They came from Zelkor's Ferry

The Guards' Story

You have to blink a few times when you enter the inn; it seems a little dim after the bright sun. You see Pappy snoring in his corner and a woman sitting by herself on the other side of the room, while Tallie is behind the bar serving the off-duty guards. You get something to drink as well and join the men at a long table near the windows.
“Harlemen Jesco,” the first man begins, “and over there is Serlio Mazam.” Mazam has the bronzed, weathered skin of a person who comes from the south, in or near the great desert. Jesco appears to be from somewhere around here, with the brown hair and brown eyes common in these parts. “We’re both former caravan guards, traveled around the area, and now working here where it’s relatively safe and the ale is good.”
“Mazam and I both hired on as part of an expedition that was planning to explore Rappan Athuk. We had known each other a bit from the caravans along the Coast Road, but had never worked together. Our employers looked down on us and gave us all the worst jobs around the camp, but that was what we had expected. They were paying us enough to make it worth our while, including a good part of the money up front. Also they had supplied us with some magical items that we never would have been able to get otherwise. I was given a magical ring and a longsword.”
Mazam speaks up at that point. “I got a magic helmet and a longspear. I knew what that meant, though: I’d be expected to be up in front with the long weapon when fighting some of the larger beasts or monsters we would no doubt meet. It’s the sort of gift that comes with a dangerous
obligation.”
“We did well enough in the wilderness,” Jesco continues. “The group we were with was experienced and worked well as a team. We fought one group of trolls, and were attacked by some gargoyles guarding the entrance when we arrived at the great dungeon. That took magical healing for everyone to recover.
“The entire complex is built in a sunken area, or sank after it was constructed, so it has no long view of the surrounding area. Mazam and I were on watch at different points on the edge of the bowl while the others checked out the various buildings. The forest around there was eerie –
very quiet. Our group called us in when they were ready to open the main doors.
“The doors were locked, so the wizard used a spell to open them. As they slowly swung in, a gust of air came pouring out reeking of death. We had expected some stale or smelly air inside the dungeon, but this was rank enough it had us all gagging. When the doors opened far enough to let some light inside we could see why the stink: on the floor just inside were eight slimy spots that had once been bodies. A couple were quite near the door and I got a good look. It seemed like the bodies had been dissolved or liquefied, and when that happened the armor just crumpled
in on itself.”
“That right there was enough for me!” Mazam exclaims.
“That’s right,” agrees Jesco. “The folks in there looked experienced, or at least well-equipped. I saw suits of full plate armor on two of those bodies, but the suction of the bodies liquefying had crumpled them in just like paper. I also know they had at least some magical items, because next to one long robe drenched with slime was lying a slender wooden staff, cracked all the way down its length, with a shattered blue gem at the top. Whatever magic overcame that group was powerful.”
“I said, ‘That’s it, I’m not going in there!’ The people who hired us weren’t happy about it at all,” says Mazam. “I told them they weren’t paying me enough to go in a place where bunches of people die in the very first room.”
“We gave them back their magical weapons and things,” Jesco explains, “rather abruptly, in fact. I figured I’d done enough work on the trek out from the city to earn the advance I’d been given, but I didn’t want to be accused of stealing the magical items. Maybe someone else would need them later. Then we just left. The two of us headed back for the Coast Road. It wasn’t long before we were able to both hire on with a caravan; none of the masters seemed to hold it against us that we hadn’t wanted to head down into that evil place. A couple even seemed to think we showed wise judgment to avoid it altogether.”
“I’d rather face brigands any day – or every day,” Mazam adds, “than set foot into that cursed dungeon. Even the vicious ogres and the immense spiders don’t frighten me as much as just peering into the stinking darkness that day. Being hired by Bristleback here has given us a comfortable base. We don’t travel much, and fight only once in a while. If Bristleback would drop his obsession about finding some ‘red bear,’ life would be easy.”
“We keep hearing people say, ‘Don’t go down the well’ when they talk about that dungeon,” Jescosays. “Mazam and I don’t know what well they mean, but we think it might be preferable to getting killed just inside the front door.”
At that moment a boy appears at the door of the inn. “Sirs, the Captain is looking for you,” he calls.
“Never a dull moment,” Jesco remarks wryly. He and Mazam drain their mugs before they rise, give you a nod, and stride away.

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