The Second Fury of Gruumsh

The Cult of Lolth, Part 2

Delving into a most unnatural shadow

Date: 433R1O

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The party marched from morning until well into the afternoon. Rezik Matelra, as the Eladrin called himself, had become more cordial since the day before, attempting to strike up conversation as they marched. His guards were too busy deferring to him to be good sources of chatter, and the four adventurers were cold and distant, so Rezik spoke most of the way.

“These are excellent trees,” he pointed out to anyone who was listening. “The scarred bark suggests this one survived a recent lightning strike. And these flowers! You don’t see this variety in the Chordwood. Most interesting. My fellow druids likely don’t see things like this, seeing as they rarely venture from their gardens. And those appear to be badger tracks. I must make a note to return here and see if I can find the little scamps.”

Bogrin politely showed he was listening by nodding and muttering. Ilfari was trying to appear uninterested, but she kept glancing back at Rezik each time something new made him gasp or make an exclaimation. Fetin was trudging on with eyes fixed straight ahead, while Arcaeus tried his best to ignore how woefully ignorant the Eladrin seemed to be when it came to basic flora and fauna that he could name on sight.

Ilfari nudged Arcaeus, jerking her head towards the two Elven guards. “Those guys are way too tense,” she said with a smirk. “I thought you Elves were at home in the woods?”

Arcaeus could only agree with the strangeness of it. The two Elves had their bows over their shoulders, but their eyes darted about continuously, their hands never far from their weapons. “That explains the edginess during our first encounter,” he noted, causing Ilfari to nod.

“Must be new blood,” she said. “I wonder why he doesn’t have more experienced guards with him? He seems important enough – or he acts like it, at least – so his retinue should be a bit more hardened than this.”

“Can’t say I know too much about Elven customs,” he said. “Maybe Eladrin help train them, or maybe they don’t really need that much protection. Your guess is as good as mine.”

Arcaeus eyed the Eladrin. Rezik said he was a druid, and Arcaeus was fairly certain they used magic, but his body was solid. On the other hand, he was very attractive, perhaps even beautiful, and the way he spoke about nature so joyously made him seem childish. Perhaps Arcaeus was making a mistake judging Rezik by appearances, but he did not look very threatening at all.

“I believe we near our destination,” Rezik said suddenly, a hand moving towards his chest as if to clutch his heart. “I dislike the feel of the air here.” He pulled out a map and looked around, seemingly picking out landmarks from the homogenous forest around them. “It is very near indeed.”

Rezik crouched down, his face serious. He moved forward, his bodyguards swiftly and silently moving afterwards. Arcaeus was not sure why Rezik was making to move more silently, as he hadn’t heard a single one of his footsteps the course of the entire trip. Nevertheless, he followed swiftly after.

The Eladrin and his bodyguards quickly pulled ahead, vanishing into some overgrown grass. As Arcaeus approached, the two Elven archers stood and fired in the opposite directions. When Arcaeus was at their backs, he could see two people – a Tiefling and a Halfling – lying dead on the ground, one on either side of an ornately-carved cave opening.

“Those are the robes of the celebrants on Lolth’s day,” he said. “They are forbidden from stepping inside the temple without donning those robes. Anyone not wearing the robes will either be a prisoner, a sacrifice, or you four.”

“Us four?” said Fetin, having caught up once more.

“My guards and I will cover the entrance. We will ensure that no one wearing the robes leaves.”

“I’m not entirely comfortable killing people on their day of religious celebration, even if they are worshippers of Lolth,” said Bogrin.

“These people are thieves, liars, and murderers,” said the Eladrin coldly. “What pity and mercy you think you can afford them, you shouldn’t. Each cultist here is a devout who is here to sacrifice innocent lives to curry favor with Lolth. Do not forget that.”

Bogrin said nothing is response, but folded his hands into his sleeves once more.

“Well I don’t plan to wait out here until nightfall,” said Fetin. “Last thing we need is to give the followers of shadow itself the advantage of the night.” He moved towards the entrance. “Arcaeus, Ilfari, I need you to check for traps.”

The pair moved forward, approaching the entrance. The mouth of the cave was hidden behind a slight curve in the mountain, and for good reason: the face of the mountain itself had been carved into the likeness of a great face with wide eyes and tiny horns, its mouth hanging open to form the entrance to the cave, its great, sharp teeth resting above looking ready to bite intruders in half.

“That isn’t what Lolth looks like, is it?” asked Arcaeus.

“Are you serious?” asked Ilfari.

“Once again, raised by Humans,” he said. “Libraries and religious texts based on the chaotic gods are not exactly plentiful in an isolated Human settlement.”

“It’s not Lolth,” she responded testily. “I don’t know what this ugly thing is supposed to be. No traps here.”

“None here either.”

Fetin moved forward and checked the first step cautiously, then proceeded to take the lead.

+ + +

Ilfari pulled back reflexively when the mechanism clicked, but the trap remained idle.

“Without this spring,” she said, lifting herself off the ground, “this trap won’t go off.’

The trap itself was supposed to thrust wooden spears upwards when someone stepped on the pressure plate above it, but Ilfari had removed the plate and disabled it before it could be used for that purpose.

“Good spot, Arcaeus,” said Fetin quietly, still watching the intersection ahead of them.

“Not getting speared through the jugular is rthanks enough,” said Arcaeus, examining one of the disabled spears closely.

“Looks like we have three paths to choose from,” said Bogrin from up ahead. “These path ahead is a stairway downwards, and the path on the left and right are hallways that curve out of sight. It’s odd,” he added, running a hand along the stones that were build into the walls. “This stonework is indeed as old as the Eladrin say, but patches of it have been improved upon all down the halls, some repairs having occured hundreds of years apart. This is likely a Lolthian shrine that is as important as it is ancient.”

“I haven’t made enemies with any gods yet,” said Ilfari. “Hopefully she won’t be too offended when we kill her followers.”

“Just a matter of time before she kills them herself,” said Fetin. “I say we race her to it. Arcaeus, check down the left hallway, and Ilfari check the right. We’ll leave the stairs for later.” The pair silently complied, vanishing down their respective paths.

“First Gruumsh, now Lolth,” said Bogrin, shaking his head. “The chaotic gods are nothing but a bunch of troublemakers.”

“We wouldn’t call them ‘chaotic’ if they were as friendly as Moradin, now would we?” said Fetin.

“Sarcasm noted,” said Bogrin. “I just hope to avoid reprisals from angered cultists. Lolth may be one to have people killed for her own entertainment, and that is reason enough to avoid getting her to look in your direction, but to attack her followers directly is just begging for trouble.”

“S’probably why the Eladrin is sitting outside while we do the dirty work,” Fetin said. “But none of that is particularly important. What matters now is we have a job to do, and I don’t fail at getting jobs done, god or no god.”

Ilfari slinked back into view from the shadows. “It’s lit by torches up ahead,” she said, “so you won’t need a torch anymore, Fetin. Besides that, there were five cultists in a mural-covered room, and a stairway going down on the left-hand side. If one thing can be said about Lolth, it’s that she isn’t picky about followers: I saw a Human, a Dwarf, even a Dragonborn. I was half worried they’d all be Tieflings.”

“Don’t like killing Tieflings?” asked Fetin.

“I don’t mind,” she said, “but I would hate to listen to the Dwarf prattle on and on about how evil we are.”

“I said that one time and I apologized,” said Bogrin. “You sure are sensitive for an infernal hellion.”

“And you sure are high-and-mighty for a stumpy imitation Human,” she retorted.

“Why does this happen every time,” Fetin sighed, waving Arcaeus over hurriedly as the Elf came back into view. “More reports, so shut up and listen.”

“Looks like a room devoted to a statue down that way,” said Arcaeus. “That path leads to a balcony overlooking it. The balcony wraps all the way around, ending with a staircase that leads down to the statue area itself. There were about a dozen cultists, if I had to estimate roughly, though I couldn’t get a better view without being seen.”

Bogrin looked at the staircase before them. “Sounds to me like all the stairs lead to the same statue, then.”

“That it does,” agreed Fetin. “We should go down Ilfari’s path and eliminate the cultists there first, then move to the room below. The less we have to take at once, the better.”

They moved swiftly down the hall. Fetin peaked around the corner and spotted the five cultists. He waved his hands for the others to approach.

A blast of sound swept over the group, rocking them off of their feet. The group staggered upright, weapons at the ready.

“What was that?” Ilfari tried to whisper, but she couldn’t hear her own voice. The others leaned in closer.

“What?” Fetin mouthed, but the others couldn’t hear him. “Can you hear me?” he said again, much louder. The others could make out his words, but they were muffled, as if distant.

“It’s hard to hear you,” Arcaeus said. He looked around the corner. “Looks like they don’t know what it is either.”

Fetin looked around the corner and found the cultists jamming their fingers into their ears and yelling at one another.

“Opportunity knocks!” shouted Fetin, pulling his sword and charging forth. The others followed suit. The majority of the cultists fell before even realizing they were being set upon. One of them wore sturdy chainmail and carried a large mace, attempting to beat back the assault while retreating towards the staircase, but Arcaeus’s arrow brought him down swiftly.

Ilfari looked down the stairs. “Doesn’t look like anyone heard us,” she called back. “Whatever this is, it ain’t all bad.”

Bogrin caught Fetin’s attention and pointed to the mural on the wall. “A depiction of the corruption of the Drow,” he said. “Kind of interesting to see something like this, though it doesn’t make much sense to me. Looks like it’s been repainted a few times.”

“While I admit it is interesting,” said Fetin, “we’ll have to look at it after we’re done.” He waved Arcaeus forward. “See if you can sneak forward and get a view of that room.”

Arcaeus nodded, striding forth. He eyed the steps, as he worked his way downwards, stepping carefully on each one and looking for anything that might indicate a trap. He tested one step, found it solid, and moved forth, then tested another step, and another, and another. As he placed his weight on the fifth step, he felt satisfied it would hold, removing his foot from the prior step, only to feel it sink sharply under the increase in weight. The stairs shifted with a snap, flinging him foward down what was now a smooth, deeply inclined surface. He rolled into the statue room and swiftly leapt to his feet, nine surprised cultists surrounding him and several more on the balcony above.

One cultist reacted swiftly, jumping foward with his mace. Arcaeus leapt backwards, firing an arrow and felling his opponent. The other charged as well, Arcaeus dodging between them to get to safety, though he took several blows to the arms and head as he went. Backed into the corner, he swiftly wiped the blood from his eyes with his wrist and began firing his bow. Behind the advancing cultists, he saw Ilfari and Fetin slide down, joining the melee with those in back. Bogrin landed at the bottom of the ramp in a heap, but swiftly began dispensing holy magics on those who approached.

With the cultists on the ground occupied, he turned his attention to those on the balcony who were flinging arrows and magic missiles down upon his allies. They tried to take cover behind the high, thick balustrade, but Arcaeus’s arrows found them between the cracks. He dove behind the projecting section of the ramp for cover against the incoming attacks.

Fetin and Ilfari danced through the cultists, their blades finding little resistance among their targets. Their maces were almost completely ineffective against the experienced hands of the adventurers. Not a single one made an attempt to flee and, before long, there was nothing left but a pile of black-robed corpses.

“It’s like fighting civilians,” said Ilfari. “They don’t have much skill, don’t put up much of a resistance, and-” she stopped herself and looked at Fetin with apprehension. Fetin had a dark look in his eyes. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to make it sound…” she let her sentence trail off, looking embarrassed.

“What is that about?” Arcaeus asked Bogrin as the latter healed the wounds on the former’s head.

“He fought during the Fury,” said Bogrin slowly. “Doesn’t like to think about it. Fighting these unskilled cultists probably reminds him of what he had to do then. It’d probably be best not to bring it up with him.”

“That does sound like a very sour topic. How about we talk about this statue instead?”

That would be Lolth,” said the Dwarf. The statue was of a woman dressed in very little cloth. Her robe hung loosely off her shoulders and was cut widely down the middle, the two halves held together with little more than two strips of cloth tied into a knot, though it was clearly for aesthetic’s sake since the wide-opened front of the robe didn’t cover much of anything. A great deal of care seemed to have been put into crafting her body, but her exquisite face, breasts, and crotch seemed to have received extra close attention.

“Please don’t tell me that Moradin has any statues of himself dressed like that,” said Arcaeus.

“She’s the goddess of trickery and betrayal. Her body is one of her weapons. Moradin’s is a weapon too, but not in the same way. And I suggest not mocking my god while I am handling your cracked skull.” He removed his hands from Arcaeus’s head.

“I think you missed a spot,” said Arcaeus. “My vision is still kind of weird. I think I got a concussion.”

“Are they squiggly black fingers at the edge of your vision? Because I see them too,” He caught Fetin’s attention and pointed to his eyes. Fetin nodded and indicated his own. He said something to Ilfari, who turned and nodded. “Probably related to this sound thing,” he ventured.

Fetin approached. “I’m not liking this magic. We’d best double-time it to this ‘grandmaster’ we have to find before something serious occurs.”

The only path that led deeper was a single staircase. They checked the stairs extra carefully, but reached the bottom without issue. They found themselves in a long hallway with walls that curved inwards and outwards creating occasional niches.

“Traps,” Arcaeus said, pointing to the center off the hallway where it was the widest. “What kind of madman puts traps in the middle of the hallway this deep into their own shrine?”

“The kind that doesn’t care about the lives of its followers,” said Fetin. He stepped around the trap. “Leave this be. We’ll make better time this way.

Arcaeus took the lead, watching for traps. They passed several, which he led them around. Ahead were a group of vines hanging from the ceiling forming a sort of curtain across the hall. Arcaeus approached and parted the vines to peer through. When his hand made contact with the vine, it lashed out and wrapped itself around his neck, pulling him upwards. He struggled to free himself, the crushing grip around his windpipe causing him to gag and gasp. He finally reached for his scimitar, cutting the vine and sending him to the ground below. As he hit the ground, he felt intense heat overhead as Fetin loosed his breath, burning a majority of the vines. He and Ilfari hacked at the rest of the vines, though none of them seemed to be sentient in any way.

“Stranglevine,” said Bogrin. “Haven’t seen that in years. I never would have suspected there would be some growing in placed occupied by people.”

“They must be feeding it,” said Fetin, feeling no need to venture a guessa as to what exactly they fed it.

An arrow struck his armor and skittered off the ground. At the end of the hallway ahead came a another group of cultists. On the walls and ceiling swarmed hundreds of tiny spiders, making directly for the party.

“Careful,” said Bogrin. “Lolth gives spiders her will. They will attack just as fiercely as the cultists.” He brought his mace down pointedly on one of the approaching arachnids.

Arcaeus focused on the cultists, finding them more realistic targets for his arrows. The rest stomped and swung and the spiders, though they suffered with each swing, the spiders latching onto their weapons and crawling up their arms, biting repeatedly. Their venom was weak, but enough to cause physical pain. Eventually, however, when several dozen had been smashed, they skittered off into the shadows and vanished.

“Those little bastards!” spat Ilfari, clutching a heavily-bleeding arm. She charged the remaining cultists regardless, cutting into them mercilessly as they tried uselessly to defend themselves.

They fought into the next room, a large commissary filled with tables and chairs, many of which were upturned. At the opposite end of the room were spider webs, and they were coating everything: the tables, the walls, the floor, everything. At the same time, however, more cultists issued from a web-filled archway, joining the fray. A handful were more experienced, getting good hits in on the adventurers, adding to their cuts and bruises. Bogrin tried to keep up with the demand for his healing powers, but soon found himself exhausted.

They pushed the cultists back into the web-filled room, a dormitory of sorts, complete with beds and boxes for possessions. They widdled down the last of the cultists, Fetin cutting the last one down personally, allowing the forward momentum of his swing to drag him to the ground where he could rest.

Though they panted heavily, the sound dampening made them pass the minutes in silence. Bogrin eventually made his way around to the others. Ilfari had received the heaviest wounds, causing Bogrin to try to say something admonishing, but he could no longer speak loud enough to break through the muffling magics. He opted instead to mouth some words at her, but she rubbed her chin, as if to say ‘I can’t see through your silly beard.’ Bogrin gave up trying.

Fetin motioned to Arcaeus to check the next corridor. Arcaeus took a moment to observe his allies; each was still sporting heavy wounds despite Bogrin’s efforts, and Arcaeus could easily see he was in the best condition for scouting ahead. He did not envy them their front-line positions, but kept it to himself as he crept towards the next corner and peered around.

A wad of webbing rocketed past, slamming into the wall behind him in a sticky mess; he didn’t hear the impact, but the force of it shook him. Down the hallway marched two separate spider swarms, an even larger spider in their midst standing erect on six legs and holding a great sword in the front two. The looked back as the others rushed to his side. Bogrin, looked shocked, mouthed the word “Drider” silently.

Arcaeus didn’t care what it was, firing a well-placed arrow to snap one of the Drider priest’s legs off, causing its bulky body to crumple to the ground momentarily. He turned his attention to the smaller spiders, already climbing over Ilfari and Bogrin as they attempted to squash them. Fetin appeared to be readying his fire breath but couldn’t find an opportunity to use it without scorching his allies.

Arcaeus turned and fired again, breaking another leg on the Drider as it attempted to right itself. It writhed and yowled silently in rage. Stomped whatever came into range and swatted several spiders off of Ilfari and Bogrin, dancing away from those that approached his feet. He moved towards Bogrin to relieve him, but was blindsided by a wad of webbing that pinned him to the wall. The Drider was approaching, unopposed.

Fetin hurled himself forward and made straight for the Drider as it dragged itself down the hallway. He lifted his blade for a hefty overhead strike, but just as he was within arm’s reach, a cloud of darkness enveloped him, blinding him. He struck out, feeling his sword connect with the Drider, though not with a decisive blow. He sensed rather than felt the Drider slide past him, moving towards the rest of the party.

Fetin followed after, clearing the blinding cloud shortly. Blinking the darkness from his eyes, he could see Arcaeus had freed himself and was firing upon the Drider once more while Ilfari harried it from the side. Bogrin was hanging back, managing the smaller spiders that remained. Knowing he had a brief window in which the Drider wouldn’t consider him a threat, he charged it from behind. As it raised its arms for a strike with its sword, Fetin brought his own upwards, severing the Drider’s unprotected limb and sending its weapon bouncing off the walls and ceiling. Defenseless, Ilfari was swift to deal it a fatal blow, its large frame falling to the floor for the final time.

Fetin was feeling himself on the brink of exhaustion, but the sight before him kept him on his feet: lining the hallway were two rows of large iron bars forming two crude prison cells. Inside were dozens of people of all races, jumping and cheering excitedly, clamoring against the bars in an attempt to be released. One Gnome in particular was attempting with all of his might to gain Fetin’s attention, grasping at his pant leg and waving his other arm furiously in the air. He smiled broadly when Fetin turned towards him, pointing desperately towards the far end of the corridor and making motions with his hands. He outlined a large rectangle, then swayed back and forth while moving his mouth, as if chanting. He pointed to himself and the others, then ran a finger violently across his throat.

Fetin wasn’t entirely clear on the message, but he was certain it foretold some violence against the captives. Ignoring his own fatigue, he rallied his mercenaries. Arcaeus stood straight from where he leaned against the wall and Bogrin pulled himself away from his futile attempts to force the door. Fetin signaled them to follow, taking point himself to examine the corner.

Fetin turned to signal again, but stopped short; Ilfari was lying motionless on the ground behind the others. He pushed past them in a rush, gently placing his hands under her to roll her oer. She coughed slightly and looked up and Fetin, her face pale and sweaty. She smiled slightly. The spider poison was keeping her wounds from closing and she had become lightheaded from bloodloss. Fetin propped her up against a wall and beckoned Bogrin forward. Bogrin tried as best he could to express that the wounds were serious, but that she was in no immediate threat. His own magical powers were on their last legs and he was unsure if he should expend the last of it outside of battle.

Ilfari was beginning to look impatient, attempting to slide up the wall to her feet. Fetin placed a hand on her shoulder and, though he didn’t push her down for fear of exasperating her condition, he did not allow her to rise. She eventually gave up, lowering back to her seat. She waved them on, pointing at the ground at patting it, shifting her seat as she did so. Fetin frowned and shook his head, but Ilfari pointed emphatically, insisting they move on. He look displeased, but acquiesced, motioning the others to follow him onwards. Fetin looked back more than once before disappearing around the corner.

DM Note: To clear up any confusion, at this point Ilfari had run out of healing surges and was hovering in the single-digit range in HP. Being the cautious type, she decided staying behind was the best course of action. For those who have never run out of healing surges before, this was a VERY long dungeon that took two days to run from beginning to end and spanned 6 encounters. I planned this dungeon to be tough enough to kill someone, but not wipe out the whole party. To avoid spoilers, I will not reveal whether or not I succeeded… yet. -The DM

The remaining members of Dragonfury Company quickly found themselves wishing that their sense of smell had been affected along with sight and hearing as a horrifying stench assailed their nostrils. Pushing forward, they found themselves in what they could quickly tell was the final chamber of the shrine. A great spiraling staircase descended the room three full times to the ground below. In the very center sat an alter stained dark brown from ancient blood spilled upon it. In fact, all the ground around the alter was stained so badly, the floor couldn’t be made out through the years of caked blood. Hanging on the walls of the cylindrical chamber were corpses, likely recent sacrifice victims. On the alter itself were three people – a Halfling, a Dwarf, and a Half Elven woman. Circling the alter were a half-dozen cultists, as well as two Drider priests, one of which seemed to be in the midst of a ceremony, chanting words despite the others not being able to hear him.

Fetin and Bogrin began moving own the stairs slowly, keeping low and out of sight. Arcaeus took careful aim and released an arrow, killing one of the cultists at the back of the crowd. As he readied a second arrow, a dread sensation swept over the three of them, making them all feel sick. A voice rang out, the first sound they’d heard in nearly a hour. Even the cultists looked up at the sound of it.

“You have defiled my shrine, infidels,” said the voice, each word strong with an enchanting quality. “Did you think yourself beyond my power because you are not of my pantheon? That you could kill my pets without suffering my wrath? You have made a mistake, mortal, for you are outside the realm of your gods. You are in my own.”

Fetin stood suddenly, his body rigid. He moved forward without hesitation and leapt upon a step that gave way under his weight. The entire staircase turned into a gigantic slide, and he lay flat upon his back, sliding downwards at an extreme speed.

“Minions!” shouted the voice once more. “Eliminate these intruders immediately or perish!”

The feeling of nausea left the party. Arcaeus sprung quickly to action. He could see the cultists below were moving about, most of them moving towards the ramp to awkwardly make their way up. One of the Driders was climbing vertically up the wall, taking the short route towards him, while the other was continuing with his chanting as if nothing had happened, holding a dagger aloft over one of the Halfling victim secured to the alter.

Arcaeus began firing his bow at whatever he could see, but the targets were distant and moving, making things difficult. Bogrin was watching the rising Drider with apprehension. As it neared the ledge below Arcaeus, Bogrin shifted over to meet it. He motioned for Arcaeus to prepare himself.

The Drider pulled itself over the ledge to find the Elf and Dwarf charging it. It pulled swiftly to the side, forcing them back with its sword. Bogrin attempted to rush it to push it off, but it turned and blasted him with its web, pinning him to the wall. Arcaeus tried to knock him off as well, ramming it with his shoulder, but the creature’s spider-like feet kept him from sailing off the edge. It blanketed the area in darkness to prevent further attempts, forcing Arcaeus to withdraw and Bogrin to struggle at his webbing restraints blindly.

Arcaeus withdrew down the staircase and fired at the Drider as it approached. With steady Elven feet, he stepped on the ramp, maintaining his balance and firing. Freeing an arm, Bogrin assaulted the creature from behind with holy light from his implement. Distracted for a brief moment, it allowed itself to slip on the ramp. Off balance and off guard, Arcaeus was easily able to dispatch it with an arrow to the head, its body sliding lifelessly past him down the ramp.

Meanwhile, Fetin, having stiffly slid most of the way down the ramp, found himself suddenly free of the dominating grip that had overcome him. He grabbed onto the nearby railing to stop himself, pulling himself to his feet. Seeing Arcaeus fighting the Drider above, he attempted to move upwards to assist, but the motion at the alter caught his attention. The priest there had already plunged his dagger into the Halfling’s chest, yanking it about viciously to rend his body as much as possible, extracting all the blood he could. Incensed, Fetin jumped over the railing to the central area below.

The Drider priest was blindsided by Fetin’s sudden attack, bowled right over onto his back. Fetin’s assault was merciless, his attacks landing efficiently and his body instinctively dodging the Drider’s retaliation. Despite the troubles the other Drider had given them, he dispatch the priest swiftly by himself. The last two cultists, previously attempting to climb the ramp, were now sliding back to face Fetin. Fetin clutched his broadsword and waited for them at the base of the ramp. As they slid down to meet him, he brought his weapon down mercilessly upon them, their bodies lifeless before they even hit his feet.

Fetin looked around, the only nearby motion coming from the two victims on the alter who still lived. Looking down from above stood Arcaeus and Bogrin, their foe likewise dispatched. Fetin signed heavily and looked at the carnage around him, then made to untie the sacrifices.

+ + +

Rezik looked up from his ritual, seeing a train of people approaching the entrance of the shrine. “It looked like they’ve succeeded!” he said excitedly to his guards. He removed his hands from the circle he had drawn on the ground and stood, dusting himself lightly.

“Fetin was the first to enter the sunlight, Ilfari supported on his shoulder. A slew of civilians emerged, with Arcaeus and Bogrin in their midst.

“It’s good to see you’ve-” Rezik began, but Fetin cut him off.

“Was that you?” said Fetin.

“I’m not quite sure I know what you mean, ” said Rezik defensively.

“The deafening and blinding. Was that you?”

“Yes,” Rezik said with pride. “A ritual of my own creation. I trust it helped.”

“It almost got us killed,” Fetin hissed threateningly. “I couldn’t even hear my own people being struck by our adversaries or calling for help. Have you ever even seen battle? Wizards have spells meant to deafen foes specifically because being deafened can get you killed if you can’t hear foes sneaking up on you. How in the hells was that supposed to help?”

Rezik looked taken aback, but swiftly shifted to anger. “It was a simple mistake-”

“It was a stupid mistake and an idiotic move. Keep your damn help to yourself.” He flung a sack at Rezik. “This is everything we found. Your idol or totem or whatever should be in there.”

Rezik scowled, but silently looked through the contents. “Is this everything?” he said.

“Everything,” said Fetin.

“Because if you’re holding back-”

“If I said it’s everything, then that means it’s everything.”

“The item isn’t here,” Rezik stated accusatorially.

“Bullshit,” said Fetin. “That was every item off of every cultist. We stripped off everything, even their robes.”

“Well, it isn’t here,” he stated again, tossing the bag to the side. “Did you kill everyone?”

“Yes,” said Fetin dangerously. “We finished your horrible little task.”

“Was there one man, an old one, in a robe covered in Elven runes?”

“No,” said Feting latly.”

“Damn it,” shouted Rezik, throwing his walking stick to the ground. “The grandmaster must not have been here. Our information was flawed.”

“I don’t care,” said Fetin. “We held up our end of the bargain. We’re even. I don’t want to see you again.”

Rezik bristled, and after giving Fetin a hard stare, he nodded curtly. “Alright, dragonman. You and your companions have fulfilled your debt, though it ended in failure. I suppose the rest must be up to the circle.” He stomped his foot impatiently. “We were so damn close…”

Rezik and his bodyguards left. Fetin picked up the sack again, pouring contents ten times the size of the bag out onto the ground. He began counting counting gold pieces quickly, taking a little over five hundred for himself. “This will be my share,” he said solemnly.

“That can’t be more than a tenth of the treasure, said Bogrin. “Are you sure that will be all of it?”

Fetin nodded. “I suppose it is about time I announce my intentions to you all. You see, this is all I need. With this last bit tucked away, I have enough to retire,” a chuckle escaped his lips, snowballing into full blown laughter. “I can quit now. Finally.” He placed a hand on his sheathed sword, rubbing the pommel thoughtfully. “I suppose that brings Dragonfury Company to an end.”

“This is sudden,” said Arcaeus.

“I apologize if it seems that way, but I’ve been counting the coins until this day after each mission. The last one brought me close, and I was hoping this one would put me over, which it has. Thank the gods – even that crazed Lolth – that these cultists offered so much gold at the shrine to gain favor with their dark mistress.”

“It was a fine thing working with you,” said Bogrin. “If I ever pass by White Lake, I’ll be sure to stop over and say hello.”

“You’re welcome to come. You all are.” He rubbed his sword some more. “I’m not great on saying farewells. In the military, most farewells ended with burying the person, so…” he chuckled again. “I suppose I will just say ‘goodbye,’ and leave it at that. I wish you all the greatest luck should you continue this line of work. If you’ll excuse me, it’s about time I go home to my wife. Until we meet again.” He gave his three mercenaries a salute, then turned southwards and began to walk. They watched him leave in silence.

“Well” said Bogrin, “I suppose I’d be done, too.”

“You too?” asked Arcaeus.

“That’s right. I followed Fetin because he was a friend. No offense to you two, but I think it’s time I get back to my own duties. Best of luck to you.” Bogrin placed his hands together and bowed, then placed his hands in his sleeves and walked off.

“That was really sudden,” said Ilfari. “Just like that, it’s just the two of us.”

“So you’re sticking around?” said Arcaeus.

“Might as well,” she said. “I mean, I got nothing else to do. And this line of work is pretty easy for the most part, ignoring the occasional near-death scenario, like what happened in the shrine back there. If you’re willing to keep traveling with me, I wouldn’t say no.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Arcaeus. “Would that make us a new mercenary company?”

“I guess,” she answered. “I don’t really like the idea of being the head of a mercenary company, though.”

DM Note: Chris (i.e. Arcaeus) insisted I point out that, at this point, what he actually said was “dibs!” If you read on, you’ll see that my dialogue was slightly less… well, like Chris. -The DM

Arcaeus considered it. “I suppose I could give it a try. It might be interesting.’

Ilfari laughed. “You? A mercenary captain? This I gotta see.”

“It wouldn’t be that bad. I don’t know what makes you think it will be.”

“You giving orders? I don’t see that working.” She began walking westwards. “You still don’t know enough to be a captain. You need my help, like, so bad.”

“Arcaeus shook his head. “If you wanted to be my second in command so bad,” he said, “you just had to ask.”

The two of them walked down the road, teasing each other gently, trying as hard as they could to suppress the sudden feeling that they were much smaller and less important than they were minutes ago.

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Meadhands

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