Knights of the Couch - Part VII - Journey to the Dark Monolith - Section 5

The companions all met in the common room of House of Abraham for dinner. When they were all seated, Glo announced, “I did some scrying on the monolith. It looks like the Serpent Cult has reached it already.”
“What exactly did you see?” Aksel asked.
“A number of men in dark robes and a few of those giant snakes as well,” the wizard replied. “They were standing in front of a talk structure, maybe about 700 ft high. There was no visible entrance, then one of the robed figures recited a verse and a door appeared in the side of the structure. Then the entire group entered the monolith.”
“That’s not good,” Elvisda said. “Judging from our present location and the distance we need travel upriver, we are probably still 4-5 days away from the monolith.”
“It can’t be helped,” Aksel replied. “We just need to hope they don’t find what they are looking for till we get there.”
“I hope your right,” Glorfindle said. They all sat and ate dinner quietly pondering about what the next few days would hold for them.

“The lake seems calm,” Donatello observed.
“It usually is this time of year,” Captain Basmar replied. He was up at the wheel, the elf swashbuckler by his side. Alana and Lloyd were down on deck in full fighting gear. Glorfindle stood in the bow of the ship. He had his raven out in front of the ship scanning the waters ahead. Ruka was up in the Crow’s Nest looking all directions. Seth was up there as well, as was Martin, bow in hand. Aksel and Elvisda stood on deck waiting for a sign that someone had spotted a monster.
“Do these monsters roam the lake, or are they typically in one spot?” Donnie asked.
“They’ve been seen all over, but more than not they are at the mouth of the river leading out to the sea,” the Captain replied. “We should be getting close to that area in the next 15 minutes or so.”
“Keep an eye out,” Donatello shouted. “We’ll probably see them in the next quarter hour.”
The lake remained calm and the voyage was uneventful for the next ten minutes. Then Ruka yelled from above, “Stop the boat!”
As Basmar complied, Donnie yelled back, “What is it?”
“Just a sea monster!” the young girl yelled back down.
“Where?” the elf cried.
“Off the starboard bow!” she answered.
The companions all turned to starboard in time to see the young girl do a perfect arc dive off the crow’s nest into the water. They ran up to the rail and saw a huge dark shape under the water not 30 feet from the ship. Then the boat rocked as the water exploded next to the shape. Water sprayed up 15 feet into the air. It was just settling when a second explosion rocked the boat once again. Another explosion occurred in almost the same spot. Then they saw a huge creature float to the surface. It was a giant octopus, easily 40 feet long. It had blackened markings in a number of spots along its torso where it had been struck by lightning.
Ruka came climbing up the side of the boat and up onto the deck. She shook the water out of her hair and said, “Well that’s one.”
Donnie just looked at her in amazement. “I am sorry I ever doubted you. That was amazing!”
The young girl smiled shyly. Then she shook her head as if waking up from a dream and said, “No time for pleasantries just yet. There are more of them out there. I can feel it.” With that she scurried up the mast back to the crow’s nest and took up her original position.
“That is one strange girl,” Donnie commented.
“Maybe not,” Seth replied mysteriously.
Alana shot the little ninja a look, but Seth was already climbing back up the mast as well.

Another 20 minutes went by uneventful. Then Seth yelled, “I see another one! Off the port bow! Headed this way!” The companions all rushed to the port side this time. About 60 ft out was another shape moving towards the ship. This one broke water as it got close, however and they could see the tentacles reaching out towards them. They were easily 20 ft long and at least 3 ft wide down near the body. The beast was huge!
Then Ruka dove in once again between them and the creature. Before Glorfindle could prepare a spell, the young shape shifter had unleashed a bolt from her sword. They saw this one hit and the creature was stunned and began to sizzle in the water. It recovered but was obviously injured already. It began to submerge and turn it’s huge bulk away from the vessel, when another bolt hit it. The creature was dead within minutes.
When Ruka crawled back up on deck, she said “That’s two for me. Zero for you wizard.” She gave a quirky little smile and then headed back up the mast.

After that they traveled around the south side of the lake for another 45 minutes without sighting anymore of the creatures. “Do you think we got them all?” Donnie asked Basmar.
“I wouldn’t bet on it,” the Captain replied. “If there are any more they might be up on the north side of the lake. I’ll turn the ship around and head up there.” He did so and it took them about an hour to make the trip to the north end of Lake Farmin. It was close to midday and the sun was right overhead. It made it hard to see anything under the water because of the reflection in the water. They were traveling along when suddenly the boat rocked as if something had struck it. Everyone held on as the shop swayed from port to starboard. Then enormous tentacles came crawling up the starboard side of the ship.
“I think we found another one!” Elvisda yelled.
“More like it found us!” Donnie countered.
Ruka could not easily dive into the water with the boat rocking as it was. So she shifted into a hawk and flew out over the water. Meanwhile, Lloyd and Alana drew their blades and started hacking at the tentacles which were now crawling all over the deck. The old timbers of the small craft gave out a moan of protest as the boat pitched further to starboard.
“I’m not sure how much more of this she can take!” the Captain yelled.
“Never fear me hearties!” Elvisda called in his best imitation of a sailing man, and the hum of strained rigging lines was suddenly drowned out by the stirring twang of his lute strings. Precariously propped between the railing and the pilot’s box, Elvisda wove a mad musical mix of bravado inspiring the beset heroes with renewed vigor in their defense of the Rusty Nail.
Meanwhile, Glorfindle made his way to the upper deck to try to get a clear shot at the beast. Martin was shooting arrow after arrow in rapid succession at the creature’s now surfaced head. And Seth was throwing daggers at the giant octopus. He aimed for an exposed eye and caught the creature. His dagger pierced the eye and the creature heaved in agony.
The deck reared up with the creature and knocked everyone over except for Donnie who was wearing his spider climbing boots. The swashbuckler saw Alana hanging onto the rail for dear life. He threw all caution to the wind and ran down the along the railing until he reached her. He scooped her up by the waist and dragged her back onto the deck.
The creature was still thrashing when an explosion hit it from behind. It started to shake and sizzle. Then it dropped off the deck and back into the water. The ship righted itself and settled down. A second explosion went off 30 seconds later underwater about 40 feet out from the ship.
Suddenly, Seth yelled “Look out! To the stern!” They all turned around and saw a fourth octopus rearing out of the water towards the ship. It’s tentacles were reaching out of the water to grab the back end of the vessel. Then Glorfindle stood up in front of it and let loose a lightning bolt directly into the creatures maw. The beast stopped its forward motion and began to shake and sizzle. It fell back into the water momentarily stunned. The wizard immediately began casting a second spell. The creature began to recover and was just starting to move again when Glo caught it with a second bolt. The octopus began to blacken and its slick skin began to fry. When it was over, the creature lay dead floating in the water about 20 feet off the stern of the ship.
Ruka had climbed back aboard and was standing next to the wizard. “Not bad she said. But I still beat you. Ruka 3, Wizard 1.”
Glo looked down at the strange young girl and said “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He smiled broadly and the young girl gave him her quirky smile back.
Then Donatello walked over and said to the girl “You were magnificent!” Then he bent down, scooped her up and hugged her. Ruka looked totally shocked at first. But then she laughed and actually hugged the elf back.
“I hope Donnie knows what he’s getting himself into,” a voice said quietly behind the group. Glo turned and saw Seth standing next to Aksel. He looked quizzically at the little halfling, but Seth refused to elaborate any further.
“Well, we did it,” Basmar said, chuckling. “I didn’t think we were going to make it there for a minute, but we did it!”
“I never had any doubt,” Elvisda declared.

They pulled back into port around mid afternoon. Basmar had them tie one of the octopus bodies to the back of the ship and drag it back for everyone to see. When they showed up at the Garrotten docks with the beast in tow, a crowd began to gather. When Basmar told the other sailors what had happened, they began cheering. It wasn’t long until most of the town was down at the docks yelling KOTC! KOTC!
“Does this happen to you folks a lot?” Alana asked Donatello as the group made its way through the throng back into town.
“I’m still the new guy,” the elf answered. “But from what I’ve seen and heard these last few days, I would say yes. This group seems to attract a lot of attention and admirers.”
“Oh, by the way,” the knight said, “I never did get a chance to thank you for saving my life back there. If it wasn’t for you, I would surely have fell overboard into deep water in full armor. I wouldn’t have lasted long like that.”
“Fair lady,” the elf replied, “I would go to the ends of the earth to save one as fair as you.”
Alana blushed. “Well, maybe we should continue this discussion in private.”
“I look forward to it with great anticipation, my lady,” the elf said eloquently.
The group continued its way back to the House of Abraham with the entourage from the docks following and cheering.

Later that evening, the KOTC and friends gathered at the theater. There had been flyers all over town touting the “Battle of the Bards”. And after the successful purging of the lake monsters earlier in the day, it seemed as if everyone had turned out to see the bards and the KOTC.
The companions walked into the theater with Elvisda. An older man in robes met them and introduced himself as Tellish, Chief Magistrate and Religious Advisor to the Mayor. He led them all down to the front row where they were to be guests of honor. A tall stately looking woman was sitting alone in the front. When she saw them she stood up to greet them. Tellish introduced them.
“This is Mayor Arrness,” the old man said.
“And these must be the Knights of the Couch,” the Mayor said looking them over. “We are grateful for the service you have provided for our fair town this day. I trust you have received your reward?”
“There was a reward?” Elvisda asked with surprise.
“Yes,” the mayor replied. “There was a 5000 gold piece reward for clearing the lake of those troublesome creatures. Tellish, make sure that these folks receive that money.”
“Yes your mayorship,” Tellish replied.
“Now, if you would all care to join me up front, we can let your good friend bard….” She hesitated.
“Elvisda ma’am,” the bard replied smoothly.
“Elvisda here,” she continued, “join our own Balmorrow up on stage for the evening’s entertainment.”
The rest of the group sat down with the Mayor and Tellish in the front row, while Elvisda made his way behind the stage. Balmorrow was waiting in the back with Willis and Phyllis. When he saw Elvisda he was elated. “Good friend Elvisda! Glad to see you have not become fish food for some nasty sea monster!”
“It was as I told you. The monsters are now the fish food. I would have brought you some, but the tentacles were a bit over large to be carrying through the street,” Elvisda told him. Then he described the monsters and gave a brief synopsis of the battle.
“That is quite the story!” Balmorrow declared. “You should write it into a song!”
“Yes, I should!” Elvisda responded.
“Well then, now that that’s settled, shall we get on with our show?” Balmorrow asked.
“Indeed,” Elvisda replied. “Now which one of us should go first?”
Balmorrow insisted that Elvisda should go on first as he was a guest in town. Elvisda politely accepted. He called Glorfindle and Lloyd to the back and arranged for the same performance he started with back in Restenford. When they were ready, Lloyd set the beat with his drums. Glo created the fog bank on stage, and Elvisda’s dark silhouette appeared in the cloud. Then the dancing lights lit him up from behind and once again he moved out of the fog as Glo set off a pyrotechnic effect.
Elvisda struck his fighting poses for the crowd. For some reason though, they were not as responsive as the Restenford crowd had been. Undaunted, the elf bard launched into his signature song, Hell Hound. The performance was good, but for some reason it was missing some of the pizzazz it had had back in Restenford. When he was done, the crowd applauded, but the bard did not receive a standing ovation. He left the stage and went to wait in back. As Balmorrow took the stage, Glo went back to meet the other elf.
“What happened their?” the wizard asked his friend.
“Just one of those nights?” the elf bard replied. “I just wasn’t feeling it for some reason.”
The two friends stood and watched as Balmorrow gave his performance. Willis and Phyllis set up a fog effect as well as some lighting effects. And Balmorrow chose a standard classic to sing:

She flies
On wings on high
Carried by winds, oh why can’t I

The zephyr’s love
Lifts her above
I serve a mighty Lord
With faith and sword
But my heart is weak as a dove
As he continued the song, his illusionist began creating mirror images of the bard. First one, the two, then finally three. It sounded as if the bard was singing in four part harmony. The audience loved it.
“Neat trick there,” Elvisda commented. “Think you can learn that spell?”
“I’ll talk to Willis and Phyllis when this is over,” Glo told him.
When Balmorrow was done, the audience rose and gave him a standing ovation. Then Mayor Arness called them both to the stage and declared Balmorrow the winner of the “Battle”. Then, surprisingly she invited the entire KOTC up on stage and handed them the key to the city in front of the entire audience. Everyone stood up on their feet and cheered.
“Guess we’re all winners tonight,” Balmorrow said as he came over to shake Elvisda’s hand. “Between the two of us, I loved your performance. But you have to know your audience and Garrotten is a very traditional town.”
“Ahhh,” Elvisda replied, “I should have known that. With all the rushing around today, I forgot the entertainer’s cardinal rule number one. Know thy audience!” The two men laughed and clapped each other on the back.

Early the next morning, Sir Craven arrived in Garrotten with his and Alana’s units. They consisted of 12 heavy cavalry, and the two head knight’s squires, Syndir and Lamorn. They all gathered in the common room of the House of Abraham to discuss their next steps.
“There are no roads through the Darkwoods,” Sir Craven was saying. They were huddled over a map of the area the Mayor had provided them which was now sprawled across one of the tables. “We would have to head north from here, travel around the swamp, and then southwest till we reach the river that feeds the lake. Then we would have to follow the river into the Darkwoods and up to the monolith.”
“How long do you think that will take you?” Aksel asked.
“On horseback, with heavy cavalry units, I would guess about five days,” Craven replied.
“I would have to agree with Sir Craven’s assessment,” Alana said as she looked over the map.
“Well then, how long did Captain Basmar say it would take to reach the area of the monolith by river?” Aksel asked.
“Three days,” Donatello replied.
“So, the question is, do we leave now and try to get to the monolith as soon as possible? Or do we wait a couple of days, do some studying and training here in Garrotten, and then make the three day journey up river in time to meet up with the Knights of the Rose?” Aksel said.
The group discussed it for some time. But in the end they decided that the second option was better. So Craven planned to leave with the heavy cavalry units as soon as they finished stocking up on supplies. Meanwhile, the KOTC would stay in town and study/train for the next two days. Alana decided to stay with the KOTC. She went out with her unit to bid them adieu and wish them a safe journey. When she returned the companions had all gone their separate ways to begin their studies/training, all except Donatello that is. The swashbuckler sat at a table waiting for the lovely knight to return.
When Alana saw him she said, “You didn’t have to wait for me you know.”
“Alas,” he said dramatically, “my heart could not stand to be parted for any more minutes than it already has.”
She looked at him sternly for a moment and then her expression melted. “Oh, you! What am I ever going to do with you?”
“Love me perhaps?” he said quizzically.
“Perhaps,” she said as she turned and walked towards the stairs which lead to her room. She looked back over her shoulder and said, “Coming?” as she continued to walk.
He bolted out of his chair and was at her side in seconds.

Knights of the Couch – Part VII – Journey to the Dark Monolith – Section 6

Knights of the Couch - Part VII - Journey to the Dark Monolith - Section 5

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