"Wal, ye'd best keep it handy then, there's still tha' other tribe o' trolls," says Ortho to his small friend, Ras. "An' thanks fer bringin' Hazel an' Noah, Ras." The dwarf priest then moves over to his mules and begins to look them over to make sure there are no additional scrapes on their legs from this last journey through the tunnels. Satisfied with his inspection of the mules, Ortho turns to his friends. "We'd best move up the tunnel a ways and set camp. The rest would do us good no matter what the time of day is."
The others nods from the words of their friend as they relax on the tunnel floor. "First though, let me see to some of these wounds." Pulling at the silver chain about his neck, Ortho pulls forth the small silver hammer which is Moraddin's symbol. Closing his eyes, he begins by saying a short prayer then chanting in low tones. Feeling Moraddin's approval course through him Ortho opens his eyes to find his hands glowing with a silver nimbus. Briefly, Ortho moves his hands over his own light wounds. Satisfied with the results the dwarf moves over to Snagger's side and does the same for him. Snagger's many wounds begin to close and the flow of blood is staunched. Standing, he moves on to administer to Beleg and finally Druckner.
Completely drained from the prolonged casting, Ortho collapses to the tunnel floor, his back to the cavern behind him, a deep pounding hammering at the front of his skull. Across the tunnel, Dain spits with disgust, "That's the last time I put all my trust into an item without something else to back me up. Damn foul stick anyway!" He then walks over to see to the exhausted Ortho. Satisfied that his companion will be ok with a bit of rest, he walks over to Talimar. "What now? Shall we press on further into their lair?"
Talimar sags with exhaustion against the wall, the tip of his sword rests against the ground as if he no longer has the strength to wield it. He turns to the halfling first, "Ras, why don't you check over the remains. I am sure that troll priestess has some form of magic on her."
Looking around at his comrades, he takes note of the slumping Ortho as Garth begins to move about the chamber seeing to the other wounded. Beleg rises to stand next to the gray elf but the fatigue is clearly evident on the paladin's face. "We should leave. We are in no shape for further battle. We must fall back and recover our strength, then return and clean out this nest of trolls."
The others nod at the words from their appointed leader. Beleg moves over to offer his hand to Ortho. "I thank you for your aid, friend Ortho," he says, his pain and discomfort washed away by Ortho's magical ministrations. Ortho manages a weak smile as he takes the warriors hand and rises to his feet.
Taking the moment to rest, Kersath looks around to see all his companions alive and mostly well. He reaches over to the sore spot on his neck where the troll bit off a chunk of it and recoils his hand at the thought of what happened; more importantly, what could have happened had his friends not been there to save his life yet again. "I should really stop charging into battle like this, you know...Nothing good seems to come out of it. I mean, you all did a good enough job without me but I missed all the fun...again!" He says with a wry smile.
Taking a deep breath, the dark elf gets up with a grunt of pain. He then takes his swords and starts cleaning them for lack of anything better to do. "Hey Tal, you tell me if there's anything you want from me ok? And I'm sorry for my....rashness in battle. I should have waited for you all. This way I only cost us valuable time and effort from the priests. Lucky for us, but it could have ended a lot worse..." Kersath then resumes attending to his weapons, contemplating his tactics and mistakes.
Talimar simply nods to the dark elf as he himself prepares to leave the cavern entrance and move back up the tunnel. Across from Kersath, Gnore sits in silence trying to remember what had happened before waking up in a different part of the cavern. He remembered the battle with the Trolls clearly as they swarmed around him...then nothing. He releases a dejected sigh as he realizes what must have happened. The vile beasts must have gotten the better of him and it was only through the bravery of his companions that he still lives. The sturdy dwarf can not help but feel embarassed at his failure in battle. All of the times he joked about Talimar, their chosen leader, falling unconscious in battle made his mouth taste bitter with defeat.
Watching as Garth moves to each member of the company that needs healing, Gnore nearly refuses his kin's gift in shame. Silenly, he allows his body to mend under the dwarven priest's mystic care and thanks him when his casting is complete. If he can not gain skill from this experience he will strive to understand its wisdom. He must fight as part of the Company or die along just as he faced that hellish monstrosity in his nightmare. As did his weaponsmaster's words echo through his dream, Gnore knew that he must learn to fight the battles in his mind first and then finish it with his blade. From this moment on, vowed Gnore, that is how it shall be.
With the wounded taken care of and Ras finished with his investigation of the Troll bodies, Talimar signals for the group to move out. Beleg and Kre help the exhausted Ortho and Garth rise to their feet as the group takes up their accustomed order of march. Gnore steps to the head of the procession in silence with Kersath close beside him.
The Companions continue back the way they had previously come for an hour or so before Talimar finally calls a halt. Secure that they are far enough away from the Troll caverns, the group begins to set up camp in the tunnel itself. Jak, the Svirfneblin follower found by Ras and Ortho, informs them that the tunnel they are in is relatively safe. Relatively safe as far as any tunnel deep within the Underdark! After speaking with Jak for some time and updating him on their status, he asks the young gnome to return to his people and report back to his leader. Jak is reluctant to leave, wanting more to stay with the group and study them but he finally relents and departs.
An hour later, the Companions of the Red Feather are sitting down deep in the depths of the Underdark in a make-shift camp eating a cold meal of dried beef and bread contemplating the events of the past day. The only member of the Company even remotely cheerful is Ras. The young halfling walks into the camp proper with a broad smile on his face as he reports to Talimar that several traps have been laid both in front and behind the camp.
"Anythin' trying to sneak up on us will be in fer some trouble," grins the halfling as he takes a seat with the others.
Fighting the mother of all migraines as he tries to eat, Garth says, "I suggest that we rest for at least a day, until we are at peak strength, then go after the two remaining Trolls before we set upon the other clan. They are likely to go wandering now that the other clan is stronger. They may very well head towards the smurfs." Garth's tongue wraps itself thickly about this last word, as if trying it on for size. Continuing, he says, "I wouldn't mind a battle plan next time either." This last is punctuated by him pushing a finger through a new hole in his armor.
"Is there some way that we could hold the Trolls at bay for a few rounds and soften them up with arrows and the like? Getting close to one is practically suicide. Can anyone create a wall of fire or some such? Or, what if we gang up on one Troll at a time? All or most of us should be able to bring a Troll down in pretty short order. With each of us taking on a Trol apiece, we are taking a long time to lay them low and are lucky to escape with our lives."
"Also, let us find a defensible area before we engage the next clan." Pausing as if to catch his breath, Garth stops and waits for the others to respond.
Beleg eats quickly and quietly before he turns his attention to his weapons and armor. His meal completed, he begins to clean and inspect his arms, paying special attention to Troll's Bane. He looks up occasionally as the talk turns to tactics.
Ortho looks up from his seat against the wall where he still rests from his spellcasting and the journey. "Yes, there are ways to take down a bunch of Trolls. Unfortunately, we do not enjoy superior numbers, the knowledge of the land we fight in, time to develop a coordinated defense (since we are the aggressor), or a great number of spells or other magicks effective against Trolls. Now, there's only one among us tha' can stand an' fight more then one or two Trolls at a time. An' only Beleg an' Snagger have shown great effectiveness in battle against the Trolls. Nobobdy else is able ta do much damage alone. The rest o' us should deploy in support o' them."
Ortho pauses to look about the group at his tired and weakened companions. "If we can set a trap or engage in a narrow area, then we should. But we can fight in the larger caverns too, if we use an old dwarven tactic. Let us deploy in a wedge. Ah'll be at the point to attract the most attention. The Snagger an' Beleg will be in the next rank to guard my back an' take the hurt to the Trolls. Gnore an' Druck should be the next rank to guard the flanks of Snagger an' Beleg. Garth, you an' Kersath anchor the base of the wedge. Kre and Talimar hold the rear an' use their missile weapons effectively. Dain and Ras stay in the center of the wedge; Dain to cast spells and Ras to burn the Trolls we run over. Look at this:"
Ortho, using the butt of his dagger, draws in the loose earth of the tunnel floor to reveal the secret of the dwarven wedge:
"If anybody goes down we close ranks forward. If Snag drops then Gnore takes his place. If Garth falls, Kre takes his place. Got it? We have ta all fight an' keep fighting until the Trolls are finished. Anyone wounded can either hold his place in line or fend fer himself. We won't be able ta spare a man ta tend the wounded." Ortho again looks among his companions to guage their individual stomach for the fight ahead. "This wedge is the secret ta many a victory fer the dwarves of Ironrock. But ye must have discipline an' a will ta win. An' most important, ye must believe in the people fightin' beside ye."
"The majority of the fightin' will fall on the front of the wedge. Snag, Beleg, this is asking a great deal o' ye." Ortho, having said his bit in response to Garth's call for strategy, leans back against the wall of the tunnel and is quiet.
"Tis no greater burden than others have taken at various times in our journey together," answers Beleg. "We all have strengths and should do our utmost to take advantage of them. I think your plan is our best hope for defeating these foul creatures, though I admit I'd like to rest a bit before making any further forays into unknown territory. What say you Snagger?" Beleg asks, turning to the young and valiant dwarf, "Will you stand at my side when the time is at hand?"
Snagger nods and smiles deeply at the large warrior across from him, once again making it quite clear how he got his nickname.
Druckner squats near Ortho's drawing and nods thoughtfully. "A fine plan that kin-Ortho. Ah b'lieve us Dwarves of Tethyamar came up wit that there plan oreginally, but Ah see that ta Ironrock Dwarves are learnin'"
Gnore listens to Ortho's plan but remains silent, content to keep to himself within the comfort of his own thoughts. Others seem to be more open with their thoughts, however. Kersath nods his head at the plan and drawing of the dwarven priest but adds, "Aye, it's a good plan but, if nobody minds, I'd like ta be more to the front. Maybe to help more actively this time." Unaware of the action, he slowly moves his hand over his neck where the Troll bit a chunk off.
"Kersath, Ah think Ah can understand yer need fer revenge," begins Ortho, "but yer speed would be an asset where ye are. Ye could plug a hole fast or go where ye think ye're needed most. Ye, an' Kre, an' Tal, ye're the cavalry. We dwarves don't more very fast therefore it's best we're at the point of the wedge. Besides, we grew up learning how to fight against Trolls and giants so ye might say we have an advantage. Beleg is up front 'cause nobody can do as much damage against the beasts as he. An' he's not too fleet o' foot either." Ortho casts a friendly grin at the large paladin.
Beleg smiles at Ortho's comment, glad for the dwarve's humor. "I'll admit that I didn't look very fleet footed against the Trolls," he adds getting to his feet. "However," he says smilingly, "I've never had a complaint on the dance floor." With that said, the young man takes a quick turn around the passage. His feet move in a rapid and intricate pattern as he softly whistles a reel. Despite the darkness of the tunnel, the paladin's steps are sure and precise. "Master Thorvald used to say that dancing was a fine way to practice the footwork necessary to a swordsman." Beleg bows with a flourish that looks quite comical due to his armor. He then returns to his seat and resumes caring for his arms as his companions cheer and clap at his performance.
"Mm, looks good," replies Garth as his thoughts return to the plan before them. "But mightn't we want to rotate priests into the center o' the wedge? Then we can heal those who need to fall back. It would let us fight longer."
"Ye may be a priest, Garth, but ye're also a dwarf. An' it's that dwarf trainin' Ah'm a countin' on. Ye would be a solid anchor ta the wedge, as Kersath will be on the other side. If ye feel the need ta leave yer post then perhaps Talimar or Kre could step in. Hopefully ye won't 'ave such a decision ta make fer we need ta keep the wedge intact as long as possible,"
says Ortho somberly. "Ah, too am a priest. But ma place is at the point o' the wedge where the fightin' will be the fiercest and the opponents the most numerous. After the battle Ah'll do all the healin' Ah can, but during the fight Ah 'ave ta be the focus o' the Troll's attack so Beleg an' the Badger can hack 'em up." Ortho looks at Garth with hope. "If we hold the wedge an' take the fight ta the Trolls, it won't be a very long fight. Healin' may help someone, Garth, but it will drain ye. Heal only if ye 'ave ta ta keep someone from dyin'"
After looking over Ortho's plan for several moments, Talimar finally speaks up, "Looks good to me. Though when we get into battle the flanks would move forward until we are basically in a straight line. Those in the second ranks can either use spells, missile weapons, or fight over the top of a dwarf."
Druckner takes a deep breath before replying, "B'loved leader, ta whole point of a wedgie is ta stay as a wedgie, NOT turn inta a line when we get ta battle. Either we're a line or a wedgie, we can't be both."
Talimar raises his hands and shakes his head at the words from the dwarf, far too tired to argue tactics with him. "The plan is sound, we rest now and will use that the next time we head into battle with the Trolls."
With battle plans set, the Company finally turns in to take some much needed rest. Ortho, Garth and Dain are quickly asleep and resting deeply. Talimar changes the watch to allow the three the luxury of sleeping undisturbed throughout the evening. The first watch passes without incident but during the second, Beleg, Ras and Snagger are disturbed by the trip wires set by Ras being sprung back behind the encampment. With nerves on edge, the three step forward to challenge the intruder only to find it is the return of Jak to the group.
The Svirfneblin greets the others warmly although a bit shamefaced at having sprung the tripwires. After re-setting them, the others resume their watch with Talimar speaking to the gnome. Following his relay of information to Talimar which consisted of Carmeneren's pledge of continued support if the companions destroy the Trolls, Jak seeks out Ras and begins to chat with the young halfling.
After a quiet evening of rest and recovery, the priests rise and again work on the few remaining wounds of the their companions. By the end of the day everyone is restored to their full health, a few scars remaining but mostly everyone looking like having never been through a near fatal encounter. Another quiet evening with no fire follows as the spellcasters regain their strength for the encounters ahead. The nerves of everyone are on edge as they once again wish to move out. For Gnore, Druckner and Talimar their wish comes a tad sooner than the others as four orcs manage to stumble on the camp during their watch.
Bloodlust rising quickly within Gnore, the orcs are easily set upon and vanquished by the two dwarves before Talimar can stop them and take a prisoner. Gnore simply stares uncaring into the eyes of Talimar as he tosses the severed head of the final orc to the side of the tunnel. Wiping his blade on the clothing of the beast, he and Druckner quietly walk back to the camp as Talimar shakes his head.
25th day of Alturiak. Morning.
With no further incidents during the evening, the Companions rise early, each eager to be moving on toward the second clan of Trolls.
"Ah'd sure like ta find out more 'bout them other Trolls afore we charge in with our wedgie. Any way ya guys can learn a bit more ya think?" Druckner stares at Kre and Ras as they all break their fast.
"Maybe ye should have thought of that before ye slew those orcs," states Talimar flatly as he still seethes over the lack of prisoners being taken by the dwarves. "Could be they were moving to meet with them."
"Not bloody likely," answers Gnore. "Stop crying over spilt milk," smiles Gnore to his leader.
"But we should check out these dead Troll's lair. Mayhaps we'll find a clue, or even treasure, who knows?" Druckner's eyes twinkle as he mentions this.
"That's the plan then," responds Talimar. "We'll form up in this 'wedgie' of Ortho's and head toward the caverns of the clan we killed. We'll make sure we got them all before heading toward the second clan. Agreed?"
Seeing the nods of the others, the companions quickly set out down the familiar tunnel again heading toward the caverns of the Trolls. As they march out, Beleg quietly hums a tune which, to the dwarven ears in the company sounds very much like a dwarven battle sone. His atttempt to lighten the party's mood lasts only for a moment though, as he soon begins to ponder the task ahead. "We were nearly destroyed by this first group of Trolls," he thinks morosely to himself. He falls silent as he begins considering how the party may fight the second tribe more effectively.
Mid-morning finds the Company standing at the entrance to the cavern complex where they last encountered the Trolls. A calm quiet falls over everyone as they look over the cavern floor once again. The charred bodies of the Trolls have been dragged from the chamber, most of them leaving trails toward the northern tunnel exiting the cavern.
Leaving the mules tethered in the central chamber, the party investigates the other three tunnels leading from this one. The far southern and eastern tunnels are empty, both apparently being used as living chambers for the Trolls, one even being a sort of field for the Trolls to farm some type of fungi. The last chamber is of much more interest though as it appears to have been the chamber of the Shaman, Greezelet. Unfortunately for the companions, the chamber appears to already have been looted.
"Damn! Too late," mutters Kre as he looks about the chamber, noting the many Troll tracks toward the back of the chamber and a number of minor coins strewn about.
"The other clan must have done this," responds Kersath as he points to the mutilated bodies of what can only be the remaining two Topknot Trolls.
"Let's get out of here," mutters Talimar as he motions to the others. Gnore is already in motion as he douses the Trolls corpses with oil before lighting them.
With only one chamber left to investigate, the Companions of the Red Feather form up into Ortho's wedgie and head up the northern tunnel. The tunnel continues north for about eighty feet before turning to head east again. After cautiously walking east for another sixty feet or so, the tunnel begins to open up once again, several tunnels branching off this main one. Stepping into the tunnel proper, Ortho's heightened eyesight makes out movement perhaps forty feet ahead of the group. Stepping around a rather large boulder, a mid-sized Troll steps forward.
"Halt!" it calls forth in it's guttural language, Snagger translating for the others. "Yoo no welcome here."