Rise of the Thrall Lord
Knights of the Couch - Part VII - Journey to the Dark Monolith - Section 6
Two days later, the KOTC with Alana, Ruka and Martin where on Captain Basmar’s ship headed up the river towards the Darkwoods. This leg of their journey had been fairly quiet so far. They had not quite yet reached the Darkwoods and the land was clear on either side of the river. To their left plains spread out with lush green grass as far as the eye could see. On their right the landscape was similarly filled with green grasses and sparse vegetation until it rose up to meet a chain of rolling purple hills a few miles to the north.
The group of adventures seemed to be enjoying this quiet time before reaching their destination in the Darkwoods. This was probably the greatest challenge most of them had faced as of yet in their lives. It was not the Serpent Cult that was the source of their underlying concern. They had dealt with them handily at the Lady Andrella’s birthday party and were not worried about another encounter with that group. It was the unknowns of the monolith itself that were on most of their minds.
The Thrall Lord and had risen up over one hundred years ago in his bid to conquer the land of Thac. He was a dreadfully evil being filled with a terrible dark power. All manner of vile creatures flocked to the Thrall Lord and became part of his vast army. But of all who served the evil Lord, none were as mighty as the Thrall Masters that served him.
There were three of them, each wielding a dreadful dark power of their own, only slightly less as mighty as the Thrall Lord himself. There was the Master of Dragons, the Master of Golems, and the Master of the Undead. Together, under the Thrall Lord, they were neigh invincible. The land of Thac almost fell to those sinister powers. Had it not been for an intrepid band of heroes who rose up and rallied the forces of light against this evil tide, all would have been lost.
The Thrall Lord had been destroyed and his armies scattered. The three Thrall Masters had also disappeared, thought to be killed in the final battle. There had been no sign of them in the last hundred years. Now, however, the works of the Golem Master had begun to surface. These were items of unspeakable power; evil power. And once again, vile creatures were being drawn to that power.
The wizard Glorfindel mused this over as he sat on the deck of the Rusty Nail. His spellbook had fallen into his lap as he contemplated the ancient histories. Ellistra, the beautiful seeress sat by his side, still in deep meditation.
Over by the railing, Donatello and Alana where taking in the sights as the river flowed lazily by. The two were linked arm and arm. The Lady Knight had finally given into the intrepid swashbuckler’s outlandish advancements after he had saved her life during their battle with the giant octopi on Lake Farmin a few days ago.
They seemed quite content until a banded hawk started strafing over them. “Ruka! Cut that out!” Donatello yelped throwing his hands up over his head. “I don’t know what’s got into you!”
Some of the other’s chuckled seeing the scene unfolding before them. Glo turned to look at Ellistra and saw that she was now done with her daily meditation. She had a wry smile on their face as she watched the swashbuckler dodging the swooping hawk while Alana stood coolly at the rail.
“How long do you think before he figures it out?” the seeress said.
“I’m not sure,” Glo replied. “I don’t think his mind quite works that way. He seems to think of Ruka as a mere child.”
“There is nothing mere about her,” Elistra replied mysteriously.
Elvisda was sitting on the other side of the deck strumming his lute. He too was enjoying the show. “Watch your head there Donnie!” the bard called out. “Those claws are sharp!” He laughed heartily until Alana shot him a deadly look. The bard stood up and smiled his pearly whites giving a deep bow. “No harm intended fair lady,” he told the knight. Then he sat down and began working on another tune.
Aksel and Seth were leaning against the other rail, deep in conversation. They had always been an unlikely duo, the cleric and the ninja. But they seemed to have developed a fast friendship. Glo knew better than to think it was merely based on their size or the fact that they were the only members of their individual races in the group. No, it was more than that. It was a mutual respect for skill and ability. Aksel was very level headed and pragmatic where Seth was extremely bright and had a razor sharp wit. Probably smarter than I am Glo thought.
The elf wizard turned and saw Captain Basmar was up in the pilot box. He was alternating between watching the river and festivities going on in front of him on deck. The Captain had a bemused smile on his face.
Then Glo looked up and saw Martin up in the crow’s nest. The archer had taken to keeping mostly to himself since Ves had left them. He was a quiet man anyway, but seemed heartbroken when the young lady decided not to travel with them further.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Elistra said, sitting forward and placing her arm through his.
“Oh, nothing in particular,” the wizard replied. “Just musing over our current situation and how we got here.”
“Well there’s a simple answer to that!” she said turning him towards her and looking into his eyes. She was beautiful. Her purple eyes danced as she gazed at him.
“And what might that be?” he replied taking the bait.
“Its destiny,” she said, totally straight faced. He held her stare for a full ten seconds before she burst into laughter. She lit up the very air when she did that. She continued to giggle and said, “Oh, stop being so serious!”
“I’ll give you serious!” he replied. Then he reached over, grabbed her and started tickling her. It turns out that she was very ticklish, a fact that Glo had discovered not too long after they had met. The two fell on the deck rolling around in each other’s arms, laughing like two little kids.
Now it was everyone else’s turn to stare at them. Even Ruka stopped strafing Donnie and landed on a beam. She looked down quizzically at the two.
“Get a room!” Donatello shouted.
“What a marvelous idea!” Elistra shot back. Then she got up, grabbed the wizard’s hand and led him below deck.
Elvisda laughed heartily and started playing a jaunty tune about a sailor and a tavern wench who was his eventual undoing.
Donnie took Alana by the hand and began to dance around the deck with the statuesque lady knight. That is until Ruka dove off her perch and began buzzing him once again.
“Ruka!” the hapless swashbuckler yelled. “Enough already!” he continued as he dodged her swooping claws.
“Ahhhhh, young love,” Elvisda crooned as Aksel and Seth looked on with unveiled amusement.
Just then Lloyd walked out the door from below decks, stretched out his arms and yawned. “What’d I miss?” the big warblade said.
It was later in the day when they entered the Darkwoods. The vegetation gradually became thicker on either side of the river until it was so dense they couldn’t see anything beyond it.
Glorfindel had come back on deck and was standing at the railing with the other two elves. “Do you feel it?” he said to them.
“It is somewhat oppressive,” Donatello murmured quietly. He was looking back and forth from shore to shore, scouring the woods with his keen elven eyes.
“It reminds me of a somber tune,” Elvisda replied. He took out his lute to play and then stopped himself. Looking from shore to shore, he said “Maybe this is not the best time.”
“I’ve only felt one place worse than this,” Glo told the other two. “On our first quest out to Bone Hill, we had to go through the Dead Forest.”
“Yes, I remember that place,” Elvisda said. “When we went to get the Golem, and had our first encounter with the Serpent Cult. I didn’t know what those woods were called at the time. The Dead Forest seems appropriate.”
“I have seen worse places,” Donatello began, “like this one time…”
Suddenly the ship pitched forward and they all went flying to the deck. There was a grinding sound below the waterline. As the companions scrambled to their feet, Martin yelled from the crow’s nest, “There’s a giant chain in the water!” The archer pointed towards the front of the ship. “It runs across the entire river!” he continued as he pointed from one shore to the other.
The group ran to the bow and saw the huge chain in front of their vessel. It lifted out of the water more and more as the boat continued forward. Then the ship finally came to a full stop.
“It’s a trap!” Aksel declared.
Then Seth yelled “Incoming!” Everyone ducked as arrows flew towards the boat from both sides of the river. Some fell short but a few did hit the deck.
“We’re under attack!” Basmar yelled as he ducked down beneath the pilot box.
Then they heard a screech from above and a banded hawk flew from the crow’s nest towards the left bank.
“There goes Ruka!” Alana pointed.
“She won’t go alone!” Donatello cried. The swashbuckler climbed onto the railing and launched himself off the boat landing nimbly on the large chain that held them fast. He balanced for a second and then took off at a dead run across the chain towards the left bank. “I’m coming milady!” he cried as the young girl/hawk had almost reached the shore.
Another round of arrows flew at the boat. “Glo, Lloyd, quick! Take the other bank!” Aksel yelled.
“Good idea!” Lloyd declared as he invoked his flying cloak.
“Wait for a song!” Elvisda cried. He had his lute out and played a tune to inspire them for their impending battle. At the same time, Glo cast a spell on himself to allow him to fly beside his big comrade. Then he cast one more spell to hasten their movements.
“Wait for the next round,” Aksel told them.
Ellistra walked up to Glo and put her arms around him. “Be safe,” she said and kissed him quickly. Then she let go and stood back.
The next barrage of arrows came flying across the river. After they hit Aksel yelled “Now!”
Lloyd and Glo launched themselves straight towards the right bank. They flew low and fast. The two of them reached the bank and were in the woods before the next volley could be sent flying.
Alana stood by the rail looking at the left bank. Her frustration was obvious. “I should be fighting!” she declared to no one in particular. Elistra walked up and grasped the warrior. “I’m sure they’ll be fine,” she told the woman quietly. Alana turned to look at the gypsy woman and smiled a brief smile. “Best we back up before the next volley of arrows,” Elistra said.
“No, they’ve stopped firing,” Alana replied. “Look!” Elistra gazed towards the shore and the woods lit up with a blinding flash. The sound of thunder crashed through the woods. “Sounds like Ruka’s at work already,” the seeress said. Then a similar flash came from behind them. They both turned and saw the woods on the other side of the river light up as well.
“Looks like Glorfindel is at work as well,” Elvisda said walking up to join them. “Don’t worry ladies. They can handle themselves.” He gave them his most reassuring smile. Then Aksel came running up. “Has anyone seen Seth?” the young cleric asked with concern.
Alana and Elvisda said no. Elistra did not immediately answer. She began looking around in all directions. Finally she replied, “I see him.”
“Where?” Aksel asked following her gaze towards the shore where Lloyd and Glorfindel had just gone, but not seeing anything.
“You can’t see him. He’s invisible,” she told them. “He’s walking across the chain to the shore. In fact, he’s almost there.”
“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” Aksel said sounding exasperated. “Oh well. One of these days maybe he’ll learn to inform me before he goes running off on his own.”
“I wouldn’t hold my breath,” Elvisda responded wryly.
Over on the south shore, Donatello jumped off the chain and vaulted into the woods. A flash of lightning and the crack of thunder came from the forest in front of him. He crashed through the underbrush just in time to see Ruka, with her back to him, surrounded by a troll and five goblins. A sixth goblin already lay dead at her feet, burnt and still smoldering. She held her sword up and stood calmly in the middle of the circle. “Ok, who’s next?” she said eagerly.
The goblins stayed back having learned their lesson from their fallen comrade. But the troll became enraged. It threw its huge head back and roared while beating its chest. This is not good Donatello thought to himself. The troll was on the opposite side of the circle. Plus he was not sure what good his rapier and short sword would do against it. The best he could hope to do would be to take out the goblins and hope that Ruka could keep the troll busy until help arrived.
The troll finished its roaring and then looked down at the young girl with its beady red eyes. The goblins were starting to regain their courage and began jeering at her. Then Donnie launched himself into the fray. He leaped out of the bushes and tumbled between two of the goblins. His rapier came up in his one hand and his short sword in the other. He stabbed both goblins in the neck before they had a chance to react. They both dropped their weapons and fell to the ground clutching their throats.
“Nice move!” Ruka yelled back over her shoulder. She never turned her head away from the troll but somehow knew what the swashbuckler had just done.
“Thanks milady!” Donnie said falling into a defensive stance as the three remaining goblins turned to face him.
Then the troll charged. Donnie looked on in horror, frozen in place as the giant creature, easily 5 feet taller than the young girl, came rushing at her. The troll swung its huge club in a long arc that came crashing down on Ruka. Donnie fully expected to see the girl crushed beneath that club. She just stood there waiting for the blow to fall. Time slowed down as he watched the weapon get closer and closer to her. But the girl did not move. At the very last second she dropped her sword and threw out both her hands.
Then the impossible happened. Ruka grabbed the club and stopped it cold. Everyone froze at the sight. Donnie could not believe his eyes. The girl had caught the club! Then he noticed something else strange. Was Ruka glowing? The young girl’s body seemed to have a faint aura around it.
The troll was as surprised as everyone else when its attack had been so effectively halted. It had paused for a moment, obviously startled, but then tried to yank its club back. Ruka, however, had a good hold on the cudgel with both hands and the troll could not free its weapon.
Ruka’s hair seemed to stir and rise on its own accord and the crackling glow of electric arcs began to jump in larger arcs around her and slowly crawl up the length of the club.
The big creature stared down at the young girl with its beady little eyes suddenly opened wide. Its whole body seemed to go slack. The troll dropped its club and began to slowly back away from the girl. Then it turned around and began to flat out run.
“Oh no you don’t!” Ruka cried out. She dropped the club and raised one hand pointing her finger at the fleeing troll. A bolt of pure argent energy flashed across the clearing into the troll, dropping it to its knees.
Then the young girl snatched up her sword, aimed at a nearby tree and loosed a blast of lightning at the trunk. The bolt hit the tree and a splitting sound could be heard. Then the tree began to fall. The troll, who had begun to rise, looked up at the last minute to see the large tree falling towards
it. It could not move out of the way fast enough though and was struck down once again.
Then Ruka aimed her short sword one more time and let loose a second bolt of lightning at the fallen troll. The bolt flashed with a crack of thunder and lit the trunk on fire. The troll groaned once in pain underneath the newly formed blaze and was silent.
Donatello stared in amazement. He was overwhelmed by the spectacle he had just seen. Then Ruka began to chuckle to herself. The young girl’s teenage giggles were in sharp contrast to the wicked power she had just displayed.
The laughter seemed to break Donnie out of his spell. He shook himself and realized that the other three goblins were still there, frozen in horror at what they had just seen. The swashbuckler launched himself into action and dispatched another goblin within seconds.
The two remaining goblins bolted at that point. They dropped their weapons and turned to run into the forest. Donnie was about to give chase when he heard Ruka say “Donnie wait!” He turned to see the girl pointing her short sword at the fleeing goblins. Then the sword glowed and a bolt of lightning arced out of the blade. Donatello had to shield his eyes for a moment but he heard the crack of thunder followed by a sizzling sound. When he could see again the last two goblins lay dead on the forest floor, burnt from the bolt of lightning which had struck them down.
The young girl sheathed her sword and walked up to the dazed swashbuckler. She got close and looked up into his face. “Thanks for the assist,” she said softly. Donnie was completely unsettled at this point. This young girl had just dispatched a troll and three goblins without breaking a sweat. What’s more is the strength she had displayed against the troll was staggering!
The swashbuckler found himself speechless for the first time in a very long while. The young girl was no more than two feet in front of him gazing up into his eyes. He had seen that look before. Mostly from women he had charmed into having their portraits done or damsels he had saved from dangerous situations. But never from a girl so young.
Donnie finally recovered himself and stepped back bowing deeply. “It was nothing milady,” he said with a flair of his cape. He stood up and flashed one of his pearly white smiles. Then his voice took on a more sincere tone. “It was really you who did all the work.”
She approached him again saying “Maybe. But you did risk your life running to my rescue.”
There was that look again. Donnie knew he needed to divert her attention away from him. “I think we should make sure that troll doesn’t break loose.” He stepped around her and walked quickly across the forest floor towards the downed creature. The young girl followed only a few short paces behind him. Donnie, what have you gotten yourself into this time? He thought apprehensively.
At the same time Donnie had reached the south shore, Lloyd and Glorfindel had made it to the north shore. Glo motioned for them to stop, then made some hand motions signaling for Lloyd to circle around to one side while he would circle around the other. Then the both flew off in different directions between the trees.
As he circled around to the west, Lloyd could hear grunts coming from the woods to his right. Then he saw a volley of arrows fly out of the forest from the same directions as the grunts and groans. That would be their last attack on the boat Lloyd vowed to himself.
The warblade launched himself through the trees and came out into a clearing at breakneck speed. He had his swords out and was on top of his first adversary before it could even turn towards him. It was a goblin, and it was dead in a matter of seconds. Lloyd saw 5 more goblins lined up in front of him. A little farther back was a huge figure. It looked half goblin and half wolf but stood upright.
It was a Barghest Lloyd realized. He mind flashed back to the one he had seen at the Cape Marlin lighthouse. This looked like the same exact creature. In fact, it could be the same one. Though what it was doing here in the Darkwoods he could not guess.
The Barghest had turned to face him when it heard the strangled cry of the goblin he had just killed. Then the forest lit up as a bolt of lightning arced its way from between two trees and slammed into the giant creature. The Barghest was momentarily stunned, its flesh sizzling and blacked from where the bolt had caught it in the back. Then it whirled and roared.
Lloyd caught a glimpse of Glorfindel hovering between the trees about thirty yards away. The other goblins had seen him as well and turned towards the wizard drawing their bows. A smile crept across the big warblade’s face as he realized that his opponents had forgotten all about him for the moment. He launched himself forward and cleaved through two more enemies before they had a chance to react.
The Barghest turned and barked in its guttural language to the three remaining goblins. Then it turned and began running on all fours towards the wizard. Lloyd watched as the creature moved at an incredible speed easily covering half the distance to the waiting elf in mere seconds. But Glo had had more than enough time to cast a second spell. Another bolt of lightning shot out and caught the Barghest in midstride. The creature stopped dead in its tracks as the second bolt slammed into it. Again it was stunned and now the front of its snout was blackened and sizzling.
The other goblins froze at the flash and sound of thunder. Lloyd took advantage of this and cleaved through yet another opponent. Two more goblins stood between him and the Barghest. The creature was shaking off the last bolt and started to roar. Lloyd knew it would begin rushing the wizard again within a few more seconds.
The warblade altered himself into a stance that was designed for attacking multiple enemies and then launched himself into a deadly assault on the two remaining goblins. He danced between them spinning and slicing almost too fast for the ordinary eye to follow. He landed four blows on each goblin in less than ten seconds. When he was done, his opponents lay on the ground in front of him unmoving. He had received a couple of minor cuts himself, but it was worth it.
The Barghest had started moving towards the wizard again, but this time it had slowed its pace, ready to dodge if another bolt came towards it. But if Lloyd was right, Glo was out of spells of lightning bolt.
Quickly the big warblade doffed his cloak. He needed to jump now, not fly. He cleared his mind and assumed the stance of the Leaping Dragon. He could almost hear his father’s voice. “Be like the dragon Lloyd. Feel the dragon power flow into you. Let it course through your entire body. Now use that power. Leap up into the sky. Soar up high above your enemy. Then pounce down on him like the dragon.”
The Barghest was 20 yards in front of him. Glorfindel had not fired another lightning bolt and the creature was closing in on him. Then Lloyd took off at dead run. Swords behind him in a V like shape as he ran towards his quarry. The Barghest was so intent on the wizard, that it did not hear him coming. He closed the gap; 15 yards; then 10 yards. Close enough Lloyd thought and he launched himself high into the air. He was fully 30 feet up when he arced and began his decent. He set his body for the Soaring Raptor Strike as he plummeted towards the still unaware Barghest.
The creature turned at the last second to see Lloyd descending upon him. Lloyd thought it was going to jump out of his way! Then a knife came flashing out of nowhere and caught the beast in the left eye. It reacted instinctively and whirled in the direction the knife came from.
Too late it realized its final mistake as Lloyd crashed into it cleaving clear through the huge beast with his adamantine blade. The big man hit the ground just behind the creature and tumbled once. He was immediately back on his feet and turned to face the monstrosity. But the Barghest was had fallen to the ground, its upper torso split wide open. The beast screamed one more time, then fell silent.
Seth walked over to the creature and stood over it.
Lloyd smiled broadly as he saw the little ninja. “Thanks for the assist,” Lloyd told the little ninja. “I thought it was going to dodge me at the last second.”
“No problem,” Seth replied nonchalantly.
Then Glorfindel came out of the woods and walked over to the two of them. “Thank you guys,” the wizard told him, “I think you both just saved my life.”
Lloyd blushed. “It was nothing,” he replied as he went to pick up his cloak. “You’d do the same for either of us.”
“Yeah, no big deal,” Seth said, “I’m going to search the bodies here to see what these things were carrying. Why don’t you two go and see how the others are doing on the north side of the river.”
“Good idea,” Glo responded as Lloyd put on his cloak.
“See you back on the boat,” Lloyd told Seth. Then the two companions launched themselves into the air and flew back out over the river.