The bodies outside the waterfall slowly burn in the early morning light, the stench a little overpowering to those who venture too near. The ‘Stoppers eat the choicest portions, if there can be any called as such from the stringy kobolds, inside the cave near a small cooking fire.
Likot rends a lengthy strip of roasted kobold leg and chews the tough meat for a few minutes. “Where did Arjuhn go?” he mumbles through a full mouth, bits of kob all over his beard. “He’s gone” Carff announces as he enters through the side entrance of the waterfall cave, silhouetted by the bright light outside. “Can’t find him anywhere.”
Artemis looks somewhat accusingly at Aeric and asks with mild irritation “Aren’t you supposed to be aware of this stuff in your ‘trance’? Who knows what that lawful zealot is up to.” Before Aeric can answer Likot interjects, “He’s too busy conjuring up cheap fey tricks to pay attention to what really matters. No focus… feh!”. Aeric, satisfied with the answer or perhaps too lazy to care, shrugs and closes his mouth.
Skitlezzz turns with a thud on the bedroll from his adventurer’s kit and snores loudly from a deep slumber. Barbarian rages are an exhausting activity, after all. His nose juts up against his makeshift rock “pillow” and amplifies the noise of his snorting. Eventually the cacophony is enough for Carff to come over and deliver a light, swift kick to the barbarian’s backside. The snoring continues without so much as a pause.
It takes another five minutes of concerted effort to rouse the barbarian. The ‘Stoppers leave the shelter of the cave shortly thereafter and begin their trek back to Winterhaven.
The faint sound of shovels and digging catches Carff’s ear at the fore of the group’s travel column, now roughly two hours from the waterfall cave and still three hours walking distance from Winterhaven. Carff turns and looks back at Aeric, who nods in indication that he’s also detected the unusual noise. Carff raises a hand for the group to halt and moves toward what appears to be a dug-out crater some 200 yards off the right shoulder of the trail and sheltered from the north by tree cover.
Successfully sneaking up to the edge of the pit, Carff peeks over the edge to spy a few human laborers digging near a pile of unearthed bones. A small gnome carrying a war pick and a crossbow, clearly in charge of the operation, occasionally barks orders at the humans. Carff follows his gaze to two large bipedal lizards resting near the far edge of the crater. Carff recognizes the powerfully built creatures as Guard Drakes and correctly surmises their purpose. Up on the near edge of the crater, a pile of relocated boulders separates Carff from a lone halfling with a sling keeping watch. Slowly and silently Carff makes his way around the rocks and positions himself just 10 feet away from the slinger’s back, looking through a line of sparse trees. He pulls out his melee dagger, Diplomacy, with a silent, fluid motion and waits for the rest of the group to approach.
Artemis appears at the southern edge of the crater, surveys the situation for a moment, then calls out a greeting to the group below. The gnome looks up as if startled, then smiles and calls back “Oh! You must be associates of Douven Stahl’s. Come here and see what we’ve uncovered!” Artemis hesitates before taking the dirt ramp into the pit, suspecting foul play but unable to discern any. The gnome calls again “Come! You can’t fully appreciate what we’ve discovered from up there.”
A brief exchange of pleasantries reveals that Agrid, the gnome in charge, has recently discovered an important relic that he wishes to show Artemis. He seems to gain confidence when Artemis explains that she is traveling alone, then guides her towards a collection of crates, tools, and blankets in the corner of the excavated area. Arriving, the gnome turns to face Artemis and cracks a malicious smile. Artemis immediately recognizes the danger she is in, but it is too late. Agrid orders the Guard Drakes to attack! The beasts jump to their feet and charge across the crater with frightening speed while Agrid takes the opportunity to flee behind his allies and load his crossbow. The laborers grab the nearest tool that will act as an improvised weapon and assemble in a crude defensive formation between Agrid and Artemis.
Seeing that traditional diplomacy has failed, Carff bounds across the short distance separating him and the halfling slinger. The halfling, preoccupied with loading his sling and the tumult erupting below, doesn’t so much as notice as Carff’s dagger slides cleanly through his light armor and into the middle of his back. Confused, the slinger immediately drops his sling and bullet pouch to the ground and coughs a small amount of blood. Carff removes the dagger and the halfling’s eyes turn from surprise to fear as he realizes what has just transpired. The halfling turns to face his attacker and hears “Taste Diplomacy!” Spinning and slashing across the halfling’s exposed neck, its head upturned to look at the elf’s face from its short stature, Carff delivers his coup de grace with ”...for it is also the name of my blade!”
Below, Likot and Skitlezzz charge in to do battle with the dangerous Guard Drakes, now diverted by Agrid to attack these new threats. Artemis, running around the assembled human rabble, leaps over the pile of supplies after Agrid. Stopping just a dozen feet away from the gnome, she simultaneously curses and blasts the enemy leader with serendipitous precision, doing incredible damage to his small frame. He reels at the horrors forced into his mind, the dark energies of the tiefling’s curse so powerful that they begin to kill the poor gnome over the course of a few painful and psychotic seconds. He stumbles forward and falls between the bones of the ancient dragon ribcage peeking through the earth, foaming at the mouth and eyes rolled back into his head. He seizes for a few seconds more before coming to his final rest.
Aeric finally comes into view at the southern edge of the crater and sends a well-placed orb of force at the human rabble clumsily attacking his allies below. The orb shatters in the center of the group, sending shards into the backs of the unarmored humans and downing them permanently. Aeric’s eyes light up briefly at the sight of his spell’s effectiveness, though it’s quickly outshone by a victorious roar from Skitlezzz, standing over a slain Guard Drake below. The other Drake, weakened without its companion, falls soon after to Likot’s newly acquired battle axe.
Likot breathes a satisfied sigh and declares “The battle is won!”