Chapter Six, Part Four
As Red rolls to a stop, Percy shifts his footing and handholds so he can climb down toward her, but then he spots SeLiem nearing her and his attention reverts to the ledge above him. He sheathes his sword and pulls himself up and over.
Melias reaches the overhang and locates sturdy hand and toeholds so he can ascend quickly once Percy engages their foe in battle. He considers what tactics he might use in one-on-one battle against a Giant. Shaking his head, he pushes himself away from the cliff and looks for a different route that might take him up but further from the Giant – or Giants. Shooting arrows while out of reach sounds like a far safer strategy, he decides.
When he sees Percy disappear over the hilltop, SeLiem casts Light so the Warrior can see what he faces, then races to heal Red.
Staying close to the edge, Percy draws his sword and searches for the Giant. There is a deep depression in the hill five steps away and he assumes the Giant waits for him there. After two long strides, he leaps into the depression.
Hearing the footfalls, Melias stops moving. He hears a loud clang and a grunt. The clang sounds like wood striking metal armor and the grunt he believes came from Percy. Having found no better route, Melias crests the hill. As he closes in on the battle, he sees Percy’s six-foot long sword cut through the air. There is a loud thump as it strikes the Giant’s tough hide. The thirteen-foot-tall monster seems oblivious to the strike as it swings a giant spiked club at Percy. Clang! The club slams hard into Percy, pinning him against the rock formations behind him. The Giant lifts the massive morning-star held in its other hand and lines up for a potential killing blow. Glancing about, Melias sees no other enemies, but he spots Arturus rounding a boulder not far away.
“That’s an Ettin, not a true Giant,” Arturus says, as he fires arrows. He sees no option left after that, except to draw his sword and close in.
When he reaches over his shoulder for his bow, Melias feels a sharp pain in his ribs. He pauses. “Aw, shit,” he spits out, through clenched teeth. His hand drops to his sword handle. The sword is drawn as he leaps from the overhang. He strikes the Ettin before landing on the opposite side from Percy and tumbling away. “Come on you ugly, two-headed, cow lover. I’ll teach you a lesson or two!” he says in Goblinoid.
“Aw, shit,” Arturus says, as he watches the Ettin turn to face Melias. Dropping his bow, he draws his longsword and charges the Ettin.
“Cow lover? He called it a cow lover?” Rastorn chortles as he climbs high enough to get a view of the enemy. “I hope our foe speaks Goblinoid.” He nods to Orjulun, as they both prepare Magic Missile spells, “And I was questioned about my ability to speak that foul language.” Giggling, he adds, “I guess ‘Aw shit’ is a common war cry with Elves.”
Melias’ blade could not penetrate the Ettin’s tough hide, nor could Arturus’ magical sword. Percy swings twice as the Ettin turns its attention away from him, but the blows bounce off.
The Elves charge the Ettin’s right side. It spins over its right shoulder and strikes with the club in its left hand at Melias, knocking him back a step, then continuing to spin it swings the morning-star in its right hand back at Percy, who blocks with his sword. When the spin is completed, it stands with its back against the edge of the hill and all three opponents in front of it.
This gives the Wizards, Red, and SeLiem, who have just topped the hill, a clear shot at its back.
Red jumps down behind Percy and stuffs his largest wound with a concoction designed to aid in healing.
“So, what in the Nine Hells do we do now?” Arturus asks Melias.
Melias eyes the Ettin’s ankles, then motions to Arturus. “Just because he’s hard as nails doesn’t mean he can’t break.” He thinks If he can take the giant off its feet, it’d be an easy target for the lot of them.
Curving around Arturus, Magic Missiles pummel the Ettin.
Arturus feints high as the missiles hit, setting the Ettin up for a low attack. “It stinks so bad,” Arturus says, plugging his nose.
Running between the Ettin’s legs, Red grabs Melias. She pulls him back, barely avoiding the Ettin’s swinging club. She rubs the same herbs in Melias’ wounds and patches it with a ground-up sticky leaf. As soon as she finishes, Melias jumps back into the fray and scores a solid hit on the Ettin’s lower leg.
Arturus swirls his blade overhead and sweeps it down in a two-handed slice onto the Ettin’s foot. This time he cuts through the tough hide.
Percy’s attack is blocked by the Ettin’s morning-star.
Stepping under the Ettin’s club, Arturus presses close to its legs, too close for it to see him. He stabs it in the leg again and again draws blood.
The right head focuses on Percy. It spins the spiked ball of the morning-star at its side, then swipes it at Percy, hitting him in the chest as he spins for an attack. Percy drops to his knees but continues the spin with his sword out. He misses, loses his balance, and falls face first onto the ground.
SeLiem completes his spell, then jumps down to join the battle. His hand glows as he stalks the Ettin. His first attempt to touch the Ettin fails and he is forced to step back and watch for a second opening.
The Ettin is losing blood rapidly and swaying slightly. Its heads are both shouting at the Elves. “If we die, our tribe hunt you, eat you, eat you tribe, Elf maggots!”
Another volley of Magic Missiles blast the Ettin, toppling it.
Seeing his spell will not be needed, SeLiem releases the magic harmlessly and casts a curing spell on Percy.
Red collapses against a tree.
Melias smiles, responding in Goblinoid as it dies, “If your brothers and cousins come after us. I’ll gladly send them your way.” He turns to speak with SeLiem. “You were trying to heal it?” He steps back to a safe distance from the Ettin in case it is playing possum. “What are you, insane?”
“Heal it? No, I was going to blind it,” SeLiem answers.
“Aye will need to pray to Corma to grant me the power to heal. Before that, is there anything else we are going to do while on this accursed hill?” Red asks, still resting against a tree.
Lowering himself to the ground, Percy starts cleaning off his armor and sword. Still looking down, he says, “I apologize for my performance. I just couldn’t seem to hit the damnable thing. I vow to do better next time.”
Rastorn steps over Percy’s legs and climbs onto the Ettin’s corpse to search for treasure on its rotted fur smock.
Laughing, Melias slaps Percy on the shoulder armor as he passes by on his way to investigate the dead man they had come to rescue. “You were doing fine. This thing was quite a scrapper,” he tells Percy. As he steps to the dead man on the side of the hill, he can see the top of the head is crushed. Melias asks loudly in Common, “I wonder what in The Realms he was doing here?” To find answers to that question, he searches the body. The man’s corpse is naked and hides nothing. He is covered in blood and his tongue was ripped out. Tribal tattoos cover half his body. “I guess there isn’t anything we can do for this fellow. I wonder where his belongings are. Maybe that’ll tell us something about him,” Arturus says in Elvish.
“I’m so sorry,” SeLiem tells Red, “I didn’t realize your injuries were so severe. May I say, it was very noble of you to give your herbal cures to the others in need when you were still in incredible pain. Please, may I try to heal your injuries further?”
Red nods, but her focus is on Orjulun, as he casts Detect Magic. “Ye should step off those loose stones, lest ye start another little landslide. If there’s one thing a Dwarf canae stand it’s an Avalanche.”
“I think I have discovered something you might find less appealing,” Rastorn remarks, as he pulls a bag of coins out from the waistband of the Ettin’s fur. The creature and its furs are heavily infested with lice, bugs, and mice. The Ettin smells horrible and its legs are covered in dried fecal matter swarming with maggots. Rastorn spills the coins into his pocket.
Percy prays to Capra as he continues to clean his weapon, armor, and wounds. When his prayer of thanks is completed, he says, “We really should get back to our camp; it will be light soon, and all our belongings were left unguarded.”
After casting, Orjulun steps off the ledge and wanders the area detecting for magic. A breeze blows a very nasty smell past his nose. He orients himself and realizes the smell is not coming from the dead Ettin. Searching around the trees near the opposite side of the hilltop, he notices the way down is much less steep to the north past the tree. The same rotten smell again assaults him. His stomach lurches and he grits his teeth. With the sleeve of his robe covering his nose and mouth, he attempts to discern the origin of the scent. He decides the light is far too dim for him to see far enough to find anything, so he gives up and returns to the group. He found nothing magical that he didn’t already know about, except Red’s ax and Percy’s armor, sword, arrows, and the little stone circling his head, of course.
Rastorn joins Orjulun and makes a disgusted face. “That was the nastiest thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve been known to study long-dead corpses.”
Unable to draw on more healing power, SeLiem tells Red, “I’m afraid I’ve overextended my god’s healing hand.” He offers her a hand and helps her to her feet. “Lean against me and let me carry part of your burden.”
Tracing a finger over one of the tattoos, Melias tries to commit them to memory. They may come in handy later. When they get back to camp he intends on drawing them into the empty book. He stands and notices a confused look on Orjulun’s face. “What’s going on? Trouble?” He looks in the direction Orjulun faces.
“What is that awful smell?” Percy asks no one in particular, as he walks in the direction of Rastorn.
“That’d be Rastorn,” Melias responds.
“Yea, that duel-headed freak was a writhing mass of maggots, lice, and mice! It was foul. Go have a smell! It’s worse than any corpse I’ve toyed with.”
Percy stops and sniffs the air around Rastorn. “No, it isn’t coming from you it’s something by you.” He turns and shouts back to those halfway down the south side of the hill, “We may need your eyes up here, my Elven friends!” He then turns back to Rastorn. “Actually, it is getting light now, maybe we can see well enough on our own. Check over there, I’ll check over here,” he says, pointing left and right.
A few steps away, Percy stops and pulls a torch out of his backpack. He has it lit before the rest of the group reaches him. “Looks like the adventure continues,” he says with a smile.
At the edge of the top of the hill and behind three trees that have grown intertwined, is the mouth of a cave which appears to curve back toward the center of the hill. The stench is almost overwhelming and mosquitoes, fruit flies, and moths are flying around the entrance in swarms. The party cautiously enters, dropping down to the entry and into a shallow pool of mucky rainwater. The Ettin would have had much difficulty entering such a small cave, but the stench alone clearly marks this as its abode. Slowly climbing down the steep ramp near the front of the cave, the group collects at the edge of the inner chamber. The lip they stand upon is the only spot inside the cave which is not covered in offal, bones, and rotting corpses. Rats scurry around when Percy waves the torch their way and maggots can clearly be seen in great masses feeding on the remaining flesh of unidentifiable victims. A golden chalice can be seen sitting atop a pile of bones at the far end of the cave and many broken weapons are strewn about. Golden coins glitter here and there half buried under the mounds of gore and feces. Other than the rats, lice, and other bugs – the cave is unguarded.
Melias grimaces at the sight. “Well, this fellow never heard of good housekeeping skills, that’s for certain.” He eyes the random gold coins splayed about and considers for one instant digging through the mess to pick out the valuables. His stomach clenches in rebellion. “I don’t know how many coins might wait in hiding, but I don’t care to know either. That chalice, however, is quite striking. We should take it for our troubles. Maybe hock it at the next city.”
SeLiem still assisted Red along the way. Though their course had altered from the camp to the cave, he would not allow her to fall from his carelessness. Gingerly, he led her into the cave and gave her a hand through all the tricky steps, although since she is a Dwarf and so was likely born in a cave, she could probably traverse this lair better than he ever could hope. “Careful there, my dear. We don’t want you to get injured slipping into the muck.” He looks around and puts a hand over his stomach. The smell is even worse than the Ogre massacre. “Wait a moment. Before anyone dares enter further into this foul waste,” he cautions, allow me to consult my god about the safety of this room.” He prays aloud and lifts his holy symbol high. When the spell is ended, he glances about the cave, then says, “There are no traps here.”
Arturus looks at the mess, while holding a piece of his tunic over his nose. He notices Percy casually surveying the cave. “I’m not greedy enough to rummage through that. So, what brave soul is going to go fetch the chalice?” he asks, pushing his tunic away.
Rastorn had been in foul situations before, especially in the Ogre’s cave where he was held as a slave, but at least they were a bit cleaner. If only a little. “I’ll retrieve it,” he says, while contemplating gathering the coinage as well.
Leaving SeLiem’s side, Red leans on Orjulun and whispers in his ear, “He may only be half an Elf, but I still donae feel comfortable with him.” She smiles. “‘Besides, he’s treating me as if I were a child.”
Rastorn heads for the chalice, with his first step a gem bubbles up from the muck. As he reaches for it, Red swipes it up and shines it on her hip. “There’s some real nice treasure in here, boys! Let’s get digging!” she exclaims with glee, seemingly feeling much better than she did a moment ago. She pulls a very short shovel from her backpack and starts splashing the offal and gore left and right. “Look there – Rastorn, a small pile of silver coins! Grab them before the blood splashes back! Oh, a scroll case! I’m betting you’d like to see what’s in there, Orjulun!” she says as she tosses the bent and filth-covered scroll tube to Orjulun, who gets mildly soiled when he catches it. “Look at all the gold coins!” she shouts as she continues to toss the refuse and remains side to side, oblivious to those around her.
Rastorn had no choice but to rush to the chalice to avoid being pelted with the smelly garbage. As he reaches for it, he notices a long, slender, and heavily dented case sticking out from the bones. He snatched both up and turned to face the cave opening again. Timing his movements so he won’t get splashed, he runs back to the entrance.
Looking over the scroll tube, Orjulun notices it is covered with painted depictions of skeletons dancing about. It is unopened. He sets it on the ground just outside the cave, then goes back inside to tentatively search the outer edge of the muck.
Once Rastorn gets a good look at the case he discovered, he notices it looks very similar to the wand cases he’s seen more well-off Wizards use. It has a simple fastener, but it won’t budge open in the least.
“I’m sorry,” Percy says, “but I just can’t take this anymore.” He leaves the cave, holding his stomach.
Arturus smiles. He checks that his boots are tight, gloves are snug, then wades in. Using a stick, he pokes at anything which might hide a bit of treasure. The first thing he finds is a small box.
Squinting and holding his nose, Melias follows Percy out and says, “I’m going to look for a water source. They are going to want to wash up when they’re done. At the very least, we are going to want them to wash up. Why don’t you head back to the camp and make sure everything’s alright there?”
Percy nods and searches for the safest route down.
Inside, SeLiem does his best to dodge the flying debris while picking through and sorting the coins and other valuables. He searches for the cleanest edge of each item before touching. Reflexively, he leaps back when he hears a splash. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a slime-covered Red plucking something from the water. She holds up a gem, shakes the human eyeball off it, and tosses it to Orjulun. “That’s a big one! Anyone know what they’re worth?” she asks, without looking up.
This disgusting treasure hunt lasts long enough for Melias to locate a nearby stream and return to the cave and for Percy to make it to the camp and return with their horses and all their belongings.
Wiping the sweat off her forehead with her forearm, smearing her hair with grossness from her hands in the process, Red cheerfully exclaims, “Percy, ye should see all the gold and silver we found! We’re going to sort it, clean it, and split it! Ain’t it great!”
Since he had been out of the cave for so long, Melias’ nostrils were clear and he could smell the stench radiating from those who were in the cave. He leads them to the stream, where they can wash themselves and clean the treasure. Orjulun casts Floating Disc to transport the coinage and treasure from the cave to the stream. As they walk to the stream, Red picks three different plants she says she can use to mask the smell on her and everyone else.
At the stream, Orjulun steers the Floating Disc just under the water surface where Percy can clean the treasure. “Is that everything?” Orjulun asks.
Rastorn slips the case out of his robe and onto the magical floating disc.
“Quite a load, eh Percy?” SeLiem says. “You really should have seen Red. She was incredible! She dove in without hesitation. She must have the constitution of a great oak tree to be so unaffected by the smell, feces, maggots, and body parts.” Stepping into the stream, he strips down to his loincloth and washes himself as best he can. He gratefully accepts the scent-stealing herbs from Red and rubs them on his body.
Red comments, “Well, Elves -” She glances around, then says, “Thank ye.”
Percy glances over and notices she is wading naked at the edge of the stream and splashing the cold water on herself and rubbing the herbs on her body. He quickly turns his back toward her. “These coins come clean easily. They don’t have to be rubbed off for very long at all,” he says.
Arturus and Orjulun also strip down, splash into the water, and use Red’s herbs to clean themselves.
Melias stands up wind from the others and points out spots they’ve missed. He frowns as he notices a fish floating belly-up, knocked into submission from the filth flowing downstream.
“Well that was fun,” Arturus says as he washes his clothes. “So, what’s our next step? Back on the road?”
Still washing, Rastorn answers, “I suppose we need to get to camp, sort through all this, divvy it up, and finish our evening of rest. Orjulun and I may be wise to re-study our spells so we will be of benefit to the party on the morrow.”
Percy finishes cleaning and sorting the treasure and announces the totals. “Six-hundred and twelve gold pieces, four-hundred and two silver pieces, a gold chalice, two transparent gems, an unopened case, and an unopened scroll tube.”
By the time everything and everybody is clean, and the treasure is divided, the sun is fully up. Following some studying and praying and curing, the group mounts their horses and head back to the road.
SeLiem rides next to Red and tries to learn all he can about her people, fascinated by the different culture. He confesses, “I have only seen maybe a handful of Dwarves in my life and always thought they were quite a proud race. I’m glad we happened upon you on the road. You certainly have been an enlightening addition to our group.”
Melias continues to ride at the rear of the group, following behind Orjulun. After two hours of listening to SeLiem ask Red questions, he tells Orjulun, “I liked SeLiem better when he didn’t say anything. Now we can’t shut him up.”
Ten minutes later, Red slows way down and starts up a conversation with Orjulun. “SeLiem won’t stop talking. Can we ride together in silence for a while?”
What follows is a long day of riding. Before sundown, they have a new camp set up.
Melias scouts the area for signs of disturbances or frequently travelled paths and gathers firewood while simultaneously searching for berries, nuts, or fruit.
Holding his stomach, Rastorn dashes into the woods in the other direction, snatching up the case when he passes the pile of collected treasures.
Red remains close to Orjulun and the two sit and talk by the fire.
Arturus agrees to go hunting with Percy. They return with a small, skinny deer.
“Am I the only one starving?” Orjulun says.
“We haven’t eaten all day,” Melias says.
“Who could eat after the cave,” Arturus says.
“After the cave? Why?” Red asks.
There is no conversation even after Rastorn returns, still holding his stomach.
Cooking the venison takes a long time and Red and Rastorn go to sleep with only a few berries as their dinner. Red uses the Bag Holding, which was her share of the treasure, as a pillow. Before Rastorn can get comfortable, she is snoring, with a huge grin on her face.
When he is finished eating, Orjulun shakes the scroll tube back and forth slowly and can hear the scroll sliding inside.
“Do any of you care if I take a look at the box?” Melias asks, glancing around and not seeing the case. “What about that scroll tube? Can you figure out how to open it?” Before Orjulun can answer, Melias calls Arturus over and whispers in his ear. “As much as I’d hate to admit it, Rastorn is probably the only man with an eye to determine how much our gems and that chalice are worth. I’ve seen him appraise other things along the way. He’s good at it. I just don’t know if we can trust him. What do you think?”
“Personally, I think it would be a good test. We let him appraise the stuff and then we can have it appraised again later in a town. That way we’ll know. I think he’ll be honest about it. He’s trying to gain out trust right now so he’ll more likely be honest. At least I hope so,” Arturus whispers back.
“You ask him. I’m not talking to the jerk.”
Arturus smiles and whispers back. “Sure, give it a bit of time, though. I don’t want him to suspect we’re talking about him.” He leans away, then leans back to Melias’ ear. “What will it take for him to prove he’s alright? Besides being pretty morbid and ugly and strange and scary and . . . never mind.”
When Arturus returns to his seat at the fire, Melias asks about the case again and Rastorn gleefully replies, “Um… Sure!” He hands over an empty and battered case. “I got the wand free,” he says, showing him a crooked black wand. He shrugs and says, “It’s Evocation magic. We’ll have it identified soon.” He turns to where the other treasures are piled and begins affixing a value to the gems and chalice. While he does so, he volunteers to cast a Detect Magic on everything. “The chalice is worth 200 gold pieces and the gems are each worth one hundred gold each. Whatever is in the scroll tube is magical as is the wand. That’s it. Glancing around, he sees Red’s ax is very magical and Percy is wearing magic armor and has a magic long sword and the Ion Stone orbiting his head is magic, of course.
Once Rastorn is finished, he walks up to Arturus and whispers in his ear, “Psst, psst, psst . . . I can whisper, too!”
Arturus scratches his head.
Then he whispers in Orjulun’s ear, “Psst, psst, psst . . . I can whisper too! One of us is getting that wand. We’ll determine that once we figure out what the blazes it does.”
Orjulun yawns, then nods.
He whispers in SeLiem’s ear, “Do you have it in your capability to cast a spell to remove sickness and disease? I’m not feeling so well after messing around in that muck. I have a case of the trots and squirts, as well. Can you help me out?”
Then he whispers to Percy, “Psst, psst, psst. I’m paranoid normally, but all this whispering is putting me on edge. How about you?”
To Red he whispers, “Psst, psst, psst. I’m not feeling very well from digging around through that muck and mire. How are you feeling? I am just caring for the well-being of our members. I don’t want anyone to get sick. Do you have the capability to cast a spell to remove sickness and disease? I think I’m coming down with something.”
Red shakes her head.
“This is finally starting to get on my nerves!” Arturus yells to nobody, while frantically scratching his head. “Is it possible to have fleas?”
“Not probable, but . . . ” Rastorn says as he approaches Arturus, “. . . you probably have lice. Yuck.”
“Lice! That’s the bugs of the peasants. How can I get rid of them?” Arturus asks.
Red, who had been lying down for some time now, looks up, smiles, and says, “Shave your silky locks, Elf, or live with the little critters.”
“What? There has got to be another way! A tonic, a spell, something. I don’t think I’d look good bald,” Arturus says, his voice fading off to a whisper. He couldn’t trust a damn Dwarf. She’d like exactly that, to see him in discomfort.
“Oh, yes, little Elfy. Then ye need to shave off the rest of your body hairs. If you have any!” Red’s huge grin transforms into a hearty laugh as she says this.
The rest of the party knows from her bath earlier that Red has a great deal of body hair. Her back, legs, and armpits are covered with coarse, red hairs.
Arturus grips his sword and squeezes the hilt. Thoughts of killing a Dwarf fly through his mind but, of course, he refrains from doing so. “I should have shot you when I had the chance,” he says.
He sits down. “I’m not shaving my head.”
“There may be another way,” Melias says, “find a stream, river, pond, or lake nearby, something we can completely submerge your body in. SeLiem can ask the powers that be to grant you the ability to breathe the water, and you stay under as long as you can. The lice won’t breathe so they will either die or flee – no pun intended.”
“I could kiss you right now, Melias! I’ve got no problem with taking a swim. Breath water, huh? That’d be an interesting experience, as well. Just let me know when you are ready, SeLiem.”
“In the morning, maybe,” SeLiem responds. “But I can help you right now, Rastorn.” He casts Cure Disease and Rastorn instantly looks healthier. SeLiem also casts Continual Light on a small stone and places it in his belt pouch for future use.
Orjulun studies the scroll tube more, starts to unscrew the lid, hesitates, then unscrews it. He barely glances at it before he casts Read Magic. “This is a Wizard scroll with seven spells cast onto it. I will be able to cast these spells once each from the scroll now that I have read them, even though some of them would normally be beyond my ability. Orjulun tells Rastorn the scroll contains, Vampiric Touch, Enervation, Contagion, Animate Dead, Contingency, Death Spell, and Repulsion.
Rastorn pockets the wand, then cracks his knuckles enthusiastically. “Hand it here. I’ll cast Read Magic as well so it will be available to either of us.”
As Rastorn pocketed the wand, the firelight caught several words engraved on it in a magical language.
Orjulun can read this language now because of his spell and he catches sight of one word, “fire.”
He waves at Rastorn. “May I see that wand a moment? I believe I can read some of the runic writing on it without expending an Identify spell. If I’m right, it might have something to do with fire magic.”
Rastorn slowly reaches back into his pocket and retrieves the wand for Orjulun.
Etched on the wand in magical writing are words written in the ancient language of Mages. Orjulun reads it, “Mefla-no/ahnd fo mefla/rowks/lalb fo rife/lawl fo mefla.” He translates the writing on the wand into Common, turn the fire on/fire hand/little explosions/ball of flame/fire wall. He hands it back, but he keeps the scroll. He struggled to pronounce the incantations in his mind and wonders whether that will affect Rastorn’s ability to use the wand.
To be continued in Chapter Seven next week!
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