26th day of Alturiak. Morning. Topknot Caves.
With Kersath and Ortho diligently watching over the sleeping companions, Dain walks about the camp feeling refreshed from his sleep. He examines the ceiling of the cavern and is happy to find a fair sized crack that will serve well for a ventilation shaft. He then gathers some dried dung left by the mules the last time they camped here and prepares a small cooking fire.
Removing his travel-worn iron pot and the last of his dried meat and vegetables, he mixes them with water from his waterskin and prepares a stew, hoping to lift the spirits of his companions.
The sleepers are awakened to a dull ringing sound. Looking about they see Beleg, his tattered surcoat piled beside him, banging the hilt of a dagger against his breast plate in an attempt to remove some of the larger dents. A few grumbles are heard in regards to the noise of the warrior but upon seeing the hot stew of Dain, all is right again. As the others gather around the fire, Dain speaks with Talimar, "I know it's the last thing anyone wants right now, but we have weakened the Troll's numbers. I feel we should strike now before they can send for reinforcements from another clan. The last battle was rough, but the wedge DID work! We all just need to stay together. And this time, we know which spells work the best. You and I can keep throwing webs and color sprays to diminish their useful numbers and even up the score whilst our warriors hack apart the ones stil able to fight. In this way we should be able to keep it down to a fair fight. I will go along with whatever you choose, but I think we can tackle this if given one more chance."
Druckner overhears Dain and calls forth from across the blaze before Talimar can respond, "Yer wrong mage! It's ta FIRST thing Ah want. Ah want ta finish them Trolls off, afore they spawn some more. An' Ah want ta avenge poor Kre. Ah'd never live down ta shame ahf we let a Red Feather pass on unavenged. Ah vote we press on, elf."
"An' ta wedgie worked fine, but it'd work better ahf we'd let them Trolls com' ta us on ar own ground. We should set up in a narrow tunnel ehf we can."
Snagger awakens to the pleasant aroma of Dain's cooking, later than most the party, but he quickly forgets about the food when he hears the talk of everyone. Thinking about the Trolls, Snagger grimaces, "Ah 'ould ave ta go wit me kin an say dat we go afta dem. In da state deyr in and dat we are now, dey ouldna stan a chance. Les hit em whal ther doon. No whey deys gonna get da best ah us!"
Snagger's nostrils then liven when he smells the stew and he heartily holds out a bowl for it. "Aht leesht ye...(slurp)...magesth ergh guhrd fer shomthing...(gulp)..." Snagger manages to say between mouthfulls of stew. Seeing him gulp down his soup, the rest of his companions realize that his teeth aren't the only thing about him that isn't the most pleasant thing to see.
Kersath moves over from his sentry post at the edge of the camp. His wounds recovered following the ministrations of the priests and a night of deep sleep, he feels refreshed and strangely calm; however, calm does not mean not wanting revenge. Everyone can easily notice the cold fire in his eyes as he stretches his healing limbs and checks his armor and swords for any damage. He sits down to eat Dain's stew without really tasting it, too bad as the young mage has proven himself to be an adept cook. Listening to the options they have for further action, he listens patiently to what the others have to say and then he speaks with a voice so calm it is almost a whisper, yet it gives the feeling that it could crack rock.
"We must strike while they are few in number. A companion's death cannot go unanswered. The scum must learn our wrath, and any delay would mean more Troll filth to deal with. Our plans to push them away must be changed-they should all be eradicated."
The dark elf then rises, wraps his heat-blocking cloak around himself and moves out to scout the nearby area.
As the others eat and discuss their plans for revenge, Beleg continues working on his armor, "I agree we must avenge our fallen companion, so I agree that we must complete the destruction of the Trolls," he says, looking up from his work. "However, we must beware of other entanglements." He stands, holding his dented breast plate before him, "Once we have finished with the Trolls, we need to see to our equipment. As you can see, my armor is in poor condition and my shield is useless." He kicks the mangled implement to underscore his point. "I do not have the skill to repair the damage, nor do I wish to make any long expeditions with my armor in such sorry state. When we attack the Trolls I urge you all to stay in formation and be prepared to withdraw should they have reinforcements or allies." Having spoken his mind, the young Paladin sits and returns to work on his armor.
Gnore nods in agreement with Beleg and the words of his kin, "I don't need ta offer me opinion that concerns the Trolls as my kin have already spoken my mind's wish," he remarks matter-of-factly. "However, I do recall that the wedge is an offensive formation designed to demolish the enemy's grouping and morale and best used at the charge. I also recall taht the crescent formation is the defensive alter to the wedge forcing the enemy to concentrate on more than one warrior while dealing with overlapping fields of attack. Our strongest warriors would hold the middle of the crescent so that it will not be broken and the crescent is easier to move about in case the direction of attack from our enemy shifts." The normally-quiet dwarf pauses as if to evaluate his speech.
"We have used the wedge successfully and I understand if we want to remain with what works. Besides, the crescent is near useless if we are outnumbered as we were so I leave the decision to our leader." Gnore falls silent as he walks over to Beleg.
"I never got ta thank ye fer yer sword's healing ability so I do so now. I felt the grip of Death close around my heart until you came to my aid. For that, I thank you."
"You are most welcome, Friend Gnore," Beleg says formally, looking up from his work on his cuirass. "I wonder, do you have any skill with armor? This cuirass is bent and I don't think I can get it back on without some adjusting."
"'Fraid not and I've been the butt of many a jest because of it. But I'm sure Druckner will be of some help," Gnore states with a smile.
Druckner smiles as he rises from his seat near the fire, "Ah'm a blacksmit by trade. It's a long shot from bein' an armorer, but ahf Ah get an anvil and tools, Ah maht be able to do a bit of good."
"Afraid it will have to wait till we return to the surface," answers Beleg. "I can make due for now. Thank you for your help."
The two dwarves nod their heads as they both begin to see to their armor and weapons as well. After finishing a few helpings of stew, Snagger ambles over to observe the condition of his armor. Unfortunately, his helmet has a rather large dent in it from the punch to his head that the Troll gave him. He touches the side of his head and feels where he got hit remembering it all painfully.
Across the fire, Ortho gazes over to Talimar before speaking, "Ah'm fer hittin' the Trolls again as well. We need ta rest up a bit an' recover from all this casting of spells. The Ah'll be ready. Kre must be avenged, and soon."
Looking down at his own damaged armor, then to Beleg's, Ortho speaks up again, "Once the Trolls are finished, Ah think our Paladin friend and meself should fine someone that can repair our armor. His platemail is comin' loose and Ah've got more than a few broken links in me chain. Perhaps the Smurfs can help. Perhaps we'll 'ave ta go back ta Shadowdale."
Talimar listens to the words of Ortho as he echoes the sentiments of all the companions. The only member not voicing their thoughts being Ras, the halfling having remained quiet all during the meal and the evening before. Despite his somber mood, all can see that he is definitely behind the idea of avenging his best friend's death.
"It seems we are in agreement, once we have rested and healed we will finish cleaning out this foul nest. Ras did not find Kre's body, he may have escaped." Although the elf speaks the words, neither he nor any of the others truly believe that.
Looking over the battered members of the Red Feather Company, he adds, "But this time we should stick together, no charging off away from the wedge."
Garth nods at Talimar's words, "Aye, I'm in agreement with yer words. Although this time I'm fer bringing along some oil and torches. I'm also fer preparing some o those magical flasks you had Ortho. The flame and fire will do well to break their morale."
"Druck has the last one. Ah'm sure he'll use it wisely," replies Ortho to Garth.
Druckner holds out the flask to Ortho, "'Ere ya go Ortho, fergot all about that."
"Nay, Druck. 'Ave a go with it. Ye'd honor me if ye'd take it," replies Ortho as he refuses to take the flask back.
Druckner shrugs his shoulders as he turns away, carefully placing the flask into his backpack.
With the Company in agreement and the meal finished, everyone begins to go about their own tasks. Beleg and the other warriors attempt to work on their armor as Kersath and Ras scout the surrounding area. Not wandering far from the caverns, they find the surrounding tunnels to be quiet and clear of danger. The noon meal is taken in relative silence as the companions rest and gather their strength for the second assault on the Slaverers.
Shortly after noon, the priests and mages report their readiness to Talimar and despite a few bruises and sore muscles, the Companions set forth again. Moving in the wedge formation, they move as quietly as possible out of the Topknot caverns and into the central tunnel once again. Beleg and Dain each have their enchanted stones held high to provide them with the necessary light to walk through the darkened tunnels as the others rely on their innate abilities to navigate the darkness.
An hour of quiet and tense walking through the tunnel and the Companions come to the chamber where they last met the Trolls. No sentry calls out a halt to them this time however and Kersath reports that there is nothing moving ahead. Standing in the center of the large room, a tunnel splits off to the south while the main tunnel continues on toward the east. It is from the east that the Trolls came from so Talimar points Ortho to lead the companions onward.
Walking forward a hundred more yards or so, the tunnel opens up into another system of chilly caverns. Three minor passages branch off from the tunnel, one to the north, another directly ahead to the east and the last branching toward the southeast. Talimar motions toward the north and the quiet party ambles into the darkened chamber. As the light from the enchanted stones of Beleg and Dain invades the darkened recesses of the chamber, the humans can see the room in full. The oblong cavern is perhaps thirty feet at its widest point and ninety feet or so in length. The cavern has long (up to 4 feet), thin roseate-white stalactites in profusion. Several of them appear to have been broken off and it looks as if the Trolls had some sport throwing the crude projectiles.
"Lucky we didn't face them in here," remarks Beleg quietly to Kersath. "We would have been bottled up with no place to retreat."
The dark elf quietly nods as he makes his way through the small tunnel, looking for any sign of the previous inhabitants.
"Abandoned," he finally remarks to Talimar as he notes the tracks left by the Trolls.
"Maybe we hurt them more than we thought," ponders Talimar aloud. "We'll follow those tracks and see where they ran off to."
Kersath nods to his leader as they form up the wedge once again. Leaving the empty tunnel behind them they step out into the central tunnel once again, following the line of the hurried Troll tracks. The trail leads out of the tunnel and toward the east and what appears to be the largest of the chambers in the immediate area. This chamber opens up to a width of perhaps eighty feet at the entrance before expanding later to perhaps a hundred and sixty feet across. From the best guess of Druckner, it continues on for another two hundred feet ahead. At the end of the chamber there appears to be a rather shallow pool, covering about eighty feet at the back. Looking up, the ceiling height appears to be about twenty feet.
With weapons drawn and tensions high, the Companions quietly walk forward into the chamber. After entering perhaps twenty feet into the chamber, four large Trolls howl in rage as they rush the party from behind large boulders. The familiar spittle of the Slaverer Trolls falls from the maws of the creatures as they snarl and wave their deadly claws before them. Closing fast, the beasts charge the wedge of the Red Feather Company.