Rise of the Thrall Lord
Knights of the Couch - Part V - The Disappearing Ships - Part 3
Seth and Martin had been traveling up the coast for almost an hour now. They had entered the forest and carefully made their way through the underbrush, doing their best to remain unseen and unheard. They were both very good at moving silently and unobtrusively, so they passed through the forest like two wraiths.
Seth guessed they were probably about 2 miles north of where they had landed on the beach. It was not very far, but one could not go fast when trying to move stealthily. He was beginning to wonder how much farther they would have to search when he spotted movement up ahead. Martin had obviously seen it too. He had signaled for them to stop.
Seth inched his way over to where Martin knelt behind a fallen tree. He peered over the trunk and got a good look at what Martin had seen. About 50 yards ahead of them, through trees and bushes, he could make out some riders. They were on very small mounts. He looked closer and realized that they were Goblins. And the mounts they were riding were Dire Wolfs.
He signaled to Martin that he was going in for a closer look. Martin started to shake his head, but Seth had pulled on his invisibility cloak and already disappeared. There was nothing Martin could do now but sit and wait. And pray.
Seth was slowly making his way through the underbush. He wanted to get a closer look and make sure of how many Goblins there were. He knew the wolves would smell him, even if he was invisible, so he moved downwind from them. He was between the goblins/wolves and the cliffs and was making his way closer.
He got within 20 yards. Any closer and he was taking a risk that the wolves would hear him, no matter how silent he moved. They were now in plain view. It was a small clearing and there were four goblin riders on four dire wolves. They were talking with each other in goblinoid. That was not one of the languages Seth knew so he was not sure what they were saying. But they were doing a lot of pointing. Best he could guess was that they were scouting out the area, looking for intruders. That meant there was most likely a larger party somewhere nearby.
Seth began to back away from the pack when the wind suddenly shifted. Of all the bad luck he thought. The wind was now at his back and it wouldn’t be long before the wolves caught his sent.
Suddenly he saw one of the wolves lift its snout and begin to sniff the air. It turns its head back and forth and finally settled its gaze right in his direction. Then it began to growl and bark. The other wolves turned in the direction it was looking and also began to sniff and then growl. The goblins eased their mounts forward and began heading in Seth’s direction.
The little ninja knew he had only one chance. He was too far from the cliff and the wolves were too fast for him anyway. So he gave up all thoughts of stealth and ran to the nearest tree. The wolves were right on his tail now. He reached the tree with only moments to spare and scrambled up the sides. The wolves were at the trunk in seconds and leaping up the sides of the tree. The golbins couldn’t see him, but knew there was something there.
Seth made it all the way to the top of the tree and then looked down. 2 of the goblins and wolves were still at the bottom of the tree, but the other two had turned and headed back towards where Martin was hiding.
Then he saw an arrow sail out of the air and catch one of the goblins in the throat. It fell over clutching at its neck and then collapsed to the ground. He almost cheered but then the goblins drew out bows of their own. But these were shortbows, and Martin had a longbow. And from what Seth had seen, the archer was an expert marksman.
The three remaining goblins fanned out on their wolves looking for Martin. The fourth dire wolf, however, remained stubbornly below Seth’s tree, still snarling and barking. Seth was weighing his options when another arrow came flying out of the woods and caught a goblin, this time straight in the heart. That is, assuming goblins had hearts, Seth thought dryly.
He had seen the arrow clearly this time and backtracked it to where Martin was hiding. The archer was up another tree maybe 40 yards from where Seth was.
Unfortunately, the goblins had seen him as well. They jumped off their wolves and took up positions behind two trees. Meanwhile, the other three wolves went and surrounded the base of Martin’s tree. They were snarling viciously and snapping their jaws, making it very apparent what would happen to the archer if he was to slip out of the tree.
The two remaining goblins had their backs to Seth now. They had either forgotten about him or did not consider him a threat. Unfortunately, the fourth wolf was still below him staring up into the branches and snarling.
He had to do something. Maybe if he could create a diversion it would give Martin the chance he needed. An idea suddenly came to him. He reached into his back and took out his oil flask and some flint. He ripped some cloth off a spare rag. He poked a hole in the top of the flask with his knife and them stuffed the piece of cloth into it leaving a bit of it outside the flask. Then he took his flint and began using it to make a spark. It took a few tries, but he was able to light the cloth. Now came the tricky part. He only had about 15 seconds to pull this off. If he was not a ninja he would never have tried this.
Seth launched himself from the tree he was in to a nearby tree. The wolf below began barking and following him. Luckily, the two goblins were not paying attention. They were too busy firing arrows at Martin’s tree, hoping a lucky shot would catch their adversary.
Seth quickly gauged his position. Two more quick jumps and he would have to drop his little bomb or be blown to bits. He jumped once and made it to the next tree. Then immediately he jumped again but realized his time was up. So he threw the makeshift “Molotov Cocktail” in mid air. His training saved him. The motion threw off his balance, but he rolled with it in mid air and landed on a branch lower than he would have liked on the next tree. Then he grabbed on for dear life.
The goblins finally realized something was amiss when they heard the barking wolf headed right for them. They turned in unison to see something flying at them out of mid air and the wolf simultaneously launching itself at whatever the object was.
A second later, all hell broke loose. The makeshift bomb exploded blowing the wolf out of the air. The concussion knocked both goblins backward and on their backs out in the open. They were no longer protected by the trees.
Martin had been intently staring at the trees where he knew the last two goblins were hiding. He was trying to get a bead on one of them. When the explosion came he was completely taken by surprise. All he saw was the wolf come running across the forest floor and launch itself into the air. The next minute something exploded in from of the wolf sending it flying into the nearest tree. Both goblins came flying from behind trees and fell to the ground out in the open.
Martin immediately took aim at one of them and as soon as it started to scramble up he let loose with his arrow. The projectile arced across the forest and caught the goblin in the back entering the heart from behind. The goblin clutched at its back and then fell forward unmoving on the ground.
Martin had quickly knocked another arrow, when he saw the last goblin get knocked back to the ground. Then Seth was standing on top of it and plunged his knife into the creature’s chest. It never got back up.
Unfortunately, the remaining three wolves also saw Seth and took off at a dead run after him. Martin leaned forward and yelled “Seth! Watch out.” But the little ninja had already begun scrambling up the nearest tree. How does it climb so fast? Martin thought to himself.
Then he heard Seth shouting to him, “Make for the cliff! It’s our only chance!”
Martin did not have to be told twice. He shimmied down the tree he was in and started off on a dead run east towards the cliff. One of the wolves had seen him and turned to come after him.
Seth, meanwhile, was keeping the other two wolves occupied. The little ninja was jumping deftly from tree to tree. Martin looked over his shoulder and it appeared as if the halfing was almost flying across the treetops.
The wolves were now in hot pursuit of them. Martin tried a shot on the run but the wolf dodged it and kept coming. Suddenly he broke free of the underbrush and was out in the open. The cliff was right in front of him. Then Seth came arcing out of tree and tumbled neatly landing right beside him.
The wolves were only paces away. It would be mere seconds before the pounced.
Martin and Seth looked at each other and jumped over the cliff.
One of the wolves had launched itself at them and had gone flying right past where they had been only a second before. The wolf arced over the edge of the cliff, too late to stop itself, and went sailing down to the rocks below. The other two wolves stopped short of the cliff and looked down over the edge.
Below they could see their quarry, about thirty feet down, on a small ledge. The smaller creature looked up at them and waved smiling brightly. The bigger one grabbed the little one and dragged him out of sight.
The wolves tested the sides of the cliff, looking for a foothold to make their way down. But they could not find one. Looking over the edge they could no longer see their quarry. They did see their pack mate however, about 100 feet down, lying still on the rocks below.
They tried for a few more minutes to find their way down, then gave up and headed back into the woods to wait.
“Nice little cave we found here”, Seth commented.
“Yes,” Martin replied. “We’re lucky to be alive. If that outcropping hadn’t been there, it would have been a long trip down.”
“It’s not the trip that bothered me,” Seth replied glibly, “It was the ending.”
Martin couldn’t help but smile. The little halfing’s humor was infectious.
They started to explore their cave when they came across some feathers. Rather large feathers. Martin stooped to examine them more closely. Finally he said, “These belong to a griffen. They are rather old, however, so it may have abandoned this cave. Then again, this may just be one of its roosts. It could be back at any time.”
“Don’t be so cheerful,” Seth replied. “At least we’re alive and cozy.” The little ninja made himself a pile of feathers and lay down on them. “These are rather comfortable,” he said after a minute.
“That’s all well and good, but I think we should take turns keeping watch,” Martin said.
But the halfling was already snoring.
“Guess I’ll take first watch,” Martin said quietly and then he went to the cave exist and sat on a rock looking out at the ocean.
“The door’s locked,” Aksel told them. He was standing at the base of the lighthouse.
The party had made their way over in the boat. Well most of them had, anyway. Ruka and Maya had swum over. Of course, they had been accompanied by what appeared to be a school of dolphins.
The dolphins had been making clicking noises and Maya was making the same noises back to them.
“Guess they really can talk to dolphins,” Glorfindle had observed.
“Oh yes,” Ves had replied. “Maya is quite conversant in their language, as are all three of us.”
“What are they saying?” Lloyd had asked.
“They are talking about the strange stone man who is walking across the bottom of the ocean right now. It seems that he is moving very slowly but is making his way towards the island with the tall building on it,” Ves had replied.
“That makes sense,” Aksel had said.
Now of course, they were all on the island. All except for the Boulder that is, who would still probably be underwater for another 20 minutes if the dolphins were right.
The lighthouse stood quietly in the middle of the island. There was no sight of any life either inside or outside of the structure.
They had walked up to the building without incident and Aksel had tried the door.
“Where’s a good lock-pick when you need one?” Glorfindle quipped.
“We don’t need a lock-pick,” Aksel replied. “We have Lloyd! Lloyd, come and knock this thing down!”
The big warblade walked up to the entrance and tested the door. It was quite solid. Probably two foot thick wood and iron bound to boot. But that did not deter him. “Stand back everyone,” Lloyd said.
The all backed up to give him some room.
The warblade drew his large twin swords and set himself in front of the door. Then he methodically began to hack away at it. He looked more like a lumberjack than a fighter the way he continually hacked at the door. There was a rhythm to his swings. And it was working. He was starting to carve out an area in the center just above the latch.
Lloyd’s chopping went on for a good twenty minutes. He was almost completely through when the Boulder’s head appeared above water. They golem made it onto the shore and up to the lighthouse just as Lloyd broke through the door.
With its mid section gone, the door collapsed back inward into the lighthouse. Lloyd stood back, visibly sweating, but gallantly held out his swords and ushered everyone inside. “This way please,” the big man said triumphantly, obviously pleased with his work.
“Nice work Lloyd,” Aksel said as he stepped through the doorway.
“Yes, well done,” Glorfindle said, clasping the big man’s sweaty shoulder.
They all filed into the lighthouse one at a time. The party found themselves in a wedge shaped room with two doors on either side. At the smaller end of the room was a circular stairway leading upward.
Aksel was about to say, “Let’s be careful” when Maya danced out into the center of the room. Glorfindle stepped forward to stop here when suddenly a hail of large stones came raining down upon them from above.
One of the stones, about the size of a human head, hit Maya squarely on the right shoulder. Glorfindle thought the little girl was going to topple over, but instead she just shrugged it off.
The elf had been reaching forward with his right arm to grab the little girl when another stone about the size of a baseball caught the wizard in that arm. “Ow,” he cried pulling the arm back and rubbing it gingerly with his left arm.
Then Lloyd was there. He charged into the room, picked up Maya by the waist, cradled her in his arms, turned and ran with her to the door on the left. He protected her with his back as stones continued to rain down on them. The big man took two hits in the back from fairly large sized stones. Then he was at the door and through it with Maya still in his arms.
The rest of the party ran along the wall towards the door Lloyd had exited through and the warblade and the little girl inside.
It turned out to be a storage room. There were boxes and crates all over, piled up to the ceiling. There was no other door in the room, nor any windows.
Lloyd stood in the center of the room still holding Maya in his arms. The little girl did not look hurt at all. In fact, she seemed very amused by the whole thing.
When she saw Ves, Maya said, “Did you see it Ves? He rescued me!” Then the little girl started giggling hysterically. Lloyd put her down, and she fell on the floor, having another fit of giggles and snorts.
Ves knelt down beside the girl and said, “Maya, compose yourself.”
Maya sat up, wiping tears from her eyes, still trying to suppress some giggles.
“Now let me see your wound,” Ves said, making a big deal about checking the little girls shoulder. She touched it with her finger, and a blue light appeared.
“How is it now?” Ves asked her sister.
“Oh, it’s just fine,” Maya replied melodramatically.
“Very good,” Ves said standing up. Then she went over to Lloyd and said, let me see your back.
Lloyd looked at Aksel who nodded his head, then took off his shirt. There were two visible black and blue bruises on his back where stones had hit him.
Ves touched each bruise with her finger, and the same blue light appeared. When the flash dissipated, both bruises were gone.
“How’s that?” Ves asked.
Lloyd rotated his arms around and twisted his torso back and forth. “Why it’s just fine now. Thank you, Ves.”
“Now you,” Ves said, turning to Glorfindle.
The wizard rolled up his sleeve and put out his arm, wincing a bit. There was a huge lump where the stone had hit him just below the elbow. Again Ves put out her finger. This time the blue light lasted a little longer and was alittle more intense. But when it was gone, Glo’s arm looked as it had never been damaged at all. He rolled down his sleeve and said, “Thank you kindly Ves. That was a very neat job of healing.”
“Yes, rather expert I would say,” Aksel observed.
Ves turned to the little gnome cleric and replied, “That is what I went to Lanfar to study for. I spent a few years in the Temple of Pelor.”
“Well I must say that I am very impressed. You are very skilled for someone who has only spent a few years of study,” Aksel told her.
“Why thank you,” Ves said, curtsying to the gnome cleric.
“Anyway,” Glorfindle interjected, “while we were all being healed by this kind Lady,” he nodded to Ves, “I sent Raven up to scout the top of the tower. Although it was quite dark up there, she was able to spot seven Goblins. One, however, seems to be extra large.”
“Well Lloyd,” Aksel said, “Are you up for some Goblin carving?”
“Sure thing,” the big warblade answered. He had put his shirt back on and now drew his twin blades.
Aksel said, “Let’s stick to the walls and head for the staircase. Lloyd, you lead.”
“Right,” Lloyd answered and walked over to the door. He peered out and then flattened himself against the wall. He made his way the 20 feet over to the staircase and began the ascent. He had not made it more than ten stairs when Ruka hissed “Stop!”
Lloyd froze on the spot. “What is it?” he called back down over his shoulder.
“There’s a trap right in front of you. On the next step,” the girl told them.
“How does she know that?” Glorfindle asked Ves.
“Ruka has very keen eyes,” Ves replied mysteriously. “If she says there’s a trap there, then there’s a trap there.”
“Very well,” Aksel said. “Lloyd, let’s go back down.”
They made their way back down the steps. Most of the party went back to the storeroom, but Lloyd went to check out the other door across the main room. When he returned he said there was nothing there but a table, some chairs, and cooking utensils. It must have been the kitchen.
“So now what do we do?” Glorfindle asked.
“You care to try a little target practice?” Aksel said to the wizard.
“I could, except for the fact that I would be a sitting duck out there,” the elf said plaintively.
“Don’t worry so much,” Aksel replied. “I’m sure Ves will heal you, and if she can’t I will.”
“Fine!” Glorfindle said sounding somewhat exasperated. “We’ll do it your way.” The wizard took out his spellbook and took a quick look through his spells. “Oh yes, I almost forgot about that one,” he said cryptically. Then he put the book away, spoke an obscure word and his body seemed to become strangely indistinct. You could no longer look at him directly.
“So you learned the Blur spell I see,” Aksel said.
“And luckily I memorized it this morning as well,” the elf replied.
He was just about to turn and go through the door when Ves walked up to him and said, “Wait. Maybe this will help.” She reached up and touched his shoulder and a shimmering field engulfed his body.
“Shield of Faith,” Aksel observed. “Very nice.”
“Thank you,” Glorfindle replied. “At least someone cares enough to try to stop me from getting hurt in the first place!” Then he turned and walked out through the door.
The others watched as the wizard walked to the very center of the room. Stones came hurtling down all around him, but couldn’t quite seem to find their target.
The elf wizard began casting a spell. It was one that Aksel had not seen him cast before. A stone finally managed to connect with the wizard in mid conjuration, but it bounced neatly off the magical shield Ves had provided.
Glorfindle continued to concentrate, and then point his finger upwards.
Aksel tried to crane his neck to see what the elf was aiming for. He seemed to be pointing at the biggest shadow up at the open balcony on the top floor of the tower.
Then the wizard let loose his spell. A giant ball of fire coalesced in front of his finger and went careening upwards towards the top of the tower. Aksel barely had time to think to himself that that probably was not the best idea, when the fireball struck the top of the tower and exploded.
Goblins cries could be heard from above. Aksel looked over at Glorfindle who was looking back at him with a smug look on his face.
Then suddenly, a second explosion erupted from the top of the tower. The elf wizard turned and looked up at the top of the tower. A look of horror appeared on his face. He turned to the others and yelled, “Run! Out the front door! Quickly!”
The elf began to back away towards the exit as the others clambered out of the storage room and ran for the front door. No more rocks hurtled down on them as they made their way outside to freedom.
Glorfindle was the last out, backing his way through the door. They looked up and saw the top of the tower smoking. “I suggest we put a little more space between us and the lighthouse,” he told them.
They all made their way down to the boat. However, when they got to it, they found it completely submerged underwater. A large stone sat in the center of the boat.
Aksel was about to comment, when another explosion shook the tower. They turned and saw the top of the structure had been completely decimated. Flames shot skyward from what used to be the top floor of the building. It looked more like a giant torch now than a lighthouse.
“A bit of overkill there?” Aksel commented.
“I’m guessing there was oil up there,” the elf replied quietly.
“You think?” the little gnome said sardonically.
“Well how was I supposed to know?” Glo responded defensively. “Elves don’t use such crude methods to light their dwellings. We use magic for those purposes.”
“Well I think it looks pretty!” Maya said clapping her hands and jumping up and down.
“I kind of like it as well,” Ruka agreed.
“I also agree,” Ves chimed in. “Not that it’s pretty, or nice. I really don’t believe in unwonted damage mind you, but I don’t really think you should be blamed. After all, you were just trying to protect us.”
Aksel relented. “Oh well, there’s no helping it now. But you do have to admit that you have a certain affinity for fire type spells.”
Glorfindle was about to fire a retort when something came flying down from the top of the lighthouse and landed on the ground not 30 feet in front of them. It shook itself off and stared at them menacingly.
It was a large creature. It was Goblinoid looking but also seemed to be partly dog or wolf. It was bigger than any goblin they had ever seen. It was also on fire.
“What is that thing?” Aksel said.
“I don’t know,” Lloyd responded, “but I don’t like the way it is looking at us.” The big warblade moved forward and positioned himself between the rest of the party and the creature. He drew his two large blades and stood there, ready for the monster to charge.
“It’s a Barghest,” Glorfindle hissed.
“A Bar-what?” Aksel asked.
“A Barghest,” Glorfindle repeated. “It’s an evil creature from another plane. They like to take the form of Goblins and wolves.”
The Barghest considered them for a few more moments, and then turned and ran to the water. It dove in and took off swimming at a fast pace to the west.
The party ran to the end of the island and watched the beast continue to swim away.
“We could be in for more trouble if it’s going to get reinforcements,” Aksel stated.
“Don’t worry,” Ruka said. “I’ll find out what it’s up to. But you better keep an eye on Maya while I’m gone. If anything happens to her I will hold you responsible.”
Before anyone could reply, the young girl had launched herself into the water and disappeared underneath the waves. She reappeared 100 yards west of the island swimming at a pace to rival the Barghest.
“Will she be alright?” Lloyd asked Ves.
“Ruka?” Ves replied somewhat surprised. Then she seemed to recover and said “Don’t worry about her. She can handle herself.”
The rest of the party headed back over to the boat. Aksel had the Boulder retrieve it from the water, but there was still a large hole in the middle of it. The little cleric stood over the boat and began casting the mend spell. He recast it a few times and the hole shrunk considerably, but was still too large to make the boat shipworthy.
Then Ves walked up and began casting mend on the boat as well. She cast it a few more times until the boat was completely fixed. “There,” she said admiring her own handiwork. Then, to the KOTC member’s astonishment, she picked the boat with one hand and placed it in the water.
Glorfindle shot a look over at Aksel. Aksel looked back at him and shook his head. Lloyd just stood there with his mouth open.
“Um, Ves?” Glorfindle said.
The girl turned and looked at him, suddenly realizing what she had done. She blushed and said “Oh my.”
“Can we talk?” the wizard asked her quietly.
“Okay,” she said with some trepidation.
The elf ushered the young lady away from the rest of the group and had a private conversation with her.
When he came back, Aksel said, “So?”
“Well,” Glorfindle started, “she admits that they three of them are different, but she wouldn’t specify in what way. It seems that they are on some kind of quest and they made a promise not to divulge their true nature until it is over. However, she did promise that she would tell me the truth once their quest is complete. But for now, they have still agreed to help us with our current mission.”
“Well that was rather non-informative,” Aksel replied.
“At least they’re on our side,” Lloyd pointed out.
“Hopefully it stays that way,” Aksel replied. “If Seth were here, I don’t think he would be very trusting of them.”
“Seth isn’t very trusting of anyone,” Glorfindle commented. “Speaking of Seth, shouldn’t he be back by now? I don’t see anyone over on the beach.”
“Yes, he has been gone for a long time,” Aksel agreed.
“Let me send Raven out to see if she can find them,” the elf wizard said.
Then the party boarded the boat and headed back to shore.