Maze Rats season 2 – The Idol of Kesh – 4

*The Idol of Kesh – Part 66 – Deep End*

Reinhold moves off to speak with the rest of the team. Ursula looks at the water lapping at the stairwell’s ceiling. Harmony reassures her: “Go ahead. We’ll be close. If you run into trouble, return to us. I’ll be right here at the stairs and hold the torch.”

Uko nurses his butt and waits close to the Idol, listening for the kobolds.

Ursula draws breath and dives. She feels her way down the slimy stairs, but she has to struggle against the updraft. The water seems clear. She uses the ceiling to push herself further down and finds no corridors branching off. Instead, the stairs terminate at a wall.

Ursula feels along the edges of the wall and finds a line of algae: There is a secret entrance in that wall, with algae growing along in a rectangular pattern. Something for Uko or Reinhold to open, or for brute force. And yes – big enough for the Idol, when open.

Air gets tight. At least there are no untoward creatures down here. Ursula returns, still checking for tunnels branching off – but there are none. It is a blind stairwell leading down to a single secret door.

+++

The group in the camp has assembled and shares Reinhold’s news. Lots of loot, two sacred staffs, and the Idol of Kesh – all found and secured during a single night’s sleep.

They avoid celebrations, though. No need to alert the other groups or the goblins.

They agree that it is time to go belowground in force.

Webster volunteers to stay up in the camp and guard it. “I am a bit too bulky for crawling through secret tunnels, aren’t I?” he shrugs. “But I am something to chew for the gobboes.”

Merrick looks at the well nervously.

“I don’t want to go near that thing, but I guess that’s the only way down.”

“There’s that buried trap door,” says Phoebe.

“Yeah, but if the gobboes come back, they’ll find it. The well didn’t much interest them.”

“The trap door would be way easier and safer,” says Oswald.

Merrick nods: “Until the goblins come knocking.”

Rope or pickaxe?

  • Dig out the trap door
  • Rappel down the well

*The Idol of Kesh – Part 67 – Guardian*

Everyone gets ready to rappel down the well. The two magicians confer amongst themselves. Webster braces himself to hold the rope tight, while Phoebe carefully closes towards the well, testing the treacherous ground.

Despite his earlier unease, Merrick cuts to the fore of the line and grabs the rope. He and Webster exchange a smile and a nod, and he glides down into the hole.

Phoebe also feels the urge to finally see the underground sections, and so does everyone else. Still, she wonders if it is wise to leave one person alone to defend the camp.

“Webster! Are you sure you don’t need support up here?”

He shrugs: “Don’t worry! I have a good spell ready, and my glaive is sharp.” He shrugs again. “You just make sure that you get the thing out quickly.”

  • Leave Webster alone on top
  • Leave Basil with him
  • Leave Basil and Alma with him

*The Idol of Kesh – Part 68 – Moving the Stash*

Phoebe ponders the situation, then grabs the rope. She looks at Basil, and her trusted Lieutenant nods in agreement. He steps away from the line to stay up on top and help guard the camp.

One by one, the others slide down the rope and crawl into the tunnel. Alma has to leave her longbow with Harmony’s bow – too little room for archery in the well. Reinhold is there to guide them all into the room with the secret shaft to the Idol.

Merrick gives the silver statue a hard look. “This is magical.”

Reinhold nods: “We figured. That’s why we turned it to the wall. There were two others on the far end we had to fight.”

Merrick shakes his head. “Fine. This is just a minor sorcery anyway. Where are these staffs you mentioned?”

Reinhold is a bit taken aback by Merrick’s tone, but leads them all to the pile of loot.

Merrick shrugs over the staffs. “The old man may like them,” he says dismissively. Then he touches the stone tablets. “These tablets are pretty slick, though!”

“There are these death masks, too,” says Reinhold, indicating the secret door.

Merrick thinks and mumbles to himself. “Alright,” he says, “step one, we put the loot up into the camp. Step two, we inspect the idol.”

“How about step two first. We kept the loot here to keep it safe,” explains Reinhold.

“Yeah, and that was a good idea at the time. But when we get the Idol up top we want to be ready to move before the other groups come looking.”

The two guys stare at each other.

Testosterone is in the air.

Phoebe grunts. “Far as I understood the Idol will be quite difficult to get up top.”

“Yes, I got that. But the priests had to have an exit for it, didn’t they? We’ll find it, and then we will have to be quick.” He grins: “We don’t want the old man to get a heart attack waiting for us. And we don’t want the others spending too much time looking at the Idol and getting ideas.”

Merrick shrugs: “You decide, Miss Hicks. The old man put you in charge.”

  • Get the loot topside
  • Keep the loot in the room

*The Idol of Kesh – Part 69 – Pest Raid*

“Let’s get the stuff topside,” says Phoebe, and the team gets to work. Webster and Basil lower down sacks and saddlebags, the others fill them with loot, and the upstairs-team hauls them up.

They keep everything packed up and covered to avoid nosy neighbors now that the sun is rising and the camps prepare breakfast.

As the questions of the masks arises, Reinhold reminds everyone of the reason they left the masks buried in the faces: As a safeguard against possible necromancy. Merrick nods. “I don’t get any magical spark from them, but better safe than sorry, eh?” They leave the iron masks on the skulls.

After inspecting the sarcophagi and the flooded stairwell the newcomers return to the room with the silver guardian and climb down the shaft into the water. They duck through the entrance and join Ursula, Uko, and Harmony with the Idol of Kesh.

“Doesn’t look like much,” says Merrick. “But it is still full of power. No wonder the oldtimer wants it so badly.”

“I would not speak of him so,” chides Phoebe. “He is one of the most powerful wizards in all of Alys. How sure are you that he does not listen in?”

Merrick shows a wicked grin. “If he was that powerful, he’d have come himself and ripped up the ground instead of sending some expendables like us to crawl through the woods for days and days.”

Harmony frowns. “I see your sentiment, but you should still show some respect.”

Merrick snorts: “Fine.”

  • +   + +

Meanwhile, up on top, Webster is feeding and watering the horses, as Basil spies movement in the growing light.

It is not humans – it is kobolds! The little humanoids crawl out of gaps and burrows in the ground, and, using the ruins for cover, close in on the camp. It is a good number of underground dwellers armed with knives and little bows who brave the soft light of early morning to raid the camp – an unusual decision; they tend to avoid open battles. Hard to tell how many there are – more than 10, clearly, but less than 20, approaching from the northeast and northwest.

Their sneaky movement and arms suggest hostile intent, although they have not fired yet.

  • Defensive position
  • Pre-emptive strike
  • Try to parley
  • Use Webster’s magic
  • Flee and seek help

*The Idol of Kesh – Part 70 – Spells well spent*

“Webwebweb!” Basil calls, indicating the landscape with it’s flitting shadows. Webster squints up and looks on, while Basil, struggling with words, signs with his hands to indicate magic.

Webster looks disappointed.

“I wanted to use that spell for a better opportunity. But I guess you are right. Yes, you are right. We don’t need magic, when surprise is on our side.”

He picks up his shield and tries to get a good look around for all the enemies.

“Come here to me, Basil. Stay close.”

Basil and Webster go back to back, shielding each other’s blind side. Then Websters jaw tightens in concentration to form the ancient syllables of the spell on his mind.

The kobold’s have reached a position they find sufficient for their first round of missile fire. But Webster gains the initiative, and creates a maelstrom of air currents that reach out and sweep up the tiny archers.

Frantically, they try to dodge the probing wind tentacles, but only six of them succeed at their DEX-checks to avoid the danger – the rest gets lifted up, shaken around and dumped, unceremoniously, into the well, where they plunge into the water, their screams cut short by the water closing over their little heads.

The six survivors are in shock. They drop their weapons and run away in straight lines, mindlessly fleeing this deadly display of arcane power.

Webster wipes the sweat of his brow.

“That was that,” he says. “No more spells for today. A pity.”

“You … w..won.” says Basil.

“Yes, yes I did. Yet these were only kobolds, and my spell feels wasted on them. I could have stomped them all down, were it not for their missile weapons.” Watching the tiny, terrified figures disappear between the ruins, he adds, thoughtfully: “A pity. We will have to rely on good tactics when it comes to bigger prey.”

  • +   + +

Down in the tunnels, Merrick listens at the wall Harmony collapsed. “Nothing to be heard,” he says. I guess that means they have enough for now. Well done, Lady Silverbirch.”

Harmony raises an eyebrow.

He grins: “Just respect for a spell well spent.”

Then he climbs onto the pedestal to inspect the Idol up close and measure it’s wingspan. “So… How do we get this pretty baby out to daylight, I wonder?”

Phoebe compares the statue’s bulk with the entrance hole. “No way it can fit through here.”

Ursula, her wet hair plastered to her head, points at the water level: “I have checked down these stairs. There is a secret door there that is wide enough. But we have to open it – under water.”

“Tricky,” says Uko. He gazes up. “I’d rather we dug up through this ceiling. It can’t be very thick”

Oswald looks at Merrick. “Aren’t you supposed to do magic? Can your spellwork help us?”

Merrick mulls it over. “Difficult, with all this water here.”

“Why…” Harmony starts, as Merrick spills forth a phrase of power, and suddenly drops – man, Idol, and the rush of a dramatic amount of water – down through the floor into a hole that shines with a light stronger than the torches in the room.

Phoebe and Harmony are far enough out to keep their footing, but the others feel the rush of the water towards the void that swallowed “Big Nose” and the Idol.

  • Hold on to something
  • Jump down right after him

*The Idol of Kesh – Part 71 – Vile treachery*

Oswald is closest to the point where Merrick disappeared. He takes a jump but slips on the slick floor – as the hole that swallowed Merrick winks out, he is still struggling on all fours to reach it. Too late, even though the rush of water helps.

Ursula is also too late.

Only Uko and, by a hair’s breadth, Alma are quick enough. They all drop through the floor and right into the camp in the ruins, doused in water. The goblin manages to dive into the hole headfirst and witnesses with horror that Merrick kills his spell with a gesture to close the portal. Alma slides through in the last possible moment as the arcane connection dies. She notices quickly that they are under the open sky, and can connect the dots.

“Big Nose” has taken the Idol up, or rather: down, through a magic portal, bringing it topside – without warning.

And likewise, without warning, Webster attacks Basil. He has stayed close, waiting for the signal. Merrick dropping out of thin air is the wakeup call. While Basil turns to look, Webster whirls around and cuts him down. Still, the grizzled warrior keeps his footing, hanging on with one hit point left.

Alma and Uko struggle to their feet. Merrick still stands on the pedestal of the Idol of Kesh, holding his hunting knife and a small item at the ready. Alma has a knife of her own, Uko a dagger. The traitor is surprised that anyone followed him, the others are surprised to find themselves in such a hostile situation.

One side will gain the initiative. But who?

And is there still time to talk?

  • Flee, take cover
  • Out with the knives
  • Bluff: “Give up!”
  • Deceive: “We’re with you”
Playtime is over

*The Idol of Kesh – Part 72 – Bringing Acid to a knifefight*

Basil turns around, hammer ready. Alma’s fingers close around the handle of her knife. Uko shrugs his crossbow off his back and feels for a quarrel.

The traitors win initiative.

Webster cuts Basil down. The huge wizard is all business about it – he strikes and turns towards the others. The warhammer slips from Basil’s hands and splashes into the wet dirt.

Merrick’s hand holds a vial of acid, and he uses it to throw it at Alma’s face.

She tries to duck, but too late: The corrosive substance splashes across her face and hand, burning into the beautiful young woman’s face. The acid does 1d4 damage: result 2.

In Uko’s direction he just waves the knife a bit. His concentration is on Alma.

Alma fails a WIL roll. She panicks and drops on the spot to rinse her burning face and hand with water from the dungeon – with as much water as possible.

Uko has a crossbow quarrel in hand. He could load it into his crossbow and ready it, but he feels that with Merrick cowering behind the Idol his chances are better if he acts more quickly. He jumps forward and stabs at the enemy with the missile. Fail! The cackling wizard-in-training is too nimble, and the steely point pierces only air.

Again, the traitors win initiative.

Merrick stabs at Uko, missing his arm so closely that his vicious knife rips a seam on the goblin’s sleeve.

Webster closes the distance with quick steps and attacks Alma.

He hits!

His cruel blade sinks between her shoulder blades. The young adventurer strains against it, then falls into the mud.

Uko is alone, facing two bitter foes. He knows his only chance is distance.

He veers away and runs, using the Idol of Kesh as cover.

In a moment, his enemies are behind him, trying to catch up.

Nimble Uko ducks between the tents and turns a hard left, then a hard right.

He manages to avoid the tent cords and slips the quarrel into the flight groove.

Webster fails to make the narrow turns – he looses ground. But Merrick is nimble, too. He stays on Uko’s heels.

Uko keeps running and jumps across the sacks carrying equipment.

Merrick makes the jump as well and stays behind him.

Webster gets clear of the tents a bit farther away and tries to cut Uko off.

Uko manages to load the crossbow and turns around to fire at Merrick’s face.

Damn! His shot is off. It whistles past the enemy’s beret and flies into the distance.

Merrick meets him in a wild run, leading with his blade. He rolls boxcars! The hunting knife sinks into the goblin’s flesh, while the traitor’s snarl fills his field of vision. The feeling is unreal. Not the way Uko thought he would go out. Not by a long shot. The shock makes him void his bowels on the spot. If it wasn’t for the healing magic from the staff of blessing, that expert stab would have been the end of the bearded goblin’s tale. But he yet lives, with one hit point left. At least until the giant combat monster Webster gets here in a round.

Uko has a split second to choose:

What he wants most in the world is to run and hide in a hole until the tables are turned.

A close second is the strong urge to cut Merrick’s arrogant snarl to ribbons.

And there would be the slim chance of fooling them into thinking they have killed him.

  • Stab the bastard back
  • Run! Run like hell!
  • Play dead and pray

*The Idol of Kesh – Part 73 – Death’s Cold Hand*

Uko grabs Merrick’s bloody hands and cramps up, groans in pain, then his eyes roll up into his head and he drops on his back like a sack of potatoes. His dagger lies still at his limp hand.

Webster jogs to them: “You got him!”

Merrick looks unconvinced. “I guess so.”

In a contest of WILs, Uko rolls a 7. Merrick a 10.

He walks closer and looks Uko over. “I don’t know.” The bearded goblin lies on his back, still as a corpse, and keeps his breath as shallow as possible.

Merrick narrows his eyes and watches him. Then, suddenly, he kicks the goblin in the kidney.

Uko howls in pain.

His bluff is called.

In a desperate lunge he lifts his dagger and stabs at Merrick’s knee.

A narrow miss.

The gods have turned their fickle backs on the adventurer.

Webster brings down his glaive and ends the goblin’s tale.

  • +   + +

“What just happened?” asks Oswald.

The torch has fallen into the rushing water, and the strange light has been extinguished as well. But some light filters in from above, where Reinhold is waiting. “It looked like a portal,” says Harmony, “but where did it lead? It took a lot of water with them, so apparently not one level down, or that would have been flooded already.”

“Alma and Uko went with him. We have to find them.” Oswald investigates the floor and prods it with his feet. “This is solid.”

Phobe makes a decision. “The Idol is gone. Let’s go back up.”

The group climbs back up to Reinhold and explains what happened. As they return to the well they find their rope hanging in the water. They draw it in and find it’s end cut off with a blade.

Phoebe looks up into the daylight. “Basil? Are you there?”

Nothing.

Harmony joins her and listens. “I hear horses.”

“The goblins?”

“Ours, I think.”

As they look up, Merrick’s unmistakable head and beret appear above them.

“Merrick!”

His face is cast in darkness against the bright sky, and his voice sounds cold.

“Miss Hicks. This is where we part ways. Tell the old man he can suck himself.”

Then he disappears.

“What the… Merrick!”

Something tumbles down into the well, hits the side and splashes into the water – a body.

Harmony cries out: “Uko! No!” One hand stretched out, she stares at the disturbed water. “No… it cannot be!”

Helplessly they watch as Alma’s body topples over the edge and disappears under the waves. Next is Basil’s body. Phoebe gasps as her old and trusted friend is so carelessly dumped into the well after the goblin and the young woman.

Harmony just stares. Phoebe is torn between rage and shock: “Merrick!” she shouts. “Merrick, why? I swear by the dead! Why did you do that? I’ll kill you with my bare hands! Merrick!!”

She balls a fist and hits the floor once, twice, then sits back against the wall, staring at what’s left of the rope.

Oswald, Reinhold, and Ursula stand behind them, petrified.

“Alma?” asks Reinhold. He looks stricken.

Then he balls his fists. “We have to get them.”

Harmony looks up at him. With a broken voice she says: “I don’t have a spell.”

“Neither do they!” Oswald reminds them.

Phoebe drops the rope and looks towards the grave chamber. “We must get out of here.”

“I don’t have a spell,” Harmony repeats.

  • Wait and rest
  • Call out for Merrick
  • Call out for the other groups
  • Get to the trapdoor
  • Something else

*The Idol of Kesh – Part 74 – Trapped Animals*

The team has lost three of their number – their newest ally, and two longtime friends. Grim news, and the murderers are getting ready to leave. The adventurers rush through the old workshop and into the grave chamber to gather below the trapdoor.

“We must get higher!” calls Ursula, and they begin to drag sarcophagi to the right place and pile them on top of each other.

Phoebe shrinks back, stricken. Her mind reels as she recalls the numerous decisions she made that ultimately led to the deaths of Basil and Uko, starting with following these two shady characters in the first place, accepting the mission, and giving Oblington and Rothery (it feels wrong to call them Merrick and Webster now) too much free reign, and ending with allowing Oblington to climb the Idol and use his spell undisturbed. If she had just stayed outside with Basil … or if she had grabbed Uko before he could jump through the portal. If she had kept a closer watch on them. If she had not allowed the loot to be lifted up to the camp! She feels like a caged tiger. Wherever she turns, she sees failure.

Suddenly Reinhold is in front of her. He looks uncharacteristically somber as he gently shakes her shoulders. “Stop it!” he murmurs, quietly enough so only she can hear, but with a wild intensity: “I know exactly what you are thinking. I did that as well after we lost Mortimer, and, honestly, it really was my fault. And I could do it all again now that little Alma is gone. But it won’t help her, or you, or them. So I won’t, and you shouldn’t either. Our friends are lost. We must go on. Focus on the living!”

Before she has time to reply he lets go and leaves to work and help the others.

Phoebe clasps her shoulders and watches him go. Surprisingly, he is right. Is there really an insightful human behind the veneer of the self-absorbed and vain poseur? She uses the time she has to watch her crew and center herself. Yes, she has made mistakes. But dwelling on the past won’t get the rest of the team home – or avenge Basil and Uko, and Alma too. They must look forward.

Finally Harmony climbs the pile of caskets and pushes at the trap door. It doesn’t give. She hits it with the pommel of her shortsword and hacks at it – no success. “It is blocked! We are trapped! Like animals!”

Ursula frowns. “It was covered with soil. But not that much, I think.”

Oswald balls his fists. “They could have blocked it with something heavy. Stones. Or dead horses.”

Reinhold rubs his chin. “Maybe there is some kind of lock on top?”

  • Take pickaxes and dig through
  • Look for another exit

*The Idol of Kesh – Part 75 – Saddles and Bags*

They grab the pickaxes and get to work. With powerful hits they eat away at the ceiling, especially Harmony, who is driven by a powerful anger.

The trapdoor shatters and reveals both: A lock and dirt. The lock is already broken, they hack away at the dirt, and soon they need one more casket to stand on.

Finally, Harmony swings and breaks through the surface. Stones and dirt shower her, and a bit of daylight comes through. But as she widens the hole, she finds an obstacle – saddles.

Rothery and Oblington have piled saddles over the entrance.

It is more an annoyance than a real obstacle, though.

The team piles on more caskets until they form almost form a stairway. Then Oswald and Reinhold shift the saddles aside and crawl out.

Soon the whole team stands under the sun again and breathes fresh air – or as fresh an air as possible in a field of ruins strewn with refuse.

The camp looks pitiful. The tents are broken and rent, the backpacks are gone, the loot is gone, the horses are gone. The traitors did not care about hiding their tracks, it would have been futile anyway. The horses, and, most likely, the men as well, went north.

The other adventuring groups watch from the distance, apparently unsure of what happened and what their role is in this drama. One saddlebag has been left behind. Reinhold opens it and finds food rations.

“At least they did not want us to starve,” he states drily.

  • Follow the tracks
  • Investigate thoroughly
  • Quiz the other parties
  • Eat the food, track later

*The Idol of Kesh – Part 76 – There is no free lunch*

Phoebe and Reinhold move over to the neighbouring camp, only to see the young adventurers scatter before them. Annoyed, the two heroes grab random team members on the run and settle down to find out what they have seen.

It turns out, both neighbouring camps are quite certain they have witnessed a crime – a murder. However, both have elected to ignore the deed and watch from the sidelines. One of them even claims that the murderers have left the big bag of food on purpose, as a trap. However, they cannot be sure and do not want to get involved.

“You are adventurers, boys! It is your job to get involved!”

“But… they are too strong!”

“Your are more.”

“It is not our fight.”

“It is. Murderers going free? Next time they could target you.”

“We are not important to them. If we don’t provoke them we will get away.”

Disgusted, Phoebe probes for details. Where are the murderers? Did the boys watch them leave?

Yes, they did. And apparently, the tracks run true: Both of them have ridden north at the head of the herd. The witnesses are sure that they both rode up to the woods and disappeared there. It would be highly unlikely to circle back from there in secret.

It look like they really just grabbed every piece of loot and ran.

Reinhold warns the others about the food, but they have already investigated it carefully and found something. Every item in the saddlebag has been dusted with a fine powder – just like the powder Oblington used to kill all those fang geese back at the Old Mine.

Poison? Did the two wizard apprentices actually try to expand on their foul list of vile deeds by adding poisoning the rations of the party? Were the gees test subjects to see how well the poison would work on the party members?

“Now it is personal” says Oswald.

“It has been personal from the beginning,” corrects Reinhold. “They killed Alma. And Uko! And the poor chap who couldn’t talk. These fiends need to die.”

“I still have no spell,” Harmony insists.

  • Chase after them
  • Walk after them carefully
  • Take a rest first
  • Return home, file charges

*The Idol of Kesh – Part 77 – R&R*

Absent a good tent, Harmony makes herself comfortable between the saddles and goes to sleep in order to regain a magic spell. Reinhold paces back and forth. “What if her new spell doesn’t cut it? What if the others get better spells?”

Phoebe thinks it through. “They need to rest as well. What if we don’t let them?”

“How?”

“Some of us stay with Harmony and let her sleep. Others follow the bastards and harry them so they don’t get a chance.”

Ursula shrugs. “I’ll guard the elf.”

Phoebe purses her lips. “We need one more, for security. Reinhold?”

“Me? Why me?”

“You need to rest as well.”

Oswald shakes his head: “You want to leave all the tired people to guard a sleeper? One of us has to stand guard.”

“We shouldn’t split up”, warns Ursula. “They won’t rest until they find shelter, and where are they going to find that?”

They discuss the merits of resting (Reinhold and Ursula have not slept at all the last night, the elf has a chance to find a magical weapon, no splitting the party, safety in numbers) compared to the merits of hunting the robbers (Give them no chance to re-magic, cover more ground, safety in speed).

  • All wait and rest
  • Oswald and Phoebe scout
  • Reinhold and Phoebe scout
  • Phoebe scouts alone

*The Idol of Kesh – Part 78 – Eight Horses*

Oswald takes the first watch, Ursula lies down beside Harmony, and Phoebe and Reinhold move out. She looks him over. “Are you sure you are up to this? You were up the whole night?”

“I’m fine. I just want to get those two swines, then I can rest as long as I want.”

The other tomb raiders have no horses to borrow, so there is really no question about the means of travel: The feet.

The two adventurers jog along the trail that moves northward. With the sun still up, they have a good view of the ruin field – the site of the ancient Elven city.

The horses went right for the woods. The two fugitives wanted to get out of sight as quickly as possible, may it be because they did not want to meet Ma Ten Copper’s goblins again or in order to lay an ambush.

Phoebe and Reinhold split up and enter the wood from two sides to make it difficult for ambushers, but it turns out they did not wait for them here. They killed the mules, though.

The dead animals – executed with Rothery’s glaive – lie in a heap in the middle of the track. They must have been too slow. Either way, their saddlebags are gone and the horse tracks lead northwards.

Reinhold and Phoebe go on northwards for another 500 or 600 yards, but stop as they hear the neighing of a horse close by. Could it be the two wizards? Did they pick a spot to rest and regain their magical powers?

No: It is a camp of Ma Ten Copper’s goons. The goblins are, for the most part, asleep. They lie under thicker trees or under rickety makeshift-tents, sleeping off a hard night of extorsion. Most of them are sleeping in armor or in parts of their armor, hugging their weapons. Their camp is well shielded from the ruins and there are only two small trails leading out of the clearing. Phoebe does a quick head-count.

“Fourteen!” she hisses.

Reinhold points: Under cover of an old portal entrance there are two guards – two goblins wearing an assortment of light armor parts and wicked long knives. They are discussing something. The portal is shielding them from view, but it also blocks their view.

“Sixteen, then,” he says.

“Sixteen. I recognize two of the sleepers,” says Phoebe. “These were the guys at our camp. Or most of them.”

She looks around, but does not see the goblin Rasck, nor the leader of the night’s goblin patrol.

“Some are missing.”

A bit farther off in a clearing, right behind the goblins, there are eight horses, grazing. It is impossible to get to them without being noticed by the guards.

“We can take those two,” Reinhold declares. “We can sneak up and surprise them.”

“What about the rest?”

“We can decide then. Either way, I want the horses.”

“We will not be able to take eight horses and keep them alive.”

“Probably not.”

They exchange a glance. None of them likes the idea of murdering these guys in their sleep.

“Maybe they are still near.”

“Maybe. I wonder why these gobboes did not stop Rothery and Oblington.”

“No clue. We can ask them if we take one of these sleepers alive.”

Sneaking up on the guards is risky.

Yes, they are deep in discussion and not very alert.

Yet, if they raise an alarm, the sleepers will be ready quickly to aid them.

If they succeed, there will be the problem of getting the horses out.

  • Watch from hiding
  • Kill the guards
  • Speak to the guards
  • Retreat, follow the tracks

*The Idol of Kesh – Part 79 – Friends*

Phoebe wants to walk over and speak to the two, but Reinhold stops her.

“We don’t want to frighten them. Two on two – they’d wake up their friends. But if I go alone, they may feel strong enough to handle me. But if they try anything funny, you get them in the flank.”

Phoebe nods. She doesn’t like hiding in the underbrush, but Reinhold, for once, speaks reason. “Okay. But if they act funny, we slay them.”

“Yes, we do.”

He smiles at her with a certain sunny gaze, until she snaps him out of it. “Go, then.”

Phoebe sneaks closer, while Reinhold cuts through the woods and approaches from a different direction. He makes some noise so the guards get the drop on him.

“Who goes there?”

“Hello? Who are you?”

As Reinhold appears, the taller of the two hisses: “Hooman.”

They level their spears at him: “Stop!”

Reinhold fakes a believable shock: “Oh my god! You are not those wizard rebels, are you?”

The two exchange a smile: “No, hooman. We are of Ma Ten Copper. Why do you go here?”

Reinhold dabs at his forehead with his tunika’s arm. “I lost my friends! I, errr, was thrown off the horse and they did not notice in the heat of the moment.”

The tall one giggles. “Oh yes, they did. They even paused not far from here. They wanted to get rid of you.”

“Oh no, they’d never!”

Now both of them cackle freely. They feel absolutely secure confronting a single dimwit.

“Better believe it. They are long gone.”

Reinhold licks his lips.

“You have got horses?” he asks, indicating the animals where they graze.

Both of them narrow their eyes and grip their spears harder. “What of it?”

“Can I buy some of them?”

“You have got money on you, do you?”

“Not on me, no. My friends have my share of the loot with them. If that’s all right with you, I’d take one or two horses now and pay as soon as I catch up to them.”

While Reinhold talks to them and slowly draws them a couple of steps away from their post, Phoebe could….

  • Attack them from the rear
  • Let Reinhold do his thing
  • Sneak to the horses

*The Idol of Kesh – Part 80 – Reward*

Phoebe stays in hiding and listens as Reinhold spins a tale of him and his two friends finding a secret map and retrieving a huge silver disk from an old grave. Sadly, there was nothing more to be found, but a huge silver disk — he spreads his arms to indicate the size of the disc — will surely fetch a good price.

The two goblins are inclined to agree, and discuss something in goblin, which neither Reinhold nor Phoebe understand.

“Will you good gentlemen borrow me a horse so I can catch up with my friends? I will, naturally, reward you.”

“Gladly, my good hooman friend, gladly!” one of the goblins says. They confer quickly. “We will even come with you and aid you through this land. The roads are dangerous! You may fall again and hurt yourself.”

“I couldn’t possibly ask you to ride with me!”

“No, on the contrary, we are asking you!”

Soon they get five horses ready, and they carefully wake up two of their number. After a whispered conversation the two new guys join them.

A riding party sets out to follow the tracks of Oblington and Rothery, and their herd of horses. They carry curved swords, bows and arrows. Without so much as a backward glance, Reinhold leads his new “friends” to the horse tracks. Then four goblins and Reinhold gallop after the fugitives.

Phoebe is left behind at the edge of the goblin camp, unguarded, among twelve snoring goblins and three horses.

  • Follow Reinhold on foot
  • Return to Harmony
  • Murder the sleeping goblins
  • Steal the three horses
  • Something else (comment)

*The Idol of Kesh – Part 81 – Ride on*

Phoebe sneaks closer to the animals and tries to get them to come with her.

She tries a WIL roll to quietly make friends with the horses.

It is child’s play! The animals like her and come with her willingly.

She leads them a little distance away from the sleeping goblins, mounts one of them and rides back to the camp.

Oswald is keeping watch, the others are sleeping.

“Where did you get the horses? Where’s Reinhold?”

“I took them from Ma Ten Copper’s gang. Reinhold rode after the others with four of the goblins.”

Oswald is impressed and wants to know more.

Phoebe tells the tale, and he scratches his stubbly chin. “I don’t think Reinhold has a plan. As I know him, he’s just making it up as he goes along.”

“We will see,” Phoebe says. “He always got along well with goblins.”

  • +   + +

Reinhold and the four goblins speed after the fugitives. The two wizards didn’t tarry, though, and made a lot of miles already, but the goblins are not lazy either — the prospect of seizing a great silver disk and probably some gold on top of that is a powerful motivator.

Reinhold’s mind races. He is pretty sure that the goblins will, sooner or later, decide that he is going to be a problem on the road to riches. It is just for the moment that they consider him an asset, a ticket to get close to the wizards. But then all bets are off. So he will have to split from them sooner or later, but not too soon, or he will loose them both, wizards and goblins alike. For the time being, he watches them while he keeps playing the simpleton who is happy to have found some new friends.

Soon they reach the east road, leading from the goblin village farther east into the wildlands, where goblins rule and neither Count nor Emperor are heeded. Yet the wizards kept going north.

Is this possible? Reinhold was sure they would turn west on the road.

The posse stops for a moment to read the tracks.

No, the humans have gone north, and with all their animals too. The tracks that lead east or west are all obvious goblin tracks.

One of the goblins calls out to Reinhold and signs for the way north: “Come, hooman. This is Toothtip’s land, not our’s. Ride on! Your friends went north.”

Two of the others are already climbing into their saddles.

The last one, a fresh little recruit, is looking on and absent-mindedly strokes the fletching of his arrows.

  • Go north with the goblins
  • Play dumb and head west
  • Run away and hide


*The Idol of Kesh – Part 82 – The Enemy*

“Yeah, sure!”

With an open smile, Reinhold swings back in the saddle and reassures thes wild-eyed goblin who called him. “Let’s go.”

The guy with the arrows hangs back a bit and stays close to the human. Reinhold feels the noose tightening and acutely feels the loneliness of being alone among enemies. He still has his sword, that’s one thing to hold on to, at least.

The goblins and the human keep following the tracks of the wizards. Not long north of the road they made a short rest and apparently tied the horses in a line – from then on, they don’t trample such a wide trail any more – it is a narrow path now, but deeper. The trail goes up a hill, and the goblins follow intently. And suddenly they are there.

At the ridge on top of the hill the wizards have elected to make their camp.

It is a good spot – high up, surrounded by bushes and trees, with a good view downhill.

And they have kept watch: Oblington has seen them ride up, and he has a sling ready. His shot whistles through the trees, and the goblin in the lead gets hit on the shoulder.

With a cry, he drops from his horse and seeks cover.

The others follow his example.

“Hey! Hooman!”

The wild-eyed goblin cowers behind a tree and stares at Reinhold.

“What?”

“Tell them it is you! They are your friends! Tell them to let us come up to them!”

Another shot from the sling smashes against a tree trunk, close to Reinhold’s cover.

The goblin with the arrows squints at him from the cover of another tree. “Yeah, tell them to stop shooting. Stand up and show yourself.”

Reinhold shakes his head: “No, thanks.”

“Hooman! Did you lie to us? Are those not your friends?”

  • Tell the goblins the truth
  • Tell them you don’t know
  • Attack the goblins
  • Run away
  • Organize an attack on the hill

Fresh, neutral approach: Poll on easypoll

*The Idol of Kesh – Part 83 – Sudden Death*

“I don’t know any more!” cries Reinhold, laying all his emotions over Alma’s death in his plea. “I thought they were, but it just doesn’t add up! I fear their lust for artifacts has turned them into vile traitors and murderers.”

The goblins are still puzzling over this, when he goes on:

“There is only one chance: We have to overpower them and take them captive. Three of us attack as a diversion from the southwest, while two others flank them. Who is with me?”

As the goblins hesitate, he reminds them of the prize: “The heavy silver will weigh them down, they will be distracted by the treasure. This will allow us to surprise them from behind.”

Shifty is rubbing arrows again.

“But you must join the diversion attack, not the flanking,” he demands.

Reinhold nods. “Yes, I must! They would wonder where I am if I don’t come from this side.”

Mollified, the goblins agree.

“Fine,” says Wild Eye. “The two of us stay with you. The other two climb the hill from the east.”

Flitting from cover to cover, the goblins join, then spread out again, while Reinhold shouts at the wizards: “What are you doing? Stop firing! We are friends!”

He is trying to goad them into talking. However, the wizards don’t react.

Or rather, they do, but differently: They shoot a well-aimed arrow down at the goblins. Wild eye, the leader of the pack, gets it: A masterful shot takes him in the neck, and he’s out.

Shocked, the other goblins lose heart.

They waver, and turn to flee.

  • Call for revenge and glory
  • Let them run
  • Run right with them

http://www.easypolls.net/poll.html?p=5c5cbcefe4b0b3f5920be7b6

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