Wizards and Wise Cracks
The five companions explored every room in Cragmaw castle it seemed, but had yet to find the captured Dwarf, Gundren. They pushed through dozens of doors that led to empty storage rooms, bunkers, and more hallways. A few of them even partook in some Dwarven brandy they had discovered abandoned in large oaken barrels. Falkrunn could not pass up a taste (or perhaps a goblet) of some of her people’s finest, and the slight buzz that filled her head made her worries melt somewhat.
The castle seemed an endless maze, and Falkrunn couldn’t recall where they had started. They had been in the castle for nearly an hour and she could sense the last of her disguise spell slowly draining away. Another fifteen minutes, and she would look a Dwarf again.
Lorskan led the way, pushing through yet another door.
Four Hobgoblins sat in a circle on the ground, tossing rocks and pushing pieces around on a board. It appeared to be some kind of roleplaying game—these creatures were truly quite abnormal. They were so engrossed in their game that they didn’t notice as the five companions entered the room. The new arrivals acted quickly.
Olara notched an arrow and released it without hesitation. It hit her target in the back of the neck and he fell forward onto their game, scattering pieces in every direction. The others looked up in surprise, and quickly stumbled to their feet. Lorskan ran up with his sword drawn, but his target dodged his blow. Falkrunn drew out her longsword and went after the Hobgoblin nearest her, but he managed to jump out of her reach and pull a sword off a rack on the wall. Metal clanged against metal as the fight began.
Another Hobgoblin reached the rack and drew up a Morningstar, raising the massive spiked club at the others in the doorway. He rushed forward but tripped over the fallen Hobgoblin, and his Morningstar went crashing into the open door, burying itself in the thick wood. He howled and tried to break it free and Keyzana took advantage of the opening and hacked through his arm with her longsword. The Hobgoblin fell back, abandoning his Morningstar and staring in shock at his missing arm and the sudden cascade of thick red blood. Flavio took up his warhammer and brought it around to crash into the middle of the Hobgoblin’s chest, crushing bone and knocking him to the floor.
The final Hobgoblin had taken up a longbow and shot a barbed arrow into Lorskan’s side, hitting him between the soft parts of his armour. Lorskan staggered back and Olara shot the archer, who was left bleeding from his shoulder, but alive and cursing in his own guttural tongue.
Lorskan hit the wall and slid down it, unconscious, a gaping wound open in his side. Falkrunn raised her hand and spoke a word of healing, which stitched flesh and scales back together. Then, with her longsword in hand, the Dwarf renewed her attack on the Hobgoblin wielding the sword. He left a gap in his defense and she ducked through his open swing and slashed his hamstring, forcing him to drop his weapon and fall heavily to the floor, wailing in pain. She turned to the sound of a loud, twanging snap and saw the Hobgoblin with the longbow had broken his bowstring while trying to loose an arrow at her. His arrow clattering uselessly to the floor and he scrambled to find a new weapon. The Hobgoblin on the ground cried through his pain and shouted “help! Help! Intruders!” He reached out for his sword but Falkrunn stomped on his hand before he could grab it, and she felt the crunch of tiny bones beneath her boot.
In the mess of blood, shouts and flying weapons, Keyzana strode forward with a huge swing and drove her longsword down over the top of the archer’s head, splitting the skull down the middle. Flavio used his warhammer to silence the one Falkrunn was standing over, and the room was suddenly quiet again.
There was a hissing sound and the smell of burnt flesh as Keyzana branded a sigil from her ring into the face of her downed enemy. Falkrunn rubbed her blade clean and looked over at Lorskan, who was still unconscious. There was a momentary flicker in her mind that perhaps they should leave the Dragonborn behind. He may be their ally now, but she doubted he valued loyalty. The Dragonborn were seldom liked or trusted in these parts for good reason.
Flavio looked over at Lorskan as well, and with an impatient sigh he strolled up to the Dragonborn and slapped a heavy hand down over Lorskan’s face, then prayed a healing spell over him. Lorskan stirred awake moments later, and Flavio stood up and brushed off, looking satisfied with himself. The Dragonborn sniffed and rubbed his nose.
Olara stood at the weapons rack and inspected the various objects, picking up a longsword and eyeing its sharp edge with a pleased glint in her eyes. There were indistinguishable runes written on the blade. She turned her head from side to side and reached over to a nearby table to grab a sheath, then began strapping the weapon to her hip.
They checked the bodies for anything of use but found nothing. Falkrunn moved to the opposite door they had yet to explore and threw it open, stepping through with Keyzana at her side.
Two tiny goblins peered around the corner of the hallway with bows raised, arrows drawn, and arms shaking. They were terrified.
“Hey. Hi!” Falkrunn said as calmly as she could with raised hands, still appearing to be a goblin and using her golbin-esk voice. “Nothing to be afraid of here. We were supposed to bring a message to King Grol, but we can’t seem to find—”
Lorskan rushed ahead and gutted one of the goblins, skewering him on his blade. The second goblin dropped his bow and with a terrified shriek ran straight out the front entrance and outside. It seemed that they had come full circle through the castle and were now back at the beginning. Before he could be slowed, Lorskan pounded after the escaping goblin and released a powerful strike of magic against him. The goblin dodged around the broken doors and disappeared.
“We’re lost,” Falkrunn swore, slapping her palm against the wooden doorframe. “We could have asked that goblin where to go.”
Lorskan returned with a shrug and pushed between her and Keyzana. Olara and Flavio emerged from the room cautiously, watching the Dragonborn leave. The four companions looked at each other, then followed resignedly.
They were back to the barracks on the opposite side of the castle, near where the owlbear had escaped earlier. Falkrunn threw her hands up in the air in frustration. “We need to find my uncle. We don’t even know if he’s still—if he’s still alive.” Her voice broke.
As if on cue, there was a loud clatter and the sounds of scuffling. Then, a low, growling voice broke through. A voice that Falkrunn recognized.
Uncle! she thought hopefully, leaping towards the sound. It came from the room with the shattered door. “Get. Away. From. ME! Get away!” Gundren burst into the room, tripping over the broken door and pushing himself to his feet with an angry shout. He turned and, with a look of astonishment, rushed toward the group. “Thank the Realms you’re here! It’s about time you showed up!” He said, looking surprisingly healthy considering his circumstances. “Where have you been?”
“How did you know we were coming?” Olara asked, stepping up to him.
“The goblins told me, of course. Come on, we need to go, now!“
“Wait a second,” Keyzana said, eyeing the Dwarf suspiciously. “Who were you just talking to?” The Elf who looked like a Bugbear strode towards the room from which Gundren had just escaped.
Gundren reached out a hand and grabbed Keyzana as she passed him. Keyzana looked down at the fingers firmly grasping her forearm, her face instantly gone cold. She tried to pull away from him, but he held tightly. “There’s no time,” the Dwarf warned, his voice growing dark. “We need to RUN!” He bellowed the last word, and Keyzana blinked once.
“Why? Who’s in there?”
“Hobgoblins!” Gundren answered, looking extremely anxious.
“Why haven’t they come out, Uncle?” Falkrunn asked, examining the Dwarf more closely.
In the momentary distraction, Keyzana released her hawk in a flash of light, and the hawk dove through the doorway.
“NO!” Gundren shouted furiously, releasing the Elf.
Lorskan grabbed the Dwarf roughly by the throat and pressed him against the wall, lifting him off his feet.
“Wait!” Falkrunn cried, unsure.
The would-be Gundren gulped for air, his face turning red, then purple. “Give it” gasp “up, Grol. They” gasp “have us.” Gundren’s skin began to bubble and reshape itself. His legs lengthened until his toes were touching the stone floor, and his body elongated. Long, flowing white hair sprouted and his red beard receded to reveal a black-skinned elf with pointed, Elvish ears.
“Dark Elf,” Flavio whispered, watching in awe. “A Drow.” The Elf was female, and she smirked.
Lorskan did not relinquish his grip on her neck despite the transformation. He pressed his scaled fingers deep into her throat. “Who are you?” The Dragonborn demanded, his golden eyes piercing hers. She pressed into his grip as much as she could and hissed threateningly. Falkrunn thought he might crush her windpipe.
The interrogation was cut short by the sound of a low rumble from within the other room. Keyzana stepped back from the doorway, which she was about to enter. Her hawk swooped down and returned to her with a screech and disappeared.
A massive wolf stepped through the splintered door. It was as tall as Flavio. The gray wolf hunched down, raising its hackles and baring its teeth. Lorskan reached around for his sword, but the wolf moved faster. It pounced, flying through the air and knocking the Dragonborn heavily to the ground and ripping into his arm with its fangs. The doppelgänger dropped and rolled out of the way, leaping to her feet and bolting past the wolf.
There was a howl of rage from behind them, and Falkrunn spun around to see a massive Bugbear emerge from the curtained doorway. He wore thick, dented armour and atop his head rested a rusted circlet, indicating a crown. In one hand he held a dagger. In the other, he dragged an unconscious Dwarf. He hefted up the small body and touched the end of the dagger to Gundren’s throat—for this was the real Gundren, though the Dwarf had been beaten so badly and his face was so disfigured, that it was hard to distinguish features amongst the bruises and dried blood. Falkrunn thought she heard a slight groan escape his lips.
“Uncle!” she screamed.
“Back away!” The Bugbear warned, digging the tip of the dagger into flesh, coaxing out a few drops of scarlet.
Falkrunn immediately stepped back, but kept her sword raised.
The Bugbear smiled. “Nobody moves, or I’ll cut his throat.”
With her quick Elf reflexes, Keyzana upstretched a hand and shot an acid-green arrow at King Grol, for it was indeed the king himself.
Grol moved quickly, ducking out of the way, and the arrow exploded on the wall behind him. Thick droplets of acid flew everywhere, splashing onto his back. There was a sizzling sound and he shrieked in agony as the acid burrowed into his skin, burning away armour and flesh as if it were mere parchment. Yet, he held his grip on Gundren. The dagger had cut a jagged line across the Dwarf’s exposed throat, bleeding into his thick red beard. How much blood did Gundren have left? Was he even breathing anymore? Falkrunn moved desperately, her anger flaring to new heights.
“Curses on you, beggar King,” Falkrunn said forcefully, flowing magic through her spell of vicious mockery. She had learned the spell only a few days ago and felt this an appropriate time to use it. She released all her fury into it. “You are nothing. You are dirt, like the royal ground you walk on.” She stepped forward, feeling as though she towered over him, though he was at least four feet taller than she in her goblin disguise. “What kind of name is Grol anyways? It seems your mother was as stupid as she was obese.”
The spell took effect immediately, overwhelming the Bugbear with intense feelings. King Grol dropped Gundren, dagger still in hand, and fell to his knees, tears in his black eyes. He began to blubber uncontrollably, and Falkrunn laughed scornfully. Behind her she could hear Olara attacking the Drow, and she looked back to see the dark Elf’s fist ripple through the air and strike Olara, blasting her off her feet. The Drow turned and sprinted for the curtain, leaping over both King Grol and the fallen Gundren and disappearing behind the curtain.
Seeing Flavio readying a spell, Falkrunn quickly pulled out her flute and released her bardic inspiration to the human, filling him with extra power.
Flavio sent a magically guided bolt at Grol and it pierced the King’s hand, sending his dagger spinning through the air and landing across the room. The King folded his arms into himself, holding his wound to his chest.
Meanwhile, Lorskan fought against the wolf, which still stood over him, barring his escape and dripping saliva. The Dragonborn managed to wrestle his arms around the wolf’s neck and twisted it around until he had it pinned. The victory was short-lived, however. The wolf broke free and sunk its teeth into Lorskan’s other arm, then pranced away. It seemed it had crushed its paw, for it favoured one as it stepped back. Wolf and Dragonborn circled one another, seemingly oblivious to everyone else in the room. The wolf growled, and Lorskan roared back at him in a ferocious bellow. The wolf’s ears dropped back and his tail lowered. He whimpered and backed off, intimidated.
Falkrunn inched forward, hoping to cut down the King whilst he was distracted. The King noticed her movement and dove at Gundren’s unmoving body, picking it up into the air and throwing it against a nearby wall. There was a sickening crunch as Falkrunn’s uncle hit stone. NO! She ran to him, ignoring the King. Ignoring everyone else but Gundren. Before she could reach him, the Drow burst again through the curtains and drove a knife through Gundren’s heart. She barely stopped moving as she leaped again and ran through the opposite doorway.
That was it. How could she save him now? He was gone. He must be. His heart had stopped. Hers had filled with despair. Why. Why did I take so long? Why was I too weak? Why, why, why…
Grol had picked up a Morningstar and ran to his wolf’s side. The fighting continued, but Falkrunn barely registered any of it. She held her hand over Gundren’s chest and spoke a word of healing. She waited with bated breath.
There! A faint heartbeat. Colour was returning to his stoic face. He was alive.
She looked up, setting Gundren’s head gently on the ground.
Keyzana had speared Grol with three magic missiles, which stuck from his acid-burnt back like raised quills on a porcupine. He stumbled to one knee as a fresh arrow sprung through the side of his neck, releasing a spurt of blood and a gargle of pain. Olara lowered her shortbow, surveying the damage, expressionless.
Falkrunn ran to the kneeling Bugbear. She kicked him heavily in the chest, knocking him to the ground, then leaped onto his chest and pressed her longsword against the skin of his bleeding neck. “Why did you take the Dwarf?” She demanded, barely restraining her anger.
The bleeding King laughed, spitting up more blood and nearly choking on it. His arms just held her blade back, sparing him a few more moments of life.
Flavio pared up and took a golf swing at the Bugbear’s head (or, at least it seemed to be aimed in that direction), but completely missed and tripped over his own feet. He rubbed his backside, muttering that he was “never good at the game, anyway.”
Keyzana ignored the human and went to kneel beside Falkrunn, looking down at the pitiful King. “Where is the Black Spider?” she hissed.
Grol coughed up more blood, and she held her blade directly over one of his eyes. “W-wave Echo Cave.” He coughed again.
“What is he?” She asked slowly.
After some hesitation, the King groaned and, frothing blood, said, “he is a man. But, you’re too late,” he smiled through gritted red teeth. “Glasstaff is on his way back as we,” cough “speak. He will slaughter you all.” He opened his mouth in silent laughter.
Keyzana raised her blade slightly, then drove it through the King’s open mouth. His black eyes went lifeless, and the rusted crown fell with a clang to the floor. Falkrunn fell back, exhausted. Her hands shook as she replaced her longsword and crawled back to her uncle to check on him. Olara had her hands pressed over the wound in his chest, which still bled.
Flavio cast a spell and the closed curtain flew open and remained that way. “No more surpises!” He declared, nodding to himself. It seemed the wolf had disappeared with the Drow, because Lorskan now walked up to the rest of them, seeming slightly worse for wear, both arms bleeding from bite wounds. Keyzana released her hawk and sent him through the hallway to fly over the castle. With glazed eyes, she watched for a moment. When she returned, she said “the wolf is pacing the castle outside. I could hear the Drow crashing through the trees. She is gone, it seems. I doubt she will return, now that her master is dead.”
“If that was her master,” Olara said quietly.
“We need to search the rest of the castle,” Keyzana told Falkrunn regretfully, looking down at the unconscious Dwarf.
“Go,” Falkrunn said, “I’ll watch over him. I—I can’t leave him now.” Keyzana nodded and went through the open curtains. Lorskan followed with clenched fists, dripping blood.
Gundren’s eyes fluttered open and he gazed up into Falkrunn’s face, looking confused. “Falkrunn? Is that you, niece?”
“It is,” she confirmed solemnly. “Here, let me help you up.” She placed an arm under him and raised him to his feet. Her goblin disguise had melted away.
The two Dwarves limped into the adjoining chamber where the other companions were searching under furniture and pulling out drawers. It was the King’s chambers, and the room was horrendously grimy, and a thick, pungent smell hung in the air. “Think we could open a window?” Falkrunn asked lightly.
“There is a map,” Gundren croaked, “did you find it?”
“What map is that?” Falkrunn asked, easing him down into a chair.
“It is a map of Wave Echo Cave. They stole it from me when I was captured by those foul goblins.”
“That’s where the Black Spider is,” Keyzana said. “We haven’t found anything, but we aren’t done searching.” She ripped open a wardrobe as she spoke and tore through its contents.
Falkrunn ran to the dirty mattress and pulled the stained sheets free. There was a lump beneath it. She took the dagger from her belt and buried it in the fabric, ripping a giant hole into the mattress and releasing the stench of moldy straw. She reached in and felt around until she grasped something solid and pulled it free. She held a leather sack threaded closed with a drawstring. She laid it on the bed and opened it slowly, dumping out the contents.
A pile of silver and electrum pieces jangled free, and there were also a few glass bottles filled with a thick brown liquid. Falkrunn held them out to Keyzana, who approached curiously, abandoning the wardrobe she was exploring. “Healing potion,” she declared after examining the bottles, “may I?” Falkrunn nodded, and the Elf placed the bottles carefully in her satchel.
Something else wouldn’t shake loose from the leather sack. Falkrunn reached in and pulled it out. It was a thick roll of parchment.
Excited, she unrolled it and held it up into the dim light which was cast by an overturned brazier.
“That’s it,” Gundren said softly. “The map to Wave Echo Cave.”
“Rescuing that Gnome sure was a lot of trouble,” Flavio complained as he followed Lorskan through the barracks, over the corpse of the Bugbear. The human reached down and inspected the rusted crown, then tossed it aside once deciding it wasn’t valuable. Lorskan had entered the room with the splintered door, so Flavio followed him in.
They looked around the circular room, which contained an old desk and some scattered papers with lists of supplies written on them in blotched ink. Flavio searched every drawer in the desk and pocketed a few ink bottles for later use. Lorskan was searching the room as well but seemed disappointed by his findings.
“Not a very talkative fellow, are you?” Flavio asked curiously as he stepped over the door and left the room.
Lorskan grunted and followed.
The companions slept and Keyzana stood watch, her hawk left circling the skies for signs of trouble. The wolf had retreated to the forest without a trace. As she waited, the Elf flipped through her spell book, memorizing incantations she thought might be useful. She hummed softly to herself and looked up into her hawk’s eyes every once-in-a-while to see if anything was amiss.
She found a few spells that drew her interest, and began reciting the words, stopping at the final invocation and storing it away for future use.
The Dragonborn’s dragon-hawk Algernon was perched on a windowsill high up, surveying the forest alongside her hawk. The Dragonborn, meanwhile, snored loudly, the odd puff of smoke rising from his flared nostrils. She shivered and returned to her book.
Lorskan was untrustworthy. Flavio was harmless enough that it didn’t matter if she could trust him, but Lorskan… her instincts told her to be wary. Olara and Falkrunn seemed to be on her side.
For the sake of her own quest, she reserved her doubts to herself.
Falkrunn felt hands on her shoulder as they shook her awake. “Blasting Bulette! What is it now?” she moaned, climbing out of her bedroll.
“You sure do swear a lot, Dwarf,” Keyzana told her, moving off to wake up the rest of the group. “There is a raiding party coming our way, about a mile North and moving at a quick pace,” she announced to them. “My hawk has spotted at least four Hobgoblin’s followed by a well-dressed man carrying a glowing staff and flanked by two massive wolves.”
Falkrunn quickly tied up her bedroll and clasped it onto her pack, heaving her belongings onto her shoulders.
“Glasstaff, I presume?” Flavio asked, rolling up his own bed. Keyzana nodded in affirmation. “Very well. I suppose I can save you all again in this dire hour of need.”
“Sure,” Falkrunn said, moving to her uncle and helping him up. He was still weak, and his face sported a scattering of deep purple bruises. He clutched his chest as he stood painfully and found a short sword in the corner of the bedchamber, lashing it to his side with a strip of leather. They hadn’t found the rest of his belongings anywhere.
“I know what to do,” Falkrunn said, nodding to herself. Before anyone could protest, she dashed out the door and ran through a side door into the brisk morning air. She barely looked down at the fallen corpse of the goblin they had captured and later shot, who lay prostrate with arms outstretched in the direction of the door, flies buzzing over his head.
Falkrunn rounded the corner and, heart pounding, cast a spell she had never used. It was one she had learned before leaving home and had never had use for until now. Or, perhaps she had been too afraid to use it. She prayed to Clanggedin Silverbeard for luck as she cast Invisibility over her body. She felt a cold sensation spread through her limbs and, when she looked down, she couldn’t see her own body. She felt suddenly dizzy, and leaned back against the castle wall, taking a few deep breaths with closed eyes. Then, shaking herself, she pushed off from the wall and ran.
Gundren limped after the others as they ran for the front entrance of the castle. His chest ached with every breath, and it took all his strength to push forward. Though the others outpaced him, he soon found where they stood. The towering Dragonborn took up the entrance, longbow drawn. The two Elves were on the stairs leading up to the tower room, and the human was puffing up the steps after them. Gundren followed, holding a stitch in his side.
He was nearly to the top when suddenly there was a deep, thundering boom that echoed through the castle walls, shaking the floors and causing loose stones to crash to the ground in a wave of dust. “What in the Nine Hells of Baator was that?” He shouted at no one in particular, nearly losing his footing.
Wolves howled just outside, and Gundren raced up the stairs, his wounds momentarily forgotten.
Falkrunn stood outside, invisible, near the castle entrance. Marching towards the door was the raiding party Keyzana had described. Okay, she thought desperately, surveying the group for weaknesses, to get to the wizard, I need to take down his guards.
“Targor, it’s quiet here. Too quiet. And I smell blood.” Glasstaff said, stopping the group with an upraised hand. “Search the castle!”
In a moment, the Dwarf knew what she had to do. She raised both hands and released her most powerful spell: Thunderwave. A giant wave shook the ground and grew up from where she stood, exploding in a burst of thunderous sound and knocking half of the raiding party to the ground. A few maintained their balance, and threw their heads around, confused.
Falkrunn looked down at her hands, which were still standing straight out in front of her… completely visible. She dropped her arms. The lead Hobgoblin, the one called Targor, turned to her and pointed. Falkrunn raised a finger, about to say something, then thought better of it, turned on her heel, and ran for dear life.
Flavio watched curiously through the arrow loop in the upper tower as a sudden rumble shook the air and the stone itself. He looked down and saw Falkrunn standing in the open, suddenly bared to the enemy. The Dwarf looked for a second as if she were going to say something, then turned and sprinted away. “Rip, Snarl!” The lead Hobgoblin shouted from where he now lay on the ground. “Attack!” The two massive wolves bolted after here with vicious, well, rips and snarls.
How fitting, he thought, looking around to see what everyone else was doing.
Falkrunn felt the wolves just behind her and dropped to the ground, rolling through the grass and narrowly avoiding the snap of teeth at her neck. She leaped to her feet and the two wolves broke off her escape, standing before her, grayish-brown coats ablaze with hungry ferocity.
Falkrunn reached for her longsword and touched empty air. Panicked, she spared a glance behind her, and saw that the blade had fallen from her sheath as she rolled. It was out of reach. Very well, she thought, calming her mind, a lullaby, then.
In a soft, sing-song voice, she cast a sleeping spell in all directions. It rippled through the grass, invisible to all others except for her. The wolves took on dreamy expressions in their deep brown eyes moments before swaying and collapsing, fast asleep. Falkrunn felt the spell hit a Hobgoblin not far off but didn’t look back. She quickly picked up her longsword and slipped it through the ribs of the nearest wolf, driving the blade into its heart. It whimpered before falling into the eternal slumber.
Olara shot the lead Hobgoblin in the shoulder and he pulled the shaft free as he came to his feet, shouting orders. The wizard had also been thrown feet through the air and was now regaining his footing. An arrow whizzed towards him, but he cast a blue forcefield in the nick of time, knocking it aside. Lorskan had shot the arrow, and now replaced his bow with his sword, ready for a fight.
“It’s them! It’s the group we’ve been looking for!” Glasstaff cried, backing up. “Fall back to the forest and form up!” Then, he cast a wordless spell and the air around him turned to mist. He disappeared in an instant, reappearing fifteen feet away. He bolted for the trees, robes swirling around him and staff held aloft. The lead Hobgoblin signaled those who were still standing, “Regroup! Protect the wizard!” The raiding party followed Glasstaff to the forests edge at a sprint.
“Cowards!” Lorskan shouted, returning his sword and taking out his bow once again.
Keyzana sent three magic missiles at the fleeing enemy, hitting two into the lead Hobgoblin and the third into another Hobgoblin, running toward the forest after them. Olara ran too and stopped only briefly to send another arrow. The Hobgoblin she aimed for raised his shield behind him, catching it skillfully.
Flavio and Gundren appeared at Lorskan’s side by the entrance, Gundren panting heavily and looking ill. “We must fight!” The Dwarf declared, raising his newly found short sword.
Falkrunn burst around the castle, sword bloodied but looking unharmed herself. She spared a glance at the three of them still in the castle, then watched in dismay as the Elves chased down the party. “Lorskan!” Falkrunn shouted, “stop that wizard!” Then the Dwarf took out her flute and played a few quick notes, sending her bardic inspiration to the Dragonborn. Lorskan nodded and, nocking an arrow and taking aim, he sent his arrow through the air, over the Elves heads. It planted itself into Glasstaff’s leg. The wizard tumbled and rolled, then leapt to his feet and pointed his staff across the field at Lorskan. Lorskan seemed to wobble on the spot for a second as if his legs were locked, but he broke free of it and, enraged, sprinted towards the wizard. Glasstaff pulled the arrow from his leg and began limping, his companions catching up to him. Then he dove into the trees for cover. The Hobgoblins formed up around him.
Keyzana and Olara had nearly caught up to them, and Keyzana dashed forward, ducking out of the way of a flying arrow, and cast a spell at the trees. It was impossible to see what her spell had done.
Flavio turned to look down at Gundren, “well, what are you waiting for? Let’s go!” He pulled out his warhammer and, with a war cry, leaped over the broken stairs and rolled to his feet. Then without stopping, he ran out into the open field to stand over the sleeping Hobgoblin that had been hit by Falkrunn’s sleep spell earlier. The Hobgoblin was just stirring awake, and its eyes popped open wide when it saw the human towering over it. Flavio leaned down and slipped a dagger through its armour and straight into its beating heart, making a quick end of it.
“That was surprisingly nimble for a human!” Gundren praised him, running up to where he crouched. “Good work—Flavio, was it?”
Flavio nodded, wiping off his stained dagger in the grass. “That’s right!”
“Let’s get the rest of them!” Gundren said, raising his sword above his head.
Dwarf and human raced for the trees, where their companions stood off against one lone Hobgoblin.
“You got us! We give up!” The Hobgoblin said, stepping from the trees with his arms raised in surrender.
Keyzana surged forward and tackled him to the ground, and the Hobgoblin did not resist as she pulled out a length of rope and tied him up, lashing him to the nearest tree. “We’ll deal with this one later,” she told Olara, and the Elf nodded in agreement, drawing her newly acquired longsword.
Lorskan pushed past both the Elves and tore through the air with his sword, decapitating the bound Hobgoblin in an instant.
“Why did you do that?” Keyzana demanded angrily.
“We don’t need prisoners,” Lorskan said simply, scanning the trees for the others.
“He surrendered,” Keyzana told him, ripping her ropes off the now headless body.
There was the sound of soft snoring coming from behind a bush, and Keyzana walked over to it, peering over. There was a black-haired, white-robed wizard, fast asleep from her sleeping spell. She smiled despite herself and moved to tie him with her blood-stained rope.
Lorskan quickly dispatched of the other Hobgoblins, who were also caught in a deep slumber. Keyzana took the wizard’s staff and began inspecting it as Falkrunn burst through the trees followed closely by Flavio and Gundren. “Great work,” Falkrunn smiled, gesturing to the unconscious wizard.
The Dwarf walked up to where he was tied and unceremoniously slapped him across the face. The wizard jumped awake, then narrowed his eyes when he looked at Falkrunn. He took a long breath and said “Oh, what can I do for you?”
“Hello wizard,” Falkrunn said, leaning back casually.
“That’s Iarno Albrek to you, Dwarf,” he said back.
“Yes, yes,” Falkrunn sighed, “we already know you were once friend to Sildar and betrayed him. Good for you. Now why did you do it?”
“Wait!” Flavio said, moving up to them and looking at Falkrunn pointedly. Understanding, the Dwarf moved back further and let the human cast his zone of truth over the wizard.
“Hmm, very clever,” Glasstaff said, though he did not sound impressed. He actually sounded bored. “Yes, well, it’s not as though I betrayed Sildar. I simply—found a more profitable opportunity elsewhere.”
“What master do you serve?” Keyzana asked.
“I serve no master but myself,” the wizard replied.
Olara moved into his line of sight, and the wizard looked up at her in satisfied recognition. “Ah, Olara. How are you holding up?”
“I’ve had better days,” the Elf replied, glaring at him with arms crossed.
They all turned to Olara in surprise and Lorskan stepped up and wrapped his forearm around her neck, pinning her and lashing a rope around her wrists. He pushed her onto her knees with his boot so she was facing Glasstaff. “What are you doing!” Keyzana cried.
“You heard him,” Lorskan gestured to Glasstaff and started pacing slowly. “She knows this man.”
“So what if she knows him? She’s one of us. We don’t attack our own!” the Elf said furiously but did not move to untie Olara.
“She could be working for him still,” Lorskan said.
Olara did not speak. Glasstaff started to chuckle, watching the dispute with interest.
“We shouldn’t fight amongst ourselves,” Falkrunn said desperately, turning back to the wizard. “How do you know Olara?” the wizard only laughed again.
“We should ask Olara,” Flavio said, redirecting his truth spell so it also lay upon the Elf. “Olara, how do you know this wizard?”
Olara did not take her gaze from Glasstaff. “I worked for him, once,” she said slowly, then looked up at her companions. “I’m not proud of what I’ve done, but it’s over. I seek only to redeem myself now.”
“Redeem,” Glasstaff said mockingly, “how quaint.”
“What did you do for him?” Keyzana asked her Elf-friend quietly.
Olara dropped her gaze and said nothing, looking ashamed.
“Look, we can question Olara later,” Falkrunn told them, “the wizard is our priority right now. Iarno, tell me: who is the Black Spider?”
The man merely smiled and did not answer. Blasted truth spell. It compelled the speaker to tell only truths, but they could also choose to say nothing at all if strong enough. Lorskan leaned in and punched the wizard in the face, bloodying his lip. “Speak!” He barked.
Iarno spit out a glob of blood and said, “someone you don’t want to meet.” Lorskan punched him a second time, cracking the man’s head against the tree. “Alright!” Iarno shouted, “he organized the Red Brands for me.”
“When did you last speak with him?”
“We do not speak to each other,” Iarno answered, looking annoyed. “We communicate through his henchmen, the Drow.”
“Very well,” Falkrunn stood, wiping dirt from herself. “We know where to find him. Uncle, you have the map?” Gundren nodded in response.
“Who did you send after me?” Olara spoke hardly above a whisper.
Glasstaff looked thoughtful for a second, then said “everyone I sent, you have killed.”
Olara nodded as if her suspicions had been confirmed. Glasstaff mumbled a few names, but Falkrunn had stopped listening. She was thinking about the Black Spider.
“Olara, tell us what you did for the wizard. Was it stealing? Kidnapping?” Keyzana asked.
“Yes,” Olara answered and Glasstaff smiled.
“Ha! She was his assassin,” Lorskan told them, still crouched over their captive, his bloodied knuckles resting on one knee.
“I killed when I had to,” the Elf said.
“Are you loyal to us?” Keyzana asked, kneeling next to her friend, hand on her shoulder.
Olara nodded. “I am now.”
“Well,” Keyzana said after a moment, “that’s all I need to hear. I still trust her more than I do you, Dragonborn. I’m untying her.” Falkrunn bent to help Keyzana with the knots at Olara’s wrists.
“Hey, so… are you guys my friends?” Flavio asked, feigning casual. Falkrunn realized with a short laugh that he had extended his truth spell to all of them.
“Uh,” Glasstaff said. “No. I am not.”
“Yeah, I wasn’t asking you,” Flavio said, folding his arms.
Gundren leaned up and patted Flavio on the shoulder, “sure, friend.”
“Can we kill the wizard now?” Lorskan asked, gesturing in annoyance.
“I guess we should,” Falkrunn agreed, and Keyzana and Olara nodded.
“Wait!” Iarno cried, looking suddenly desperate, “don’t kill me! I am a high ranking official in the council of Waterdeep. You do not want the council as your enemy. Take me back to Sildar. He will know what to do with me, and I’m sure he will pay you well for your troubles.”