After a bit more talk the meeting wrapped up. "I hope that Shaw watches over all of us," the armiger stated. "And perhaps given the odds we'll be facing, a prayer to Duncan might not be looked on poorly."
They retired and tried to sleep, and arose soon after dawn. Harrick wanted to wait another day.
"I understand your feelings, but I'm afraid that if we wait too long, it will be too late," Robin replied, worried about her cousin. In reluctant agreement, they moved out, their forebodings darkening the bright morning around them.
Terzin slept that night in a corner of the bugbear cave, vaguely aware of their comings and going about him. When he woke, he found that the hobgoblins had moved their forces in and spent the night drilling with the bugbears. Hruggek was busy, organizing everything and spending much time deep in prayer.
Two of each tribe were on watch at the cave entrance. Terzin spent a few minutes there with them, then left to scout around the valley entrance and make sure his friends weren't walking into an ambush. He found nothing, and worked his way back, sticking to the shadows as best he could.
Then he saw the line of figures emerging from the cult cave, like ants in their distant, mechanical motion. Alive or undead, they were headed for a piece of flat ground, on which they formed up into a mass aimed at the bugbear cave.
Terzin ran for the entrance. He found the two bugbear guards sitting in their chairs, apparently asleep. There was no sign of the hobgoblins. He nocked an arrow and eased closer. No sign of blood. He reached out and shook one of them harshly. The head lolled grotesquely, and something small flopped out of its beard, onto his hand.
He yelled and tried to flick it off, but the small snake, as it seemed to be, had its teeth in him already. He smashed it repeatedly against the rock wall, then headed into the cavern, afraid of what he might find.
He found the two hobgoblins, returning to their post with meat spits in their hands. Terzin gesticulated wildly to try to convey that they were under attack, and finally just ran past, dragging one of them with him, looking for Hruggek.
"We're being attacked, call the alarm," he snapped as soon as the bugbear opened the door. A horn sounded behind him.
"Why didn't any of the sentries"
"Run to the goblin caves. Go!"
From the entrance he saw about forty undead beginning their advance across the valley. He ran back in and tried to convey to a hobgoblin that they should all retreat to the other cave, then sprinted toward the goblins' home.
The party from the Keep maintained a brisk pace toward the valley, wondering what lay in store for them, and keeping alert for ambush this time. As they neared the site of the shallow graves in the woods, Robin and Harrick noticed that they were being watched by four or five bandits. She dropped back a few paces, casually matching step with Sabine.
"There are four or five bandits in the woods over there."
"Scouts or an ambush?"
"They haven't attacked us yet, I assume they're just keeping an eye on us."
"Ready gentlemen?" she said softly. "On my command, turn and fire. One, two, three, go."
The little troop stopped dead; six crossbow bolts sliced into the underbrush. Bandits screamed. The two that survived the first volley bolted. Harrick hit one with a Flame Gout; he staggered, collapsed, and tried to get back up. Dubricus and Third stopped.
"And now, as you can see..." Dubricus began.
Third rammed her spear through the bandit's chest.
"...That we won't be bothering to question anyone, today," he concluded, taken aback.
Robin and Jared ran after the other one. He broke out of the forest and headed for the entrance to the bandit lair. She caught up to him and delivered a slashing blow that sent him sprawling. Jared finished him off with the mace. This time they made sure to sever the spine.
They were only ten yards from the entrance to the dug-out cavern, so they dragged the body off a ways and scuffed up the scene a bit to confuse anyone examining the scene.
As long as they were there, Harrick decided to go ahead and collapse the place. The spell did not take long. There was a loud whoomph sound, and the hill settled neatly, with a couple of wooden supports sticking out of the ground. No reaction seemed to follow from whoever or whatever might be inside.
Since they were now a good distance from the road, the group decided to cut across country to the valley, unknowingly following the same path Terzin had.
They reached the valley in short order and looked down to see the battle already unfolding, saw the assault on the goblin cave and the army of undead marching toward the bugbear cave. They were coming under fire from within the cave, but no bugbears seemed to be outside. Which meant the tribe was doomed.
After a hasty conference, the Keep's troops assumed the best position they could find and began firing the dwarven crossbows into the zombie army from behind. The adventurers gathered their courage and headed toward the nethermancers' lair.
"Let's get 'em," Harrick announced.
"We're all going to die," Robin sighed. "It was a nice life."
"But we'll go out gloriously, doesn't that count?" Dubricus said.
"No," the orc replied sourly.
"Yes, yes it does," she contradicted.
"Hang on just a minute." Dubricus cast Leaf Shield for her.
They turned for a last look at the battle scene and saw Terzin. None of them were particularly surprised by what he was doing. They decided to wait for him.
Terzin sprinted toward the goblin cave, only to find the bandits in full attack. There were more than a dozen outside the cave, and some might already be inside. They hadn't seen him yet. He changed course for the ettin's lair and quickly found the giant in one of the back "rooms" of the shallow cave.
The ettin appeared to be playing some variant of solitaire with flat stones. One head lolled gently, asleep, while the other pondered its next move. Terzin loosed an arrow into the table, scattering the stones, and yelled, "Hey, ugly!" Then he made an obscene gesture and ran.
The ettin threw the table to one side, picked up a large rock, and lumbered after him with ponderous but very quick strides. Terzin barely made it around the corner as the rock splintered on the wall.
He came out into the open. The bandits were all gone. They had gotten into the goblin cave.
Time for another course change. He sprinted up and across the valley toward the zombie army. Half of them had gone into the bugbear cave, and a handful were lying motionless as the crossbows continued to take their toll. Hideous screams came from inside.
The ettin roared incomprehensibly ["Get back here, you puny little lunch!"] and threw another small boulder, which broke a tree but missed Terzin.
He ran right through the zombie army, the ettin hot on his heels. Its appearance in their midst seemed to finally distract them from their single-minded concentration on the cave, and they in turn distracted it from the chase. It began to lay about itself with its huge fists.
Terzin dashed back across the valley to where he had seen his companions.
"Hi guys!" he panted to a halt.
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Copyright © 2000 Brian Rogers et al