I can only describe to you how I felt the next morning, as if a hundred dwarven smiths were pounding with all of their might into my skull. I had apparently paid for a room the night before, which explained my empty coinpurse.
Elves, as I’m sure you’re aware, don’t sleep. So what made me decide I needed a bed for the night, I don’t know. My meditation took the edge off of the hangover, but what I really needed was a hearty breakfast and a nice, relaxing walk through the forest.
Making my way out of my room, down a corridor lit by small, green candles, I caught a whiff of something frying. That was exactly what I was looking for, bacon & eggs. Once I had had my fill, I would leave this wretched place and make my way to one of the larger, more civilized cities of the North.
Descending the stairs that creaked with my every step – I once again entered the common area of the inn. Kneeling by the fire, where the wonderful smell was coming from, was the hunchbacked figure of the bartender from the night before.
“That smells delightful” I said, as I took a seat. The room had been rearranged into a semicircle of assorted chairs and stools around a large wooden trestle table. He looked up and grinned.
“It’s my specialty” he replied with a smile. “Only, sorry m’lord but that orc there has bought the lot”. He pointed outside, and through the window I could see Gronk relieving himself forcefully onto a startled cat.
He looked through the window, saw me, and barrelled inside. “This food for Gronk, Elf waits” he said menacingly, pulling up his trousers. I could smell his breath from across the room.
I was pissed, not only had he bought all of the food, but in a town like this, who knew how much was left in their stores. “Fine” I said, my mouth forcing itself into a smile. My anger was short lived, as Keg rolled down the stairs laughing like a child at a fair.
“KEG KEG KEG” He cried happily, as he rolled to a stop at Gronk’s feet. “ADVENTURE DAY IS HERE”. Gronk placed him in a chair near the fire and turned to me. “We leave soon, don’t be late”. I shrugged, I had no idea what he was talking about but I wasn’t about to argue.
The bartender handed Gronk the tray filled with at least a dozen eggs and what can only be described as half a pigs worth of bacon. “Here you are sire, please don’t hit me again, it’s all crispy this time”. Keg reached out and grabbed a handful, giggling, and before Gronk could protest, Barnaby and Saudade strolled in through the front door.
“Good morning all!” chirped the bard. “Who’s ready to kill the big bad monster and be immortalised in a song for the ages?” I looked at him blankly. He moved to take a piece of bacon. Gronk growled and slapped his hand away. “Enough, Gronk doesn’t share food”. Barnaby looked incredulous, “Come now orc, surely we adventurers have to stick together, we’ll need all of our strength to kill old Irontooth”.
As it turns out, after my seventh or eighth ale, I had agreed to go with my new band of drinking buddies to low and behold, rid this insignificant town of a menacing creature called Irontooth.
Not only did I not get breakfast that morning, but I was bound by my word (and newfound lack of funds) to help these miscreants kill or capture something I had no interest in. My journey north would have to wait.
The mayor had apparently told us that this nasty piece of work was stealing supplies, and sometimes people went missing in the woods to the west of the village. He needed to be dealt with and according to Barnaby, we were just the group for the job.
On The Hunt
The giant wooden gates of Winterhaven parted before us, the open road trailing north into the distance like a river of stone. It was misty, and the guards stood like wraiths in the early morning fog.
Keg was humming to himself as we made our way south, off the main road and into the undergrowth of the forest. Saudade tapped me on the shoulder “Thank-you for coming with us, Elf. I do not trust this orc as far as I can throw him, having you along will make things easier if..” he trailed off.
I nodded, I understood. Examining the half-orc as he bulled through the ferns, I noticed that he had notches carved into the large battle axe he wore slung across his back. I also noticed he walked with a very slight favour to his left leg.
Tucking that information away for later, I smiled as I noticed Barnaby struggling through the undergrowth, his lute getting caught in the grasping fingers of the surrounding flora. “Need a hand?” I asked. He smiled weakly, tugging his cloak free from a particularly frisky bush.
“I’m fine, just used to the paved dwarven roads, you know?” I nodded, this wasn’t the path I would have chosen – but it made sense to stay away from established paths and try for the element of surprise.
Our day continued on like this, with the orc clearing a path for us. Sometimes with his large, calloused feet – other times with his axe, chopping through vines and stray boughs like a hot knife through butter. His strength was immense.
Following him was Keg, sometimes singing to himself, sometimes chanting his name over and over. Saudade was next, his silence broken occasionally by soft curses as he was whipped in the face by branches keg had flicked behind him. I was next, I was enjoying myself, despite everything.
I’ve always felt at home in the forest – and this was no different. Barnaby was following up the rear, I only knew he was there because every so often, once he’d disentangled himself from twigs and made sure there weren’t any bugs on him – he’d strum his lute and sing a couple of lines of song.
Eventually we came to a halt, the sun had dipped below the mountain range, which loomed over us like the white-tipped fangs of some giant beast. We had been walking since just after dawn, and I had forgotten that men need more time to rest than us elves. Setting up camp, I started a small fire whilst keg sat himself next to a large oak tree and powered down. I still didn’t understand the magic that drove him, his was a natural energy not fed off of any jewel or power source that I could detect. That mystery would have to wait, as my reverie was broken by Barnaby trudging into camp, exhausted. His pack, lute & bedroll all dropped from his sagging shoulders into a heap as he collapsed next to Keg. Gronk was better off, even though he’d done the majority of the work that day. He took one look at the fire, one look at me – and promptly leant back against a tree and was snoring within seconds.
The first half of the night passed peacefully, the sky was filled with pinpricks of starlight, and the sounds of the forest surrounded our little band of merry adventurers. There was a slight breeze, warm despite spring having just started and the air was fresh as any I’d ever tasted. In my meditation I was trying to tap in to Keg’s aura, a purple infused cloud of bubbling happiness.
There was no distinction between Keg’s life force and the trees around us, making it almost impossible for me to find a foothold in the wisps and tendrils of consciousness that emanated from that magical barrel. After two hours, I had gleamed only one thing, I realised Keg did not sleep, in his powered down state he was still alert to his surroundings, just like an elf. Curious, I thought as I heard a branch break behind me. My eyes snapped open and as I whirled around to find the source of the noise, the breeze blew the stench of Goblin in my face.
“ARISE, COMPANIONS, WE ARE UNDER ATTACK” I yelled, magically amplifying my voice. As the echo of my exclamation came back seconds later, having bounced off the foothills of the mountain range, a goblin bounded through the trees to attack Saudade, who had lain down a little farther away from the group, still wary of the orc.
His scimitar flashing in the firelight, it bit deep into the old man’s flesh as he rose to confront his assailant. Keg bounded over, and with his tankard in hand, bashed the goblin across the face. Arrows flew through the trees around me, I unslung my longbow and let fly with my response.
One arrow split a goblin’s mail open from the force, his cry unheard over the sounds of the fighting. I spun, hearing more enemies coming through the trees. Casting Faerie Fire, their shapes were outlined in a shimmering purple in the darkness. Six, we could deal with six.
Barnaby was running, I thought his fear had gotten the best of him, but his path took him straight up to one of the goblins. After a quick word, the goblin lay down his weapon and left the way he came. My suspicions aroused, I ducked as another volley of arrows slammed into the tree next to me. One pierced my leg, I groaned. Snapping off the tip of the shaft, I pulled the arrow out and threw it on the ground.
Turning to see where the arrows had come from, I saw a small, ugly goblin ducking behind a bush. Unleashing a shot that my father would have been proud of, the arrow took the offending goblin and turned his head into a fine pink mist.
Screams echoed through the valley as Saudade dispatched one of the goblins, ruthlessly snapping its neck after pummelling it with a flurry of blows. Scanning the forest, I noticed the orc had yet to awaken, his body curled up around his axe, cuddling it like he was a child with his favourite blanket.
“Orc, UP” I yelled, but the oaf would not stir, maybe Saudade was right? Maybe we were being taken for fools. I had no time to consider the implications of that, as out of the corner of my eye another goblin had raised his head over the trunk of a fallen tree, taking careful aim at Keg.
In quick succession, two steel-tipped arrows from my longbow brought him down, his bow falling to rest on a bed of fallen leaves. I watched with curiosity as Keg crushed the goblin he was sitting on top of with his tankard, the bottom of which was now slick with blood. Barnaby was walking back towards me as another arrow flew past his head to bury itself, quivering in the tree that Gronk was sleeping on. He stirred.
Before I could pull up my bow to put this disgusting creature out of its misery, the FIRST goblin that Barnaby had been talking to at the beginning of the fight burst out of the shadows and sliced it in the back. Stepping over his dead comrade, his face tortured & weeping, he turned to Barnaby and cried out in dismay. Barnaby shrugged and kept walking back to the campfire. The goblin dropped his sword and ran away, sobbing into the night.
Rubbing his eyes, Gronk looked at the arrow embedded in the tree and then at me. “Did Gronk miss fight?”
The humans slept well into the morning, and we broke camp just before midday – the sun was warm on our backs as we pushed through to Irontooth’s lair. The day was a little easier, as the dense forest had given way to rolling foothills.
Barnaby was whistling, his lute and cloak unimpeded by the surrounding terrain. There were rocks, pushed up through the earth by the shifting plates below. Giant boulders had rolled and smashed their way down the slopes to create a broken landscape littered with sharp pebbles and rocks that could easily done for any mount. I counted myself lucky we were on foot.
Leaving the leafy comfort of the forest, we made our way further south towards where the Mayor had told us that the beast had made his encampment. By mid-afternoon we had covered many miles, and our spirits lifted when Saudade spotted a small plume of smoke up ahead.
We slowed our walk and formed up, cautiously sneaking towards a cluster of large boulders at the base of a large hill.
Success, there was an entrance to what looked like an underground cave between the rocks. I motioned to Gronk, he should go first. I didn’t need to tell him twice. Rocks crunched under his feet as he slipped between the two boulders, disappearing into the murky darkness.
In quick succession, all but Saudade – who, for some reason decided to stay outside, we followed suit. Walking between the boulders, I noticed I was in a shallow creek, water trickling past my feet out into the light behind me.
As our eyes adjusted, we found ourselves standing in a long, uphill tunnel – burrowed deep into the hill. To our right was another tunnel where I could hear scuffling, and the occasional growl.
Gronk stood motionless, orc eyes aren’t quite as strong as elves. I pushed past him, eager to have this debacle over with as quickly and quietly as possible. Making my way down the smaller tunnel, the growling got louder. I came to a small rough-hewn cavern, light flickering from high above from somewhere out of sight.
Three wolves stood upon a giant mound of rotting food, broken crates and refuse that smelled worse than Gronk. I cast Speak Animals and knelt to speak to them. They told me that Irontooth was upstairs, where the light was coming from – and I told them that we were friends. The two males strained at their collars, eager to bite me if I came too close. Calming them with soothing words, I released all three on the condition that they not attack me or my companions.
Agreeing, they sat silently while I unclasped the bronze collars from around their shaggy necks. As soon as they were free, the males bounded past me, barking their thanks. The female, who I named Grey, asked to stay & fight with us, as thanks for setting her and her brothers free.
Unbeknownst to me, Barnaby had taken it upon himself to explore further up the initial corridor. Two goblin sentries stood guarding a flight of steps whilst a third stood behind a rocky outcropping, playing with dice. They heard him coming – humans not being the most subtle of races.
“Who’s there?” one cried (according to Gronk, who speaks goblin), whilst the other one fumbled for his weapon. “It is I, the Goblin King” Barnaby’s voice boomed through the cave. I winced. He had responded in the common speech.
I caught sight of him as he sauntered past the entrance to my cave – dressed in rich silks, a golden sceptre (I highly doubted it was real) in one hand and the other raised in a royal wave. He was hunched over, with a wart on his nose and crude, green wax ears completed the ensemble. Afterwards, Barnaby would insist that his performance was “transcendent”. I am still not inclined to agree.
The goblins, who, I might add, are not the most intelligent of creatures, were not taken in by this wonderfully crafted costume, and yelled out in attack.
The one behind the rocky outcropping pulled a lever and we heard a loud rumble. Within seconds, a gigantic wave of water crashed out from a hole in the roof, collecting my companions like sticks in a river, and tried to sweep them from the tunnel.
Barnaby was swallowed by the wall of water crashing over him like a hill giant in a temper. As the water slowly trickled into my cave, Grey and I took a step back, standing on a discarded wooden pallet. Keg had managed to hold on to a rock, his feet trailing behind him, Gronk was clinging desperately to Keg’s kicking feet as the waters fury tried unsuccessfully to dislodge them. Once the deluge had finally diminished, the two were soaked through, dripping & angry.
The goblins had stayed put, laughing at us. One was stringing his bow, as the other bent over in a fit of hysterics. Saudade charged in, having not seen what had triggered the waterfall – and ran straight up to one of the goblins and punched him in the throat.
Watching this, I took my longbow out and shot an arrow at the laughing goblin, and to my dismay, it missed. I yelled at Grey to attack. Snapping out of his shock from just being unceremoniously dumped into a muddy pond, Barnaby sprang into action.
His mouth twisted in fury, he stormed in from outside, he had taken a bow from one of the previous night’s assailants, and using it with a practiced eye, loosed an arrow at the goblin that I’d missed – it hit him straight in the chest. Gronk roughly grabbed my robe as he ran past and threw me bodily 15 feet into the air to land on a hastily crafted rope bridge I had previously not noticed. Grey followed Saudade and bit into the goblin’s leg, emitting a howl that echoed through the small chamber.
She must have caught an artery, as the goblin fell back, still. The other two goblins were dispatched quickly, for fear of alerting anyone else in the vicinity. I caught one in the throat with an arrow, as Gronk split the other’s head apart with his battle axe.
Catching our breath at the base of the stairs, we regrouped. Gronk growled. “Gronk does not like water”, still dripping from his unwanted bath. I smirked.
Explaining to the party what Grey had told me, we steeled ourselves for a fight. Gronk wanted to run in and catch them off guard, Saudade agreed. I personally wanted to go a different route but mid-conversation, Keg got bored and wandered up the stairs. Straight into a hobgoblin and his cronies. I cannot explain to you what happened next, as it was a blur of Saudade’s hands & Keg’s tankard.
However, by the time it was over the hobgoblin and his three associates were off to meet their makers. We were in a small antechamber, with a low roof and bronze sconces on the wall, lit torches casting moving shadows of us and the corpses.
Keg giggled. “Good ale here, I can feel it”. I looked at Barnaby, he smiled. “Keg’s a keen drinker, always got a good sense for ale. Let’s go and find it shall we?” He beckoned to Keg.
Behind him was another set of stairs leading up. Gronk was at the bottom of the stairs, trying to peer up into the darkness. Saudade and Keg ran past him, hooting and hollering like children.
As soon as they crested the top, a roar emitted from the chamber beyond. “WHO DARES ENTER THE CHAMBER OF IRONTOOTH, SPLITTER OF SKULLS, TERROR OF WINTERHAVEN”. They dove into the darkness, out of sight.
I looked to Barnaby, he paled. I shrugged, and ran after them. Gronk had the same idea, and had arrived at the top of the stairs just before me. The first thing I noticed was a gigantic firepit, with a huge haunch of some great beast turning on a spit. Next was a gigantic humanoid figure barrelling towards Saudade and Keg, with a huge wolf at his side, hungry eyes glinting in the firelight.
The figure lunged at Saudade, his weapon a gigantic bough of a tree, wrapped with banded iron spikes. It swung low, and the monk jumped out of the way just in time. Keg swung his tankard, clipping the figure on the back of its head. Seeing this attack on its master – the wolf leapt at Keg, driving him towards the firepit. I had to act, Gronk was already moving, sprinting towards a group of goblins that had frozen to the spot upon seeing their great leader attacked.
I cast entangle, and thick, thorny vines erupted from the earth and wrapped themselves around the goblins legs. Satisfied he could deal with them, I turned back to the giant humanoid – realising that this was no ordinary hobgoblin, this was a bugbear.
An arrow flew past my head, and thudded into the haunch of the wolf. It snarled in disgust and snapped off the shaft with its dagger like teeth. “Gods, I’m good at this!” Barnaby cried out in triumph, loosing arrows at the wolf, illuminated by the torches behind him, I have to admit – he looked the part.
The fight was vicious, as brutal a conflict I’d ever been in. Keg was hit by a cruel swing of the giant club, and with a heartrending splitting of wood, splinters shooting from a grievous wound, he went down.
Saudade had caught the brunt of the Bugbear’s initial attacks, and he was bleeding profusely, beyond the point of exhaustion. Gronk had dispatched the smaller goblins and was now focussing on the wolf, keeping its teeth and claws at bay with his giant axe.
I looked over at Barnaby, we drew upon our reserves of strength, and combined them to cast healing word on Keg. The wood poured back into place, as if nothing had happened, and I couldn’t resist but leave my mark. I scratched “Ebrithil wuz ere” where his wound had been, so that he wouldn’t forget a debt owed. With Keg back in the action, Gronk was able to flank the wolf – trapping it between us and the fire. Fear shone in the beasts eyes, spittle flew from its maw as it howled in frustration.
Without hesitation, I shot my last arrow directly between those sharp teeth, ending its suffering. Gronk turned to me, anger contorting his face. “That was my kill, elf”.
We had no time to argue as we were now able to direct all of our attention on Irontooth, who had decided the monk was no longer a threat and was advancing on the orc. Barnaby ran to Saudade, holding his hands over the old man’s chest, chanting.
“He’s alive” he yelled, his hands glowing with magic. “I’ve got him”. I nodded, and turned back just as Gronks absurdly large axe split Irontooth’s head in two, his skull exploding like a ripe melon. It was over. We had won.
Lifeblood pooled around the corpses of the slain, a very real reminder that we had come very close to the gates of death ourselves. After an hours rest, we looted the corpses.
Gronk swapped his notched (and now very bloody) axe for Irontooths weapon, as a trophy I guessed. Saudade was up and about, searching for what he could. Keg was drunk, singing merrily with Barnaby, who was composing his new ballad “Irontooth’s Demise”.
I had a chance to survey the carnage. I hadn’t realised – but at some point during our battle, Grey had been slain. Surrounding her were three dead goblins.
“Go well into the night, fierce warrior” I whispered to her corpse. Taking out my skinning knife, I went to work. She would continue on with us always.