José made some glowing pebbles and handed them to Kyuskay, who placed them into a sack. They agreed to coordinate their actions, to try to hide the fireball. If Kyuskay wanted steam, he would throw a pebble in, and José would throw his fireball in at the same time and place.

If crossbows became a threat, José and I would use wind to disrupt the arrows. Then the stream, a fireball, and steam. This was a risky scheme with holes everywhere. Steam and wind were mutually exclusive. A fireball is obvious, and seeing one would certainly prompt the dwarves with crossbows to immediate and hostile action. A large and noisy group of us sneaking by the guards without being noticed was unlikely. Then Kyuskay was somehow supposed to disengage from his distracting act and go meet with us without being seen by the dwarves whose attention was supposed to be riveted on him. And once we were all in the cave, then we would almost certainly be involved in combat, which the dwarven guards were supposed to magically not hear. But we went ahead anyway. As usual.

We all walked quietly along the cliff wall that housed our destination. Kyuskay walked up the other side, well ahead of us, intending to be seen. He succeeded. I didn't take my eyes off the dwarven guards any longer than necessary, watching for them to raise their crossbows and threaten Kyuskay. I held the crystal in my hands, undercover to hide its bright glow, ready to do whatever I had to.

Kyuskay took out one of the glowing pebbles José made and flipped it in the air between his hands as he walked. The dwarves watched, but didn't look overly concerned. We were only 1/4 of the way up the ravine when Ashe whispered something. The whisper was repeated up and down the line: the dwarves had seen us as well and were watching us. My heart sunk. We had alread failed. But we continued ahead.

About halfway through our hike, one of the dwarves disappeared inside. Still, we continued. I grasped the Crystal more firmly, and tried to steady myself as I walked into a disaster.

40 yards away, the lone remaining guard held his loaded crossbow up, but casually. He wasn't aiming it yet. It would take him a moment to aim and fire it, though. At this range, he couldn't miss. Kyuskay announced, "Gentlemen, the show is about to begin." Not that the dwarves could understand him. Or that it would have meant anything if they had.

He placed one pebble on the ground, and the guard from inside returned. His crossbow was also ready, but not aimed. We continued on our path.

Kyuskay started his clown fighting, and we passed him because his maneuvering slowed him down considerably. Still, the dwarves did nothing. We reached the cave when Kyuskay was about 15 yards out. The dwarves brought the crossbows into firing position, and I produced the Crystal of Air.

The dwarves immediately looked at me and my glowing rock, and Kyuskay continued his act. One looked back at Kyuskay, the other continued staring at me. I realized he couldn't really see past the glow in the dark night. Kyuskay continued, trying to regain their attention.

I stood outside the brush-covered cave entrance, hiding it with the bright glow of the Crytsal of Air; this was an effect I hadn't planned on. Everyone else entered the cave behind me, except José. Kyuskay gestured broadly and threw his pebble into the stream. José took his cue and threw a fireball into the stream at the same time and place the pebble hit.

Mists roiled through the air, and a crossbow bolt nailed Kyuskay in the chest. I held back, not wanting to blow away the mists. Kyuskay, although hit at nearly point-blank range by a crossbow bolt, did not fall. He disappeared into the mists, and then reappeared on our side, moving as quickly as he could. I could tell he was working against a great deal of pain. Whatever the faults of these easterners, a lack of resolve is not one of them.

To my relief, he made it all the way to us. I put the Crystal away, and the three of us moved behind the brush to join the others. Prestley warned there were two goblins, and they're set for an ambush in an alcove. Miara said scornfully, "But they're goblins."

Before we even reached them, we had to climb through a cave-in that almost completely blocked the passage. There was only a small gap near the top that only one person could wiggle through at a time. Prestley, having looked ahead through the wall, said the goblins are too far away, about 25 yards, to effectively guard the cave-in, so we'll be safe in going over. He said they're armed with clubs, or maybe shortswords. He metioned they were the most emaciated, putrid-looking goblins he'd ever seen. His eyes widened slightly and he whispered the name that occurred to us all, "Nergal".

Miara set us up in the order she wanted: her first, then Ashe, Goldrim, Bark, Kyuskay, Me, Carmella, Sun, Prestley, and José. José quickly produced another glowing pebble, and Miara took it with her, and left it at the top so we could all see where we were going. José brought it with him when he came over and joined us.

The goblins were still ahead and around a corner, and didn't know we were there. Although Kyuskay demurred, I insisted on pausing for a few minutes to heal him. He subsided when Miara agreed with me. It took me only 5 minutes or so to heal him. I'm sure there's a better way to do this. I should be able to heal instantly. I can almost feel how to do it, but I can't make it happen.

As I healed Kyuskay, lost in my trance, the rest determined that we were not being followed by any of the dwarves. I nodded to Miara when I was finished, and she said quietly, "Let's go".

Kyuskay walked first, clownfighting and hoping to be able to get past them so they could be attacked from two directions. He did get past them, and they still did not attack. Instead, they seemed to be surprised that he saw them at all. Kyuskay looked at us, and then they moved up to attack him. Miara, next in the narrow passage, moved in to attack, but they moved back into the alcove. Only Kyuskay could fight them, and Miara watched with frustration.

As Kyuskay fought the goblins in the alcove, Miara moved past him, apparently to watch for attacks from up the passage. She motioned for the next to follow her. Eventually, we all moved past Kyuskay. As José passed him, he felled the second goblin. Prestley took out the dagger that he carries, the one Carmella found that disintegrates undead creatures. He touched it to the two felled goblins, and they dissolved into dust. Kyuskay was untouched by the two goblins.

The tunnel was straight for about 20 feet, and then curved around to one side. As we moved forward, Prestley looked ahead and quietly told us what he saw. He looked up and down as well, searching for something that looked like catacombs, where we would find the buried dwarven hero with the Crystal of Water.

He said the passage opened up into about a 10x15 area in another 40 feet, and there were about 10 goblin/ghoul things waiting for us. One was larger, and he was well-armed and well-armored.

No one had any clever thoughts, so we just waded ahead. José and Bark would stay with Carmella, Sun, Prestley, and me to guard us. Kyuskay had ended up behind everyone, but as he started to move ahead, he started and turned. "Goldrim, there's a dwarf behind me, come and speak with him."

Instead, the dwarf greeted Kyuskay by name, although he spoke in Old Worlder. He asked for Lady Miara, and she moved back to speak with him.

He bowed to her and said, "I bring you greetings from Lord Mendri. My lord is nearby and seeks the pleasure of your company at some near time, when it's convenient to you."

"Where is Lord Mendri right now?" she asked him, seemingly unperturbed by this odd occurrence.

"I don't know exactly, I left him some time ago. The guards out front have retreated."

Miara determined that it would take some days for us to get to Mendri, so we continued. The dwarf, who named himself Alex, came with us, saying he expected that answer. Alex wore leather armor and carried a shortsword. He looked expectantly at Miara, ready to follow her lead.

Miara, Kyuskay, Alex, Ashe, and Goldrim moved forward to attack the ten undead creatures. Bark remained in front of Carmella, Sun, Prestley, and me, and José guarded our rear.

Prestley said they were waiting quietly, trying to stay out of sight, hoping to sucker us into another trap. It turned into the usual melee, hard to follow. In the end, though, only Miara and Kyuskay had been injured, and all the ghouls were dead. Prestley touched them all with the dagger, and all but the largest turned to dust.

Ravenna, A Monk of the Biancan Order

Part the First:
Blood and Mud

Part the Second:
Murder and Mayhem

Part the Third:
Puzzles and Crystals

Part the Fourth:
Dwarves and Rocks

Part the Fifth:
Diplomacy and Daggers

Part the Sixth:
Crystal and Chaos

Part the Seventh:
Sheer Insanity

~ The End ~