4th Ed D&D In London

Through the Looking Glass

Swarms of flies swirled and swooped through the processional avenues of the easternmost city like thick black smoke carried on rolling winds, though no fire had burned here for many moons. The dead lay where they had fallen, in their homes or in the streets, their bodies now obscured under a crawling shroud of insects.

The only human survivor walked barefoot through the streets across the chitinous carpet of beetles and bugs. He had become skeletally thin, so much so that he had been able to simply step through the bars of the bamboo cage in which he had been held. Matted black hair down to the ground, ragged white smock speckled with the many insects that clung to him, he wandered out of the city and found the old road, which he followed towards the setting sun.

With the Stargazers dead there lived no-one who remembered the ancient ceremonies that kept the Plaguestar in its slumber. This was the first manifestation of the awakening, there would be more.

He was accustomed to isolation and thought not, whilst he walked, that he might benefit from company along the way. When, at length, he encountered some travellers at the road side he seemed not to perceive them, walking by with his eyes fixed on the horizon.

Those he passed often thought him afflicted, yet his step was purposeful and he asked not for aid. His appearance marked him to those who obeyed superstition as an oracle, and they likewise let him pass untroubled.

He had lived his life as a certainty. No delay of consideration affected his thoughts nor his actions. There was only one way, that which must be done now. As such his first learning was thus: The oracle knows not the future, he simply does not question it.

Some time later, he would find himself in a dark chamber filled with idols of a foreign power, images that declared that the dead would rise to inherit the earth. Gazing into the mirror he viewed the shadow portal in reflection and saw that what had appeared as a mass of writhing darkness now presented as a great golden gateway, proud in all its ancient splendour.

Beyond the gate lay a road, beckoning, winding.
Beyond the road lay a hall, quiet and still.
In the hall, a throne, about which sat souls of dead men,
Silently singing, or vacantly staring.
On the throne sat a prince,
And none raised their head above his.
On his head he wore horns,
And his boots were but hooves.
His girth was as a tall tree is around,
And yet here nothing lived,
But the darkness itself.

Before the lord and lady of Fallcrest, as well as his adventuring companions, the Warlock Sabbat Fau spoke in a low, droning mumble, in a voice coloured with the accent of a far and foreign culture, “They wait beyond the world that is our own, they see us not by our faces but by our souls. We are holes in space and time, flaws, as dirt is to linen, and nothing more. They would remake the world to be perfect, as once it was without us.”

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The Cathedral of Blood, Part 5

“Go Team Halfling!” chanted the young Ranger and the Warlord, clinking goblets before taking deep swigs. Lord Markelhay raised his eyebrows in surprised amusement.

“Go Team Halfling indeed!” he affirmed and raised his own goblet, “And so Kalarel finally succumbed to your prowess in battle! You smote his ruin upon the altar of his dark god, I presume?”

“Actually, the lord of death claimed it’s own,” declared Theron. “Before he fell, the beasts that lurked beyond reached through into this world with tentacles of shadow and seized Kalarel, dragging him into the darkness he served, to await a fate we dare not imagine.”

“Such evil,” whispered Lord Markelhay. “Such a terrible fate that you have spared us all. And so sealing the portal once and for all you have left this land safe for decent folk once more.”

“The portal is secure for now, this much I can assure you,” ventured the wizard, “But I cannot say that such things were meant to rest for all time. As we closed the portal, the warlock used the mirror to read the arcane inscriptions that adorned it. In doing so he claims to have seen a horror that was not meant for this world. It lives still, and it watches with a hungry eye.”

The gathering grew hushed. They looked at the scrawny figure of a man of indeterminate age, wearing a dirty white peasants smock, hunched over a plate of prawn vol-au-vonts, his lank black hair covering his face and descending all about him as far as the carpeted floor of the dining hall.

“What did you see, warlock, of which we must be so afraid? What horror lies beyond the shadow portal?” asked the lord of Fallcrest.

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The Cathedral of Blood, Part 4

“Bring me bones!” cursed Kalarel, standing before the altar of the dark lord of death and darkness. The zombie hound by his side leapt forward, flinging itself onto the paladin who now stood alone, a line of skeletal warriors behind him, the high priest of Orcus in front of him. A shining aura surrounded him such that as the undead minions approached, limbs jerking and armour creaking, they combusted into radiant fire and vanished into the darkness in glowing motes and embers. Nonetheless, the terrible hound clung to his great shield, it’s weight pulling him to one knee.

Theron dropped to the floor from the chain he had climbed down, looking around he saw his companions locked in combat amidst a pool of thick dark blood that lapped and splashed around their feet. From one side of the nightmarish temple of darkness approached a large rotting humanoid flanked by sneering ghoulish figures. The two Halflings, ducking in and out of the cover of the temple furnishings made there way across the chamber towards the undead horrors.

Cass and Fangorn had piled into the ranks of skeletal warriors and were busy trading blows with their deft opponents, while the warlock skirted the battle, unleashing bolts of eldritch energy at any foe who strayed from the pack.

Across the length of one wall an arch of darkness wavered in the thick stench-ridden air. Beyond the arch, shadowy forms writhed and convulsed. This was certainly the object of their quest, thought Theron, this was the portal they must somehow close. Theron decided on his course of action, and summoned a thunderwave that caused surge of blood from the pool to wash over a group of skeletal warriors, hurling them back into the stonework.

As the skeletons were smashed to pieces the party frontline arrived at where Kalarel stood, hurling searing dark energy into the melee.

“It has been too long since I have engaged in combat!” he sneered, summoning a shield of darkness around him as the warriors closed in.

Meanwhile Aran and Ryam ducked and rolled around their opponents, two wights and the corruption corpse, whose necromantic auras threatened to freeze them in their tracks if they stood still for but an instant…

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The Cathedral of Blood, Part 3

“So tell me, brave knight, however did you overcome such odds?’ Lady Markelhay asked, intrigued at the recent successes of the newly arrived group of adventurers.

“Well ma’am,” began the Eladrin Paladin, a glass of fine wine in his mailed hand, “I have often found myself just as comfortable surrounded by my enemies as by my friends. There is a certain keenness that comes to a sure soul in the midsts of such a battle, whereupon overwhelming opposition is nothing more than a precursor to victory.”

The Halfling Warlord sitting across the long dining table from the Eladrin spoke up, “Most people try to avoid being flanked, it’s a tricky position to be in, defensively speaking. Elwanen however thrives in just such a predicament. Outnumbering us was their first mistake.”

“Intriguing,” spoke Lord Markelhay, the imposing patriach of Fallcrest. “How did you slay the underpriest?”

“He was a bit tricky, as a matter of fact!” chirped another Halfling, who had paused from scoffing the niblets that surrounded him like a barricade. “We had to wade through near a dozen savages and just as many of those vampires!”

“Our companion Fangorn, a fellow the like of which I have never seen, has a knack for making progress through ranks of villains,” elaborated Elwanen. “Using the pit to his advantage, he dispatched several of their number and before long we flanked the underpriest. Cass was instrumental in consolidating our position.”

The assembled guests and hosts alike looked down the table to where a young woman was sitting, dressed as a warrior in scale mail, polished to a high shine, a chicken drumstick in one hand.

“I don’t mind telling you I very nearly didn’t make it at all. There were so many of them it was hard to tell friend from foe. But we got there in the end, and the underpriest fell, though not too swiftly.”

“Commendable work indeed,” praised Lord Markelhay, glancing across to another young woman who was wearing a fine white dress, sitting across from Cass. “You are examples to us all!” The finely dressed woman rolled her eyes slightly. This was Marianna Markelhay, niece to the Markelhays, a women of considerable bearing and poise, who wore a rapier at her side.

“But what became of Fangorn, I see him not amongst you now?” asked Lady Markelhay.

A voice was heard from the very far end of the table, where sat a dark-skinned elf with white hair, dressed in light armour. “Let’s just say he had to split.”

“I see, and so what of Kalarel?” continued the noblewoman. “At what point did you face him?”

“My lady,” began the blue-skinned Wizard who had been quietly sipping a glass of wine, “Kalarel was waiting for us below the very chamber in which we fought. As soon as we had gathered our breath we made haste for the final battle, in the hope that we were not too late…”

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The Cathedral of Blood, Part 2

The adventurers moved warily into the large chamber beyond the archway. In the dim flickering torchlight it was impossible to tell just how ancient this temple of evil was, but it had existed long before the keep was built upon it. The brave soldiers that guarded the outside world from the lingering menace of the Shadowfell were long since destroyed, and all that now stood between the hordes of Orcus and the mortal realms was this small band of heroes for hire.

As they entered, the blood smeared berserker cultists who had been standing ready advanced to intercept them, hefting huge and viscious axes.. At the vanguard of the adventurers, Elwanen let out a battle cry and led the charge. Alongside him, Cass, Fangorn, and Ryam. The two front lines met with a tremendous clash of steel, and the battle for the Cathedral of Blood had begun.

The melee surged throughout the chamber. Fangorn charged right, piling into a pair of berserkers, his maul seen swung high from across the battlefield and then crashed down upon his savage opponents. Cass, Ryam and Elwanen piled through the center, shoulder to shoulder. The feral warriors howled with bloodlust as they piled upon them. The Paladin and the Fighter yelled signals to each other, making well coordinated strikes when their foes were most vulnerable, and raining down crushing sword and axe blows that held the rest at bay in the meantime.

The spell casters took a more circuitous approach. Theron and Sabbat Fau diverged around the north and south edges respectively. Moving through the ruins of ancient crumbling walls that once divided the chamber into what may have been priests quarters, or the prisons where the doomed awaited a horrible death, they picked out targets from amongst the fray and hurled bolts of fire and force. Splug was never far from the warlock, drawing spears from the sheath he had been collecting as the party slaughtered their way through the keep and throwing them at the enemy with surprising accuracy.

Ryam had climbed atop a pile of bodies and lifted a banner bearing the symbol of the broadsword, driving its shaft down into the bloody remains of fallen berserkers.

“I see you have acquired a new friend, since last we met!” sneered the underpriest. “Let us test his mettle!” The underpriest launched a bolt of searing energy into the air. Arcing over the melee it illuminated the combat for an instant before slamming into the halfing warlord. Staggering to his feet Ryam yelled the command words that released the bolstering magic of his standard.

“Rub some dirt on you!”

Screaming from out of the shadows came several packs of feral humanoids. As they entered the dim light they could be seen to bear the fangs and ghastly visages of undead.

“Vampire spawn!” shouted Elwanen in warning. The heroes spun about in the melee to guard against the new assailants. From the large pit in the center of the chamber, the sound of ominous chanting could be heard far below…

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The Cathedral of Blood

“Ok team,” began the Tiefling orator, “If our information is correct this should be the final leg of our expedition. It’s been a long and difficult road, and we mean to end well. We shall need the kind of resounding victory worthy of a party of heroic adventurers [such as ourselves]! Now, has everybody prepared their one-liners?”

The adventurers nodded from one to another as they made there way through the passages beyond the hobgoblin guard rooms.

“Once again, I cannot overstate the importance of good delivery,” the Tiefling continued, “and the components of a well delivered one-liner are?”

Having prevented Winterhaven being overrun by undead the journey back to the keep, when not looking out for ambushes, had been spent engaged in vocal training courtesy of Des, who was now looking expectantly around the group. At first noone wanted to volounteer. Finally, from near the front of the marching order, Elwanen, the Eladrin paladin spoke.

”...Posture?”

“Good!” replied Des instantly, “And good posture demands…?”

Elwanen thought for a moment, ”...A wide stance, arms ready as if to grapple, and a… pertinant? ...angle at the neck.”

””Excellent, well remembered!” confirmed Des, “Who’s next?”

After a few moments, Aran, who had been leading the party through a series of junctions, spoke. “Erm… Essential component number two in a good delivery is… projection?”

“Exactly!” congratulated Des, “And projection demands…?”

“Projection demands… good posture… and resoluteness of purpose?” recited the halfling with some difficulty.

“Now I can see your really getting it!” affirmed the Tiefling. The party now descended a short flight of stone stairs. The air had grown cold, very cold. There was a lingering sense of malignant forboding that oozed from the very stones themselves. “What comes next? Come on now, we’ve been over this, you should know it!” he continued.

There was some scratching of heads and blank looks as the party proceeded through a large empty chamber.

“If you are a bit eccentric people might say that you are a bit of a… ” prompted Des, helpfully.

“Druid?” offered Fangorn the tree creature.

“Devil worshipper?” pondered Sabbat Fau the warlock.

“Liability?” improved Cass Breenan the fighter.

“Character!” resounded Theron the blue haired wizard, “Component number three in the good delivery of a one-liner is character. Essential to the conveyance of character are posture, projection, and a phrase or saying with personal or cultural resonance for the speaker or, in many cases, the recipient. This may be adapted within the specific instance of the delivery.” he concluded. Theron was good at this. He reeled off the lines like one might the most simplest and commonplace of alchelmical formulae.

“Fantastic! 10 out of 10!” applauded des, “So we have: Posture precluding Projection, Projection precluding Character, and what does Character preclude?”

“Oh wait, I know this one!” began Ryam Rateater the halfling warlord, “Character precludes Timing!”

“Precisely!” said Des, “And with Posture, Projection, Character and Timing one may effectively deliver a witty and poignant one-liner, thus improving morale within ones own party, lowering morale amongst the opposition, and [of course] ensuring the worthy embellishment of tavern tales once the victors have repaired to the comfy armchairs of a safe and welcoming drinking establishment.”

“Thats the part i’m looking forward to!” added Aran. There were some nods of agreement.

“Now timing is without doubt the most elusive and unpredictable element of the four, and so we should perhaps spend some time looking at the intricies of opportunistic interjections…” began Des eagerly.

“No time!” interrupted Elwanen, “It looks like a crate load of trouble’s just fallen off the back of the ugly cart.”

The party had reached what looked like an antechamber. Ahead, an archway opened into a vast cavern-like space. Peering through the party could make out figures moving amongst the shadows cast by flickering torches. Idols to unnameable entities adorned the walls, and the smell of blood hung in the air. At an altar half-hidden in the darkness on the far side of the chamber the cowled figure of the Orcus Underpriest appeared brandishing a long, wicked looking dagger that dripped with blood. The floor of the room was slick with the sheen of a dark substance, slowly trickling across the flagstones until reaching a large grate in the center. Moving into view from behind formations of glowing quartz obelisks came wild and feral looking creatures, barely human, wielding axes and serated blades.

“Finally, The Cathedral of Blood!” declared Ryam, “On my signal!...”

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The Most Basic Rule of Warfare, Part 4

“Ladies and gentlemen, a battle hard fought indeed, well done to everyone, well done,” began Des, “Excellent swordwork may I say Elwanen, and Cass, you held the warchief at bay with vigour and determination. Theron, that was exceptionally brave to engage in melee as you did, and Aran, loved the trick with the cauldron. Fangorn, mobility and maliscious mauling in perfect harmony if I may say so, and Fau… well… very sinister, very sinister indeed! Well done all of you.”

“There is however something I would like to add. May I at this point raise an issue that has been preying on my mind for some time?” spoke Des.

“Is this going to be another critical analysis of our tactics?” responded Elwanen wearily.

“Well, as time is pressing and we are not afforded the luxury of a point-by-point breakdown of our entire battle stratagem, I will [instead if I may] focus on one particular, one single, one individual tactical ploy that struck me as most conspicuous by it’s absence just now.”

“If it’s the one about going for the knees, I was doing that!” explained Aran.

“No, it is not that to which I refer…” continued the Tiefling.

“Do you mean keep them from forming a phalanx? Because we managed to break them up in the end, but it wasn’t easy,” said Fangorn.

“No, no. While these are all fine stratagems in themselves, I am actually talking about something far more fundamental in warfare…”

“Ah!” declared Elwanen, “It’s that one about staying together and not splitting up!”

“Even more important than that, i’m afraid, and as such, a battle tactic sorely lacking from this outfit [in my estimation] as I see it at the moment…”

“Are you perhaps referring to the obscenities uttered in the heat of battle? I can assure you I exercise nothing but the most refined vocabulary as a matter of course,” justified Theron.

“He’s talking about strikers and defenders, I think,” offered Cass

“Is it about charging down a narrow passageway into a well fortified position?” inquired the hobgoblin captive helpfully, although tentatively.

“Is it about taking prisoners? Because I can fix that right now,” said the warlock.

“No, my fine friends, it is none of these. It is something far more crucial to our survival than formation groupings, points of attack, who’s defending who, which vital organ to puncture, the application of harsh language, or the merciless execution of prisoners.”

“You see, I couldn’t help noticing some ‘machismo’ creeping in during the battle…”

“What are they? I only saw hobgoblins!” chirped Aran cheerily.

“Not a ‘they’ as such my stout friend. I am speaking of the manly tendency to embolden oneself infront of ones friends and allies. The masculine urge to hide ones own weakness. Specifically, on no less than 2 separate occasions during the last combat did I inquire whether anyone needed healing, and the each one of you replied negatively.”

“In fact, you all shrugged of my offer with a ‘Not I, i’m tickety-boo”’ or ‘I’ve had much worse than this, don’t you know!” or “Do I look like I need healing!” or some such carry on, and then moments later, but barely moments later…” Des looked around at his comrades, one long eyebrow raised, “No fewer than two of you are lying on the ground, almost dead, and several more of you are staggering around bleeding all over the place. Now, you know who you are so I’m not going to name any names, but I want to take this opportunity to make clear The. Most. Basic. Rule. Of. Warfare.” Pausing for dramatic emphasis, the Tiefling drew a breath.

“If you need healing, say so. Be brave. Own up.”

The adventurers mulled quietly upon this point for a while, as they slowly dispersed and began rifling through the hobgoblins belongings.

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The Most Basic Rule of Warfare, Part 3

Readers warning: Some of the dialogue in the next scene has been liberally translated from the original Elven, Common, and Goblin, so as not to cause offence. These passages will be marked by bolding them.

Come and get some of this, ye goblinoid villains who may well have engaged in intimate relations with thine own parents!” cried Elwanen as the door fell into splinters.

The hobgoblin archers waiting in the room beyond unleashed a volley that sent him reeling back into the ranks of his own party. Cass, a dainty lass who just happened to know how to swing a really big axe, led the charge forwards as 2 robed hobgoblin warcasters stepped into view at the far end of the chamber. Unleashing powerful blasts of energy from their fully charged staves they sent both the young warrior girl and the warlock beside her flying across the room. Comfy in his large oaken chair, the warchief laughed a loud belly laugh.

“You foolish interlopers who likewise may have doubts cast upon your familial relations! Who wants more of the same?”

Beneath a barrage of Theron’s magic missiles Aran came tumbling through his party who were sprawling this way and that. He ducked past 2 hobgoblins as they swung their rattling flails at him, and drop-kicked the soup cauldron in just such a way as to tip it onto it’s side with a resounding clang. Boiling hot broth splashed over the archers who had taken cover behind it and were now screaming in pain. Meanwhile the hobgoblin soldiers closed in on the nimble Halfling.

With a single huge stride Fangorn was into melee, batting a shield away with his maul and following up with a heavy blow that hit one of the soldiers square in the chest, sending him back pedalling. Elwanen was close behind, thrusting his sword into a pair of soldiers who were tightly locked in formation. The soldiers dealt out viscious slashing blows from their spiked flails in return.

“This is a really bad idea.” sighed Des, “I must see what’s going on!” He ran to the doorway and beheld the carnage beyond. Half of his party were picking themselves up off the floor, while the rest were surrounded by hobgoblin soldiers and fighting for their lives.

“Does anybody require healing at this point?” He called into the room.

“Nothing more than a flesh wound!” replied Elwanen, not seeking to be a drain on party resources, as he valiantly parried the hobgoblin’s attacks and seized an opportunity to gain another thrust that cut one of the soldiers across the abdomen with a grunt of pain.

“Don’t worry, it was just a bolt of deadly energy to the face.” muttered Fau morbidly, not wishing to lower party moral with apparent vulnerability, whilst staggering to his feet and blasting a hobgoblin soldier who had lined up a flanking strike on Fangorn.

“Oh well, may as well make myself useful!” Des rapidly thumbed through the pages of the heavy book he carried around with him. “Ah yes, this sounds appropriate!” He began to recite a verse.

Winter again, but below, The song of swords, Mine foe is afeared.

A wave of dread washed over the backline of the hobgoblin formation, the archers shivered, the soldiers quaked, even the warcasters gripped their staves so tightly their knuckles turned white. Despite their unease, the hobgoblins continued fighting, although their arrows did not fly so straight, nor were their arcane words pronounced with such confidence.

Cass got to her feet and commanded her great axe to burst into flame. Swinging great arcs of trailing fire, she waded into the ranks of hobgoblin soldiers, clashing axe against shield with a burst of flame. Aran tumbled around the battlefield, wielding Talon and Claw in deadly patterns around the knees and the hamstrings of the brutish goblinoids that towered over him, felling a foe from behind. Moving into his fallen allies position, the large figure of a heavily armoured hobgoblin swung his flail down suddenly and caught the Halfling as he dived away.

Meanwhile Elwanen carved a symphony of Eladrin steel into the soldiers that surrounded him, barely managing to fend off rattling blows from their deadly flails in return. Flanked, he was spun around by a blow that smashed into his shoulder. Fangorn, taking mighty strides from foe to foe, pounded and mashed upon the shields of the well-drilled formations around him. Theron’s magic missile barrage found targets in all corners of the room, delicate wraiths of dark energy leaping from his fingertips and soaring through the air with a brutal accuracy.

But as it seemed the battle was level, Aran tumbled past the 2 warcasters who unexpectedly lashed out with their staves in melee. Catching Aran a massive blow to the chest, one of them sent him flying across the room, where he lay motionless.

“Aran!” shouted Elwanen, disappearing as the shield wall closed in around him, and reappearing a second later beside the fallen Halfling. The paladin reached down and healed his comrade with but a touch.

“Right!” shouted the warchief, “It’s time you half-witted hairless apes received a final and resounding rebuke!” He leapt off his large oaken chair and, wielding a curved serated shortsword, charged into melee with Cass. Fending off the warchief and several soldiers, Cass was slashed, stabbed, and flailed, driven back into the passageway and barely managing to keep on her feet. Seeing this Theron leapt into the melee.

“This had better work, or i’m dead!” he quipped with a toss of the hair, “THUNDERWAVE!”

The sudden sonic shock wave sent the soldiers flying, their broad shields acting like sails in a storm, but the warchief yet stood his ground. Bruised and battered, Cass charged back in, heaving her flaming great axe in a mighty whoosh over the head of the ducking warchief.

Fau was seen walking calmly across the room, picking his way over bodies and debris, blood pouring from many cuts and gashes, stopping occasionally to blast a hobgoblin to smithereens. The last surviving archer picked him out from the far side of the chamber and loosed an arrow, which sent the warlock reeling.

“Would anyone like to be healed at this point?” shouted Des at the top of his voice once more.

Looking around to make sure his compatriots were not watching, Fau plucked the arrow from his shoulder and called upon his inner reserves to drive him onward. Satisfied he had not been seen healing himself, and thus maintaining a confident air of invulnerability, he re-emerged into the battle and looked for his next target.

“I think you might profer Cass your aid.” Elwanen advised Des, since noone else had taken up the offer, before leaping back into melee with a group of hobgoblin soldiers around the remains of the fire on which the soup cauldron had been boiling.

Des looked across the room to where Cass and Theron were battling the warchief and several soldiers. Cass was desperately fending off blows, already riven with many wounds. Turning the page in the thick book he carried around with him, Des offered some words of inspiration:

Let it be Never thee Enemy Better me

The hobgoblins facing Cass were suddenly captivated by a fleeting moment of despondency, while Cass found herself invigorated, her wounds disappearing before her very eyes.

Having battled his way to the far side of the guardroom Fangorn found himself beside a large fireplace in the corner, whereupon he set about the 2 lurking warcasters. Swinging his huge maul around his head with both gnarly hands several times in preparation he strode forward a single step and unleashed it in a great humming arc, sending one of the hobgoblin arcanists flying limp and lifeless before he hit the stone floor. The other stepped away just in time and pointed the tip of his staff at the savage tree-creature. Another blast of energy sent Fangorn staggering back, collapsing into the roaring fire. He swiftly emerged, his charred leaves floating off into the air about him as he shook off the flames.

From nowhere, Fau appeared next to the last arcanist.

“You.” he muttered, summoning a great grasping claw of smoke from the fireplace that grabbed the hobgoblin and dragged him, screaming, into the flames. A few moments later the burning figure of the unfortunate warcaster emerged from the fire, still screaming. Blackened to a crisp, it spent it’s dying moments running around the battlefield, still screaming, still on fire, before crashing to the floor and shattering into large chunks of charcoal.

A hobgoblin soldier, who had been bearing down on Fau before he vanished, looked around and found Des, who was quickly leafing through his book for something appropriate to say. Raising his shield he charged, his long flail swinging in viscious circles around him. Des looked up from his study, and quickly drew a mace to defend himself. The soldier swung his flail and missed, Des retaliated with a blow that clanged against the hobgoblin’s shield, knocking it aside for an instant.

As if a silent alarm had rung out warning all rogues of an opportunity, Aran suddenly appeared. Seeing but an inch of unshielded armpit, the Halfling leapt up at the hobgoblin and skewered him under his shoulder in such a way that the tip of his scimitar re-appeared from the poor creatures neck.

“Redeploy!” yelled the hobgoblin warchief seeing his soldiers falling around him. The few remaining warriors under his command suddenly shifted their positions with finely-drilled precision, despite the fact that the tide had turned against them.

Reaching a vantage point in a side passage, the archer that had dealt Fau a near-mortal wound scanned the melee. Seeing Elwanen drop the last soldier he faced with a graceful, 360 degree spinning scythe-like blow that separated the soldiers legs from his feet at the ankle, he took aim and fired. The Eladrin paladin was struck in the chest and fell back with a crash, sword and shield clattering to the stone floor but an instant later.

“Elwanen!” shouted Fangorn, still smoking, as he bounded across the corpses of the paladin’s fallen foes. Retrieving one of the potions the party had acquired in Winterhaven, he poured it down the throat of the dying Eladrin.

Having stepped back from melee, Theron looked across the room and espyed the smirking archer draw another arrow, the sinister figure of Sabbat Fau calmly bearing down on the bowman. Raising a hand, the warlock blasted the hobgoblin with a rolling ball of fire, but when the smoke had cleared the creature was still on it’s feet. With toss of the hair, Theron sent a dancing wraith of black mana soaring through the air, hitting the hobgoblin square on the forehead. The archer fell backwards, rigid, and hit the floor with a smoking hole where once his brain had been.

Both Fangorn and the newly risen Elwanen charged across the room and joined the melee where Cass and Aran were battling the warchief and the last of the soldiers. Axes and mauls clashed against shields, serated shortswords lashed out. The battle, though nearly won, was not over. The barbarian felled a hobgoblin from behind with a downwards swing of his maul, while Cass struck the warchief a serious blow from her flaming axe. An exchange of blows and parries left the hobgoblin Elwanen battled reeling.

Seeing that his force was depleted, the warchief grinned with the fearless intensity of a doomed warrior.

“It has been my honour to lead you!” he declared to the 2 hobgoblin soldiers who still stood by him, “At least i’ll take one of these rotten scoundrels with me!”

With that he barged through Cass and Des, lunging at the unarmoured wizard beyond. Following a swift feint he stabbed Theron with his shortsword, sending the wizard recoiling in pain.

With his hair all awry, Theron was enraged. The wizard picked himself up and threw himself upon the hulking warchief. At the exact same moment Splug, the faithful goblin minion appeared from out of the dark corner in which he had been bravely cowering, distracting the warchief for but a vital split second. With his attention split between the charge of a bewilderingly puny goblin and the kick up the backside from a frighteningly melee-keen wizard, the baffled hobgoblin suddenly found himself staring down the wrong end of a descending fiery great axe.

“Maglubiy – arrgh!” he screamed, just before Cass cleaved his skull in two. Having felled one of the 2 soldiers, the party surrounded last surviving hobgoblin.

“Surrender.” muttered the warlock.

“Or be torn apart in a lengthy and scientifically interesting fashion.” added Elwanen. With that the defeated soldier threw down his weapon and shield and surrendered to the adventurers.

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The Most Basic Rule of Warfare, Part 2

The adventurers assembled at a large wooden door deep within the dark halls of the keep. Having returned from Winterhaven they were laden with provisions and potions, and each bore a souvenir of the gratitude of the good folk of the town in the form of a stinking hangover.

“Nice of them to remove all the torches,” mumbled Fau the warlock gloomily, his goblin sidekick, Splug, cowering bravely behind him.

“I can’t see a thing, hardly!” chirped Aran the Halfling rogue, who seemed to be holding up rather well. “I nearly fell down that well!”

“Well you see my friends, it’s like this…” began Des the Tiefling orator. “It wouldn’t have been prudent to walk directly under the light of Theron’s cantrips on account of it giving away our exact location [had there been anyone observing us [which there was not [as it so happened]]].”

“Well here we are, our delving nearly at it’s end. Time to put an end to this evil once and for all!” declared Fangorn the tree-creature simply.

Aran examined the door. It was old, as old as the keep itself perhaps, and there was a keyhole. Peering through he saw that the key was in the lock.

Theron the wizard stepped forward, threw back his finely coiffured locks with a flick of his head, and gesticulated a pincer-like grasp, followed by a slow turn of the wrist. The adventurers heard the key turn in the lock.

As Elwanen, the Eladrin paladin, strode towards the door and raised his right boot, Des suddenly threw up his hands in a pacifying gesture. “Gentlemen, gentlemen, [and, of course lady], now we are [as i’m sure has not escaped your attention] slightly the worse for wear, but it would be nonetheless remiss of me if I were not to point out that now is exactly the kind of time that we should formulate a plan. Some of you may indeed be aware that [while I am not a warrior myself by inclination] I hail from a long tradition of martial adepts, and it was commonly said amongst them [during the all too infrequent moments of reflection] that one must heed the rules of warfare if one intends to survive. Now, you may [or may not] see where I am heading with this…”

“Is this another discussion about tactics?” asked Elwanen wearily, lowering his right boot.

“Indeed it is,” confirmed Des, “Or [at least I should say] it has the potential to be.”

Fangorn offered his thoughts on the matter, “Well I propose that we form two attack groups, each comprised of defenders shielding the strikers.”

“They’ll be doing that thing with their shields again, so we should split them up wherever possible,” added Elwanen.

“Concentrate your fire on the most injured,” mumbled Fau.

“Yes, even injured they’re still nasty, get rid of ‘em quickly!” agreed Aran cheerily.

“Now that’s what I like to see!” congratulated Des, “We’re really looking like a team now. And if I may add to this fine list of stratagems with one of my own: Don’t forget the most basic, the most crucial, the one single, absolubtely fundamental rule of warfare…”

Des was interrupted by a loud crash, as Elwanen’s right boot kicked the door in.

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The Most Basic Rule of Warfare, Part 1

In the flickering torchlight of the guard room the harsh tones of the goblin tongue could be heard as the hobgoblin Warchief addressed his men.

“The bogeys will be returning from Winterhaven anytime now. We’ve been over the plan a dozen times, you all know what to do, and we don’t want a repeat of what happened last time. Brulthag and his men were sloppy, they forgot the most basic rule of warfare…”

The Warchief was interrupted by a thumping at the door at the end of a short passageway, the only way into the guardroom from the upper levels, and thusly the only way to gain access to the lower levels beyond.

“It’s them Chief! The bogeys!” whispered one of the soldiers who had been crouching on his haunches near the door.

“Right! To your positions, lads!” commanded the Warchief, “Stay together, and keep those shields locked!” The soldiers sprang into formation several lines deep, wicked flails unfurled, and large steel shields locked tightly.

The door opened and a heavily armoured hobgoblin appeared carrying an armful of snuffed torches. “Got ‘em Chief, those plonkers wont know which way is up. Any luck, they might fall down the well!”

The warchief rose from the large oaken chair in which he had been sitting proudly. “Did we or did we not have a conversation not ten minutes ago involving me telling you the secret knock?” he asked.

The recent entrant looked startled. “I had my arms full of snuffed torches Chief, I had to improvise…” he explained, nodding towards his hobnailed boots.

“Well dump those in the other room and get back to your position!” ordered the Warchief, adding “And the next time you disobey orders, I’ll have you court martialed!”

The soldier locked the door behind him, tromped across the room carrying his armload of snuffed torches, past several ranks of scowling soldiers, past the archers who stood beside a large cauldron of steaming soup and disappeared through an archway.

“The soup is nearly ready. Approximately T minus three minutes, Chief,” declared one of the archers efficiently.

“Good work, private! Now as I was saying, Brulthag slipped up. He forgot the first and most important rule of warfare…” continued the Warchief, again warming to his theme.

“What’s all that thumping about Captain?” A hunched and cowled figure stuck it’s head around the corner of one of the other exits. “I thought we had agreed to absolute silence!”

“Nothing to worry about old fellow, you get back to whatever it is you Warcasters do when you’re not doing anything.” There were some sniggers amongst the soldiers.

“Actually my twin and I are recharging our staves, and you would do well to remember that Maglubiyet rewards neither the strong nor the weak, but the victor,” sneered the Warcaster in return.

“Recharging your staves, eh? Is that what you call it? Well you get back in there and recharge those staves good, we wouldn’t want you going off half-cocked now, would we?” There were more sniggers.

“You will soon see where indeed lies the true might of this outfit, Captain.” And with that the warcaster went back to his work.

“Permission to speak, Chief,” pronounced a soldier from the far side of the room.

“Permission granted,” grunted the Warchief.

“I heard a story about one of those Warcasters, from back in the Old City . They say he walks into this tavern with just two pieces of copper and asks for a flagon of drow wine. The barman says ‘You must be joking mate, that’ll cost you ten gold, prob’ly more than you can carry you old codger’ so the warcaster walks out of the bar.”

“Is that the story?” asked the Warchief.

“No Chief! See, a few minutes later the Warcaster comes back into the tavern, looks around, spots this empty bottle up on the top shelf, high up like, and says to the barman ‘Alright, I’ll make you a bet. I bet you my two copper that I can piss into that bottle whilst standing right here!’ The barman looks up at the bottle, right up high on that shelf and says ‘Why Maglubiyet himself couldn’t piss that far, you’re on!’

“I’ve heard this one before,” whispered one of the other soldiers to his neighbour.

The raconteur continued, “So the Warcaster lifts up his robes and he starts pissing. He’s pissing on the floor, he’s pissing on the bar, he’s pissing on the tables, on the chairs, and on the punters sitting in the chairs. He’s pissing up the walls, he’s pissing on the windows, he even pisses on the warg sleeping by the fire, until he’s all pissed out.” Glancing around, he noted the reaction to his story thus far, and continued.

“So the barman wipes his face with a dishcloth, looks up at the bottle, it’s empty. Not a drop of piss. He’s laughing, ‘You foolish old dolt’ he says, ‘I knew you would never be able to even hit that, now pay up!’ So the warcaster pays up, but now he’s laughing. He’s roaring with laughter. He’s in hysterics. So the barman asks him ‘What’s so funny? You just lost all your money!’ So the warcaster says ‘Yes, but I just met this drow outside and I bet him ten gold pieces that I could piss all over your bar and you wouldn’t do anything about it!”

The soldiers chuckled amongst themselves. The Warchief pondered the tale.

“So then what happened?” the Warchief asked at length. A deathly silence fell across the room, save for the crackle of the small fire under the caldron.

“The barman hacked him to pieces, stuck his head on a spike, and that was that.” came the swift reply, the soldier well versed in his superior’s sense of humour.

The warchief sat back into his large oaken chair. “Well that just goes to prove my point. Never forget the first, most basic, most important, most fundamental rule of warfare…”

Suddenly there could be heard heavy footsteps and the clanging of armour from outside the door.

“They’re here, Chief! The bogeys!” whispered the alert sentry from his position of cover.

“Look sharp, lads!” barked the Warchief, “You have trained for this moment. You have been drilled and honed to the limit of hobgoblin perfection for the act of killing, shedding blood, splitting heads, and shattering bones. Keep those shields locked, remember what you have been taught, and make me proud!”

“Yes, Chief!” came the chorused reply.

“And keep silent!”

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