High above the now doubly-ruined town of Cliffside our victorious party surveyed the dreadful scene beneath us. Vast clouds of pale dust still drifted above the massive pile of rock created by the avalanche. It was truly tragic that so fine a gem of civilization should come to so ruinous an end. Ah the taverns, restaurants, and wineries which would never again serve a discerning customer. Kull enjoyed my last bottle of wine and then we started back down. The descent was nerve-wracking but without injury.
We surveyed the town from the end of the dock and considered our best approach. The parts of the town which were not under the fall of rock were already burnt-out shells. And the dust still drifted about the area. Then I spotted movement farther down the dock. There were several entities, pale and unearthly in the dusty clouds. They moved about aimlessly. Involuntarily I took a step back. These must be ghosts now released by the final horrible, destruction of Cliffside. My skills with arcane weirding were not to be sniffed at but illusionology did not work well on the unliving. The others spotted them as well--and Kull and Brute were immediately ready to charge.
Before I could caution them about the folly of such a gesture the ghosts became aware of our presence and charged at us. I heard the pounding of feet as they did so and suddenly realized that it was all a trick. They were merely ordinary goblins covered head to toe in pale rock dust. Somewhat abashed I nevertheless filed the idea away for future use on stage or in a nefarious ruse.
Battle was quickly joined and the carnage began. Almost immediately one of the little fiends thrust a sharp stick-spear into the unfortunate Uhmri--and it stuck. He staggered, the weapon still protruding from his abdomen. Then Katherine assumed a pose and made gestures and incantations. She looked determined, yet slightly apprehensive. Suddenly a beam of brilliant fiery scarlet shot from her hands and blasted Uhmri's assailant into chunks of flesh. The former druid was covered in gore but unhurt. As I prepared my own spell I glanced over at her and saw on her face, for a moment, a flash of what seemed like satisfaction or perhaps even enjoyment. I wondered if this new found power was going to her head.
Then Uhmri drew out the spear from his wound and deftly threw it into the chest of another goblin. There were only a few of them here at the dock but I espied more arriving. I was sure little creatures like these must fear large carnivores so I conjured up the images of a pair of vicious war-hounds clad in spiked leather harness. They really were quite ferocious, if I say so myself, and I added a bit of foam around the jaws before setting them to snarling and howling. Several of the arriving goblins promptly turned around and fled. I allowed myself a well-earned moment of smug satisfaction. Some of my best work, really.
Just in front of me Brute clove one of his foolish attackers in twain from skull to hips with a mighty blow from Executioner and the two halves fell separately, steaming offal spilling out onto the wooden decking. Then he gave vent to the nether side of his parentage with a mighty roar. Several goblins tossed their weapons aside and fled in terror. But as they routed they passed something else coming our way, something very big. It was an avatar of chaos with a mob of emboldened goblins around it.
The stag headed thing was seven or eight feet high, sickly scrawny, with one remaining antler jutting out insolently like some rude challenge. One of its eyes was engorged with hideous intent, the other shriveled to a nasty remnant. Repulsive pus trickled down the assortment of pieces of armor strapped to its body, attracting a dense swarm of flies. It carried a long, heavy pike or lance with which to kill us. Suspecting it might be an unliving creature raised from some shadowed place I drew my enchanted short sword. It did not glow as it should with unliving near so I put it away. As I did so I was horrified to see that behind it, obscured by the cloud of flies, was an even larger creature approaching.
With the monster right in front and a crowd of goblins clustered close about it I naturally selected my old favorite, Color Spray, to perform for my unsuspecting audience. A few well-practised movements and a brilliant rainbow display blasted across them, with clouds of purple fireflies and lovely orangey-red sparks going every which way. Master illusionology is where magic meets art, you see. The effects were most gratifying, with the goblins falling over like bowling pins. The avatar of darkest chaos reeled, his one huge eye wandering in its socket. I folded my arms with the satisfaction of a job well done and let my companions take it from there. This was turning out to be one of my finest performances ever.
But there was no time to bathe, necessary thought it might be, because the thing I had glimpsed through the cloud of flies earlier was advancing on us in turn. It, too, was accompanied by several goblins. This one was more in the form of a bear, with mangy fur matted with pus, paws gripping a huge battleaxe, and a mouth filled with fangs which drooled even more pus. Our companion from The Grove now chose to enter the fray. Druids rarely involve themselves in civilized affairs but he seemed genuinely insulted by the unnatural acts done to his beloved stag and bear. With some jerky-animalistic movements and odd grunts, which appeared to be rather unnatural acts as well, he caused a thicket of tough vines to erupt from the earth and entangle our enemies. Crude but effective, I thought. Despite his desperate need for a bath and the attentions of a barber this rustic miracle-worker was no slouch in plying his craft.
I was pleased to see that the little goblins were hopelessly entangled. I was most dismayed, however, to see that the ursine avatar was entirely unfazed. The weirded vines could not contain his fiendish bulk. The druid then stepped out and faced it in a strange crouching pose. Contorting his face in a most disagreeable manner he grunted and snorted at it, apparently speaking to it as a bear. Unfortunately, the thing was more fiend than bear and he only succeeded in enraging it. Battle was joined.
Sizing it up I noticed that it was already injured, probably from being near the avalanche we'd caused. In its weakened state we just might have a chance. This time it was our fair Katherine who was first to strike, launching another lance of arcane flame into its chest. Her face glowed a fiery red in the light of her castings. Sweet as she might appear on the outside my K seemed to have discovered an inner warrior. I wondered what effect this aggressive streak might have on the passionate encounters I hoped to have with her in the future.
As I pondered, a roar from the bear brought me back into focus and I beheld its fearsome fangs. Action was of the essence and, K's fiery display still in mind, I brought forth a mighty dragon to bathe it in flame. Alas, my romantic distraction proved disastrous. Only as I completed the casting did I spot the crude amulet nestled in the thick fur around its neck. My dragon appeared, but it was facing the wrong way! Whoever had conjured up these things had provided them with more than ordinary weapons. Rearing back it spewed its appointed blast of fire--on us. Brute and Katherine took the worst of it. But the diabolic bear still threatened and we were all back to work.
Well, almost all of us. Uhmri took shameless advantage of his "injuries" once again to approach my K for some personal healing. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see her bring out a scroll and read its divine text. A soft cloud of golden motes flowed from the scroll to his wounds and healed him. This was a welcome development. Perhaps Katherine had finally gotten wise to his sly game.
The bear-thing fought hard but suddenly Brute lunged in with Executioner and beheaded it! As before he followed his triumph with a roar only an odd-fellow could produce. The goblins fled. I took advantage of the moment to offer my apologies for the dragon spell gone wrong, explaining about the fetish amulet. We were just assessing our wounds--well, the others were all assessing their wounds--when a deep grunt and rattle of dislodged stones brought our attention back to the front.
Yet another massive avatar advanced out of the rubble of Cliffside. This one was goat-like, carrying a truly massive club. Its advance put it near the druid, who attempted a druidical incantation (which included some rather rude belching noises). Before he could complete his gesture the thing turned and bashed him with the huge club. The impact actually batted the poor chap backwards through the air to land behind a pile of rubble. The druid's wolf, as loyal as it was annoying, immediately dashed to the attack but was crushed by another massive blow.
My attention was drawn to Kull. He was staring at the crushed lupine with a peculiar intensity. The gentle soul was quite taken with the druid's furry companions and was surely sadder I at this turn of events. Then his face contorted into a mask of sheer brutality. With a cry of rage he charged the goat-creature. Uhmri and Brute joined his attack, Uhmri making an amazing flying kick to the thing's head and Brute cutting deep with his axe. Its massive club swung here and there but Uhmri managed another strike to the head and it staggered back, stunned. I paused to consider what an amazing fellow this Uhmri had become, going from ordinary peasant fisherman to dueler of fiends in barely a week. If only he'd do something about that tacky wolf-skin cloak he might have a chance at true greatness. Then Kull unleashed his rage and fury upon the lupicidal avatar, killing it with two massive blows. He stood, breathing heavily and quivering, but slowly regained his composure. Brute chopped off the thing's head and tossed in over into the town as a warning. Soon afterwards we heard the remnants of the goblin host departing. At least that threat was averted for a while.
We located the druid near a ruined house. Both his legs were at sickeningly unnatural angles and he was in a bad way. K brought the power of the Light to him and he was able to stand and limp slowly. His wolf was beyond hope. I wondered if Uhmri would want to add this pelt to his collection, but he showed no interest. Kull scavenged a bed from the ruins for the sylvan holy man and we carried him and his wolf back to the boat. On the way back K provided more curative power to the druid but for some reason his annoying weasel companion took to hissing at her. Rather odd, I thought. But we returned him to The Grove across the lake and said our goodbyes. Even on a second visit it was clear that this bit of forest is indeed a magical place. But alas, they have nothing there to drink but magical spring water so I shan't likely go back without good reason.
From there we sailed back across the lake again and retrieved our horses and wagon. Faylan once again left us to resume her solitary, unwashed life in the middle of nowhere. She's a decent enough sort but I won't be having her over to the house unless she promises to bathe upon arrival. The return journey took us southwards down the now familiar track towards the crossroads.
On our first night K and I had the first watch, as was becoming the usual way of it. She looked as lovely as ever, caressed simultaneously by the firelight and moonlight. I decided to take a quick visit to the woods to see to my body's urinatory needs before settling in for the watch. Going into the dark woods was unsettling. Most of the nights we had camped out here something or someone had come crashing out of the undergrowth. And what if Faylan was still watching over us? The thought of displaying my gentleman's bits for whatever or whomever might happen to be hanging about the clearing was not an appealing one, Faylan or not.
And what if it was orcs? They were reputed to have peculiar "cravings" which led them to kidnap civilized folk. If I were to be carried off they would assume from my dignified attire, quite rightly, that I was a person of quality. One of their princesses would take a fancy to me, most likely.
|Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (lagueuse.deviantart.com)|
|The blushing bride and proud father (bloodworxsander.deviantart.com)|
I was not prepared for the sight which awaited me. By the gods, that Uhmri fellow had finally snapped. He was manhandling my Katherine on the ground right there by the campfire. Brute was just walking up with his sword drawn. The odd-fellow was always protective of K and apparently he was about to give Uhmri his just desserts. But suddenly she yelled at him "I hate Veronica" with great venom and anger. Then I remembered that Brute and the Big V had "had a moment" together just before we left Adan. Was Katherine secretly jealous? Was it Katherine who had finally snapped? Was Uhmri restraining her to avoid further offending Brute over his new love? Brute looked fully ready to kill her right then and there. I rushed over to the trio. Brute was basically a sensible chap but love often leads to regrettable foolishness. I planned to declare to K that I loved her and that Brute loved his V and there was no reason for any of us to be unhappy. (Brute and I would still have to give that Uhmri fellow a good thrashing for touching K, but first things first.). In a few minutes we would all be laughing about how silly the whole affair had been.
I was about to kneel before Katherine when suddenly she tapped me on the shoulder from behind. I turned, completely taken aback. My mind reeled. How could she be there as well as in the paws of that Uhmri fellow? I looked back and there in the fisherman's grasp was a hideous man-shaped creature, nothing like Katherine at all. They explained that it was some sort of shapechanging thing. It had taken my form to approach Katherine on watch, then switched into her form when discovered so as to sow confusion. They had just figured out which Katherine was the real one and were prepared to dispatch the imposter. I was relieved beyond words. Now I could reserve my declaration to K for a more appropriately romantic moment.
Later that evening Kull was checking in the woods while on his watch and found a large sack filled with human teeth. Apparently the creature collected them.