Ekrall willed his body still as the deepdweller took another step forward. The stocky creature was almost on top of him, and even closer to Iglek, but was too blind to see the crafty spear-fighter. By the time he did, it would be too late. One more step….
Ekrall leapt to his feet and uttered the word the magic had taught him. His blood surged with heat and power; magic being magic, the blast he unleashed on the foolish interloper was as cold as the breath of mighty Icektoth, the white head of Tiamat. The creature raised his shield to catch the brunt of the blast, and might have succeeded,but Iglek’s spear knocked it back down. Icicles were forming in its already pale beard when he hit the rancid sewer water like a falling ice floe.
Ekrall and Iglek hit the water right after. The fallen deepdweller’s comrades were quick to respond, and fiery missiles lit the tunnel inches above their heads. It’s what they always did. These things were sturdy, sure, and strong, but they lacked cunning, thought Ekrall, sinnowing after Iglek through the admittedly putrid waste water to the other side of the sewer, where the wall provided cover from the volley of darts still falling the water around him. They’d be rushing forward now, depending on the missile fire to keep their heads down while their hammer wielding brethren invaded Mudscale territory. If they were smarter….
The shaman dove to the sewer floor, then pushed up out of the water, exploding onto to the small catwalk along the sewers edge. The deepdwellers were there, just as he supposed, charging behind shields, hammers ready to strike. Ekrall called forth his magic again, Kurtulmak’s birthgift, and sent a bead of ice darting towards the oncoming shields – and over them. He heard a bark, just then (what the warmbloods called laughter?) and a shout in their unintelligible tongue. They thought they had him. Warmbloods never could tell when they’ve become prey, he mused.
The ice bead struck the overhead guideline, and cut clean through. Without it, there was nothing holding back the hundredweight of debris, trash, muck and filth suspended in the net they’d hung over the catwalk. A moment later, there was nothing left of the deepdwellers’ bold, predictable charge. A pair of swift jabs from Iglek saw that it stayed that way.
Ekrall ignored them, scurrying back across the rickety gangplank to the western redoubt – one of the three redoubts that had once held many claws worth of his cunning Mudscale clan mates. They were down to three, now, but it was still the clan home. Eggs may yet be laid in its heart. Young may yet crawl their way through shell to swell their numbers. The surface dwellers had given him his first glimmer of hope since the false Tiamat had led so many Mudscale kobolds away, but it had been many days since the human and her followers had left in pursuit. Perhaps they were dead. Perhaps the dark elf betrayed them, and sent these others to plague them. Kurtulmuk hadn’t shown him in his prayers, but perhaps he yet would.
But first, there was the matter of the dart throwers.
“Urthuk,” he called across the chamber, as he sped across redoubt towards the gangplank on the other side. “Ready yourself.”
The shaman raced across the gangplank, and another wave of bolts flicked from the tunnel, but he was moving too fast. He hit the far catwalk and rushed toward the tunnel, knowing he’d be fully exposed once he cleared the corner. He called on his birthgift, and power welled within him. When he came around the corner, the deepdwellers were waiting, down the hall. Too far. He leapt for the sewer water, but they were ready for him, and he was in easy range. The darts flew.
And slammed into dragon-scale, as Urthuk burst from the water to intercept the fire. He barked in triumph as the volley ended, without a scratch between them. The deepdwellers grasped for hammers as the wiry Ekrall leapt from the water again, this time in their midst, dwarfed by the stocky attackers all around him. Too close to escape.
When he unleashed his power, nothing remained in the hall to threaten the Mudscale clan.
“Praise Kurtulmak,” he said. “Praise Tiamat.”
“Let none disturb our nest!” shouted Iglik, from the catwalk “Let none….”
The fireball cut off the rest of his words.
Ekrall stared in shock as the plume of flame raced towards him. Urthuk proved faster, pulling his shaman down and covering them both with his shield. The fire washed around them, singing robes and licking scales. When it cleared, Urthuk glanced over the shield, then grabbed Ekrall and pulled him into the water.
“Clever,” he said, before hitting the water.
Ekrall got one glimpse of the hall before he went under, and it made his tail switch in panic.
There was a new tunnel in the middle of the chamber, and deepdwellers were pouring out of it.
It took him a moment to collect himself. “So it ends,” he thought. A strange calm descended over him, then, and he began to swim in Urthuk’s wake. The holy warrior was swimming straight to the central redoubt, where the nests were kept. He meant to make his stand there, as was proper. There would be no young to raise to cunning, to scavenge and provide for future broods. There would be no mates to eat his flesh, so that he may live on and give spirit to future glories. They would die in an empty hatchery, and their enemies would burn their flesh. Perhaps it is well there were no eggs to crush. He would ascend the clanspire and call down Kurtulmak’s fury on the deepdwellers. Urthuk would defend him until they broke his body and sent him to Avernus. Then he would die, and the Mudscale with him.
He climbed from the water and raced for the central redoubt, as Urthuk covered him. Darts slammed into the shield, but it held. They rose to race inside, and the world exploded.
What happened in the next few moments, Ekrall couldn’t say. Flagstones pressed against his face. His vision swam, and sounds became distant. The deepdwellers moved forward, shields raised, hammers in hand, but they moved slowly, as if time had slowed in the blast. Behind the sheildbearers, the deepdweller’s shaman crossed the gangplank, staff in hand. “Strong and clever,” Ekrall thought. “They deserve the nest.” The shaman raised his staff toward him and aimed. Ekrall looked past the implement into his rival’s eyes, and it exploded in blood.
For one moment, he thought Tiamat had struck through him, but in the next, his heart sang.
The Mudscale Clan lived.
Kobold warriors swarmed out of the tunnels and over the invaders, crashing into shield with claw and spear, with surfacers’ steel. Shocked, the stocky things fell back, fighting towards the tunnel, but before he blacked out, Ekrall knew they’d never make it.
His bargain with the human woman had held. The surfacers had kept their promise.
As he passed into darkness, the future of the Mudscale Clan were born again.