Forte began to clean up the messy remains of the battle. The party burned the body of the dead dwarves, and collected their weapons. Forte personally smelted down Stoneface’s mithril hammer. He discovered that while the outside of the hammer was coated in mithril, the inside was steel, granting the hammer the properties of mithril while keeping the price reasonable.
After the smelting was complete, he began to explore the surroundings around the outpost of Avalon. Lush green forests surrounded Avalon, with rich valleys and clear streams of water. The flora and fauna was plentiful, although most of the plant life was inedible around here. Raptors were an uncommon sight. Gentle slog herds grazed on the plentiful grass, and hill giants lounged in a valley not too far from Avalon. There were a few caves. The caves were populated by a beast the pirates called the kobold, a green lizard like animal that walked on its hind legs and communicated using common language, the language spoken by humans, dwarves, giants, and other creatures.
One such cave peaked Forte’s interest, as it radiated an aura of ancient dark magic. He felt an aura similar to the one he felt from the tower at the Rock of Gibraltar. The cave was teeming with kobolds, which Forte did not seem to mind. In fact, he viewed it as a challenge. The kobolds were roughly the same height as dwarves, and made a tongue clicking sound while they talked. They seemed to be skinnier and weaker than dwarves though, and were armed with scavenged weapons and armor, if they were armed with anything at all.
“How would you like a snack, Nightmare?” Forte asked his dragon as he pet his head slowly. He was sitting on top of Nightmare’s back, watching the kobold infested cave from a safe distance.
Nightmare shook his head.
“Oh, you don’t think they taste good, huh. Picky eater.” Forte chuckled.
Nightmare snorted, puffing out a plume of fire. Forte played with Nightmare’s shimmering black scales, and then continued to pet his dragon’s neck with his hands.
“Regardless of whether or not they taste good, I have to get through them. And I don’t think they’ll let me just walk past, so we need to fight them. Let’s toast some kobolds.” Forte said, hopping off his dragon and drawing his greatsword. Nightmare followed Forte as they walked through the lush forestry, stepping in leaves and a few ants on their way to get closer to the kobold cave. Forte brushed aside branches as the cave got closer, eager to get a better look.
He stopped and motioned for Nightmare to hold position, as he observed the kobolds. One of them had brought back a rusty spoon, and showed it to the others, who looked elated. Forte inferred that the kobolds were hoarders. They had probably picked up a dark magic item by accident, and hoarded it in their caves, which explained why Forte sensed a dark aura emanating from the cave.
He walked closer, and was immediately overwhelmed by the smell. The kobolds smelled of fermented berries, as if they were brewing wine. Forte could see the ragged, fetid leather the kobolds were wearing as boots and gloves. He could see that they were creatures of intelligence, although only modest intelligence.
Forte motioned his dragon to attack. Nightmare burst out of the clearing, and breathed a stream of fire at the kobolds, who began screeching in panic. Forte walked into the clearing and readied his gravitite sword. He charged and smashed a kobold in the side with the flat of his blade, destroying the kobold’s ribcage and injuring its internal organs in one move. The kobold was sent into the air briefly by the force of the blow, and then landed in a lifeless heap. Nightmare continued to toast the kobolds, as the green lizard looking people advanced with their crude weaponry and armor. Another stream of fire from the dragon seared the kobolds in their misshapen leather and iron armor. Forte battled with three kobolds, smashing them with his sword without mercy. They fell in a few moments to Forte’s powerful swings.
More kobolds emerged from the cave, and Forte summoned Blackbeard to fight with him.
“Give em hell, Blackbeard!” He bellowed.
“Easy like usual, m’lord.” Blackbeard boasted.
Blackbeard sank his ghastly cutlass into kobold after kobold as he fought alongside his master. What felt like an endless stream of kobolds came out of the cave, and as night fell, Forte called for a tactical retreat. Forte leaped onto Nightmare’s back and the duo flew towards Avalon, while Blackbeard’s soul returned to Forte’s amulet. Together, they soared through the starry sky over the lush expanses of greenery and dense forestry, towards what was once known as the valley of the hill giants. Now it was simply a valley, and the home to the outpost of Avalon. They camped for the night, having lost the kobolds on their trail a few miles back.
The next morning, Forte rose early and prepared for a second assault on the kobold cave. He headed over to the mines, where Cook, Tew, and Jack were hard at work extracting orichalcum, coal, and iron.
“Listen up boys, I have some new work for you today.” Forte chimed.
“What’s the work my lord?” Jack responded.
“We had a good haul yesterday!” Cook added.
Forte took a hard look at the sweaty pirates. Cook’s belly had no receded a bit despite all the manual labor. Forte realized that the physical forms of the pirates were locked into the state that he found them in. Jack and Tew were lean, and Tew was scrawnier than Jack. All three of them were battle tested, and their swordsmanship seemed to be improving with experience despite the lack of physical improvement to their ghastly forms.
“I need you guys to help me remove some kobolds from a cave.” Forte responded.
“Kobolds are keen little buggers. Will do.” Cook replied. “When do we leave?”
Forte took one last look at his sweaty miners, and then smiled. “Let’s leave now.”
He took the souls of all four pirates into his amulet, ceasing their mining duties for the day. They departed at noon, and arrived an hour later to the clearing with the kobold cave. The kobolds had formed a defensive perimeter of warriors, and they were more numerous and more heavily armed. Forte decided to attack from an angle, and ordered Nightmare to land in a thicket of forest by the cave.
He summoned all four pirates, and signaled them to attack. The party charged through the thicket into the clearing outside the cave, and crashed head on with the kobold warriors. Nightmare inhaled deeply, and then exhaled a stream of molten fire on the kobolds, toasting them where they stood.
“Waera.” Forte cast, as he began channeling the wind to amplify Nightmare’s fire stream. His amulet of darkness lit up and vibrated slightly. Together, they acted as a giant flame stream that slowly swept across the battlefield, setting kobolds on fire. After Nightmare ran out of fire, they began their assault in earnest. Forte and the pirates charged towards the cave, as the pirates let loose their signature battlecry.
“Yarrrr!!!” They bellowed.
The pirates sank their ghastly cutlasses into kobold flesh immediately, and Forte followed suit by battering any unfortunately kobold that neared him in his bloodlust. A kobold swung at Forte’s head with a mace, who dodged the swing and returned with a grueling blow to the side with his gravitite greatsword. Another kobold with a helmet stabbed at Forte with a sword, which was deflected by Forte’s iron chest plate as he returned fire and killed the helmeted with a blow to the head so hard that it bypassed the helmet’s protection. The pirates sliced and diced, as kobold appendages flew in the air. Cook was first to fall, and then the burly Blackbeard dissipated after getting surrounded by a group of kobolds and getting hit by a blow to the back of the neck.
Nightmare singed the group of kobolds that killed Blackbeard with his last reserves of fire, and continued fighting. He ripped apart kobolds that attacked him with glee, and the kobold’s weaponry could not pierce his tough scales. Forte was pushed back until his back was against a tree by a group of seven kobolds, but Nightmare burst through and freed Forte from the surround. A blow to the head caught Tew, and his corporeal form turned to dust. Forte and Nightmare fought like madmen, and before long, all the kobolds were killed.
Forte examined the corpses and found nothing of real value. He proceeded into the cave with his dragon and remaining pirate companion. The cave was large, and extended deep underground. Moss grew on the sides, and mushrooms from the corners of the cave. The scent of fermented berried grew stronger as they walked through. Forte decided that it wasn’t an unpleasant smell, despite not being a particularly pleasant one either. Inside the cave was a vast assortment of small pieces of rusty pieces of plate armor, swords, axes, maces, ragged clothes, empty potion vials, and the like. Little to none of the weapons or armor were in proper condition, and Forte did not pick any of them up. Forte followed the dark magic aura through the cave, and finally located its source, further into the cave. As he walked forward, his ears perked up, as he had found something else. A voice started speaking from the end of the cave.
“Do you hear that, Frank? That’s not a kobold. It might be a human!” The voice said excitedly. His voice bounced off the sides of the cave.
“You might be right! Help! Help! If you’re human, save us!” Frank shouted.
Forte groaned has he realized what had transpired. Not only did the kobolds hoard armor and clothes, apparently they also hoarded captives as well. Forte walked over and revealed himself, alongside the spectre Jack and his dragon.
“Ahhhhh!! Don’t eat us!!” A young man yelled, fear settling in his eyes at the site of the ghost and the dragon. The sound of his voice echoed through the cave.
Forte examined the captives. There were eleven captives in a giant cage, holding what looked like bowls of gruel and huddled in ragged clothing. By the look of it, they were commoners.
“I’d like to free you all, but first I need to hear your story. Make it good.” Forte declared.
Water dripped from the ceiling of the cave. The dank air and heavy smell of fermented berried was difficult to breath.
The man named Frank stood up and began. “Very well. We were all slaves caught on the southern outskirts by Count Florien’s men. We were being transported back to his estate when a wyvern appeared from the forest and attacked the slavers and the horses. We used the cover of chaos to escape. In our hurry to escape the slavers, we ended up lost and travelling far away from the human domain. Just our luck, as on our third day free, we ran into a roaming kobold tribe that was nearly a hundred strong. They took us prisoner last year and brought us with them as they settled here. Although we hated being prisoners, they fed and clothed us for an entire year. In exchange, we taught them language and other basics like cooking over a spit. Good thing you came too, because we were running out of things to teach them.”
Forte nodded. These were a rag tag group of outcasts who almost became slaves. He felt some sympathy for them, but also realized that they could become very useful. Forte noticed that there were only male slaves fit for working. He guessed that their particular cart was filled with manual labor slaves.
Nightmare snorted in boredom, exhaling a wisp of smoke. The captives looked nervous at the display.
“If I simply freed you now, you would have nowhere to go, even in the human domains. How about I offer you all a deal at my mining outpost of Avalon? You will mine orichalcum, iron, and coal. A dwarven merchant—“
“A dwarf? They still exist?” Frank shouted, exasperated. The other captives murmured to each other.
“Yes, and not only do dwarves exist, so do dragons.” Forte responded.
Nightmare perked up and belched a cloud of fire. Frank’s jaw dropped and eyes widened in disbelief, as the captives started talking amongst themselves.
“Now if you will let me continue. A dwarf will come purchase your ore every week or so. And here is the agreement. You will get sixty percent of the earnings from the ore, and the rest goes to me. And don’t you dare think about stealing the ore. My pirates and dragon will be watching, and you will lose your lucrative job. Sound like a deal?”
Frank shook his head in disbelief. “Sixty percent… that’s generous of you, sir. Of course we’ll take the deal. Won’t we, lads?”
“Beats a life of runnin’ away from slavers and stealing, that’s for sure.”
Frank smiled. “We have a deal.”
Author’s notes: I’ve downplayed the romance in this novel a lot so far, and replaced it with grand adventure and action. Originally this novel was going to be heavy in romance. Hope you all are not too disappointed. But there is at least one romance planned in the future.