This is part of the ongoing narrative of our D&D campaign, which is graciously being run by Proud Lion, a fantastic comic shop in Cheltenham. Their RPG Encounters nights are a lot of fun, and give me some entertaining material to work with.
[Before reading, please be aware that there may be spoilers ahead for the D&D campaign books. Equally, our stories are fluid, so things may not follow the books too directly]
The door opened into a room much, much smaller than the others, the ceiling of which was half-collapsed, and sunken under the weight of the stonework above it. Most of the group had to crouch uncomfortably to fit into the area, and once inside, they saw an iron bar driven into the ground, submerged in both floor and ceiling at an odd angle. Around the pole were tied three kobolds, shuffling rapidly away from the newcomers as possible.
By some fallen rubble was a very small cage, which must have at some point been for a cat, rat or dog, but now seemed to have a person shoved into, unable to move. The entire room seemed only to be kept up by the variety of rusted-looking metalwork around the room.
“Seems legit guys. For a dungeon, I mean” Jester said, eyeing the bars holding the ceiling aloft.
Thankfully clear of goblins, Drenk was able to lead the companions through the room, seeing another door on the left, and Meepo rushed over to his clansmen, evidently recognising them and speaking hurridly in Draconic to the terrified kobolds.
“Meepo is here, Meepo has brought saviours and friends to help us against the goblins!” he chattered, trying ineffectually to break the ropes, “Meepo’s friends will help get you out.”
With this, he looked round with pleading reptilian eyes, and Drenk sighed, heading over when no one else volunteered. A few quick tugs with his knife, and the rope fell slack, the kobolds able to escape their bonds at last. Meepo hugged one of them tenderly, thanked the group, then slipped away with his fellow kobolds back down the route of destruction his “saviours” had carved through goblin territory.
“Like I said guys, seems legit.” Jester said, ruining the touching moment that some of the companions had been feeling, finally having done something unquestionably good in reuniting the tribe, albeit by accident.
Returning to the job at hand, Kalashnikov led the group over to the contorted figure in the tiny cage, finding a gnome stuffed into the bars, his arm and feet stuck out at painful angles. The Rowntree brother’s lips crept up into a smirk before he addressed the unfortunate creature.
“’Ello there, little gnome. ‘ow’d you end up stuck in this here box?”
“Ah! Who’s there? I can’t see you from here!” the gnome said, his head stuck looking at the closest piece of rock. Carefully, Drenk picked the cage up and span it round so that the denizen could see the assembled warriors, before the gnome continued, “Oh, what a likely bunch of adventurers. Oh, what luck! Oh, won’t you just let me out this bloody cage?”
“Easy there good friend, of course we’ll let you out,” Enna responded calmly, “but while we’re working that out, what can you tell us about the area ahead?”
“Oh, well if that’s what you want…I’ll tell you after you let me out the deathtrap!” the sarcastic gnome responded dramatically, “If you’re not going to, then piss off already!”
<Do reconsider> rang in the gnome’s head, and he could see the more ornate of two dwarves tapping his head, indicating he was the mind-speaker.
“Ow! Bloody mind-talkers. Now I’m not going to help you at all!” he spoke irately, as Kalashnikov muttered something under his breath about not letting him out anyway.
“Let him out Jester,” Drenk said, trying to diffuse the situation a little, “How long you been down here, gnome? And how have you survived in this place?”
“Well, since you asked so much nicer than that eejit,” he waggled his finger at Kalashnikov, “I’ve been down here for what seems like months. I was looking for fortune, or a quick bit of gold along the old road, then these goblins managed to catch me. I didn’t have a huge group to travel with, you see. I’ve been here ever since.”
“Months? But you should have starved long since then?” Enna said confused, before a sick look crossed her face, “unless the goblins have been…urgh…feeding you?” she finished as the whole party shuddered at the thought.
“No, no, I’m alive only by the grace of my god. I’d be dead many times over otherwise, starved, parched or beaten.” he said, and the group noticed just how haggard and gaunt his body really was.
Jester finally broke open the lock on the cage, Enna and Burian helping the gnome out from his imprisonment. As they did this, Kalashnikov summoned Logan, and he appeared out of the shadows, bow drawn and arrow aimed at the gnome.
“What a’ you doin’, brother?” Burian called out, placing himself in front of the arrow, “he ain’t no threat t’ us! Put that away, Logan!”
“You…you travel with undead? And you named it?!?” the gnome, flabbergasted, looked around in utter confusion, then brought up his god’s totem and chanted an incantation suspiciously like that which Enna used to open the skeletal dragon door. Suddenly, Logan turned and marched out of the room, followed by Kalashnikov, waving his arms around and attempting to stop his minion.
“It’s… a really long story, sir gnome, but suffice to say that our skeletal warrior is under the control of the dwarven warlock you just met.” Enna explained, “but if you’ll answer a few questions now that we’ve released you, have you seen the siblings Hucrele? A couple of humans, they were last seen heading into this area, and we’re hoping to rescue or recover them.”
“Okay, well, if you’re sure about that abomination, I’ll trust you, as a fellow cleric, on this matter. I did see three humans, they were here over a month ago now. They didn’t last too long in here, wait, no, they didn’t die, sorry to say it like that. They were taken away a week later, I think, hard to tell time in here. The goblins kept saying Belak wanted them.” The gnome pondered on this for a moment.
“It was definitely the Hucreles, they said their names were Sharwin and Talgin, and they were with a Sir Braford. I haven’t seen them since that point, and I’m not sure what they were wanted for.”
“Hmmm, who’s this Belak then? We’ve heard tha’ he grows magical apples, in a Twilight Grove or somethin’?” Burian asked.
“I’ve heard the goblins chatting about it a little, when they didn’t think I was in a fit state to hear. He’s an old human, and must be a spellcaster of some kind, as I’ve never heard goblins as scared of a human as these ones are. The Twilight Grove seems to be below us, and it’s an enchanted garden, with something called the Gulthias Tree. They only whisper of the tree, so they might even be more terrified of that than Belak, but I think that’s where the apples come from.”
Meanwhile, Logan had finally stopped marching, and a puffed-out Kaslahnikov caught up to him, caught his breath then tried commanding him again. Happily for him, the construct seemed to be under his control once again, and he started the slog back to the cage room.
Knott had been carefully assessing the gnome throughout the conversation, and had been weighing up the truth of this diminutive person. To the somewhat-educated mind of the elf-now-known-as-Knott, he appeared to be telling the truth, and he noticed something else in his inspection.
“If I’m not mistaken, that’s the symbol of Waukeem, is it not? The goddess of trade?” he remarked, noting to himself that the god was worshipped primarily for knowledge, but also as a patron of tricksters and barterers.
“Yes, yes it is! And Waukeem is with me this day, as she is always. I see your cleric is looking tired and, if you’ll forgive me for mentioning it, distinctly low on her healing auras. Would you like me to accompany you further? I will happily heal anyone who is rather hurt.”
At this Burian winced from the still-fresh wound in his side, and Drenk quite bluntly asked the gnome to provide him with some assistance. Laying his hands upon Burian in a cure wounds spell, the druid felt his flesh stitch back together strongly, and he sat up feeling rather rejuvenated.
Narrowing his eyes, Burian tried to discern what the gnome could possibly want out of this, but failing that, he was about to ask when Kalashnikov re-entered the room, skeleton in tow.
“Now, what are you wantin’ out of this?” Burian asked shrewdly.
“Oh, um, now that you mention it, might like a try of one of those apples…” he started, before the dwarven brothers erupted into bluster and arguments. Drenk eventually stepped in to stop the brothers, and Burian calmed down enough to talk.
“Well, what with you bein’ a tradin’ type, why don’t we make a contract then? Here, I’ll write one up on me parchment.” The druid said, but when he got to writing it, he realised he didn’t have the first clue what he was doing. All of the party looked on in bewilderment, no one having really attempted negotiating like this, and none could discern just how awful the deal was.
The gnome took the contract, scanned it over, and his eyes lit up at the promises made. He eagerly passed it back to the adventurers, but Kalashnikov snatched it out of his hand. Turning his back to the group and producing a quill from his hides, he drew an elaborate signature…but for Logan, not any of the true crew.
Pleased with himself, he ended the fake signature with a flourish, and passed it over to the gnome. The gnome signed his name quickly, but then actually scrutinised the document, and just as quickly he raised it up, and incinerated the document with a puff of flame.
“What did you go and do that for?” Levan asked, completely perplexed, before the gnome looked directly at Kalashnikov and vehemently swore, before saying through gritted teeth, “this idiot dwarf invalidated the thing with a fake name. I heard you call that…thing…Logan, you, you…fool!”
“What were ya doin’ brother? I wrote a great contract there! You’ve gotta ruin everything, don’t ya?” Burian yelled, not realising just how much the warlock had accidentally saved them.
Knott looked on, the only one to have noticed the tell-tale marks of trickery and opportunism on the gnome’s face when first reading that contract, and headed over to the door.
“Oh, just one more thing before we head out. I’ve heard of these things called…twiglets? No, tree blights, that come from the grove. It might be good if we try to avoid them…”