They came from Zelkor's Ferry

The Barracks

The barracks for the guards in a good-sized wooden building, just a
single story with probably some storage space up under the roof. It faces
southwest to best fit in with the shore of the river just behind it. The
shutters are open on the windows all around. A glance in as you pass by
shows you that one side of the front seems to be private quarters with a
sitting area and fireplace; very likely those of the captain. The other side
is what appears to be a common room. The quarters for the regular guards
must be across the back. Tancred and Corbel find their favorite seats amid
the stones strewn along the base of the crumbling river wall, and Bernhard
joins you all a few moments later.
“I expect you’re here because you’re looking for adventures in these
parts,” he begins. “While we’re not as spectacular as Kanndra Dark,
the three of us could probably tell you a few things. You interested?”
Reassured on that point, Bernhard continues.
“My family was from this part of the country but moved to a larger town
when I was about 12,” he says. “Rather than apprenticing me, my father
let me train for the town guard. After a few years as a guard I starting
taking jobs with adventuring companies, and eventually I had the chance
to come back to this area, with an expedition that was searching for the
Mouth of Doom.”
“I suggested Zelkor’s Ferry as a starting point. We found that dungeon
with no problem, but the group I was with wasn’t prepared for what they
found.” Bernhard shakes his head disgustedly. “At first a few were afraid
even to step into the maw. Inside there was an altar that burned with green
fire, as well as some type of deadly river and all sorts of other weird
things. For some reason they had expected nothing but combat, and we
saw plenty of that, but the strangeness was more than they could bear.
They headed back for more civilized parts but I stayed out here around
Zelkor’s Ferry.”
“I did some work with caravans for a while; going up and down the
Old Path toward the coast is dangerous business. We fought off gnolls
or bugbears on a regular basis, but there are also trolls along there, and
sometimes roving bands of goblins. That’s not to mention the various
bands of brigands that camp in the forest, or make their headquarters in
obscure caves. There’s a definite need for guards, and I kept busy.”
“Did you ever travel on the north side of the river?” Corbel asks. “The
swamp there is where the trolls come from, I’m sure; I’ve heard they have
a giant underground complex where dozens of them live. And have you
seen the size of frogs they have there? I have, a time or two; big enough to
swallow a horse in one gulp. Those giant frogs would probably take over
the swamp, if the dragon didn’t keep their numbers down.”
“No, pack trains I was with always kept to the south bank, no doubt for
some of the reasons you mention,” Bernhard replies. “We did see a dragon
once or twice, circling high in the air above the Coast Road. I never heard
of it attacking any caravans, though.”
“Speaking of the swamp,” says Tancred, “I heard from someone that the
giant frogs there are actually intelligent. They have some type of deity of
their own, and made a temple to it.”
“A warty, slimy frog god? I find that hard to believe,” Corbel declares
skeptically. “I don’t think giant frogs are intelligent enough for that. What
would they sacrifice to it? Giant flies?”
“I’d say probably slow, unobservant travelers,” remarks Bernhard
pointedly and Tancred grins and elbows Corbel slightly.
“Back to what I was saying, though,” Bernhard continues, “Eventually
I was hired by a group which was searching for a different way to get into
the dungeon. They had heard there was a ‘back door’ that led to an easier
route than going in the main way. Through searching the forest we found
another evil temple in the foothills north of the river, and Saltare (the
wizard leading the group) thought that likely hid the back way. We easily
located a ramp that went right down underground but as soon as we started
to explore we were attacked by a whirling mass of bones, some of which
were as sharp as blades. Even Saltare was not able to identify later what
magic that was, but it was cutting our people apart and so we retreated.”
Bernhard shakes his head. “We spent more days continuing to search for
an entrance, but after fighting trolls and wraiths and smothering swamp
creatures, and getting stung by giant bees and poisoned by giant spiders,
we gave it up and went in the main entrance.”
“You know,” Corbel interrupts, “I may know where there is a back
entrance to that dungeon. I was part of a ship’s crew for a year and took
note of a cave that opened up where the side of the cliff collapsed. From
what I’ve heard, it must be just about due east of that dungeon. The sea
there is slightly protected by an island that runs parallel to the coast so it
should be possible to approach the beach. I’ve also heard there’s some
sort of sea dragon that moves up and down the coastline in that area, but
Bernhard, you just said that you’ve seen a dragon flying along the Coast
Road. It seems unlikely that a second dragon would live so close, so that
probably untrue.”
“Interesting,” Bernhard says. “I wish I’d know that five years ago! Any
other things you saw from the sea that we might like to know about?”
Corbel smiles. “Well, there are the pirates, but I don’t think that’s what
you mean. A ruined ship lies along the coast south; rumor is it belonged
to a band of pirates that ran aground in a storm. They were carrying so
much gold and other plunder that the ship sank like a stone. The current is
so treacherous there, though, that even small boats can’t approach it from
the sea so I don’t think anyone has ever explored it. Really, the coast is
an amazing place. If you can find a quiet cove, you can pull your dinner
straight out of the sea, add in some fruit from the short, and live like a king
with almost no effort. Until the next storm comes, of course! Listen, I have
the next duty shift. We need to hurry this up so I don’t miss anything when
I have to leave!”
“Right.” Bernhard turns back to you. “I know one thing I think is
important: If you’re going to explore that dungeon, you really need to take
along an elf.” He shakes his finger to emphasize his point. “The whole
place is riddled with secret doors; some even I could find, but others were
hidden so well it was just impossible. There were places where we were
completely at a dead end and we knew there had to be a door there but we
could not find it! I’ve always been told that elves somehow have this way
to just ‘know’ when a secret door is nearby, and it would have been really
useful to have had one to hand at those spots.”
“Elves aren’t so important!” breaks in Tancred. “The race you really
need with you is a dwarf, preferably two or three. Dwarves know all about
stone construction, which is what everything is in that dungeon anyway.
Not only could a dwarf have found your hidden doors, he could locate
moving walls, or traps in the floor. We lost one guy, Barlos, who had
been another guard in two or three different caravans that I worked. He
stepped on a particular place on the floor that just fell away under him and
dropped him into a deep pit. We couldn’t see the bottom at first, but when
we lowered a light down it was obvious by the spikes sticking through his
chest and neck that he was dead. To make it worse, Alsina, who is an elf,
had crossed that very stretch of floor just a few seconds ahead of him and
noticed nothing strange at all. If we had had a dwarf with us, he would
have detected the trap right away and Barlos wouldn’t have died.”
“Not only that,” adds Corbel, “Dwarves can see in the dark. Elves have
better vision than humans, but dwarves somehow can see without needing
any light at all. They can go ahead of the rest of the group and scout things out quietly. Then, when they’ve seen what’s ahead, the rest of you have a
better chance of surprising whatever it is and killing it more easily.”
“Ha!” Bernhard snorts. “I’ve yet to see the dwarf who can move quietly
enough for that. In fact, most humans are bumbling oafs compared to
the denizens of such a dangerous place. Remember, even if you’re truly
moving quietly, you’re still not as sneaky as you think. There were times
when we would have sworn we were absolutely silent, and yet the creatures
who lived in those areas obviously knew we were coming and were ready
for us.” Tancred and Corbel both nod their heads glumly at that.
“Something else,” Bernhard continues, “is that you need to have a plan
for how to keep track of where you’ve been. There are places where it
gets very confusing, such as tunnels that go over or under another part of
the dungeon or irregular sections where it’s hard to keep track of how far
you’re moving.”
“There are also moving walls,” puts in Tancred, “and places where
corridors get cut off when you’re not looking so you can’t make your way
back the way you came.”
“Not to mention magical traps,” adds Corbel. “There are places that
teleport away someone who steps there, or touches something. Sometimes
they will take everyone in a room, sometimes only one person. Once in a
while there’s a way to get right back, but usually there’s not.”
Bernhard nods. “Having a decent map is the best way to be able to make
a retreat, or discover possible alternate routes to explore if your way back
is blocked.”
“It still doesn’t help much,” Corbel says bitterly. “My brother Cantzley
talked me into leaving the ship and hiring on with a group that was going
into that awful place. The pay was good, and they offered a fair split of the
treasure. I had heard a few rumors about it but Tepeno, the warrior who
was leading our group, was confident he had the information he needed
to find our way through it. Little did he know the whole place is one
giant maze! We did pretty well avoiding things like pit traps and moving
walls, but weren’t prepared for the magical traps. We came across one
room where everyone who stepped in was teleported to an identical room
somewhere else. That was unnerving, but at least the whole group ended
up together.
“The bad time was when our group was moving into a new room; half
of us were watching out in the previous room while the other half searched
the next room, which didn’t appear to have any doors. Someone touched
some carving on the wall, and all of a sudden everyone in the room was
gone. We had the door open and saw what happened, but when we got the
rest of us into the room and tried to do the same thing, we couldn’t make
it happen again. I don’t know how long the five of us worked, pressing
and poking the walls, trying desperately to replicate what they had done.”
Corbel’s shoulders slump. “We finally had to give up on that and just look
for them physically. We knew it was very likely impossible, but we tried
anyway. My brother was one of those who had disappeared, as were Lady
Onyx and the wizard Moltors, Tepeno’s two closest companions.”
“The five of us searched until we ran out of food, then we started taking
it from ogres and goblins and kept looking. We persuaded one of the
goblins to give us some information before we killed it, and the thing
told us about an ‘oracle,’ which knew everything about the dungeon. We
finally found that on one of the upper levels. In exchange for some gold, of
which we had plenty by then, it told us that the rest of our party was dead
in something called ‘The Bloodways.’ Grisly name,” Corbel remarks, and
shudders.
“At that point we decided to leave,” he continues in a monotone. “Even
if the oracle was mistaken, or lying, we were all unlikely to survive long
enough to join up again. Tepeno returned to the city to try to take up what
remained of his life, and our other companions (who hadn’t had close
friends disappear) no doubt went on to other adventures. I managed to
get hired on here by Bristleback, so that I can be relatively close to the
dungeon. I really don’t have any hope, but I want to be nearby if by chance
my brother ever does come wandering out of the dungeon of graves.”
Corbel looks away then coughs a little and clears his throat. Rising, he
says, “I have to go get ready for my watch. I’ll be on in a few minutes.”
He goes on into the barracks and disappears from sight.
Bernhard and Tancred look at it each other. “I guess we’d better go,
too,” Bernhard remarks, standing. We’re not on watch quite yet, but we
will be later and we’d better not put off our chores.”
“That’s right,” Tancred says, also rising. “Need to get busy. You be
careful, if you go.” He steps to the door, allows Bernhard to proceed him,
then enters and closes it behind them.

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