Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects. Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one. Enjoy!
The Minotaur called Damon Korth made his way down the line of royal guardsmen, asking them each if they were related to or friends of Matthias Blackshear. He started with Galinndan who had been at point, putting him at the front of the row we had formed. Galinndan seemed befuddled at the question, and I half worried that the Minotaur might cleave him with one of the huge axes that hung off of his thick leather belt. The weapons looked far too familiar. Blackshear had a pair, a pair he had taken from the Minotaur prince. Suddenly we were thrust in the middle of the story he had started.
This might not end well for us.
“Well,” Galinndan stammered, “To put the term ‘friends’ loosely, we were, ah, well…”
Apparently Korth saw the truth in the now pale face of our rogue. “Stand aside!” he barked. The rogue complied, sulking out of the line.
The other guards told the truth…most of them even knew who Matthias was. I saw one of them wet himself, a pool of his own urine formed around his feet as Korth confronted him. It was understandable. The massive creature towered over us and spoke with a voice that made your ribs throb.
Korth approached Brother Dimitrios. He said nothing, which was no surprise, but calmly shook his head at the query.
He then came to me. I could smell the raw uncooked meat on his breath, he was so close. Korth asked me if I knew or was friends of Blackshear. “I know him but I do not consider us ‘friends.’”
“Did you spill blood in battle with him?”
“No,” I said with complete confidence. My own performance at the battle (see Part 11) we had fought with him had proven less than stellar, and now I was thankful for it. It was the first and only time that I was thankful I had been transformed into an animal and had not contributed to the fight.
“I will let you pass then,” Korth said.
I let out a low sigh of relief. I had fought more against our cause in that battle – hitting our druid – than for the former guardsman. At the time it had been seen as a debauch on my part, Now it appeared it was a good thing.
Bor was next and he didn’t shirk from the Minotaur looming over him. “We fought with him, yes. All to aid in the return of his granddaughter from kidnappers.”
“Stand aside with that one,” he pointed to Galinndan whose color was just returning to his face. Bor joined him, his hand resting on Skull Ringer’s handle. Korth asked the same question to Arius who responded much as Bor had. That poor paladin, cursed to never even stretch the truth. He joined the conga line of doom.
Theren remained. The druid had a knack for fast thinking and talking and I half expected him to someone worm his way out of the battle that seemed to be coming. Instead he almost proudly said that he was a friend of Blackshear and was ordered to stand with the others. Fool.
For a moment, I figured I was safe. I had actually told the truth and had been spared. Korth seemed pleased with having split our party. “So Blackshear, the scourge of our people, has friends.” He seemed to spit out the last word. “People that would be willing to fight with him…making you our foes. Now then, if you tell me where he lives, you go free. Otherwise you face the Ritual of Kurasak – the Splattering.” Splattering? That sounded horrible.
Arius puffed out his chest and said, “I refuse to tell you.” Paladins…they have a way of leading good men to their death with their sense of honor. Korth seemed impressed. I was wondering if I would have to carve that on Arius’s gravestone – He impressed a Minotaur.
Theren asked, “What if we tell you?”
“Then we will hunt him down and finish our bit of honor by spilling his blood,” the Minotaur said. “And you will get to save your paltry lives.” He snorted out a glob of snot that splattered the druid.
Bor grinned and stepped next to Arius. “I’m with him.”
Korth nodded and turned back to the others. “These two showed a modicum of bull balls to stand and fight. Will you?”
The rest agreed, some more grudgingly than others. Then, to my surprise, Dimitrios stepped out of line where I was, nice and safe, and joined my comrades. All eyes, my friends, the guardsmen, the Minotaur’s, all of them turned to me. I had a legitimate claim that I had not spilled blood for Blackshear. These were my comrades. I looked at Korth. “I did try to help Blackshear, but I failed. If everyone else is going to lay their lives down because they won’t tell you, then I guess I should join them.” I really hated saying it, but I knew without me, they were probably wouldn’t stand a chance. That didn’t upset me as much as you might think, but I had grown familiar with them and getting new comrades would be time consuming.
As I stood next to them, Arius said, “good job.”
“I fucking hate all of you,” I muttered turning to Arius. “This is your fault. Paladins…ugh!”
Damon Korth looked over at one of the younger Minotaur’s. “Send for Prince Wheaton! Have him join us at the Cousins. There he will see his brother’s death avenged.” The other Minotaur’s joined in a chant in unison, “All hail Prince Wheaton!” The younger creature set off at a full run/gallop across the rolling hills.
We glanced over and saw Korth lean into talk to Captain Wildsong. The captain seemed to chuckle. “I imagine he’s not going to have his troops rescue us,” I cursed.
Korth returned to us. “You men gather your gear. I promise you nothing more than a fair fight bound by our rede of law. It takes brave men to do what you are about to do.” There was a hint of respect in his voice.
“I appreciate that,” Arius said with bravado.
Oh shut up…
We set up and the rest of the guardsmen followed us. The Minotaur’s were clearly sizing us up. “I’m doomed,” I said in a low voice for my comrades.
“Why?” Arius asked.
“I can’t use magic on these guys.”
“You know – magic is kind of forbidden.”
“Who cares?” The paladin retorted, surprising me somewhat. “They are creatures from the plains of hell. Use your magic – we must be all-in…together.”
He had a good point – and that made me feel better. I only wish I had more in the way of combat spells in my mental arsenal. The Minotaur’s led us some ways to a large plateau that rose on the plains. It was flanked by two tall rocks stand nearly 20 feet tall, listing slightly inward, towards the center. They are weathered heavily, but there was a faint hint of faces carved on them, one male, one female. They stood as sentries over a large stone circle over 80 feet in diameter. Defiant weeds were growing up between the cracks. The wind, normally chilled, blew warm over the grasses there. There were bits of colored glass broken there, as if they were part of something that stood there or a ritual. Some of the stones have square holes in them, as if they held some sort of upright posts at one point in time. Some broken and shattered stones, covered in moss, surround the edges of the circle, most over waist high. Moss and vines were gripping the surrounding stones. It is a place that is eerie and filled with dread.
“This is the Wayward Cousins,” Korth said. “It is a place where the powers of magic are the closest to the earth.”
That triggered a memory with me. At one point the Cousins was known as Starstone – a place of worship by the druids. During The Druid Wars the druids were hunted and killed in an inquisition that stings to this day. A band of druids defied the church, killing a cardinal. The wrath of the church was furious, sending in the Order of the Black Rose to capture and kill them. This militant order captured the druids at Starstone. A great battle of magic and swords was fought here. The surviving druids were tied to the stones and tortured to death by the surviving members of some order, ah yes, I remember, the Black Rose. They cursed this ground to any members of the church. It is said that the surviving Black Roses all died within a matter of months, all under mysterious circumstances that are tied to the curse. I remember reading about this on a scroll years ago. I never thought to see this place. I thought that the location of this place had been lost long ago.
We were led into the circle and waited for this prince to arrive. The other guardsmen hung outside of the circle, as if they were getting good positions to watch what was about to come. I shared what I knew of this place with my comrades. Arius was angered. “Cursed ground that affects me? Hardly fair.” Theren seemed depressed given his brethren were killed on these very stones. I’m sure if he wondered if his blood would join those that died here before.
A small party of Minotaur’s arrived several hours later. One of them wore a rough iron crown shaped like bones with two additional horns, and a thin goatee that almost looked cheesy on such a creature. His thick hide was pierced with silver rings, rows of them that seemed to be symbolic of something, probably battles. As they got nearer, the others chanted “Wheaton! Wheaton!” The prince waved his hand and the chanting stopped.
“Why have you summoned me here to this infernal accursed place Korth?” Wheaton asked.
“My prince, I bring you declared friends of our most hated foe – the black-hearted Blackshear!”
The prince’s left eyebrow cocked up more than I thought possible at the news. “You are friends with the man that slew my brother?” His black eyes bore in on each of us.
We said nothing in response. In the back of my head I wondered if this could somehow be turned around. I am a warlock after all, and these are creatures created in hell. An alliance with them could prove useful – if I managed to survive. Right now, that was a big if.
Korth snorted, and a thin drizzle of snot oozed from his nostrils. “The Ritual of Kurasak is one of blood and death. You fight our prince’s champions to the death, if need be. We are not the barbarians that are portrayed in your puny Karn. We will battle with honor.
Prince Wheaton then spoke. “I will have Damon Korth and Shiver Krang fight for our pride. If you tell us where Blackshear is we will call this ritual off. We will leave to kill him, but you will live. Give us that bit of your honor, and you will breathe the warm air of the plains.”
Arius took one step forward. “Knowing what you would do to him prevents us from breaking his honor and telling you.”
“Very well,” the prince said. “You have acted honorably and will be treated with such here today.”
Damon Korth was the larger of the two, with darker hide and many more silver rings on his torso and arms. Nicks on his horns and ears show the signs of previous battles. Shiver Krang was smaller, but thicker, more muscular. Both were heavily armed with massive battle axes as I had seen in the possession of Matthias Blackshear. Krang occasionally tosses his axe, spinning it, catching it perfectly each time. Arrogant. That could be useful.
Captain Wildsong leaned in, locking his gaze with Arius. “This is the price for crossing the Vizir,” he boasted. “If I were you men, I would watch Shiver Krang. He may be small, but I saw him gore a man during a pillaging they were leading.” Wildsong leaned back and began to actually place bets with the other men, against us.
Bor spoke up in response. “You will pay for your betrayal.”
Wildsong laughed. “I have a dozen armed men at my command. Even if you survive, you will be in no condition to come after me.”
I glared at him. Oh, you will pay for that…if we survive.
Prince Wheaton spoke again, his voice booming. “Should you win, I will grant you a token of my esteem. I doubt you will win though. The ritual of Kurasak is one that almost always sealed with blood on stone.
Wheaton steps to the edge of the circle and claps his hands three times. The remaining Minotaur’s did the same. Everyone secured a weapon. This was it, a battle for our very lives.
The pair of foes did not rush in, but leaned slightly, as if readying for a charge, sizing us up.
Shiver charged forward for a goring attack, rushing at Bor, the largest of our party. The big fighter managed to sidestep the brunt of the assault, but still caught the left horn with his body – staggering Bor back, furrowing back in the moss on the stones, making little marks where his feet slid.
I turned on Shiver Krang and cast hideous laughter on him. The spell went as planned, the massive Minotaur fell over with a dull thud on the stones; uncontrollable laughing with an almost frightening roar of chuckles. It was the kind of laughter that sent chills down your spine. I actually peed a little in my jerkin at the sound.
There was something about when I cast my spell, something strange. It had to be this place. What did Korth say? This was where magic was closest to the earth? I wondered what that meant. At the time, I pushed that thought from my mind.
Arius swung behind Shiver and used searing smite, hitting him and setting him on fire. The hide on his back glowed as hair burned and filled the air with horrid smoke.
Theren switched to his bow and fired at Shiver as well but missed. Galinndan also missed with his arrow as well. Bor swung Skull Ringer that nasty warhammer of his but missed…oddly throwing sparks in the air…which was disturbing on its own. It had never done that before. Dimitrios leapt like a tiger at the only standing Minotaur – Korth. His grappling attempt failed but he landed on both feet and one hand, ready to spring again. I swear I saw a grin on his face. Thank the Old Ones, we needed every bit of help we could muster.
Bor’s blood was up, that was evident. He swung Skull Ringer again, missing wide again, filling the air with sparks. It only seemed to have that visual effect here, on this ground. Galinndan notched one of his obsidian tipped arrows that he had coveted so much. It was true! The arrow buried itself into the singed hide of the Minotaur. The massive creature blinked out of existence, vanishing for a moment. Then we saw him again, landing on top of three of the guardsmen outside of the ring, his flames lighting two of them on fire in the process. Bor was puzzled as to where the Minotaur had gone but I am sure a bit thankful.
The other Minotaur’s cheered. They seemed to love it. I wanted to cheer myself, but death was far too close at hand.
Damon Korth sprung over the ring of stones at the perimeter of the Wayward Cousins and came back at us. He rushed at swinging his great axe, hitting Bor so hard he flew five feet and skidded on the stone surface. Blood filled the air as the axe stopped and Bor fell unconscious, his warhammer skidding out of his grip.
The Minotaur’s and two of the guards cheered – no doubt those traitorous bastards had bet against Bor.
Theren used his healing word for Bor, enough to make his eyelids flutter as he came back from the black gates of death. He fired his bow as well, hitting the Minotaur, leaving the arrow stuck in him next to Galinndan’s.
I cast another spell, a blast of arcane power. The energy was incredible flowing through me, double what I had ever experienced before. The arcane powers hit the Minotaur, knocking him back nearly a dozen feet in the process. Whatever it was about the Wayward Sisters, this time it had helped my powers.
Arius swept his longsword at his foe, hitting the Minotaur for no damage at all – it failed to pierce his hide. It only made Korth grin in response. A grinning Minotaur is not a thing one easily forgets.
Bor staggered to his feet uneasily, making his way to Damon Korth. Dimitrios shifted behind the fighter, preparing to leap at his foe one more time.
Korth turned to Arius and swung his great axe, cutting right through his armor and spraying Bor with gore. Damnation this beast was tough!
I noticed the other Minotaurs throwing stones at Shiver who was still uncontrollably roaring with laughter. That was not good. Their efforts might allow him to break my spell and facing two of these creatures at once was going to prove challenging. There wasn’t anything I could do at this point.
Arius struck with his sword and searing smite, one more lighting up the hide on Korth. Then I saw something happen that sent a chill down my spine. Prince Wheaton entered the circle and started to head for Shiver. He’s going to shatter my spell!
Theren saw it too and decided to transform himself into a bear. His man form rippled and a massive black bear replaced him. The bear lumbered between the roaring Shiver and Prince Wheaton. Theren rose in front of the prince, but did not attack. The moment he approached, three more Minotaur’s entered the arena, clearly moving to protect the prince. It was a standoff, one that might cost us all our lives if Theren made the wrong move.
Bor swung Skull Ringer, sparks of red and blue in the air, hitting Korth hard with a thwacking sound. It had to have hurt, but I didn’t see any sign of it. Bor was stunned that he had not felled the Minotaur. Korth snorted through gritted teeth in response.
I tried again to unleash a blast of arcane energy but missed. I was merely thankful I had not hit one of my comrades. Then I saw it, Dimitrios sprung like a praying mantis, landing on the shield arm of the Minotaur, and grappled with his arm. He hung on tight despite the flinging that Korth did.
Theren rose on his hind legs to block Prince Wheaton from reaching Shiver. The prince grinned, tossed his axe casually past the bear, landing it on Shiver’s chest. Crap.
Korth gored at Bor tossing him in the air on his horns, sending his near lifeless body on the stones. I swear I saw part of his intestines hanging off of Korth’s horns, not a promising sign for our badly injured friend. The specter of death cast its shadow on Bor.
I focused on Korth and channeled my arcane blast. Something happened though…something I have never experienced before. The energy seemed to summon a magic energy I had no knowledge of. Where I should have seen an azure burst of magic, I saw instead orange, yellow, and red death. A fire ball erupted in front of me, engulfing many of our people along with Shiver and Galinndan. The roar hit me as if I were thrown in an oven. The super-hot air seared my throat and lungs. I stumbled out of the blast zone, my royal guard tunic, or what was left of it, burning on my body, the few remains falling on the stone. A rising mushroom shaped cloud rolled into the sky, black and twisting. Pain tore at me and my vision tunneled as I fought to avoid unconsciousness. I smelled bacon in the air, and I knew it was one of us.
I looked over where Galinndan had been standing…but all that remained was a pile of ashes that were roughly in his shape on the blackened stone. He was gone – dead and charred into nothingness. I felt a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. What have I done?
The guards along the edge of the ring began to sing, “Burning Ring of Fire,” a popular bardic tune we heard in the taverns of Karn. They would have to be dealt with later. My eyes closed and my ears roared with approaching darkness.
I remember hearing the sounds of battle around me as I struggled to awaken. The blackness took forever to shake. I finally forced my eyes open and saw Theren the bear attacking Shiver, taking him down with a swipe of his claw.
Prince Wheaton clapped his hands three times. A Minotaur shaman entered the Wayward Cousins and laid hands on his fallen comrades. Bor was also healed by the shaman, which stunned me. I was able to make it to my feet, my ears were ringing and I tasted copper of blood in my mouth. I patted my body to make sure I still had all of my vital parts.
Arius scooped up Galinndan’s ashes and put them in a pouch – there was no saving the rogue at this point. We would mourn him later, assuming we were going to survive.
Prince Wheaton spoke in a thunderous voice. “The ritual has ended.” Shiver and Korth bowed their heads in shame. Wheaton turned to us. “You have successfully won this trial. I will grant you one token of respect, honor demands that. You have fought well, and I consider you honored members of our tribe. One token of my respect is what I give you for your reward.”
Arius grinned and whispered in my ear. One word, “Wildsong.”
Good. Make him pay! “Yes!”
Arius stepped forward proudly. “If you would do us the honor Prince Wheaton. Would you imprison the guards that are with us? With this you will get your vengeance on Blackshear and honor will be served. After all they are royal guards which he was a member of. They have threatened us…we know them to be our enemies. Take them as prisoners and end this.”
“We have not threatened them…” several of the guards protested.
“Be quiet,” Arius barked in response. “You sat there betting against us.”
Captain Wildsong, caught off guard by the sudden turn of events, stepped forward. “I…I have done nothing. Prince Wheaton, you know me. I am your friend, a friend of your people. Do not listen to these men. I have not threatened them.”
Arius tipped his sword at our former captain. “You told us this was the price of crossing the Vizir. You set us up to be killed by warning the Minotaur’s we were headed this way. Your guilt is a forgone conclusion.”
All eyes shifted to Prince Wheaton. “The honor was offered and must be accepted. Two things will happen. We will take Wildsong as our slave for two years. Also this ends our bane against Blackshear, you have cleared the debt that has been with us like an open wound. I grow weary of attempting to avenge my brother over the years.”
“You can’t do this – I am a captain of the royal guards,” Wildsong called out.
The Minotaur’s felt differently. Shackles appeared out of nowhere and were slapped on former Captain Wildsong. He struggled against his new masters, but could not hope to make progress as they quickly disarmed him.
“One more gesture on my part,” the prince said. A Minotaur appeared with ship piercing clip. He tore open our armor, one by one, and pierced one nipple, inserting a silver ring there like the other Minotaur’s. It hurt like hell, but after the fireball, I didn’t even flinch. “The mark of honorable battle,” he said as Bor took the last piercing.
“You are always welcome with our people as equals,” Wheaton said. “Justice has been served.”
Captain Wildsong cried out as they led him off of the Wayward Cousins and down the hillside. “I will get you for this!”
I had no doubt that he would try…in two years’ time. We turned to the rest of the guardsmen and Arius ordered them to fall in before us. There was new leadership of this troop now. If we ever saw Matthias Blackshear again, we would have a hell of a story to tell him as well.
I hope you have been enjoying this saga. Here are the previous chapters, if you want to follow the adventure thus far.