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Friendship Proved

Simeron Steelhammer (Benjamin La Count)
Old Vault Category: 
Old Vault ID: 

The crowd was light at the Red Fern this day, mainly because most people were just waking up and beginning their day�s business. The sun had only broke the horizon recently and the group of adventurers actually had to awaken the innkeeper to get some breakfast, which consisted of boiled eggs, cheese, some bread left over from the day before and goat�s milk or water to wash it down.

The group was a good one and had been adventuring together for some time now. There were three main fighters, a rogue who preferred to be called a scout, a cleric and an Evoker. The leader of the group was a human gladiator who had over a dozen victories in the Arena of Delmon, Brian Blackmoor. Second in command was his half brother, Drake Wintergreen, who was a seasoned half-elven ranger. Next came their life long friend Varian Longshadow, a strong human warrior, Leonia Softsnow, a beautiful elven lass with long, golden hair and piercing blue eyes, Tara O�Niel, an equally attractive human priestess of Tireen, goddess of wisdom and finally, Katrina Quillmane, a spunky little gnome woman with deep green eyes and bright orange-red hair. Brian, Drake and Varian each wore a signet ring bearing a trident between two crossed swords, which they had made the day they decided to go off adventuring together. It was something to remember each other by while they were apart.

Thus far, the group had been quite successful on missions for the local duke, Lord Willowbend. They had cleared out a small nest of kobolds and goblins in an abandoned keep, tracked and killed an Owlbear that was killing the local farmers sheep and other livestock and even caught several grave robbers that were disturbing the dead in the local graveyard. In fact, this most recent job had come about because of those grave robbers. It seemed that a long forgotten dwarven mine was nearby and had become the headquarters for some evil priest�s temple. The grave robbers were planning on selling the dead bodies to the priest while pocketing any valuables left with them in their graves.

�So, what we have found out from the robbers is this,� said Sir Gillingham, the local sheriff, who was going over the mission for the sixth time in two days.

�You can expect some undead of the weaker sort, a few human and degenerate troops and for this priest to have several associates with him. Other then that, our standard agreement seems to be fine unless you have something new to add.�

Degenerate troops. That was his way of referring to the host of kobolds, goblins, orcs and hobgoblins they would probably meet inside the mine. And that �standard agreement� was the same one any adventuring band could get, you do this job for us, we toss you a small amount of gold each and you get to keep most of what you find, provided nothing too amazing shows up. If it does, we get first crack at it.

�Yeah, sounds fine to me.� Brian said off handily. �So you have any idea of numbers of �degenerates� or the layout of this mine?�

Brian actually didn�t much like Sir Gillingham. To him, he was a pompous petty noble whose power was political and unearned. Brian believed that only by true combat against a worthy foe could you prove yourself. From what he had seen of the sheriff, the only combat he had seen was combating the mountains of paperwork his office demanded.

�No, the robbers only knew the general location of the mine. They have never actually been to it even, much less inside it.�

�Figures,� Drake said under his breath. �That means you and me will have to do some tracking and searching love.�

�As always lover,� Leonia smiled back to him.

Drake and Leonia were lovers who planned to marry in the coming spring, provided they had enough coin. On the other hand, Brian and Tara had just recently become an item, mainly due to Drake and Leonia both playing matchmaker whenever the chance arose. Varian and Katrina had both made it perfectly clear that as far as their making the third couple, that was not going to happen, despite continued attempts otherwise by all their friends.

�Well then, if there is nothing more, I shall leave you to your mission. Good day.�

Sir Gillingham set down a map of the general area in which they believed the mine entrance lay and left to go back to his paperwork. Brian snorted as he passed the doorway in disdain.

�He�s a good man Brian,� Varian scolded.

�He�s damn useless, nothing but a puppet on a string or a lackey at his lordship�s beck and call. The man probably couldn�t kill a single orc in real combat.� Brian replied dryly.

�Regardless, he is the local law around here and he�s always done right by us. He deserves some respect.� Varian continued to scold.

Brian understood what Varian was getting at and deep inside, he agreed. For all his faults, Gillingham was a good and honest man who did a job Brian would sooner die then do. That did indeed deserve a little bit of respect.

�Okay, okay. You win. I�ll give you that old Fishgill-n-ham ain�t too bad as the powers go. Now then, where do you think we should begin out search?�

For the next hour or two, the party studied the map provided and placed several marks on it where they though the mine entrance might be. If there were a fair number of creatures moving in and out of it, as could be expected, they might be able to find a path or two or at least some tracks. So, about mid-morning, they set out on foot to see what they could find. About mid-afternoon they got their first bit of good luck when Drake found about a half dozen humanoid tracks. They appeared to be carrying a fairly heavy load and were probably medium sized humanoids. The group followed the tracks to a overgrown cave mouth that indeed looked to be the entrance to some kind of mine. Leonia crept silently up to the entrance and disappeared into the darkness beyond while the others remained outside. Drake never liked this part and the longer it took for her to return, the most anxious he became. He was almost ready to go into the cave himself by the time she appeared at the mouth and headed over to the group.

�Guard post with four barbarians in hide armor in there, you have to go up some stairs then back down into the guard room. I couldn�t slip by them because they have several lanterns lit.� Leonia reported.

�Okay, well, let�s see if we can take them out without raising too much attention.� Brian said.

�I think a hold person spell might be of good use here Tara. Varian, Drake and I should be able to take out any of them that resist and if not, Leonia and Kat can take up the slack. Let�s move in.�

The others nodded and headed into the cave mouth in double ranks. Brain and Drake were in the lead, Tara and Katrina were next and Varian and Leonia acted as rear guards. They moved cautiously up the stairs to the top and then back down the other side. It was not long after that they could see the brightly lit guard post and heard the voices of the men as they played a game of cards. Tara got to a place where she could see the men, four hulking brutes armed with a pair of rusty short swords each and wearing dirty animal skins. Their hair was filthy and full of knots and even this far away, she could tell they were not ones to bath often. They were seated around a battered table on four equally battered stools gambling. She waited till the others got into position and began her spell. As soon as she did, the humans stopped what they were doing and quickly began to raise up while grabbing their weapons. They seemed to understand someone was casting a spell because they quickly began to look about them. As Tara finished her spell, two of the four froze in position, unable to move.

�Damn, only got 2 of them!� Tara cursed under her breath.

�Now!� Brian said to the other two fighters.

The three moved into the room at a quick run. The barbarians saw them and howled with rage, charging toward them with a fury that the adventurers didn�t expect. Brian met the first one with a thrust of his trident, piercing the man in the chest and impaling him. Drake and Varian landed blows that should have dropped the other but, to everyone�s amazement, both men stayed standing and indeed landed a strike against Brian�s forearm and Drake�s stomach. While both wounds were minor, the sheer fact that they had received them at all slowed the fighter�s reactions. Leonia and Katrina quickly moved into the room and slit the throats of the two men held by Tara�s spell while Tara moved to support the three warriors locked in combat with the remaining two. The barbarian�s continued to howl with rage and anger, raining blows down on both Brian and Drake. Both warriors blocked with their shields and tried to return telling blows, only to miss their marks. Varian too missed his first blow but, on his second swing, his sword bit deep into the man�s side, opening a large wound. The man�s body shuddered violently and he fell in a heap, finally succumbing to death�s embrace. Tara brought her warhammer down on the back of the other one�s skull, cracking it open like a fresh melon and spraying everyone with blood and gray bits of brain. This caused the last one to fall forward with a thud on the table, which collapsed to the ground under his weight, sending cards and coins in all directions.

The group quickly looked down the corridor to see if others were coming but after a few minutes were satisfied that no reinforcements were on the way. They cleaned themselves up and began searching the room and bodies. They collected the coins, copper and silver mostly, from the card game and Katrina took the deck of cards and put them into her belt pouch. On one of the men Drake found a key ring with three keys and a horn.

�This looks like a signal horn Brian.� Drake said.

�Let me see.� Brian replied taking the horn and examining it.

�Maybe its magical. Otherwise, why wouldn�t they have blow it to summon help?� Leonia chimed in also looking at the horn.

�Who knows,� Brian stated putting the horn in a sack at his waist. �We�ll check it out when we get back to the town.�

The group took two of the lanterns and proceeded down the corridor with Leonia and Drake reversing their positions so that she could watch for traps and other things without the heat of the lantern fouling her heat vision. They came to a locked door but found one of the keys on the ring opened it easily. As they entered, they discovered that the door made hardly any noise as the hinges were well oiled and the door seemed to be in good condition. It was at the top of a T intersection however and that posed a bit of a dilemma as to what way they should go. They decided that straight ahead would probably be the best choice after a quick discussion and headed forward. They entered what was probably the main mine area when dwarves lived in these halls as they saw smelting equipment, forges, anvils and even a small alter in a huge room. They were shocked to fine most of the equipment in good working order and, in fact, recently used it appeared. The only thing that appeared unused was the alter and the area around it.

�Maybe this isn�t the right place Brian.� Tara questioned.

�Yeah, sure seems odd that the mining equipment is being used but that alter hasn�t been touched if this is an evil cleric�s temple.� Katrina offered.

�Well, let�s keep exploring anyway.� Brian said. �It might not be the right place but something is certainly going on here that seems a bit shady His Lordship will probably want a report on it anyway and this will save us the trip back, plus anything we find we won�t have to give them �First pick� on.�

The area had four open corridors leading out of it and they again choose to continue straight ahead. Not long after, they could hear the sound of running water and soon came to a raging river. They could make out that the corridor continued on the opposite bank but could see no way across. So, they returned to the mining room and headed down the left corridor. They passed several rooms where they could hear orcish voices, hoping to avoid as many fights as possible. All went well until they passed a pair of doorways where the doors had fallen off the hinges. The doorways were opposite of each other and they could see about a dozen or more kobolds asleep in them. So, they dimmed the light and began to quietly move by, unfortunately, a pair of kobolds appeared from around the upcoming corner and, spotting the group, pulled daggers and screamed a call of alarm. The sleeping kobolds awoke and grabbed wicker shields and their weapons and began pouring out into the hall. The party quickly killed the two that had warned the others and ran up the corridor to the corner. Katrina waited there till almost all the kobolds had gotten out into the corridor before loosing a lightning bolt as wide as the corridor itself down its length, frying every kobold in its path. The remaining two or three were no match for the rest of the group and soon, some sixty kobolds lay dead in the corridor and rooms.

�Damn, that is sure to rouse the guards. But I�m glad you did it. I�m not sure we could have stopped that many without magic.� Brian smiled at Kat.

�No problem, sorry about the noise but I have never figured out how to cast one of those quietly.� she smiled back.

The corridor had looped back to the door they entered through and they watched from behind the mine equipment as groups of eight to twelve orcs and hobgoblins began to move about the complex in search of them. They slipped down the other side in hopes that they would center their efforts either outside or to the left where the attack had happened. Unfortunately, that was not the case and they had several encounters with patrols, killing them all but using up magic and taking damage all the while.

�This is not going well.� panted Drake nursing a bad wound on his arm.

�We can�t stop now. They will strengthen their defenses or move if we leave. We are still in pretty good shape.� Brian panted back. �How�s the magic holding up?�

�I still have a couple of weak cures. But I have some bandages too I can use.� Tara reported.

�I�ve still got some more basic spells to. A couple of magic missile casts and a stinking cloud.� Katrina replied, also nursing a bad wound to her leg.

Brian nodded, �Okay, how are the wounds. I�m still okay, just a bit sore in spots.�

Drake grinned, �Well, my arm is real sore but I�ll live. I can go on for a bit more, just need to avoid getting hit is all.�

�I�m okay, just a few nicks and scratches.� Varian said. �I could take over Drake�s spot if need be.�

�I�m fine.� Leonia said with a worried look on her face as she examined Drake�s arm wound. �But Drake is hurt pretty bad, whether he wants to admit it or not.�

�I could use some bandaging but, save the heals till we really need them. I�m not a main fighter.� Katrina grimaced as she shifted on her leg.

Tara moved over to Drake and began to bandage his arm, placing some healing herbs on the wound and then wrapping a clean bandage about it. She then shifted to Katrina and did the same for her leg. She looked at the rest but, agreed that their wounds didn�t need any major attention though, she did clean them and put poultices on them. They then continued their search for the cleric, trying even more to avoid the patrols.

There were fewer patrols now they noticed, being that a lot of the creatures here had been slain or were outside looking for them and had not returned. The few that they did come across they managed to avoid until they had searched almost all the mine save one area.

�That has got to be the place where the leaders are. We�ve looked ever place else.� Drake growled.

�IF we are even in the right place.� Leonia soothed.

�Oh, I�m sure we�re in the right place.� Brian stated flatly. �There�s too many orcs and stuff for it not to be.�

�But we�ve not seen a single undead or anything dear.� Tara said with a concerned voice.

�Well, let�s hope our luck holds and we don�t.� Varian said. �We�re not at our best right now and undead are not things to be trifled with nor easily dealt with.�

They moved down the corridor into the only area they had not covered thus far. They quickly discovered that they were indeed on the right track when suddenly a trio of zombies came lumbering out of the darkness at them. Tara tried to turn them but was unable to. The warriors however soon had given the poor souls back their eternal slumber. Varian shot Tara a concerned glance that was not lost on the cleric. She should have been able to turn those but they had resisted.

�We must be close to the evil temple.� Tara said, the concern of her voice quite evident. �My powers to turn the unloving will be diminished because of it.�

�That isn�t good to hear but, we should be able to deal with it�I hope.� Brian comforted her.

They continued down the hall till it ended in a door. Leonia was checking the door to make sure it was not trapped when Katrina let out a cry from the rear of the party. Both Varian and Drake grunted in pain and the sound of metal on bone was heard. The rest of the group turned to see quite a few skeletons attacking the trio from a door that had opened in the wall. Brian quickly switched to his axe while Tara again called for the power of Tireen to turn the undead from her. Leonia drew out a club and moved to block the pair of skeletons attacking Katrina. Several of the skeletons glowed with a pinkish-white light briefly, then dropped into a pile of bones on the floor. Even more were shattered by weapon blows but, more seemed to take their place as soon as they fell. Leonia received a hard clawing hit across her face and let out a cry of pain, falling back. Drake was immediately to her side, shattering the skull of the skeleton that had hurt her. Katrina was hurt badly too but managed to land a blow with her quarterstaff that fell yet another skeleton. Brian, Varian and Tara continued to wade into the skeletons, felling them like wheat before the reaper. The fight was a brutal one but, it was over almost as quickly as it began. Katrina and Leonia were badly hurt and each of the fighters had been badly mauled during the fight, the worst was Drake. Tara had not been hurt at all but, used the last of her heals to mend the scout and mage�s wounds. All she could do for Drake was fix more bandages over his new wounds and hope that they could keep him out of the thick of any fights they came across. The room the skeletons had come out of was completely bare and rather small. Someone had to have packed them in quite tightly to have that many in that space.

�We�ve got to pull back.� Varian was talking in a hushed whisper with Brian. �Drake is hurt bad, Kat and Leo are too. Tara is out of magic and you and I are not looking too good either.�

�We can�t. We�re too close, I know it.� Brian protested. �This has got to be the clerics room!�

While the two warriors hotly discussed what to do next, a voice came from beyond the door before them. It was a low base voice, deep in tone.

�You might as well enter. You won�t make it back to the entrance I assure you.�

The group all looked at each other as a silence fell over them. A sense of dread crept into their minds and the icy fingers of fear touched their hearts.

�Come now, we don�t have all day. Either you�re coming in, in which case you MIGHT live, or you�ll try to get out, certainly dying in the attempt. We know where you are after all.�

Again, the adventurers looked to one another, unsure as what to do. Finally, Brian moved forward and reached for the door. pushing it open. He half expected to die right where he was but, nothing happened. Before him was an L shaped corridor with the bend being about twenty paces farther down the corridor. The party regrouped, putting Brian and Varian in the front, Leonia and Tara in the back and Katrina and Drake in the middle. They then move cautiously down the corner, stopping at the corner. Before them stood two large orcs in blackened chain mail armed with black orcish scimitars and black shields with a blood red skull emblazoned on it. Beside them were two large hobgoblins in green banded mail armed with heavy morningstars and the same shields. Behind those stood two men, one in fine chain mail armor armed with a finely crafted mace and a black shield with a white, laughing skull on it, the other was wearing a black suit of banded mail and carried a beautiful longsword and shining shield. The warrior spoke again.

�Now then, see, that wasn�t so hard now was it. Please put down your weapons and surrender now. There is no reason for you to die here.� he smiled as he said it.

�We aren�t going to surrender to you.� Brian replied dryly. �No way in hell we will.�

Sighing, the man shook his head, �I was afraid you say that. It�s truly a sad thing that you have to die now. I so enjoyed watching you fight in the Arena. Kill them.�

Brian was a bit taken back that the man knew of his battles but, this was lost as the battle was joined. Katrina let fly a string of magic missiles that slammed into the cleric, disrupting his spell. Leonia and Drake moved to protect her from the pair of orcs while the two hobgoblins were met by Tara and Varian. The warrior moved in on Brian and gave a salute before attacking. Brian again was shocked as he knew the salute to be one used by warriors that had trained in the Arena as he had. He returned the salute, eager to fight someone that at least appeared to be a trained warrior.

Brian jabbed with his trident and blocked with his shield as the two warriors circled and danced around each other. Each blow that the warrior threw, Brian dodged or turned with his shield. Each thrust he made with his trident either met the warrior�s shield or ended in thin air as he too dodged away from them. He was indeed a worthy opponent. While the two leaders fought, the battle was not going well for the others. Katrina continued to pelt the cleric with magic missiles but, had used up her last volley and not felled the cleric, who had moved to melee range with her. Drake had fell one orc but was now lying still upon the ground, fell by a blow himself. Leonia was having a hard go of it as the orc was obviously well trained and a fighter in its own right. Varian had killed his hobgoblin and was helping Tara, who was limping badly. Her leg had a nasty impact scar where the hobgoblin had landed not one, but two heavy blows in short order. Varian also had a nasty wound on his leg but, seemed oblivious to it.

�It appears your friends will soon be dead, as will you.� the warrior taunted. �And when you are, I�ll have my friend there use them to replace the zombies and skeletons you destroyed.� He gave a soft chuckle of amusement.

�We�re not dead yet coward.� Brian spit back, continuing to circle in an effort to work his way over to his companions. �You don�t even have the spine to tell me your name.�

�In due time, in due time.� came the reply as the warrior moved to block Brian. �I�m not done with you just yet.�

Brian thrust his trident out and quickly reversed it so that the shaft of the weapon came around and smacked the warrior in his face, moving him back a step. This brought a trickle of blood from his lip and a growl from his throat. Brian just smiled and said,

�I got first blood. Guess you�re not nearly as good and you thought!�

�Fool! It�s not who gets FIRST blood that wins the battle, but LAST blood.� the warrior growled back, launching into a flurry of swings with his sword.

Brian blocked and parried against the onslaught. Behind his foe, he could see Katrina was now down along with Leonia. Tara was hurt badly and fighting from a leaning position on the wall against the last hobgoblin, and losing. Varian had his hands full with the cleric and the orc but, as Brian watched, the cleric turned and ran out of the room, blood dripping from his armor. Varian had many cuts and wounds about his body and looked very tired and in much pain. Brian had to get over there and give them some help or all would be lost. Suddenly, a wave of pain shot through him and his vision blurred for a moment as a shield slammed into his chest, stunning him.

�You should pay more attention to me then your dying friends gladiator.� mocked the warrior before him.

Another wave of pain erupted, this time from his arm as the blade of the longsword bit deeply into his forearm, causing him to drop his trident. He reeled backward, blood flowing quickly out of the wound and onto the ground. An evil smile crossed his opponents face as he again closed on the now weaponless gladiator. Tara crushed the head of the hobgoblin with a heavy crack of her warhammer and fell to the floor trying to get to where his trident was. Varian, who now had large wounds on his arm, leg and chest, was still standing. The jagged edge of those foul scimitars tore at the flesh instead of slicing it and the wounds it had inflicted were horrible to behold. Brian knew that Varian was on his last legs as was Tara. He glared at his opponent, trying to figure out some way to save himself and his friends.

�No escape friend. You and your friends are finished. How quaint that you won�t even know who killed you.�

Brian looked into the mocking face of his enemy and beyond him, to his friends and family now so close to death, some perhaps dead already. He felt anger boiling up within him at the thought of this being the end. Rage replaced anger as he thought of his brother, Tara and his friends being turned into mindless zombies or skeletons, to be at these foul people�s beck and call. He focused his mind on this evil thing before him that taunted and mocked him and he found new strength. Pulling upon that strength he crouched suddenly and leapt up and over his foe toward his weapon, tumbling to land near it. He grabbed the cool steel shaft of his trident and started to spin to face his enemy once more but, Tara�s scream of horror froze him in his spot. Its sound echoed within his ears and was trapped inside his mind, paralyzing him as his eyes locked on what had caused her to scream. His heart sank as despair crashed down upon him like a mountain.

The orc was slumped over against the wall, quite dead. Before him stood Varian with a small, apologetic smile on his face. Behind him stood the warrior Brian had been facing, a look of shock plastered clearly on his face as if what he had just witnessed had not registered on him yet fully. What held Brian�s gaze was neither his enemy nor his friend however. It was the protruding tip of a longsword from Varian�s chest.

Varian looked down at his chest for a moment, then back to Brian.

�I think this was meant for you.� he said with a cough �Kill this bastard that killed me and save the others.�

Brian was shaking his head in disbelief as his friend slipped off the blade, falling forward face first unto the floor. As his body hit, a sickening crunch of his nose breaking loudly sounded along with the thud of his body hitting the stone. It was that sound that caused something deep within Brian to snap. Pure hatred burst forth from deep within his soul like molten rock exploding from a long smoldering volcano. He let out a bellow of rage so primal and full of hate that Tara gasped in fright and his opponent backed away several steps. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he launched himself at his nemesis like a coiled spring and only the other warriors combat reflexes saved his life as his managed to move just enough that the trident�s sharp points embedded into his shoulder instead of his chest. Brian ripped the weapon out and slammed his shield into his foe, driving him back further. Blood gushed from his wounded arm but still all Brian could see was the person that had killed his friend. The warrior, stunned and badly wounded now himself, had gone totally on the defensive, blocking and parrying the hail of attacks Brian leveled on him until Brian slipped and fell into the wall. The warrior saw his chance to run for it and bolted out of the door and through the secret door in the hall, with Brian hot on his heels. As Brian entered the room, he saw the warrior disappear up a staircase where before a wall had been. As he charged toward the opening, the stone wall slid back down in place blocking the passage once again. Brian screamed and slammed his shield into the wall and stormed about the room, smashing everything he could in an effort to find a way to open the door but, to no avail. Finally, he anger spent and the loss of blood beginning to be felt, he returned to the room.

Tara had done what she could for the others, all of who were still alive save one. Varian Longshadow was beyond her help. She didn�t say a word as she bandaged Brian�s wounds nor as she performed the ceremony that would keep Varian�s body from being used as an undead, say those needed for the ritual. They gathered up what they could and helped their other friends, now aware of their surroundings but, not able to do more then shakily walk, to leave the cave. Varian�s body remained behind simply because they couldn�t carry it.

To Brian, that was the final blow. Not only had he not killed the man that murdered his friend, not even having a name to put with the face, but, he couldn�t even give his friend a proper burial. The trip back to the town was a silent, dreary one. They made their report to the sheriff, who apologized for their loss and decided it better not to press the group at the moment. For several weeks, Tara tried to comfort Brian as did the others but, something kept pulling at Brian�s mind. The murderer had known him from the Arena and had obviously trained there.

Then one night, Brian joined his friends and Tara in a private room they had rented. He was in better spirits then he had been in since Varian�s death and he spent an enjoyable evening of food and drink with his companions. As the night grew darker, he led Tara up to their room.

The next morning, Brian kissed Tara lightly on the cheek and brushed her long hair off her face so that he might gaze upon her beauty. He placed a note on the small table in their room and set her prayer beads on it then quietly left the room. He put his boots on once he got down to the common room and woke the innkeeper.

�Please give this to my friends when they awake.� he said handing a small notebook to the innkeeper. �And take this for their stay and the service.�

He handed a small bag to the innkeeper who emptied the contents into his hand. He looked up but Brian had already headed out the door. In his hand were a dozen amber gems and two silver signet rings.


Friendship Proved © Simeron Steelhammer (Benjamin La Count)

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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