Swords & Shipwrecks, A Live LitRPG Story

Please note that all decision trees have been removed from this copy. You may watch the episodes via YouTube to see the various decision trees and statistics employed. I will eventually format this living draft to include stat sheets.

Chapter 1: Enter the Dungeon (watch via YouTube)

From a distance a piercing cry filled the air, as all the birds in the trees seem to quiet all at once. Amos looked around, searching the canopy for a clue as to what might be causing the dread silence. Golden brown leaves swayed in a gentle breeze, and a few branches brushed up against one another like eager fingers.

Sweating, alone, and completely out of his element, Amos looked around with panic in his eyes. He pressed through the thick and uneven brush, using calloused hands to move the foliage aside. It was hot, hard work, even though the noonday sun couldn’t penetrate the canopy above.

After a few moments, he heard the beginnings of birdsong returning. Tree trunks began to become more sparse as he pressed on, and before he knew it, he had emerged into a meadow.

Barely believing his eyes, wondering if it might be simple fatigue, Amos spied what looked to be a wounded woman in the center of the thicket, her face turned away from him and her chestnut brown hair spilling about her shoulders.

Amos timidly approached the fallen woman, and as he neared he could see that she appeared to have the features of an elf. Harbouring no ill will towards the elder races, Amos found himself somewhat in awe at finding one of their kind in such a place as this.

Seeing a broken bow made of yew next to her, Amos assumed that this elven woman was something of a warrior – and that she’d been taken by surprise. The strange thing, however, at least in his mind, is that she appeared to be relatively unharmed. No wounds were apparent on her figure. Her armour, though somewhat weathered and caked with grime, showed no sign of damage.

Kneeling beside her, Amos reached out one hand and laid it upon her shoulder, shaking her gently. A weak moan emerged from between her lips, and the birdsong that had slowly begun to return to the woods intensified. Her eyelashes fluttered, and she eventually managed to regain consciousness.

“Leave. You must leave,” she said, her voice brittle.

Shaking his head, Amos indicated that he wasn’t going anywhere.

“You’re hurt. That much is clear… yet, I see no wounds.”

The woman pushed herself up into a sitting position, cradling her head with two pale hands.

“What came for me does not leave such scars. And I have no interest in confronting that threat again.”

Amos simply nodded, looking about with a renewed concern as the reality of their situation once again entered his mind.

“Amos,” he introduced himself simply.

“Elbrindel,” she nodded as she replied.

Amos helped Elbrindel gain her footing, casting a glance down at her broken bow.

“Pity about the weapon, looked to be a fine one.”

“It was, but nothing that cannot be remade given enough time – of which we have little. Let us leave this place before…”

Amos again nodded curtly, lifting his sword to the ready and gesturing that they should leave through a slight opening in the treeline.

“How long have you been on this island?” Amos inquired.

“About a month, but it’s honestly hard to say. My mind is still loose from its moorings, and here – all time blurs together. I do have a place we might call shelter, however.”

Showing signs of trust, Amos found himself impressed with his new companion. His anxiety, constantly battering at the wall of his resolve, abated slightly. He felt his shoulders relax, some of the tension he’d felt earlier seeping away.

Together, with Elbrindel in the lead, the two worked their way through the trees. After about an hour’s travel, they emerged near a rocky beach, the surf pounding the stones. A large lean-to, constructed from driftwood and covered by thick slabs of loam and sod – topped off with dried palm fronds – rested against a clay embankment about 100 feet from the shoreline. The remnants of a small fire could be seen outside of the shelter, contained within a ring of blackened rocks.

Amos saw a trio of mangy, emaciated looking coyotes sniffing about the camp – and one of these lifted its angular snout to point directly at them both.

With a keening, high-pitched howl, the coyote sprang forward, teeth bared. Its companions weren’t far behind, a flash of tawny fur and feral hunger.

Faster than Amos could react, the lead coyote sprang forward, all teeth and claws. The coyote, in its urgency, failed to judge the distance and flew past the pirate, landing just to his side. Amos raised his sword arm, and brought the bright blade down in an arc towards the beast, missing it by a wide margin.

The second coyote came in quickly, attempting to bite Elbrindel’s hand, but she was too fast and pulled it back in the nick of time. In response, Elbrindel readied a dagger she pulled free from her cloak, but failed to find the flesh of her attacker.

The third coyote was much more fortunate, springing forward and managing to claw Elbrindel’s leg, biting through the supple leather to draw blood.

Amos, seeing his companion’s leg ensnared by the coyote, once again sliced at the beast in front of him, catching it straight between the eyes. The blade bit deep, cutting through skin and skull, and the coyote fell with a whimper.

Not to be outdone, the smallest coyote – one with a black streak running down its back – attempted to jump towards Amos’ extended arm, grabbing his wrist in a bite. Amos cursed in pain, but did not drop his weapon, knowing that could be a fatal mistake.

Elbrindel, wracked with pain and still finding herself light-headed from the previous attack, stabbed wildly at the mutt gripping her leg, but to no avail.

Totally focused on the job at hand, Amos wrenched his wrist free from the small coyote, turning the sword around and jabbing it earthward, piercing the ribcage of the coyote and pinning it to the ground. Inspired by Amos’ bravery, the elf steadied herself, took a short breath, and then – faster than the eye might see – drove the slim steel dagger deep into the eye socket of the last coyote.

It was done. Breathing heavily and raggedly, Amos and Elbrindel looked at one another, having survived their first battle together.

Chapter 2: Swords & Shipwrecks (watch via YouTube)

“Are you hurt?” Amos inquired, giving his companion a look of concern.

“Yes, but not too badly. You should be worried about that arm,” Elbrindel retorted, giving a wry grin.

Both headed off in the direction of her camp, the only noise the ebb and flow of the waves breaking on small stones on the shoreline. Two crude chairs were present beneath the cover provided by the lean to, and Amos immediately took a seat.

“Got anything we can use to bind our wounds? It’s best to deal with this sooner, before any chance of infection.”

Elbrindel thought for a moment, her brow furrowing. She, too, took a seat, and then reached over beside the scorched stones ringing the fire pit.

Quickly she withdrew a small canvas sack. Reaching one hand within, squinting as she focused on grabbing the right items, Elbrindel pulled forth a bundle of rags and a bottle of clear liquid.

She handed both to Amos, a stern look on her face. Amos uncorked the bottle, bringing it to his nose.

“Holy hell! Your crewmates actually drank this gutrot?”

The foul and bitter stench of the hard alcohol in the bottle seemed perhaps more dangerous than the wound itself, at least to the seasoned seafarer.

“Didn’t figure you for a milquetoast, Amos.” Elbrindel gritted between clenched teeth as beckoned for her materials back. Amos halted her, and quickly began soaking a strip of cloth with the liquor. He then bound the wound on his arm, hissing in pain as he felt the burning begin.

Elbrindel repeated this process, wrapping the soaked rags around her lower leg. However, she was stoic enough to not show any pain registering whatsoever.

“Tough one, eh?” Amos remarked coyly, the heat from the alcohol beginning to penetrate the wound.

“Tough enough.”

“We should likely stock up on some food – berries, mushrooms – and herbs from the treeline if we’re to properly treat ourselves and get something in our stomachs,” Elbrindel suggested.

Amos agreed wordlessly, taking just a moment to collect himself, shutting his eyes to the world to gather the strength to keep moving.

“One thing first, we should definitely skin and dress those coyotes. Good meat, and the pelts could come in useful,” Amos thought out loud.

“Looks like we’re both bursting with ideas today, Amos.”

Together, the two set about their task. Using their blades, they made short work of the coyotes, leaving bloody bones and little else on the rocks.

Wrapping the meat in some of the remaining large fronds – the same used to reinforce the roof of the shelter – Amos and Elbrindel made for the treeline.

With the sun hanging low in the sky, dusk quickly approaching, the two companions found themselves standing before the sparse but large trees making up the outskirts of the mysterious forest.

After about a half hour of frantic foraging, Amos cursed and kicked a nearby clump of earth. Unfortunately, a strong root was hidden beneath the moss and leaves, catching his toe and causing him to trip and full unceremoniously. Elbrindel barked out a quick but genuine laugh.

“Haha! Fearless Amos, defeated by a simple root. Slayer of all who come before him, bested by vegetation.”

Amos’ face reddened as he scrambled to regain his footing. He pointed a finger at Elbrindel, but thought better of attempting a rebuttal. He eventually settled for brushing some of the dirt and clay from his clothes.

Stifling what remained of her good humour, Elbrindel produced a large handful of various findings.

Large fleshy mushrooms, their caps unsullied by disease, looked absolutely delicious. She had also found medicinal herbs of various descriptions – Amos thought he recognized bitterleaf, a panacea for poison and infection – as well as bright red, blue, and black berries in various stages of ripeness.

Now that daylight was nearly done for, only half of the sun remaining visible over the ocean horizon, Amos and Elbrindel return to their campsite. On the way back, both the pirate and the elf collected driftwood to build a fire with.

Regaining their shelter, and their seats, Elbrindel laid her spoils out and began sorting them meticulously. Meanwhile, Amos began setting up small sticks and tinder. Elbrindel produced a flint and Amos took little time in cultivating a small blaze.

“Those coyotes the only thing we have to worry about tonight?” Amos asked as he worked on the fire, moving bits of wood about.

“Well, there’s one thing that I hadn’t mentioned yet, but I suppose I shall despite the late hour and our current situation,” Elbrindel said after a long pause.

“While exploring the coast of this island – and by now I’ve seen almost all of it – I’ve found a few things of note. Of course, the vessel that brought me here is to the north, hull broken open and the spoils spread everywhere. I doubt much remains.”

“That makes sense,” Amos replied, grabbing another stick to feed the flames. By now, the blaze was sizable – large enough for cooking. “So what you’re saying is, we’re sharing this island with at least twenty or thirty other poor bastards.”

Elbrindel nodded, pursed her lips, and then continued.

“Yes, but that number may not be so high this day. Many have perished, some by my own hand. And besides, I’ve not yet reached the heart of my story.”

“Go on,” Amos implored. He stood to unwrap the coyote meat, wrapping the lean flesh around a girthy stick and placing it above the licking tongue of the fire.

“However, to our south, perhaps about an hour’s journey at a brisk pace, lies a cave mouth. It leads downward, to what depths I do not know. I never dared cross its threshold, hearing all manner of moaning and other unsettling noises coming from the cave – at all hours.”

Amos shivered, not being a great fan of the undead – or of anything particularly magical, to that end. He felt a chill go down his spine and involuntarily shuddered, letting his mind a bit loose from its moorings.

“No need to worry… overmuch.” Elbrindel concluded, noting Amos’ increasingly pale countenance.

Amos shook his head, muttered something about the hells, and focused all of his attention on the sizzling meat. Meanwhile, Elbrindel tossed a small metal cauldron on the hot coals, adding some water from a wineskin, a handful of dried herbs, and the mushrooms she had foraged earlier.

“A bit of that meat in the cauldron – and some aside of course, for later – would make for a delicious stew,” Amos suggested.

Elbrindel nodded her agreement, and the night wore on with both of them maintaining their silence, their thoughts ranging far and wide and, eventually, within.

“I’ll take first watch,” Elbrindel broke the silence, staring at the fire pit.

Amos yawned, shrugged, and grabbed a handful of dry rags to cover himself. He reclined against the wall of soil and was soon snoring loudly.

About an hour later, with the elven woman feeling the tug of slumber pulling her down into its depths but resisting, Elbrindel spied something out of the corner of her eye.

Glinting eyes, three of them.

Barely visible against the starry night sky, a pair of winged creatures, circling above. Elbrindel grabbed her nearby bow, squatted low beneath the cover of the lean to, nocked an arrow, and let fly. Unfortunately, the distance was too great, and the arrow narrowly missed, drawing the attention of the winged creatures.

They whirled, and began to swoop earthward as Elbrindel shouted for Amos to awaken.

With a practised hand, Elbrindel managed to loose another arrow towards the incoming creatures before they could close the gap. This time, the arrow struck true, and elicited a loud shriek of pain – an eerie blend of bird, beast, and woman – from the target. The arrow’s shaft jutted from what Elbrindel could now see was a harpy, the tip having buried itself deep in a feathered leg.

Fear and anger commingling in its feral eyes, the harpy lashed out with taloned feet, seeking Elbrindel’s chest. The talons couldn’t quite bite home, raking lightly over the leather protecting her and digging furrows in it.

The second harpy, as yet unscathed, crashed through the dry canopy of the lean to, all claws and feathers, hissing. In its rage, it struck Amos with both claws, drawing a great deal of blood. Amos cursed, beating the beast back from his face, feeling it go numb. He staggered away from his foe, wiping the blood from his brow and steadying himself.

While Elbrindel tossed down her bow in favour of her blade, her opponent found itself lodged – entangled – in the remnants of the lean to. Meanwhile, Amos saw the second harpy swoop in towards his head, ducking and thrusting his sword skyward.

The tip of the steel found the exposed stomach of his assailant, cutting a deep furrow into the beast’s belly. A grievous wound, one returned, caused the harpy to fall from flight, crashing into the rough stones of the shore.

Elbrindel stepped in, taking advantage of the bound harpy, delivering a brutal slice to the creature’s neck. A crimson spray erupted from the harpy’s torn artery, covering Elbrindel in gore.

Seeing the fate of its companion as it stood, the second harpy cried out – a high-pitched, ear-piercing call. Both Amos and Elbrindel were too deep in the throes of battle to be put off by the beast’s desperate play. It whirled to flee, turning its back to both of its enemies.

Amos, driven by wild anger, pursued. He leapt at the harpy’s back, seeking to plunge his sword through its flesh. Elbrindel, seeing Amos stumble and miss his mark, sprinted at full speed, trying to lodge her own steel into the fleeing monster.

Elbrindel was more successful than her pirate companion, flitting the edge of her blade between the harpy’s distended ribs. With a noise that seemed a monstrous mixture of a human sigh and a birdlike coo, the harpy collapsed – dead at their feet.

Chapter 3: The Cave (watch via YouTube)

Amos heaved a great sigh of relief, attempting to staunch the blood from his wounds with a free hand.

“This island just keeps trying to put us in the grave it seems,” Amos said, sweat rolling down his face at the exertion of the combat.

Elbrindel simply nodded in reply, surveyed the immediate area to make sure that the two were alone and that there we no further threats, and then rushed to Amos’ side to assist him.

“Thankfully, that bitterleaf that I found earlier will work wonderfully for a poultice – and we’re in shortage of cloth,” Elbrindel noted after a cursory examination of the great, ragged slashes across Amos’ skin.

Applying her practised hand to the task, she quickly bound Amos’ wounds, the pirate wincing as the bitterleaf was brought to bear.

“Don’t be such a child,” Elbrindel chided. Amos shot her a glare, but said nothing.

“Sleep now, and tomorrow we’ll decide what to do about our encampment,” the elven woman suggested. She quickly realized she was talking to a man in the deepest of sleeps – great snores issuing forth from the seaman – and smiled to herself.

***

The sun rose, the warmth from its rays embracing both adventurers as they rested, exposed to the elements. Fortunately for them both, no other beasts harried them that night.

Rising first, Elbrindel gathered her cloak from a nearby pole, wrapped it about herself to eliminate the last of the night’s chill, and set to making a hearty breakfast.

Mushrooms from yesterday’s forage at the treeline, some choice bits of charcoal-cooked meat from the coyotes, a handful of savoury herbs both gathered from the forest and salvaged from the shipwreck to the north, and a skin of fresh water would make for a nourishing broth – a thin stew.

Soon, Amos woke, finding the pain in his chest and on his face to have significantly diminished. Inwardly he felt deep appreciation for the ministrations of his new companion, and found himself admiring her.

The broth was delicious, all of the ingredients working together. As Amos sipped at the clay cup containing the mixture, he noticed even more strength returning to his limbs. Despite daydreaming, Amos wondered what might lie inside the cave that Elbrindel had mentioned last night.

Leaning back and considering the now-destroyed canopy of the lean-to, Amos spoke his first words of the day.

“Suppose that cave, you know, the one to the south you’d mentioned… What if it was actually just men, sailors like myself, who’d been captured and taken within? No need for ghost stories. Could be worth investigating.”

Elbrindel’s lips formed a tight line, her skepticism plain on her fair features. She shook her head slightly.

“No. I don’t think so. I haven’t heard sounds like that coming from any man I’ve known,” she replied.

Amos was undeterred, feeling his courage return as he downed the thin stew.

“If we’re to have any hope of staying alive in this gods-forsaken place, we’re going to need some more supplies – and perhaps more. We can’t simply eke out a night-to-night existence hoping that we don’t get eaten every time we close our eyes,” Amos said.

Not wanting to point out that she’d managed to make it on her own through many such nights – mostly by avoiding confrontation, or hiding from it – Elbrindel acceded.

“In some ways, I agree. Two are stronger than one, though much more conspicuous. Are you fit to travel?”

Amos stood, shaking the stiffness from his legs and rubbing his torso with his arms.

“Yeah, it still hurts a bit, but you fixed me up good. Should be fine to at least investigate the cave. Maybe whatever was inside is gone.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Elbrindel did not sound overly convinced.

Finishing up their breakfast, both Amos and Elbrindel began to make ready for the cave. Advancing along the shoreline – Amos admittedly drifting in and out of a daydream as he allowed himself to enjoy the bright, sunny day and the sound of the tide rolling in and out – both remained silent.

Then, as if out of nowhere, Amos lifted a bandaged arm to signal a stop.

“No. Halt here,” he whispered, crouching low and moving over the the rocky shore to hug a clay embankment nearby.

“What is it?” Elbrindel asked under her breath.

Amos described a high-pitched cackle, likely humanoid, and somewhat primitive. Elbrindel pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes, thinking back through her catalogue of experiences on the island so far – and coming up blank. It went without saying that they should proceed with great caution.

Still staying near to the raised embankment so as to remain as inconspicuous as possible – and invisible to those who did not exist the cave mouth entirely – the two crept closer to the entrance.

Once they were within thirty feet of the cave mouth, a craggy outcropping providing shade to those who stood within, it was Elbrindel’s turn to reach one hand back to halt her companion. Pointing, she indicated a squat green-skinned form hunched in the shade provided by the the craggy outcropping.

“Goblins,” Elbrindel whispered, her words barely audible.

Amos nodded and began to advance, keeping his body weight low and his feet light. Meanwhile, Elbrindel readied her bow, took aim at the center of the goblin’s torso, and waited for her opportunity to let loose.

As Amos neared the periphery of the cave mouth, the stones beneath his tread betrayed him, grinding together. Hearing the noise herself, and seeing the goblin’s bald head whip to the source, she relinquished her hold on the bowstring.

Despite training her aim in advance, the arrow flew wide of its target, clattering loudly against the rock wall nearby. Now, the goblin hopped up from the driftwood stump he had been using as a stool, drawing a cruel but rusted scimitar from his rag loincloth.

Amos wasted no time in closing the distance, gritting his teeth as he lashed out with his short sword. However, his luck was as poor as his partner’s, and the slice went well wide.

Elbrindel took a few steps forward, frowning at Amos’ ill-timed swing while firing off a second arrow with ease. This time, as fate would have it, the arrow struck true, catching the goblin in the neck. Black blood spurted from the wound, and within moments the small creature lie dead.

Thinking on his feet, Amos quickly bent down to lift the body of the small goblin onto his shoulder, moving away from the cave mouth to dump it unceremoniously out of view.

“Let’s set up a trap and ambush them when they come calling,” Amos suggested.

“How about a tripwire? I have some very thin, strong rope that I gathered from the wreck, I think it was used for lashing. Should serve the purpose,” Elbrindel replied.

Amos gave his curt assent and the two quickly began installing the rope, caking their hands in dirt, sand, and mud and running their palms along the taut cord, concealing it from the eye.

“We should move the body out near the shoreline, just in front of the tide – it will keep their eyes away from the floor and will spur them forward. Simple creatures, goblins,” Amos suggested, having encountered their kind on the high seas, often as part of disposable raiding parties.

Both Amos and Elbrindel worked to place the corpse on the shoals, placing the rusted scimitar in the creature’s stiffened hands.

Chapter 4: Cast of Characters (watch via YouTube)

The companions returned to the cave mouth, standing on either side of the entrance, hoping to flank whomever – or whatever – came calling after they’d raised the alarm.

Imitating the shrill, nasal hysteria of a panicked goblin as best he could, Amos cried out loudly.

“Help! Heeeelp! Humans!”

Elbrindel, arching an eyebrow over Amos’ impersonation, which she judged to quite poor. Amos sheepishly shrugged, a bit of a blush coming to his cheeks.

“Worked out a lot better in my head,” he hissed, readying his weapon.

Moments later, the sound of small, scrabbling footsteps could be heard echoing dully from within the cave. The noise intensified as the gaggle of goblins neared the entrance, and more than a few excited squeals reverberated off the stone walls of the cavern.

The squeals soon turned to shouts of dismay and confusion, however, as the monsters found themselves tripping over the wire that Elbrindel had set, two of the small creatures falling flat on their faces directly in front of Amos.

Amos took full advantage of the situation, quickly falling upon the foe at his feet. His blade found purchase in the goblin’s belly, spilling its contents upon the sand.

Elbrindel darted forward, aiming the edge of her blade at the other defenseless goblin’s neck. In seconds, it was over, a vermilion sash drawn clean about the collarbone, lifeblood splashing freely.

One scraggly looking goblin, larger than the rest and with a mohawk of fine black hair running from brow to the back of its pitted skull, raised a crude war ax and charged at Elbrindel. However, in its apparent fury, the swing went wide, stone against stone the head clattered off a nearby wall.

A small, sheepish looking goblin at the back of the pack looked terrified to see its companions slaughtered in the blink of an eye, and stood stock still while clutching a tiny paring knife, frozen in place.

Finally, a third survivor struck, springing from the cave mouth with a crude iron spear in hand, hurling it at Amos as the pirate stood over his kill.

The spear took Amos in the thigh, sticking in place. Despite the small size of the weapon, it did cause Amos to wince in pain, dropping to one knee involuntarily. He cursed under his breath, particularly damning his bad luck as of late.

A red mist of rage settling over her vision, Amos shook off the spear wound and aimed a vicious thrust at the unprotected chest of his assailant. The metal easily slid deep into the monster’s ribs, breaking some free. Amos’ foes face twisted in agony, and then the goblin sank to the earth, defeated.

Appearing entirely placid in immediate juxtaposition with the snarling face of the large, angry goblin, Elbrindel smoothly sidestepped it while stabbing out with her knife multiple times, her hands a blur, the point puncturing the kidneys. She twisted the hilt cruelly with each blow, ending it quickly.

The last goblin, shaking off its petrification in favour of panic, turned on one heel and began sprinting clumsily deeper into the cave. Not wanting to let any of the foul creations escape, Elbrindel calmly took out her bow, nocked an arrow, and let fly.

Unfortunately, her arrow did not fly true, steering to the right and splintering against a stone wall.

“Dammit!” Elbrindel spat, tossing down her bow in disgust.

This time it was Amos who raised an eyebrow, smirking slightly.

“We’ll take the time to check this bodies before proceeding – but there’s no way they don’t know we’re coming now.”

Elbrindel nodded, the frustration plain in her expression.

Quickly checking the filthy pockets of the goblins – or at least the pockets of those wearing clothes beyond a loincloth – the companions found nothing but a trio of copper coins.

Finally entering the cave, stepping gingerly over the trap they’d set, Amos and Elbrindel surveyed their surroundings.

Dark rock walls flanked them on either side, and a soft, sandy floor supported their feet, though the dampness in the air made for slippery and inconsistent footing. At intervals, creeping out of long, irregular cracks in the cave wall, small and glowing mushroom caps lit the way. Their pitiful light was not enough to dispel the growing darkness – Amos was reminded of his lack of darkvision, shooting an envious glance at Elbrindel – and stopped her with a hand motion.

Crouching low, Amos scooped up a handful of fungi, the blue-green luminescence of the mushroom caps giving off a persistent glow.

“Gather enough of these together, and it might serve as a torch,” Amos suggested, not wanting to be blinded as they went deeper into the cave.

“Clever. Didn’t think you had it in you,” Elbrindel retorted archly.

Chapter 5: The Depths (watch via YouTube)

Clutching the caps in his hand, Amos continued alongside his companion down into the cave. He noticed that as they plunged deeper into the depths, the temperature began to drop precipitously. The skin on his forearm began to tingle, the beginnings of goosebumps in evidence.

“Finding it a bit cold?” Elbrindel asked.

“Yeah, seems strange for a place such as this. A bit of a dank, damp feeling is one thing. This feels… different.”

Elbrindel closed her eyes, her elven beauty hard to ignore despite the danger. After a moment’s meditation, she nodded, nearly imperceptible.

“This cave contains a source of great arcane energy. The cold you feel is unnatural, magical,” she said.

Amos’ superstition spurred him forward, a twinge in his gut also paining him. The wound in his thigh had started to close, but the blood still ran freely down his leg. This time it was Elbrindel’s turn to halt, demanding a better look at his injury. Moments later, she’d bound it with another poultice. It did not seem to slow their progress.

Rounding a rocky corner, the party was confronted by a junction – one path winding right, the other hard left.

“Strange scent coming from the left,” Amos said as he crinkled his nose.

“Not a pleasant one,” Elbrindel agreed, lifting her longbow and leading the way.

The path to the left was short, and the narrow cavern walls soon broadened out to allow for a much larger chamber – what appeared to be a larder and kitchen.

Three large meat cleavers, mostly rusted and coated with bits of bone and rotten flesh, were piled up atop a long wooden bench. The bench was just high enough for a goblin to work at it, meaning it was slung very low for both Amos and Elbrindel. A row of blackened, gore-stained meat hooks hung from an iron bar hammered into the rock wall, the hooks motionless and none of them occupied. Crude canvas sacks – Amos immediately recognized them as coming from a ship of some sort, the construction and thin material meant to resist the salty brine of the ocean and the humidity of the same – lay crumpled in various places on the floor. They were torn apart, their contents largely having been looted. Some leftover supplies had been trampled underfoot – a pulped tomato; a hunk of moldy cheese, and a mysterious spiny fruit which had been left unmolested.

“See anything?” Amos murmured. Elbrindel shook her head as she scanned the room.

Moving through the large chamber, noting that no light other than that cast by his improvised torch had been seen since entering the cave with increasing alarm, Amos spied something out of the corner of his eye.

A sleek black cat stalked the periphery of the room, rail-thin body hunkered low. It crept along, but its glowing golden eyes gave it away in the darkness. It locked gazes with Amos, both creatures realizing that they had been spotted.

“Pstpstpstpstpst,” Amos whispered, trying to call the emaciated feline closer. Elbrindel, following Amos’ stare, also glimpsed the cat. A look of surprise, then recognition, crossed her face.