Celestra was still coughing and brushing away smoke when Kah first heard the impacts. Pound-pound-pound. Like rocks on the mountainside. Pound-pound-pound. Too rhythmic for tree-falls, too rapid for thunder. Pound-pound-pound. It sounded almost like footsteps, except far too heavy. Unless…
Peering through the forest, the barbarian could just barely make out the shapes of his friends, Salek and Fror, sprinting toward them.
And in their wake, just a few paces behind, thundered an enormous troll.
In the space of a few seconds, Kah bounded over to the half-felled tree which the giant beaver had been chewing through, and began to push. He waited for just the right moment, wanting to drop the tree on the troll at the exact instant he emerged onto the road.
Pushing the thick trunk over at precisely the right time, Kah was too late to stop it by the time Salek and Fror started shouting, “No, stop! He’s with us!”
Kah tried to grab the falling mass, but it was too far gone. As the troll broke through the tree line, the heavy trunk hit him squarely on the head. The troll dropped to the ground, stunned but ultimately harmless.
Celestra blinked in surprise, and then turned to Salek and Fror. “He’s ‘with’ you?” she asked, incredulous. “We’ve been looking for you all day, and you’ve been, what, collecting trolls?”
“Uh, well, no…” said Salek, exchanging a quick glance with Fror.
“It started like this,” began Fror.
The adventurers then spent the next short while catching up, recounting their respective adventures. Kah showed off his new purchase (while Celestra pointedly sighed), and Salek told his friends how they had hired Gavin the troll to join them for a while after he was left behind by his friends.
Then, just when they had made the connection of both having run into the so-called “Midnight Shark Dragons,” another rustling was heard from the forest. Focusing his elven eyes, Salek was just barely able to make out the source.
“You’ve got to be joking…” he murmured.
Through the forest, straight toward them in a blind panic, were the very rogues themselves: Narissa, Ned and Tibolt, with Narissa’s beaver not far behind. They seemed utterly terrified, and they ran with an awkward lilt in their step, their hands still bound behind their backs.
When they got within shouting distance, Narissa called out, “Soldiers! There are soldiers in the woods, coming this way!”
“How far out?” Fror called.
Coming to a stop in front of the adventurers, Narissa spoke between heavy gasps. “Not three hundred yards out,” she replied. “Now listen, I know this is going to come as a major shock, but you need to hear what I’m about to say and not lose your head. This is a crisis, and we need to remain calm.”
Taking a deep breath, Narissa said, “I think Q’art Hadash is under attack.”
The adventurers exchanged glances. “Yeah, we knew that,” Celestra responded flatly.
Narissa’s eyes went wide. “You knew?!” she shrieked. “And you didn’t tell us?!”
“When would we have told you?” Salek asked. “When you were stealing from us, or when you were trying to kill us?”
“Any time would have been fine!” Narissa snapped. “Alright, well–” Suddenly, she stopped. “Gavin?”
The troll looked up from where he was sitting nearby, still rubbing the tender spot on his head. “Hello,” he said simply.
“What are you doing here?”
“They gave me coins,” the troll replied.
“We gave him coins,” Salek confirmed.
“Alright,” Narissa said, seemingly deciding to come back to that topic later. “Well you have to untie us. If you do, we promise to protect you.”
“You couldn’t protect yourselves, from yourselves,” Fror retorted. “No way are we letting you go. You’ll just stab us in the back, no doubt.” A wicked gleam appeared in his eye, and he added, “Or rather, you’ll try, and then we’ll be stuck patching you up in the middle of a battle.”
“Ha-ha,” Tibolt intoned. “Well if ya will’na let us go, we’ll just have to break out on our own.” At that, he let out a mighty bellow as he tried to rip his wrists apart, sundering the ropes that bound them in a single display of might.
A moment later he let out a whimper. “I think I may have broken my hand…”
“Alright, I’ll tell you what,” Salek said, pulling out a dagger.
“Do not approach me with that!” Narissa declared, backing away several steps. “A single dagger can do no harm to us. We are the night, we are–”
Narissa fell silent.
“I’m going to let you go,” Salek said, “as soon as you promise not to help us. Don’t watch our backs, don’t help us out, just run away and let us handle it. Deal?”
Narissa considered that for a moment. “Deal,” she finally said.
Salek quickly sliced through the ropes binding each of the brigand’s hands, (in truth it was a very thin weave), setting them free. Rubbing her wrists, though, Narissa simply smiled. “You are honorable, elf,” she said. “But do not worry: we will not make you face this threat alone. We may have defeated each of you in single combat, but now we will allow you to join us in the defense of this land. And when the battle is won,” she added, “we will be back for our troll.”
Turning to face the southern forest, Narissa charged into the trees, crying, “To war!”