Chapter One The Salamander Gate Torrim Harmalk toppled against the wall, sliding down it and coming to a seat on the cold stone. His armour and backpack made a thunk that echoed through the spiral stairwell, as did the clatter of his axe dropping beside him. He was gasping for breath and bleeding - a contradictory loss and gain of what he needed. The others were around him, likewise catching their breaths and licking their wounds. And overhead was only the roaring chatter of the Kobold, fading as the Salamander Gate closed overhead. The valley clearing they had come through was now overrun with soldiers from the surface camps, but none would be making a pursuit this day. Like cool lava the bedrock, soil and stone blocks rolled back as quickly as they had parted, bound with roots as they sealed the stairway in darkness. Everything became a palette of grey and black, the Dwarf's darkvision compensating. Then a torch was struck and light returned to their enclosed world. And with it came memories... "You whoreson pox-shitting lizard!" The first arrow had pierced his forearm, just beneath the elbow, and though he had snapped it off the arrow was still embedded. Kobold weaponry - small, crude and vexing. He wouldn't be able to swing his axe without worsening the damage. It was this that enraged Torrim - not just the humiliation of taking an arrow the moment he arrived at the valley's edge. But being denied a chance to wield his war axe... that was unforgivable. As Torrim charged towards the lake, he left behind his allies engaging the spearmen. In doing so his back was turned to the exploits of the Halfling Rogue Beligzbuss Longbothem II. Accounts would vary afterwards, (from Biggs' hyperbole, Tristan's tales and Torrim's disbelief), but no fewer than three Kobold met their ends that day on the Halfling's blade. With Tristan and Nior giving distraction, Biggs had been able to flank the trio of Kobold and deliver crippling sneak attacks, finding weakspots with his native dagger. The tactic, cruel and devastating, belied the bumbling nature the Halfling portrayed. Torrim had always thought Biggs a chattering fool, good only for kicking like a yapping dog. But this... this was impressive... Yet Torrim Harmalk thought nothing of this as he hurled himself through the air in a running leap at the archers beyond the lake. His rage, however, gave false account of his nimbleness, and with a roar the Dwarf came crashing down into the fast-flowing river. Cursing and thrashing, his weight pulled him under... "Halfling!" Torrim yelled - the first word to break the breathy silence in which the adventurers huddled in the sealed stairway. He locked eyes with Biggs, who seemed to have had his own run-in with the water, and there was a pause. A pause in which Torrim's eyes softened slightly... the only mark of some fledgling, newfound respect. He held his uninjured arm out. "My axe!" <img src=http://www.iwakuroleplay.com/attachment.php?attachmentid=17249&d=1354753882 align="left" width="300" style="padding:5px">"Get me my axe while you're over there!" Torrim shouted as Biggs went leaping onto the eastern bank - completing with a flourish what Torrim had failed. The Halfling had been shadowing the Dwarf, trying to throw rope to him, but after Torrim had yelled some abuse Biggs had resumed more important actions. As Torrim drove the holy sword of Pelor into the island mound, Biggs hurried to do likewise on the shore. The first two beams of golden light shot towards the place where the Salamander Gate would open, and as golden warmth bathed him, Torrim plunged back into the water and swam quickly to the west. He could see Tristan up ahead. The bard was exhibiting his usual behaviour - namely attempting to do things he was not skilled at doing. A typical human. He had just given up hacking at the vines of the Assassin plant, his efforts upstaged by Nior as they had been by Biggs earlier, and was now attempting to climb the western cliffs, unaided by climbing gear. Torrim almost laughed, but feared swallowing more water. As he reached the shore he felt static in the air - the telltale discharge of magic, then saw Tristan go running from the cliffs in terror. Wisps of black smoke trailed around his head. The bard had been cursed by fear magic from above. It was not Tristan's day. Torrim hoped the bard would be more useful in the trials ahead. Getting ashore, the Dwarf saw Nior hacking through the Assassin plant and rallying with Tristan. "That's the spirit, lads!" he shouted, before turning his sights on the southern ruin. "You call that stone! I've seen better craftmanship on a goblin's arse!" Then, with a scream, the Dwarf began a headlong charge towards the crumbling walls. "Next time bring a grappling hook!" Torrim snapped at Tristan in the stairwell darkness, his hand still extended towards Biggs. "Or better still, crawl back to the surface and get mine!" The Dwarf was harsher than he should have been. Tristan had done his best, but in the end it had fallen to Torrim to scale the cliffs. Now there were Kobold arrows in his arm and back and rope-burns on his hands from where he had abseiled down during the escape. His beautiful silk rope and grappling hook had been left behind - plunder for the Kobold rats - and Torrim's skill at climbing would be inhibited for the rest of the dungeon. He almost regretted his words on seeing the acid burns that marred Tristan's arms and chest. The bard had taken the full brunt of the Shaman's magic. He had tried... ...but Torrim had loved that rope... Torrim was covered in old dust - the remains of root-crumbled masonry that clung to his sodden clothes. He had barged through the first of the walls encircling the fourth mound, but the second was proving troublesome. With a blaze of arcane fire, the Wizard Searoth was beside him. The Elf had been happily looting the dead and letting his feathered rat do all the work, till the sound of Kobold reinforcements had convinced him to give a damn about the task at hand. Searoth's selfishness was going to be a problem - of that Torrim was sure - but at least he was an effective killer. And Elves were always good for a laugh. And laugh is what Torrim did, heartily and gleefully, as the Wizard threw his fire spell against the second wall. "Hurr hurr! Trust an Elf to try and set fire to a brick wall!" Searoth might have retorted - might have shot back some death threat or semantic squabble, which he was fond of doing - but seemed more than a little distracted by the fight to save his own hide. The Elf tossed Torrim his own Holy Sword before turning and leaving through the breach in the first wall. And it wasn't long before there was another charge of magic, accompanied by the howl of a Shaman falling dead from the cliffs. Good at killing; not so good at breaking down walls. Torrim chuckled again and threw his body through the second wall, demolishing it in a wave of dust. Feeling a little sorry for how hard he had yelled at Tristan, the Dwarf turned his glare on Searoth, who was wringing water from his robe. His understanding of tactical retreats seemed as impaired as his stonecunning. "And you... You best be sharing that gold, Elf!" There was a squawk as the Familair, Caracktacus, swooped from the steps above and came to settle on Searoth's shoulder. Torrim swatted as it passed overhead. "We fought hard for it while you and your bird were looting bodies!" Now was as good a time as any to berate him. Searoth seemed half-exhausted, his strength sapped by the river. He would need time to rest... and that was time enough to face the consequences of his actions. Whatever Searoth lacked in altruism was made up for by the sheer heroics of their fifth member. As Torrim reached the top of the cliffs, ready to drive the final holy sword into place, he glanced down to witness his allies defending the stairway. The armoured cleric, Nior, had moved ahead to the riverbank and was drawing the Kobold arrows. Strike after strike came against his armour, but with steel and magic he weathered the hail. Nior was buying time for the others. Already covered in sap from the Assassin Vines he had cleaved through, now he was matching it with blood. Impressive indeed. It was a comfort to Torrim, to know that the priest would stay up here as long as he... that Nior would not desert an ally in need. As arrow after arrow slammed against the Cleric's armour, Torrim grunted and got to his feet, drawing the final holy sword and preparing to rappel back to safety as the Salamander Gate opened with a quake of thunder. Another wave of pain washed over Torrim and he dropped down on the steps, sitting to catch his breath. Nior was above him, watching the stairway re-seal. There was still a sheen on his armour - a faint glow of magic that would soon be gone. Perhaps it would be best to press on, before the spell wore off, or perhaps wiser to rest and heal up in this stairwell. Ancestors knew what further perils lay ahead... "Well, Lad, I guess your god smiled on us. Best see who needs healing. But don't be wasting those spells of yours." With a grunt the Dwarf reached over his own shoulder and pulled the second arrow out of his back. "Don't worry about me," Torrim grunted as he tossed the head aside. "It'll take more than Kobold twigs to bring down the Son of Harmalk."