“Load the next one.” Gregor the Engineer waved to the crew of the Catapult and they began winding the engine back. The Engine ropes seemed to strain under the pressure until they locked the mechanism.
“Locked Sir,” Jerod the Knight had been promoted sideways by the Baron to Siege Engine Crew so he didn’t really like it here. Gregor let the hostility of being ordered about by a Peasant slide.
“Bring me another Kobold.” He waved to the beast-handler. The Kobold straining at its rope was under no illusions – he didn’t want to be hurled at the side of a Keep either. The last had – for the grace of god and a slight cross wind at the last moment – struck the wall of the Tower keep full on. The Bloody pulp had left a stain on the white wash on the stone wall before falling into the moat. Of course the next would be different. It had to be.
Thog had other plans. As he was loaded in the cupola of the catapult by the Knight who had referred to his now deceased fellow Kobold as a ‘smelly little bugger’, he contemplated his options. The saw blade hung from a twine around his neck. Unfortunately the last to try a runner had been cut down and returned to the Catapult. Thog looked at the Stain on the white wash.
The Knight was still leaning over the Hook that was attached to the Rope used to draw the catapult back and Thog had heard the Leader of this siege crew speak the word often enough - all he needed to do was get it right.
“Fire!” The crew let fly before they had realized their error. The Hook hurled the Knight ahead of the kobold who he had been placing in the Cupola. Jerod the Knight screamed. Gregor the Siege engineer could only watch as Jerod bounced off the edge of the tower and descended into the courtyard – the scream of a man in great pain. The Kobold on the other hand had landed short – on the battlements. Alive and well he ran along the stonework evading the soldiers who had turned to look at the Knight who had dropped in on them – the bloody mess still alive and screaming. No one noticed as the Kobold reached the ropes of the drawbridge and began sawing with the tool he had been provided. A guard was alerted to the sound of the saw on rope and turned on him.
“Kobold on the Ropes!” Thog dropped over the edge in search of a location under the cover of the stonework where he could cut the ropes without being killed. The Saw cut furiously into the ropes as the Soldier above him could do little more than swing his spear blindly in the night attempting to swat Thog with what amounted to a wooden pole.
The Ropes of the Drawbridge gave way and the heavy timber barrier dropped across the watery impasse and Thog was dumped into the foul ditch below.
On the Hillside the Baron screamed:
“The Drawbridge is down!” His horde of rabid warriors shocked and surprised by what they had just witnessed seemed to have not heard a word.
“Attack!” Baron Holdove pushed his commander forward and descended the hillside toward the now open invitation in a storm of Metal. Men inside seemed to panic. The bridge was down.
Thog didn’t really want to stick around. He had seen Human Battle before – the last one had landed him in his current predicament but he couldn’t just leave the rest of his Kobolds to these humans.
On the Hill a half-dozen Kobolds were being handled by the Beast Handler who seemed more interested in the Siege of the keep than his job. Having settled on a plan Thog pulled himself out of the muck and dodged his way between the legs of the Warriors now colliding on the Drawbridge in conflict.
Malvo the Squire tripped over the Kobold and was almost trampled by the warriors who pushed him aside. He looked around at the diminutive beast he had come to grief on. It was the Kobold who had been catapulted in and cut the ropes on the Bridge.
“Sorry Sir! My fault entirely,” That act of insanity had in Malvo’s mind earned the little fellow a ‘Sir’.
“As you were young Knight...” The Kobold did his best to replicate the voice of the Baron to the open mouthed surprise of the Squire. Thog ran on up the Hill and left the Squire to rejoin the battle.
If there was one thing Thog had proven skilled at in his years in his Kobold Tribe it had been Mimicry.
Davies couldn't help but remember that old fool's admonishments about Yikyik's cave.
"Don't go in there! You'll throw your lives away, young fools! Forget the tales of treasure, you'll find nought but death!" The old man ranted. "Yikyik went barmy as loon, and twice as mad. No one alive today knows the hows or the whys, but that place will be the end of you and your friends! Mark my words, you won't be back on the morrow!" And with that, the old man had returned to his shack, over the lip of the ridge above the cave mouth.
Turns out, the crazy old bloke was sort of right. Davies was a pretty fair throw, and more than fair at his larcenous profession as a thief, and his fellows relied on him to clear their way through the traps. So far he'd dismantled triggers for roughly three dozen concealed crossbows, eight pitfalls triggered and locked, fifteen swinging wall blades(in sets of five, no less!), and he'd just finished setting the blocks for a nasty one that'd enclose the victim in a steadily compacting steel cage. The crusted blood and shattered bone paid testament to the mortal danger they would be facing, and they were barely aroung the second bend in the tunnel!
"Figures," he muttered, brushing his ruddy brown hair back from his eyes. The thick bristles of his face rubbed against his hand as he did so, reminding him of his grand daddy's bushy Dwarven beard. He was pretty sure his grand daddy was exiled for marrying a human, but he always figured it was a prettier way of saying he got a tavern wench bellyfull.
Working his hands over the latest trap, yet another damned crossbow, Teague piped up from behind him. "Can't we 'urry this up? I'm boreder than a picket fence." Not the brightest Half-Elf Davies had ever met, but he was by far the toughest. Teague, clicking his gauntleted fingers on his greaves, peered impatiently over Davies' shoulder. "Just break the damned things and be done with it."
"I can't just up and smash these, they may be linked. It could reset the earlier traps, or trigger something bigger. We'll just have to be patient, or this could all blow up in our faces." Davies shook his head. "Just wait with the others to the back, we want to take this nice and slow."
Hours later, the last of the sun having sunk beneath the horizon, and having finally found and disarmed what he was pretty sure was most every trap in the long, narrow corridor ahead, the half dozen of their group came onto the final trap; A wooden puzzle door. Problem was, it was written in some weird language he'd never seen before.
Sulasri, the group's sorceress, came up behind him and touched his shoulder. "That, Davies, is Draconic. The riddle reads; 'I never was, am always to be. No one ever saw me, nor ever will. I am always coming, but never arrive, and I come to collect you, unless you're alive.' On the door itself, however, those dials are draconic characters. Which means the answer is a combination. But below is an inscription. It's about at reading height for a Kobold. It says, 'Within lies our greatest treasure, which we must swear to protect.' So it seems the legend is true."
Davies and the rest set down to ponder. After tossing about all kinds of useless suggestions, they attempt the combinations. None of them work, but luckily, the door is set up to open on a right answer, and doesn't seem to be set to trigger upon a wrong one. Those words that old man spoke though, come unbidden back into Davies thoughts. What can it mean? Can't collect you if you're alive, that'd be death, but never am and always to be? It's like a madman's ravings... We can't exactly just leave after coming this far. Maybe we can sleep on it, and figure out the answer tomorrow.
"Tomorrow, then?" Davies asked, yawning. Sulasri, fiddling with the word lock, spun the dials into place. In a fortunate misunderstanding, she assumes Davies means to try it. With an audible click, the door creaks slightly ajar.
"Brilliant work, Davies!" Teague shouted out. "Now let's get in there and see what we got!"
"Wait! Wait, by the 12th layer of the Abyss, we don't know that there aren't more traps inside!" Davies shouted, frantically chasing after him. Rounding the edge of the inward door though, there is nothing amiss. A pocket of light appears in the wall, illuminating the narrow passage. Shrugging, Teague grins, "Well, I ain't dead, so all's well what ends well, yep?" Taking the lead, Davies brushes past him and begins seeking signs of traps. Leading them further into Yikyik's cavern.
At the end of the tunnel, they enter a rather spacious natural cavern, sealed off by all but the passage they entered by. And ahead, the rotten remains of what appear to be... huts. To the farthest side is a scummy puddle of muck, where a slow trickle of water runs down off the walls. In front of the central building, the largest and most prominent hut, sits a kobold, gazing towards them... Grinning. "Hello?" Davies calls out. The Kobold makes no move, and Teague pushes past him. "It's just a Kobold. Let me 'andle this 'un." Striding staight up to it, he begins laughing. "Ooh, this is the big scary Yikyik? So scary, eh Davies? This stinky li'l blighter's been dead centuries! Seems like there's more of this fancy letters like the door."
The rest of the group catches up. Sulasri peers to the floor and stiffens. "Sulasri? What's the matter? What's it say?" Peering back up at him from under her long, golden hair, her breath begins catching in her chest. "The riddle, the inscription, it all makes sense now." She sits on the floor, and begins to weep. "We never should have come in here."
"WHAT THE 'ELL IS THIS!?" Storming out of the central hut, Teague throws a brittle orb to the floor, shattering it. Dust scatterts across the floor. "It's all just rotten straw and cloth, in all kinds of junky baskets and boxes. Full of these!" Absently, the quiet gnome picks up a shard, and examines it. "What're you cryin' about, missy?" Teague demands of Sulasri.
"These a-hem, appear to be some sort of egg, he-hem." The gnome scratches his chin. "So where then, is the gold?"
"There is none." Sulasri says, limply shifting her head at the floor. "It's draconic again, and it reads; 'Congratulations. You have solved our riddle, and found our greatest treasure. But thy knoweth our treasure as surely as thou spake it.'"
"Tomorrow." Mused the gnome. "Well, there's nothing here then, but old bones and death. We should ah-hem, leave promptly."
Davies shakes his head slowly. "No, there's no point. We're surely caught, and well. There's no way out, at least, not anymore." Teague whirls towards him. "Whaddaya mean, not anymore? WHY THE 'ELL NOT?"
"Think about it," Davies said, stroking the stubble on his chin, that had already grown an inch since entering the cavern. "When we opened that door, we set a timer. Just enough time to allow us, at good speed, to make the end of the corridor. By now, whatever he had in store for us is already in place." Teague just stood there, staring as Davies explained the situation. Howling in fear, Teague took off running back down the corridor, He didn't get more than 100 feet before the corridor abruptly ended, and what had been a five foot wide corridor was now solid rock.
The gnome, clucking disapprovingly at Teague's childish behaviour, begins looking through the huts for anything useful or valuable, pocketing things from the dessicated corpses of those who came before them. Davies settles down and began unpacking his bag alongside Sulasri, organizing out food rations beside the scum covered pond. "As long as someone else comes along to attempt entry, the corridor should clear, once they solve that riddle. Water won't be much of an issue, if we collect it from the running trickle. But as for food... We just have to survive until then." Glancing up at the age cracked scales, drawn tight over the skeletal frame, he could have sworn he'd seen the eyes gleam, and that horrid, deaths head grin widen slightly.