Rise of the Thrall Lord
Knights of the Couch - Part II - Orc Season - Part 3
“The cave’s empty,” Seth reported. While the rest of the group had been recovering from the troll battle, the little ninja had stealthily entered the cave and investigated the inside. “Unless you count the carcasses of various woodland creatures and a few things I don’t even want to guess at what they were. Oh, and one more thing. There is some kind of well at the very back of the cave. There is no rope or anything, and it was impossible to see the bottom.”
“Well, maybe we should move into the cave for now,” Aksel said. “It’s probably better than staying out here in the open all night.”
“Are you sure you want to go in there?” Brundon asked nervously. “If that troll had any friends, they might come back.”
“I’m sure it’s perfectly safe for now,” Glorfindle responded. “But I can have Raven stay out here and keep watch.”
“Maybe you should do same Brundon,” Aksel added. “If the cave makes you that nervous, you can stay out here and scout around the area.”
“It’s not that I’m nervous,” Brundon replied. “I’m just far more comfortable in the wild.” Then he took off to scout around the nearby area.
The rest of the party moved into the cave. They piled the carcasses of the dead animals and whatever else into the back of the cave and buried them with a layer of dirt. Then the settled in to rest for the evening. Seth took the first watch.
The night went by quietly. But the little ninja found that his eyes kept on straying back to the well. Eventually he got up and walked over to it. He looked down the well again straining to see the bottom. He was about to give up when he thought he heard a sound. He listened carefully. It was quiet. Then he heard it again! There were definitely noises coming from the bottom of the well.
Seth deliberated what to do. The party had only been asleep for a little while. Lloyd had been severely injured and needed time to recover. Glorfindle and Aksel also needed to rest to recharge their magical energies, or their spell casting abilities would be severely limited. The ninja decided to keep his eye on the well and tell the others in the morning.
Halfway through the night, Glendor woke and took his turn on guard duty. Seth told him about the well and cautioned the fighter to keep an eye on it. Then the halfling went to join the others and was soon fast asleep himself.
It was close to daybreak when the party was woken up. Glendor was standing at the cave entrance talking with Brundon. Then they heard a third voice that was unfamiliar to them. The fighter and the ranger came walking into the cave a minute later with another person between them.
The stranger turned out to be a young male elf, with jet black hair and dark eyes. The elf was as tall as Lloyd but not quite as massive. However, he did look quite fit. The most striking thing about him however was his outfit. It was completely white with spangles up and down the arms and legs and around the collar. A lute could be seen strapped to the newcomer’s back.
“Sorry to wake you all,” Glendor said apologetically, “but Brundon found this fellow hiding out in the woods.”
“It claims to be a member of the last caravan that was attacked by the orcs,” Brundon added, “but that he escaped into the forest.”
“What is your name friend?” Glorfindle asked the other elf.
“Elvisda,” the younger elf said with a flourish and a deep bow, “at your service. I am a bard of some renown. You may have heard of me.”
The party all looked at each other and shook their heads.
“No?” Elvisda said seeing the looks on their faces, “Well don’t worry, you will. I am going to be one of the most famous bards in all of Thac one of these days, and you will be able to say you knew me when I was just starting out.”
“Ahem,” Aksel cleared his throat, “so you were in one of the caravans that was attacked?”
“Yes, yes I was,” Elvisda replied. “It was terrible. One minute we were just traveling along through the woods peaceful as could be. I was sitting on one of the wagons, playing a tune for the other weary travelers. When suddenly, arrows starting flying out of the woods at us. The driver next to me was killed instantly. I had to grab the reins to stop the horses from running off. Then a band of orcs came running out of the woods. There were easily a dozen of them. They had those wicked curved swords and were screaming in their guttural tongue. There were one or two mercenaries with the caravan, but they were slaughtered quickly. The wagons in front of me took off down the road at a gallop. I tried to follow but one of the wheels hit something and the wagon overturned. I was sent flying into the woods. When I looked back up, the head wagons were gone and everyone in the back wagons had either fled or been killed. There were still lots of orcs scurrying and I was no match for them by myself, so I high-tailed it further into the woods. I heard them searching through the underbrush behind me, but I kept moving and I think they finally gave up. I guess they were more concerned with the contents of the wagons than a lone bard.”
“That was a few days ago that the last caravan was attacked. You must have some wood sense to have survived out there this long with orcs and who knows what else wandering these woods,” Glorfindle commented.
“Ah, yes, in fact I do,” Elvisda replied. “I am an elf after all, like yourself. I know a little bit about the woods. Once I had left any pursuit behind, I started to put as much distance between myself and those bandits. I moved northwards staying with the tree line. I figured if I ventured out in the open country I would be too easy to spot.”
“Especially in those clothes,” Seth remarked.
“Yes, well that is what this is for,” Elvisda said pulling a woodland green cloak out of his bag. “No self respecting elf would be caught without one. Anyway, I continued moving north till I came to the mountains. I wandered around the last day or so trying to find a trail that headed east, but had no luck. Then, yesterday, I saw a band of orcs traveling out of a cave entrance a mile or so west of here. They may have been part of the same band that attacked the caravan a few days ago. Hard to tell though, all those orcs look alike. So I decided it was not a good idea to stay in the forest any longer. I waited until nightfall and then started to follow the mountain side east. That’s when I ran into this young man here,” the bard said pointing to Brundon. “And he brought me to see you folks. So if I may ask, who are all of you and what are you doing out here?”
Aksel glanced at Glorfindle and the elf gave a smile and a nod. Then he looked at Seth who just shrugged his shoulders. He looked over to Lloyd, but the big warblade had already gotten up and strode over to the bard.
“I’m Lloyd,” the big warblade said reaching out with his hand extended.
“Pleased to meet you Lloyd,” Elvisda replied extended out his own hand and shaking with the big man. When Lloyd finally let go, the elf bard grabbed his hand and rubbed it gingerly. “That’s quite some grip you’ve got there big guy. Are you some kind of fighter?”
“A warblade,” Lloyd replied. “Like my father.”
“I’m Aksel,” Aksel said, “And this is Glorfindle, Seth, Glendor and you’ve already met Brundon. We’ve been sent out here by the Baron of Restonford to look into these caravan attacks and stop the bandits that are behind them.”
“Then you can count on me,” Elvisda replied. “I have a score to settle with these bandits. I’ll help you in any way I can. Aside from being an entertainer,” the bard said while un-slinging his lute, “I know a few spells and songs that can be pretty useful in a battle.” He strummed a chord to emphasize his last statement.
“Not so loud.” Seth hissed. They all turned to look at him with startled expressions. Then the little ninja told them about the noises from the well earlier that night.
“Well it looks like we have two things to look into now,” Aksel said. “First we have this cave west of here that the orcs came out of, then we have something down this well. Brundon, can you go scout out this other cave?”
“Me? Alone?” Brundon replied.
“Well it’s either that, or you can go down this well to see what’s at the bottom,” Aksel told the reluctant ranger.
Brundon turned to the bard and said, “Can you tell me again exactly where this cave entrance is?”
Seth was invisible again and doing his best to stay silent. He was dangling at the end of a rope, about fifty feet down, just above the bottom of the well while his companions waited for him anxiously in the cave above. The little ninja had climbed almost to the bottom, but it was not dark as he expected. There was a large crack in the well wall at the very bottom and light was streaming through. Then he heard voices and footsteps coming through the hole. He listened again, and this time it was clearer. He didn’t understand the speech, but he knew the sounds. These were orcs down here! Maybe it was the same group of orcs that attacked the caravan. After all, he had tracked that orc priest this way out of the forest, but had lost the trail when the troll attacked. It stood to reason that the orcs were hiding out nearby. Maybe the cave Elvisda had seen was the main entrance to their hideout. But this well looked like a back door into their lair. They might not even expect an attack from this way either. As far as the orcs knew, the troll protected this entrance, and nothing was likely to get past it. He had heard enough. He shimmed back up the rope till he was at the top and back in the cave. Then he relayed his finding to the others.
“Orcs? Are you sure?” Alsel asked.
“I speak Orcish, ” Seth replied. “I think I would know.”
“What are they saying?” Aksel asked.
“Well, either they heard some human making noise,” Seth responded, “or they are going to get some coffee.” “Then we’ve found them,” Lloyd declared.“Ok, but we don’t know how many are down there,” Aksel added. “Let’s wait a little bit for Brundon to come back and report. Then we can come up with a plan.”
They waited about an hour before the ranger returned. “I found the cave,” Brundon told them. There were definitely orc tracks coming in and out. I didn’t see any orcs though. But the cave looks like it goes back and down quite a ways. If they have sentries guarding it, they would see you way before you would see them.”
“Well that narrows our options,” Aksel said.
“I say we go down the well,” Lloyd declared.
“Fine with me,” Seth replied.
“Agreed,” Glorfindle responded.
“Count me in,” Glendor said.
“I’ll follow you guys wherever you need me,” Elvisda added.
“Then it’s settled. We go down the well,” Aksel decided. “Brundon, you wait up here and guard the well. We’ll single you if we need to come back up.”
“Ok,” Brundon agreed. He did not look happy though.
Seth went down the rope again and this time dropped to the bottom of the well. He made no sound as he landed. The crack in the wall of the well was easily large enough for a large man to fit through. Light streamed in from a tunnel beyond. Seth peered through and saw an orc standing in the passageway. The orc was leaning against the tunnel wall with his side towards the well. Another orc stood on the other side of the tunnel a little bit farther down. He was also leaning against the wall.
Seth snuck out into the hall as quietly as possible. He got close to the first guard. The orc’s head was drooping downward. Seth peered under the helmet and saw the guards eyes were closed. He was asleep! The ninja snuck farther down the hall and checked the other guard. That orc was also dozing. The halfling snuck back to the well and tugged on the rope. Lloyd came climbing down to the bottom of the well.
Seth motioned for Lloyd to be quiet. Then he whispered to him about the guards and pointed out the crack in the wall. Lloyd peered out into the hall and also saw the guards. The big man then drew his blades as slowly as possible. They both snuck out into the hall. Seth made his way in complete silence down the tunnel behind where the second guard was. Lloyd looked over to Seth who motioned for the warblade to attack. Lloyd stepped forward and launched himself at the guard. The orc, taken completely by surprise, went down in seconds.
Meanwhile, Seth tapped the other one on the back. The orc turned around and swung at Seth.
“Nice day,” Seth said in orcish while dodging the attack, “Got any plans, other than dying?”
Suddenly he gasped and fell down on his knees. Then the orc dropped his weapons and clutched feebly at his back. But it was too late. In less than thirty seconds he keeled over on his face and lay still. Lloyd stood over the dead guard and pulled his sword out of the orc’s back.
The attack so quick and deadly that neither guard had the chance to raise the alarm. Lloyd stayed in the tunnel to keep watch while Seth went back to the well. He gave a signal and soon Glorfindle, Aksel, Elvisda and finally Glendor all climbed down the rope. Elvisda had played them a quiet tune at the top of the well so they were all feeling more courageous than usual.
They moved out into the hall in a single file formation. Seth went first a little ways ahead, followed by Lloyd, then Glendor, then Glorfindle and finally Aksel. The tunnel went about 50 feet before opening into a large cavern. There were dozens of orcs in the cave, but most of them were either young or female. Seth only counted four male orcs. And of those only two were carrying swords. The other two had staffs. In fact, one of them was probably the orc priest that had ran away from them in the woods.
Seth snuck back to the others and filled them in. They decided that Seth would turn invisible and sneak into the cavern near the two priests. Then Lloyd and Glendor would enter the cavern and make the orc warriors charge at them. Seth would take out the one priest and then Glorfindle could see if he could get a shot at the other priest.
Seth got into position. After five minutes had gone by, Lloyd and Glendor stepped into the hall. “Hey ugly!” Lloyd cried. The two warrior orcs saw the men and got up drawing their swords. They ran over to the two fighters and began attacking them. Meanwhile, the two priests got up and began to raise their staffs. But Seth was behind the one priest and stabbed him with his Venom knife. The priest collapsed almost immediately.
The second priest was about to cast a spell at one of the human fighters when he noticed his companion fall to the ground dead. He turned and saw the halfling standing there and began to advance on him. Without warning, three purple missiles hit the priest in the side. The double concussions momentarily stunned the orc. The priest yelled something and turned in the direction the projectiles had come from. He saw both orc warriors on the ground dead, and two human fighters advancing on him. He also saw the elf wizard who had shot him standing behind them preparing another spell. The orc priest turned back to see the halfling pull his knife from the other priest’s back. This must have been too much for the orc because he turned and fled across the cavern screaming the whole way.
The rest of the occupants of the cavern, some twenty odd orc woman and children cowered away from the group of adventurers. They drew back against the cavern walls and tried to stay as far away from the band as possible. The orc priest meanwhile had reached the other side of the cavern and fled into another tunnel.
“Lloyd, Seth, chase after him,” Aksel told them. Then he turned to Glorfindle. “You speak orc right?”
“Yes,” the elf wizard replied.
“Tell them we will not harm them as long as they don’t give us any trouble. Tell them to sit down against the wall and be still.”
Glorfindle turned to the orc families and relayed Aksel message. After he was done, they all gradually nodded their heads and then sat down against the cavern wall.
Seth and Lloyd returned a few minutes later and reported that the priest had gotten away. The tunnel split in a couple of different direction a few hundred feet down and there were too many orc footprints to track which way he had gone.
“So now what?” Glorfindle asked. “We can’t just sit here all day and babysit these orcs.”
“No worries,” Elvisda replied. “Let me play them a little tune. It will soothe their nerves and have them fast asleep in no time.” The bard sat down and began to play for the orc women and children. They were all fast asleep in a matter of minutes. “There,” Elvisda said slinging his lute back over his shoulder, “problem solved.”
While Elvisda had been playing for the orcs, Seth had been looking around the cavern. He was over in the far corner when he turned and waved to the others. “Hey, I found another tunnel,” he whispered across the room.
“Glendor, stay here and keep an eye on the orcs,” Aksel ordered. “The rest of you come with me.”
They joined Seth over in the corner of the cavern. There was another tunnel hidden behind a canvas draped on the wall. They pulled it aside and looked down a dark corridor.
“Glo, a little light please?” Aksel asked.
“Yeah, I seem to have misplaced my torch,” Seth added.
The all chuckled except Elvisda.
“Did I miss something?” the bard asked.
“I’ll tell you later,” Glorfindle told him. Then he cast a spell and lit up the end of his staff.
“Ah, much better,” Aksel said.
They entered a short tunnel. Seth led the way. It only went about 30 feet and they could see a small cavern up ahead with what looked like an altar. Then Seth stopped them. “Hold it,” the little ninja said. “I think there’s a trap here.” The halfling got on his hands and knees and searched the ground. “Bring that light over here,” he told the wizard.
Glo stepped forward and the all could see it. There was a pit filled with spears pointing up out of the ground. It was about 10 feet across.
“Now that would have hurt,” Elvisda declared.
“So how do we get across?” Aksel asked.
“There were some boards back in the big cavern,” Seth replied. “They are probably long enough to lie across this pit.”
Lloyd and Seth went back to get the boards. They came back and placed them over the pit. Then the party crossed over into the smaller chamber. There was an altar there. There was an idol on it with one eye.
“That’s the orc god Gruumsh,” Glorfindle told them. “He’s the greater god of all orcs.”
Seth was searching around the altar and found a chest behind it. He searched for more traps but there were none. He unlocked the chest and opened it. It was filled with gold and copper pieces. They took the money out and counted it. In all total there were about 500 gold pieces and the same amount of copper pieces.
They made their way back to the main cavern. The orcs were still asleep.
“What are we going to do with them?” Glorfindle asked.
“I have an idea,” Elvisda replied. “Can I have all those copper pieces?”
“Sure,” Aksel said.
“Glorfindle, come translate for me,” the bard told the wizard. The two walked over to the sleeping orcs. Elvisda picked out the woman who had spoke for the tribe before and woke her up. She jumped up with a start, but Glorfindle calmed her down.
“Tell her that we would like to make them a deal,” Elvisda said.
The female orc looked at then suspiciously then replied to the wizard.
“She wants to know what kind of deal,” Glorfindle said.
“Tell her they can have all this money,” Elvisda said dropping all the copper pieces on the ground in front of him, “if they pack up and leave these caves and never come back.”
Glorfindle translated once again.
The female orc was eyeing the money. After she heard the offer, her eyes widened. She was silent for a few moments and then said something to the wizard.
“All that money and all we have to do is leave? She wants to know.”
“And they can take all their stuff with them,” Elvisda added.
Glorfindle interpreted one more time.
The orc woman shook her head and said a single word.
“Deal, she said.”
Elvisda picked up the coins off the ground and handed them to the orc woman. She grabbed a nearby pot and placed them in it. Then she got up and roused all the other sleeping orcs. They talked for a couple of minutes and then they all started packing. Within thirty minutes they were all set and filed out of the cavern in the direction the orc priest had gone.
Aksel said “Let’s follow them.”
The party walked behind the orcs. They passed the original split off where Seth and Lloyd had lost the priest and continued west. They went a few hundred more feet and came to a cross tunnel heading north and south. They orcs turned south and followed a passage which began to slope upward. It led out of a cave next to the forest.
“This is the other cave I told you about,” Elvisda said to the others.
“So they are all linked together,” Glorfindle replied.
“Well, we still need to find that priest,” Seth said.
“Back inside then,” Aksel responded. “Let’s go back to the spot where you lost the priest. Now that we are all together, we can go and explore those other tunnels. Seth, care to lead the way?”
“Sure,” Seth said. He turned and headed back into the cave.
The party had only traveled a short way back into the cave when Seth came back down the passageway. “There are a group of people up ahead where this tunnel crosses the east/west one. They look human but the weird thing is they don’t seem to be carrying any weapons.”
“What would a group of unarmed humans being doing in these tunnels?” Aksel wondered.
“They could they be caravan survivors like Elvisda,” Glorfindle suggested.
“Well if they are from my caravan, I’ll recognize them,” Elvisda said.
“How many are there?” Aksel asked.
“I counted seven of them, four men and three women,” the little ninja replied.
“Well, let’s move ahead like we don’t know they’re there,” Aksel told them. “But be ready for anything.”
The party walked forward at an even pace. Lloyd and Glendor moved to the front, however. When they reached the intersection the seven “humans” were standing at the crossroads.
“Well what do we have here,” one of the women said. She was a slender woman with dark black hair and eyes. She appeared to be around thirty and was actually rather pretty. “Looks like a fine group of adventurers.”
The others came up and gathered around the woman. They were all somewhat younger than the woman, probably in their late teens or early twenties. They seemed very at ease for a group of unarmed humans in an orc infested cave.
“And whom do we have the pleasure of addressing?” Elvisda asked, moving up to stand between Lloyd and Glendor.
“Why I am Lucinda,” the woman answered. “And these are my friends Stefan, Damon, Elena, Katherine, Jeremy and Ben. And who might you be?”
“I am the bard Elvisda, at your service,” the elf answered. “And this is my road crew and traveling companions.”
“You have quite a lot of companions,” Lucinda observed.
“I put on big show good lady and therefore need a large crew,” the bard answered. “May I ask what you are all doing wandering around these caverns unarmed? This is a dangerous place. There is a tribe of orcs here.”
“Orcs don’t scare us,” Lucinda replied with a smile. Her companions all laughed softly. “We can take care of ourselves. And what about you? Are you all afraid of a bunch of orcs?”
“Not really ma’am,” Elvisda responded. “My crew and I can take care of ourselves as well.”
“Is that so?” Lucinda said with a bit of a smirk. “Well then this should be interesting.”
“What should be…” the bard began. He stopped short.
Either it was a trick of the poor lighting or Lucinda’s features had begun to change. Her eyes seem to shrink and her nose got larger. Her whole face seemed to elongate. Her ears got larger and pointy and then her nose turned black. Whiskers started to form out of each side of it. Elvisda looked at the entire group of strangers and they all were experiencing the same transformation.
“Were rats!” Aksel suddenly yelled.
Lloyd drew his blades and pushed Elvisda back behind him. Glendor unsheathed his sword as well and stood ready. Elvisda stood back and also drew his blade.
Then Lucinda yelled “Attack!” The group of were rats rushed past her and fell on the party.
One of them rushed Lloyd, but he easily deflected the attack with his twin blades and countered with two strikes of his own. The were rat fell to the ground dead. Three more were rats rushed the warblade, but Lloyd was ready for them. He used the momentum from his last swing and whirled his entire body catching the next were rat in the mid drift with his blade. Between the warblade’s strength and the momentum of his sword he cleaved right through the creature. The were rat fell to the ground in two pieces. But Lloyd was not done. He used the same maneuver twice more and felled the two last were rats that had tried to rush him.
Meanwhile, another rat attacked Glendor. The big fighter pushed it back with his shield and struck hard at the creature with his sword. He caught it with his sword. The creature swiped at the fighter with its claws, but Glendor blocked again with his shield and swiped at it with his sword. The rat dodged the blow but Elvisda was standing right next to the fighter with his sword extended. The hapless were rat ended up impaling itself on Elvisda sword.
“Take that you dirty rat!” the bard cried enthusiastically
Lucinda screamed, “What are you doing? Kill them!” Then a red hot beam of light arched across the cavern and caught the head were rat right in the chest. She clutched her breast and screamed. “Damn you!” she swore.
Glorfindle stood on the other side of the battle but since Lloyd had cleared out most of the rats, the wizard now had a clear shot at the “Queen” rat. He had cast a spell of scorching ray at her and it found its mark. He was now preparing the same spell again.
One more were rat still remained besides the “Queen”. He saw Aksel and Seth standing back down the tunnel. The were rat slipped between Lloyd, Glendor and Elvisda and rushed the two little people.
But Seth was ready. The were rat was running straight at the cleric and ninja at full tilt when Seth flung a knife directly at its torso. The rat had no time to dodge. The knife caught the creature right in the chest. As the small blade embedded itself in the were rat, Seth said the word “Venom”. The creature stopped short staring at the knife in its chest and then looked up at the little ninja. It stood still for a long moment then its eyes rolled back in its head and it fell to the ground dead.
“No!” Lucinda screamed. Then a second beam of red hot light arced across the cavern and caught her in the face. This time she burst into flames and burnt to ashes before their eyes.
When it was over, Aksel checked everyone out. “Well it looks like we’re all ok. Luckily, no one was scratched or bitten.”
“Thank goodness,” Elvisda replied, “I’d hate to have to be the one to clean Lloyd’s cage if he turned into a were-rat!”
Lloyd turned to look at the bard. The others held their breath for a moment, not sure how the big warblade would react. The Lloyd started to chuckle and finally burst out laughing. He clasped the bard on the shoulder and continued to chortle. The bard joined in with him.
“Looks like Lloyd’s found himself a new best friend,” Glorfindle observed.
“Yes, it certainly does,” Aksel agreed.
“It still wasn’t that funny,” Seth said watching the two men as the continued to laugh themselves silly.