Friday, October 5, 2012, 8:32 PM
The ruin that is Kobold Hall sat atop a wooded hill near the edge of the Cloak Wood. The Cloak Wood covered some of the western portion of the Moon Hills. This hill had once been cleared for a minor noble of the Nerathi Empire to build his mansion and make a minor kingdom, but that had been hundreds of years ago. And like the Nerathi Empire, that great hall had fallen into ruin and the grounds overrun by the Cloak Wood. Then the kobold tribes of that dark forest had moved in and taken it for themselves. They had eked out a living by preying on traders on the road that Kobold Hall overlooked and occasionally raiding local settlements and farms. But something had changed. They were getting more aggressive and organized. The source of this change was what the cloaked figure had come here to discover.
She had been moving and avoiding kobold patrols for a week. Making note of their patterns and on lookout for sign of the dragon the Green Wizard was sure was behind the increase in kobold attacks. She had been sending back reports via little magical constructs shaped like tiny clockwork birds. These magical messenger pigeons had so far proven reliable in getting her reports to the Tower and returning with a response within three hours. But after nine days in the wild staying unseen, she was getting tired of sneaking around and eating nothing but jerky and hard bread. Then she heard the slight fluttering noise that indicated a clockwork flyer was coming to her. She held out her arm and it landed lightly on her forearm. There was a new message tube fastened to its leg. She unrolled the long sliver of paper and read the message. The time had come, now the “fun” was about to begin. But first she had to clear the way.
“So, we are agreed,” said Lord Markelhay. “Do you have anything to add Nimozaran?”
Nimozaran the Green, High Septarch of Fallcrest, looked lost in thought for a moment then responded, “I will require a day to ready the teleportation circle and gather materials for the teleportation ritual.”
Lord Warden Markelhay nodded, then turned back to the adventurers, “I will send a runner to summon you to the Green Tower when all is ready. Once you arrived at Kobold Hall, you will meet with Lerissa, she if one of several rangers in my employ and the best of the lot. She is quite capable and keeps me informed on what is happening in the vale.
Nimozaran spoke up as Markelhay paused, “She is also somewhat sensitive about her appearance, “ he commented, making strange motions with his hands around his head.
Sergeant-at-Arms Berk spoke up, “One of the lads let something slip the last time she was in town a month ago. He was a good lad… Shame really… He had shown a lot of promise… he’ll be out of hospital in a few days they tell me…”
Lerissa was decked out in fine leather armor. A stout longbow and quiver slung on her back. Her long sword and short sword hung on her belt in cross-draw fashion. In each of her thigh-high boots she also hid a fine balanced throwing dagger. Her hunter’s cloak helped to keep her hidden in the dense foliage of the Cloak Wood. She pulled back her hood to reveal a modest set of horns, curved like a ram’s. Beyond that was her hair, which seemed to shift between black and purple, was made up into braids to keep it out of her eyes. Her face was fine featured, with high cheek bones and flawless skin, which was a reddish-brown. Her eyes almost seemed to glow and shifted in several shades of orange. Under her cloak, her tail was also protected by custom-made leather armor. She moved with sure strides and little wasted movement. She was hunting, and she had found more quarry.
There were four of them, kobolds. A large tribe had moved into the ruins recently. They had run off or killed the weaker tribes that had been living in the ruin. They seemed to be another small patrol. She had already neutralized two others. And these looked to be as on top of their game as the previous two squads. This is to say, they seemed to be completely oblivious to their current situation, which was bad, for them. These kobolds had actually started a cooking fire and were roasting some unfortunate forest creature instead of maintaining a constant vigil for intruders into their tribe’s territory. “This won’t take long,” she thought as she loosened her blades in their scabbards and nocked an arrow. She took aim on a kobold 40 feet away.
The first to fall, the leader she figured from his slightly better armor and weapons, went down quickly with a bloody gurgle and an arrow in his throat. Before the others could react or see where the shot had come from, she had already moved and nocked another arrow. She took aim and let fly and another kobold fell to her deadly aim. The remaining two kobolds finally saw where she had loosed the arrow from and charged, throwing their javelins as they advance. One missed her by a wide margin, the other glanced off of her armor. She drew a dagger and her long sword, flashed a wicked grin, and charged into them
Lerissa took three steps before throwing the dagger. The finely balanced blade buried itself in the kobold’s chest up to its hilt. The last kobold made a vicious slash at her and his short sword raked at her side. That would leave a bruise, a bruise this kobold was about to pay for. She spun on one foot and in a whirlwind of flashing steel, she cut the kobold down with her long sword.
A little less than thirty seconds to kill four kobolds. “I’m getting sloppy,” she thought to herself.
She retrieved her dagger and wiped her blades clean and sheathed them. If the message she had gotten from that crazy wizard Nimozaran was accurate, the party of adventurers should be here any minute now.
Sunday, September 9, 2012, 1:44 PM
By Anton Spletstoser
Hamadar awoke and found himself in the worst agony he had ever known. Hamadar fought through the pain. He had to focus. He had to find her. He looked around the burning room, the once white hot ritual circle cooling to a cold blue glow, she had vanished. If he didn’t find her, he could never forgive himself.
Hamadar had always been impatient. Maybe that was because his parents had always given him what he had wanted when he had wanted it, he was their only child after all. They were one of the wealthiest merchant families in Greyhawk. He had the latest fashions before they went to customers. He had the best books and tutors, well, the prettiest anyway. He evened dabbled in the martial arts and found he had a knack for crossbows, but blades were beyond him. Then he had decided to study the arcane arts of the wizards. His parents had sent him to the finest college of mages in Greyhawk. He had dreamed visions of wielding arcane energies and glorious adventures like the ones in his books. But the brutal truth of the matter had hit him hard. He was not cut out to be a wizard. The course of study wasn’t just challenging, for him it was like a trial sent by a god. A god that did not like him in the least.
The University of Magical Arts was an ancient institution, most of it had been here since before the Empire. The stones of the three-sided pyramid so infused with magic that they seemed they would stand forever. Dormitories, libraries, lecture halls, alchemy laboratories, teleportation circles, and ritual rooms, were all contained within the pyramid, there were no apparent entrances or exits. Most theorized that the university was somehow bigger on the inside than it was on the outside, but it was the University of Magical Arts after all. The grounds outside the pyramid were the pride of the city. The acres of gardens, groves, and orchards that surrounded the pyramid rivaled the best of the High Quarter or the Garden Quarter. Of course many of the plants here were magical in nature and meant to supply the alchemists and potion brewers with material components for their studies and projects. There were hundreds of students enrolled at the university, and up to a quarter of them were out of the city adventuring. The instructors were very keen on practical field experience being the cornerstone of a career as a successful wizard.
It was here that he met Isabeau Islabethella. She was an elf who had started studying at the same level as he and she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. She had long flowing autumn orange hair and green eyes. She was outgoing and made friends easily. The instructors considered her a prodigy bound to become an arch mage just like her father. She seemed to have a natural gift with the arcane powers they were studying. When he had met her, it felt like some sort of massive clockwork clicked inside him. He actually began attending lectures on time. He did not listen as attentively as he should have, but he was there. And she made the danger of accidently being lulled to sleep by the instructor mage’s monotone worth it. He began leaving her notes, he tried to tell her jokes, and he even attempted spells beyond his skill, just to get her attention or impress her. More often than not these attempts seem to bounce off of her like a dull arrow off of heavy plate armor. And often lead to a stern lecture from a senior student or worse, an instructor mage. Eventually he got her attention and she smiled at him one day, He felt hope flare in his chest like a sun rod. He had always thought, “She’ll come around eventually.”
For the next year they continued to grow closer. For that year Hamadar struggled with his studies, barely keeping up, surviving academically mostly through Isabeau’s tutoring. They took their meals together and studied together. They had begun to spend more time together outside of class and he felt he could finally ask her, so he did, “Would you like to go out to dinner or maybe the theatre sometime or something?” GODS!!!! Almost a year and that the best he could come up with??? Why couldn’t he think straight when he was around her?
Then she giggled. That probably hurt more than what followed, it was the sort of giggle that’s tinged with, “I cannot believe you actually thought you had a chance.”
She stated, rather matter-of-factly, ”I like you Hamadar, I really do, but I cannot be seen to be officially courting you. You are a great friend, and I enjoy your companionship, but your magical talent is still lacking. My father would never approve, for he sets very high standards for me, he is an arch mage after all. I am honor-bound to follow my father’s wishes. And besides…you are just a human, no offense.”
He felt like all of the planes of the metaverse had just collapsed into his heart with the greatest implosion since the dawn of reality. He was so stunned he didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing. He vaguely remembered turning away and walked in a daze about the university until he came to the library. That’s when he had heard the voice.
“Come to me… You can have power…be worthy…it’s easy…”, he heard a sensual female voice that seemed to be whispering in his ear. The problem was it was whispering from inside his head.
He moved around the library, following the voice. He felt it growing stronger in his head. Then he came to the restricted tomes section. It was a section of the library that only senior and very experienced mages could enter for arcane research. The students told stories of strange things happening in this part of the library. Even the torches here seemed dimmer than the others in the library. But one thing was certain, only authorized individuals went into it. This was almost guaranteed by the heavy iron door and the very capable lock that sealed it. Almost.
“How am I supposed to get through that?” He thought to himself.
“I can help you with that,” the voice responded. “Open your mind to me.”
“What do you mean open my mi..” he started, then suddenly his head with filled with dozens of arcane symbols. He felt like his head was spinning. The symbols were swirling around so fast he barely recognized them. They suddenly they seemed to sort themselves out and in his mind’s eye, he suddenly comprehended their meaning.
“Open lock,” he whispered, though the sounds that actually came out of his mouth sounded nothing like that at all. The locked suddenly clicked open.
Hamadar opened the door just wide enough to allow himself to slip in. Then he closed it as silently as he could. It actually felt colder here. He whispered, “Now what?”
“Find me,” replied the voice, it felt like it was coiling around his mind like a serpent.
He ran his fingers along the spines of the books, one by one his fingers slid from tome to tome. Then suddenly his finger felt a curious sensation, like being frozen and burned all at the same time. He tried to pull his finger away. Instead his hand came back holding the ancient tome. It was covered in dust, bound in a dark ox blood (he hoped) leather cover, bound in cold iron fittings, and etched in runes he had never seen before. He opened the large book and began to read a language he did not know.
A few weeks later, Hamadar walked up to Isabeau in the grand study hall. She saw him and approach and spoke first.
“I do like you Hamadar, I really do. And I am sorry if my response hurt you,” she said, “But I felt that it was better to give you the facts instead of building up false hope for you. My father will simply not approve of someone who wasn’t a first class mage.”
“That’s alright. He said, “I understand your position. So I’ve decided to throw myself into my studies. I managed to speak to the dean and he’s asked me to assist him with a special project. If I succeed, it should greatly improve my standing here. But I will need your help to do it.” He flashed his best smile.
“So, when you do require my assistance?” she asked.
“Tonight, at midnight,” he answered, “Something about planar alignment or balance. So just meet me in ritual room four.”
Hamadar arranged the candles and other spell components around the summoning circle. It consisted of three concentric circles, each filled with runes and wards of an arcane nature. It was almost ten feet across. He wanted this to be perfect, it had to be. Once this was done, things would be the way they were meant to be. He double-checked his runes and the book. This would change the way everyone looked at him.
Isabeau arrived at the ritual room a few minutes before midnight. She surveyed the circle, her face showed her curiosity.
“What sort of project were you doing for the dean?” she asked, suspicion in her voice.
“It’s just a minor summoning ritual, but we’re going to test some minor wards, shouldn’t be a problem. We’re just going to summon a minor elemental. The wards will hold.” He said, though he didn’t sound completely convinced.
“So, what do you need me to do?” she asked.
“Read this incantation,” He handed her a copy he had made of the passage from the tome. “Then when I signal you, you need to recite it.”
She looked over the incantation, “Hamadar, this looks like Abyssal, when did you learn to read that?”
“I told you, I’ve been applying myself.” He replied hurriedly.
He stood in the center of the circle and began to recite part of the incantation. The circles glowed and came to life. The runes and symbols started to dance and rotate around the circles’ edges. The light from the torches and ceremonial candles seemed to flicker and then the flames appeared to be sucked toward the center of the circle. He signaled Isabeau to begin reciting her passage. She hesitated, this did not feel right. The air began to feel heavier, the light in the room dimmed despite the torches and candles. He gestured at her again, this time more urgently, she began the recite the words. When she finished, it seemed like all sound in the room was being absorbed by the circle.
A portal to another plane began to open over Hamadar. It pulsed with dark energy. Purple lightning arced out from its edges and touched the candles set around the circle. Hamadar looked up into the portal, a crazed grin on his face. His stared glassy-eyed into the portal. His mouth moved but words did not come out. A clawed hand came through the portal, it stroked his cheek. Hamadar seemed to be lost in pleasure. A whirlwind seemed to be issuing from the portal and was whipping wildly around the room. The torches were blown out, the flame seemingly sucked from them, but it didn’t blow out the ceremonial candles.
Suddenly Isabeau realized what this was, and what the runes in Abyssal had meant. It was as if a veil had been lifted from her understanding. This was bad, this was very bad.
“Hamadar! You have to get out of the circle! You have to stop the ritual!” she yelled over the increasing wail coming from the portal.
He ignored her, he was enraptured by the thing he gazed upon through the portal. It was the most beautiful female he had ever seen. She looked elven, but a little taller, with skin that seemed to fluctuate between violet and red. Her hair was long, pitch black, and would have reached the small of her back if it didn’t seem to move of its own accord. Her body was lithe and athletic, it was easy to tell because she wore no clothes. He seemed to be listening to words only he could hear. He spread out his arms, as if to embrace the entity.
Isabeau leapt between Hamadar and the entity and pushed him out of the circle. The entity embraced her from behind and bent its head down to whisper in Isabeau’s ear. Its clawed hands tore through her robes and undergarments, and then they seemed to melt into her flesh. A searing heat was emanating from them. Their bodies were fusing together. Isabeau was screaming and it seemed to go on forever. There was a flash of purple light and the screaming was suddenly cut short. There was now only one figure standing in the circle. It was Isabeau, yet it was not Isabeau.
Hamadar struggled to sit up. He looked into the circle and saw Isabeau. But something was not right. The way she stood, the way she held her head, something was very wrong. Her skin and hair were beginning to change colors.
“Who are you?” he managed to get out.
“Why I’m your knew best friend, my dear Hamadar,” she replied. Her husky voice was silky smooth and sharp as a razor all at the same time.
“What do you mean by that,” he said, “You promised me power… and… and…”
“Love?” She finished for him. She continued, “Do you think I honestly was going to give you arcane power for ‘love’? Oh… you did, didn’t you??? My my my, you were desperate weren’t you. Isn’t that just the sweetest…and dumbest thing I’ve ever hear.”
She strolled out of the circle, flexing and stretching the arms and legs of her new body, as if getting used to the sensation again. She arched her back like a cat stretching and let out a throaty moan. Then she seemed to notice Hamadar again. She walked over to Hamadar and pulled his wizard robes off of him and wrapped them around herself. He tried to hide the blush on his face.
She looked at him coolly and said, “I really must thank you for your assistance. I never would have broken out of that astral prison without your help. Why is seems like ages since that mage and that group of uppity paladins locked me in there… What year is it anyway? Wait, do you still use the ‘common year’ calendar? ”
“It’s 1409 CY as the Nerathi figured it by the old calendar,” he managed to say.
Her brow furrowed in thought, then she looked at him, “My, my, almost one thousand years. That’s the trouble with astral prisons, very hard to figure out the passage of time. I can hardly control mortal like I used to from there. I needed as especially witless and weak-willed individual in the right emotional state to get any results. I’m so glad you happened along.”
“What do you mean by that?” he said, even in this situation he was a little taken aback.
“Well, see my little minion…Most students here are very intelligent and strong willed. You’re probably the first mortal to hear my voice in centuries. After that, the rest was easy,” she said icily.
“But your promises…” he blurted out.
“Oh yes, the promises. Well, when a goddess makes a promise, even a goddess of lies, mayhem, and discord, it’s a promise. Even WE abide by some rules, you know.” She walked around him, well, strutted was a more accurate description. She was really beginning to enjoy her new body.
“Let’s see,” she began, “You wanted power and revenge.”
“That’s not what I wanted!” he snapped, then admitted, ”Well, I did want power…”
“On the contrary my dear Hamadar, in your heart of hearts, you wanted revenge on Isabeau for the pain she caused you that day. And that is what we agreed to.” she chided him. She seemed to flow around the room now. She continued, “So you get power and revenge, and I get the body of the most gifted mage of your generation to start my big come-back, Lolth will be so surprised.”
She came up behind him, running her hands up his back, through his hair, down his face, and then down to his chest. One hand slid into his shirt and touched his chest. “Oooo, someone’s been exercising,” she cooed, then she laughed. That laugh froze the blood in his veins. He felt her nails scratch his skin slightly, not quite drawing blood, they began rapidly tracing a series of sigils on his chest. The sigils began to glow and he could feel the building heat. She bent her mouth to his ear, “This may hurt a bit.”
The blindingly intense sensation he experience at that moment was simultaneously the most pleasurable and agonizing thing he imagined he would ever experience in this lifetime. It overloaded every one of his senses. He was losing consciousness. She laughed again. He heard a blood curdling scream, then realized to his growing terror that it was him.
“By the way, my name is Emelilith,” she whispered in his ear, “I do hope you’re happy with our bargain. Oh, and she really did love you, you know.”
Hamadar passed out.
Hamadar awoke and found himself in the worst agony he had ever known. Hamadar fought through the pain. He had to focus. He had to find her. He looked around the burning room, the once white hot ritual circle had cooled to a cold blue glow, she had vanished. If he didn’t find her, he would never forgive himself.
He looked around the debris strewn around the room. He saw the ancient tome. He scrambled over to it and opened the covers, his heart sank. Many of the pages were destroyed, charred beyond all recognition. He frantically turned pages, searching the dark tome for something he could use. He heard the sound of approaching footsteps. He had to get out of here. They would throw him into the city dungeons for this. He had only seen enough in his short glance at the last undamaged pages of the tome to make sure of one thing. He had thirteen years, thirteen short years to correct the mistake he had made this night. With the tome in hand, he made it back to his room undiscovered. He packed a few belongings into his pack and a duffle. And with that, he left the University of Magical Arts and fled into the night. A storm was forming on the horizon.
Saturday, September 1, 2012, 9:36 PM
The Fire in the Knight
by Anton Spletstoser
Fin heard screams, felt the heat of the flames, and smelled the smoke. The family cottage was on fire and it was dark. He looked frantically for his father, mother, and younger sister. What was happening? Where were they? He stumbled around the room, choking, the smoke was beginning to overcome him. Suddenly the back door shattered and a figure rushed in. It was his father Darathern, dark haired, tall and strongly built, he was carrying his sword. His shirt ragged and torn, stained by the blood coming from a ragged gash on his chest.
“Come with me, Fin!” he shouted over the crackling flames, “we have to go, NOW!”
They dashed through the back door just as the roof collapsed in on itself. The home Fin had live his entire life, all seven years of it, was a pile of burning timbers lighting up the night sky. They had almost made it to the woods at the northern edge of their farm when he heard the screams. He looked at his father and said, “Papa, that sounded like…”
His father turned around and said, “Moira… Fin, stay here, I’m going to get mama and Brianna.”
“Yes, papa,” said Fin, and his father showed him where to hide. Fin looked around and then down into the valley. Then he saw the village, or what was left of it. More than half of the village seemed to be aflame. He could hear the screams above the roar of the flames and the sounds of fighting. Then he saw the slaver wagon. A large wooden cart with an iron cage bolted to the back. It was almost full of people from the village.
Darathern moved in a wide circle, to bring himself closer and moved with the stealth of a mountain lion stalking a stag. He crept out of the darkness and confronted the slaver getting ready to drive the wagon as he was climbing up into the driver’s seat. A cut and a thrust later, the man’s problems in this life were over. He heard his wife’s voice say something he couldn’t make out and looked up to see the larger of the two slavers draw his hand back and strike her hard enough to make her fall to her knees. He became enraged, he lunged at that man and, with a vicious series of slashes and thrusts, severed the offending arm and gutted the man in the same pass.
He crouch by Moira and told her, “Get Brianna, I’ll hold them off!” Then he stood to face the remaining slaver. They made several feints at each other trying to find an opening and then the slaver lunged. Darathern parried the blow, then spun around the man and stepped inside his defense. One quick thrust and the tip of his sword was now protruding from the slaver’s back. Moira appeared at his side carrying Brianna in her arms. He nodded, “Let’s go.” They headed back toward where Fin was hidden.
A group of more slavers appeared near the wagon, saw their dead men and the fleeing figures. The apparent leader, a large darkly handsome man in rough leather and chainmail carrying a large maul, took a step forward and turned to look at the others. He said in a cold gravelly voice, “Cut them down! They’ll give the others ideas and us a bad reputation!”
The slavers drew their bows and crossbows, a moment later a swarm of projectiles lanced out toward Fin’s family, now only ten paces from him. He heard their cries. He saw them fall.
He let out a scream that seemed to echo up and down the valley. He ran to them. His father struggled to rise up. Darathern saw Fin and said weakly, “Just run… run now while you can…”
The slavers were strolling toward them, looking to finish the job. They saw the boy kneeling and sobbing. The leader stepped closer and bent down and looked Fin over like a butcher looks over a steer. “Look what we have here,” gloated the leader. “Perhaps another slave for the market, a little scrawny though…”
Fin’s hand flashed out and grabbed his father’s sword, it was taller than he was. With a roar that came from somewhere deep inside him, he charged at the slaver leader. The other men didn’t move, they were too shocked to respond in time to come to their leader’s aid. The slaver commander’s reflexes barely stopped the blade from removing his head, as he parried the sword with a dagger. But it slid off of the dagger’s blade and caught him on the side of the face. He was no longer going to be called handsome. He backhanded Fin with a blow that sent him sprawling several feet away, the sword landing near the slaver captains’ feet. He picked it up and walked casually over to Fin, who was just now catching his breath. He put his foot on Fin’s chest, “You’re going to pay for that!” he snarled. He raised the sword over his head. Fin looked up at him in defiance, tears streaming from his eyes.
A crossbow bolt suddenly buried itself up to its fletching in the slaver’s chest. Suddenly Fin heard the thunder of hooves. He heard a woman’s voice call out in a sure commanding tone, “Lay down your arms or prepare to be tested by Kord!”
The remaining slavers looked at the approaching mounted figure. A knight clad in armor, carrying a crossbow. Her sword and shield hanging from straps on her warhorse’s saddle. “It’s only one woman! We can take her!” one of the braver or stupider slavers said and he charged her. The others followed him for lack of a better idea. She urged the warhorse to a gallop toward the self appointed leader with her crossbow held in one hand and drawing her sword with the other. As she passed him, she swung the crossbow around in a wicked arc. It connected with the newly self appointed leader’s skull with enough force to flip him through the air and he was down. She continued her charge toward the group of men. Her first pass finished two of them, one to a sword thrust and one trampled by her mount. She wheeled the mount around and saw the remaining slavers trying to come at her from different directions.
She dismounted and grabbed her shield and shouted, “Come on! Come on if you think you are ready to be tested by Kord!”
They came on , one had a halberd, and the others had drawn their swords. The slaver with the halberd tried to trip her but she gracefully avoided that. The other two attempted to rush in and flank her, but she parried their attacks easily. She maneuvered to put them between herself and her warhorse. They attempted to regroup, she didn’t let them have the chance. She charged the man with the halberd. He swung the long weapon down in a wide arc, but she deflected it and caught it with her shield. Then she locked it by her side, and using the shaft itself as a guide, advanced swiftly and ran the man through. The remaining two slavers now looked very uncertain about their present tactical situation. They backed away from the dangerous lone woman. And they had forgotten about the warhorse.
“Now!” commanded the woman.
Twelve hundred pounds of magebred destrier charged and attacked the two hapless slavers. They were trampled and kicked into the ground. The look in the destrier’s eyes almost made it look like it had actually enjoyed doing that. It cantered over to the woman, nuzzled her, and waited. Kord had tested the slavers and they had failed.
She got back on her mount and trotted over to where Fin was. She unclasped her helmet and pulled it off, then the arming cap, revealing long auburn hair that had been braided and formed into a bun. She wiped her sweaty brow and studied Fin for a moment and he studied her. He saw that even after battle she was beautiful with striking features, almost out of place in battle dress. She strapped the shield back to her saddle and wiped her sword clean and sheathed it.
The woman wore full plate armor bearing the symbol of Kord, god of thunder and battle. She dismounted her warhorse and patted him on the neck, “Good boy, Gygax.” Then she walked over to where Fin knelt next to his family, their lifeless forms still holding each other. She said a prayer over them and then knelt beside Fin.
“I am Alizindra Kastlemain, knight and Paladin of Kord. I knew your father… he was a good man. I am going to take care of you now.” She grabbed his shoulders and started shaking him, saying, “Fin! Get up! You have to wake up!”
Torinn was shaking Fin, calling to him, “Fin, wake up, it’s only a nightmare.” Fin awoke with a shudder. There was no fire and the screams were gone. He was in his room at the Nentir Inn. They had just arrived in Fallcrest that day. He looked around, his sheets were drenched in sweat and the covers strewn about the room, and his heart was pounding like a charging tarasque.
“It must have been a bad one,” he said breathlessly, then thought to himself, “hadn’t had that dream in a long time.” He needed a drink.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012, 10:06 PM
Soon after they had arrived in Fallcrest they had taken Bandia’s remains to the House of the Sun. At first they had thought someone had given them bad directions. The Temple of the Sun looked like a rundown edifice that bordered on being called a ruin. A novice cleric had greeted them and let them in. After a few minutes of waiting they were met by Brother Grundelmar. He lead them to a small room furnished with roughly used second hand furniture and bade them to have a seat. In a few minutes the novice returned with tea and bread and cheese. Grundelmar listened to their tale of what had happened on their journey to Fallcrest. He looked at them earnestly and said, “That is an impressive tale, one worthy of the heroes of old. And I am sorry over the loss of Sister Broadfoot, she had quite the reputation in the order. But there is little that I can do for you or her here at the moment. This temple was in a horrible state of disrepair when I arrived here eight months ago and it hasn’t improved much since. That is why Sister Bandia was bringing the supplies here in the first place. I’ve had just enough time and resources to sanctify and dedicate the shrines here to Pelo, Kord, and Bahamut. You may have to speak to High Priest Dirina, she is in charge over at the Temple of Erathis, but I don’t like her attitude, I think it’s the result of all the local high-and-mighties that attend services there. She loves to go on and on about the glory and power of Erathis, but they also maintain shrines to Ioun and Moradin there. Or you could talk to High Priest Ressilmae at the Moonsong Temple, there they mainly worship Sehanine , but they also have shrines to Corellon, Melora, and Avandra. Besides, Ressilmae teaches music to the children, rich or poor, I think I like that.”
After a few minutes consideration, they decided they would go to the Moonsong Temple. It was up in Hightown, the northern half of Fallcrest. A cliff ran through the village and into the hills. The Nentir River, along which Hillcrest was built, flowed over it and created the Nentir Falls. These bluffs divided the village into Lowtown and Hightown. Hightown had survived the Bloodspear War relatively unscathed. Lowtown had not been so fortunate, many of the buildings there were still ruins and rubble.
They walked up to the doors of the temple, which was in a commanding position on the bluffs. Its white towers, topped by minarets, quite impressive with banners waving in the morning breeze. They pulled a rope hanging by the doors and a chime rang out from within. A few seconds later the door opened and an elf clad in the robe of Sehanine asked, “May I help you?”
Torinn stepped up, “I am Torinn, paladin of Kord, we are in need of healing. My campanions were injured defeating the vile dragon Atrazebrax.”
The elf cleric looked skeptical, “Do you have proof of such a noble feat?”
Fin cut in, “I thought it might come to this.” He unslung a large leather sack he had been carrying, pulled out a foul smelling bundle wrapped in bloody rags and set it at the cleric’s feet. With the toe of his boot he kicked the cover away. It was Atrazebrax’s head, “Is that proof enough for ya?”
“Y-y-yes,” stammered the cleric, “Please do come in and follow me.”
A few days later and the party was mostly healed. They had found a small fortune in that dragon’s lair and now the Nentir Inn was benefiting from their good fortune. Fin had started to drink almost as soon as they had gotten there. Segod had set up shop and was doing a brisk business in the market green. Hamadar and Kierra were still resting in their room. They had decided to share one, no one made an issue of it. Dayreth mainly stayed in his room and studied. Torinn shared a room with his brother Fin. Everyone seemed to want to know the story of how the human fighter and dragonborn paladin had become brothers. Well, that was going to be another story. But he had promised them that he would tell the tale some day. At this moment though, he was waiting for someone.
From his table near a window, he look out at Fallcrest, sprawled out on the the other side of the river. The upper quay was busy with fishermen unloading the morning’s catch. Then he saw a figure crossing the Five-arch Bridge. It was moving with purpose and powerful intent. Big burly farmers heading to the fields parted to allow her to pass. Which was saying something, since she was only four feet tall. Finally Sister Bandia Broadfoot, made her way to the Nentir Inn. She spied Torinn, waved, and made her way over to his table.
“Took you long enough,” he said playfully.
“Don’t the recently deceased get shown any leniency anymore???” she replied.
They were silent for a second.
Bandia began, now more serious, “I cannot begin to say how thankful I am for what you did for me. The ritual for raising the dead is costly and usually only reserved for the truly heroic and faithful. I heard the cost was most of the treasure you had found in that dragon’s hoarde.”
“Right on all counts,” said Torinn evenly, “Now eat your breakfast, it’s getting cold. And tell me another story your grandfather told you.”
Monday, August 27, 2012, 11:25 PM
A Journey and a Quest
A Dungeons & Dragons Tale
Using elements of the Nentir Vale and the world of Greyhawk in the year 1412 CY
By Anton Spletstoser
It could have been on a dark and stormy night full of intrigue or in a smoke and music filled tavern in a less than reputable part of the city. But this tale begins in a cobbler’s shop in Greyhawk. Segon Sarsfield was getting a new pair of boots made. Travelling boots, not those shiny buckled lightweight things that were the rage at the posh gatherings of the stylish. But good sturdy and surprisingly comfortable traveller’s boots, or as some called them “adventurer’s boots” because they seemed to almost be an indicator you were one.
But Segon Sarsfield was not an adventurer, he was a merchant. And until very recently a fairly successful one, but then he had made Drebyss Vlastov his partner. Drebyss was a tiefling investor, or so he claimed and he had plenty of coin to invest. Drebyss had seemed legitimate enough, he knew the right people and seemed to have a good head for business, horns and all. Segon and Drebyss had started a trading company and it seemed that things were going well. But then Segon had noted irregularities in his ledgers, cleverly hidden irregularities. He found that certain transactions just could not be accounted for. Then one morning, he discovered that his “partner” had made off with most of the profits and had left all of the debt. Segon needed coin and he needed it as soon as possible. He had managed to scrounge the last of his capitol together and invested in goods that he felt recent news of the far off Nentir Vale would aid him in making a tidy profit. There were rumors of trouble brewing up north and of caravans ransacked. And it was a long trip through barely civilized country into the borderlands. It could be risky, but also very profitable to a merchant in the right place with the right merchandise at the right time. But before he could journey to Fallcrest though, he needed a caravan, supplies, oxen, and most importantly, a new pair of boots.
Torinn was deep in thought. He had recently passed his trials and been initiated as a paladin of Kord, god of thunder and battle. He had been given his chainmail armor, axe, and tabard emblazoned with the holy symbol of Kord, a fist holding a bolt of lightning with a sword projecting upwards. But He had lately received visions of a misty vale and they had been getting stronger. He had a sense that something dark was taking root there and that it was his destiny to go there and challenge it in the name of Kord. He had consulted the archives, trying to match what landmarks he could recall from his visions. He had made inquiries of mages and of higher ranking paladins of his order. Finally he had received an answer, the vale in his visions was the Nentir Vale, the description of the river and the keep overlooking the village of Fallcrest matched his recall of his vision perfectly.
Torinn requested a meeting with the head of his order chapter, Dame Commander Alizindra Kastlemain. She had always intimidated Torinn, which is saying something since Dame Commander Kastlemain was over fifty years old, five foot seven inches tall, and human. And Torinn was twenty three, six and a half feet tall, and dragonborn. He went to her chamber door and knocked three times… politely.
“Enter,” came the stern reply from within.
Kierra didn’t see what all the fuss was about. She had merely expressed her displeasure at being addressed in such a manner. But she kept running anyway. It was all a simple misunderstanding really. She hadn’t been looking for companionship, not at all. Quite the opposite, she’d been trying to pick his pocket, which was a totally different matter. But when he had suddenly jerked his hand down and touched her’s, and then looked blearily into her eyes and got exactly the wrong message, he had then made certain rather crude suggestions. Then she had been forced to smash a tankard against his skull. And then his drinking companions had come at her. And she had been forced to defend her honor. She had nutted the two of them and they evidently had taken it personally. They were still taking it personally as she heard their swearing behind her. All of this over a simple misunderstanding, she kept running.
Hamadar went over the records for what seemed like the hundredth time. Could it possibly be that what he had been seeking all these years was there in the Nentir Vale? Finally, his goal seemed like it was in reach. A new secret to be revealed that would undoubtedly increase his arcane abilities. Weeks at the city archives had paid off. But first things first, he had to get breakfast. He had spent all night in the archives and had literally burnt the midnight oil. He left the archives and headed to the Green Dragon Inn. He was almost there when he saw a pretty elf maiden being chased by some rather rough looking individuals down the street.
Finathern awoke, not quite sure where he was, but was sure of one thing, he was hungover. Slowly he came to realize he was still in his room at the Green Dragon Inn. He got up from his bed and checked his belongings, everything seemed to still be there as far as he could recall, unfortunately he couldn’t recall very much. He checked his coin purse, and saw that its content was disturbingly sparse. This meant only one thing, he had to find a job. Maybe Ricard, the proprieter, would have some leads for him. Ricard Damaris knew just about everyone there was to know in the less reputable areas of the job market. He put on this armor and weapons, at the Green Dragon Inn, one couldn’t be too careful. He headed down to the taproom for a drink.
Dayreth was proud of himself. He had passed his trials and was now considered capable of leading others in battle, a warlord. Three years of studying tactics, strategy, and logistics. Of learning the best ways to combine the martial, arcane, and divine talents of your allies to achieve victory and glory. Graduating at the top of his class at the academy. And now also unemployed, the position he had been promised in the Greyhawk city guard had been pull out from under him by some noble with a fop of a nephew who couldn’t lead vultures to carrion even if he walked alone into the desert and passed out. Well, there was only one thing to do in this situation, get drunk as a lord and then figure out what to do. “Time to head to the Green Dragon for a flagon,” he thought to himself. He then left the halls of learning and headed towards the inn where students were not supposed to go, but went anyway.
Moxer, Drinnis, and Throck were about to catch that little elf wench. And when they did she was gonna pay for what she did to them. But they were getting tired and she didn’t even seem to be winded yet. They thought they were gonna lose her. She was almost to the Green Dragon Inn when this man came out of nowhere and she slammed into him going full speed, the force of the impact carrying them both a few more feet before skidding to a halt on the cobblestones. This event surprised the three men enough that they skidded to a halt themselves. They then quickly realized that this meant that the chase was over and that they could have a little “fun.” They closed in on the elf and the man she had run into. Moxer called out, “Thought you were gonna get away with it did you? You little elf wench!”
Dayreth slowly regained his wits and picked himself up from the cobblestones. He had almost made it to the inn when someone had barreled into him and sent him sprawling, he now saw a female elf also slowly rising from the street. Then he glanced over to three large men who from their heavy breathing had apparently been chasing her. They now wore the sort of grin you usually associated with rabid hyenas or a pack of wolves. Out of habit he put out a hand to help her up. “Are you alright?” he asked.
“Do I LOOK alright!?” she shot back, then calmed a bit when she saw his hand and took it. “Thank you,” she said as she pulled herself up. “Name’s Kierra.”
“I’m Dayreth,” Dayreth replied automatically. Even under the sweat and dirt she looked attractive.
“OK, now that the introductions are over, maybe you should leave, little man,” said Moxer, “we have business to settle with the elf… It’s personal.”
Dayreth’s training and upbringing started to kick in. “I do not believe I can allow that, gentlemen,” he stated calmly.
The three thugs almost looked around to see who Dayreth was talking to, when Moxer nudged them. They weren’t used to this. They were bigger and there were more of them. In their world this meant the other side should be scared and give in. Moxer puffed himself up, “Didn’t you ‘ere what we said? Clear off before someone gets hurt… namely YOU.” Moxer decided to let that sink in for effect. It did not have the effect he had expected.
Dayreth had been wearing his travelling cloak with his hood up to this point, he now pulled back the hood and took it off. This revealed that he was clad in a suit of chainmail, with a shield strapped to his back, and wearing a broadsword and dagger on his belt. It also allowed them to see that he was an eladrin or high elf as some people called them. “Do you gentlemen really want to make an issue of this?” he asked, giving them another chance.
Kierra shot a smirk at Moxer from behind Dayreth’s back, and that chance headed for the hills. “Absolutely!” snarled Moxer. “Too right!” joined in Drinnis and Throck and then they charged.
Dayreth slid out of Moxer’s snarling charge and then spun to face Drinnis. Drinnis swung his fist, but Dayreth stepped into it, grabbed Drinnis’ forearm with his left hand and gave him a tug to help him on his way. As Drinnis started to lose his footing and his balance, Dayreth’s mailed right fist came up in a mean uppercut which connected with satisfactory solidity. Drinnis’ chin snapped up and he was out of the fight.
Throck went for the elf, she was the cause of this in the first place. He lunged at her, but she was too quick. She just seemed to disappear for a split second. He turned around to find her kneeling and clutching her ankle, “Oh this was going to be too easy,” he thought. “Too easy,” thought Kierra, who hadn’t been clutching her ankle, but a cobblestone. As the thug moved in gloating, she brought it around in a vicious right cross. Throck was mildly surprised and then unconscious.
Moxer’s charge had carried away from the fight, by the time he got turned around, Drinnis and Throck were both out of it. That tears it. “I’m gonna make ya both pay!!!” he bellowed as he pulled out a wicked blade he had hidden in a boot. He was about to attack when a bolt of light shot out from the shadows of an alley and struck a wall near his head. The spot was cratered and smoking.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” came a cold voice from the alley. Hamadar stepped out, arcane energies glowing and swirling around his upheld right hand.
“Who do you think you are?!” snapped Moxer, trying to sound intimidating in a rapidly deteriorating tactical situation.
“Why, I’m Hamadar the Red, Scourge of Blackgate, Curse of the Fell Forest, and Smiter of Fiends,” replied Hamadar coolly, “And right now, I do not like YOU.” The glow in his hand and the fire in his eyes seemed to intensify.
Moxer slowly replaced the dagger in his boot. Then he gathered up his groaning buddies, and they hobbled/ran away as fast as they could.
Dayreth looked at Hamadar. “Where is Blackgate? I’ve never heard of it,” His scholar’s curiosity had kicked in.
“I haven’t the foggiest,” replied Hamadar evenly, “I made it all up. Are you two hungry? I’m famished.”
“Hmmm… really?” said Dayreth, “and I just realized, you’re not wearing any red. Are you buying?”
“No, I am!” quipped Kierra, juggling the three purses she had acquired helping the thugs go on their way. Dusting themselves off, the trio entered the Green Dragon Inn.
Fin had taken a widow seat and received dinner and a show. He watched them now as the trio made their way into the taproom and the warlock, the arcane fire and glowing hand outside were a dead giveaway, got them a table and ordered them a round of drinks. He made his way over to them. He made a sign of greeting and began, “Greetings, I witnessed your performance outside just a moment ago and I am quite impressed. If you’re open to it, I have a proposal that might benefit us all, if you take my meaning.”
“You mean we’ll get paid?” offered Kierra
“Kierra, just Kierra,” said the elf.
“Exactly, Kierra. With the skills I saw you three display out there and the information I got from my friend Ricard over there,” He indicated the large man behind the counter, “We can come out of this with quite a bit of coin.”
“How much coin?” asked Kierra.
“More coin than you can imagine,” said Fin. This piqued the interest of the other two, coin was good. There are those who say money cannot buy happiness, but they just don’t know where to shop.
“I don’t know, I can imagine quite a bit,” quipped Kierra, a slight smile on her face.
Torinn entered Dame Kastlemain’s chambers and stopped four paces from her desk and stood at attention. She seemed to ignore him as she was reading and sorting through reports. After what seemed like an eternity, she looked up and addressed him, “And what can I do for you Torinn?”
“Dame Kastlemain, I’ve received visions. Strong visions that indicate that something is amiss is in the Nentir Vale,” said Torinn in respectful tones, “I believe that it is Kord’s will that I journey there to discover what it is and to confront it.”
“Interesting that you should mention the Nentir Vale, Paladin Torinn,” said Kastlemain, “we have received disturbing reports from there. Our seers have attempted to divine what is there, but their efforts have been for naught. We were considering sending an emissary. Your visions may have been a guide to us.” After a short pause she asked, “Will you go to the Nentir Vale on behalf of Kord?”
Torinn dropped to one knee, “I would be honored, Dame Commander, if you were to choose me for this quest.”
Dame Commander Kastlemain, High Paladin of Kord, chuckled. This confused Torinn, he was unaware that Kastlemain even knew HOW to chuckle. She said, “I choose nothing, it is evidently Kord’s will that you go. And by our faith we will follow his will. Report to the Quartermaster, you will then draw supplies for an extended trip to the Nentir Vale. Paladin Torinn, this is your first quest, bring honor and glory to Kord and our order.” She wrote out his orders and stamped a requisition form. She placed them into an envelope and sealed them with wax and pressed in her signet ring. She handed it to Torinn. “Present this to Quartermaster Warbosk.”
“Yes Dame Commander!” responded Torinn, who saluted smartly.
“Carry on paladin,” replied Dame Commander Kastlemain. As Torinn about faced and left she thought with nostalgia, “By the gods, was I ever like that?” And then she remembered that yes, yes she had, over thirty summers ago. Lord Dame Commander Kastlemain reminisced and chuckled.
Torinn left the administration building, and passed the barracks. He turned at the stable and head to the quartermaster building. Quartermaster Orodel Warbosk was there and waiting for him and said, “First quest, eh?”
“How did you know?” asked Torinn, somewhat startled. The tone was in his voice, but dragonborn faces did not lend themselves to displaying the emotion in a way most races could tell.
“You have the walk,” said Quartermaster Warbosk.
“The walk?” replied Torinn, now more confused.
“The walk that says you got to get somewhere in a hurry, but you don’t know how exactly you’re going to get there, so you walk with an air of total conviction while looking absolutely unsure, all at the same time,” said the quartermaster in a tone that indicated this was not the first time he had said this.
“You could tell that from watching me walk for ten seconds?” asked Torinn, somewhat awed and intimidated.
The quartermaster replied in a calm patient tone, “Look, I have been quartermaster here at the order for longer than most people can remember. I remember the Dame Commander when she was just a rookie initiate. So I know the walk when I see it. Understand?”
“Yes,” answered Torinn, coming terribly close to breaking his oath never to lie to a member of the order. He presented the sealed envelope to Quartermaster Warbosk.
“Hmmm, what do we have here?” he asked as he took it, opened it and read the note, he chuckled. “You’ve either really impressed someone or really upset them. You have been a paladin for two weeks and they are sending you on a quest to the borderlands.”
“It is Kord’s will”, said Torinn matter-of-factly.
“Maybe so, maybe so,” said the quartermaster, “but this note says it’s the Dame Commander’s will that I give you the good stuff. Step into my office.” The opened the iron door to the quartermaster’s stores.
Torinn nervously walked through and it closed behind him with a resounding “clang.”
Dame Commander Alizindra Kastlemain watched from a window in her chambers as Torinn entered the quartermaster’s building. She felt a pang of apprehension, concern, or was that actual worry? For the first time in years she felt unsure that she had taken the proper course of action. When the first one had left half way through his training, she had felt that she had failed him in some way. Now she was sending the other out into a world he had little experience with. But it must be the will of Kord, he would sort the strong from the weak and show no favor. She could not help thinking though, that maybe, just maybe, he could show a little favor to Torinn. She had not seen or heard anything of the first in years. At first, her contacts had sent her reports. Reports of insubordination, but absolute bravery in the face of danger. Reports of chronic drunkenness, but also complete loyalty to his friends. Reports of always stating his mind regardless of the consequences and of always challenging weakness and cowardice wherever he found it. At least some of her teachings had found purchase in that stubborn head of his. He was so like his brother, but also so different. She had not received any more reports for almost ten years. Even though she had steeled herself for this day, it was still not easy seeing a son leave home, again.
The next day found Dayreth, Hamadar, Kierra, and Fin Heading to the North Gate to meet their new employer. The trade caravan was making final preparations for departure to the borderlands. The combined sounds and smells of dozens of caravans, oxen, horses, assorted exotic livestock and merchandise, and over one hundred people was almost overwhelming. Every merchant was assigned a position in the caravan train, supposedly at random, and they had to supply their own security for their goods and property. The last few caravans to the borderlands had been attacked, rather successfully, and several merchants ruined or even killed in the process. Which is why it took almost a month to arrange this trading expedition. But Greyhawk needed the raw materials from the borderlands and the borderlands needed the more refined items that the craftsmen of Greyhawk could provide, but were beyond the capabilities of local tradesmen.
And that was the key to Segon’s strategy. He had pooled what was left of his resources. He had sold everything short of the family home, he just knew his parents would have risen from the grave and done terrible things to him if he had. He knew this because it had been in their wills. So he had invested in fine arms and armor, fit for a royal guard. He had procured top of the line adventuring equipment and tools. Most of these items were fairly compact and easy to transport in a large caravan wagon. The wagon he had bought was designed to go from being a sturdy means of transport to becoming an instant “adventurer’s emporium”, just by letting down the sides and setting up the included sales tent. But these items also had a habit of drawing unwanted attention. So he had set about procuring proper security. He had contacted his old friend Ricard Damaris and had been put in touch with a certain Finathern, who had guaranteed him that he could get a crack team together on short notice, all extremely experienced and reliable. They had better be worth the one hundred sovereigns he had paid the man up front. He was beginning to wonder if he had made the right choice when he saw him approaching, accompanied by three people. He called out in greeting, “Finathern Zarheesh, my good friend! How does this fine morning treat you?”
“It is treating me well, good sir,” replied Fin, then he indicated his companions, who stepped forward as he called them, “Let me introduce to you my comrades in arms. This is Dayreth Calinion, warlord of the first order and master swordsman... er... eladrin. This is Hamadar Darkhess, warlock and wielder of powerful magics. And last, but certainly not least, is the lovely Kierra Laelithmae, bard and crack elven archer, I swear she has the voice of an angel. We have traveled together many times and have seen each other through many a skirmish and we will guard your property with our very lives if need be mister Sarsfield.”
After the introductions were done and they had stowed their personal belongings on the caravan wagon, the four met behind the wagon out of earshot. Kierra was the first to speak, “Laelithmae??? Bard??? Where in the twelve hells did you get that?” Hamadar added, “Darkhess??? That’s the best you could come up with?” Then Dayreth chimed in, “Many years and many skirmishes? What exactly have you gotten us into?”
“A paying job,” replied Fin flatly.
Elsewhere along the caravan, Torinn was somewhat lost. He was supposed to meet with a Sister Bandia Broadfoot, Halfling cleric of Pelor. As an informal request between their chapters, Torinn would help escort Sister Broadfoot and the supplies she was in charge of to Fallcrest, there to aid in the restoration of a temple to Pelor. The temple was being rebuilt, almost single-handedly, by a dwarven cleric named Grundelmar. While technically a temple dedicated to Pelor, the House of the Sun also contained shrines to Kord and Moradin. He shifted in his armor as he looked around for sign of the Halfling cleric. He was still getting used to the plate armor the quartermaster had given him. He had been satisfied with the chainmail he had been presented with at the ceremony that had made him a paladin. He had also had to turn in his trusty battleaxe for a fine new waraxe. But the quartermaster had said something about, “Orders are orders,” and had had him fitted and kitted out in just a couple of hours.
As he looked around again he spotted it, the banner of Pelor. He made his way toward it and found a young Halfling arguing with a much bigger human. “I know it’s short notice, but the temple needs the extra wagon for the supplies. Our chapter has a contract with your teamsters to provide us with said wagons at a set rate,” Torinn overheard as he drew nearer.
“Is there a problem?” He asked in his baritone. The Halfling and the human looked up to him, actually just about anyone would have had to look up to talk to Torinn.
Sister Broadfoot pointed at the human and began, “This… individual… refuses to honor the contract that his company has with our chapter. He’s asking double the going rate, something about ‘dangerous conditions compensation’.” Torinn turned his draconic head to look at the human, the human looked away.
Torinn stepped toward the teamster and put a massive armored clawed hand on his shoulder and asked solemnly, “Is this ‘dangerous conditions compensation’ really worth losing a valuable service contract with one of the most respected temples in the entire city?” He gave the human what he hoped was a sincere and honestly concerned look.
“I… I… I… th-think… that maybe … just this once,” the teamster stammered, then seemed to collect himself, “ Maybe just this once we could overlook this problem in the spirit of good will and good business that is the cornerstone of true friendship,” he managed to finish. Then he presented a form for Sister Broadfoot to sign and promised to get the second wagon loaded and ready well before the schedule departure time. And it was, by almost a good half hour.
It was just before midmorning that the trading caravan got on its way. It started north and then took the trade road that would carry it, eventually, to the Nentir Vale and ultimately Fallcrest, far to the northwest. It slowly made its way through the countryside. They crossed four rivers, over massive stonework bridges, built centuries ago and a testament to dwarven craftsmanship. They had passed through the city of Dyvers. Then it made a stop in the aptly named Littleberg. The first few days passed by uneventfully. Then the first two weeks had passed with nothing noteworthy. The monotony was beginning to turn into complacency. After almost a month on the road the caravan finally made a short halt in the elven city of Highfolk, to replenish supplies, do a little trade, and ready the caravan for the journey through the mountain passes that lead to the Nentir Vale to the west.
Fin, Dayreth, Kierra, and Hamadar sat around their fire and relaxed. While within the boundaries of Highfolk and surrounded by thousands of eladrin, there was little risk of attack. Kierra was humming a tune. She had actually gotten quite good at singing. Starting on the first day, Segod had asked her to sing authentic traditional elven ballads. She had only known half a dozen, and sang them adequately enough, but Segod had wanted to hear more. So she had started to make them up, and found that she evidently had a natural talent for it. Even people from other wagons would wander by just to catch bits of her songs. In the last couple of towns, people had actually PAID her to sing, and she’d been more than happy to oblige.
Fin and Hamadar, instead of their usual discussion of the finer points of yet another recipe to prepare hardtack, jerky, salt pork, dried grains, river water and dried fruit in such a way as to disguise its origins and improve its flavor, were discussing the perfect cooking time for venison stew. For the past month they had lived, more or less, on trail rations and they were running out of ways of improving the taste, copious amounts of ale seemed to be the secret ingredient in most of these discussions. But at least today they had been able to trade for some fresh fare. So with fresh vegetables, herbs, some venison, and of course, a little bit of ale, they had a decent smelling stew simmering along.
Dayreth sat slightly apart from the group. He was studying a historical text on ancient Greyhawk, circa 600 CY. He had been studying the dozen or so tomes he had brought along every time the caravan stopped for the night. They covered several subjects, mostly history, tactics, and strategy. He felt that there was always a little more wisdom he could glean from them.
Segod was just returning from inspecting his merchandise. He had already made some profit on this trip. He’d made some sales and some trades. Each transaction aimed at getting him the best economic advantage he could get. He was really enjoying the trip so far. He’d never been farther than two or three days’ ride from Greyhawk his entire life. Now they had left the Kingdom of Greyhawk, entered the Kingdom of Highvale, and were about to enter the remains of the old Empire of Nerath. Segod had been something of a student of history in his youth and he had had many a great discussion with the eladrin Dayreth during the journey.
They had talked of the old empire, how it had risen to prominence almost eight hundred years ago, lead by a charismatic warlord named Nera Thon. Then they took control of much of western Flanaess. They continued their conquest, overrunning Ket, Tusmit, and parts of the Caliphates of Ekbir and Zeif and the Kingdoms of Bissel and Veluna. Then it had prospered for a few centuries, built a massive network of trade roads and bridges. This economic infrastructure allowed it to prosper, but also sealed its fate. A coalition of rival city states used those same roads and bridges to attack the empire. After almost one hundred years of near constant warfare the empire collapsed. The fighting had so weakened the other parties involved that they were unprepared for a fell host, the Dark Hoarde, lead by a demon lord from the nether planes, some say it was Bane himself.
It had risen far to the north, in the Land of the Black Ice. It had bided its time and some say may have manipulated the downfall of the Nerathi Empire in order to clear the way for its own conquest. Whatever the reasons or methods, the effect was the same. It fell upon Flanaess like a merciless tidal wave. Almost total chaos reigned over much of Flanaess for another hundred years. A final alliance of the remaining free cities had come together for a final stand against the dark forces.
During that apocalyptic battle, the gods themselves manifested for the first time in centuries and accompanied by legions of angels did stand and do battle alongside their mortal followers. The energies unleashed during that titanic struggle changed the face of the world. Flanaess itself was changed forever, but eventually, the light triumphed over the dark. The Dark Hoarde was defeated, driven back to the north and sealed away.
Flanaess has been at relative peace since the Great War. The kingdoms of the land rebuilt. The Nerathi Empire had fallen despite the victory, but isolated outposts like the Nentir Vale, still lived on. Greyhawk had risen like a phoenix from the ashes and became a major power, stronger than ever. The caliphates survived, but their power diminished. The nation of Ket all but forgotten as the Nentir Vale literally took its place. The elven forests had almost doubled in size and their influence increased, especially here in the Highvale. “Well enough reminiscing about the past,” thought Segod, “Have to be ready to move out in the morning.
Torinn had been in awe for most of the trip. In all his years at the paladin academy, he had never been far from Greyhawk. He had studied maps and scrolls of the history of Flanaess. But now he was actually travelling through those places he had read about. He almost felt like he was travelling through history. As he studied the terrain and compared it so what the ancient maps had shown, he began to truly understand the magnitude of the energies unleashed. That the land (including entire mountain ranges, rivers, and other terrain features usually considered permanent by most people) had been radically rearranged like mounds in a child’s sandbox, put him in awe at the power of the gods.
Torinn divided his time between maintaining a vigil for any signs of danger and having lively theological discussions with Sister Broadfoot. The Halfling seemed to think this mental sparring was as enjoyable as Torinn believed the martial variety to be. But he found himself growing to respect the energetic little cleric. He also discovered that she was ten years his senior. And that she was knowledgeable on a vast array of subjects. Torinn was actually finding that he was enjoying the hard journey in the company of the Halfling cleric.
Sister Bandia Broadfoot could go on for hours. Talking about her old mother at home, who still sent her socks, mittens, and a knitted hat every winter. Her four sisters, the youngest one, Briana, a cleric like she was and the other two mothers of their own broods. She spoke of her father and uncles, who ran a brewery back in the shire. Her father sent her a couple of casks every winter himself, “To keep yerself warm,” he had told her. Then Torinn realized something. He had never experienced that... warmth. He had been a foundling on the steps of the temple. He had a vague recollection of that time. He had spent his entire childhood and youth raised in the orphanage run by the Temple of Kord. The clerics had been strict disciplinarians, constantly testing the children for signs of weakness or cowardice, or the signs of strength, integrity, and courage. Feast days and holy days observed with proper reverence. Not the bright enjoyment of living that Sister Broadfoot spoke of. When he came of age there was not a party with music and food and laughter, but a solemn ceremony as he dedicated himself to becoming a paladin trainee in the service of Kord. He found himself the tiniest bit envious of the little Halfling, But then she told an old story her grandfather had told her and the feeling went away.
The next day the caravan began the last leg of its journey to the Nentir Vale. It moved from the flat and wooded lowlands to the foothills of the Dawnforge Mountains. Finally they were in the mountains proper and everyone’s senses got a little sharper. From here on in they were in the area where the attacks had occurred. But most of the ambushes had happened after the caravans had reached the relatively level terrain in the vale proper. After another day of narrow passes and even narrower rocky mountain roads that seemed to drop off into nothingness, they finally reached the dwarven city of Hammerfast. They stopped here for a few days for some trading with the dwarves.
At last they reached the end of the mountains. The green expanse of the Nentir Vale lay before them almost as far as the eye could see. They made their way down the trade road and after a few hours the caravan came to the Fiveleague Inn. They stopped here for the night and traded with the locals. The next day the caravan continued on its way to Fallcrest, now only two more days’ travel away. The other guards riding with the caravan were on edge now. The most recent attacks had occurred within a days’ ride of Fallcrest.
They were less than half a day from Fallcrest when it happened. The caravan master had tried to press on, hoping to reach Fallcrest by nightfall. The sun was low on the horizon. To the left the Moon Hills stretched off southward, disappearing into the growing darkness. The autumn air grew cooler as night approached. Suddenly there was a cry from the driver of the lead wagon followed by the south of panicked animals. Then the air was filled with the found of flying arrows. There was an initial moment of surprise and panic, then the cry went out, “WE ARE AMBUSHED!!!”
Fin searched the darkness for the source of the deadly missiles flying through the air. He couldn’t make anything out, he grabbed a lantern hanging from the wagon and threw it toward a cluster of rocks and bushes. It shattered and burst into flame on the rocks and illuminated a group of goblins. He called out to the others, “There, by the rocks! Take them down!” He leapt from the wagon and drew his great sword, “time to earn your pay Fin,” he thought.
Kierra was ducking another arrow as Fin threw the lantern, she could already see the goblins, her elf eyes being sharper and more sensitive than human eyes. She loaded her crossbow and aimed, then shot the bolt at a goblin that did not duck in time. It went down with a satisfying gurgle. She dropped down behind the wagon to reload. “Now things were getting interesting,” she said to herself.
Dayreth scanned the battlefield, he moved from behind the wagon into a position that flanked the rocks the goblins had hidden themselves behind. He saw another goblin begin to slink away. Kierra had not seen it yet. He called out, “Kierra!!! Left of the big rock. Take him!” He heard her shout an acknowledgment and then twang of the elf’s crossbow. Then he heard the wet thunk and gurgling scream of another goblin.
Hamadar moved to follow Fin, his hand aglow as he began channeling arcane forces in preparation of combat. As they came around and moved to engage the ambush, he saw two goblins fall in quick succession to Kierra’s crossbow. Then by the light of the burning lantern oil, he saw three more goblins coming from a treenline to their right. “Fin! Three to the right!”, he shouted and unleashed an eldritch blast at the closest goblin raider, it folded into a smoking heap.
Fin let out a battle cry and charged the other two. They stopped and seemed to brace themselves, holding up their roughly made shields in hope of warding off his great sword. But you might as well have tried to hold back a flood with a bucket with a hole in the bottom. The massive blade cut through both goblins with cruelly effective ease. “Who else wants a taste?!” shouted Fin.
“Stay down!” ordered Torinn as he unslung his waraxe and shield and leapt from the driver’s seat of the wagon, “I’ll handle this!”
“Wait, I’m coming with you!” shouted Sister Broadfoot. She pulled out a mace and landed beside him. “I’ m in charge of these supplies, if they want them, they are going to have to go through me first!”
She saw a group of goblins approaching them by the firelight cast off by the lantern someone in the wagon behind them had thrown. She shouted, “Over there, to the right, let’s show them the appreciation of Pelor and Kord!” She shouted something that Torinn couldn’t quite make out and charged the goblins alone, but he suddenly felt protected as if by a higher power. Torinn stared at Bandia in disbelief for a brief second, then joined the charge. “Prepare to be tested by the god of battle!!! For KORD!!!” The goblins did not stand a chance before the combined onslaught of the cleric and the paladin. They were all dispatched in mere seconds, they had failed Kord’s test. The rest of the goblins seemed to be retreating after the spirited defense.
There was a cry from the wagon behind them. “We have wounded!” someone called out, “We need a healer!”
Bandia and Torinn made their way to the wagon. Four figures were gathered around a rather portly middle-aged man. There was an arrow sticking out of his leg. “Agghh! Those boots were brand new!!!” he lamented, “And they got the box, I need that returned at all costs!”
Bandia approached, “Allow me to see him, I can help.” The four parted for the Halfling cleric when they saw the holy symbol of Pelor hanging around her neck. She knelt down beside the man and said, “This is going to hurt. I’m going to remove the arrow, on the count of three…one … two…” She snatched out the arrow.
“ARRGGHHH!! What in the bloody hells??!! What the blazes happened to THREE?” screamed the man.
“See, that wasn’t so bad,” she cooed, ignoring his rant. Then she held her hands over the wound and recited softly, “Oh merciful and compassionate Pelor, your faithful servant humbly requests your aid in healing this man of his wounds.” A heartbeat later the area under her hand was bathed in a bright light. Except for the hole in the boot and trouser leg left by the arrow, the leg was completely healed.
“Thank you,” croaked the man, “I’m Segod, Segod Sarsfield. If you happen to need any adventuring gear, come see me, you just earned a discount.” He let out a little laugh, then winced. He was still sore from falling from the wagon, but that was a damned sight better than having a nasty goblin arrow in your leg. Wait, where was that box?
“What happened?” asked Bandia.
“While my able guards were fighting off the goblins on that side of the road, two of the little blighters came from the other side.” He shot the four figures standing by the wagon an accusing glance. He continued, “One shot me in the leg. I leapt away to warn the others, but by the time I clawed my way over to them and got them to the wagons, the goblin thieves had taken it!”
“Taken what?” Bandia asked again.
“A special order,” whispered Segod, “special order by Lord Warden Faren Markelhay himself.”
One of the figures stepped into the light, a human man, “Don’t worry, mister Sarsfield, we’ll get the box back and we’ll make those goblins pay!”
Torinn was shocked at the sight of the man’s face, “Finathern! I that you?!”
Fin shot the dragonborn a suspicious look, “Do I know you?”
“Finathern, I know it’s been fifteen years, but you would think you would remember your own brother!” He strode toward Fin, wrapped him in a massive bear hug and lifted him bodily off the ground.
The others in the small group gathered around the merchant were too taken aback to say anything for several long moments. The logic equation of human plus dragonborn equals brother did not compute. There muffled sound coming from the embraced fighter. “What was that?” asked Torinn. Fin managed to free his mouth, “Put me down Torinn! I can’t breathe!” he got out with his last breath.
“See, I KNEW you would remember!” Torinn bellowed as he put Fin back down on his own two feet. “What in the name of Kord are you doing here, brother?”
Fin sighed, “I’m working Torinn, and some of us don’t have a temple to supply us with everything we need.”
There was an awkward silence.
Dayreth stepped in to end it, “Look we have got to track those goblins back to their lair, and if we work together we should able to defeat them.”
Now Kierra stepped in, “First things first mister Sarsfield, what’s it worth to you?” She reloaded her crossbow.
“Kierra!” shot Dayreth with a not completely shocked look on his face.
Kierra smirked, “Look, we were being paid to defend the wagon and defend him. We did that as you can tell by the half dozen dead goblins out there. When we got back he was passed out under the wagon!”
Torinn looked at Segod, “Is that the truth?”
Segod tried to look Torinn in the eye, then admitted, “In a word… yes.”
“So special contract item retrieval is not in our contract,” shot back Kierra, “is it?”
“Alright, I’ll pay you an extra one hundred gold pieces if you bring it back,” he relented.
“Each?” challenged Kierra
Sarsfield groaned, “One hundred gold pieces to your party and a fifteen percent discount on my wares, how’s that?”
Kierra thought for a moment then looked to the others, they nodded. She looked at Segod, “Done and done.”
Hamadar now stepped into the light. He glanced around at the assembled group while eating an apple and asked, “So, who are you people anyway???”
An hour later, introductions made, the six adventurers were still tracking the goblin warband. The trail they left was pretty easy for Dayreth and Kierra to follow in the moonlight. They came to a crossroads and paused.
“What is it?” whispered Fin and Torinn almost in unison.
“I don’t like it,” replied Kierra, “Something’s not right. It’s too quiet.”
“Ok,” said Fin, “here’s what’s going to happen, Torinn and I will head in first. Dayreth and Kierra, you two cover us and follow. Bandia and Hamadar, you two bring up the rear.” Well, it was a good enough plan so no one objected. As they crossed the road, they could make out the shape of a ruined tower. Kierra froze, “Watch out! They have…”
The sound of baleful howls filled the night air.
“Wolves,” the others finished for her.
Two large gray wolves circled from behind some rocks to their left. Then they heard movement from the burned out structure ahead of them.
Dayreth called out, “There are two goblins skulking about around that old tower.”
Fin called out, “Everyone stay together! Don’t split the party!”
A chorus of affirmative response came back from the others.
“Let them come! Divide and conquer!”, shouted Dayreth.
One of the wolves tried to move to a position on their flank, but Kierra managed to feint then slash it wickedly down the side. This move managed to maneuver into the perfect position for Fin and Torinn to finish it off, which they did. The other suffered from a blast of arcane energy from Hamadar, a lance of bright light from Bandia, and sliced viciously with Dayreth’s longsword, but it did manage to maul the eladrin’s arm. The two goblins by the old tower loosed two arrows, but these bounced harmlessly off the fighter’s and paladin’s armor.
Then Kierra managed to sneak around the remaining wounded wolf as Dayreth kept its attention, and finished it off with her short sword. Fin and Torinn charged the two goblins and engaged them viciously, exchanging blows with these veteran raiders. Bandia made her way over the Dayreth and healed his arm. Hamadar moved to assist the warriors and unleashed another blast of arcane energy at one of the goblins. Soon the goblins were vanquished with Torinn and Fin only suffering minor wounds.
Up ahead a few hundred yards beyond the tower, they could make out beginning of the Moon Hills. Then they saw a flickering light. They advanced cautiously listening for any more signs of ambush. The light was coming from torches inside caves. Kierra went up to stealthily to scout it out. She returned a few minutes later.
“I think we’ve found their lair,” she whispered, “I saw four more goblins ahead, but I couldn’t get inside, it’s too well lit.”
“Well, do you have any suggestions?” asked Fin.
“Well, they didn’t look that tough, I think that if me, Dayreth, and Hamadar went up there, and we could take them out quietly. But you guys can follow behind us a little ways in case we run into complications.”
“Like what sort of complications?” asked Torinn.
“Well, if I knew that , Big Guy, they wouldn’t be complications now would they?” said Kierra.
Kierra, Dayreth, and Hamadar crept up on the mouth of the cave system the goblins were using for a lair. Dayreth was now carrying a crossbow he had borrowed from Segod’s wagon. He got into position with Hamadar behind some rocks near he caves. Kierra sneaked up on one of the goblins that was a little too inattentive. One quick slash with the dagger and it was done. The other three were still unaware of the fate that had befallen their comrade. The three goblins did start to notice his absence after about a minute and started for that end of the cave calling out to him, just as Dayreth had planned. Now just a few steps closer… “Now!” he shouted. As one he, Hamadar, and Kierra each singled out a goblin and attacked. It was over in an instant. They signaled to the others to advance. Fin, Torinn, and Bandia walked up to the caves and found the goblins all with either crossbow bolts in unhealthy places or a smoking crater where their chest ought to be. They made their way into the caves.
The caves were dank and musty and heavy with the scent of goblins. A half dozen smoky torches lit the interior with and uneven flickering light. There are also several fire pits within, but the cooking fires had mostly burned down to ashes and embers. They search it for a few minutes but found no sign of Segod’s precious box. Exploring deeper into the cave they came to a great set of iron doors. Looking down they could see signs of them having recently being used. Kierra stepped up to them and studied them a bit, “Ok,” she started, “Every one step back a bit and let me see what we’re dealing with here.” They stepped back a few yards and let her go to work. She pulled a few strange looking tools from pockets and pouches hidden about her person. She probed the lock, hinges, and any gaps she could find. Then she produced a strange instrument that looked like a rope with cups on either end, she placed one cup to one of her ears and the other she placed on different spots on the iron door. After a few minutes of this she returned to the other. “I don’t see any traps or alarms,” she began, “ the door isn’t locked. The tracks going in and out of it are from different species. I’d say we’re dealing with goblins AND kobolds here.” She paused, a puzzled look upon her face.
“Anything else worth mentioning?” Fin asked.
“Well, it may be nothing,” began Kierra, “but the door is cold to the touch. But I didn’t detect any traps and don’t know of any that would do that.”
“Hmmm… a cold door? Is that all?” said Fin, “Let’s go find that box and get paid.”
“Well,” said Kierra, “ I still think I should go first, just stay by the door and watch for my signal. I’ll let you know when it’s safe to come in.”
She crept up to the iron door and slip inside. The other carefully moved up and looked through the crack in the door. The air coming out of the crack was noticeably cooler than the air in the cave. They saw Kierra creep forward and stop. She drew a dagger and paused, then moved faster than they could she around a corner. She came back dragging something and stuck it in an alcove in the hallway. They saw her repeat this act three more times. She then made her way back to the party outside.
“The place is packed with kobolds, well was, there are a few less now,” she said with a smirk. “We should be careful when we go in, I counted at least four more kobolds and I heard something BIG in there breathing, it sounded like it was sleeping. It looks like the place was once a temple. I saw four altars in there and as near as I can tell there is still some power to them. I saw one kobold make several attempts to put out a candle. It wouldn’t go out no matter what he did. He was getting really upset about it too, so I put him out of his misery.”
The party made is way carefully into the hallway, Kierra in the lead, followed by Fin and Torinn. Then came Bandia and Dayreth, followed by Hamadar. The air in the hallway was so cold they could see their breath. They found two more kobolds half asleep, evidently the cold air did not agree with them. They did not have much to complain about at all after Kierra stealthily dealt with them. They passed a shrine, Torinn recognized it as a shrine to Moradin, though of ancient design. They finally came upon a set of large doors, they were covered with frost.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” said Fin in a hushed voice.
“Whatever it is, it must be defeated,” said Torinn, its presence here is a defilement, it must be purged.
“Well,” said Hamadar, almost nonchalantly, “judging by the signs I’ve been able to see here, I think we’re dealing with a dragon, white. A fairly young one if I’m right.”
“And if you’re wrong?” asked Bandia.
“Then it won’t matter because we will all be dead,” replied the warlock.
“Thank you for the inspiring words, Hamadar,” said Dayreth, “next time, let me do the inspiring.”
“Well,” said Kierra, “we’ve got to do something before…”
A raspy little voice started clicking and chirping, then said in broken common, “You intruders!!! You pay!!! White god will destroy!!!”
“Someone sounds the alarm,” Kierra finished. Her arm flashed out and a dagger buried itself in the kobold’s throat.
The heavy doors are suddenly thrown open. Then they hear a low rumbling growl reverberate through the stone walls and floor and echo from the chamber. From inside the chamber, shifting atop a pile of treasure a white dragon begins to uncoil itself. It was the size of a dire bear. It noticed the party and snarls in a cold raspy voice that echoes off of the walls, “Who dares enter the lair of Atrazebrax?! I will destroy you all!!!”
“Everybody move!” shouted Fin, but it was too late. The dragon’s icy breath weapon filled the hallway with an unnatural chill. Bandia looked dangerously pale. Kierra and Hamadar looked like they were able to take it but not another blast. Fin and Torinn exchanged glances and nodded. Then, as one, they bellowed the battle challenge of Kord and attacked. Dayreth tried to maneuver around the beast to a more advantageous position. But the beast’s wickedly spiked tail shot out at him. He just barely managed to deflect it with his shield.
Hamadar moved to one side of the hoarde chamber and seemed to fade from sight. Then he suddenly appeared about twenty feet away from the dragon. The warlock pointed his finger, then an instant later the dragon was scoured in hellish flames.
Kierra suddenly popped into view from the hall and shot a crossbow bolt into the dragon’s scaly hide. She had a satisfied look on her face as she slipped back to reload.
“Torinn! Go high, I’ll go low!” shouted Fin over the bellowing roar of the dragon. He swung his great sword down and around the beast’s wings and made a wicked slash at its legs. Torinn let out his own roar and buried his waraxe in the dragon’s neck. Dayreth got to his position behind the dragon and slashed at its hind quarters.
Atrazebrax roared in fury and clawed at the dragonborn paladin, shredding his tabard and leaving wicked looking scratches in his armor and his face, Fin swung his sword again and left a nasty wound in the beast’s shoulder. Hamadar got up and set a blast of energy into the dragon’s chest. Kierra lined up a shot with her crossbow, and a bolt buried itself in the dragons white scaly hide. Bandia rushed forward and said a prayer to Pelor and Torinn felt the wounds on his face begin to close. Dayreth slashed again with his longsword. The dragon charged at them and attacked with its teeth and claws. Hamadar was thrown down the hallway.
“You’re end is here dragon!!!” bellowed Fin and he drove his great sword into the dragons chest as far as it would go. The dragon responded with a vicious series of raking claw attacks that lifted the fighter up and threw him against the wall. It flapped its wings and roared, the sound was deafening as of it was amplified by the enclosed hall. Then it unleashed its draconic breath. Kierra lost consciousness and fell to the cold stones. Bandia was barely standing, clinging to a tapestry to keep herself upright. Hamadar made a grasping gesture with his hand, the dragon was lifted up and slammed into the wall, it seemed stun.
Torinn shouted a prayer to Kord and charged the beast again, chopping with his waraxe, then he roared and unleashed his own breath weapon. Crackling lightning shot from his open mouth and seemed to rap itself around the white dragon. It let out a roar of pain. Its head lunged out and he bit into Torinn’s right shoulder. The pain he should have felt was ironically numbed by the freezing effect of the bite itself, Torinn couldn’t move or feel his right side. He grabbed his own shoulder, said a short prayer and feeling returned, mostly.
Bandia suddenly stepped between Torinn and the dragon holding her holy symbol in her tiny hand, “Mighty Pelor, smite this enemy of good with your radiant glory!!!” A shaft of almost unbearably bright light descended upon the dragon and wreathed it in brilliant light and holy fire. It staggered for a moment, but then a claw suddenly shot out and slashed at the Halfling cleric and shredded her tabard and armor, she staggered. Then with a roar, the other claw shot out, the blow tearing into the Halfling and sending her flying across the chamber and slamming her into a wall. She fell to the floor and did not move.
Torinn’s vision was getting blurry, he knew that was not a good sign. He looked to the rest of the party. Fin was beginning to pick himself up, Dayreth indicated that he was ready. Hamadar was knelt over Kierra with concern on his face, but determination in his eyes.
“This ends here and now, CHARGE! Take the beast down!” roared Dayreth as he began his assault. The others followed suit, picked themselves up and launched themselves at the dragon. All except for Hamadar, he calmly got up, made an arcane sign and a vicious gesture with his hand. Suddenly the white dragon was wrapped in dozens of rivulets of liquid fire. Then the warriors reach the dragon and their weapons flashed with deadly intent. The white dragon roared in defiance once more before it fell before their mighty onslaught. Atrazebrax was no more, but the price had been high.
To be continued...
Monday, August 27, 2012, 11:51 AM
By Anton Spletstoser
The following uses the setting of Fallcrest and the Nentir Vale from the Dungeon Master’s Guide 4th Edition and the World of Greyhawk in the year 1412 CY.
This did not look good at all. The harvest was late, winter was coming, and the kobolds suddenly seemed to think they owned HIS vale. The Lord Warden of the Nentir Vale read report after report in his office in Moonstone Keep. He was reading them and worrying. The dwarven clock on his mantle, one of the few in the entire vale that did not need an entire tower to contain it, chimed again. It was getting late and Lady Allande preferred her husband attend family dinners, especially when their eldest son was visiting from Greyhawk during a break in his studies.
“I do not like the look of these reports,” mused Lord Warden Faren Markelhay, “The kobolds have hit almost every caravan coming into Fallcrest. The last caravan barely made it to the village, but for the bravery and skill of a band of adventurers who happened to be travelling with it. The tactics and coordination of the kobold tribes had never been this effective before. We need to find out who or what is behind this. Sergeant-at-Arms, in the morning summon those adventurers who claimed to have killed that dragon.”
“Yes sir, but if I may point out, it was a very small dragon,” Sergeant-at-Arms Rand Bekker stated matter-of-factly. He continued, “And they have apparently bought up AND drunk most of the ale the Nentir Inn had on hand during the past two days.”
“Summon them anyway,” replied Markelhay, “Our own guards are stretched too thin as it is. We need more information on what is going on out there in the vale and I am not sending out peasant farmers to scout for me. We need skilled professionals or talented amateurs… we need adventurers!”
“As you wish, milord”, replied Bekker as he saluted, about faced, and headed toward the large iron bound oak doors that lead out of Markelhay’s office.
“And Bekker”, Markelhay called to his back.
“Milord?” replied Bekker.
“Inform that mage… what’s his name… Nimo something… Nimozaran the Green. Inform Nimozaran the Green that we may be requiring his services.”
“As you wish milord,” said Bekker.
“And Bekker”, said Markelhay.
“Yes milord?” replied Bekker.
“Inform Lady Allande that I may be late for dinner… again”, said Markelhay. After Bekker closed the doors, the Lord Warden of the Nentir Vale returned to reading reports… and worrying.
“Fin” Finathern was mildly hungover. But in the same sense as saying a red dragon is mildly angered when you make off with its hoarde. He was then mildly annoyed when there came a pounding at the door. Actually it was a light tapping, but point of view is everything. He looked over to the other bed in the room. The hulking reptilian form of the dragonborn paladin Torinn shifted slightly. His armor and gear stacked neatly by his bed, oiled and cleaned the night before. Fin’s was stacked slightly less neatly on his side of the room. But still arranged in such a way that he could get to what he needed when he needed even if the room had been dark as pitch, but maybe if he was not so drunk. Old habits died hard, even after a gratuitous amount of ale. The knocking continued.
“I’m coming! Hold your warhorses!” snapped Fin as he poured himself out of his bed.
He opened the door to the sight of a page boy. He could tell by the outfit and the heraldry of the Markelhays emblazoned on his tunic.
“And what do you want?” growled Fin.
“Milord requests your presence at his audience chamber after midday meal,” nervously replied the page boy as he handed Fin a summons affixed with the Markelhay seal.
Fin looked out his window at the sun, that gave them a few hours. “Oh, his lordship requests us does he???You may inform his lordship that we will be there,” replied Fin, the sarcasm apparently lost on the lad.
“Yes sir,” squeaked the boy and he promptly left.
Fin started donning his armor. “Hey, Torinn! Rise and shine! We have an audience with a lord.”
He finished strapping his armor and weapons on and strode across the hall and banged on a door. “ Hamadar, Kierra! You two awake in there? Get yourselves presentable. We have to meet his lordship in about four hours.”
Fin then proceeded to the end of the hall and pounded on the door, “Dayreth, up and at ‘em! His lordship wants to make you a general!!!” Fin loved ribbing the eladrin warlord about his apparent ambition to one day command a great host. Of course, he had to admit, Dayreth’s strategy and tactics had certainly helped carry the day against the dragon Atrazzebrax and his kobold minions.
Dayreth had already been awake and dressed since sunrise and had been studying “Lohmi’s Art of War” when he was rudely interrupted by Fin. “I heard everything through the pitifully thin doors and walls of this somewhat questionable establishment,” he stated loudly enough to be heard by Fin. This is to say, slightly above the level of a normal speaking voice. “Three and a half years at Greyhawk’s leading military academy for this???” he sourly thought to himself. He collected himself and called out, “I will be ready when the time comes.”
Fin returned to the room he shared with Torinn, the paladin of Kord, god of storms and battle. The dragonborn was finishing his prayers as he entered. He then started to don his own heavy armor and asked, “Do you have any idea why the lord warden would wish to see us?”
“I haven’t a clue, maybe one of the clerics told him that story you spun to get them to heal Hamadar without putting up a fuss,” quipped Fin.
“It was the truth, I am a paladin and I am dragonborn, I am honourbound to tell the truth,” stated Torinn, “I merely stated the facts as I saw them.”
“Were you on the same plane of existence as the rest of us then?” Fin shot back, “That blasted dragon almost had our guts for garters. You were making us sound like heroes out of some epic.”
“But we were victorious,” stated Torinn flatly, “I merely stated it in a more ornate manner than you are used to. And being a paladin does have its privileges, the temple priests and priestesses did provide us with healing and supplies did they not?”
Half an hour later the party was in the taproom of the Nentir Inn having breakfast. It was a relatively new building of flagstone and timber, but was already doing a thriving trade. It wasn’t as fancy or ornate as the more established Silver Unicorn Inn and the clientele were certainly more “colorful”, but the rates were cheap and the ale and food was good. Bread, cheese, and fried eggs and sausages were quickly disappearing from the serving platters. Killing dragons works up an appetite.
“What do you think his lordship wants with us this time?” queried Kierra as she sliced an apple into precise wedges, “We already got that silly box back for that fat merchant and we killed a dragon…. a DRAGON.” The elf deftly flipped three thin apple wedges into the air and caught each in her mouth, one after the other. Then she spun her dagger with a flourish with one hand and seemingly made another apple appear out of thin air with the other. Now, thought Fin, was a good time to make sure your coin purse was still where you thought you had left it.
“We will find out in due time Kierra,” replied Hamadar darkly, “I’m sure this ‘lord warden’ will tell us all he thinks we need to know when we see him.” He seemed moodier than usual, and that was saying a lot for the warlock. The encounter with the dragon had left him in dire need of the local clerics. And they in turned had been less than enthused about healing one who, rumors said, had made a pact with dark forces to gain his powers. On the other hand, those powers had also sent many a kobold on a one-way trip to whatever dark god they had worshipped in that dank and vile lair. And the local clerics had been won over by the paladin and his telling of their exploits against the dragon and its kobold minions. By then they had almost been fighting each other to heal him, especially some of the prettier ones.
After their bellies were full, the party stepped out into the morning air. It was a cool, brisk autumn morning. The smell of harvest time was in the air. They made their way across the bridge that spanned the Nentir River, paid the toll, past the upper quays, and marched into the Hightown, the northern part of the village. The buildings here were older, Hightown having made it through the fall of the city relatively intact. The wealthier citizens lived here. There were few people moving about as most laborers and tradesmen were already in the fields or at their shops. But the villagers they did pass in the street looked strained. The last two months of almost constant threat of attack were taking their toll. Several of the outlying farms had been attacked and burned. The men of the Lord Warden’s guard were only sixty strong and did double duty as constables as well as soldiers, but most were young and inexperienced. The sergeants did their best and had trained some of the townsfolk into a fairly capable militia. As another group of villagers passed the party and recognized them, their countenances visibly lightened. There was even the glimmer of hope. The recent thrashing one of the kobold tribes at the hands of the adventurers had had an almost miraculous effect on the morale of the village.
“We best make sure we have enough supplies,” said Fin while looking through his pack. It was never a good thing to run out of a simple item that can mean the difference between life and death in a dark hole in the ground. He recalled that the caravan they had helped to defend on their way to Fallcrest had been fairly well stocked.
“We could check with that fat merchant, Segod… Segod Sarsfield… He owes us a discount. He promised,” said Kierra.
“He did have a very well stocked wagon,” agreed Torinn,”He should be set up in the village marketplace.
“I do need a new shirt and jerkin. That bloody dragon ruined my last set,” said Hamadar, ”but at least I was able to liberate this lovely set of darkleaf leathers.” He looked down admiring the newly acquired magical leather armor they had discovered in the dragon’s hoarde. It was covered in ornate patterns and the subtle shape and texture of the gravetree leaves that gave the armor its special protective abilities.
“I would say you had earned it, you did manage to slam the beast against the wall hard enough to knock it senseless,” Dayreth pointed out, “and I could do with a few minor items as well.”
The party made its way south and came to the cliff that effectively divided the northern and southern parts of the village. The morning mist off of the river was beginning to burn off from the sun’s warmth. From the bluffs they could see down into the southern part of the village. They saw the market green, located next to the docks by the river. They followed the trail to steps carved into the stone of the sloping cliff and proceeded south into what the villagers called Lowtown, the southern half of Fallcrest. Here the buildings were newer and the people poorer. Here and there you could still see rubble and ruins left over from the fall of the city during the war. They asked a villager for directions and made their way toward the market green.
Segod Sarsfield was setting up his stall. This was going to be a profitable day. He could feel it! The last few caravans had been almost completely sacked and after two months the demand for his wares meant he could deal honestly and still make a profit. The Lord Warden’s Sergeant-at-Arms had been polite enough to inform him that the lord “frowned” upon anyone or anything trying to make “unreasonable” profit from the current crisis. Segod suspected that “frowned upon” included all manner of unpleasant things and did not want to find out exactly what they were.
Segod had never considered himself an “adventurer merchant” as some called the traders who went into areas of personal as well as financial risk in order to make a profit. But his creditors in Greyhawk had made it all too clear that they would appreciate his prompt repayment of the loan he had taken out to start his trading business. If only he hadn’t listened to that thrice damned tiefling partner of his, well, former partner now. He had sunk almost all of his savings into this trading trip into Nentir Vale. Well, he wouldn’t put too much of a mark up on his wares, maybe an extra fifteen percent. Then he saw the party approaching. He bellowed in his best trader’s voice, “Welcome my hearty friends, I suppose you’re here to see about that fifteen percent favored customer exclusive discount I had promised you!”
Nimozaran the Green, High Septarch of Fallcrest, Head of the Fallcrest mage’s guild, and wielder of powerful arcane energies was deep in thought. A thought had occurred to him after his morning bath. He had returned years ago to Fallcrest. He had been determined to rebuild the mage’s guild and return it to it’s former position of prominence in the village. But in all those years since, he had only managed to recruit one apprentice, the Halfling Tobolar Quickfoot. Oh, Tobolar was loyal and eager enough to learn the arcane arts, and he had paid in gold, it’s just that he seemed to have all the natural talent in the arcane of a lump of granite. Tobolar, for his part, did try, honestly he did try. But rarely succeeded, his ambitions seemed to outstrip his abilities by several leagues. He had been studying for the better part of a decade and had only learned the most basic of cantrips.
“Master?” Tobolar whispered carefully, Nimozaran the Green did not like interruptions.
“Yes Apprentice Quickfoot?” answered Nimozaran formally. He like being formal, though technically Tobolar was the only other member of the mage’s guild in Fallcrest besides Nimozaran. No one else had had the one hundred gold pieces required for the initiation ceremony.
“There is a messenger at the door from his Lordship,” said Quickfoot, “ he is requesting your presence at the keep after the midday meal.”
“Oh bother,” muttered Nimozaran, “what can be so important that it must pull me from important guild business?” He was still trying to figure out how to recruit more students from the vale.
“He mentioned a generous donation to the guild and maybe the possibility of enrolling his middle child here at the tower,” replied Quickfoot hopefully.
“Oh yes, that would do the trick. If his lordship enrolled one of his children here at the tower then that would be a sign of his endorsement of my position as High Septarch of Fallcrest,” said Nimozaran, his eyes partially glazed over as he imagined the requests for enrollment once one of his Lordship’s own children was an apprentice at the tower.
“And another thing Master,” said Quickfoot.
“Well, out with it,” shot Nimozaran, a little put out at being pulled out of his vision.
“We received another report from the hunters scouting the vale earlier this morning, but you informed be you were not to be disturbed unless it was of dire importance,” uttered Quickfoot cautiously, “they have seen more dragon sign, somewhere in the direction of Kobold Hall.”
“Oh, yes, yes. I just knew there had to be another dragon in the vale, all the signs pointed to it, the destruction and stolen livestock had been too widespread to be the work of one beast. I was right!” exclaimed Nimozaran, “I must prepare a new report for the Lord Warden when I meet him!” He was excited now, and the energy of it was flowing through his very being. He felt ten years younger, maybe even twenty. He knew the villagers mocked him behind his back. The “crazy old man in his tower” is what they said, he knew it, but this would prove that he was a great wizard to be respected and taken seriously. He started toward the steps to the lower levels.
“Master?” asked Tobolar.
“Yes, Apprentice Quickfoot?” responded Nimozaran in a mildly aggravated tone.
“Should you not maybe don your robes of office before meeting with Lord Markelhay?” Tobolar asked in a guarded tone.
Nimozaran the Green, High Septarch of Fallcrest, Head of the Fallcrest mage’s guild, and wielder of powerful arcane energies was still wearing only his loin cloth.
“Quite right,” answered Nimozaran as he turned to his wardrobe without missing a step.
Fin, Torinn, Hamadar, Dayreth, and Kierra were walking away from Segod Sarsfield’s stall. It had been a profitable day indeed! The profit he just made from those adventurers nearly paid for the trip by itself. His colleagues had laughed at him when he had invested in fine armor and weapons and high quality adventuring gear along with more sundry items. They told him that no one was going to be able to afford such rare items out in the borderlands. He had figured on selling most of those items to the village guards or the militia and they had bought some of them, but those adventurers probably had more gold on them than every peasant in the village put together. They had purchased some adventuring gear, a few of his fine daggers, a crossbow, bolts, leather and metal polish, and a fine suit of chainmail. That warlock had even bought a set of his best courtly dress, the latest fashion from Greyhawk, well the latest fashion from about eight months ago. The elf had even bought a fine new outfit for herself, a dark charcoal gray satin shirt and fine leather riding breeches, leather boots and gloves, they were young men’s clothes, but she said she preferred breeches, well elves were strange anyway. That pretty elf girl had even shown interest in a set of locksmith tools he had, though what a pretty girl like that would need with those he could not fathom. But he could fathom the jingle in his coin purse. Now that he thought about it, where had he laid it? Ah, there it was, right next to his lockbox. He must keep his wits about him when trading goods out here on the edge of civilization. No telling what unsavory sorts may be about.
The party made its way back their rooms at the Nentir Inn, there they stored their recent purchases. Hamadar and Kierra changed into their new outfits. Dayreth donned his new chainshirt and put on his best tabard. Torinn and Fin polished their armor until they looked ready for parade. They then went down to the taproom for a quick meal and the aromas of cooking food and pipe tobacco wafted up to them as they came down the stairs. There were already several other travelers there dining and talking. Today’s special was a savory lamb stew, some sort of soft cheese, steamed onions, and fresh strawberries, all for a reasonable four silver pieces.
After their meal, they crossed the bridge and showed their summons to the sergeant, who probably could not read all of it, but recognized the seal of Lord Warden Markelhay and let them pass. It was noticeably warmer now and clouds passed lazily across the sky, carried by a light cool breeze. The pleasantness of the weather was marred by the fact that the village was under threat from some dark force from without.
As they strolled through the northern part of the village, they could not help but notice the impressive fortress that was Moonstone Keep. Even after the fall of the city ninety years ago during the Bloodspear War, the strong gray stone walls still stood strong. It was hard to miss, situated as it was on a steep sided hill just north of the village. It dominated the surrounding terrain and was a natural strong defensive position. Tall walls surrounded the northern and eastern sides of Hightown. Bordered on the south by the bluffs and the west by the river. They had heard that if the village were attacked again, the people of Lowtown would make their way to Hightown and there they would make their stand.
As they came up to the gates of Moonstone Keep, they were challenged by the gate guards. They presented the summons and were lead through the gate to the great doors that opened to a spacious hall. The hall lead to the lord warden’s audience chamber, portraits of past lord wardens and tapestries telling the history of the vale and of Fallcrest covered the stone walls. The hall ended in heavy oak doors that opened in unison as they approached and they were ushered into the audience chamber to stand twenty feet from his lordship, Lord Warden Faren Markelhay. He was seated on a large chair set on a raised dais reading something, a look of concern upon his face. He signaled to the guards and they allowed the adventurers to advance to stand ten feet from the Lord Warden. He looked up at them.
“Thank you all for coming on such short notice,” he began, “I understand you have been making quite merry since your return from that ruined temple and dispatching the fell beast that made it’s lair therein.”
“It was a glorious victory in the name of Kord,” said Torinn, he always did have a way with words, “It was a difficult fight, and at times the outcome was not certain, but we triumphed over the dragon Atrrazebrax and his vile kobold minions, even though we were greatly outnumbered.”
“Yes, Ressilmae told me of your encounter with the dragon. He was quite impressed with your accomplishment, being a retired adventurer himself,” said Markelhay, he continued, “And that is partly the reason I have summoned you here. We have been receiving reports from our scouts and hunters that there may be another dragon in the vale.”
He let that bit of knowledge sink in. Having two dragons, even young ones, in such close proximity was unusual. They were notoriously territorial creatures. It may have been coincidence, but Lord Warden Markelhay did not believe in coincidences. Something out there was orchestrating this, he could feel it. And he knew he must get to the bottom of this if he was to people his vale and his people safe.
Dayreth spoke up, “It is strange that two such creatures would be in the same vale. It could be that they are of the same clutch, siblings if you will.”
“That was my thought exactly,” cut in a voice from a dark corner of the audience hall. An elderly man in ornate green robes stepped out from the shadows.
“May I introduce you to Nimozaran the Green, High Septarch of Fallcrest,” the lord warden stated. Nimozaran visibly puffed up at the statement of his full title.
“And I have received further reports that point to it’s probable location,” he began, “It seems that it may have taken up residence in Kobold Hall, or rather under what is left of it. It has been going to ruin for years now, abandoned almost one hundred years ago, on the edge of the Cloak Wood forest. I do believe is was built by a Lord Syward Greylond, of the Greyhawk Greylonds, a very prestigious line…”
“If we could return to the matter at hand, High Septarch?” Lord Markelhay interrupted.
Nimozaran the Green then went into a surprisingly detailed report detailing dragon sightings, increased kobold activity, and maps of the general area around Kobold Hall. Each segment of the report was detailed, very detailed. Kierra was sure he was casting some sort of sleep spell and elves don’t even sleep! Fin’s head bobbed a couple of times, and Hamadar seemed to struggle between hiding his boredom and staying conscious. Torinn and Dayreth seemed to be the only ones really paying attention. They even asked a few questions which Nimozaran was more than happy to answer with a long detail response.
“And so,” Nimozaran concluded, “we need you to go to Kobold Hall, explore it, and determine if another dragon does indeed make its lair there. To speed you on your quest, I have prepared something for you. The Green Tower possesses a teleportation circle. I will use it to send you to Kobold Hall in an instant. I have inscribed a scroll of teleportation for you to use for your return. All you have to do is read it and think of the teleportation circle, and you will be returned to the tower.”
“Thank you, Nimozaran,” said Lord Warden Markelhay, “So, that is the quest we are offering you. If you can explore the ruin that is Kobold Hall and return with information as to whether a dragon now calls it home or not, I will pay each of you two hundred gold pieces. If you can bring back proof that you have vanquished the beast, I will pay you each four hundred sovereigns and you may keep the monster’s hoarde. Are we agreed?”
The adventurers consult with eachother, Kierra began, “Are we going after ANOTHER dragon? I try to make it a personal policy to limit exposure to dragons as much as possible.”
“But this is an evil that must be faced and defeated,” said Torinn, “It is our duty. I do not think we should take payment.”
“That’s YOUR duty,” Fin shot back sarcastically, “OUR duty is to get paid for whatever services we render, this is our trade. That means we get PAID. Hey, that’s kinda catchy.”
Hamadar rolled his eyes, “And we all have debts to pay back in Greyhawk, Fin. It’s why we all came out here to begin with. Rife with opportunities you said. It’ll be a great adventure you said. So far I’ve spent more time under a healer’s care than I care to.”
“At least that last healer was pretty,” quipped Dayreth, Kierra shot him a nasty look. “I’m sure that we can overcome this challenge with proper planning and tactics. A dragon is a tough opponent, but we’ve overcome one and we can take what we learned from that encounter to aid us in this one.”
“Besides,” Kierra cut in, “Think of all that GOLD.”
The party paused for a moment and turned to his lordship, and said as one, “We are agreed.”