Chapter Fifty-eight: The Enemy Base
The reinforcements Gauwyn warned of never came. Rather, the sentinels scurried off into the depths of the tunnels, the moment it became clear that they would never get another a shot in. Geoffrey and Sirai wanted to give chase but the warden held them back.
“They know this place better than we do”, he reminded them. “Only The Grim knows what sort of ambush or trap they have waiting in those tunnels.”
Despite his words, his insides burned with curiosity. He had expected the hobgoblins to come by now, charging and screaming. Clearly, they had chosen to stay back instead. Thinking about all the things the monsters could be doing in those tunnels caused him to groan in frustration. He hated the intelligent ones.
The moment the mage was healed enough to cast and take care of herself, he marched them down the route the sentinels took. This time, he did not cede control to Geoffrey. Glowing eyes scanned every inch of the passage whiles cautious feet controlled the party’s pace. When they drew close to a suction trap, he had Verrin cast a [Dispel] on the hidden glyph that triggered it. They watched stunned as the light and magic from the script that circled the mouth ebbed away leaving it useless.
Nevertheless, the dungeon’s devices were far from the only obstacles in their path. Besides the special spike traps the dungeon favoured, Gauwyn found no less than twelve different traps of goblin make. Poisoned darts meant to be launched from the walls. A strange contraption that tossed a flask of paralysing mist – all disarmed by Sirai under Guawyn’s careful instructions – and a mysterious puddle of harmless but sticky goo placed in the middle of the tunnel to force the overly wary off the beaten path and into the shadows on the side where several concealed bear traps awaited them.
It was all so expected and run of the mill that Gauwyn had to remind himself to stay on his guard. Everything thus far told him that they were dealing with garden-variety hobs when he knew they were not. Nothing in this dungeon had ever been what it seemed and so if the hobs had only taken the most common of measures to keep them away then he had to assume that they wanted the adventurers to come to them. The warden did not like what that suggested. He did not like it at all.
The tunnel soon widened before ending to reveal a truly massive cavern.
“Dear Lord on high!” Ogbad breathed out.
Dear Lord was right. It was at once, the most natural cavern they had seen and the largest. Sirai looked up, searching for the ceiling and saw nothing but blackness from which shone dozens of bright spots of light. These sunstones might have as well be true stars. They certainly looked the part. The ground was littered with boulders; fallen from above or carved out by the slow stream that meandered through the cavern. At least half of it was covered in thick green moss and small shrubs sustained by the slow and sparse drizzle of water that dripped from the ceiling.
Unfortunately, none of them were composed enough to enjoy this beautiful sight. They did not even have the presence of mind to admire the glory that was the formation of stalactites that loomed out of the gloom of the dark ceiling to peer at those below. They were beautiful, catching the light by means of the minute minerals left by the water that dripped off them. Only one thing held the attention of the adventurers and it was the half-finished fort directly opposite them.
It was a small fort relatively speaking. The curtain wall – still unfinished – was only about seven metres high and less than eighty long. However, it was being built smart. The hobgoblins were carving out the cavern wall, taking advantage of the jut and building into it. The stone from this was then used for the walls which seemed to be the current focus. Fortunately, that meant that besides the main building little else was finished. Even the towers were incomplete and several sections of wall lacked proper battlements.
The whole place was bustling with activity. War drums beat like throbbing hearts, directing the defenders. All construction had ceased. Tools were put away and workers armed for battle. Builders’ platforms, ladders; anything and everything that could hinder defensive manoeuvres or prove helpful to invaders was destroyed and tossed aside. At least a dozen archers lined the walls, staring that the party of invaders and daring them to come close.
“I don’t…” Athart muttered. “How did… why did they?”
“It was those thrice damned archers who ambushed us!” Geoffrey spat. “They rose the alarm! Took one look at us and started bawling.”
Even so, it looked to be overkill. Rousing an entire fort to fight off half a dozen adventurers? At first, it seemed there was no need but then he saw that most were rank twos and threes. He imagined what it would have been like if his party caught them unawares, dressed in workman’s clothes and wielding simple tools. A dark grin ghosted his face. They would have killed them all, made them pay for what happened to Teca.
Gauwyn ignored the byplay between Geoffrey and his team. His attentions were solely focused on the fort. He did not need a plaque to tell him that this was the boss chamber or that the key to beating this floor lay somewhere behind those walls. His eyes, still glowing with that unsettling cobalt hue, sought out weaknesses and marked down the strength of the defenders.
One fort still under construction. A simple wall and gatehouse with only one functioning tower. Even the walkway in some sections was unfinished, exposing sections of stone and mortar to his eyes. He noted how one of the uncompleted towers was quite low, lower than the rest of the curtain wall by at least two metres. That was a big weakness if he ever saw one. There were also some parts left undefended showing a lack of manpower.
Just then, several distinct calls met his ears. The assassin, his senses keener than any of the others, heard them as well.
“Nighthounds!” Sirai breathed tersely.
In his mind’s eye, Gauwyn pictured the hobgoblins releasing them from their cages and saddling them for battle. Direwolf cavalries were not uncommon among hobgoblins. However, nighthounds were vastly different from their cousins. While roughly the same size, nighthounds had the heads and talons of owls in addition to the bodies of wolves. More importantly, nighthounds could fly. That these hobgoblins could tame them was just another troubling sign to add to a list that did not want to end.
Movement on the unfinished keep caught his eye. There was a figure standing on the partially built landing. Enhancing his vision, Gauwyn brought his opponent into focus. At two metres tall, the hobgoblin was taller than the average human. His strong and sturdy frame spoke to his strength and power but unlike the hobgoblin leaders the warden was used to, this one did not turtle up. His armour was light, lacking most of the tough plain steel of his colleagues. He wore robes that looked like an overly long buff coat –slit at both sides up to his waist—and a pair of woollen breeches. What plate he wore covered only his left arm, from shoulder to fist, a configuration that Gauwyn recognized as protection for a shield arm. Strangely, he carried no shield and bore no weapons. Attempts to glean information on his rank, abilities or gear hit a wall when his skill returned nothing but blank results.
Clearly conscious of the fact that Gauwyn could see him despite the distance, or alerted by whatever means he used to block the warden’s scans, the hobgoblin raised his arm and beckoned him over, inviting him over with a hungry grin. Gauwyn ignored him choosing instead to continue scanning the fortress. On seeing that the warden was not taking the bait, the commander clenched all but his little finger and wagged it at him mockingly.
‘You’re not man enough!’ he seemed to be saying.