There are five of us. Carlos is a dwarf and a priest of Thor. Borgrim Thunderfear, another dwarf, is a gladiator magician. Arenial (Ren) is an elf and a hunter. Laueiaus Darkhelm is a Druas martial artist and rogue.
And me…I am no one of consequence.
Arenial has been taking point for much of the trek. In the two days we’ve been walking, we’ve caught up considerably on the fleeing orcs. From their tracks, we can tell that they’re only about a half day ahead of us. There are about 20 of them, some of them injured. I have been keeping my attention to the sides and behind us, making sure that no one is following us as we follow the orcs. I reach out my hand and call a bird down from one of the trees.
“How far to the orc’s home?” I ask it.
The bird cocks its head to one side and twitters, “One day’s flight. Underground.” It flutters away.
Coming up to a crest of rocks, we stop suddenly. Someone thought he saw one of the rocks move. Carlos sends a hammer spinning end over end through the air. It hits the boulder, chips a piece off of it. As Carlos calls the hammer back to him, the rock definitely begins to heave itself up.
I slip behind a tree, but the dwarves calmly saunter up to the rock creature as it laboriously comes to its feet and turns to face them. It is about seven feet tall, with vacant eyes. It raises its fists and advances on the pair, then suddenly dwindles to almost nothing from a spell of Borgrim’s. I see Carlos bend over to look at something tiny on the ground, then smash it with his hammer. When the rest of us join them, we see a small lump of clay smashed flat against the ground at the dwarves’ feet. Was it a golem? If so, then there’s a powerful wizard somewhere up ahead.
Laueiaus the dark elf has climbed up to the top of the crest and now calls down to us that there are ten or twelve more of the creatures ahead. Borgrim casts another spell, and finds that they are indeed golems, but only the first of them was conjured. What, then, are the others? Is this what the villagers will become, after the plague turns them to stone?
The orcs’ tracks go on past the golems and it seems we could easily outrun them, but Carlos seems determined to smash them all to gravel first. “They’re probably plague-stricken villagers,” I shout to Carlos.
“They’re probably rocks!” he shouts back.
“Let’s not waste our magic on this!”
“I’m not using magic. I’m just hitting them with my hammer!”
I see nothing to be gained by further argument. Ren and I take a length of rope and set up a tripwire, but it is Borgrim’s conjured hailstorms that finally freeze the golems in their tracks. Carlos’ orgy of destruction after that looks like so much manual labor to me.
That afternoon, we reach the orc cave. There is a dead orc just inside—probably one of the raiding party that we fought off, who made it this far but no further. I cast a spell of night vision on myself. I offer the others, but they can all see in the dark naturally. Carefully, we enter the cave. An orcish burrow has been dug into the hill. The first passage slopes downward in a straight line for some distance, but soon we start coming to junctions. We turn left, and left again, and left again. The tunnels are littered with bodies of orcs and even a dead bugbear. There are tracks of running orcs, and bugbear tracks, and others of something smaller. Twenty minutes in, we come upon a box sitting in the middle of the tunnel. The tracks go around it on both sides. Laueiaus approaches it slowly, examines it, checks it for traps, and then backs up and pokes at the latch with the very tip of a spear. Sparks fly, and the druas is knocked back. There are burns on his hands when he gets up. The box is still there, but it has changed shape. It’s still a box, just a different box.
Carlos…can you guess what Carlos does? Similar result. Ren tries simply touching it, and the same happens. “Let’s leave it alone,” she suggests.
“No,” says Carlos. “No, no, no…”
“Look,” says Borgrim, “if there’s anything good inside, we can get it on the way back.”
“Just one more hit,” says Carlos. “Ow!”
Laueiaus is looking past the box, down the tunnel. “Uh, guys…” A pebble pings off the wall. Then another clangs off of Carlos’ helmet. There are three goblins and a bugbear coming up the tunnel, with slings. Another pebble hits the ceiling with a thump, dislodging a handful of dirt.
We return fire. The battle is swift (though both of my throwing daggers miss their mark), but the bugbear is set on fire by one of Ren’s arrows and then falls, flaming, onto the box, which burns to cinders. As it loses its shape in the flames, we see that it was a mimic.
The tunnel spirals down another level, until we come to a dead end. The tracks are puzzling here. Orcs ran down this tunnel, all the way to the end, and simply stopped. They don’t seem to have turned and run back, and they don’t seem to have run through the end of the tunnel. There are no secret doors or passages. Maybe they teleported? Or there was a portal?
In any case, we turn back, and at the next junction we begin making right turns. Borgrim uses chalk to mark the way back to the exit, though it also seems like it would be a simple matter just to take whichever path lead upward to get out.
A moment later we are facing another barrage of pebbles. There are four goblins this time. One of them falls quickly to an arrow, another is wounded. I pull a vial of invisibility elixir from my pack, swallow it, and then begin to sidle down the tunnel hoping I don’t get hit by friendly fire. Behind me, I hear Carlos yell and then he comes running after me, hammer swinging in a great arc over his head. I am able to sneak behind one of the goblins and waylay him with blow to the back of the neck. I pull him out of the way as Carlos crashes into the other two, his shield crushing one against the wall and breaking its neck, and his hammer bashing in the skull of the other.
For a moment the only sound is our labored breathing. I look down at the goblin in my arms, unconscious but healthy. Now, at last, maybe we can get some information…