They came from Zelkor's Ferry

Da var vi alene

Gruppen samlet sine krefter i Zelkor’s Ferry. De fant fikk tak i en paladinen Bannor og orakelet Sin, som ble med dem ned i grotten.

De leitet etter hemmelige ganger. De tenkte at det måtte jo noen gjøre. Så etter en lang stund så hadde de funnet 1 stk.

Etter dette så besluttet de seg for å utforske resten av kartet. De er fortsatt på første nivå. Innenfor en dør fant de en av bandittene. Han prøvde å rømme, men ble sugd tom av leeches. Gruppen som aldri flykter angrep. Og med hjelp fra en poni fra det hinsides, så klarte de å fjerne leech’ene. Dessverre så ble dette i det drøyeste laget for paladinen(kanonføden), så han forsvant ut.

Så da var de Kaz, Kayashi Hayashi, Vallimir og Sin.

Neste rom angrep de med en rambok. Innenfor satt en stakkar eventyrer fra en annen gruppe. Et par piler senere så lå denne eventyreren naken igjen på gulvet.

Så var det ned til neste nivå.

“Hvem sjekker feller”?
“Driter vi i, her er det greit”

Og så kom gitteret ned og de var avstengt fra omverden. Men hvem har tid til å bry seg om slikt.

Åpne første dør.
Hele gulvet besto av magiske flammer. Det var kjettinger i taket som man kunne svinge seg i, og på siden av hver av de 4 dørene som ledet til rommet var det en knapp. De trykte og ut kom en bro. Men kun for halve rommet. Så her måtte det en riktig Ninja til for å fikse brasene. Men Kayashi Hayashifant ut at noen andre burde få gleden, så han nøyde seg med å brenne av seg en sko. Så Vallimir slang seg rundt i kjettingene og fikk fram broen. Så nå var det charge for alle pangene.

Neste rom hadde fem sarkofager. 3 tomme og 2 stk med lokk på. Begge inneholdt et skjellet, men ikke noe av verdi. De fant en hemmelig dør og stormet inn i et nytt rom med 3 sarkofager.

Første var tom.

Neste inneholdt et skjellet. Det reiste seg og smalt til Sin med et sølvbeger. Sin som klasket tilbake og et stk pulverskjelett traff gulvet. Noen snappet opp sølvbegeret før GM’en klarte å summe seg.

Siste sarkofag inneholdt et skjellet med et magisk sverd. Sin klasker igjen og skjelettet falt om. Sin tok tak i sverdet og kastet det til Kayashi Hayashi. Kayashi Hayashi tok imot sverdet og angrep skyggen. Dessverre for Kaz, så rakk ikke Kayashi Hayashi fram før skyggen hadde trekt krefter ut av ham.

Men nå står de her. Klare til nye utfordringer, og nå har de et magisk sverd og et sølvbeger.

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Det er noen andre her

Dag to og gruppen virker klarere enn noen gang. Alt er klart for en ny runde med å skrape til seg alt av verdi, men det er et problem. Det er andre der nede.

Gruppen starter dagen med en spell for å finne hemmelige dører, og 2 stk blir oppdaget. Bak en av dem er en lang sirklet gang og i enden en dør. Dette viser seg å være leiren til noen banditter.
Gruppen angriper og 3 banditter, 3 orcer og Lange Jack møter en tidlig død.
De finenr ut at det er flere her, og de klarer å fange 2 til. Den andre døren fører dem til et rom med Zombier. Etter snubletråder er borte og alle zombiene er støv, så er det sarkofagen i rommet sin tur. Denne blir åpnet og ghoul’en som ligger oppi rekker ikke å gjøre noe førKaz har satt
noen piler i den. En veldig kort kamp.

Men gruppen gir seg ikke. De skal bare loot’e litt til før de gir seg. I et rom med to grønne flammer finner de en gigantisk Cobra. Gruppen som aldri rømmer, hopper i kampen. Dette viser seg skjebnesvangert for Presten. Han overlevde, men blir nok ikke med på eventyr på en lang stund. Så nå er gruppen uten Healer. Dette kan ikke gå bra.

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Første dag i Zelkor's Ferry
Gruppen kommer til byen og reiser til Mouth of Doom

Tidlig formiddag tropper de 5 personene opp på Bristleback inn. De har med seg et forseglet brev fra Keiseren av den gamle verden. Odo Bristleback tar dem imot og sørger for at alt i brevet blir ordnet.
Odo velger å følge gruppen til Mouth of Doom for å sette opp en basecamp. På veien legger gruppen merke til at noen Gnoller holder dem under oppsikt. De går også nesten inn i et bakholdsangrep fra en Edderkopp. Odo avslutter dette krypets tid på jorden.

Vel framme ved Mouth of Doom setter gruppen opp leir. Selve grotten ser ut som hodet til Orcus, hvor munnen er veien ned i dungeonen.

I første rom så er det 6 dører. På leting etter feller får [Vallimir] og Kayashi Hayashi noen ubehagelige turer ned i noen pitt’er. DEn tredje fellen er et portaculis som er laget for å separere gruppen. De rydder opp i dette problemet med 100 kilo stein på utløseren til fellen.

SÅ er det strake vei inn i en korridor. Etter litt om og men, så klarer de å finne en felles tanke om hvordan man skal undersøke en dungeon.

Første problem kommer da Gaius blir slukt av en Geleklump. Men snar tenking fra Kaz. Kaz og Kayashi Hayashi tar et tau mellom seg og springer på hver sin side av kuben. Det er en etsende kube og tau tåler lite(1d6 i skade, 2 eller mer sliter tauet). Tauet holder og de røsker Gaius ut av kuben. Men så blir Kayashi Hayashi spist, men dratt ut av kuben av Kaz som fortsatt springer med tauet.

Neste problem er et rom som har en sei veske på dører, gulv og tak. Utenfor døren står 2 sandaler og på håndtaket henger en hanske. Vallimir banker på og blir sittende fast. Men denne gruppen liker ikke å bli tatt ved nesen, så Kayashi Hayashi henter en tanke fra luften: Hvorfor ikke helle lampeolje på? Og som sagt så gjort. Og heldigvis er lampeolje det eneste botemiddelet for denne type lim. I enden av rommet står en kiste og fast til kisten henger en arm som ser ut som den har blitt hugget av for å komme løs fra kisten.
Igjen viser det seg at gruppen har noen ess i ermet. Vallimir plukker opp sandalene, kaster en inn i rommet og oppdager at den ikke sitter fast. De har blitt immun til limet. Så han hinker inn i rommet på en sandal. Henter den andre, og labber til kisten. Der bruker han den avhogde armen for å åpne kisten og tømme den for gullet som var gjemt her.

De passerer så et rom meg skjelletter som henger ut av veggen, og finner en vei ned til neste nivå.

Så hva kommer gruppen til å gjøre? Utforske ferdig dette nivået, eller jobbe seg videre nedover?

Fortsettelse følger.

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Ebrima's story

Deprived of the guards’ company, you take another look around the room. The woman sitting on the other side of the room appears to be a half-elf; the profile you can see shows the tip of a slightly pointed ear peeking out from her dark, shoulder-length hair. She takes a drink from her goblet and then sits staring into the distance, her chin on her right hand and her arms resting on the table. Absently she reaches her right hand under her hair, rubbing her left cheek, or perhaps her ear, and then moves to take up her goblet again. After emptying it she turns your direction and stands, and your glance is immediately drawn to the black patch over her left eye.

As the half-elf passes you on her way to the bar you catch a glimpse of a scar that runs from her left eye back under her hair on that side, but the hair hangs straight down, covering everything else. She also holds her left arm stiffly, with the elbow bent and out a little bit from her side instead of hanging naturally, and she wears a soft leather glove on that hand. Tallie speaks with the woman as she refills her cup and the server gestures in your direction. The half-elf nods and returns to her seat, and Tallie comes around the bar, wiping her hands on her apron.
“Amelia says you’re interested in some of the underground areas hereabouts,” the young woman begins. “I’ve heard that lady over there has done some exploring around here in the past. I thought she might be able to tell you a thing or two, and she said she would be willing if you would buy her somewhat to eat and drink. Her time is short, though, because she’s leaving when the riverboat comes in.” A few coins change hands, then Tallie takes you to the half-elf’s table. “I’d like to make known Ebrima Perigord. I hope she’s helpful to you.” She gives you a nod and
heads back to her chores.
Ebrima is drinking white wine, and Tallie shortly arrives with a plate of fresh bread, cheeses, and sliced meat, which the woman nibbles at as she talks, pausing for bites between sentences. The half-elf seems quite willing to relate her experiences.
“I’ve been adventuring in this area for some time, so I can definitely tell you a lot of what you need to know. Only thirty miles from here, or maybe only about twenty, is a large dungeon, several levels deep, that they call the ‘Mouth of Doom.’ A year ago I was part of a group that
did some rather extensive exploration of it. We were the, uh, League of Danger; you may have heard of us. We had several members, but those of us who set out in search of the Mouth of Doom were Nyala the Bold, Vani Kinslayer (a valiant dwarven fighter), Sir Bulmer the, uh,
Magnificent, Lotha Quicksilver, the gnome priest Dobkin the Wise, and myself, Ebrima the Silent.”

“In our search for the dungeon entrance, we accidentally encountered an evil, uh, cleric who lives in the forest to the south of here. She hates all humanoids and kills them on sight! When she heard where we were headed she attacked us, assisted by packs of wolves and worgs. Battle
was not our purpose so we tried to move on out of her area, but she summoned dozens of gargantuan spiders to try to trap us before we could get away.
“Be wary in that area of forest; her spiders are big enough to carry off a full-grown man. Their poison subdues prey, but it doesn’t usually kill the victims. You’ll just lie there helpless as the spiders wrap you in their webbing, turning you over and over until the web covers first your body and then your face. Next they hoist you up into their trees and hang you head down – still alive but only barely, to contemplate how it feels to be fresh meat and pray to your gods that you die peacefully from lack of air before the spiders decide to make you their next meal. If you find yourself in a spider wood, look carefully at the bundles of web hanging there; some of them might be people you once knew.
”She takes another drink of wine and goes on, gesturing emphatically. “Despite the efforts of the, uh, depraved cleric, we discovered the entrance to the Mouth of Doom and moved in on it like a bolt of lightning. In short order we routed out a band of bugbears from the first level. We sneered at the spiked pits and poisoned-arrow traps. We lived to speak about the green fire, and fought the demons in the, uh, room of many gods.
“Then, we found a chamber with a statue of that evil cleric’s ancient deity. A black skeleton accompanied by worgs guarded the stair to a deeper level. Of course, in such a place there will be undead, and we fought those. The priest, ah, Holy Dobkin was able to do much against them, but the battle was fearsome.” The half-elf lowers her voice and leans toward you. “We traveled even further and found a place where it seemed the very air was poisoned. Despite the noxious stench we managed to rid the world of the, uh, twisted creature living in the lake at the center of the trouble. It was there my eye was wounded by the poisoned claw of the being, and my ear as well.” At this Ebrima pulls back the hair covering the left side of her head and you see that the top of her left ear is missing. The cut that took it off must have been rather deep, because a puckered line of scar tissue runs from her eyepatch to the ear and across the top of it. She smooths the hair back down and continues.
“Despite our wounds, we continued our explorations. Once we found ourselves trapped in a room with no doors, and it was only my, uh, quick thinking that enabled us to foil that magic that would have entombed us there forever. Finally we returned to the stair that would eventually let us out of the dungeon, but our retreat was prevented by a, ah, pack of large dogs, the biggest I had ever seen, and their growls were ferocious. Not only were their teeth razor sharp but we discovered they were hellspawn and could breathe fire!” Ebrima’s voice grows excited and she gestures animatedly.
“We fought relentlessly but were bitten, burned, and generally mauled. I, uh, tried to prevent one of the helldogs from breathing fire on me by thrusting my forearm across its jaws.” At this the half-elf draws off the leather glove on her left hand, and gently pushes up her sleeve. Her arm is a mass of scars, with criss-crossing white lines and odd indentations where some flesh seems to be missing. The hand itself is misshapen by scar tissue and the fingers appear stiff and are bent oddly. “At least having my arm in his mouth brought him close enough that I could use my sword to good effect.” Ebrima adjusts her sleeve and slides her glove back on, but before she can say any more Tallie returns.
“Sorry to interrupt you, Ebrima, but you asked me to let you know when the riverboat arrived. I knew you’d need to be leaving right away, so I wrapped up the rest of the bread and cheese for you.” She holds a small bundle packaged in a piece of worn cloth.
Standing, the half-elf pulls a pack from underneath the back corner of the table and hefts it on her good shoulder. Tallie slips the packet of food into the top of it then moves away. “This place kills people early, and it’s no place for someone with an imagination. I’m leaving this area forever, before I miss my chance to get out of here alive – and so should you.” Ebrima toasts you with the last swallow of her wine, then sweeps out the door.

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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.

View
The Gate

About that same time you see Corbel Grambien, the guard, heading for his post at the gate. He’s added a helmet and leather armor to his uniform, has strapped on his sword, and carries a bow and quiver. Watching him walk to his post, you get a good look at the inside of the gate. It is wide,
with two great doors covering the entire neck of the peninsula. At the two points where the gates would meet the walls, wooden watchtowers stand. They are tall enough that the guards manning them have an excellent view of the entire countryside and parts of both the rivers bordering Zelkor’s
Ferry. From the south tower the old wall extends less than twenty feet before dwindling down to nothing. On the north the wall stays higher farther, though it too diminishes toward the east as you noticed earlier.
From here you can’t see the line of kobold skulls that got your attention as you first approached the gate. However, you can see the broad, heavy beams used to secure the gate and the ones almost as large closing the postern gate through which you entered. Corbel climbs into the south tower and you recognize the iron gray hair of Captain Skorma in the north tower. The captain evidently takes shifts along with his men, which fits the impression you had of him from your earlier meeting. He seems to take the security of Zelkor’s Ferry quite seriously, which is all to the good now that you’re on the inside of the gates!
The two guards going off duty pass by you as they leave their duty station. “Hey there,” one calls. “We’re going to the inn to get something to drink. Corbel thought you might want to talk to us; join us if you like.” Having a drink does sound good, as does the idea of hearing another
helpful story or two, so you follow along.

View
The Smithy

It’s easy to tell that the next building is the smithy; the clangor of
metal on metal told you even before you could see the forge through the
open double door. The smith is a tall man, with the impressive arms and shoulders one would expect of a man in his profession. His sleeveless
tunic and pants are leather; his head is shaved clean and glistens with
sweat, making his skin look like polished mahogany. The heavy hammer
in his hand falls in a ringing rhythm on a bar of iron, forming it into a
horseshoe. As quickly as he finishes one and cools it in a bucket of water,
his tongs take up another glowing bar and he starts work on the next shoe.
Behind him you finally notice a young boy pumping away at the bellows.
He seems rather slight, but you realize the smith’s stature probably makes
him look small in comparison. Taking that into consideration, you estimate
the youth is probably 12 or 13 years of age. Just then the smith dips a final
shoe into the water with a flourish and growls, “Take a rest, boy, and be
sure to drink water. We’ll be back at it in a few minutes.”
The smith leads the way to the water barrel near the door where he
pours a dipper of water over his bald pate before drinking, and then wipes
his sweating face and head with a handy cloth rag. The boy drinks first,
splashes a little water on his own face and steps out into the sun. He is
dressed similarly to the smith, but has golden brown hair pulled back
in a stubby braid. The lad stretches thoroughly, then slumps against the
building in a shady spot.
The smith notices you standing there and approaches. “Hello!” he
rumbles. “Need a horse shod? Not right now? Just getting to know us, eh?
I’m Big Morgan.” The hand he offers you seems about the size of a dinner
plate but his grip is moderate. “If you need plain smithing, I’m your man:
shoe a horse, fix up the little metal bits on their gear, repair a wagon, mend
the iron rims on its wheels. Even tools I can do. I’m no good at the fancy
stuff, swords or things. But Verestin here may be, when he grows; isn’t
that right, boy?”
The boy looks up at that, and steps up by the smith. “This is Verestin
Pye,” Morgan says. “His folks live at the trading post but he doesn’t much
take after his dad and so he’s apprenticed over here, to myself and also to
the guards. Keeps him out of trouble, eh?”
“Yes, sir,” the boy replies, then addresses you. “I’m learning smithing
from Big Morgan. I practice weapons with the guards morning and
evening and do some of their chores in exchange for living in their attic.
The house here is too small for me to live also, but Deslena Potter does
give me all my meals. I’m already a lot stronger than when I started with
Big Morgan, and when I’m grown I’ll be able to be a warrior if I choose,
or learn to smith weapons and know how to use them. If nothing else I’ll
always be able to do a useful trades there is. At any rate it’s more useful
than just traveling back and forth and taking people’s money from them
for a lot of stuff they don’t need.”
“That’s disrespectful, boy; don’t be talking that way. Get in there and
sweep up any scraps, then stir up the coals. You know Deslena in baking
today and wants us to keep the heat nice and even for those pots of hers.”
“That she does,” interjects a new voice, “And I’m glad to see that fact
hasn’t been sweated straight out of your mind, Morgan!” The speaker
rounds the corner of the smithy and you see a tall woman with skin the
color of a nice brown ale. (That thought makes you realize you may be
getting thirsty yourself.) Her hair is covered by a kerchief woven in a
colorful pattern, and the sleeves and hem of her tunic and skirt have
matching trim. Most of her clothing is covered by a large plain apron
smudged with clay. “I still haven’t forgot how you ruined an entire batch
of drinking mugs by going off and letting the forge cool,” she goes on,
looking at him with accusing eyes.
“That was before I had an apprentice,” the smith replies in his deep
voice, “and that’s the only time such a thing has happened in three years.”
“Well, it’ll be at least that many before I let you forget it!” the woman
says vigorously, then glances curiously at you.
The smith takes the chance to change the subject, introducing you to his
wife, Deslena Potter. “Pleased to meet you!” she says. “I make the dishes
and mugs we all use hereabouts. You also may have seen some of my
things at the trading post: jars for oil, little bottles for ink and other exotic
contents. Why, Ulman Dark himself has bought several of my bottles and
jugs to store whatever he keeps in that house of his.”
Deslena laughs and goes on. “I always glaze my pottery; it makes it
more useful, especially for holding liquids, and it makes it more attractive.
Right now I’m looking for ingredients that will give me a beautiful dark
blue color, but I can’t seem to find what I need. If you hear of something
that gives blue dye, or makes a blue color when cooked, dissolved in
alcohol, or whatever, that information would be valuable. Just remember!”
She pats Big Morgan’s cheek, then says, “I just wanted to check on
the fire.” She raises her voice slightly. “I need to get back to what I’m
cooking; now that I have this bottomless pit to feed every day, it takes a
lot of work.” An inarticulate mumble comes from inside the smithy, but
Deslena raises an eyebrow and calls back, “I heard that!” She gives you a
little wave, then goes back to their quarters on the other side of the smithy
as Big Morgan returns to his forge.

View
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.

View
Ulman Dark

You wander back past the ferryman’s house and look north across the
small peninsula which holds the settlement. From here you can see the
remains of a stone wall along the far side of the spit of land, giving some
small amount of protection to any attack that might come from the river
on the north. It is at least head high in most places, and taller and in better
shape where it meets the guard tower at the gate. The wall is only a few
tumbled stones along the east side of the peninsula, though, and nothing is
left of it in the area of the dock.
Built almost up against the wall on the north side, as far away from
the rest of the settlement as it is possible to get, is a large wooden house:
the home of Ulman Dark. It seems a bit odd that it stands so far from the
other buildings, when some of the ones to the south are built literally on
top of one another. You head north across the common space and realize
it is grassy on this end, though it is mostly dirt near the inn and stables.
The house ahead must be at least two stories tall; it is as tall as any other
building in the village. There is a stone stoop, and two stone steps up to the
front door. The main floor has no windows but the upper level has some,
or at least you see two at the front.
Just as you near the house the door opens and a woman pauses in the
doorway. She is dressed in dark leather and holding a black crossbow,
with long auburn hair held out of her face by a woven band. A quiver
hangs at her side, its strap around her neck and lying between her breasts.
Her brown eyes survey you coolly, and then she smiles.
“So, have you come to see the necromancer in his lair? Come to hire
the services of the great Ulman Dark?” Her voice seems slightly mocking,
but that may be your own misperception. “You don’t look injured yet, so
perhaps this is just a preventive measure? Always a wise choice, acquiring
a healing draught before you need it. Just don’t use very many at a time
– not even Ulman is always quite sure what’s in them, and too much of
a good thing could kill you.” The woman turns gracefully, poised on the
doorstep, and calls back into the house. “Ulman! Someone here to see
you.” She leans her shoulder against the door frame for a few moments,
the crossbow negligently dangling from her left hand.
A man dressed in black appears in the doorway behind her and speaks
in a deep voice. “Kanndra? I thought you had gone out to shoot that nasty
crossbow of yours.”
“How many times do I have to tell you? It isn’t the weapon that’s
nasty; it’s the woman who wields it.” The woman – Kanndra – gives the
necromancer a smile and a significant glance, then steps lightly down the
stairs and walks around the west side of the house. By moving that way
slightly yourself, you can see a large barrel sitting against the north wall,
a target painted on it. The outer white and middle yellow rings are nearly
untouched; you see some marks in the inner red ring but if there are any
hits in the center black circle, they are not visible from where you are.
“Welcome to the abode of Ulman Dark.” intones the man now alone
in the doorway, and you give your attention back to him. He is tall and
slender with pale skin, as if he spends very little time out of doors. His
black hair brushes his shoulder and falls into his eyes and his dark eyes
are shadowed, as if he never gets enough sleep. “Please, step inside and
let me tell you about my services.” He ushers you in, and then closes the
door behind you.
It seems very dark inside, and your eyes try to adjust. Suddenly the
room is flooded with more light; two hooded lanterns on the wall which
were mostly closed have been opened to their fullest. You squint briefly
against the bright light and see Ulman Dark seat himself on a tall, high-
backed chair in front of the lanterns. His face is in shadow as he begins to
speak in his smooth voice.
“I have studied extensively in many cities, and in the wilderness where
few others have ever set foot. The knowledge of the stars is mine, and the
animals of the night, and the plants that bloom in darkness, and things
that grow in dark places. I have studied the persons of humans, elves,
dwarves, and many other races; I know what makes them live, and I
know what makes them die. I understand what herbs and substances are
necessary for a body to heal itself, and I combine these rare ingredients
painstakingly into a healthful draught than can help alleviate an injury
or wound. In addition, there is more I can do!” Dark’s voice increases in
volume slightly with his excitement. You also become aware of a rhythmic
thumping outside, every several seconds, which seems to underscore what
Dark is saying.
“My great knowledge of the body allows me to recognize many diseases
both terrible and common. Through the use of such practices as leeching,
and purging, and the application of plasters and the imbibing of nostrums,
it is possible that I may help the afflicted to cheat death, and live, though
the most deadly disease try to say me nay.”
He grips the arms of his chair and leans forward. “Yet more amazing is
the possibility of removing deadly poisons from the body. I have studied
poisons extensively indeed and know that few have a certain cure. But
many may have a cure! The procedure is complicated and difficult,
requiring precision and concentration, and the application of certain very
rare ingredients. It can only be effective at all if begun within hours, lest
the poison have too tight of a grip to shake.
“Any of these services is available to anyone, for a most reasonable
fee. There is no need to appease a particular deity, or appeal to the good
nature of someone who may disapprove of you. I ask only for payment
in advance, for my best effort will be expended and my stores depleted,
whether or not I am able to battle back the ravages that may come upon a
body. I am able to make no guarantees, for I am not a god nor aspire to be
one, that I should promise to cure all the ills of men. I can but do my best,
but my best is very fine indeed.” His voice softens and becomes intense.
As he leans forward his face is somewhat illuminated, and his eyes look
very dark. His deep voice continues, persuading you of his abilities.
“The most amazing of my services, though, I have yet to mention. My
studies, which some deplore as ‘black magic,’ have granted me a measure
of power over life and death. The temples of the gods keep their secrets
well hidden, but I have found that it is possible even to restore life to
a body, after life has fled.” The sounds outside have stopped and it is
suddenly very quiet here, as if everything is holding its breath in the face
of this incredible claim. Dark continues in a hushed voice. “I cannot go
into more details, for this procedure is my own secret, one thing that only
I know, one gift that only I can give the world. However, it is costly,
and horrendously difficult, to the point that I myself may be physically
devastated by the procedure. Here again I can make no guarantees, but
many an unfortunate adventurer has been brought to my door lifeless and
cold, only to be restored to his or her comrades with joy after my own
humble efforts.” He has drawn your attention with his recitation, made
you feel the tension and triumph he describes, and so you are startled with
Dark suddenly rises to his feet, silhouetted against the lamps.
“Now go!” he says, gesturing toward the door. He turns and with a
gesture closes the lanterns, plunging the room into darkness. You hear his
steps and then he flings open the door, giving enough light for you to make
your way out. As you are stepping out, he urges you again. “Go on into
your adventures and come back when you must, and from my knowledge
and skills I will endeavor to provide you with what you need.”
Just then Kanndra Dark comes around the corner of the house, her
crossbow held carelessly over her shoulder and her quiver empty. She is
panting slightly, and sweating from her exertion. Her graceful movements
make every step look as if she is dancing. “The bolts are stuck again,
Ulman, but the guards say they will get them out for me.” She stands
close to him and looks up at him with a smile. “Have you concluded your
conversation? Do you then have some time for me, before I have to go?”
Dark gives you another intent look, then turns his gaze back to his wife.
“Come, my dear, let us make the best use of our short time before you
leave,” and turning his back on you he firmly closes the door.
Raised voices around the corner catch your attention, and you walk
around the house to find three men arguing over a clutch of crossbow
bolts stuck into the target barrel. All three are dressed in leather pants,
plain shirts, and brown tunics with short sleeves, on one of which is embroidered a simple pattern of a river and a boat.
“One thing I don’t want is Kanndra Dark unhappy with me again,” the
first one says with a shudder. “That tongue of hers could flay a bear alive
and make him beg her to just stab him rather than haranguing him more.”
“Let’s see if we can get the bolts out without breaking them,” the
second one suggests more calmly. “She wasn’t very happy with our results
yesterday.”
“I am never doing anything to get a price on my head,” the third man
says, digging at the bolts with his dagger, “if there’s a chance in hell that
Kanndra Dark might be the one to come after me. I heard, before I came
here, that she poisons her crossbow bolts with something exotic. That
way not only is her target injured, he’s confused, or weak, or forced to
cooperate, depending on who’s telling you. I didn’t credit it at the time,
but now seeing who her husband is, I can believe it.”
“It’s true she’s a mite sharp-spoken,” the second man begins, and the
first one snorts at the understatement, “but watching her fire that crossbow
is a thing of grace and beauty. I’d be happy to watch all day, but we’d
need to get her more than one target so she doesn’t feel a need to put all
the bolts into one bull’s-eye.”
The two who are not engaged in digging bolts out of the target notice
you watching, and motion you over. “Come take a look at this target!” one
calls. “It’s some amazing shooting.” You stroll over and see that what you
thought was the dark center of the bull’s-eye is instead the fletched ends
of closely packed crossbow bolts. Evidently the shooter had put the bolts
through the center of the target, directly next to each other. Up close you
can also see differences among the three men. The one who spoke to you
has light brown hair, closely cropped, and is a bit more heavy-set than the
others. The second man is a bit younger and taller than the others, with
dark blond hair, while the fellow attempting to remove the crossbow bolts
has brown hair liberally sprinkled with gray and is slender but appears
strong.
“That Kanndra Dark,” the younger man says. “The first day she was
here, she had us set up a target for her. After a few shots she got us to
weight it with a log. Her bolts really tore up the barrel that day since she
kept hitting in the center or close to it. Yesterday she shot the center right
out, but wasn’t this precise.”
“Yes,” agrees the brown-haired man, “And asked us to get her bolts out,
and then gave us a tongue-lashing when we broke half a dozen of them.”
“Today I think she hit more than just the exact center,” continues the
blond, “but it’s hard to tell with the middle of the target completely gone.
I’m Tancred Malgun, by the way, one of the guards of Zelkor’s Ferry. You
just arrived this morning, didn’t you? I saw Captain Skorma talking to
you earlier. This fellow here is Corbel Grambien, and our friend who is so
handy with a dagger is Bernhard Caxton.” Bernhard gives a nod over his
shoulder and keeps working.
“Kanndra Dark always causes a bit of a stir when she’s here,” Corbel
remarks. “She’s married to Ulman Dark right enough, but she’s a bounty
hunter and so she’s away a good portion of the time. She’s here for a few
days every couple of months, maybe, though I understand she’s been gone
as long as six months at once when she had to chase some fellow right out
into the desert down south.”
“I’ve heard she’s cruel,” Tancred says in a hushed voice, looking over
his shoulder at the house behind him. “When a person gives her a lot of
trouble she tortures him before she turns him in, or kills him slowly if the
reward is for him dead. I dearly admire that red hair of hers and she moves
like a dancer when she has a sword in her hands, but a poisonous snake is
graceful too and probably a lot less dangerous.”
Bernhard straightens slowly, a dozen bolts in his hand, and motions for
Corbel to take over the task. “You two wouldn’t remember this,” he says
quietly, “because it was before Bristleback hired you, but one time we all
saw what Kanndra Dark can do.” He glances at you, to be sure you are
listening as well. “You know Ulman does healings for people, though he
uses his own strange methods. Well, one time a healing went awry and
it laid him out so that he was terribly weak. The folks he was trying the
healing for weren’t happy with the results; not only did they refuse to
pay him for his effort, they stole a goodly amount of money from him
and some other stuff. They just rode out of town, and the rest of us didn’t
know what had happened until the next day. Then we found Ulman and
took care of him but there was nothing we could do about the theft – until
Kanndra arrived that night.
“When she heard what had happened, she became like a scorching
flame. Just her look would have started straw on fire! You think her tongue
was rough yesterday? That was nothing compared to what she had to say
about those thieves. She looked everywhere in and around the house. She
questioned Igor and Vort, and searched the stables, then rode out of here
like a streak of dark lightning.
“Evidently that group hadn’t gotten far enough away. Of course, there
had not been anyone to warn them that Kanndra would be coming after
them.” Bernhard narrows his eyes and gives you a thin smile. “Not that
a warning would have done them any good. By the time Ulman Dark
was back on his feet Kanndra returned with not only his missing things,
and some other useful magical items, but also a present: six nicely-tanned
human skins. Someone told me later that he used them to bind a set of
new books for his notes. He just wasn’t able to make the books very large
because he had to work around holes in the skins in several places.”
Corbel and Tancred just stare at Bernhard, their eyes a bit wide at this
announcement. Corbel clears his throat.
“Here are the rest of the bolts; why don’t you,” and he passes them to
Bernhard, “leave them on her doorstep? I’m sure she’ll find them there.
I’ll be sitting on the other side of the barracks.” He turns to you. “You’re
welcome to come, too. It just seems safer over there all of a sudden.”

View
Garamond's story

“My companions and I set out from Zelkor’s Ferry and traveled to the
cesspit of evil they call the Mouth of Doom,” Garamond begins. “The
entrance is designed to be frightening, and it is successful; several in our
group had to nerve themselves a few moments before they could bear
to step in. Once inside, our exploration progressed well. We were not as
careful as we could have been – if you go there, watch your step; you can’t
afford to assume things are as they seem.
“We found access down to the second level, which turned out to be
more confusing. Several rooms were similar and we made errors in
scribing our map. It was a maze of doors, with one room leading directly
into another and then sudden dead ends. We eventually found our way out
and to the third level down, but that was even more confusing.” Garamond
shakes his head, and brushes his hair out of his eyes again. “I swear there
was some type of magic interfering with our ability to keep track of where
we were.
“We went down, and down again, and there at the bottom of the
dungeon we found a pathway to Rappan Athuk, the great dungeon. It was
wide enough to drive a wagon in it, or march an army through. There were
a few foul creatures of the dark traveling it; we managed to avoid some
and kill the others quietly.
“Following the path was straightforward, but not easy.” Garamond
rocks back and forth a little as he speaks, and his eyes seem to be looking
at something far away. “We traveled for days in the dark, until the echoes
of our own movements nearly drove us crazy. Once Bregenz (the bard
in our group) tried a brave song to stir us on but the walls threw back
dissonance, distorting his voice so that it sounded as if a horde was
shouting, rushing down the tunnel toward us. We hushed him after only a
few lines but I swear it took an hour for the echoes to fade.
“Our eyes played tricks on us, seeing things at the corners of our vision.
Janda, an elf, lost a score of arrows, loosing them at things he thought
he saw, so that we refused to let him fill his quiver again. Huge caverns
threatened to make us lose our way until the others were frantic at the
thought we might never find a way out. When we finally reached the
cursed dungeon itself, where the foes were deadly but things we could
face with weapon or spell, battle-hardened men nearly wept for joy.” The
man stares into the distance for another moment, then coughs and turns
his gaze back to you.
“We had a few good fights after we were finally into the great dungeon.
One incredible battle was when the ten of us fought a gigantic armored
worm the color of a ripe plum. It actually swallowed Sir Albertus De
Vinne whole, but thanks to the protection from his magic armor, and that
incredible magical sword of his, he was able to cut his way out from the
inside as we finished it off from the outside. There were also the usual
giant rats and skeletons, but they were just an annoyance.
“We discovered a river running through the dungeon and were very
curious to see where it led.” Garamond gives a half-smile. “The wizardess
Euphemia of Rieven had a magical boat in her equipment but it would
not hold everyone so we decided against that. When we came across the
river again later, though, and found a boat someone had hidden nearby,
we agreed we would try it. On the river the current was fast, the ceiling
low, and we had a difficult time keeping the boats from crashing into the
walls and into each other. It seemed that it was going to go on forever, but
at last we came to a shore. Euphemia (who is a gnome) and Dark Nakki,
a dwarf, agreed that we were deep beneath the surface, much deeper than
we had been previously.
“We fought some powerful creatures in the cavern where we beached
our boats, but after that it seemed the foes we discovered offered little
challenge. Several of our people grew uneasy, and Sir Albertus was almost
ill from his intense feeling of foreboding evil. It was not long before we
discovered the source of that evil: we crept down a long, wide hallway and
discovered the high temple of the degenerate being whose worshippers
built the complex in the first place.
“Somehow the priests had discerned that we were approaching, and they
were ready.” The man’s husky voice is tense. “They hurled magic at us,
and summoned demons to attack. We had not been searching for a temple
and so we were wretchedly unprepared. Before we could disengage, many
of us were wounded by spell or by claw. Rather than a gradual retreat, we
simply turned and ran. The gnomes couldn’t keep up with the taller ones,
so Father Baris carried Euphemia, and I myself picked up the other cleric,
Vianta of Briem. Both the gallant ladies were able to shoot magic over our
shoulders, forcing the pursuing demons to fall back a bit.
Garamond shakes his head, and pushes his hair out of his eyes again.
“Some of the rest of this I learned later; at the time there was only
confusion. Janda of High Tower was our scout and he was in front as we
ran. He came to a room of doors and the first one he opened contained a
narrow staircase spiraling down. Thinking the demons might not be able
to fit in the stairway he started down, the others right behind him. Sir
Albertus stayed at the door until the last of us arrived, then he and I held it
as the others hurried down. Cerin D’Avola also backed us up with her twin
crossbows; small bows had seemed useless to me but they were excellent
in such close quarters. Finally the demons ceased their attack. The three
of us took the opportunity to flee, and their mocking laughter followed us
down the narrow stair.
“As we reached the bottom we could feel the heat, and by the time we
joined the others Sir Albertus and I were sweating in our armor. Janda was
scouting ahead, as was Decanus Ovalico who could move very quietly for
someone who appeared so clumsy. Decanus reported back a room with
burned bones – the remains of unholy sacrifices, no doubt. Janda gave
us the choice of going back up the stairs or trying one or another long
corridor. Not wishing to return the way we had just come, we opted to
search for another exit. We moved as quickly as we could, for the metal of
our armor was quickly becoming hot to the touch.
“After a few twists and turns, we discovered why the demons had been
laughing at us: in our flight from the evil temple, we had run to a rift
that opened up to Hell itself.” Garamond shudders. “Ahead of us demonic
lizardmen frolicked in a lake of liquid hellfire, as if in clear water. The
heat was incredible and I could hardly breathe; my lungs felt as if they
were on fire. I saw Euphemia faint, and Dark Nakki swore as his beard
began to smoke. The demons attacked immediately, with flaming spears
and their own fiery hands. Somehow I was closest to the lake of fire, and
one grabbed me and tried to drag me in. He nearly made it; my right
foot slipped in and began to burn and the pain was incredible, worse
than anything I had ever experienced before. Sir Albertus grabbed me at
that exact moment or I would have been gone. As it was I could not help
myself; I heard later than he hoisted me over his shoulder and carried me
as we fled again.
“They told me that the next passage they tried came to a dead end and
the group was about to despair when Janda discovered a hidden room
that was magically cold – a protection against the fire and demons of that
awful place. By that time, though, I was dead from the hellfire, as was
Euphemia and the beautiful Cerin D’Avola. My understanding is that one
of those remaining – Decanus, or perhaps Bregenz the bard – found a
scroll in Euphemia’s things and was able to puzzle out a spell or two to get
the group out of the dungeon.
“Ulman Dark was able to restore my life, to a degree.” The man’s
shoulders slump. “Sometimes I’ve wished my companions hadn’t been
quite so loyal after all; they got me out, but of course couldn’t help my leg.
I was such a bad case that when he got done, both Ulman Dark and I were
laid up for a month and I’ve never really gotten my strength back. Some
days it even hurts to breathe.
“If you’re truly thinking of heading down into that detestable tomb, let
me give you a few words of advice.
“One piece of equipment lots of groups neglect is a boat; it was only by
chance that we had one. There is a river in that dungeon that winds back
and forth from one area to another and could take you to many places
you might want to go – but also some that you don’t. A magic boat would
be best of course, to make it easier to transport, but I suppose there must
be ways to get normal ones down there. Do be certain there’s room for
everyone, though; sending only one part of a group off in a boat would be
a good way to get both parts killed.
“Iron spikes are very important. They’re key to being able to retreat
from any dungeon, but especially Rappan Athuk. You can spike a door
open, particularly if you had trouble finding it the first time and you need
to know for certain that it will be open still when you’re ready to leave.
You can also spike a door shut – very useful when you’re trying to leave
and someone’s getting close, trying to prevent you. Of course, even iron
spikes aren’t the solution to everything,” he adds sternly. “For one thing,
spiking a door is noisy – very noisy. Tends to attract attention. For another
thing, you can’t ever forget that everything that lives in that dungeon
knows its way around better than you do. While you’re busy spiking doors
over in one direction, something that wants to eat you is circling around
another way and you’re going to get a nasty surprise.
“Don’t forget your distance weapons, either. Most folks think of a
dungeon as being small rooms and a few corridors. The great dungeon has
many large room and huge caverns, and sometimes you really need to be
able to attack something without needing to get too close!
“It’s incredibly important to have a scout or two, make use of them to
gather information, and then act on it instead of just blundering ahead.
More scouting, and not getting cocky about our abilities, would both have
made things better for us. There are two thoughts that really haunt me,”
Garamond continues. “In my nightmares about that flaming lake I also see
a great golden bridge, gleaming in the flickering light of the fires of hell. I
don’t know if it is only part of my dream, or if it was something real that
at the time I barely saw. The other is the thought of that long underground
passageway. Since the time I traveled it, I’ve wondered when an army of
the dark will use it to come marching out of the Dungeon of Graves.
“Well, I need to get one more bale of furs from Pye and have it ready
before the boat arrives. The captain likes to make only a brief stop, and
I need to be sure all these goods get aboard. A pack animal is about all
I’m good for anymore.” The bronze-skinned man stretches slightly as he
straightens, then moves off again in his lumbering gait.

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