The constant ring of steel could be heard outside of the barracks entrance. Though the sun had barely risen, the Kalindrill guard was already hard at work training. The warriors passed through the threshold. A man nearly seven feet tall noticed their sudden entrance immediately. With three great strides, the warrior was directly in front of them.
“You must be the work mules for Kratious.” the man said almost sarcastically.
“We’ve been sent here by the Duke, yes” Rohan spoke with a slight tone of annoyance.
“Good good, my name is Captain Roac, commander of the Kalindrill Guard. I suspect ol’ Krayshee is looking for me to get you some supplies and send you off on you mission.”
“That seemed to be his intent in sending us here.” the dragonborn quickly added.
Captain Roac looked at the men with an eye of interest. His long black hair covering the left side of his face, a scar protruded out of those locks and came up under his eye. He was surely a man of battle, a warrior and leader. He gave a slight chuckle and bade the men follow him into a quieter room.
“I suspect you have been told that the Duke’s son Laertes has been taken by a band of thieves. That a death threat has been found, locating the band on the eastern side of Falcon’s Spire…it is true the son has been taken, and it is also true that you boys will be headed to Falcon’s Spire. However, there are many things you do not know yet. You see, I have a much better proposition for you men. Laertes has been kidnapped, but not by a band of thieves…he’s been taken…by me.”
Kentorr’s eyes lowered, Eeeagle felt his shooting arm tense up from those stinging words.
“What makes you think we won’t turn you in for who you are right now?” the dragonborn spoke with laden confidence.
“Because you can’t, dragonblood. The Duke would never believe a bunch of troublemakers like yourselves, a group of boys who’ve already joined lynch mobs and murdered townsfolk, over myself, the leader of the Duke’s great army. So in that way this newly obtained information has become more of a command than a request. However, I am generous, you will be payed heavily for your work in a separate quest. I need you four to make your way to Falcon’s Spire. Find your way in, and make it to the top. There you will find the Falcon’s Ruby. It is a powerful stone that is of great worth to me. I cannot leave my post here to obtain it myself. You are the men I need for such a quest. I will pay each of you as well as put Laertes in your possession. You can then turn the boy over to the Duke, proclaiming you destroyed a thieve’s camp, burned it down, or sicked a dragon on it. I don’t really care. Either way, your getting paid twice for doing one mission. This is a rather lucrative offer for you men.”
“I’m up for it,” Ku said with a quick shrug.
“Wait just one bearded gnome’s second,” said Kentorr.
Ku gave him a side long glance but let the comment roll off his back.
“Your saying we are to be going to this Falcon’s Spire. Risk our lives for this ruby then bring it back. We are going to need a lot of supplies for a quest like this. Each of us need 1000g just to depart.”
Eeeagle gave a quick nod.
“I can give each of you 600g to begin this mission, not much more than what Kratious informed me to give, that is all I can offer.
“It will work,” said Rohan, not wanting to anger the Captain too much.
“Good, make your way through the Trollmarshes and over the sun dried plains of Erlin. Through there you will find a trail that will lead you to the home of Bain Aris. He will give you more information on the ruby and point you in the right direction. Good luck my friends.”
With a quick turn, Captain Roac exited the room leaving the men with a surprising turn of events. A turn none are quite sure should be capitalized on.
After a quick stop at Gillie’s Supply Chest, the four warriors: Ranger, Warlock, Shaman, and Warlord, made there way out of the safety of Kalindrill and into the unknown lands of Maldok. They traveled for a day straight, over hillocks and overgrown fields. They cut through the land like a serpent over grass. By the second day they reached the edge of the Trollmarshes. The mangled trees loomed over the adventurers like a certain oath of death. It would be a dangerous trek, but one with a worthy cause. The men knew that either way, their mission would free an innocent man from the shackles of injustice. And in that thought, they pushed their way into the darkness of the marsh.
Deep into the thick of the wood, over twisted roots and murky swamps, the men found there first encounter. A band of wolves bolted out of the darkness. Rohan was quick to throw his hand into the air, his deathly panther formed from a simple mist. In one quick motion, feline was clawing at wolf, a ferocious battle playing out.
Eeeagle notched his first arrow before the battle had begun. One arrow then two twanged as the wolves pushed on. The sword of Kentorr rose high as a war call came out into the misty air. The dragonborn charged into the wolf defense, a black mass of Ku’s blast struck the wolf in front of the scaled warrior. The battle was on in full. The four men pushed, slaying one wolf after another. Around one bend, the men found another trio of wolves hovering over a dead carcass of a fallen adventurer. They charged on taking up the battle at every turn. They happened across another dead warrior, reminding them of how dangerous a road they were running.
The marsh suddenly became silent. There was no more howls from the vicious wolves. The men walked on, blood soaking into their armor. Their weapons dripping with their freshest kill.
Then the still air cracked, not by the howl of a wolf, but by a simple whistle. The men followed the muffled tune thru dense brush. Over one fallen log they found the source. A small Halfling was resting against that overturned tree, skinning the carcass of a freshly slain wolf.
Kentorr sprung onto the log, hands on his hip.
“Who goes there, good Halfling?”
Without turning the Halfling spoke in a broken dialect.
“Me names Babby, Babby Bush!”
“Pleasant meeting you Bobby, my name is Kentorr and…”
“It’s Babby, not Bobby,” professed the little Halfling, finally turning from his current task. "Ima hunter o’ da woods, spend me days tracking and stalking ma next meal. Its mighty good ta see fresh faces, that hadn’t been ripped apart by the stinkin’ wolves o’ the region that is.
The small Halfling jumped up onto the log and held a firm hand out. Kentorr returned it with a strong shake.
“Tell me Babby, is there anything that me and my friends should know about the area were traveling in?”
“Plenty o’ things ta know. Most importantly, its good ta know the likes a Buster. He be the meanest, smelliest, good for nothing troll in the area. If I were you, i’d stay clear o’ that one if at all possible. See me and Buster gots a past, we know to stay away from each other. He doesn’t much like the taste o’ me flamin arrows and I ain’t liken those nasty claws. He stays to the north end o’ the marsh and I keep south. Things run smooth that way. Thats all I can really be tellin ya me dragon friend.”
“Valuable information, we thank you Sir Babby,” Rohan spoke with respect in his voice.
“We better get a move on, if we plan to make it through the marsh before night fall. I’d much rather be camped under the stars of the night than the gloom of the marsh’s canopy,” the ranger added.
So the men traveled on, saluting good Babby as they departed. Around one turn they found themselves at a clear fork in the road. North, they knew was the way out. Of course their adventurous blood told them they should travel East a bit just to see if there was anything of interest.
The ground sloped upward, drying the mud into hard clay. Brush lay thick on the trail. Kentorr lead the way, cracking twigs and leaves as he went.
“I see a small cave up ahead!” the Warlord said with excitement.
Another two steps, and the dragonborn felt a tightness around his ankle. Soon he was hanging upside down from a tall oak. Kentorr looked around frantically. His longsword lay beneath him some 10 feet. He was helpless, dangling from the rope trap. The other men walked up with amused looks splayed across their face.
“I’ll climb up and cut the rope,” Ku said with a smile.
The gnome started over for the tree, but heard a small growl up above. Rohan’s panther had already materialized high in the limbs of the tree. WIth one great claw, the cat severed the rope, dropping Kentorr to the dirt. The men all shared a laugh at that.
They traveled almost up to the cave. The perceptible Ranger noticed a small chest. His eyes shined with loot-lust. He sprung forward racing for the chest. Not five feet from his prize, he felt his feet touch air. Down he went, into a fifteen foot pit, camouflaged by leaves and branches. The men watched the shapeshifter, not sure if he was ok at the bottom. The men started to get a little wary of the area they were in.
Kentorr walked around the hole and to the chest. In lay a single not with the scrawling, “haha suckers!” signed by the one and only, Babby.
Rohan saw fire rage in the dragonborn’s eyes. He understood Kentorr wasn’t taking kindly to Babby’s traps. He decided he better investigate the tunnels before his scaly friend tore in there destroying whatever was in site. Babby’s cave was low for a Deva or any other normal race. Barely reaching 3 feet, the Shaman had to crawl on all fours. Ten feet into the cave entrance, the Deva’s hands clawed forward, straight into a deadly pit of spikes. Rohan went down, spikes skewered his hands, ripped at the side of his torso, and stuck directly in one knee cap. The adventurers heard a loud scream and came running in. Ku was there first, unlike the rest of his group, he easily walked in hardly having to duck his head. The gnome peered down at his friend, agony roiling across his face.
“Get me out of here!” the Shaman pleaded.
Eeeagle was quickly behind Ku, he laid down on his stomach reaching into the pit. With a great tug on Rohan’s shoulder, the ranger was pulling him out slowly. Over the lip, the warlord was already preparing a healing surge for his blue friend.
Rohan properly mended, the men inched their way forward into the cave. A warm flicker of light could be seen ahead, and soon the men found themselves in a large room in the cave. Embers of a fire were directly in the middle of the room. A small ornate desk sat in one corner accompanied with a similarly miniature chair. A tiny chest lay by a little oak bed. Eeeagle found a love letter addressed to Babby’s lover, Ophelia. Kentorr quickly stoked the embers to the fire. Taking, a torch, the dragonborn lit the bed and desk on fire. They looted the chest and dumped out the last of the stew. Eeeagle, began to get that nervous feeling in his stomach, that nervousness he got whenever his group conducted themselves in a morally questionable way.
Eeeagle crawled his way back to the entrance of the cave, posing as a lookout for the men inside. He immediately heard the familiar whistle of the Halfling Hunter. The ranger’s stomach dropped. Out of instinct, the shapeshifter took up his bow and notched an arrow. Babby’s whistling grew louder and soon the little man rounded the trail directly in front of the waiting ranger.
Before Babby could shout out, an arrow twanged, flying from Eeeagle’s bow string. Babby felt a piecing sting in his leg. The little hunter went down on one knee. However, he didn’t miss a beat. With on quick motion he swung his magical short bow around, notching an explosive burning arrow in the blink of an eye. The flaming arrow shot forth bursting into fire. It struck the shapeshifter in the arm, almost blowing if from his shoulder. Rohan came forth from the cave, summoning his panther before he was fully out of the hole. The cat was on Babby before the little hunter could notch his second arrow. The rest of the men came out of cave with awe on there face. Eeeagle sat there with his next arrow ready.
“Give us one good reason why we shouldn’t kill you!” Kentorr shouted.
“What’d ya mean give a reason?” The halfling said under the weight of the panther. “I done nothin’ to ya and ur knowin it true.”
“You sprung traps on us,” Kentorr spat. “You almost killed Rohan here.”
“Look this me home, I gots ta protect whats mine. If that means I’ma be layin traps to keep her safe, then ima ta doin that.”
Rohan’s panther yelped then disappeared. Babby was back on one knee, bow in hand. A arrow spat forth, but Eeeagle was quicker. The flaming arrow missed its mark, but the Shapeshifter’s struck directly between the eyes of the Halfling, knocking the hunter back, stealing his last breath.
The men stood in wonder, not sure what just happened. The ranger strode up to the Halfling, taking his bow and arrows, thinking they would come in handy if they came across the one they called Buster.
On the men went, most glancing over at the Shapeshifting Ranger. Eeeagle seemed to always be the logical one, making sure the actions of each men were for the good of the group. More than a few times he had spoke out against some of the other’s actions. Yet he put a bead on the little hunter and shot him dead. It was a little mind boggling to the others, but none were complaining too badly.
The men walked on, heading north towards the mountain they called Falcon’s Spire. The tip could easily be made out now and then when there was an opening in the canopy of the dense marsh. Light shown through in stripes as they deflected off of various areas of the forest ceiling. Up ahead a croaky voice could be heard.
Three trolls with giant clubs stood together conversing over something. Kentorr could decipher some of the goblinoid tongue that was similar to the Orcishey he was fluent in.
“Me throw wolf head, you hit with giant club,” the bigger of the three warty green creatures gargled.
“Ok Bruggit, me hit head hard,” another spoke.
The men looked on in amusement.
Rohan peered over at the ranger, "Hey Eeeagle think you could stop their ball game short?
“Already on it,” Eeeagle said with a grin.
The shapeshifter swung his bow into position, notching an arrow to the string. The trolls got into their positions, one throwing, the other hitting.
“One, two, three swing!” Bruggit shouted.
The wolf head went flying in the air. The troll with the giant club went to swing as the head came near, but in a flash it vanished. The three ugly beasts looked at each other in confusion. A second arrow struck Bruggit in the shoulder, as a black blast of energy hit him squarely in the chest. Kentorr and Rohan sprung into action. The dragonborn was on the second troll, slashing and thrusting, forcing the troll to back up, desperately parrying his swings with that giant club. The troll thought he saw an opening in the warlord’s defense, but Kentorr left that opening knowing the dumb beast would bite. A powerful swing left the troll with only one arm, the other wiggling on the ground, club still in hand.
A ghostly panther barreled into the final troll, raking its already ugly face. Ku lifted his hand sending forth a biting spear of black mist, blowing the troll into pieces.
Before the men could celebrate their small victory, the ground began to shake. Black crows shot forth from the surrounding trees, a pair of squirrels darted into a nearby brush. A low growl struck the psyche of each man on the trail. A giant troll, twice the height of even Kentorr, charged out of the thick marsh. His warty face was caked in slime and puss. His upper teeth looked more like fangs protruding over his lower lip.
Buster was indeed a hideous sight.
Kentorr didn’t hesitate, charging with abandon, Rohan’s panther close behind. Eeeagle notched one of Babby’s flaming arrows. Ku ran up the closest tree, looking to get a better angle at the giant troll. The men struck with perfect precision. Buster was ready though. He caught the panther in the air, squeezing the life out of it. The quick death hurt Rohan half as bad. Kentorr came in striking hard at Buster’s knee cap. The flash of a bursting arrow struck the troll’s hip directly in front of Kentorr. The brightness blinded the Warlord for just a moment. Buster screamed in agony, swinging down at the dragonborn knocking him ten feet back. Ku let fly a furry of blasts that struck the troll multiple times. Rohan blasted him simultaneously with his own wintery magic. Eeeagle notched his final blazing arrow, the missile struck Buster straight in the chest, blowing a large cavity where his sternum once was. His lungs and heart fell to the ground. The beast lurched forward gargling curses to the vicious party of warriors.
It was a quick death, and the men felt they had done the marsh justice that day eradicating the plague that was Buster. They traveled on for another few hours onto the plains of Erlin. Finally they made it to the base of Falcon’s Spire. In a patch of trees sat a cottage made of stone, the home of Bain Aris. The next stop on their quest. Each man in the group had one thing in mind.
Who lay behind that door, and would he have the answers they were looking for.