I have started to write a few short stories based on events in the campaign.
The group of adventurers are trying to defeat one of their arch-enemies. They have tracked him down to a castle in a wild uninhabited region of the Tarnberyth peninsula called the Wyrmsdown. Their enemy, Thilas Baccan, is holed up in ancient, well-defended castle. While trying to plan their next move, scouts from the castle have come upon a large force of Goblins who have followed the scouts and laid siege to the castle. Talks between the castle and the Goblins have collapsed when Baccan's giant allies have attacked the rearguard of the army.
Buckminster peered over his shoulder as the distant castle as the sound of more explosions reached the riders. Balls of fire blossomed from the battlements and were answered by similar balls from the ranks of goblins. The castle and the promontory were bathed in an eerie glow and Buckminster could just make out small figures scurrying back from the walls.
The sound of a curse from Huw bought his attention back to his companions and gave a curse himself as he realised Sparrow was looking over his shoulder at the castle.
"I wish you'd make more noise Sparrow," he growled, "one day someone will split you in two!"
Sparrow laughed, "That'll be the day." He gestured towards the mountains, "I've found a good camp site, about two miles north in the foothills. We should be alright for the night."
"Well done Sparrow," Buckminster pulled on his gloves, "Lets go before we're seen. Sparrow, lead the way."
Sparrow pulled himself into the saddle of his horse and began to trot northwards, occasionally stopping to peer at the ground around him. Buckminster mounted his warhorse and sat waiting for his companions to follow suit. Callum and Alex quickly mounted and followed Sparrow. Grumbling and cursing, Huw struggled onto his horse and trotted slowly up to Buckminster.
"I bloody hope we are going stop for the night," he glared angrily at the Paladin, "I don't know about you, but I'm cold, wet and tired. And you'd better tell Sparrow we're having a fire. I mean to have a decent meal and hot drink when we stop. You might be used to cold stone cells and hard beds, but as a magician, I am used to a more luxurious lifestyle!"
"Do you ever think of anything except your stomach," Buckminster chuckled. "Don't worry Huw, you'll get your rations. But the fire and the cooking are up to you. Sparrow will be busy watching the battle." He spurred his horse on, "Come on, before the others get too far ahead."
"Bugger!" cursed Huw, "I wish I'd kept my bloody mouth shut!"
Huw completed the incantation and breathed a sigh of relief as the large stones before him began to glow a cherry-red colour. Concentrating, Huw channeled more energy into the stones and they began to glow brighter. Callum placed a pan full of water on to the stones and began to chop the day's ration of meat and vegetables.
Buckminster looked round the camp. Huw and Callum were preparing the night's meal. Alex was checking over the equipment, looking for signs of wear and tear with an expert eye. Sparrow was busy hobbling and feeding the horses. As usual the mismatched group of adventurers were working quickly and efficiently. For the last few months they had been constantly on alert, traveling in an unknown area, dodging goblin raiding parties and recently Thilas Baccan's giants.
He looked south to the castle; the fireballs had stopped about thirty minutes ago and all seemed quiet. He itched to know what was happening at the castle. Would the Goblins get inside? Would they retreat in disarray? Goblins were not new to the party. Raids into the Vale of Erryn and across the passes into the Tooze Valley and Tanglewood forest were seasonal events. Alex and Sparrow had fought goblins on many occasions, but they said these were different. They were in larger numbers and better organised than they had seen before. As a Bard, Callum was well schooled in history and heraldry, but even he did not recognise all of the clans present. He could see Callum and Sparrow were worried, movements of Goblins on this scale had not been seen in generations.
Sparrow appeared out of the twilight, "I'm ready when you are Bucky." he said.
Buckminster nodded and they turned back to the camp. As they approached, Alex sheathed his swords and strung his longbow. "I'll keep watch." He murmured and strode out of the camp and beyond the circle of light.
Callum leant over to his saddlebags and pulled out pens, ink and parchment. Setting the small vials on the floor before him, he began to write carefully upon the parchment. After a few moments he paused, looking at Sparrow expectantly and waiting for him to start his task.
Huw flopped down in front of the fire and leant back against his saddle. He pulled a hipflask from his pocket and took a deep swig. Sighing contentedly, he replaced the flask in his pocket. "Purely medicinal." he said, "Doctor's orders to keep out cold. Wake me if anything happens." He pulled his floppy hat down over his eyes and pretended to be dozing. Buckminster could see the firelight glinting in his eyes as he stared intently at Sparrow.
Sparrow sat slowly. He closed his eyes and Buckminster could see his lips moving as he muttered a quick prayer to Gwrien. He tilted his head and stared into the sky, his eyes scanning the heavens. "Ah, there he is!" he whispered. Buckminster followed Sparrow's gaze and could see the faint outline of a hawk circling over the castle.
"What's happening?" Buckminster leaned forward eagerly, "What can you see?"
"Hmm, interesting." Sparrow looked at Buckminster, "These goblins seem to be tougher than we thought. Baccan's giants are all dead, so are a good portion of the goblins on the plain, but not as many as I would have thought."
Buckminster looked at Callum who shook his head in disbelief. "This gets stranger by the minute. Sparrow, what about the castle itself?"
Sparrow eyes lost their focus as he reforged the link between himself and the circling hawk. Minutes passed, and Buckminster could see the hawk circling the distant castle.
"I can see three dead guards in the castle, burned." Sparrow's quiet voice broke the silence. "Baccan is on the walls with his apprentices and the priest of Balor."
Buckminster's hand clenched tighter on the pommel of his sword. "What about the goblins?"
"There are about thirty dead before the walls, " said Sparrow, "mostly infantry, but one of their shaman too. They seem to be preparing for an attack, the infantry are using their shields to make a large dome and it looks as if there are goblins hiding under the dome."
"They're making a tortoise," said Buckminster, "But I cannot see how that would help them attack the walls."
"Damned advanced tactics for a gang of gobboes, Bucky." said Huw, sitting up, "Wonder who's been teaching them that?"
Callum stopped writing, "Remember magic, who knows what they could do when they reach the walls."
"Not much from my experience," said Huw, "I thought gobbo shaman were members of the god squads. You need essence magic to get through walls."
"They're moving!" said sparrow, "Slowly, but with good co-ordination. Baccan has arrived on the battlements with his apprentices. They seem to be waiting for the tortoise to get within range of their spells."
"Describe the spells to me Sparrow, maybe I can get some idea of their power." Huw turned to Callum, "Lend me a couple of sheets of parchment and some ink Callum."
Callum rifled through his stack of parchment and passed a few to Huw, "Help yourself to the ink." he said, indicating the small vials on the floor before him. "And I want it back this time."
"I did give it back to you!" said Huw indignantly.
"No you did not and you already owe me a dozen sheets of parchment."
"Quiet down you two, " Buckminster glared at the arguing friends, "Carry on Sparrow."
"The apprentices have begun to cast fireballs, just like yours Huw. Baccan has disappeared into the keep. There are soldiers firing arrows and dropping rocks on to the tortoise but they seem to be having little effect."
"Any sign of the priest, or the Knights of Balor?" asked Buckminster.
"Just a minute ... no, I can't see them."
"Get back to the main battle," said Buckminster, "What's going on?"
Sparrow paused for a moment, "Some shamans have begun to return fire, they're trying to keep the battlements clear. The tortoise has nearly reached the walls, about another twenty yards."
He fell silent for a moment, "There, they have reached the walls. They've just stopped at the base of the walls; I can't see anything happening. Wait, there's movement inside the castle. Gods, the Goblins have got inside! I can see a hole in the wall!"
"A Portal, " said Huw, "These Goblins are good Bucky, even I can't make a Portal to go all through the walls."
"Something important is happening Huw." said Buckminster, "The Oracles of Lathwyn mention another coming of the Horde, but not for many years. We need to make sure this information gets back to the Vale. The west must be prepared for a coming invasion."
"I agree, but lets not forget our immediate situation. Thilas must be captured or killed!" Huw said vehemently.
"Don't let your hatred of the magician cloud your judgment Huw. The safety of the western nations is just as important."
"Easy for you to say Bucky, you didn't see your family and friends tortured and butchered during his occupation of Deep Hollow! Sparrow, Alex and I have a score to settle with Baccan. Have you forgotten Alannon's death so soon."
Silence descended on the camp. Leaning on his staff, Huw clambered to his feet. "It's getting dark," Huw said, "I'd better go and see how Alex is doing." He disappeared into the growing darkness.
Buckminster turned to Sparrow, who was studying the paladin. "Do you feel this way?" he asked.
"Huw has a point, Bucky." he said, "Baccan is a monster, hundreds of innocent people died because of him. The world would not miss him and I'm sure Orloth has a special place waiting for him."
Buckminster shook his head, "I see your point, but I still believe we must consider what we have seen. The kingdoms of the west are completely unprepared for another goblin invasion." He sighed, "Enough deliberation, what's happening?"
Sparrow's eyes glazed over again. "Ah, It seems the tortoise was guarding a large group of goblins and shamans. They have used the Portal and have entered the castle. The Knights of Balor are at work, repelling the invaders, they are very good swordsmen. I can see Thilas! He's on the battlements over the tortoise. A strange green cloud is flowing from his fingers and falling into the goblins. It reminds me of Huw's Stun Clouds, but much larger. The tortoise had broken and the goblins are fleeing, there must be at least fifty more dead. The fighting has finished inside the walls. I can see one Knight, 2 giants and four soldiers of the defenders down. All the attackers are dead, three Goblin shamans and about seventy goblins and hobgoblins."
"That's nearly three hundred out of the original seven hundred dead," said Callum, "For a loss of half the defenders. It's not looking good for Thilas."
"I agree," said Buckminster. "He needs to pull out something spectacular or he'll lose the castle."
"I think he's doing it," said Sparrow. "He's gathered three of the Knights of Balor with him in the centre of the courtyard. He's casting a spell, some sort of gate has appeared in front of him. He's gone through with the knights. I can't see him anywhere close, Bucky."
"Damn, he could be anywhere!" cursed Buckminster, "He's got away "
The sound of running footsteps and heavy breathing interrupted him. Huw stumbled in, breathing heavily. "The bastard's here! Only about two hundred yards away!"
"Sparrow, Callum stay here. Huw, show me."
"Here," said Huw, "You'll need a nightvision spell."
Concentrating, Huw began to mutter the commands for the simple spell and began to trace a complex sigil in the air. Gently he touched Buckminster on the forehead. Buckminster's vision blurred for a moment, then cleared. Everything was suddenly clearer and the gloom seemed to have evaporated. Buckminster nodded to Huw and they jogged out towards Alex.
Alex was crouched behind a small rise, using a brass telescope to scan the plane below. He turned and slipped down as Huw and Buckminster jogged up to him. "He's casting some sort of spell. It must be a big one, he started by drawing some sort of circle into the ground. Here, take a look." He passed the telescope to Huw who crawled up the slope to peer over the rise.
"What are the Knights doing?" asked Buckminster.
"They just took up a defensive position around Baccan," said Alex, "They're just guarding him. Look Bucky, I'll get the others. We can attack now and save ourselves heaps of problems later."
"I don't know Alex. Why didn't he just escape? He's up to something special here, I'd like to find out what."
Stones clattered down the rise as Huw slid down the bank. "This is bad Bucky, very Bad! The fool's summoning a bloody demon of some sort." Huw looked shaken. "This is getting way over our heads."
"He must be worried!" said Buckminster, "Only a desperate fool would do something like this. Look, keep watching him. If he makes a move towards us we will deal with him. Hopefully his attention is focused on the goblins. Report back with any changes."
Alex and Huw nodded their assent. Buckminster turned back to the camp. Behind him Alex drew his swords, gave Huw an evil grin and clambered back up the rise. Huw eyes followed Alex as he crept upwards. "Bugger!" he said, and followed him.
"Alex, wait!" Huw hissed, "Don't do anything hasty!"
Alex looked down at Huw. "I'm not that stupid! I just want to be prepared for the worst." He grinned again, "I just hope the worst happens."
Callum looked up and released the grip on his axe as Buckminster jogged back to the camp. "Trouble?" he asked.
Buckminster shook his head, "I don't think so. Huw thinks he's summoning demons. If they come this way we're in the hands of Orloth. Hopefully they will be attacking the goblins."
He sat down beside Sparrow. "What's been happening?" he asked.
"The goblins have mounted another attack using the same tactics as before. The two apprentices managed to break up the tortoise but one was killed in the process. I'd say another twenty goblins are dead. The goblins are forming up for another attack."
"Hmm, they seem intent on entering the castle," mused Buckminster, "I wonder what they are after? At least they realise that traditional siege tactics will not work, not when the defending mages have gates and teleports."
The three friends sat in silence and the minutes ticked away as they waited for the attack to commence. Sparrow sat, eyes closed as he communicated with the hawk flying above the castle. Callum sorted through his notes, checking for blots and errors. To pass the time, Buckminster began to sharpen his knife.
"Hsst!" The hoarse whisper sounded louder than it was in the clear night. Alex walked into the dim circle of light still given off by the hot stones. He knelt down and warmed his hands. "They've gone. Baccan summoned a dozen jackal headed demons and a tall man shaped demon covered in flames. Huw called them Hothrogs and a Narauk. Baccan sent them off southwest towards the goblins. He's disappeared through one of his gates with the Knights."
"Where's Huw?" Buckminster asked.
"Gone to take a look at the circle Baccan made. He said he'll be back in a minute or two."
"Go and find him Alex," said Buckminster, "Make sure he comes to no harm." As Alex jogged off he turned to Sparrow. "What can you see? Any sign of the demons or Baccan?"
"No signs in the castle. Wait, I'll move to look at the goblins. Yes, there they are! I can see the demons moving towards the cliff path. The goblins have seen them as well. There's a group of Hobgoblins moving to intercept and a couple of Shamans. I think this is going to be messy."
Huw completed the spell of invisibility he was casting and shimmered from sight. Carefully he made his way towards Baccan's summoning circle. Suddenly the hairs on the back of his neck began to prickle. There was an abundance of magical energy here.
"Wards," thought Huw, "But why here?"
Carefully he cast a series of spells to detect magical weaves and spells. He scanned the area before him for signs of any traps.
"Nothing," thought Huw. Slowly he walked forward. The feelings grew stronger as he moved towards the summoning circle and lessened as he walked past it.
"I must be in an earthnode!" he thought. "A small one, but strong enough to aid Baccan with his summons."
Huw began to pace out the dimensions of the node. As he walked away from the area, the feelings caused by the magical energy lessened. Using small stones he began to mark out the edges of the node.
"About a hundred feet across, if you didn't know it was here you'd pass right by!"
He returned to the centre of the node to look at the summoning circle. Pulling a crumpled sheet of parchment from his pocket, he began to sketch the circle and the runes.
Sparrow opened his eyes and looked around. "I need a drink, this is tiring work."
Buckminster passed him a flask of water. "Take it easy Sparrow, have a rest if you want."
"No, I'll be alright in a few minutes." Sparrow took a swallow of water. "It certainly was messy, but by no means one-sided. Those shamans seem to be magicians like Huw. When the fire demon hit them they began to use ice magic to counteract the fire. The hobgoblins seemed to be pretty well matched against those smaller demons. They'll take casualties but I think the goblins will prevail."
Sparrow took another drink. "What worries me is the morale. There are ten clans and about sixty goblins from each clan. Something is unifying them and holding them together. All the clans have taken a pasting and normally they would have fled by now, but not these."
"The Hobgoblins?" asked Callum "They are unusual in the north, they prefer warmer climates. There seem to be quite a few of them and they have been seen in all the scout groups we saw over the last few weeks. You need to talk to the Valemen, they are more used to goblins than any of us."
"I don't know how much longer I can keep the hawk," said Sparrow to Buckminster. "It's getting darker, I don't want to put the bird in danger moving it closer to the castle."
Suddenly, the earth began to shake around them. Small rocks and boulders began to tumble down the mountains behind them. In the distance a vast groaning noise filled the air, followed by the sound of falling rock. The adventurers were thrown to the ground. The horses bucked and reared several breaking their tethers. The tremors continued for several minutes.
Buckminster staggered to his feet. "In the name of Orloth! What was that?"
"It felt like an earthquake!" Callum shook dust from his hair, "I've felt one before. That was a big one."
Sparrow had again entered his trance. "Bloody hell," he gasped, "It must have been the goblins. Half of the plateau has sheared fallen away taking the corner of the castle with it. They have also sustained casualties but they are entering the castle. A pitched battle has started."
"This may be a good time to strike, Bucky." Buckminster jumped when he heard Huw's disembodied voice. "'In the chaos of battle lies opportunity.' An old saying, but it applies to the current situation."
Buckminster muttered something under his breath. "Where's Alex, I sent him to find you?" he asked.
"He's getting the horses. Sorry if I frightened you." Huw laughed. "I must remember to cut the Invisibility, you get spooked so easily." Callum and Sparrow joined in with Huw's laughter.
"You'll never let me forget will you," as Huw shook his head Buckminster turned to Sparrow. "What's happening in that damned castle?"
Sparrow smothered a grin, "Wait a moment, I'll take a look The battles heating up. There's toe to toe fighting in the courtyard. Those Knights are showing off again. They'll be tough, even for us. Something's wrong though, they seem to have no magic support The shamans are all in a huddle in their camp. They're guarded by the hobgoblins."
"They must have used some sort of ritual." Huw said. "That spell they used was incredibly powerful. If the castle lies in an earthnode they may have sucked in more energy than they bargained for."
"Are they out of it?" asked Buckminster.
"I cannot be sure. Maybe we should find out"
"I'd agree with that," said Alex, "While the majority are in the castle fighting, lets kill the injured ones outside."
"Well Bucky," asked Huw, "What's it to be?"
Bucky balled up his cloak and stuffed it under his head. He adjusted the bedroll underneath him and reached for the Dreamglass.
Sparrow leant over. "Are you sure you want to do this?", he asked. The concern was evident in his voice. "I don't trust the mage. It could be another trap."
"I agree!" Alex snarled, "That bastard was responsible for the whole damn mess we're in. Don't do it!"
Bucky shook his head. "I must, we have no idea where Thane is. This could save us months of searching."
"I agree with Bucky." Interrupted Huw, "I believe Rhein regretted what he did. This is his way of paying for his sins."
"Enough talk, night is drawing in. I need to start now." Bucky took the stone in both hands and held it to his chest. He traced the mithril edging with his fingers as he closed his eyes began to breathe deeply. He pictured Thane in his mind. Slowly sleep enveloped him.
Huw stood up and walked to the fire. "He's off. You'd better get some rest. I'll take first watch. Alex I'll wake you in two hours."
As the rest of his companions settled down for sleep, Huw pulled his hip flask from his pocket, took a swig and watched Bucky.
The mists of sleep cleared and Bucky found himself flying above a deep blue ocean. From a great height he swooped down and on the horizon a three-masted galleon loomed out of the haze, hugging an unfamiliar coastline.
As you watch, the galleon furls it's sails and glides round a rocky promontory and into a large harbour. On the far side you can see three more ships anchored to near a quay.
You glide in over the harbour to the distant buildings. The quay swarms with life and small figures move back and forth between warehouses and the ships.
You swoop down and see the figures clearer. Olive skinned goblins swarm over the ships and the quay. You see boxes of vegetables and livestock being loaded on to the ships.
You turn and glide down a tree-lined avenue leading away from the harbour. Ancient buildings tower above you, the walls are covered with faded frescoes and beautifully carved columns hold up the great arching roofs.
The road you are following begins to rise up and ends at a huge fortress. Seamless blocks of stone fit together perfectly, the quality of the workmanship defies imagination. You fly beneath a huge portcullis and enter a long shadowy hall. Strange creatures twitter in the shadows at the corner of your vision. You press on towards a circle of light at the far end of the hall.
You enter a vaulted chamber. On a raised dais you see an ornate throne, made from the bones of some huge beast. Arrayed around the throne you see shadowy figures, insubstantial as mist. A you enter they turn to face you and their cold black eyes pierce your soul.
Chilled to the bone you look to the throne. From the shadowy depths a figure leans forward. Flies buzz around the figure's wasted, rotting flesh.
"You are mine Fullerene!" Thane's familiar voice echoes in your mind. "I give you one chance, just one chance to abandon your foolish quest and live to see a new day."
He stands and walks slowly down the dais. "If you continue, you will die. I have seen the truth of it and I have seen your body dead and burning on a log pyre. Continue to fight me and you are doomed and those of your companions I have not already beaten."
He pulls a dagger from his belt and with a flick, throws it at you. In vain you try to dodge the blade but it strikes you in the chest. You collapse to the floor , Thane's laughter echoing in your ears as misty spirits tear at your flesh.
With a yell, Bucky came awake gasping for breath. Huw rushed to his side and the others, woken from sleep scrabbled for weapons.
Gasping for breath Bucky rubbed at the searing pain in his chest, he pulled his shirt aside to reveal a diamond shaped mark where Thane's dagger had struck.
© Stephen Hardy, 06th February 2000.