When we last left our heroes, their course was set in pursuit of Orcpra, the foul Orc Queen. Their only clues were a golden necklace which seemed to have a connection to the Queen's magic, and the vague notion that she was in a land to the south where winter had not set so harshly.
The party stuck to the road for some ways, making several days trek before coming across the smell of woodsmoke somewhere to the East. The party split, with Justice and Cunnin making their way through investigate, and then ultimately Cunnin using his stealth to creep up to the source and investigate. Ultimately, the smoke was rolling out of a small cave entrance. By the volume and density of the smoke, an estimate was made that it was a small camp or cooking fire. The small, scratching footprints in the snow around the cave entrance gave good indication of the inhabitants - kobolds.
Returning to Justice, a brief debate was had on the relative merits of ignoring this cave in pursuit of their higher goals vs stopping here in pursuit of the highest of Orcly traditions: a good raid. Ultimately and unsurprisingly, the raid won out and the remaining members of their party were gathered. Tuska was, once more left somewhere safe guarding the baggage.
The party crept back to the location of the cave mouth, with Cunnin scouting ahead. He moved carefully through the entrance, avoiding a trip wire set at the mouth only to rattle a set of hanging bones. The kobolds looked up from their cook-fire and fled down a northward corridor deeper into the cave. Realizing his error, Cunnin went back to the party that now waited at the cave-mouth.
"I think they heard you coming."
"Raph not sneaky. Sorry Cunnin."
He quickly explained the tripwire and the situation. The kobolds had no doubt taken up defensive positions deeper in the cave mouth. They could be walking into an ambush.
So gleefully, they marched onward to face their ambush.
They rounded the corner to the abrupt north passage and found themselves facing down a line of kobold ballista not much larger than heavy crossbows. The volley arced its deadly fury down upon them, but the quicker members of the party reacted quickly enough to get out of the way. A single bolt managed a grazing strike on Raph, but such was his massive bulk that he did not register the wound. The next moments erupted into chaos. Cunnin loosed his crossbow into the side of one of the kobold defenders, but failed to bring it down. Kobold slingers rained rocks down upon the party, a lucky shot ringing Justice's helm and nearly knocking him unconscious. Taz brought both swords to bare, hacking his way into the fray and Raph charged the line of ballista head on, smashing his way through the weapons and defenders alike as though they were beneath his notice.
When the dust settled, Taz had acquitted himself well in the melee, catching his breath among the ruined bodies of the kobold defenders. Raph was now covered in gore, carrying a kobold spear as a prize. Or toothpick. Justice was gravely wounded and was forced to call upon the aid of Gruumsh to heal his wounds. Even as the power of his faith sealed his wounds whole he began to question his convictions. It was not the first of such battles that had turned poorly for him, and time and again his hammer failed to find it's mark. Is Gruumsh even watching?
The hall before them formed a natural four-way intersection. In the westerly direction, a large wooden double-door stood with metal furnishings. Additional pathways went to the north and south, or back east from the direction they came. Rather than proceeding further, Cunnin raised a hand to halt the group, before uttering the four words of terror "I have an idea."
Cunnin called out in common, his voice echoing down the stone halls "Parlay?"
Confused noises could be heard from down the northward hall, whispers and the barking speech of the kobold tongue. A few moments later, there was movement and a single representative of their kind appeared before the party. It barked out in clipped common "You. Leave!"
"You are kobolds. We are orcs. Orcs raid kobolds. It is the way of things, but it does not have to be. If we fight you, you will die and we will take everything. But if you pay us now, we will leave instead."
The kobold considered this for a moment, then barked back to his fellows around the corner. After brief discussion, he shook his head and tried again. "Kobolds not bow to Orc! You! Leave!"and then proceeded to fold its arms and flap its elbows in a manner not unlike the chicken dance, hissing and spitting at the floor.
"Your friends don't have to die."
The kobold at this point turned and ran back around the corner. After a few moments of silence, Cunnin tried one last time "Is that a no?"
The reply barked back at him from the darkness. "Ff-f-ffffffffaaack you!"
Taz had translated much of the affair to the remaining party. At the last line, Justice questioned "What does that mean?"
"I guess they aren't feeling reasonable."
With a shrug, the party moved down the tunnel into which the kobolds had retreated. Some time during this, the Justice's mind began to spin. The pieces all fit together. Raph's flawless Chopin. His seeming invincibility in combat, his unparalleled destruction, his innocent and unexpected "from the mouth of babes" wisdom. What if Raph wasn't just a simpleton, but instead connected to some higher power? He seems simple to us only because we are not capable of understanding the raw power of his mind, operating on a level so high above us as to be incomprehensible. What if Raph himself is a god?
The orcs fell upon the defenders. Crossbow bolts and sling stones arced across the battlefield. The bard's swords nearly sang as they crossed through the air and landed their blows. Raph smashed kobold upon kobold and Justice, inspired by the might of this new god called out to him for power. So imbued, he set upon the enemies, his hammer crumpling one after the next until none stood before him. Yes. This was it. This is what he had been looking for.
In the aftermath, a number of kobold young were discovered hiding among some supplies in the back of the cave. Some discussion was had as to what would become of them, but Cunnin had other things on his mind. He slipped back to the intersection of the tunnels to examine the double door. He very carefully examined the frame and the ground before it, finding nothing of note. He let his hand go near the handle without touching it to check for heat and was rewarded when the hair on his arms stood on end as though by static.
Standing back, he squirted a brief stream from his waterskin at the door, careful not to let it be long enough to lead back to him. Where the water touched the metal furnishings, it sparked and crackled filling the air with the smell of ozone.
It was about this time that Justice came to check what Cunnin was doing and cautiously watched the experiment. Cunnin explained that he thought it might be some kind of electrical trap, and asked if Raph still had the kobold spear. Justice nodded and went to retrieve the item, holding it with the kind of reverence due to such a sacred relic, wielded in battle by the divine.
Cunnin nodded in thanks, taking the spear and immediately snapping the metal head off of it. Justice fell a step back in horror and stormed off, taking the now dislodged head and muttering to himself.
With the wooden shaft, Cunnin carefully pushed the right-side door back, careful to ensure that wood touched only wood, and equally careful to ensure that he was around the side of the door, not in the path of the entrance. The door swung almost frictionless open back against the wall behind it, opening fully. He moved to the other side and repeated, getting the same result. As the left side touched the wall behind it, a row of spears shot up from the floor just inside the door-frame as though to impale one who incautiously stepped through.
Confident that the door was the pressure mechanism, Cunnin stepped through and saw before him a great hoard of boxes and chests, barrels and scattered coin. The remainder of the party entered in behind him and with great excitement went to investigate. Despite his initial enthusiasm, Cunnin took a step back across the threshold. Suddenly, the Kobold's awkward chicken dance made a great deal of sense.
"I don't think we should be in here." He made another step back out of the room.
Justice made to open the first chest, when the pile of treasures began to shift before them, revealing the body of a great red dragon waking before them. It's motions were jerky at first, eyes glowing red and head leveled to stare at those who had trespassed in its domain.
Realizing his fate was sealed, Justice took a step towards the beast and tried to explain the circumstances. "Ah, if we had known the kobolds were in your service, then we would never have attempted to -- AH HA!" he lunged forward, trying to spear the dragon in the eye with the spear of Raphginus only to fumble the draw and drop it on the ground. [ed: Of all the times to roll a 1!]
The dragon reared its head back, and Justice looked back to his new God for aid. Raph looked around for a moment and declared "uh. Raph heard Cunnin say he needs help in hallway. Raph will be back." And the giant demigod ran out into the hallway.
"Raph? Why have you foresaken me?"
As Raph came out, Cunnin stepped in, determined to throw his lot in with Justice. The tribe will live or die as one. However, rather than a certain death, what Cunnin saw was almost comical. He swaggered in, weapons sheathed and bellowing.
"You know who we are. You see what we can do. We have your women, your children. Surrender now and we will take our gold and leave. If you don't, we will slay every last one of you."
Justice turned, wide-eyed and horrified, immediately attempting to interject "that's not --- he doesn't mean ---"
It is at this point the "dragon" fell from the wires that had suspended it, seeming to deflate all at once. A few moments later, three kobolds emerged from inside the chassis of it with a guilty, embarrassed grin. Justice and Taz stood in stunned silence for a long moment. Cunnin crossed his arms, waiting.
The two kobolds gestured to the treasure pile and booked it for the door, disappearing down another corridor.
Our heroes loaded up everything they could carry, which was some considerable sum of coins, a pair of magic daggers, an enchanted crossbow, a magic breastplate (that was too small for any of us), a golden necklace with a saphire stone, and some miscellaneous gems.
Honoring their word, the tribe gathered up what goods it could carry and left the remaining kobolds unmolested, setting forth back into the world for another adventure.