I’ve never seen such a tough crowd. I do mean crowd. The humans are stepping on each other’s shadows, and even we more compact sort are having to watch our step. Still, they seem upset, and why? How often do you get to see a DRAGON?
I haven’t seen one in a long time. Well, there was that platinum dragon from whom I bought a single perfect note. I keep it in a box at the very bottom of my pack. Someday, the time will be right, and I’ll open that box, and that Note will sing out.
No, you’ll never hear it. Not with your ears. Even if you could, it would destroy your world, and I don’t want that for you. But, if you have a chest of gems, well, we could work something out. What need have you for gems when your world is destroyed? Also, magic items. The Note is worth it. No cheap magic items. I’ll have my appraiser get in touch. It’s my brother. He may need to bring some of your magic items back to the burrow to form an accurate impression. It could take years. You might not know he’s been by.
Anyway. We were in a keep, and Esco-the-Red-Bear was trying to get us out of the safety of the keep. My ears perk up when people mention anything about “gold” or “payment” or “easy money”, and I have to admit that my ears were not perking up. Up-perking? Perkolating? Is that a word? It sounds like a word. I have percolated ears. I am percolating as I write, silently, to myself. The rest of this madcap group seemed equally reluctant to become the grounded part of a dragon-powered circuit.
We dithered as a ragged scout came by with a note for our dwarf friend. His already dour expression became more so. The guards on the wall, he said, have spotted a new threat. The cultists are trying to set fire to the old mill.
Without that mill, the village of Greenest will starve. WE will starve.
That got our attention, and we, reluctantly, agreed to help. He pressed some keys into the hands of the sadly sober cleric. There’s a secret exit from the keep, a tunnel to the river, used during the construction and kept secret since. We should head to the deepest basement and look for a hidden door. Behind that, we’d find a tunnel to the river, with an iron grate at the end. One key for the hidden door; the other for the grate.
If any creature saw us and found the tunnel back into the keep, disaster would follow. So we should try hard not to let that happen. We should immediately head down and escape to the mill and keep the attackers busy for about fifteen minutes, when Escobert would be able to pull together some sort of force and leave by some other means and meet us there.
The deepest sub-basement was used to store barrels and other useful things. We looked around a bit, and eventually discovered the hidden door behind some of the barrels. I let the larger types move those aside.
The trip down the tunnel was perilous — not because of monsters or any sort of existential danger. More because the human, the only one without darkvision, had cast a light spell on the grate key, and that’s just annoying. He chose to jockey for the rear position with the fighter, while Ellwyn, the potentially dangerous gnome monk, insisted upon being in front.
His vigilance was rewarded when we met, and dealt with, a swarm of rats. Ellwyn decided to sit this one out.
Let me tell you about this swarm of rats.
I know rats. You live beneath the earth, you know rats. And these rats were the worst specimens of rats I had ever seen. Patchy fur. MANGE. Three of the rats had their tails torn off, were possibly blind. Make a maze with cheese at every dead end and these rats would starve. I mean, these rats were really more like scrawny hamsters. Who had been stepped on when they were young. Right on their heads.
I viciously mocked that swarm of rats, and gave them disadvantage.
Gina, our dwarf fighter, loosed a hand axe from her belt and sent it clattering into the swarm of rats, to little effect. The drunken cleric shot a guiding bolt at the swarm that stunned them; the woodie ranger Zalandrin took his blade and finished the job.
We were all certain that Ellwyn had just been on the verge of attacking.
Finally at the gate, we paused before we open the gate to listen. We heard footsteps wading through the river — a noisy gate would summon them for sure. The drunken cleric handed the glowing gate key to Gina, who promptly broke it in half in the rust-frozen lock.
I cursed silently to myself, made a scrubbing motion with my left hand, and by the power of prestidigitation, the gate was cleaned free of rust. The drunken cleric pushed forward, grabbed the half of the key from Gina’s hand, and mended it with the half still in the lock. With a mended key and a clean gate, the gate unlocked easily and swung open noiselessly.
Sticking our heads out, we saw a party of kobolds to our north. They did not see us.
I put on my kobold costume.
The rest of the party prepared to attack the kobolds with surprise on our side. (Could we have avoided this fight? I don’t know. I’m not sure how stealthy Some People are).
Ellwyn, the pacifist monk, had initiative, but ceded it to the ranger. Zalandrin notched an arrow. It disappeared from his bow, reappeared in the shoulder of a cultist. Seeing this, Ellwyn dashed forward — but for some reason, only moved a fifth the distance he would normally move. This strange force would affect our movement the entire fight. The kobolds and cultists looked on, bemused, unaware that this strange force would hinder them as well.
Gina and the drunken cleric rushed out of the tunnel together, bunching up for a moment at the exit, then bursting out like two peas from a straw. Dazed, the cleric had enough presence of mind to put away the mended glowing key. I followed behind the two. Just a friendly kobold. Nobody you would ever want to attack.
Zalandrin, with no need to fight the force that paralyzed our legs, continued to pick apart kobolds. One rushed at me, but — kobold costume. Confused, the kobold attacked Ellwyn, and the monk finally got the fight he wished for.
And maybe a little more, as, once he had crawled into the melee, became a cultist punching bag and soon fell, senseless, to the ground. Gina, the nearest, rushed up and quickly bound his wounds, but could not bring him back to health.
The drunken cleric, who had been touching the ranger in some delicate place, fought his way instead through the force that kept us from moving at our normal pace, picked Ellwyn up by his robe’s collar and slapped him back to health. I started making out my living will right then and there because, I dunno, maybe it’s just better to shuffle off to the eternal workshop that awaits me in Mechanus than be slapped to health by an inebriated human.
With all of us back in the fight, the rest of the encounter goes well. The cleric called down flame, Gina’s heavy axe became a blur of darkness, Zalandrin’s arrows grew like trees in enemy throats, Ellwyn finally got to hit something, and I, an ersatz kobold, viciously mocked those poor examples of cultists from the sidelines and dazzled them with light shows.
We quickly dragged the bodies into the tunnel and closed and locked the gate behind them. I expected the Keep would find some undead cultists clawing their way into the basement pretty soon, because that’s the kind of night it had been.
While few to none of us were skilled in the stealthy arts, we made it without any further issue to the mill. Torch-wielding kobolds had the place surrounded, but they didn’t seem in a hurry to burn the place.
Did they know that there might be enemies watching them nearby, and they were scheming to draw us out? Zalandrin scouted the mill and got the lay of the land. We had taken so much time killing the cultists outside the tunnel that it seemed certain Escobert would meet us here, soon.
It was odd that, in all that time, the kobolds still hadn’t attacked the mill.
Something is wrong.