthram when they had dealt with the goblins on the island. His hands shook as he tried to imagine what had happened to the priests and their families, some of the elves that lived here were only children. Wuthraad’s bones and muscles ached, his feet were blistered and sore but nothing hurt him more then than his broken heart. He knew the elves here were powerful clerics and master fighters, for anything to have even troubled them at all never mind cause all the destruction he saw around him in the church must have been something far more terrible than the giant his friends and him had found very beatable in combat. Alauda looked on knowing too well what was causing his grief, her own parents were counted in the missing, and though she may not have ever saw eye to eye with them, or even liked them, she did love them very much and she was as scared as he if not more. Alauda listened more to Wuthraad’s usual praying from then on, when he prayed at night before he slept for his god to grant him the power to cast spells, when he muttered softly to himself as they walked from place to place sometimes and every time she witnessed him cast his divine magic.

The next morning they followed the strongest goblin tracks from the foot of the hill to the forest and set out hunting goblins. Wuthraad had a look on his face none of them had seen before, he was blood-thirsty for goblin and when they soon found a cave he was first in, forsaking the now well established formation of Hawk and Nathron first, followed by himself(and now Tallis), then the two casters. When he saw the goblins he did not charge straight away but he turned, faced the group and started to cast, Alauda’s eyes lit up as he chanted to Barukthram and moved his hands and arms in an intricate, rhythmic pattern before pointing them back at Nathron and Hawk and a blessing them with the grace of his own master, the warm glow of the divine energy flowing through them and on and into Tallis, Hanibal and Alauda and back and into himself. He smiled and his eyes almost glowed for a second as he turned and charged screaming in his native elven tongue. 8 goblins we no match for Wuthraad’s rage alongside the combat prowess and spellcraft of his companions, the blessing of Barukthram filling them with strength, focus and morale. It was a short battle and the company made short work of searching the small cave, the six of them thoroughly inspecting it for any sign of entrance to a larger cave system and confidently deducing there was none to be found. They did find a small number of gold, some silver and a hundred or so copper coins between the 8 goblins though and took them happily alongside the 8 goblin ears that were currently worth 80 gold.

There were still more goblin tracks to follow than goblin ears in Wuthraad’s backpack, and they knew their work here was far from done. They figured the small cave to have been a resting place for those goblins through the day, there were no signs of any kind of long term residence in there, the goblins having only their weapons and gold, and a few scraps of food. They moved on into the forest and were around the center of the small island when they reached a small canyon running east to west as far as they could see, Wuthraad and Alauda both knew it did in fact run from one side of the island to the other, splitting the island in two. What had once been a bridge lay on the floor of the canyon not far from where they reached it. Though it did split the island in two it was not a big ravine, where they stood it was only about 40 feet high and 30 feet wide. The previous bridge had only been a tree trunk, it lay on the ground crushing the plant life growing there. Wuthraad explained that they would have to cross somewhere and they decided they would recover the fallen bridge. Tallis was instantly volunteered to be lowered by rope and tasked with tying on the tree bridge. It was heavy and the rope snapped the first time they tried to lift it but Tallis did something with a special knot and looping the rope round the log twice and they were eventually able to raise it to the edge. It was as they pulled it over the edge that someone lost their grip and it was dropped again, this time almost crushing Tallis as she just barely dived out of the way. Tallis untied the rope from the would-be bridge and attached it to her throwing knife before using its weight to get the rope up to her friends, they helped her up easily after failing to get the bridge.

Wuthraad and Tallis went scouting along the ravine for any other possible bridges while Nathron and Hawk got to work on plan b, chopping down a tree and making a new bridge. There wasn’t much left of Hawk’s new sword by the time it had cut down and chopped all the branches off a one foot thick tree but it was a good job they had for Wuthraad and Tallis returned to tell them there was no other crossing anywhere in sight.

Tallis was again volunteered to cross first with the intention of her tying the rope that was anchored to a tree on this side to one there providing a guide rope to aid the rest of the party when they crossed. The tree trunk was not the thickest and was not the most even in shape, it was not an easy walk across. She was just finished tying the rope when she heard the goblins coming, she looked up and there were at least 8 of them again, if not more. She was backing away from the goblins towards the bridge as Hawk reached her. He had ran across the bridge with no regard for the safety rope to aid the young elf and sunk his sword through one goblin as it missed her with it’s spear. Nathron wasn’t so lucky running across the bridge and he slipped, he caught himself with the safety rope but only for a second and he lost his grip falling at least 30 feet. He landed on his feet first but fell back and landed badly on his back, he was badly hurt but he was alive. Wuthraad’s fate was similar as he slipped too and fell almost right on top of Nathron, badly hurting his own legs and back. Alauda chose not to charge but to attack from distance and blasted a goblin clean off his feet with one of her now familiar Magic Missile spells. Hanibal was just arriving when Hawk landed his sword in the throat of the leader of this particular group of goblins, they knew he was leader when the rest of the goblins turned heel and ran when they saw him so easily bested. Hanibal hit a goblin in the head with his staff on the way past but it was too late, the goblins disappeared as suddenly as they had came back into the woods.

Wuthraad used the healing spells he had prayed for the night before on himself and Nathron before they used the rope, cut from one of the trees and lowered to them to climb back up. After taking the leader goblin’s battleaxe and short sword as well as his and his friends ears the party set up a camp for the evening. They knew now the goblins knew they were here, and would come looking but they had to rest and Wuthraad had to pray, so they would risk it but be ready. They took watch in pairs again that night.

Nobody Home
Chapter 20

They rested uneasily that night, two of them taking watch per shift. Four of the six had never been to Torsea and Alauda, or Alyn was trying to avoid being seen here, her parents home. Wuthraad had not been back to his home since his falling out with the higher ups at the Church Of Barukthram. Besides all this was the strong possibility of goblins, at least some had almost certainly come this way. There were small rowboats on the beach where they had landed, and Hawk confirmed goblin tracks leading from the beach into the woods and also towards the church. They hid their own boat, or more precisely the goblins boat that Wuthraad had repaired in the woods not far from where they camped.

The northernmost third of Torsea mostly consists of one small mountain, the Church Of Barukthram sits at it’s peak. As they walked up the stone steps that circled the mountain Wuthraad told his friends a tale of Borri, the legendary Dwarven companion of Barukthram carving them single-handedly with a great 2 handed hammer. It took most of the morning to ascend to the church, many of the steps almost the height of some of the elven party members. At the bottom of the climb the first few steps had been destroyed, how was unknown to Wuthraad or Alauda, it had not been this way when either of them left. Large piles of rocks and rubble had to be cleared away and Tallis climbing skills were put to work when she was sent up with the rope.

As they reached the last few steps they were all frozen in fright when what could only be described as a giant eagle soared not too high over head. Perspective was difficult with nothing else in the sky at that instant to visually compare it to but still they could tell it was enormous, unnaturally huge. Hawk Guessed it’s wingspan to be at least 15 feet. Alauda was more frightened than anyone and for a moment the tough mage game-face slipped and the nervous, late adolescent elf girl showed, but only for a few seconds. Later some of the others may have sworn they heard her muttering ’We’re all going to die up here’ under her breath.

The church itself was as Wuthraad and Alauda had left it, or looked so from the outside anyway. The stone building was humble looking, square apart from one spiral staircase on one side, only 2 levels high and built from roughly cut local stone. The bespoke pieces of hardwood gave it a rustic look, the only sign from outside that this was a place of worship was the holy symbol above the door. A sword, a hammer and a bow in a flaming circle. The symbol on the church was carved in wood and unpainted, you might not see it if you weren’t expecting it to be there. The whole building gave off the feeling that these priests liked to keep to themselves, or certainly not advertise their location anyway. It was as they got closer they began to see signs that something was not right. Windows were smashed out of their frames and the front door was hanging off one hinge.

If the giant eagle they saw earlier had done anything positive, it was that it had softened them up for what they would see next, absolutely the most terrifying sight any one of them had witnessed in their lives.

Hawk and Tallis approached the church first, sneaking and using the shadows to try and remain unseen, not quite sure what would await them. Hawk landed badly as he jumped in through a broken window, causing a fairly loud thump as he hit the floor, biting his tongue to stop himself from swearing. It was then he saw it, the ugliest, biggest man he had ever seen. Fifteen feet tall at least he was on all fours as he came through the door, the club in his right hand was almost the size of a man. Hawk and Tallis both had heard enough folk stories and bard-songs to know this was indeed a giant. Not a very big man, a GIANT. Hawk’s landing had caught the attention of the giant, but his fast reactions had found him behind a church pew when the giant turned in his direction and his luck was in for he had not been seen. Tallis ducked down from the window she was looking on through as the monster’s eyes passed her way. Hawk rolled up from his hiding place with a graceful leap, putting himself right on the giant’s flank before he could react. Hawk’s sword found good purchase in the giant’s side, going in almost two feet before he pulled it out as he descended from his salmon-esque leap and rolled way once more. His combat brain was working swiftly, in one move had rolled himself in front of the giant with the giant’s back about 6 feet away from the window he knew Tallis to be behind. As he ducked another haymaker swing of the oversized club Tallis found the chance she needed, she leaped from the window landing on it’s back with her dagger sinking to the hilt between his shoulder blades.

The rest of the party had heard the ruckus and ran to aid their companions, by the time Nathron charged through the door the giant had picked up one of the church pews in both hands and was readying an epic swing. This was a mistake on the giant’s part though for by the time he wound up his back swing Nathron had found his the tendons in the back of it’s knee with his sword, and Alauda had hit him between the eyes with a Magic Missile spell. Hanibal did the same and Hawk ended it with another leaping strike, this time the very tip of his sword at the very peak of his jump driving upwards into the giants throat under the chin, he even managed to roll out of the way of the massive stream of blood that followed his sword out of the giant’s face, and the falling giant corpse that came after. The church itself shook with the crash of this goliath hitting the stone floor.

In the melee Tallis had tried to fire-bomb the giant with her fused bottle of lamp oil and missed and now one corner of the building was slowly catching fire. Wuthraad and Nathron ran upstairs and soaked sheets from the priest’s quarters with the water from a bathroom, Wuthraad knew where everything should be and they were fast. The fire had not done much damage and the other party member had been moving away anything combustible they could move, the flames were fairly quick to extinguish, mostly only oil had burned. As they had ran through the upstairs of the building they saw it was in the same state as downstairs, they place was ransacked. Beds were turned upside down, wardrobes were smashed, the windows upstairs too all smashed out.

Someone decided they needed to cut the giant open to see what it had been eating. Whose idea this was originally, was later much debated. Hawk drew the short straw and did the honours, holding back the nausea as he picked out small bones and a few scraps of leather. ‘These could be fingers’ he declared as he held some of the bones up, ‘But goblin, human, elf, I couldn’t tell you’.

The Company Of Sailors
Chapter 19

The next few days were spent in Meshina. The party bought Tallis studded leather armour and 2 throwing knifes. Nathron used this opportunity to check the progress on his new shield. Torm Truehammer was pleased to see him but said he would have to wait one more day while he finished it off.

The rest of the group had spend the previous day cleaning up at The Meshina Arms, getting the blood out their clothes and hair from the few days just passed. They shopped in town while they waited for clothes to dry, picking up trail rations, bedrolls and blankets from Annie’s Adventure Essentials. Another trip to Torm Truehammer’s Weapons And Armour was made the following day and money given to Torm to have 2 more throwing knives made for Tallis. The ones they had bought from him already were not of his own crafting and he had insisted on making some more, far superior ones. Nathron picked up his new shield, ‘The Lifekeeper’ being the name he gave it. It was matt black and smooth as ice, weighted perfectly for Nathron’s off hand, a sight to behold to this maker of and user of weapons and arms. He was a very happy fighter.

They visited Barry Oddwater‘s shop Boats And Oars to get tools for the repair of the boat. Wuthraad was a carpenter for the church when he had lived there, and knew what to do and what tools he needed to do it. He picked up numerous tools, tar, brushes and wood all for a very reasonable price. Barry was a simple man running a simple shop. He sold boats, boating gear, nets, rods and other fishing supplies. He did not ask questions of the armed group in his shop buying tools and fishing gear(Nathron planned on doing a spot of fishing before they left). Alauda made one more trip to Annie’s before the days end coming back with flasks of oil and some rags, all packed into a brand new backpack for Tallis.

The next day it took Wuthraad 4 hours with Hawk’s help to get the rowboat back to working order. Nathron used the time well catching 10 very decent sized fish for the trip. He wrapped them in some of the rags Alauda had procured with salt from the kitchen at The Meshina Arms. Tallis and Alauda used the remaining rags to make fuses, pouring the lantern oil into glass bottles in the hope of making some sort of explosives. It was dark by the time Wuthraad and Hawk finished, so the group set up camp for the night in the cave where the bear had been held captive, dining well on fish and playing dice into the night. Nathron and Tallis took a short foray into the nearby woods to hunt, but caught nothing.

It was while thinking of her first return to Torsea since she had left that Alauda decided she did not want to be seen by any of the priests that lived there, especially her parents. Her and Tallis went to work on her ‘disguise’ drawing a moustache and beard on her with charcoal soot and tying her hair back and hiding it’s length beneath her clothes. Alauda would not go to Torsea, Alyn would.

Like Alauda, Wuthraad had arrived on Panthea Minor by rowboat, and knew exactly where he had left it. When he returned without it with Hawk and Tallis he explained that it simply was not where he had left it, and they would have to all go in one boat. The trip to look for Wuthraad’s boat had taken most of the morning and it was lunch time by the time they were the first of them were ready for the boat ride.

They took 3 journeys to get the 6 of them across the short stretch of sea. Fortunately the wind was calm that day as was the sea, and the 3 return trips went off without incident.

There were 3 small rowboats on the beach where they had landed, all very similar to the one they had just used. So similar in fact they decided it would be the same, were it not for Wuthraad’s adjustments. They decided they would carry theirs off into the nearest woods to hide it, in case these others were gone when they were ready to leave.

It was as they were setting up camp for the night that Wuthraad told the group about the mysterious figure they had seen sailing north from the island as they had arrived on the last trip over, ‘a Priest of Barukthram’ he said, ‘But he did not speak or even acknowledge us’.

The Thief
Chapter 18

It was before dawn when they left The Triumphant Ogre for they wanted to pick the goblin trail back up while it was still relatively fresh. They were only a few hundred yards along the road out of town when they heard the voice.

‘You there, please stop, I have something for you.’ The voice was small and female and the the person it came from matched it’s sound. ‘Please, you’ll want to see this.’ They did indeed stop and allow Tallis to catch up. ‘What is it little girl?’ Nathron spoke first but as she got close he could see she was no young girl but a young adult elf, just like Alauda. her size and small voice were given away by her pointy ears and Sylvan features. ‘What do you have to show us?’ ‘Ple-pl-please just hear me out when I show you this ok’ Tallis was more nervous now than at any point when she was robbing the party, her hand shaking as she pulled the ruby from her purse. ‘Th-this is yours. I broke into one of your rooms last night and stole it’ Hawk began to reach for his sword but Wuthraad stopped him, laying a calming hand on his friends wrist. ‘Let her speak’ he said.

‘I want to join your group. I stole this to prove to you my worth as a thief, and I bring it to you here to return it, whether you choose to have me or not, proving my honesty.’ Tallis spoke with more confidence now, she was proud of the job she had pulled off last night, stealing from these experienced adventurers without any of them catching on. ‘Please let me join you I will do your bidding as best I can. I’m pretty handy with a throwing knife if I need to be too.’ She said this as she noticed even the unarmoured group members were carrying weapons of some sort. Hanibal held Alauda’s borrowed staff while Alauda herself cleary had a sling and a bag of ammunition hanging from her belt. ‘I can slice bread at 30 yards with a well weighted blade.’

The group looked round at each other, Hawk and Nathron asked things like ‘Why shouldn’t we just kill you now?’ But Alauda and Wuthraad seemed to have their minds made up. ‘If she really wanted to rob us we would not be here now, and she would have cleaned me out too.’ He counted up what was in his purse and every coin was accounted for, the ruby was in fact all she had lifted. ‘We could use a thief since Zegram left guys’ Alauda pleaded to the group, ‘I don’t fancy sneaking around a Goblin lair with no-one who knows how to find traps.’

I was that statement that brought the group to agreement. A thief was exactly what was missing from the group dynamic, someone to sneak, someone to unlock and someone to detect. Tallis’ small size and proven skill made her ideal for the job. ’We’ll need to get you suited up with some armour I suppose’ Nathron smiled to her. ’I’ll introduce you to my friend Torm in Meshina, he’ll sort you out’ ‘But I don’t need armour,’ she protested ’I’m a thief’ ‘Oh you need armour dear,’ replied Nathron with a grin ’You’re our thief.’

The goblin tracks lead them to the coast just north of Dougwell. They found the remains of a campsite, ashes in the fire still warm, grass still yellow where the tents had been. 30 yards so so from the campfire was an upturned rowboat in a state or disrepair, tools lying around it suggesting it had been abandoned mid repair. To the north a couple of hundred yeard they could see a small cave entrance. There were clear tracks going both ways from the campsite to the cave, as well as to the rocky beach 50 yards or so to the West. Upon closer inspection of the beach they found ropes cut at one end still tied to trees up on the shore. ‘I think this is where they’ve come to the island, and possibly left from too.’ Hawk thought out loud ‘But that cave’s looking mighty suspect too, we need to check that out first’

It wasn’t goblins that attacked them on sight as they approached the cave though, it was a bear. Smaller than the one they had fought with the goblins and already injured it wasn’t half as tough as it was angry. It pained Hawk to kill another of nature’s genrally peacuful creatures but when he saw the shackles that had dug deep cuts into the bears paws he realised they had in fact done this poor beast a favour. Inside the cave was a rusty cage, not much bigger than the bear itself, made of the same iron as the shackles that had left his so scarred. ‘Looks like this was another Goblin pet?’ Alauda was sad too as she asked Hawk what he thought. ‘I think so dear, but no longer, he is free now.’ With this comforting thought he placed a friendly arm on her shoulder. She felt better.

The cave had not been big enough to have been home to the goblins they had fought, and the boat was now their strongest lead. ‘But all that’s out that way is Torsea said Wuthraad, ‘And all that’s there is the stupid church’ Alauda gave Wuthraad an apologetic look almost immediately as the words came from her mouth, worried she had offfended her friend. He just smiled back at her. ‘So we start with the church then.’ said Nathron, ‘and take it from there. Now does anyone know how to fix a boat?’

The Company Of Goblin Hunters
Chapter 17

It was a beautiful late summer morning in Meshina, Norm Thistleton had sent breakfast and piping hot bath water to the rooms where The Company Of The Burning Staff had spent the night after their run in with the goblin bandits on the high road. Norm himself did not visit but no offence was taken for they all knew he was a busy man. Wood was the biggest resource industry on The Silver Isles after iron, and Norm’s business was clearly a major one.

They ate breakfast, cleaned up and left early, wanting to hit the road and try to see if the fleeing goblins the night before had left any trace of a trail. Hawk knew not much of goblins but was keen to talk to his companions about the methods of tracking humans and humanoids in non-urban areas like the woods he knew, and how they could tell the difference between the footprints of a 2 legged goblin and a 4 legged creature with similar shaped feet from the different angles of the print showing the difference in weight distribution. And how he can tell how fast a creature is moving in the same way.

When they did in find goblin tracks they were heading West, towards Dougwell and the coast. 3 individual tracks were there, one for each goblin that had escaped. The Company decided heading back to Elmsmere for the 400 gold payment due them by Garndan Toreif when they returned to him today was more important than chasing these goblins right now, they could wait.

Garndan was shocked to learn his caravans had in fact been attacked by goblins, he had not believed Jimm and thought him crazy, he would have some apologizing to Jimm to do. He spoke at length with the party about the problem and how it would have to be dealt with. ‘I will pay you 500 gold to find the source of these bastards, their lair. Report its location to me and you will have another 500, on top of the 400 I already paid you.’ Garndan looked around this rag-tag group of sell-swords pausing long enough to lock eyes with each of them. ‘And 10 gold for EVERY goblin you can kill. Bring the ears to me, just the left ones and I’ll pay for each, but most important is finding that lair, you find that and we can kill the problem at it’s source.’ Nathron spoke for the group, ‘Sir your offer is most generous but there is much to consider, what if there’s a whole goblin tribe out there?’ Alauda looked nervously at Hanibal who looked away and then pretended to study his spell book. ‘Could be a million of them.’ chipped in Hawk. ‘You don’t need to kill them, just find them, the 10 gold bounty is a bonus, I’ll be extending that to all the good people of the island. Once you find their camp I will have the Elmsmere and Meshina town guards mobilized to the threat, that is what we pay our taxes for of course.’ There was not a hint of sarcasm to his tone, nor any sign that he was anything less than 100% serious. ‘Just find them for me, I’ll take care of the rest’

After some discussion with Garndan and among themselves it was agreed they would take it up. They would spend the next few days preparing, stocking up on anything they thought they would need for a goblin hunting expedition, and planning.

They retired for the evening to The Triumphant Ogre.

Tallis had been watching The Company as they came and went the past few days and knew they were her ticket out of here. She wasn’t safe here, Neph was putting more and more pressure on her to become a prostitute, the last landlord had died recently and his successor Neph didn’t have room for a girl living in his inn that wasn’t ‘working’. She had been planning this for months, just waiting for the right group to come along. She had dreamed of running away for years but the last few landlords had just given her such an easy life here it always seemed rude and ungrateful to. 4 landlords had come and gone in her time here, 2 had died of old age. She didn’t want that life to go on and she knew as an elf living among humans it would. She had grown bitter from watching her adopted parents grow old and die while she were only a child, and again the next pair while she was still adolescent. She was a young adult now, or as close to one as she needed to be, her time had come to leave.

She had watched the party every chance she got and one thing she noticed was whenever they ate or drank in The Ogre, Wuthraad had paid. Paying in gold pieces from a large, bulging coin purse. It was Wuthraad’s room she found herself breaking into in the dead of night. Living here for over a hundred years she knew everything about the place right down to which floorboards were creaky and which were her friends right now. Picking the lock was second nature, she had spent years sneaking into these rooms and robbing drunk men as they slept off the cheap sex and even cheaper ale The Ogre was famed for. Her time studying the group had also taught her Wuthraad was not the big drinker of the group, and his slumber was likely to be significantly lighter than some of his friends.

He did not wake though as she left his room, her ticket out of there in hand.

The Company Of Sell-Swords
Chapter 16

Hawk and Nathron were nursing pretty heavy hangovers on the walk to Elmsmere in the morning, and weren’t best impressed when the other party members invited Garrick to travel with them. Garrick was travelling to Elmsmere anyway, and went along for the company, adding more verses to and reciting The Ballad as he learned more of the groups adventures.

They arrived in Elmsmere in the early evening, settling down at a table in The Triumphant Ogre, the inn in which it had been arranged they would meet Garndan Toreif. The landlord Neph Lementen introduced himself and his wife Anne Lementen, saying Garndan would come out to meet them in the morning, and to make themselves at home in the rooms that had been readied upstairs. As he said good evening, Hawk asked if he could have a private word.

‘The girls, are they for hire?’ Hawk asked the man with a knowing look. ‘Why yes they are young man, which one do you fancy?’ Hawk looked around the room at the 4 girls who were quite cleary by the way they flirted with the patrons, prostitutes. ‘The bald one and the redhead please’ he smiled, Neph smiled back and took gold from him. ’They’ll be waiting in your room lad, enjoy’ And with that Hawk retired to his room for the evening.

The rooms in The Triumphant Ogre were good for the price, and The Company got a good nights sleep. In the morning they were met by Garndan Toreif just as they had finished breakfast. He sat down at the table with them and introduced himself. ‘First let me say, any friends of Norm are friends of mine, well met.’ Garndan was a pleasant man, in nature more than appearance. His beard and hair were unkempt and his clothes were dirty. He was obviously a very hands-on mine owner. ‘Basically what’s happened is my last 2 caravans headed for Meshina have been attacked by bandits and I need you to make sure it doesn’t happen again.’ The party listened on intently as he continued. ‘Jimm hasn’t been right since he was attacked, keeps babbling on about goblins and such, everyone knows there’s no goblins around here and hasn’t been since the Great Orc War, he’s gone mad I think.’ The group were all keen so far, but a couple of them felt there was more to the goblin thing than Garndan was letting on, they had fought and killed hobgoblins recently after all. ‘How much you paying?’ Nathron spoke up. ‘50 gold to get my caravan to Meshina and back regardless, and if you do get attacked by bandits more for your troubles, and any loot you get from dead bandits will be yours of course.’ Nathron looked round his comrades, who all in turn nodded their approval, and said ‘You have yourself a deal sir’

It was arranged that they would pick up the caravan at Garndans mine, a short way down the road from the town and take it to Elmsmere and on to Meshina from there. A plan was formulated that they would actually take 2 caravans, one loaded with goods and one hiding party members ready to surprise anyone who attacks. Garndan would send Hector, a teamster in his employ with them to handle the horses. It was mid-afternoon by the time they picked up the caravans, took them to Elmsmere, unloaded and reloaded goods ready for taking to Meshina.

They were a few hours short of Meshina when the attack hit them. Several goblins rushed out from the thick woods at the roadside and rushed upon the caravans. Hector immediately hid under one of the caravans, as was pre-planned and as the goblins surrounded the front caravan Alauda and Wuthraad jumped out from their hiding place in the decoy caravan and sprung the anti-ambush.

The goblins were surprised to say the least, and as they tried to regroup for a better attack the first two were already dead, Nathron and Hawk claiming one each. The goblin that appeared to be in command backed away from the caravans and called out behind him. As the rest of the group remaining 3 goblins Alauda saw something approach from the trees. A huge brown bear headed their way and looked angry, as it came she eventually saw 2 goblins leading it on chains. The goblins that originally attacked were no match for the group and all but the leader and the 2 leading the bear were dead already. As Wuthraad bagan casting a spell Nathron charged over the downed goblins to rush at the leader, who in turn moved behind the bear for cover. This put Nathron face to face with an angry brown bear, not exactly where he wanted to be but he had company, Hawk moved into place beside him to stand toe to toe with the bear. Nathron and Hawk both were hit by the bears powerful clawed paws, but not enough to stop them. It was Wuthraad who killed the bear though, smashing it right between the eyes with the end of his quarterstaff as he rushed in between his 2 companions. It was then when the bear dropped that the remaining 3 goblins including their leader turned and ran, Hanibal tried to catch one with a burning hands spell but missed, and the party allowed them to escape.

‘Well I’ll be, it WAS goblins!’ Hector exclaimed as he emerged from his hiding place, looking around he saw goblin bodies being looted for gold, and healing spells being cast.

It was near midnight when they reached Meshina. When they arrived in town they were escorted to Norm’s mills, where the caravans were unloaded and reloaded for the return journey home in the morning and they were given beds in a dorm on Norm’s property.

And Then There Were 5
Chapter 15

Norm Thistleton was excited to see The Company as they returned to his office that afternoon, in fact he had a feast laid out for them. They ate well and drank while detailing the last leg of the quest to their employer. It was decided that their work was done, and Norm was happy with the job they had done. He told them he would take it on himself to deal with the uninvited guest below his place of business, in fact he told them of his plan in great detail. As they ate and drank he told them how he planned to block off the 3rd level and use the first two levels. What he would use them for he did not say, and they did not ask, but he certainly seemed very happy to have expanded his property.

Norm offered more work, he gave full time jobs to Thraal and Zegram, who gladly accepted. They had come close to death too many times in the last few days and were not keen for the dungeon crawler life, Norm offered them well paid jobs as guards and they were glad of the chance. For the rest of the group Norm had another job, another swords for hire type affair.

‘My friend in Elmsmere needs a caravan protected, he’s been having trouble with bandits and I thought you could maybe help?’

‘Tell us more about your friend Norm, does he pay as well as yourself?’ Alauda’s new found confidence in her spell casting abilities had manifested itself in a much more confident person, her rapport with Norm was natural, and he welcomed her friendship.

Garndan Toreif is an old friend of mine, a good friend, and yes he will be paying well. He owns the iron mine down in Elmsmere and sends a lot of goods up here to Meshina for the smithies. He needs a few swords-for-hire to scare away bandits that have been robbing his caravans, I thought it would be easy money to you guys?’

‘Certainly sounds like it boss, count us in.’ Hawk looked round his companions and received nods of approval from them all as he smiled and shook Norm’s hand. ‘Now before you head off to Elmsmere, get yourselves along to see Markus at the chuch of Kord in town, he will heal you all up, on my tab’

Markus was a tall, muscular, handsome man of a very friendly nature. His robes were sparkling clean and white but the true nature of the man wearing them was revealed by the chain mail armour that could be seen underneath and the ornate warhammer hanging at his waist. Alauda was sure he was the prettiest man she had ever seen in her life, and stuttered and stammered when she spoke to him to thank him for his healing on her friends.

Torm Truehammer was just about to shut up shop when Nathron went to see him, but he was happy to stay open for a while longer. Nathron spent some time with Torm talking shop, Torm showed off his best pieces and Nathron was very impressed, the swords were more beautiful, and perfectly weighted than any he had ever seen. Nathron pulled from his backpack one of the hardened giant fish scales and showed it to Torm. ‘What you think of this? Can you do anything with it? I was thinking they might make a good shield?’ Torm smiled and replied ‘Well my boy you certainly have the eye for it, cos that’s exactly what I think of this, you got any more?’ Nathron pulled another 3 from his pack and handed them to Torm. ‘Aye son, I’ll make you a nice shield with these! Come see me in 5 days and I’ll have ‘er ready for you’ With this Nathron handed 100 gold to Torm, who handed Nathron a large flask of Dwarven Mead.

That evening the party led by Hawk walked the short journey to Meshina Lake to see if they could see any trace of the mystery man that escaped them earlier. They did find tracks though, clearly human and heading south-west from the lake.

Hawk and Nathron drank the mead as they walked back to town, and by the time they made it to The Meshina Arms they were already drunk. It was while they slept that the other party members met a young bard named Garrick, Garrick offered for 10 gold pieces to write them a ballad, an offer they jumped on right away. 10 gold and an hour later, Garrick was performing ‘The Ballad Of The Burning Staff’ to the patrons of The Arms. Many drinks were consumed that evening, and Garrick played the ballad many times much to the amusement of The Company.

An Uninvited Guest
Chapter 14

The Company Of The Burning Staff spent the night resting up and to their surprise were not bothered the whole time. Once Wuthraad had used some of his healing magic on some of his more beat up comrades it was time to get on with the mission.

It was not long before they ran into action, in fact it was the next cavern section where they triggered a seemingly man-made trap. 4 crossbow bolts fired at them as they entered the area, luckily none of them found a target. Upon investigation it appeared they were stadard crossbows converted to be mounted on a wall and triggered by a tripwire. Zegram got a bit of a hard time for not spotting the wire.

Embarrassed and ashamed Zegram went into full-on trap finder mode, searching every nook and cranny before letting his team-mates pass. It was not a trap he found though, but a secret door. He had felt a breeze through the cavern through which they were currently travelling, and could not find it’s source, this is what sparked the idea that he was looking for something he may not physically see. He was instantly redeemed as the party thief when he put his hand right through what appeared to be solid cavern wall, an illusion.

As always Nathron and Thraal were first to advance, with the rest closely following. They entered a large. almost round area with 2 large pools of water and a raised platform, with a path up to it. It was on that platform they spotted him, a human looking figure in a dark cloak, commanding more Sahaguin, the same Sahaguin priestess that had escaped them earlier, 2 Sahaguin soldiers and 2 more giant crabs. As Hawk, Nathron and Thraal charged the Sahaguin, Hanibal made his first use of the Sleep spell he had learned from Alauda to great effect, the 2 Sahaguin soldiers were dropped to a deep slumber where they had stood. Alauda blasted both her Magic Missiles for the day straight at the Sahaguin priestess, hitting her for substantial damage while Zegram was making his way round the back of the platform, he had attempted to sneak up un-noticed but the attempt was unsuccessful, he was indeed spotted. The Sahaguin Priestess was made short work of by the time Thrall, Hawk and Zegram got to her, she was outnumbered and already badly injured, a couple of decent blows from swords were enough to end her life. Zegram was within 10 feet of the mysterious figure and was preparing to backstab him when suddenly he disappeared, just vanished into thin air. The two giant crabs weren’t much of an adversary for the party and within a few more seconds lay lifeless next to their Sahaguin masters, whose throats Alauda had taken great pleasure in cutting.

What the… who the….Zegram said aloud to his friends from his elevated position ‘He just vanished!

‘Well he has to have gone somewhere, let’s find him before he gets out of here and we never catch him!’ Hawk said this to the group as his sense of purpose was heightened by his current rush of adrenaline. ’Let’s keep moving!’

The next area they explored was very disturbing. A long oval shaped cavern filled on both sides with corpses. Corpses of giant creatures like the ones they had fought to get here, centipedes, ants, scorpions and other insects, many of them mutated beyond recognition. In fact the more they saw the more they realised these were the failures, and it was the successes they had killed. These creatures, were the work of some mad mage, and the man that had just escaped them must be said mage, or so they had decided anyway. They did not linger long in that area for the smell of death and decay was enough to unsettle even Thrall’s iron stomach.

As they explored further, Hawk had been making a mental map, and said to the group at one point, that they had reached the only unexplored area, and that ‘he’ must be in here. The room in front of them was only 50 feet long and they could see the back wall, a dead end. The room itself was only dry for 10 or 15 feet before it became another pool of water, one that filled the room right to the back. As they moved closer to the water some of them spotted a glowing ring hovering just above the water, Hawk started to wade into the water for a closer look when something moved. He hesitated for a second, but when something moved again he made no mistake, he turned, ran and dived out of the way as a giant mouth almost swallowed him whole. ‘FALL BACK!’ he shouted, and it soon became apparent why, the giant mouth was attached to a giant crocodile, it’s head alone bigger than any of them. All 7 of them ran, and kept running for a while. It was when they realised they were not being pursued that they stopped. As they slowly back-tracked through the caverns they realised what had happened, it was stuck. The monster was too large to squeeze through the passage to get out of the area with the pool, it was essentially stuck in that small space. Well the party showed no mercy, Wuthraad cast a Light spell right in the beast’s eyes blinding it, while Hawk and Thrall peppered it with arrows. It took about 14 arrows but it went down in the end, slumping to the stone floor with arrows sticking out at all angles making it resemble a giant pin cusion.

‘So we’ve explored this whole cave, there’s no other exits, but we haven’t caught our man. What’s going on here?’ Hawk spoke to himself more than the group as he said this, and again started to wade into the room towards the strangle circle of light. As he reached the light his companions could only look on in shock as he also completely vanished from sight.

He returned 5 minutes later, materialising at the exact same spot where he had left. ‘I was in a lake, Meshina Lake I think. It’s a teleport spell, or something, I’m no expert.’ He spent the next half hour explaining to his friends his theory, which was the man had escaped through here, only avoiding the giant crocodile by being invisible. He theorized that whoever it was must have used that teleporter to get here in the first place.

After agreeing the mysterious figure had indeed escaped, they returned to the where they had the fight. The man had left behind a chest containing some gold and silver, a nice new mage robe which Hanibal claimed and a few useful scrolls. Thrall and Nathron grabbed the Sahaguin spears and daggers too.

And so with nowhere left to explore, and the mystery man escaped, the only thing left to do was to return to Norm.

Into The Deep
Chapter 13

The next two days were spent in Meshina resting, stocking up equipment and formulating a plan for the forthcoming excursion into the unknown depths. Hanibal was caught up on the mission so far, and instructed what his role in the party would be. Although Hanibal’s memory was returning he had no recollection whatsoever of what had become of his spellbook. This became a problem when The Company discovered the only spellbook in Annie’s Adventure Essentials had a price tag of 1250 gold, almost exactly the amount they had between them.

‘If we buy him a spellbook he better be worth it!’ and ‘How can we spend everything we’ve earned on this guy we just met?’ were among the objections raised but it was soon decided the extra fire-power another spell caster would add to the group would soon pay for itself.

The spellbook for Hanibal had left The Company Of The Burning Staff almost penniless, and the urgency to carry on the quest was greater than ever. the latter part of the second day’s rest was spent by Hanibal copying what spells he could from Alauda’s spellbook. He managed to make copies of Read Magic and Detect Magic, giving him the two most fundamental and important spells an adventuring mage will need, and in the way of offense he managed to copy Magic Missile, Sleep and Burning Hands, giving him versatility in attack.

Hanibal was introduced to Norm Thistleton just as Alauda had been, and Norm welcomed him to his employ with open arms. ’I’m sure these guys will have explained to you, they’ve been paid to do some pest controlling, ran into a few beasts you might describe as a little more than pests, and are in the middle of finishing the job. Everything you find down there you keep so make sure you get your fair share of anything.’

2 of Norm’s men accompanied the group through the first two levels of cavern to the pool they had seen the sahaguin disappear into. ‘Good luck boys, see you when you get back yeah’.

The party downed one half each of the Water Breathing potions given to them by Marikii and began to dive in the water in their normal single-file marching order, Nathron first followed by Thraal.

Nathron only knew he had broke the water’s surface when he felt his lungs take in air, for he was surrounded by pitch blackness. He was not alone though and knew this immediately, something was moving towards him, more than one something he thought. He heard a loud snapping noise inches from his face and swung his sword blindly as he scrambled to his feet, feeling something resist and recoil with the blow he landed. GIANT FROGS!’ was the warcry, Thraal had surfaced and with his infravision could see exactly what they faced. BEHIND YOU he managed to help Nathron avoid a giant tongue in the neck with a well timed shout. Hawk was next up but luck was against him, when he tried to strike a frog he fumbled his sword and it flew from his hand and into the darkness. When Alauda struck a giant frog with a Magic Missile spell the room lit up for a second, Hawk saw Thraal bury his longsword deep between the soulders of one frog and Zegram using his infravision to face up to another of the beasts. As Wuthraad‘s Light spell went off Hawk found his sword but was not fast enough picking it up, and took a painful cut from one of the frog’s claws. Thrall too had been downed and Zegram was cornered by the remaining two. Nathron who had been swinging blindly and mostly missing now found his target with several blows, making short work of one frog and moved over to help Zegram with the remaining two, between the two of them and a solid crack in the eyes from Wuthraad’s staff, the monsters were beat.

It was a hard battle, and it took all of Wuthraad‘s healing magic to stabilise Thrall. The Company found themselves in a room with a ledge 15 feet up, and decided it might be the safest place to rest for now. As they rested and prepared for Wuthraad’s light spell to end, Hanibal made use of his Burning Hands spell to light a small fire, enough to dry out their torches and other equipment. The torches were to take some time to dry out to a usable state, so the party set up camp where they sat, intent on resting a full night, to recover spells while they could.


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