Last Time: “I wouldn’t like to take on this many raiders at once if we can avoid it,” Cyd whispers. “I think we should just lie low and keep watch.”
Atone and Nubbins nod. Then Nubbins lets out a huge sneeze. The kobolds all jump in near unison, and the cultists draw their long, curved knives, instantly on the alert. Both groups turn and look straight at him. He raises a hand in a wave.
“Oh, balls,” Cyd mutters, as the raiders advance on them. She ducks behind a boulder and raises her short bow, nocking three arrows at once. Beside her, Atone rolls his neck and stamps his feet, trying to regain some feeling in his chapped and chilblained limbs.
“I don’t suppose any of you would like to surrender?” he calls to the kobolds. “It’s a bit cold…”
The only response he gets is a slingshot stone whizzing towards his face. He snatches the projectile out of the air and sends it flying back, knocking its owner out cold—but the barrage only intensifies. Sighing, the tiefling spreads his wings and swoops into the fray.
Cyd looses another three arrows into the throng of raiders, and each one finds its mark. But the four human cultists are cannier than their reptilian allies. They fan out and begin to converge on her position, their long knives glittering in the light from the campfire. The rogue curses.
“Um, Alf, Ger? Little help here?” she calls over her shoulder.
Gerard sprints past her, swinging his staff at the cultist to Cyd’s left. Aleph lumbers after him, starting more slowly but building momentum as he goes. He draws his great axe and unslings his shield as he runs, charging the nearest of the cultists head on with a terrible roar.
The party settle into the rhythm of battle almost effortlessly, Atone, Gerard and Aleph engaging the raiders in close combat while Cyd lends support from further off. Nubbins, meanwhile, darts between them, playing his lute all the while: songs to heal his allies and confuse his enemies in equal measure. Cyd would be impressed by their teamwork—everyone falling into their roles without a word being spoken—if all her spare thinking capacity wasn’t devoted to longing for her bedroll. These fights always seem to happen at night, and there’ve been more of them recently than the she cares for.
“And why is it always kobolds?” she growls to herself, as yet another of her arrows flies wide. “Tricky little buggers are always darting from side to side. Give me a bigger target, for a change!”
Something screeches behind her, high and inhuman.
“I take it back,” Cyd says quickly. “Kobolds are just fine, thanks.”
When this has no effect on the noises behind her, the rogue turns, heart hammering at the base of her throat. An enormous scorpion is skittering towards the party, its armoured tail swaying as it moves.
“Alf!” Cyd squeaks.
“I see it,” the Warforged confirms. “No doubt it followed the scent of blood.”
Cyd dives aside as the chitinous monster hurtles past her, mandibles twitching. The kobolds scatter in its wake: its dripping stinger lashes out to right and left, skewering several of them straight through. Atone’s eyes widen, and he makes to fly up out of its path, but it lashes out with an immense pincer and grabs him around the waist. Atone gasps as the pincer tightens, feeling his ribs crack. Blackness creeps in around the edges of his vision. Then the creature gives a hissing shriek and relaxes its grip, dropping him to the ground. Nubbins has sunk his ice axe deep into its abdomen. A patina of ice spreads across the scorpion’s carapace: the gnome’s second blow shatters the carapace entirely, and at last the arachnid collapses, blue ichor seeping sluggishly from its wounds.
“I knew those bloody footprints would bring trouble,” Cyd says, into the sudden silence.
“I knew going through that portal was a bad idea,” Atone adds, still lying on the ground.
Gerard picks his way through the carnage, looking for survivors. The four cultists lie dead or stunned; the kobolds, too—those who didn’t flee at the first sight of the giant scorpion. Then Gerard rounds the side of the fallen beast and sees that that isn’t quite true: a single kobold remains standing, rooted to the spot in rabbit-like terror. When he catches sight of the monk, the kobold throws his sword to the ground and falls to his knees.
“I surrender!” he yips in ragged common.
“Very well,” Aleph rumbles, drawing level with them. He turns to the rest of the group. “Let us bind his hands. Him and any other raiders who yet live.”
There turns out to be quite a few surviving raiders: every enemy felled by Gerard or Atone is merely unconscious.
“The martial art I practice is very controlled,” Gerard explains, when Cyd confronts him about this. “Why should I wound my enemies fatally when I do not have to? It would be senseless.” Atone is nodding in agreement. Cyd rolls her eyes.
“Monks,” she mutters. “Well, I suppose we can at least question one or two of them, find out where the rest of the raider camp is.”
“An excellent idea, Cydonie,” Atone replies. He kneels down before the conscious kobold.
“Mr Kobold,” he says solemnly. “Though you consort with evil-doers, perhaps you only do so because you were never given the chance to do good. But now you have a chance to choose a better path! Will you lead us to the dragon cultists’ camp, and redeem yourself?”
Cyd and Nubbins exchange doubtful glances. The kobold is staring at Atone with a glazed expression. Then the tiefling pulls a large, white-silver coin from the pouch at his belt.
“And to prove to you that the rewards of honest work are better than the wages of sin, I will pay you for your services.”
“Bloody hell! That’s a platinum piece,” Cyd yelps. “Tone, that’s a pretty high price for a guide, don’t you think?”
Atone looks confused. “Is it? But it is only a single coin.”
A gleam of intelligence returns to the kobold’s eyes. He nods enthusiastically. “Oh yes,” he yips. “Mr Kobold was listening to everything you were saying. Yes, yes, I know the way to the camp. A better way than the stupid robe wearers.” He darts a resentful glance at the bound cultists. “Mr Kobold will show you, no problem.” He cocks his head on one side, watching the tiefling shrewdly. “Payment up front, yes?”
“No—” Cyd starts.
“Of course,” Atone replies. “And now that a deal has been struck between us, I shall loosen your bonds.”
Cyd draws her dagger and points it at the kobold. “And if you try anything, ‘Mr Kobold’, you’ll wish that scorpion had turned you into a kebab.”
The kobold nods and bows. “Of course, yes, yes. Can Mr Kobold help with anything else?”
Before anyone can stop him, Atone speaks again. “Actually, we were hoping to question some of the human cultists as well. Do you have any healing abilities?”
The kobold nods once more. “Oh, yes. Mr Kobold is quite skilled.” He crosses to the nearest cultist and picks up the man’s long knife, putting it to his throat.
“Stop!” Gerard shouts.
The kobold looks disappointed. “I can’t fix these holes,” he says, gesturing to the man’s cuts and bruises. “He’ll probably die anyway, so I am helping him with healing.”
“That’s—that’s not what I meant,” Atone gasps.
Frowning, the kobold puts the knife down. “Fine, fine, no healing. Can I take their hens, then?” he asks, pointing to the birds still roasting on a spit over the raiders’ campfire. “We caught them and then the stupid robe-wearers took them all.”
“That does seem only fair,” Atone replies, hesitantly.
Cyd throws up her hands. “Of course! Why not have a little nap while you’re at it: really get comfortable! Go with him, Nubs,” she adds. “Make sure he doesn’t try anything.”
Nubbins follows Mr Kobold to the campfire and sits next to him as he begins eating his new prize. “So…” the gnome says, at a loss for conversation, “…is there a Mrs Kobold?”
Mr Kobold gives him an appraising look. “You want to be Mrs Kobold?”
“Um, I don’t know if that’s how it works,” Nubbins flounders. “Is that how it works for kobolds?”
Mr Kobold nods wisely as he tucks into another hen. “Yes, yes, you’re Mrs Kobold now, no problem.”
“OK. Can I have one of your hens, then?” Nubbins asks, drawn in by the smell of the roasted meat.
Mr Kobold frowns. “Fine. But only one.”
The rest of the group gather round one of the human cultists as Aleph lays his hands on the man’s chest. His wounds glow, knitting back together; groggily, the raider opens his eyes. He looks up at the adventurers leaning over him and groans.
“Couldn’t you have just left me unconscious? It’s freezing. And everything hurts.”
“Your unconsciousness could be arranged,” Aleph replies. “As could further healing. But we have some questions first.”
Cyd reels them off. “Where’s the camp and what’s the best way to get there? How many cultists and kobolds are stationed there? Why are you raiding towns and villages?”
“And do you know a mage named Glasstaff?” Gerard jumps in. “Keothi would have wanted us to check,” he adds.
The cultist, who is evidently more pragmatic than some of the others they have questioned, takes a deep breath.
“Never heard of anyone called Glasstaff. We’re raiding to build a hoard worthy of Tiamat, praise be to her glory. As for the camp, it’s a few days south of here. There’s no harm in telling you: the tracks are clear enough. You could follow them without my help. That’s what we were doing, before you jumped us.” He scowls.
Cyd jerks her head towards Mr Kobold. “He says there’s a quicker way.”
The cultist snorts. “He’s a moron. He’ll say anything if he thinks it’ll get him coin. And as for the number of people stationed there: more than you can manage. A hundred humans. Twice that many kobolds. And three purple-robes.”
“Purple robes?” Cyd asks.
“Our leaders. The half blue dragon, the half black dragon, and the devil woman,” the man replies.
“We have seen the blue half dragon,” Aleph rumbles. “He seems a formidable fighter.”
“Sounds about right,” the cultist agrees, smirking.
“Fine,” Cyd says as she finishes making a note. “Looks like you get to live.”
The man frowns. “If you leave me here, tied up in this blizzard, I’ll die anyway.”
“Could we untie them when we leave?” Gerard asks, looking troubled.
“And this is why you shouldn’t take prisoners,” Cyd sighs. But she, too, feels uneasy at the prospect of leaving the cultists to freeze to death.
“Perhaps Mr Kobold could watch over them until we pass back this way,” Atone suggests. “It appears he would not be a sound guide, but maybe his true talents lie in standing guard!”
“At the very least, the lure of coin may hold him to his word,” Aleph rumbles.
“All the same to me,” Cyd says. “So long as Atone doesn’t do the bargaining.”
The rest of the party walk over to where Nubbins and Mr Kobold sit, both looking satisfied after their meals.
“Mr Kobold, we have a new way for you to earn that platinum piece,” Cyd says as she warms her hands at the campfire.
“Of course, of course, Mr Kobold is always happy to discuss business,” Mr Kobold replies, gesturing for them to sit. He turns to Nubbins. “Mrs Kobold, would you fetch us some hens for our meeting?”
“Erm, we just ate all the hens,” Nubbins answers, looking sheepish.
Mr Kobold doesn’t skip a beat. “I am very sorry, my friends. It appears there will be no hens for our meeting.”
Several questions flit through Cyd’s brain as she looks at Nubbins and the kobold, but she shakes them out of her head. Probably better not to know. “We want you to keep the rest of the prisoners fed, watered and ALIVE until we come back this way in a few days’ time,” she says. “Then we’ll take them back to Greenest with us to face trial.”
Mr Kobold looks at the bound captives and considers his position. “100 gold.”
“You get to keep the platinum piece we already gave you,” Cyd replies, hand on the hilt of her sword. “And we’ll give you another gold when we get back. IF the prisoners are all alive.”
Mr Kobold claps his hands. “It’s a deal! Mrs Kobold, bring out the roasted hens to celebrate!”
Nubbins leans over to Mr Kobold and whispers, “we still don’t have any hens.”
Mr Kobold turns back to the group again. “My friends, I am so very sorry. Double hens on your return.”
“Nubs,” Cyd begins, as the party pack up their things. “I couldn’t help noticing that that kobold seems to think you’re his—”
“Yes, Cyd?” the gnome prompts.
“You know what? Never mind.” Definitely better not to know, the rogue decides, as they resume their journey.
This was a fun interlude to write 🙂 Thanks for reading! Remember, if you’d like to support us, you can check us out on DM’s Guild, where we have maps and side quests from the campaign that you can download on a pay-what-you want basis!
We’ve also just started a new blog series, Tabletop Thoughts, where DM Cam discusses fun and quirky optimisation strategies for various DnD races. Here’s our latest one, on Rock Gnomes. If you have any suggestions for which race you’d like us to cover next, let us know!