The Dwarf raised his head and squinted at the new day. The mini keg of Beardling’s Best Effort that had been his pillow overnight was no real substitute for his favorite Bugman’s XXXXXX (“Six X”) of course but it had gotten him through the night. Too bad the keg was as empty as his change purse. He was still in Dauth, a village without his beloved Six X. A bench outside of the Tired Giant Inn had been his bed last night. Too bad he had also paid for one inside the only inn in town. Lard (that was his nickname but his real name was Blart), sat up on the bench.
He could feel eyes on him and knew for certain it would be that Wood Elf monk again. She seemed to be following him all over the Vale. Of course it had been a good thing back in Prosser when an extra set of fists had been helpful in warding off a group of thugs who thought perhaps he could not hold his liquor. The two of them had taught them a lesson those hoodlums would not forget. Silaqui was her name if he remembered correctly.
He looked back towards the doorway and was surprised it was not her but the other Wood Elf who was his other constant shadow, Wapagokos. The Dwarf’s smile faded into a smirk which was returned in kind. Of all Elves, Lard found Wood Elves the most . . . tolerable. But perhaps not this one. Wapagokos had the look of a Wood Elf but the manners of a High Elf. Lard did not like haughty High Elves but he respected Wood Elves’ attunement with the forest and introspection as any Ranger would. Yes, Lard was a Forestor, a Ranger with knowledge and talents in the wooded parts of the Elsir Vale. Highly unusual for a mountain born Dwarf but there was just something about the towering trees and leaf-canopied skies that spoke to him.
Silaqui came through the main door of the Tired Giant, placing a gentle hand on Wapagokos and smiling at Lard simultaneously. Both the touch and the smile conveyed the same motherly feeling. Lard tried to smile but it came out as a grimace . . . and a belch.
Before any of them could speak, a loud commotion began in the direction of the village square. Given that yesterday Dauth’s friendly neighborhood Ogre had paid a visit to town and demanded slaves and more be delivered this morning, Lard figured it was the crowd trying to figure out who would be the unlucky bloke to have to become an Ogre’s maid. As far as he had heard, Blogg had been demanding things from the good people of Dauth for at least three years and no one was willing to disagree. “You can’t save those who don’t want to be saved,” he thought to himself.
The three nodded and proceeded silently towards the crowd at the village square. Standing on the edge of the community well was the mayor of Dauth. He was waving his arms around and talking so loudly that his spittle could be seen from far away. The ogre returned this morning. Not only did he take the ale set aside for him but he also kidnapped Dayl and Jonas, and hauled them back to his lair. They’re destined for his belly, no doubt! However, the mayor explained that with the aid of the local druids and brewer in town, the last batch of ale the ogre took was laced with a mild poison to help incapacitate the brute. Now it’s time for brave heroes to finish the deed. Who would be that hero? Who would earn the reward?
At the word “reward” both Lard and Wapagokos perked up. However, it was the Dwarf who spoke first, volunteering the three strangers to defeat the Ogre. He wasn’t even sure why he did it. It must have been the last bit of Beardling’s Best Effort in his system.
After negotiating the reward with the mayor and while waiting for him to collect the upfront money, the three adventurers decided to see what they could glean from the villagers gathered in the only tavern, the Tired Giant. When the group walked in, the crowd turned and began cheering. Several people clapped the three on their backs and whispered words of thanks and encouragement. As the crowd parted to let the party enjoy free drinks, a boy stood in the center, gaping at the party.
“Are you the Six Blades?” he stammered.
“No child,” said Lard. “We are just a few folks who don’t like bullies . . . or Ogres.”
“Well, Lord Dwarf . . .”
“I am no Lord, lad.”
“Well Sir Dwarf . . .”
“I am not one of those either, son.”
The boy looked embarrassed at his mistakes. “I meant no disrespect. You are the closer we have to heroes here and . . . well . . . I want to be helpful.”
Wapagokos spoke up, “Well, I think you can be. Tell us more about what has happened here in town the past few days or months. Anything might help us get the upper hand on the beast.” He smiled a roguish smile, not quite putting the boy at ease.
“Okay. Let me think,” he started. “ . . . I know! I remember a few months ago, I saw the strangest thing. A large dog, one of the strays, it don’t belong to anyone here in town, attacked a rat in town. The bite should have cut the rat in half, but instead it just wriggled its way out of the dog’s mouth and hissed. There was absolutely no effect of that dog biting that rat. And then, it was even stranger. That rat bit the dog. It just attacked it! What rat attacks a big dog? But with a single bite from the rat, the dog fled. No one believes what I saw but I know I saw it and it was weird!”
“Why would they not believe you?” asked Silaqui.
“I guess because I am still a kid.”
“Well, what else can you tell us?” said Lard taking another ale from a passing barmaid.
The boy thought for a moment. “Also . . . also, one of the regulars in here said that when Blogg first came to town, he did more than take off old Tarik’s arm. I was told that you should watch out for his club. Once, he hit a man on the top of the head so hard that he drove the man two feet into the ground like a hammer driving a nail into a board. Then . . . the man’s head exploded like a watermelon.”
“Got it. Stay one step ahead of the big club.” Wapagokos smiled again.
The boy noticed he had been talking for some time (he saw the barmaid give him a look when she passed again). “I’ve got to get back to work. Can’t wait to hear how you beat that old stinky Ogre though. My name’s Lamar. Good luck but I know you don’t need it!”
“Hey kid,” said Lard. “Catch!” The Dwarf tossed Lamar a gold piece and a huge smile spread across both of their faces. Lamar shouted as he ran back to work, “you’re better than the Six Blades!”
Still waiting for the Mayor to collect their gold, the group listened to the chatter in the bar and found out quite a bit more. There was a lively debate about the Mayor himself and a few members of the Village Council. One person said “I don’t trust the mayor, I tell you! Raising taxes every year. I’d bet the flock the ogre is in league with the mayor, and the gold he now demands is lining the town’s coffers!” A few nodded agreement but not many. More nodded when a woman stated, “that Tarik is one crazy coot. He tried confronting the Ogre years ago, and lost his arm to the giant. Hasn’t slowed down old One Arm, though!” There was also a bit of laughter at the talk of Tarik.
One tale in particular perked up the adventurers’ ears: “Strange things are happening in town lately. A Dwarven carpenter named Durbin just up and left a few weeks back, right after patching my roof. I still owe him for the job, but no one has seen him in weeks!” Could that be connected to the rat or the Ogre? Wondered the party. No one seemed to connect them but then again, everyone thought the rat was a figment of Lamar’s imagination. Except for perhaps Silaqui.
Hearing enough to satisfy them for now and wanting to get started on the road to maximize day light, the group met with the Mayor and got directions to Skulltop Hillock. He also told them that just west of town, located on a small rise near a stand of woods but viewable from the trail, are seven massive stone monoliths arranged in a druid’s circle. The stone circle is centuries old, but is still tended by an order of druids that monitors the region. The party decided to stop there if it seemed interesting but had a different stop first: Tarik’s hovel on the edge of town.
Outside of town and to the south and on the western bank of the stream, the group found an old hut. The hut was surrounded by large wood carvings made by someone with quite a bit of skill with an ax. It was hard to believe but it must have been the old man who had been chopping wood while they approached. He now just stared at the group. Wapagokos called out to him and he waved them closer.
After exchanging pleasantries, he invited them in and told them what he knew of the Ogre. He claimed he would have beaten the beast if he had not been tricked and distracted. He also asserted that he had found a small cave entrance, blocked from view by bushes on the west side of Skulltop Hillock. While he did not explore it, he believes that the caves head directly into the hillside, and perhaps are a back entrance to the Ogre’s lair. He also told the story of an ancient warrior of great renown being buried under Skulltop Hillock more than 100 years ago. She was also a member of the noble family that owned the castle that looks down on Dauth. As a result, her tomb has to contain many magical treasures. But as Tarik said, “I imagine she haunts it or at least did until Blogg came. I guess since he is still up there fat and happy like, he must have gotten rid of any ghosts. Either way, I’d be careful. Fighting Ogres is one thing. Fighting the supernatural is another.”
The group finished their drinks and Tarik took their cups. He wished them luck as they walked away to the west.
After winding along the path for some time, they could see a low hill from the top of the rise in the path. On top stood a group of standing stones in a rough circle. From a distance, they could see a figure in green robes, rolling on the ground desperately in the center of the stones. It was grunting and yelling. Surrounding it were three short, grotesque humanoids with spears; whooping and laughing maniacally. It was if they were taunting and torturing the one on the ground even though with one good jab they could probably end the green figure’s life.
“Goblins,” Lard said through clenched teeth. “I hate goblins.” He started walking towards the standing stones and unlimbering his hand crossbow.
The goblins saw the approaching group with the Dwarf in the lead. They raised their spears and one of them shouted something at the Dwarf. He just grunted in return and fired his crossbow, sinking a quarrel in the closest one’s chest.
The goblins left the green figure behind and moved to engage the group. Lard and Silaqui distracted them while Wapagokos snuck behind the standing stones, looking for an opportunity to strike from behind. Lard and Silaqui worked well together and soon there was but one goblin left alive.
The figure in green robes, now obviously a female Druid, stood and moved into position behind the last standing goblin. She swung wildly at the goblin in front of her but she was shaky from her ordeal and she missed. The goblin paid no heed to the wind from the staff striking the ground. Instead, he lunged at Silaqui with his spear but she was too fast. She grabbed the shaft and twirled into the creature, kicking him firmly in the kneecap. There was a sickening crunch as his leg buckled. He dropped the spear, stunned at the fast moves of the monk and his suddenly shattered knee. But those were his last thoughts. Silaqui shifted and with an uppercut, broke the goblin’s nose and drove the bone at its base into his tiny brain. He fell back and stayed still.
The Druid thanked the group for saving her life. She stated that it was odd that they were active in the day time and Lard agreed. She stated that her name was Sheryn-ella and she is a Druid of the group that watches over the area near Dauth. She asked if they had come to slay the Ogre and when they admitted their quest, she told them that she had helped prepare the poison to slow Blogg. She said it would not kill him but he will be as if drunk merely with a sip and perhaps unconscious if he drank more. She also stated that she recalled that a few years back she saw smoke come out of one of the eye sockets on Skulltop Hillock. It would probably not be large enough for an Ogre to enter but may be a chimney or air hole. She thought it was the left eye socket as one approaches the hill from the village. She also claimed to have seen sheep grazing on the far side of the hill but had never seen the Ogre exhibiting such skills. Then again, she had only seen the Ogre once or twice and always while hiding from a distance.
In return for their assistance, Sheryn-ella gave the party a small bag containing eight of what she called goodberries which could substitute for an entire meal and provide a small bit of healing if eaten while still fresh. She stated they would probably last for another week or so. The party then turned their attention to the slain goblins to see what they might have of value . . .