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    Yeoldebard
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Season of Bloom - 3. Storming the Stronghold

Faes frowned at the blanket, trying to figure out just what they were up against. He hadn’t seen the body underneath, but the way the blanket lay made it obvious various parts were crushed near irreparably. Maybe from a rock being thrown?

“The sooner we get going, the sooner everything can return to normal,” Regongar said suddenly, throwing an arm around Tristian. “Come on Tristian, give us a blessing heh.”

“The blessing you want, I do not have it in my heart to give,” Tristian sighed. “I will call Sarenrae’s light upon us my own way.”

“Whatever, so long as it works,” Faes frowned. “I would rather not meet the same end as your Cassiel.”

He stood up, double checking his bag full of acid flasks. It was… worrisome that they were trusting their front line to a half-orc that seemed like he would just as happy fucking their corpses, but maybe if they could find a way to kill the trolls fast enough…

“Do not use the acid until they are down. We don’t have enough vials to make them our main attack,” he warned. “Ekundayo, you said there was a rock troll. We will need to lure him outside if possible. Regongar, you bait him, we’ll harass him until he follows us. Fighting retreat outside, and Ekundayo, you find a way around him to block his retreat back inside. We will find a way to beat them.”

Slinging his bag over his shoulders, the half-drow looked at the kobold.

“You stay here, and protect this blanket. Do not let anyone touch it until we return,” he said in Draconic.

Kiba nodded with a fierce scowl that changed to horror as a lizard fell out of his pocket. He ran after it, trying to keep it away from Khemet and Lapis, and Faes let out a quiet groan.

“Come on. If we do our job right, there won’t be any trolls coming to steal the body anyway,” he muttered, motioning toward where a trail rose into the incline.

They followed the trail up the hill, taking the twists and turns toward the crest. Much of the vegetation bore breaks and heavy scratches, and Faes winced slightly at the sight of a toppled tree, reminded of just how strong these brutes were.

“Regongar, you take point with Khemet,” he said quietly. “Lapis, support your tiger, we’re counting on him to be a heavy hitter.”

The amurrun nodded as they walked, his ears swivelling nervously. Faes didn’t blame him. By all accounts, the baron’s party had been experienced, and they had met with disaster. At any moment, they might meet the same fate.

“Hail borba!!”

A gravelly voice broke the silence, the entire group gripping their weapons tightly as a troll strolled toward them nonchalantly. Faes scowled at the troll, wondering what such a beast was doing speaking Taldane, if more poorly than a five year old human. To his surprise, the troll seemed almost clean, as much as a troll could be clean. His stench was actually somewhat bearable.

“You return to Trobold as conquerors. We kill you once, we kill again. Put down weapons, and we don’t kill.”

Lapis stepped forward suddenly, and Faes hissed in alarm. The cat was going to get himself killed and they would be out a healer.

“Trobold?” he asked, his Taldane only marginally better than the troll’s. “What is Trobold?”

“Ours capitol,” the troll beamed. “Kobolds and trolls working together in peace, and no fighting borba. Our kingdom, our land!”

“Kingdom? Huh, I wonder what kind of kingdom they kobold together,” Regongar smirked.

Faes rolled his eyes, Lapis letting out a polite chuckle. The troll frowned for a moment before letting out a bellowing laugh.

“Ha, I get that joke. Is a pun!”

“Congratulations, you’ve found your audience,” Faes muttered toward Regongar.

“A troll with a sense of humor. That’s rare. Do you shy away from fiery and caustic humor though?” Lapis asked.

Regongar let out a laugh to rival the troll’s, Faes glancing at the amurrun with barely contained surprise. He hadn’t been travelling with the cat for longer than a month, but he’d never seen this witty side of him until now. Perhaps there was some intelligence under that fur.

“I like you, cat,” Regongat grinned.

“We would enjoy looking around your capital,” Lapis continued. “I’ve been wondering how kobolds and trolls could team up together.”

“Borba best not go,” the troll frowned, “Trolls still dumb brute, not like Jazon. Much danger.”

He sighs, a sound Faes had never expected to hear from a troll before, and stomped away, leaving the path clear.

Ekun reached for an arrow in his quiver, but Faes stopped him, a hand lowering the bow.

“If we can get inside with their permission, we can find your Kargadd that much easier,” he muttered quietly.

Ekun’s jaw twitched, but the ranger let the troll go unharmed, and the group continued up the side of the hill.

 

Kiba lunged at a mantis, snatching it up in his clawed hands eagerly. It was the fourth bug he had caught so far, and Apsu seemed happy with his work. He was getting a feeling of overwhelming satisfaction from the lizard at least, so he was taking that as a good sign.

Best of all, he was still keeping an eye on the body covered by the blanket. The dark one and the cat couldn’t be angry if he fed the Father Dragon while he waited, as long as he could see the corpse. Why they were keeping the corpse made little sense to him though. According to all he knew of softskins, which was admittedly little, the body should have been stuck in the ground by now. Besides, it was starting to stink, even to him. How long had it been dead, five, maybe six days? It smelled like it could be longer, and the kobold wondered how long the ranger had sat with it.

Was it even the right softskin? He’d seen the chieftain once, surely the dark ones wouldn’t mind if he checked to make sure it was the right body. Not that he knew what they were going to do with it. Maybe the wrong body was the right body for them.

Grumbling quietly, Kiba set the wriggling mantis in front of Apsu, the lizard blinking at the offering. The two animals stared at each other, sizing up their opponent. Suddenly the mantis struck, catching Apsu’s body in its pincers. Apsu wriggled around, his teeth sinking into the mantis’ back, and biting it in half. A brief struggle followed, and finally the mantis went limp, the pincers falling away from the lizard.

A flash of pained anger entered Kiba’s mind, and the kobold fell to his knees, head bowed before the silver skink.

“Kiba is sorry Great One! Please don’t be angry, Kiba only meant an offering to your belly!”

The anger dissolved into brief amusement, though the pain remained as Apsu crawled onto a sun soaked rock. It tore at Kiba’s mind, reminding him of the time he’d taken a mite’s spear to the side. The kobold struggled to think past the pain, to try to figure out how to heal the injury. There wasn’t any blood that he could see, but it still caused a sharp, stabbing pain.

He grabbed his bag, digging through various rocks and sticks until he found a tiny vial with a red liquid as though someone had stolen a ruby and melted it down. It was one of the kobold’s greatest treasures, stolen from Faes three nights prior. He had spent each night since gazing into the gemlike liquid, entranced by this bottle that held the secrets of life and death.

And now it would go to save Apsu’s mortal life.

Pulling the cork out of the vial with his teeth, the kobold set the vial on its side, red juice flowing from the mouth of the bottle toward Apsu. The lizard licked at it cautiously, before repeating the motion again and again. Each lick pushed the pain further and further away until it was gone, the lizard’s body healed from his trial. Warm gratitude pulsed between them, Kiba letting out a grateful squeak as he bowed low before the lizard.

“Great One, you honor Kiba…” he breathed.

A sudden splash startled him, his hand pushing Apsu into his pocket again as he lunged for his weapon. Giant shapes loomed in the bog, shadows under the sun’s light, and the kobold unsheathed his sword, taking a deep breath as a troll lumbered into view. He had promised to guard the corpse, and he would keep that promise.

 

Lapis scaled the crumbling fortress wall nimbly, a rope coiled around his neck. Keen eyes placed his fingers just where they needed to be while feline grace caught any slips with a quick correction, until he rolled over the lip of a parapet. Proceeding to tie the rope around the stone facade, the amurrun tested the rope’s strength briefly, before throwing the coil over the side and shimmying back down.

“It’s safe,” he said, collecting the excess rope. “Khemet first, he can guard the tie.”

Ignoring the scowls around him, the catfolk began working the rope into a harness around the tiger’s chest. He climbed up quickly once more, before grunting out a low call to the tiger, who grumbled in response. Pulling at the rope, Lapis tugged hand over hand as the tiger pushed up with his paws, the two working together to get the large feline up the wall. A minute later, he was free on top of the wall, and Lapis was tossing the rope back down for his companions.

Soon, they were all on the wall, Lapis untying the rope and carefully coiling it back up as they caught their breath. A stone staircase led off the wall nearby, the wall itself crumbling in places to make traversing the length nearly impossible.

“They’re letting in kobolds,” Faes frowned, staring around an inner parapet at the courtyard below.

“Two trolls with trollhound companions,” Ekun added. “We let the kobolds through, and kill them later if they fight us. First we take the trolls.”

Lapis pulled out his bow, stringing the tusk tipped weapon with a strong pull. He set an arrow to the string, before turning to his companions.

“We don’t ask to be let in, right?” he questioned, remembering the kobold guards they had slain on the way up the hill.

“Why would we ask when we can take?” Regongar smirked. “After this, we’ll have to break you in, cat. You are far too innocent for this world.”

“I can confidently tell you that’s a lie. He knows his way around a bed,” Faes said, fishing through his bag.

Lapis accepted a flask of acid from the half-drow, noting that his hood was down for once. It made sense, Lapis always felt blind under his own hood.

“There is a trap at the base of the stairs,” Faes added. “Regongar, try to pull them into the trap if you can. It’s unlikely that even trolls will step into their own mess, buit is possible. There will likely be reinforcements pouring in once we try to breach the entrance. Be prepared for them.”

“There will be,” Ekundayo scowled. “We were not ready last time, and they surprised us with numbers.”

“Well, we won’t be surprised, at least.”

 

Lapis knelt beside Khemet, his lips frantically calling out a prayer to Sekhmet as the tiger’s blood fled its confines. All around him were the cries of combat, the snarling of trollhounds mixing with the yelps of his companions, but the amurrun had eyes only for the tiger.

“Please heal… please, get back up… I need you…” he breathed.

They were not prepared. He doubted they could ever be prepared. The catfolk was using his last spell on his friend, he was out of tricks, out of healing, out of everything but arrows. And all because of one trollhound that had tripped Khemet and pinned him down while two trolls beat the life out of him. Lapis didn’t know what to feel; sorrow, rage, fear, all poisoned his heart as he prayed for mercy, prayed for healing.

The tiger groaned painfully, the worst of the wounds closing slowly, and Lapis let out a sob of relief, scrambling for the bow he had dropped when the tiger went down. He didn’t even know what more he could do; they were losing. Tristian had already yelled that he couldn’t heal any more, Faes had lost his nerve at a roar, the half-drow running frantically from the battle, and Regongar was barely holding the line as Ekundayo’s dog lay unconscious on the stone floor.

The amurrun had never fought anything like this hound. For every wound they gave it, two more healed. It wasn’t even fire resistant, but he couldn’t bring his fire to bear without injuring those around him.

Unleashing all his rage and fury, Lapis yanked the acid from his belt, hurling it at the hound. It exploded in a hissing shower of glass, the trollhound letting out a pained yelp as Regongar’s scimitar cut deep inside its body.

Khemet scrambled to his feet, rushing the fallen hound and tearing into it with a viciousness born of agonizing pain, until nothing was left but a gory carcass savaged by claw and teeth.

The two trolls howled at the tiger, Regongar darting up to meet their clubs as a quartet of missiles slammed into one of the trolls. It was brought down to its knees, Khemet playing the role of pinner as he slashed at the troll’s throat until a vial of acid from Linzi ended its miserable existence.

The last troll looked at the carnage around him, the remnants of several trolls and hounds breaking through to his mind that the tide had turned. He turned with it, trying to flee back into the fortress, only to collapse in a fit of laughter as Linzi brought a spell to bear. The party fell on him like a pack of wild wolves, acid flying with blade and bolt until there was nothing left but blood and silence.

Copyright © 2021 Yeoldebard; All Rights Reserved.

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