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Max_Writer

Pathfinder - The Sunless Citadel 5 - A Giant Rat and New Arrivals

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

(After Jacob Marcus ran his Pathfinder game “The Sunless Citadel” with Victoria Larson, Katelyn Hogan, and me Monday, November 13 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.)

Iago’s Memoirs

I suggested sending Brooke back to town with all the loot and figured we should all go back as well as I was about out of magic and we’d explored as far as we could that day. I noted there was the room with the pit near the fountain of death that we had not yet examined, however. Catarina was unsure of where that was and I pointed it out on the map. Argie seemed content with whatever we chose to do.

We returned to the tower and then back towards goblin town, passing through the room with the dry fountain and through the dungeon. We finally arrived in the room with the fountain of death, so-called due to the inscription upon it in draconic. The pit in front of the room had been opened and the door was closed to the room.

Catarina cracked her neck and her knuckles.

“I really hope this door ain’t that tough,” she said.

She ran at the door from across the room, leaping over the open pit with a scream and smashing through. The room on the other side was a den with assorted, gathered shining things all woven together with twigs, moss, and feces, obviously amassed over the course of decades by the occupants. The stench of rotting meat filled the air from the chewed carcasses of cave rats, smaller vermin, and some suspiciously humanoid bodies. The cadavers lay upon a floor of filth, old bones, hair, and fur that combined to make a particularly large and vile nest. The northern wall was smashed, opening on rubble-strewn darkness. On the far end of the room was a rat larger than all four of us.

“Dibs!” Catarina yelled as she rushed it.

She charged across the room towards the huge rat as smaller rats moved in on her, fangs snapping. She punched the huge rat. It screamed in pain and Argie flung a bolt of fire from her hand, burning one of the smaller rats to death. The great rat tore at Catarina with its claws. She pushed on its face, holding it back.

“No,” she said.

I drew my crossbow and loaded it. The other rats flanked Catarina and attacked her. One of them nearly bit her.

“Better luck next time, bro,” Catarina said to the rat. “If there’s a next time.”

“I think she’s under the apprehension that rats understand her,” I said to Argie.

“Maybe she speaks rat,” Argie said.

I doubted it.

Catarina turned and punched one of the smaller rats, knocking it against the wall. It crashed with a squeal as she turned to punch the other smaller rat, killing it as well.

“You don’t have to help me,” she called. “I’m good.”

Argie rolled her eyes and settled for watching, as did I. I aimed my crossbow into the room, ready to shoot at the big rat should Catarina fall. The large rat, the last left, attacked the woman but didn’t injure her. Catarina punched the rat again and seemed to anger it. It moved around her towards the two of us but Catarina struck the thing as it moved by and it stopped just the other side of the pit from us, teeth bared.

I shot the giant rat, barely injuring it. I backed up to the other side of the room.

“Get back here!” Catarina screamed.

She charged the rat and shoved it into the open pit. As it fell, the rat screeched once and then stopped moving.

“****,” Catarina said. “I wanted to punch it again.”

“It’s right there,” I said. “Punch it.”

Argie crossed the pit, walking over the back of the rat. I waited in the fountain room while they searched. Argie found a corpse of a man buried under detritus. It wore a black cloak and next to it were six daggers. There was also a bow that was taller than the man used to be, two quivers, and a small sack. Argie found no evil on the items and brought everything out of the room. Catarina found a good deal of coins and small gems.

The cloak was very high-quality and I told them I would be able to tell if it was magical on the morrow. Catarina picked it up and shook it off. We guessed the bow was the one that the villagers had described one of the evil adventurers who had entered the place had used. I pointed it out to the others and reminded them no one could remember what he looked like. Both matched the description of the man.

“You want to hand me that bow?” Catarina said. “All I’ve got it this.”

Argie handed off the massive bow and Catarina used the bow and the cloak to make a pack on a stick. Argie urged her to be careful with the bow.

“It’s been gnawed on by rats,” Catarina said. “What’m I gonna do with it?”

“Has it?” I asked, taking the bow.

The weapon was in incredible condition. The curve of the bow was steel that had been polished. The back curve of the bow was beautifully varnished wood.

“It might be magical,” I said. “Do you know how to use a bow?”

Catarina took it back for her stick and sack. I asked her to be careful with it. She pulled it back as far as it could go without much effort. I again told her it might be magical and asked her to try not to damage it. I noted the cloak might be magical as well.

Argie handed me three daggers that were very well made. I put them onto my belt. Two of them were curved.

We decided to head back to Oakhurst. As we walked, I told Argie she needed to find out from the mayor when the apple exchange was to take place.

“Why me?” she asked. “Aren’t you the connoisseur of friends?”

“I don’t want to talk to him,” I said.

“You’re the sweet talker with the silver tongue in our group.”

“We’ll see.”

Catarina was still fiddling with the bow and, at one point, bit it to see if it was real steel.

“We’re going to have to put her in a cage,” Argie whispered to me.

We returned to the chain, climbed out of the ravine, and pulled the chain up after us. We walked back to town, arriving before dark. Gurgle told me, on the way, the giant rat was a legend to his people and they avoided those tunnels due to it. Catarina boasted of killing the goblin boogeyman.

As we arrived in town, we saw there were two merchant caravan wagons there already.

Brook was at the inn, counting the coins she’d gotten from the dragon room. I suggested she take the coins up to her room to count them. Then we divided up the coins we found in the room with the rat. I had Dem change out the loose change of copper and silver for gold coins and paid him a gold coin for his troubles. I also further examined the cloak and found it very well-used but in good condition. I told Catarina it might be magical and asked if she wanted me to hold onto it until I found out. She was fine with that. I also took the bow and arrows and daggers to check them for magic the next day. I took the items up to my room and locked them in the chest there

Argie found a cure light wounds potion in the satchel as well. She offered it to me but I offered it to Catarina. She would waste it soon enough.

As we sat at the booth, a commotion came from outside of a wagon pulling up and people yelling. It died out briefly and a few moments passed. Then a man entered the room. I suppose some would call him grandiose though he was not particularly tall, only being about five feet in height. He had blonde hair that flowed down his back and he wore a large and illustrious, gold-encrusted cloak and carried a small, pointless cane. Argie glared at the man.

“Dem! Nackle!” the pompous man called out. “It is that time of year again, is it not?”

“Dem! Nackle!” Catarina called out. “There’s a prissy ****er screaming louder than me!”

“You … have no right to call me that!” the pompous fool said.

Argie giggled.

“You have no idea what adventures I have been on,” the pompous merchant went on. “The things I have sold and the women I have bed.”

“You bed women!?!” Catarina said. “I’m impressed.”

“More women than you have bed men!”

“I never said I bedded men. Also, love … goats don’t count, even if they are women.”

Argie burst out in laughter once again and I joined her.

“I’m sure whatever your twisted, animalistic desires, I have surpassed you in that regard,” the man said.

“That means he’s had sex with more …” I muttered.

The man took a seat at the table and pounded on it with his cane.

“Did he just admit to being a goat ****er?” Catarina said to Argie and myself.

“Indeed, he did,” I said. “The common tongue is quite simple.”

I explained exactly what the man had said. Catarina just nodded.

“Let the man have his pride,” I ended. “Not everyone can have sex with many, many goats.”

Catarina and Argie laughed.

Nackle brought the man a mug and gave the man a hug as she jumped onto the table. He was obviously a familiar face.

“They just love his money,” I muttered.

The man put a small satchel of gold coins on the table. Nackle took it and disappeared into the kitchen again.

“The usual?” she said before departing.

“Absolutely,” the pompous man said. “Always.”

She returned with a glass of wine and a meal.

“Goat meat,” I said to those at the booth.

Catarina laughed again.

The man had withdrawn into his meal and didn’t pay any more attention to us. Over the course of the rest of the evening, other new faces trickled in and took places around him and his table. I guessed they were his entourage. I also guessed he was very rich, as were his friends. There were about six others with him. They laughed like old friends. He was the only man, however. There was an orc, a drow, a dwarf, an elf, a cat-folk, and some other creature in a heavy cloak.

“Hey, Iago?” Catarina said.

“Hm?” I said.

“Wanna help me earn some money from pansy ****?”

“What?”

“Wanna help me get some money off pansy ****?”

“I have plenty of money.”

“Ah, but don’t you want more, though? I just need your help backing me up to start a fight.”

“Oh, that’s all right. No no. I’m sure that you’re much better at this than I.”

“No.”

“Argie is very good at picking fights.”

“Have you seen my face?” Argie said. “Most people don’t talk to me.”

“I need you to make it look like me being in a fight would be the worst thing I could ever choose,” Catarina said.

“Had I been one of you …” Argie said.

“Because I’m an overblown moron who just happens to be big,” Catarina went on. “But who can’t actually hit.”

“How would I do this?” I asked.

“I dunno. You’re the smart one. I just punch people.”

“She wants you to get her into a fight,” Argie said.

I sighed.

“Something like a … an arena?” Argie went on. “Not an arena.”

“So, my dear, those lovely spiked things that you bought at the … at the … shopping district in Starfall … they really do make you look very tough,” I said loudly. “It’s very good that the magic helps your features as well. I … I think it’s been very good for you. Even the fake blood. Lovely touch.”

“Lower,” Catarina said.

“Oh … my voice does tend to carry. I’m sorry.”

“You’re ruining my fun. I do not appreciate your speaking so loudly about all this.”

My mouth dropped open as her usual boorish accent was gone, replaced by a refined voice.

“I do not appreciate you speaking so loudly of this,” she continued. “It is supposed to be secret. We discussed this.”

“Oh, no one’s paying attention,” I said loudly. “No one’s paying attention. The inn is full of people.”

“My father’s not paying for you to blow my cover, you moron.”

“Hm. You’re father’s not paying me much at all, so …”

“Shut. Up.”

“Shall I prepare your room? I know you like the flowers.”

“Thank you, Iago.”

I stood, bowed, and walked away, going up upstairs.

* * *

I later learned the merchant turned and looked at Catarina as if scanning her. She ignored him, waving for another ale.

* * *

I returned after 15 minutes.

“If you have no more need of me, m’lady … I mean … tough woman,” I said. “Isn’t that your name? Isn’t that the name you wanted? Tough woman?”

“I need to borrow nine gold from you,” Catarina said quietly to me.

I sat down and lowered my voice.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I need some collateral just in case,” she said quietly. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll pay you back.”

I surreptitiously counted out nine gold coins and slid them to her under the table. She also borrowed nine gold coins from Argie.

“Are you done with me for the evening?” I asked again.

“Go the **** to sleep,” Catarina said.

“Yes,” I said. “By your command.”

“Moron,” she muttered.

I grabbed Gurgle by the collar and took him up to our rooms. I left him at his own and went to my room to study my spell book.

* * *

After I left, I later learned Catarina figured the orc she was ready to challenge had enough to drink. That was also about the time Gurgle crept back downstairs in the hopes of seeing a fight. Catarina drank more beer.

Catarina stood up, muttered something about going to smoke, and wandered towards the door, pretending to waver on her feet. She headed for the door but, right before she passed the orc’s chair, she pretended to trip and fall, grabbing chair next to the orc’s chair. That was the chair of the cat-folk who was sitting upon it cross-legged.

“****!” Catarina cried out as she fell.

The cat-folk jumped off the chair, landing deftly on his feet and stared down at Catarina.

“**** bro,” she said. “I’m sorry, this big, stupid **** has his chair out too far.”

“That ‘big stupid ****’ has a name,” the cat-folk said.

“Aside from ‘Big stupid **** with the chair out too far?’” Catarina said.

She swayed and turned to the orc.

“What the ****’s wrong with you?” she said. “Have your chair out in the middle of the god-damned hall.”

The orc turned around and looked at down at her. He pumped his eyebrows and then turned back to his drink.

The cat-folk frowned. He dropped into a wind stance.

“I don’t know if you know who you have just picked a fight with,” he said in a deep voice.

“****, I ain’t gonna fight you in this bar!” Catarina said. “I like these tavern owners. I bet you and your friends 20 gold apiece that I could kick your ass outside.”

“That … ma’am … is a bet I will take,” the cat-folk said.

He turned his back to her and left through the front door.

“****,” Catarina said loud enough for everyone at the tablet to hear. “I’m in another fight.”

The other men put the gold on the table and then all went out to spectate. Catarina made a big show out of counting money out to match the coin. Then she stumbled outside to fight. Argie and Gurgle followed.

The cat-folk was tiny, only three-and-a-half feet tall. He wore only monk’s robes. He had a very calm expression on his face.

“Gurgle, whether you like kobolds or not, stay next to me,” Argie said. “Now watch close, Gurgle: Here’s how you pick who not to fight.”

Catarina held up her hands in fists, waiting for the cat-folk. He waited for her.

“What are you planning?” the cat-folk said. “Are you going to hit me or am I going to have to hit you first?”

Catarina stumbled a half step to the side and just looked at him.

“Huh?” she said.

The cat-folk walked up to her. He struck her several times open-palmed, punching her between the spikes on her chest twice. He struck her another time but didn’t harm her. Then he struck her again and again. All before she could react.

She cracked her neck twice.

“Oh, this is going to be more fun than I thought,” she said.

The cat-folk smiled.

“Give me five seconds, bro,” she said.

She drank down the cure light wounds potion we’d given her earlier that night.

I had heard the punches from my room above, each like a cracking whip in the night air. I shrugged and went back to reading my spell book.

Below, the cat-folk waited for Catarina to fight back. Instead of hitting the little fellow, she lunged at him to grapple him and wrapped herself around him. The orc let out a cheer. The cat-folk struggled to escape unsuccessfully. She punched him in the face and they both grinned. He tried to escape again and she pinned him solidly. Then she punched him in the face again and again.

“Do you have any idea how boring the monk academy is?” he said.

“Do you have any idea how boring it is killing everything with one punch?” she said. “Rats and goblins go down in no time at all.”

He tried to break free and she punched him in the face again. Then he broke free, twitching his claws and touching her in a spot that tickled her. She laughed and let go, standing up.

“I owe ya a drink when I wake up,” she said.

He laid into her again and again and again and again and again. She finally fell. Then he staggered backwards, finally displaying the level of pain he was in.

“That was ****ing awesome!” she said.

The cat-folk sat down heavily. Then the inhuman woman walked to them and healed each of them completely.

“Vow of poverty,” the cat-folk said. “You can keep your money.”

“I’m buying you the whole tavern, bro,” she said.

“My name is Rijin,” the cat-folk said.

“My name is Catarina Russianolska,” she said.

They shook hands.

“I owe you a drink, bro,” she said. “That was the best fun I’ve had in months.”

“I have to say the same to you,” he said.

He led her into the taproom once again. All of the money was returned and she spent the night with them, drinking and talking. In addition to Rijin, she met Crow the Orc, Marcus the merchant, Mal the drow, Artemis the Undyne, and John the elf. Gurgle joined as well and they seemed to enjoy his company.

* * *

Day nine in Oakhurst dawned bright and clear, as usual. The bellows came on to warm my room and I checked the items for magic. Only the cloak proved to have any magic which was illusionary in nature. I found it was unique. It didn’t have a specific spell upon it, but when the hood was pulled up, no one would be able to make out any distinctive features of the wearer’s face. They could look at the face but the cloak would affect their mind and they would not be able to identify it.

I went down to breakfast, put the cloak on the table, and told the others what it did.

“Really?” Catarina said.

She put the cloak over her shoulders and put the hood up to mask herself. I handed over the rest of the gear as well. I told them I’d put the rest back in my room and we’d see if Brook wanted any of the items. Otherwise we sell it all. I took the gear away and returned to finish my breakfast.

I suggested we could go back and finish dealing with the goblins, see the kobolds, or finish searching the areas of the map. Catarina said she merely followed us around because we found things she could punch. I pointed out we’d be going back to punch things. She wanted to bring someone named “Rijin” along. I was not familiar with him so she told me about the fight the night before.

“What are they doing here?” I asked. “Did you find that out?”

“Nope, no idea,” she said.

“Well, you’re friends with them. Can you find that out? Are they here for the apples?”

“I might. What is with you and apples?”

“No one’s told you about the apples?”

She looked perplexed and I reminded her we were all there for the apples, of the apples of death in the winter and the apples of life in the summer. How the first was poison. How the second could heal and cure almost anything. The death apples were white and the life apples were red and perfect. I told them about the town trading with the goblins for the apples and then selling them for a great profit to merchants. I told her also about the magical, evil apple seed we planted and what it had turned into: a strange, wooden thing that had flung itself into the ravine and destroyed itself.

She suggested planting it down into the ravine. She suggested I cast a spell upon it but I told her of the magic I’d tried to use. I noted I could cast a spell so it wouldn’t be hurt when it fell. Argie wondered where we might get another seed. I guessed we might get another from Terry, who I got the first. I related that story as well. I noted he had a bag of the seeds.

“It’s up to Argie,” I said. “Argie wanted to destroy it. You said it was evil, you wanted it destroyed. I’m deferring to you.”

“I was worried it was going to hurt the townspeople, but it went right through so I guess it’s fine now,” she said.

She shrugged.

I noted if the seed was planted in the morning, it took all day to grow and then changed after it got dark. Catarina suggested planting one of them down in the ravine. I wondered about dirt in the bottom of the ravine. Catarina suggested throwing dirt down but Brook reminded us she could summon moss.

“Thank you for letting us know that, Brook,” I said.

Moss usually grew in poor growing conditions like excessive shade, low soil fertility or acidic soil content, poor drainage, compacted soil, or the like. Hardly a good growing environment.

She also noted the fire pit with the dead kobolds had been filled with ash and dirt. Catarina suggested a pot of soil but I said it would have to be a very large pot. I pointed out the plant was some three feet tall. Argie wanted to test it. Catarina reached under the table and lifted it. I picked up my wine, putting it back down when she put down the table.

“The pot won’t be a problem,” she said.

I noted we had to alert the kobolds in case it got away and I wondered if it would even grow underground. I also said we could grow it without the cage and see how large it got.

“Let’s go find Terry,” I said.

I described what Terry looked like and asked Catarina not to hurt him. I told her Terry wanted to sell us a seed originally for five gold pieces. I had told him I was willing to experiment with it and try to learn what happened to one of the other farmers who tried to grow a seed. He then tried to sell me the seed for 10 gold pieces. I dressed him down and he left, returning to give me the seed gratis. I admitted I was not even sure what that was about.

We found out Terry lived at the edge of town behind the constable’s house.

“He lives just past the jail,” I said.

“Yeah, I find out where the jail is in every town I go to,” she said.

“I’m sure,” I said.

We left the inn and noted an airship floating just behind the building. A few men meandered around on the top deck of the small ship slung under the massive gas bag. It was a graceful craft, a personal yacht, and the ship below looked like it was large enough to carry a dozen or so men or more. The name on the craft was Figment. Catarina claimed it was one she was familiar with from Starfall, owned by rich folk for transport instead of cargo.

“I’m sure they could carry plenty of apples,” I said.

She noted the Figment very rarely left the docks, being moored up for months at a time. When it left, it was often for even longer periods. I guessed it was filled with adventurers.

We continued on to Terry’s house where we found him sitting on the front porch. He looked nervous and started sucking on his gums.

“Can I help you?” he asked. “What can I do for you, masters? I hope you got what you needed from the seed.”

“Oh, yes, Terry,” I said. “We found some very interesting things from the seed, but we need more.”

“More?”

“We know what killed your friend, Terry.”

“The price has gone down. It’s only one gold now.”

“It was free last time. For the price to go down, you would have to pay us.”

That seemed to confuse him.

“Here, Terry,” I said. “Give me ten.”

I took out 10 gold coins and counted them out into his hand. He smiled and handed over the entire pouch of seeds. I guessed there were 20 or so seeds in there and realized Terry was probably a mental deficient.

“Oi,” Catarina said to the man.

“Hello,” Terry said.

“Can I see those?” she said, indicating the gold coins.

“Sure!” Terry said. “Why?”

“I just like looking at ‘em,” she said. “They’re pretty.”

“They are, aren’t they?” Terry said.

I watched very carefully as Catarina took the coins, holding half in each hand before handing back one handful to Terry, who probably couldn’t read or count.

“Thank you,” Terry said.

“You’re welcome!” Catarina said with a grin.

“They’re pretty, aren’t they?” Terry said.

“They’re very pretty,” Catarina said.

She walked back to me and put five gold coins in my hand. I handed the five coins back to Terry.

“Terry, this is for just being you,” I said.

“Well, thank you, sir,” he said.

“You’re welcome,” I said.

We walked down the street and I pulled out a seed for Catarina to look at. Argie looked at the seed distrustfully.

“They are extremely and intensely evil,” I said.

Catarina was thinking very deeply as she stared at the seed.

“Don’t eat it!” I said. “Apple seeds are poisonous anyway: normal ones are.”

I took the seed back and put it back into the bag. We were ready to head back to the ravine but Catarina insisted on looking for the other adventurers in town and inviting them along. We wasted some time finding the others’ rooms were empty and when we asked in the taproom, Dem noted they often disappeared, going off and doing things. He said they would come back.

Catarina left word on where we were going and what we were doing. We spent some time trying to decide what the tiny, evil spawn of the magical apple seeds were called. Many of the things Argie suggested were already taken: nymph, imp, and the like. We finally settled on Argie’s suggestion of “Splinter Imps.”

We went to the ravine, arriving around noon or a little before. We lowered the chain and then climbed down, Argie jumping down and floating down to the top of the stone pile. I was ready to cast feather fall, just in case something happened. She was fine.

We climbed down the steps and into the tower. Three large rats came at us there. The rats rushed forward and Argie drew her scimitar and cut one of the rats in half. Catarina punched one of them so hard it smashed to mush on the wall. I backed away. Argie cut down the last rat.

We headed on down the hall to the room we’d first found Meepo in. I prepared to plant the seed when the others reminded me we were going to alert the kobolds to what we were doing first. I agreed and we proceeded to kobold town, Catarina running ahead, excited about seeing Gleep the dragon.

We were escorted into the main hall. The kobolds seemed to be doing fine and holding their own. Curled up behind the makeshift throne was Gleep with Meepo sleeping coiled his tail. Catarina rushed to the dragon, sitting quietly by him and rubbing his head scales as he slept. The dragon purred.

I showed Yusdrayl the seed and told her about them. I noted we planned on growing one and told her what it would turn into but admitted I didn’t know what it would do once it was grown.

“Sounds like a particularly weak creature,” she said.

I agreed but noted I wanted to warn her in case it came towards the kobolds. I told her we wanted to follow it and see what it did and where it went. She asked if we wanted her to have her kobolds stand down if it entered their area and I told her yes, but if it endangered any of her kobolds to kill it. I told her exactly what happened with the first one. She agreed to let it pass if it came that way.

We left the kobold area, Catarina very displeased with having to leave the dragon, and returned to the room where we’d first found Meepo. I planted one of the seeds in the mess in the fire pit, put some water on it, and we waited. Within 30 seconds, it sprouted. It grew particularly rapidly but as it grew, the growth slowed. After an hour, it was about three feet tall, the same size as the cage, and wider. Then it changed shape, taking the form of a very stumpy, twiggy creature.

It was outstretched when the leg snapped off and it dropped to both feet. It looked around at each of us, in a wide circle around it, and hissed violently. Then it looked around at the room and ran to the door that led to goblin town. We ran after it, keeping up with the horrible little thing. It ran down the crooked corridor and through the rooms beyond, turning left at the room towards the goblin territory. It ran up the corridor to the goblin guard post and then into the larger training room, still in ruins, and crossed the makeshift wall, turning to the left door and banging on it. I walked over and turned the handle of the door and backed up a step so as not to be exposed when the splinter imp flung the door open. It only took a step into the room before it was riddled with arrows.

Sounds of confused goblins came from the room.

“That looks like the thing from the lower caves!” one of them yelled in goblin.

“Shall we go kill them and then plant another?” Catarina said.

“Why did you kill our messenger?” I called in goblin.

“Messenger?” one of the goblins replied.

“We’re here to speak with Grenl!” I called.

“You work for Belak?”

“Yes.”

More confused goblin talk came from the room. I stepped boldly into the doorway. Six goblins were in the room, standing behind a rudimentary barrier wall. Another open door stood behind them, the long hall of pillars there. I put my hands behind my back and held up six fingers. About half of the goblins wore red and half green.

One of the ones wearing a red armband was a hobgoblin who stood up.

“What is this!?!” I said in common. “Aren’t you at war? Only five goblins and a hobgoblin to guard this place!?! And look at your colors. Three in green and three in red?”

The goblins were very confused. Two had bows drawn with arrows nocked.

“I’m sorry,” I said in goblin. “I’m speaking in my own tongue. I slip into it sometimes. I apologize. I am a wizard, you know. There’s only six of you here, guarding?”

“You work magic?” the hobgoblin asked.

“Would you like to see?”

“Like the great Belak?”

“Oh, much better than he.”

“Not many better than he.”

“Exactly!”

That confused and upset him. I rubbed my hands in anticipation of spell casting.

“Who’s the war chief?” the hobgoblin said.

“Durrn is the goblin chief,” I said. “Grenl is his son, of course.”

“You know a lot.”

“Yes, as I said, I am a wizard.”

“Someone like you needs to meet with the chief.”

“Yes, well, lead on. My bodyguards here, they’re quite stupid. Don’t aggravate them. They will destroy you.”

“Speak for yourself,” Argie whispered to me in common.

I’d forgotten I taught her the goblin tongue.

The goblins parted for us, opening up an opening in the makeshift barricade. I motioned for Gurgle to stay there.

“They’re not smart enough to know the goblin tongue,” I said to the goblins. Then I spoke common to the others: “Come bodyguards. Protect me.”

“What the **** you just call me?” Catarina said.

“Don’t forget the green,” I said, not missing a beat. “Don’t forget, I helped you last night. Don’t be an idiot. Bodyguard. Get ready to kill anybody in red.”

Several torches bound in crude wall sconces burned fitfully in the long hall, filling the air with a haze that blurred sight. A row of marble columns carved with entwining dragons marched the full length of the hall. The hobgoblin led us through the room. I saw the door to the room where they’d kept Gleep was ajar and empty. The hobgoblin led us into the door at the far end of the hall. The drone of activity came from the next room, the sound of many goblins talking and working.

The door swung wide open at the end of the hall and what may have once been a cathedral was now a goblin lair. Thick with the filth of years of goblin life, scores of wall and floor-mounted sconces filled with violet-glowing fungi provided illumination. In the sickening light, dozens of goblins went about their daily business, which seemed to be sleeping, preparing food, arguing, sleeping, fighting, sharpening weapons, sneaking, sleeping, shouting, fighting, sewing, and sleeping. The southern wall was home to a heaping pile of assorted items, including wagon wheels, broken armor, rusted arms, chests, small statues, antique furniture, and artwork, just to name some of it. Unfortunately, the stash didn’t seem to be particularly well cared-for.

The far end of the room was a curved wall with a door leading out of the room. Four hobgoblins guarded it. I looked around the room and guessed there were a couple dozen goblins there, with fewer in green than red. A few weren’t wearing any particular colors.

“Try not to murder the chief if you don’t have to,” I whispered to the others. “But if you have to …”

The hobgoblin led us to the guarded door. He was stopped by the other hobgoblins and they began to speak in a language I didn’t immediately recognize. A moment’s thought helped me realize they were speaking the secret language of druids.

“That’s druidic,” I said in common quietly.

Their exchange was short and terse and eventually the door was swung wide for us. We entered the round room.

“Is this Belak’s room?” I said.

“No, this is not Belak’s room,” the hobgoblin leading us said.

I rolled my eyes.

“Belak does not live with us,” the hobgoblin said.

A circular shaft pierced the floor in the 30-foot diameter chamber. Dim, violet light shined out of the shaft, revealing the sickly white and gray vines coating the shaft’s walls. The light from the shaft was supplemented by four lit wall torches set equidistant around the chamber. A crudely fashioned throne of stone sat on the curve of the northwestern wall and a large iron chest served as the throne’s footstool. Sitting on the throne was a very large goblin wearing crudely fashioned, but the best armor of any of the goblins. The armor had spikes on it and an array of weapons sat within arm’s reach of him: clubs and swords.

Grenl was off to one side at a table, sitting and discussing something with another goblin. He stopped talking as soon as we entered the room. His eyes grew wide. He looked back at the other goblin and then gestured with his head towards me, saying nothing. I looked away from him.

The hobgoblin led us around the pit to the throne. I noticed the shaft below was mirrored by one above and a pinhole of light came down, going to the blackest abyss beneath us. I didn’t see Catarina kick a rock into the shaft. She later told me it dropped a couple of seconds, indicating a hundred-foot drop at least.

Durrn looked at me quizzically.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“We’re here to see Belak,” I said.

“How do you know of Belak?”

“I’m a wizard.”

He glared at me.

“And I’ve brought something for him,” I said.

I took out the pouch and pulled one of the seeds from it. I flicked it at the goblin.

“It’s an apple seed,” he said.

“Genius,” I said.

“How do you know Belak?”

“Belak sent for these seeds. They’re special. They’re not like the other apple seeds.”

“Of course they’re not. You mentioned you were a wizard before. Why is that important?”

“It’s always important when someone is a wizard.”

“How old are you?”

“Seven goblin generations ago, I was brought into this world, my mother a demoness!”

“That would make you old enough.”

“Just.”

Durrn stamped his foot on the ground and, from behind the throne, two much larger versions of the splinter imp appeared, each with large and pointed spears. They stood on the side of the throne and slapped the butts of their spears on the ground menacingly.

“Do you know what these creatures are?” he asked.

“Do you?” I asked.

“Yes, I do.”

“Feh. I find that highly unlikely.”

“Tell me their names.”

“Very well. Has Belak given you permission to know this information?”

“Belak has told me … everything.”

“Then Belak and I are going to have to talk, because certain things aren’t for those who aren’t … magicians … wizards.”

“What is your name?”

“I am Red Max.”

“Belak’s not a wizard.”

“I know that! Did I say he was?”

“You did.”

“For Grenl!” I yelled in common and goblin.

I cast a web spell on the goblin king and the splinter imps. Grenl leapt to his feet and drew his sword.

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