Trolls, are a sinister, clever, sadistic lot. They survive on the fringes of civilization, carving out little territories where they can. Trolls are tough. Only fire or magic seems to really hurt them, so one would think they would be bold creatures, unafraid of danger. But they are few, with an almost nonexistent birthrate. Male trolls tend eat what few children they have, as they see them as a threat to their territory. Cowards at heart, trolls only become bold when they see an opportunity. One such opportunity exists at the only known bridge across the Black River, Beyond the Wall.
Guarding this bridge is Ol' Nik. Know one is sure of his age, he has been at the bridge since the Great Collapse. Traders and surrounding surviving communities just became accustomed to "paying the toll" to Nik and for a time, his brother Klem. It's unusual for two male trolls to coexist in the same territory, but these two were formidable foes to any who tried clear the bridge of them. Many an armed group of peasants or traders had enough and made a run at the trolls. The result was usually quick and messy.
Klem has not been seen, however, for over 20 years, although Ol' Nik can still be heard talking to him. Tancred, barkeep at the Hole, has hinted that he is cause of Klem's disappearance.
For now, Ol' Nik still guards the bridge over the Black, extracting whatever he can from the few survivors Beyond the Wall. He takes gold, food, or the occasional lone traveller. Ol' Nik can the dumb old bridge troll when he needs to, but he should not be underestimated. He is a cold, calculating, survivor with quick talons and a sharp mind. And even sharper teeth....
Giants have been a feature of the lands Beyond the Wall, since before the wall was built, or the Empire itself. Calling themselves the Children of the Fallen, giants claim their descent from the Elder Times when demons and gods walked the world. Giants seem a bit cloudy on which group they can call their parents, but most agree they are not the race they once were.
Giants were both a nuisance and gift during the Empire's Golden Age. Settlements could just as easily been both prey to giants, or protected by them, depending on the creature in question.
The most commonly encountered giant Beyond the Wall seems to be either the Hill or Mountain variety. Neither is particularly bright, or evil for that matter, but they are easily tricked or bribed into vile acts by darker souls. They are greedy, however, and fond of drink, much like the dwarves they have been known join in battle. Indeed, dwarvish and giant are similar languages, a fact which dwarves tend to gloss over.
All of the Great Incursions have included giants in their armies; their great strength used to tear large sections of Wall down. The creatures are usually countered by the garrison by lobbing huge casks of ale or sheep into the giant's ranks. Once drunk, the giants tend to wander off to sleep.
Giants tend to stick to the highlands, but lack of food and stronger forces have been driving them more into the lowlands Beyond the Wall. Adventurers be wary when a long shadow passes their way.
Gruffyd emerged from the kobold tunnel below into the ruined temple, exhausted from dragging the sack full of Dimzad.
After scratching his arse for a long while and contemplating what to do, he walked out to the street to head towards the bridge and the troll.
Gruffydd’s pony was where he left it, happily chomping away at grass. The sun said it was mid afternoon.
Dimzad’s clan originated south and west of Wall, in the Fartnoth Mountains, known to dwarves as Zarnun-Affuk or Zarn’s Anvil. But that was long way off. Dimzad was the last of his clan, the others wiped out in the numerous wars with the black-bloods. There would be no grieving relatives, no feast, even if Gruffydd did find his way there.
Always sensible, Gruffydd decided it was best just to take it one step at a time, and try and get to Wall as quickly as possible. They had run so fast from the old ferry and the hornet-things, that he really hadn’t paid that much attention to how they got here. Trying to find his way back that way was out of the question. With that in mind, Gruffydd strapped what was left of Dimzad to the dead dwarf’s pony. Gruffydd got on his own mount, Lucius and rode south, down the road toward the bridge.
An hour later, he looked down at the river from a rise in the road. Where the party had crossed before, further to the east, the water had flowed swift and dangerous. Here it was sluggish and boggy in some places. The bridge it was a quite a feat of engineering even by dwarven standards. It spanned the river in four great arches. It was obvious the work had been done during the height of the Empire. Gruffydd estimated its construction to be around the time of Gustavus III.
Only one thing marred its otherwise awe inspiring features, a great chunk was missing about midway across, on the northwest side. The bridge was wide enough for 4 horses abreast, but was narrowed down to two at the damaged area. Weeds grew from cracks in the stones.
Gruffydd looked for any movement, or an outbuilding where someone or thing might hide. He slowly approached the bridge. Everything was quiet except for slow movement of the water. A hawk, high above, drifted on a breeze. Lucius took time to nibble some grass.
Gruffydd dismounted and eased the pony forward to drink. From the water’s edge he saw nothing to raise an alarm. Lucius slurped away at the water, nosing his way into the cattails that populated the river’s boggy edge.
He pulled the pony free of water’s edge and slowly began crossing the bridge. Again, the quiet of the place was disturbing. Lucius’s hooves made a steadt “clop, clop” on the paving stones. Suddnly the quiet was broken.
“Well Klem, ain’t that the darndest thing you ever did see…?” A deep rumble of a voice echoed from somewhere under the bridge. “Some one brought Ol’ Nik some supper.”
Gruffydd calmly dismounted and taking hammer in hands, stood his ground. It was then a great, clawed hand emerged unto the railing of the bridge. I was large, grey and covered in warts. The talons were as long as daggers. Next, a face appeared from below. Cruel yellow eyes looked out from behind long, wet, greasy hair. The misshapen head had pointed ears, yellowed, razor sharp teeth twisted into something resembling a smile.
It was a troll. Of that there could be no doubt. Cave trolls had long fought along side the gobinoids that raided Gruffydd’s homeland. But this was a river troll. They were smarter, faster and somehow crueler than their kin.
“Hmmmm, dwarf two ways. Live or recently dead? Makes it hard for a body to decide.” The troll cackled. “Klem, watcha think?” he said over his shoulder.
Gruffydd puffed out his chest and said “I understand there’s a toll to be paid, troll. What be the price and I’ll tell ya if I thinks its too high.”
The troll came over the side of the bridge and drew himself up to his full height, which was twice as tall as Gruffydd. He wore wet pair of trousers, held up by a crude suspender. He tapped at his teeth with single long talon.
The troll whispered to itself, then finally said, “That there sack full of guts would make a tasty toll.”
Gruffydd glanced at the other pony, and the bag that sat on it. “That be a pile of ole nasty goblin guts. An errand of mine for my
employer. And we all know how stringy and sour be tastin goblin, alive
or dead. But how abouts the pony that be carryin the load. Now that’s a
fine plump morsel for your impressive teeth and talons.”
The troll sniffed. And sniffed again. “Hmmm, don’t smell like gobbo. As much as I hate to admit it. me and the little squirts gots blood in common. We can smell our own.”
“That’s why my employer wanted to study this nasty little gobbo.
Alright, then I withdraw my offer.”
The dwarf mounted his pony but kept his hammer out.
”No toll shall be paid to you today. You shall have to fish for your
dinner, instead of this tasty little pony.”
Gruffydd turned the pony around facing the other way as if to leave where he came from.
“Now, now, friend,” the troll said. “We can be reasonable. Fresh meat’s always better than spoilt.” He licked his chops a bit before continuing. “The pony’s fine, but I’ll need both. Klem’s gotta eat, too.”
“And how am I supposed to deliver my package, if I aint got no pony to
”Tell you what I’ll do. I’ll give you this pony here, then the rest of
my companions, who are just up the road from here, will give you one of
their extra ponies when they get here. They should be here about the
time you are picking this plump little beauty out of you teeth with a
“How’s Ol’ Nik supposed to know if there really is another group just down the road?”
The troll said. “Klem doesn’t doesn’t trust ya, and neither do I. Some of yer kin tried passing a coupla months back. Tried to trick me, then fight me. Had a few of them before they got away. I’ve developed quite a taste for stunties…”
“Well Nik. You can trust me or no. I think maybe I’ll let them know.”
When When Gruffydd said ‘know’ he slapped Dimzads pony on the behind and spurred Lucius on as fast as I could off the bridge and up the road.
“Come back here!” the troll raged. “Next time we meet, yer a dead ‘un fer sure!”
The whole mob of kobolds surged forward, their king at the lead. The glow of his mace reflected against the cold stone of the throne room. The party waited for them. Small spears clattered past them, hurled by the kobold pack. Gildrid was too weak to draw his bow, and he was out of arrows anyway. Nemon began throwing daggers at the front rank of kobolds. They weren't really throwing daggers, but kobold short swords he had plundered from the dead earlier. Several of the tiny, angry creatures fell to the daggers. But the rest came on.
Laramine swung at the king. It went wide and missed. The kobold king's mace cracked into Laramine's side, sending him flying across the floor. The veteran sea raider was soon swarmed by barking kobolds.
Nemon flailed at his attackers, sending a kobold flying with each swing. Miss Adventure, glad to be finally fighting someone her size, dived into the fray with reckless abandon.
Laramine pulled free of his assailants to face the kobold king. He took the mace with his great sword. The metal of his blade hissed and sparked. Though the little king was half his size, the kobold's strength seemed doubled. A kick put the king a few paces back, then a swing sent his head in a great bloody arc across the hall.
The few remaining kobolds broke off and ran for a dark corridor to the right of the throne. Bruised and bloody, four adventurers looted the dead, finding a few coppers. The mace had stopped glowing once the king died. Laramine picked it up, but it remained dark.
"Lemme see that", Nemon said taking the mace. He tapped it on the ground and the blue flames ignited once again.
Using the light of the mace, they found another door to the left of the throne. It seemed more ornate around the entrance. A short hall led to a door, this one sturdier than any they had seen so far. It was locked.
"Ungh!" Nemon smashed the mace into the door. It blew apart and in. The room beyond was decorated with items looted from the above world. Everyday things were given special places of honor. An old butter churn sat upon a corner alter. Tools and farm equipment sat on rotting satin pillows, while books were used to prop up corners of a tattered, man sized bed. As much as could be grabbed, was. Nemon and Laramine threw anything of value in their oversized bags, while Gildrid collapsed on the bed. Miss Adventure made another discovery. Behind a moth eaten curtain she found a closet. It was packed with boxes and shelves, and guarding it was a hissing Kobold youth. It was obviously frightened. It's little hands held a dagger at the halfling, but those same hands were trembling.
"Hey fellas," she said" what do I do with this guy?"
Nemon marched over and bashed it's head in with the mace. Miss Adventure stared at the gore that spattered on her, in disgust.
The closet yielded little gold, and a few trinkets. Gildrid lay on the bed groaning and close to unconsciousness. "All right," Laramine spoke, "we gotta try something."
He grabbed the jar full of white paste they found earlier. "Here goes nothing", and began spreading on Gildrid's spider bite. The elf howled in pain. Whatever kobolds left in the complex, were now probably doubly scared.
To everyone's amazement, the salve seemed to work. The black and blue scar ceased its crawl across Gildrid's neck and face. He perked up immediately but was still weak.
"Okay", Nemon said, lets get out of here."
There was no way out of the room other than the way they came. They decided to follow the kobold's lead and head out the hall to the right of the throne. It lead to a tunnel up. Apparently this was the escape hatch. Struggling up the almost vertical earthen tunnel they emerged into the world above.
The sun was going down, and the party was unsure how large the kobold tunnels below stretched or how many might come to the aid of their brethren.
"Beaten and bruised, with one dead," Laramine said, "and nothing to show but a few lousy coppers and a glowing mace. Great. Let's find the horses."
The beetle moved ever forward. The heat from the flames was on them. Nemon and Laramine brought their shields up to block the entrance to the small room. Gildrid was weak, but still able to loose a few arrows at the fire beetle by propping himself up against a shelf. The arrows clattered harmlessly against the beetle's tough armor.
Stil the beetle move ever towards them. The party could hear the yelps and taunts coming from the kobolds marching behind. The men's shields began to smoke and sizzle. Miss Adventure had enough. She began throwing anything she could find inside the pantry at the beetle. Jars of strange liquids and fermented staples shattered against the fiery insect. A jar full of yellow, foul smelling goo hit it square in the face. It stopped, shaking its head. The kobolds were prodding it from behind with spears.
Then, Miss Adventure hurled a mason jar of blue paste. BOOM! The shockwave knocked all four of the party down. The hall was full of stunned and dead kobolds, and a very charred, smoking beetle.
Laramine and Nemon charged forward stabbing the living kobolds that were too stunned to fight back.
Singed and a bit wobbly from the explosion, they headed down the hallway where the beetle had come from, ladened with whatever they could carry from the kobold "pantry".
The corridor ended in an open door. The doorway opened into a large hall. Furs and sleeping mats covered the floor around the edges, against the walls. There was a raised platform. On it sat a throne, and on it a large kobold. Well, large for a kobold. Standing, he probably didn't reach Laramine's belt.
Behind the kobold king, a dozen warriors stood, ready to attack. They hissed and barked, gripping their weapons, shooting glances at their sovereign, waiting for the order to charge the interlopers. The king stood raising a great mace. He tapped it on the floor and the mace's head exploded into blue flame.
All four party members uttered the same words at the same time.
"I want one of those."
The head cook died first, an arrow from Gildrid between her eyes. She dropped silently, falling forward into her great cauldron. The other kobolds didn't seem to notice right away. The party, now down to four crept into the immense kitchen. There was a crash. Frightened, a kobold carrying a tall stack of plates had spotted the party and dropped the stack in a panic. Alarm spread through the steaming kitchen. Barks and hisses of alarm mixed with dying screams as the party began hacking their way through a flood of tiny attackers. None were spared, even the kobold youths. Laramine booted one across the room when it came at him with a huge cleaver in it's tiny hands.
One kobold, however, managed to escape the carnage and ran through a doorway in the back of the kitchen. It's howling alarm echoed down the hallway. The party, covered in black Kobold blood, collected themselves, and followed.
A short hallway led to a large hall. The ceiling was high for the diminutive koblods, but normal height for a Man. From all the tables scattered around, it seemed to be a mess hall. They just caught a glimpse of the creature they were pursuing, as it disappeared down a hallway on the other side. Close to them, another hallway with low ceiling.
"That way!" Laramine said. Crouching, the Northman entered the corridor. It split into two rounded hallways, much like a tuning fork. He headed down the right. His torch illuminated a small room. It stank. The walls on three sides had low benches built into them, with holes in the seats. "Uh, a latrine."
Sure enough, at the far end, sitting alone and trying very hard not to be noticed, a male kobold sat, with his crude trousers around his ankles. It squealed as Laramine charged forward. He spitted it at the end of his great sword.
The others found a similar latrine down the other corridor, this one without an inhabitant.
The party then decided to head for the other hallway at the far end of the mess hall. It was paved with flagstones, as much of the other corridors were, with packed earthen walls. The hallway split into a "T". Yelling, and the sounds of many kobolds echoed down from the right hall. The adventurers moved the other way.
They found a small door. This one was reinforced and locked. Nemon and Laramine tried their best to bash it down, but the space was tight, and they couldn't get leverage.
"Outta my way," Miss Adventure said, shouldering her way past the men. She began fidgeting with the lock. A few moments later, a "click" came from the lock, and the door opened.
"Miss Adventure," said Nemon," why don't you put on those boots of yours and wait at the crossroads back there. If anything comes, let us know."
With that, the halfling was gone. The others took stock of the room. It was high roofed and cylindrical. Shelves packed the curved walls. The shelves were full of boxes, jars, containers and urns. "Must be some kind of kobold pantry," Laramine said to Gildrid. It was then he noticed the elf was pale. Paler than usual. The wound the spider had given Gildrid was purple again, and spreading.
"Hey Nemon, he doesn't look so good."
Some of the containers lining the shelves looked man made. Some were of kobold manufacture. There were dried herbs and food, and some things that were unidentifiable and smelled awful. Laramine and Nemon began rifling through all of them, looking for a hidden door, or a cure for their friend. Gildrid just crumbled up into a ball and drooled on himself. One of the jars crashed to the floor. It was the near comatose Gildrid that noticed the green liquid that had spilt was draining through the floor somewhere. Nemon started prying them up with his dagger. He found a small, square hole. In it was two jars. One contained a whitish paste. The other had dried mushrooms. They gave off the faint blueish light the party recognized as the fungus, that once refined, could be used as a healing potion. Nemon and Laramine contemplated given the raw mushrooms to Gildrid, but they could be poisonous in their non-refined state.
There was a rush of air.
"Here they come!" said a breathless Miss Adventure. Down the corridor they could see a bright light. Strange, for a race that lived in the dark. The light grew brighter, until they could distinguish a large shape filling most of the hallway. It was the source of the light. And the heat.
A giant beetle trudged through the tight corridor, fire squirting from it's open maw.
At first, there was stunned silence. Miss Adventure was the first to charge ahead. She dove under the closest weasel and began stabbing upward, soon up to her elbows in blood. Laramine swung at the other beast with his great sword, cleaving its head nearly in two. Gildrid was pelting them with arrows, and Nemon threw daggers.
Only Gruffydd stood, unmoving.
All the adventurer's rage at the loss of Dimzad was taken out on the giant weasels. The creatures were dead before they ever struck back. Miss adventure crawled out from under one, just before the beast collapsed.
It was time to take stock of the room. There was an almost identical door at the opposite side from where they came in. A large pile of weasel dung was piled in one part of the round, domed earth room. Amid the pile was undigested bones of large humanoids. There were two large copper bowls, full of water, and writing in a strange tongue on them.
Gruffydd began hacking away at the chest of the one who ate Dimzad. He cracked open the ribcage and dug the top half of Dimazd out. The others watched in muted disgust. Gruffydd was caked in gore by the time he was done with his grizzly task. He loaded what there was into a huge sack, kept for treasure and began to head toward the door they came through.
"Where are you going?" asked Gildrid.
"He was the last of his clan. He deserves a proper burial." And with that Gruffydd was gone.
Nemon spoke, "All right then, time to see what's behind that door."
A loud racket came from the other side. Nemon slowly creaked open the unlocked door.
Through the crack he spied a large Kitchen, full of large pots boiling over, and pots and pans of all description. A giant oven covered one wall. A horrible stench eminated from the roasting, boiling and baking food. It reminded Nemon of one of the layers of hell described in his grandfather's library.
All the noise must have covered the party's battle with the weasels. Above the racket was the squealing barks and hisses made by the cooks and their helpers. There was a small army of kobolds slaving away. One, a largish female by the strange, out of place dress she wore, seemed to be in charge. She wielded a huge frying pan she whacked other kobolds with occasionally, to reinforce her orders.
Fire burned through Gildrid's veins. Pain, ...such pain. He dropped his shield and the spider with it. Laramine sprang forward and cleaved the spider in two. He quickly pulled out a vial containing the Tears of Verena to administer to the now collapsed elf. Black and blue veins of poison spread from the bite mark like a web. Laramine pressed the healing potion to Gildrid's lips and forced a drink down. The elf came to consciousness.
The spread of poison stopped, but had not been cured. Gildrid felt terrible. His muscles burned, and his vision blurred. Laramine helped him out into the sunlight and the square beyond. It was then, that Nemon finally won his battle with the temple door. With a great crash, it caved in, Nemon stumbling behind.
The others now swarmed inside. The temple was a round, domed, stone structure, sparse in it's decor. There was a raised dias at the far end with a stone altar, and a statue behind of a stern looking, robed man. The dome above was cracked, and let a few rays of sunshine in. There were long wooden benches, jumbled all around. Several were stacked against the now demolished door. But there was no one inside. No bodies.
Laramine, used to sacking such places in his youth, stomped up to the altar and kicked it over. As he suspected, under the stone was small hole. In it, was small bag of coins, and a large gold key. The key looked like it fit the temple doors, as there were no other portals in the temple.
Gruffydd, had meanwhile, found a loose floor tile. He kicked at it, finally getting the toe of his boot underneath and shoving it off.
There was a rush of cool air, and on it, more of the strange whispers. There was a tunnel. It went through the foundation of the temple and into the earth beyond. The passage went straight down then eased into a ninety degree turn horizontally. Everyone looked at everyone else, waiting for a volunteer.
Gruffydd let out a deep sigh, "all right, I'll go first. Dimzad, you're next."
The dwarves dropped down the tight passage, shoulders scraping at the packed earth. At the bottom, they could see the tunnel was reinforced with roughly cut timbers. It wasn't pretty, but it was well constructed. "I don't like the looks of this." Gruffydd whispered to his fellow dwarf. "Seems familiar some how."
The end of the tunnel held a small, round door. Gruffydd examined it, while the others noisily slid down the hole. Dirt and dust fill the cramped passage.
The door, like the tunnel, was crudely, but well construct. It had simple wooden latch on the outside. Loud breathing, a snuffling, sniffing, noise came from the other side. That was when Dimzad decided to jab his dagger under the door. There was a loud "Squeeeeel" and then scratching at the door. Gruffydd shot Dimzad a dark look. He looked at the others and gave a nod. "Are we ready?"
He yanked the door open and the others flew past into the room with much shouting and war cries. It was enough to startle the two giant weasels beyond. They filled most of the domed, packed earth chamber, two huge versions of an every day weasel. They hissed and showed their teeth, backs arched.
Gildrid, even in his weakened state, managed to sink a few arrows into the closest. It didn't seem to notice.
Dimzad led the charge, axe swinging, bellowing the war cry of his clan. The arrow wearing weasel hissed again, gave a great pounced, and simply bit the top half of Dimzad off.
The dwarf's legs took a few steps, blood spurting from the ruined waist, and toppled.
Side Note: Dimzad, the gods rest his soul, belonged to Lead Addict's middle son, a lad of 10 years. He took the loss of his first PC very well, better than I would have. It helped that the grownups all cheered his death, and called it heroic. His secret background was he was the last of his kind, or in this case, clan. So farewell to Dimzad Ab Zogenbreth, known as the "Beardless", last of his clan. He joins his faithful goat Bob, in death and glory.
Laramine grew, as most from his village did if you were strong, smart, and had the stomach for it, to become a sea-raider. The rest, to weak of body or mind, just became fishermen and reed-cutters, and started families. Laramine came from a region off a far ocean coast named the Kraken’s Teeth, a series of tall pinnacled isles known for piracy and death, where any good merchant ship captain avoided unless he was headstrong or stupid. As sea-raiders Laramine and his kinsmen spent journeys raiding coastal villages along the main coastlines, looking for gold and goods, or the occasional attractive maiden, although the latter was usually a short-lived fray, as the sea and adventure beckoned, while the maiden’s voice too often became shrill and that of a harpy. Laramine’s family had been small, born to a father who had also been a sea-raider, and eventually lost his life doing just so; and a mother who herself had been one of the hapless stolen maidens, taken against her will from some now unknown fishing village long decimated. Laramine had one sibling, a brother, ‘Salamel’, three years his junior, and with a temperament considered cold and ruthless even by a raiders standards. Some had even ventured to use the word, evil. This ruthlessness by Salamel propelled him to become influential as a leader, and many raiders followed his lead, with raids becoming more brutal, and focused on creating chaos and killing, and less about reaping gold and spoils to live on. While accustomed to killing and a life of raiding, Laramine became intolerant of the new breed of raiders, and journeys for fresh plunder became farther and farther away. There was no hint of honor or purpose in the attacks carried out, it was mayhem. On a warm day, while the winds were blowing fresh salt air across the isles, Laramine gathered his sword, armor, and what few possessions he favored, and took a small sailed fishing boat and headed for the mainland coast, putting his life of sea-raiding behind him. He sought a new course, looking for adventure and personal glory on solid ground. There was so much more the mainland had to offer. For several years Laramine roamed from village to village, joining small bands of adventurers, seeking hidden and rumored treasure, but as was so often the case personalities clashed, or the rumors were just that… rumors, and as always he moved on, looking for a better fit, trusting only in himself, wary of most. Finally in the 28th year of his life, he happened upon a town simply called ‘Wall’, and in a small smoke filled tavern, with a one-eyed barkeep, he met an odd band of adventurers, Dwarves, a thief, an elf, a human, with backgrounds not so dissimilar to his own. This group of personalities intrigued him, as did the untamed land beyond the wall, and the rumors of treasures and creatures unheard of. Maybe, just maybe, Laramine had found a place he could stay a while.
Side note: This character belongs to Scott, a.k.a. JrGMan. He was one of the first people I ever played D&D with. Many moons spent in his basement spilling monster blood with his PC, Rasputin the Massive. It's nice to have him back in the fold.
I have my PCs randomly roll for a "secret background". Laramine's was "sibling a force for evil the world".
The great wolf snarled and snapped. It paced the campfire, eyes always on Dimzad. Then it leapt and knocked the dwarf to the ground. The wolf tore into Dimzad before the others could react.
With the horses in turmoil, the camp was chaos. It was Grufftdd who noticed the scar on the wolf's left eye. "Don't kill it him, subdue it!"
The order didn't keep Gildrid from drawing a silver tipped arrow."I said subdue!", Gruffydd shouted at the elf.
Gruffydd smacked the wolf in the side of the head with is hammer. It yelped and let go of Dimzad. Laramine slammed the flat of his great sword squarely on the wolf's skull. It dropped instantly.
"Quickly," Gruffydd shouted again," tie it up".
Bound and unconscious, the creature was kept by the fire and under watch all night. Dimzad had to be restrained too, in order to keep him from kicking the captive.
With the sun's rising, the wolf began to change. As Gruffydd expected, it shrunk in mass and hair, till only a filthy, naked Logun remained. He awoke with a start, "ohhhh, my head. Hey!" he looked around, frightened. He just noticed he was bound. "What's goin' on here, fellas? Some kind a joke again?"
"At what point", Nemon asked,"were you going to tell us about your little affliction?"
"Whatcher talkin' about?" Logun sputtered.
"Werewolf!", Gruffydd shouted. "You're a werewolf!"
The old trapper's eyes went from horror, to a look of resignation.
"I always kinda suspected. But I been out here alone fer so long, I also thought I might just be going crazy. You hafta believe me, when I say I didn't means ta hurt nobody."
"Kill 'em," said Dimzad. Gildrid reached for his silver tipped arrow again.
"No", Gruffudd said with a sigh, "let him go." The others began to untie Logun. "But, you're not with us anymore. You helped us find a way across the river. That's the only reason I'm letting you go."
The old man got up, rubbing his wrists. "well, I guess I thank you fer that."
"Next time we see you,...you're dead!" Gruffydd yelled, as the old man headed into the woods. Logun turned and gave the party one last look. Gruffydd could have sworn there was a smirk on the old man's face.
By noon, they reached the ruins of a large village. The size and scope of the ruins were impressive. One could tell this had once been a wealthy town. It sat astride the Old Trade Road itself, which ran directly north. The remains of a large mill were the closest, on the west side of the road. The place was strangely quiet except for the occasional creaking from ruined shutters, or the mill's water wheel, now hanging unused above a dry creek.
"I'm headed for the temple", Nemon said, gesturing at a stone building on the east side of an over grown square.
"I'm going for the mill", Gildrid said stringing his bow. Laramine followed the elf.
Then, the wind blew. Gildrid and Laramine froze, looking at each other. Just above the sound of the wind, came the hint of whispering. "did you...?" Laramine started to ask, when his words were lost under the noise of Nemon battering the temple doors down. He bashed into the sturdy wood of the doors over and over with his armored shoulder. The noise was deafening, compared to the silence of the ruins.
Gildrid approached the ruined doors of the mill. He looked through hole that had been smashed into the wood. Inside, he could see sunlight filtering from the damaged roof. There were sacks of grain and flour, long moldered and plundered by vermin, and the great grinding wheel sat askew on it's base. The most interesting thing though, was the fact boards had been nailed to the outside of the door. Rather than try to keep something out, they were trying to keep something in.
Prying at the rotted wood. Gildrid entered. Laramine followed, along with the sounds of Nemon's ongoing struggle with the temple door. The elf put away his bow and pulled out his sword, the better to poke and prod at the different sacks and boxes laying about.
On the third sack, a shape sprung from the shadows. A huge spider, the size of shield, leapt on him. Gildrid couldn't shake it, or get sword on it. The furry arachnid lunged and bit into his neck.
The drone of wings was almost deafening. Logun ran up the river bank, away. Arrows, rocks, throwing daggers, were all being hurled at the strange wasp-like things. Those that hit, bounced off harmlessly.
"We seem to have upset the nest!" Nemon shouted over the noise.
"They're not making moves towards us," Gruffydd yelled," they must be guarding something in that keep."
Without further word, Miss Adventure plopped down on a rock, and started putting on her magic boots. With a whush of air, she was gone.
Inside the broken tower, the halfling discovered interior walls packed with eggs, dripping a golden goo.
"Blech!" she she said with a shiver, and dashed out to the others. "The only thing in there is some gross looking hivey thing," she said to the party.
Gruffydd, looking over his shoulder to where Logun had disappeared, shouted, "Still, it bears investigating later. Let's get out of here." Just then, one of Gildrid's arrows struck home. The wasp-man-thing fell from the sky with a squish.
"Run!" he yelled as the drone grew louder. The party mounted, and raced up the river back, and didn't stop till they reached the road again. Out of breath, they found Logun gathering wood for a fire.
"I though everyone could use a drying off", he said.
Wet clothes were placed by the fire. A quick review of their packs found some of the rations ruined by river crossing.
"Logun," Gruffydd asked, "you're a trapper. Care to find us some meat?"
With a shrug, the old man headed for the woods.
The rest of party prepared for the evening. In the hazy distance, up the road, a ruins of large village stood. It would be another days march to their destination, if in fact, this was the village they were looking for.
By nightfall, Logun had not returned. The watches were set, and one by one the group retired. "Good," Dimzad said with a huff," I hope the ol' geazers dead."
During Miss Adventures watch, a rustling was heard in the nearby woods. She had been happily munching away on what remained of her rations, when she spied a dark shape at the edge of the trees. This shape exploded from the under brush, autumn leaves flying everywhere. With a heavy thump, a mass of teeth, claws and fur dropped into their campsite. The biggest wolf she had ever seen...
Everyone awoke, weapons drawn.
"Easy now, ...easy," the stranger said. "The names Logun. I'm just a simple trapper, alone in these cold woods, attracted by the warmth of your fire."
Gruffydd stepped forward, to eye the shaggy man more carefully. "Well, Logun, is it? What's someone like yourself, doing out here alone, Beyond the Wall?"
"Ask myself that every day," he said with a cackle, showing his crooked yellow teeth. He opened his cloak. Everyone tensed, ready to spring if he drew a weapon. But, instead, the insides of his coat were filled with old pelts, beaver, fox, squirrel, and unknown.
"Ohhhh", Dimzad spoke in awe. "How much for that one?" He pointed to a fine fox tail.
"Looking for a replacement?" Logun held up the pelt to his chin, mimicking a beard. A beard that Dimzad had been missing since his encounter with a oversized crayfish. They all laughed. Everyone but Dimzad.
"Welcome to our fire", Gruffydd said patting Logun on the back. He nodded to those around the fire. It was all right to put away weapons.
The talk quickly turned to the area around them. How much did Logun know about the area? Was there a way to avoid the bridge, and the toll there? What was the toll?
Ol' Nik?" Logun asked. "Biggest, meanest troll I ever did meet. And bat-shit crazy, ta boot. Last time I saw him, cost me every shiny penny I had, and some furs, too. But, I found a few ways around him."
"We'd make it worth your while," the Northman, Laramine put in, "if you could show us those ways."
"Well, I ain't much fer company, but the fur trade ain't what it used to be up here. Fewer and fewer animals these days. So, I guess, so."
The rest of the evening and late into the night, Logun regaled everyone with his adventures Beyond the Wall. There was laughter, and the dark mood of the previous day was lifted, if just for a little while. Slowly, the party drifted off to sleep. Dimzad had been the first to his bedroll, but he did not sleep. He waited.
He waited until everyone was asleep, except for Gruffydd, who was on watch. He snuck quietly out from under his blankets and over to Miss Adventure's pack.
"What are you doing?" Gruffydd asked from across the fire.
"Shhhh!" was the only response. Dimzad furiously dug through the halfling's bag. Finally, he spied what he wanted. The nastiest, stinkiest cheese Miss Adventure carried. On several occasions, it had been debated amongst the party, whether to use it as a weapon against monsters. Now, Dimzad had another use. He carefully placed it in Logun's outstretched hand. Then, with just as much care, he plucked an arrow from Gildrid's quarrel, and began slowly tickling Logun's nose.
The old trapper sniffled and snuffed, almost sneezed, then brought up his cheese filled hand to swat away the imaginary pest.
The cheese exploded in Logun's face. "What in the Seven Bowels of Hell?!" He was angry.
The party, once again awoke with a start, weapons drawn. Dimzad couldn't contain himself. He howled in laughter. It was infectious. Soon everyone, including Logun was laughing. "You got me there, shorty", he said.
The next morning was bright, but still cold and wet. Logun led them cross-country, pointing out this and that. Where he had escape a rampaging Bullette, or dodged a Hobgoblin patrol. Soon, they reached the river. At one time, there had been a ferry. The ruins of a well built imperial mile fort straddled both sides of the quickly flowing river. All the rain lately had swollen it's banks.
"Gildrid", Gruffydd said to the elf,"you have the best eyes. What's on the other side? I don't want to get halfway across and get ambushed."
"Only a flock of birds, They seem to have roosted in the tower," Gildrid replied.
With that, they secured a rope to each other, and to a sturdy stone post, and crossed the river. To everyone's surprise, they made it across without incident.
But, as they untied and checked equipment, Miss Adventure noticed something strange about the "birds".
She yelled to the others, who followed her pointing finger to a fastly approaching creature. It had the body of an enormous wasp. Four limbs ended in clawed hands, and another two in sharp looking hooks. A nasty stinger protruded from it's abdomen, and strangest of all, it had a humanoid face. But, probably worst of all, it wasn't alone. Hundreds were swarming behind it.
"Yes," the Dryad said. "That is my name".
"B-but, you look different..." Miss Adventure stumbled.
"Different?" Newly asked."I don't feel different". She approached the group, but stepped back when Gruffydd moved toward her.
"Newly, do you know of village near here? Perhaps up the road?", the dwarf asked pointing up the road, which disappeared in the rain.
She gave the dwarf a questioning look. "Village?"
"Where people live" Gildrid said with a little too much exasperation in his voice.
"Oh!" Newly said excitedly, perhaps understanding now. "I know what those are." But her face grew quickly dark. "They make their places to live from my dead friends...." She began to fade back into her tree.
"Wait!" Gruffydd tried to say as calmly as possible. "We need to know where it is."
"It is, as you said, up the road. Across the river. Be careful. The trees say something up there poisons their roots."
Before she vanished completely, Miss Adventure asked one last question, "Newly, have more people come around here since we visited last?"
"Always. Always someone or something searching... for you...." Then the dryad was gone.
Then, they too, were gone, up the road.
Just before dusk they picked a campsite on one of the rolling hills that covered the landscape. It was decided not to have a fire. First, in this landscape, a fire could be spotted for miles around. It would act like a beacon for any wishing them ill. Second, the rain was still coming down. A lack of any woods nearby, combined with the wet, would have prevented a fire anyway.
So that sat, miserable, eating what cold food they had. It was decided the two Men, Nemon and Laramine, would take the first and last watches, as their lack of night vision could be compensated for by some light at dusk and dawn.
Nemon fell asleep on his first watch. He woke to Miss Aveture beating him over the head with loaf of stale bread.
The rest of the watches came and went without incident until morning. Laramine had taken a moment to simultaneously admire the first dawn in ages without rain, and relieve himself. It was then he noticed something in the mud just outside their camp. Another older campsite they missed in the rain. There were scraps of clothes, bits of crockery, all strew about as if a struggle had happened.
Without waking the others, perhaps foolishly, he followed the trail of refuse to a small ravine. There he found a body.
It was torn and crumpled. It was a Man, at least from the size and shape. The face was gone, and body had been partially eaten by scavengers. The leather armor was ripped in half as if by huge claws. In a bag beside the body Laramine found a few coins and a black hood. He ran back to the others and showed them his discovery.
"Great." was all Gruffydd said.
Another days march, slowed by the mud. The little talk on the road revolved around the body, and the oddities of dryad life cycles. Another camp, but this time the landscape had changed, and there were woods. Which meant a fire.
Nemon fell asleep on watch again.
Miss Adventure woke again with a start. Nightmares again. She saw Nemon asleep and prepared to pummel him once more. Then, she saw a huge pile of fur parked by the fire. Before she could scream, the furs moved, turned to her a said" Hello."
The others at the Hole hadn't been idle while Gruffydd was at the stables. Asking around, they had collectively gathered that the village of Ordilac or Ordilan (no one could decide on the real name) was somewhere along the Great North Road, across a river. This would be further Beyond the Wall than any in the party had ever gone. To complicate things, it seems a toll would be exacted at the bridge. Tancred, the barkeep, was unusually evasive about what the toll was. Was it in gold? In blood? He simply stated to "say hello to Old Nik" and "tell him Tancred gives his regards to his brother, Clem".
So, uncertain of their exact destination, and what they might find when they arrived, the party set out into the cold autumn rains. Weather kept the usual onlookers from watching them go. Only Sergeant Malloy witnessed their departure, and he was silent save the usual chuckle and head shake he gave them.
The Great North Road had been steadily deteriorating from lack of upkeep, and the elements for years. Combine this with steady downpour, it and took longer than usual to reach the deserted logging camp, and Newly the dryad's tree. They rested under it's branches, now covered in the orange and gold leaves of fall. Small saplings had sprouted in the area since their last visit. The little trees were trying to reclaim the area now covered by stumps.
Newly!", Miss adventure called, "Nuuuuu-leeeee!"
"Since when are you pals?", Gildrid said, sullen and wet beneath the tree.
"Shut up." The halfling replied. "I like her."
"First time you met her, you wanted to kill her," he murmured.
A shape emerged from the great oak. It was not the pale little girl they were accustomed to. Before them stood a tall, elegant, dark skinned woman in her middle years. She had fiery red hair, tangled with a few leaves snagged in the curls. Her eyes were a deep brown, like polished wood. She wore but a slip of a dress, that looked like it was made of cobwebs instead of cloth. When she spoke, it was with sound of rustling leaves, "Who calls?"
It was a cold a wet walk to the Royal Stables. There was no use in being quick, the stables were on the other side of town, and Gruffydd would be soaked by the time he got there, no matter what speed.
The Royal Stables was a vast complex, capable of housing hundreds of horses, from a time when mounted patrols still ventured Beyond the Wall. It was now mostly unused except for a dozen horses and countless mice, that now called it home. The ancient stable master Hogarth was shoeing a horse when Gruffydd arrived, soaked and in a bit of a foul mood. Hogarth indicated Gub's location with a wave of his hammer, and mumbled warning, "Be careful with young Gub, mind ya. He's a bit slow. Mule kicked 'im in the head when he was little, and we watch out for 'im. Bit of a mascot around here."
Young Gub, as Hogarth called him, had grown to be a burly teenager. He was twice Gruffydd's size in height and width. He was in deep conversation with a mouse when Gruffydd approached.
"Err, Gub is it?," The dwarf asked. "My name's Gruffydd. Mind if I ask you some questions?" Gub looked up. His face definitely looked like he had taken a blow to head. He also looked a little embarrassed and quickly grabbed a pitchfork and began moving hay.
"Gub, I need to ask you about the village you came from." The giant turned his back and worked harder. "I know you very young," he dwarf continued, "but anything you can remember about it would be helpful."
"Me Ma's dead", Gub mumbled. "She died when I was little."
"I'm sorry to hear that", Gruffydd said,"but I need to know about your village."
Gub turned, and eyed Gruffydd. "Me Ma told me stories sometimes."
"Go on" said the dwarf.
"She said people kept dis-pearin' from the village at night. Sometimes behind locked doors. Everyone was scared. Then one night, they came." Gub had started to tremble slightly.
"Who came?", Gruffydd asked.
"They was in our house. Lots of 'em. They swarmed all over Da, all claws and teeth." His voice had become a wail. "Red eyes!" Gub screeched and pulled at his hair. He dropped the pitchfork and began curling into a ball. "Red eyes!"
Before Gruffydd could speak, Hogarth burst into the stall. "What's going on in here?" He moved to comfort the boy. He glared at Gruffydd, "Didn't I tell ya to be careful with 'im? There, there Gub. It'll be all right. Shhhhh...."
Gruffydd turned, and trudged out into the rain again. More confused than before.
Though it was cold and rainy outside, it was hot and smokey inside the Hole. By the fire sat six adventurers, bound by past quests, and spilt blood. Gildrid, newly freed from the Land of the Dead and looking paler than ever, sat closest to the fire. Beside him was the halfling thief known only as Miss Adventure, munching on her cheese, seemingly oblivious to the conversation around her.
The talk centered around their next mission, led by the nominal leader of the group Gruffydd, the old dwarf veteran. They had been languishing inside Wall for months, waiting for a break in the terrible autumn downpours. There seemed no end to the weather in sight, and they were steadily using up their gold.
"Lake Merr,"Dimzad, the other dwarf present shouted,"we should head for Lake Merr. I heard there's something living there. Sea monsters mean gold."
Gruffydd shot him a tired look, "And how, do you suppose, we fight some lake dwelling sea beast? Drag a boat for leagues? Do you have some magical potion for breathing under water I don't know about?"
"There's always the rumors about the village." This comment came from Nemon, the fighter from the Free Cities. He stroked his well-oiled mustache. "I hear of a village where the voices of dead can still be heard. Haunted villages might bring treasure. What say you, Laramine?"
His question was directed at the new man, Laramine, a veteran sea raider of the Kraken's Teeth. They were a cold, hard people, who still made their trade from plundering the coasts.
"I'm new to your party, so I don't think I have equal say."
He was huge hulk of a man, accustom to hardship and blood. Gruffydd eyed him over his pipe. "I lean towards the village, but we can put it to a vote". All voted for the village, save Dimzad, who sullenly turned his attention to his soup.
Gruffydd shuffled over to the bar. The old barkeep Tancred collected rumors, like others collected coins or fine art. Gruffydd slid five gold pieces across the bar. Far too much for a tankard of ale. "What do you know of a village Beyond the Wall? One that was abandoned. One where the dead still whisper."
Tancred eyed him with his remain eye. There was one I heared of. Ordiland? Ordilock? Something like that. Was a nice place. Rich place. Made money off a furs and commerce along the Old Trade Road. That was back when the Dwarves still held the northern passes, and the Empire still had contact with the coastal cities.
Almost over night Ordi-whatever, emptied. People just disappeared. Only one survivor I ever heared of. She showed up in the middle of the night, banging on the gates. Had a small child with her. She was babbling about creatures in the night, attacking her village, getting people even though they were barricaded in their houses. She died soon after. Her boy has been living in the Royal Stables, mostly watched over by the Stable Master. He might have more information."
Gruffydd and walked out into the rain seeking the Stable Master.
Far to north and east, many leagues Beyond the Wall, lies the Blighted Coast. It is a windswept, somber place, with dark crags that rise like rotted dragon's teeth from beaches. The gray waves beat mercilessly upon deserted shores. Long ago, even before the founding of the Empire, a great city resided here. But, whether through fate or dark sorcery, a star fell from the heavens one fateful night, and blasted it to ruins, along with surrounding shoreline.
Now, not even the ghosts of those long dead people dare not walk the sands of the Blighted Coast. Black ships prowl the waters. Those foolish enough to brave the coast looking for treasures from past, find themselves at the mercy of these dark raiders.
The ships appear from nowhere, silent and sleek, their prows adorned withe terrible carvings of spiders and other fell beasts. They are slavers, it is said, come to take the unwary to their dark abode. Better to die, the old sailors say, than to be taken alive on the Blighted Coast.
Travelers who make it far enough north Beyond the Wall, might encounter an enormous, dark wood known as the Fellreeve. As if the sheer size wasn't daunting enough (it would take weeks on foot to cross it), most of it's denizens are bent on the demise of said travelers.
Some of the worst creatures stalking the Feelreeve's dark shadows and haunted places are the Goblins. "Goblins?" you scoff. Though a single goblin is not a danger to most seasoned adventurers, they rarely appear in small numbers. In the past, the Empire had a strict policy of extermination when it came to goblins. Left to their own devices, they tended to breed like rats, overrunning many settlements by sheer numbers. The goblins of the Fellreeve have been left alone for decades. There they have grown to staggering numbers.
Being a cantankerous lot, once their numbers grew, the goblins starting fighting. They quickly split into several factions and tribes. Currently, three tribes fight for dominance; the Broken Tooth, the Blood Moon and Crooked Blade tribes.
It is this infighting that has saved Wall from an onslaught of goblin hordes. If a leader should arise, strong enough to unite these warring factions, Wall would certainly shudder under their weight.
When she awoke, it was not her cramped, dirty room at the Hole. She lay beside a rushing river in the height of Summer. It was the Brindleshins, the river of her youth. The summer rains had swollen the river, but it was a hot, and often children snuck down to the 'Shins to cool off, despite their parent's warnings.
Today was such a day. She and her younger brother, Roderick, were supposed to be weeding the garden, but the heat had got to them and they dodged Mother to run down to the bank.
But, when they got there, even they were surprised by how swiftly the current was. Her brother paused on a rock jutting out into the dark water. He looked back at her hesitantly, waiting for the okay from his big sister.
Then she saw him. He was on the far bank. A handsome man. She had seen few humans in the seclusion of the Moot, but she knew one when she saw them. He was tall and well dressed. He had a sword on his belt and gold rings. Around his neck hung a single gold key.
He smiled at her.
He beckoned. Not for her, but for her brother. Roderick didn't seem to see the stranger across the river. She knew she had to help this man with whatever he wanted. He seemed so nice. "What's that, you want my brother to swim across to you? He doesn't want to go, but I'll make him, for you. " Just a little push...
This time Miss Adventure woke in the Hole. Screaming.
The servants of Mohr wordlessly took Gildrid along with all the halfling's money. They would keep watch over his body, and plead with their Master for the return of his soul. There was chance, ever so slight, that the fell creature who struck him down, would claim his body. Gildrid could return one of two ways, as himself, or as wight, possessed of a dark malice, but no soul.
That night, Miss Adventure returned to her bed at the Hole. Those who had seen her leave with Gildrid early that morning said nothing to her on her return. Word had travelled fast that their expedition had ended badly. No one, it seemed, wanted their luck to rub off on them.
She slept fitfully. Her dreams were filled with visions of the horror in the crypt, but also of a tall gaunt man in gray robes and a hood. Over the next few nights, she dreamed less of the ancient warrior and more of the man in robes. He appeared carrying a lamp and a sword. Around his neck hung a single key of ancient brass. Each night he drew closer. One night she dreamed he approached on a dark road. In the night sky above, the stars raced too quickly. The man came closer. He smelled of the cold, damp earth. Of his face she could only see a pointed chin jut out from beneath his hood. Grey skin stretched across a painfully thin frame, yet she sense about him a great power. He stooped and leaned to meet her face to face. Through yellowed teeth he spoke, "Remember me, little one?" His voice was like the rustling leaves on an Autumn night.
Miss Adventure's mind raced. Remember him? I think I'd recall someone like him.
"No?" he spoke again, "maybe this will help you..."
He threw back his hood.
With the creature's rising, the tomb had become cold. Mist was creeping from the floor like grasping, skeletal hands. Gildrid struggled against the ancient warrior's grip, stabbing and slashing at it. Miss Adventure leapt at Goroth, burying a dagger deep in his back. He howled with indignation, and released Gildrid from his grasp so that he could swing with both hands at the little halfling.
All the while Otto merely watched, uncertain what to do. He had been in fights before, but never faced horrors such as this. He backed towards the entrance further, his foot resting on the bottom step.
Gildrid and Miss Adventure traded blows with the fell creature. The strikes that landed seemed to do little or no damage, and all the time the tomb grew colder.
"Give up, little heroes," Goroth rasped, though his lips did not move, "your feeble weapons cannot harm me. Join my dark crusade, and live forever!"
With that shout he drove his arcane blade deep into Gildrid's side. The elf dropped his blade and sunk to the floor. Otto flew up the steps and out into the daylight.
Miss Adventure screamed and threw her torch at the monster. Flames exploded on the thing. Goroth flailed at the flames, his filthy rags feeding the fire. During the distraction, the halfling began dragging the much bigger elf towards, then up, the stairs.
She was out of breath when she reached the daylight, cursing Otto the entire time. Just then, the thief arrived with the horses. He had somehow goaded them against their instincts to approach the tomb. Wordlessly, they hauled Gildrid up and over a saddle. In moments they were riding hard back to Wall. Miss Adventure stole a look over her shoulder before they left the entrance to the tomb. A smoldering Goroth glared from the darkness with coal-hot, burning red eyes.
They reached Wall by nightfall. They would have rode harder, but feared the bouncing might harm the elf more. Gildrid had not stirred during the ride. They could old Sergeant Malloy shaking his head as they road past. He had seen this scene time and again.
They took Gildrid to the Temple of Shayalla, goddess of healing and suffering. The high priestess merely shook her head and said, "he is too far gone for us. We shall weep for him. Maybe you should visit instead, the Temple of Mohr."
Miss Adventure gasped. Mohr was the dread Lord of Death.
Miss Adventure went first. She and Gildrid decided to put Otto between them, in case he decided to take off again. Shoe reached the bottom of the stairs first. The ceiling was low. Not low enough tall Gildrid had to stoop, but low enough swinging a sword could be difficult. Eight alcoves lined the walls, four to each side. Four were empty, and four contained silent figures in tattered armor. In the center was a low sarcophagus. On it's lid was a simple relief carving of a great warrior grasping a sword to his chest.
As all three reached the landing, the four figures in the alcoves sprang to life. Or, un-life. Four zombies, similar to the ones they had fought in the hills shambled forward. Gildrid drew his bow. Snap! "Dang!", he yelled as the spring snapped.
Otto, to the surprise of Gildrid and Miss Adventure charged the closest zombie. He swung high, forgetting the height of the ceiling. Clang! Snap!. His battleaxe snapped against the ceiling. While he stood cursing, a zombie swung at him, but missed,
Miss Adventure charged past and clove the leg off another undead. It dropped to the floor but still attacked her. Gildrid cast aside his bow, and drew his sword.
In the ensuing fight. Otto fell back to the door and cowered, uncertain whether to run for the horses or stay and help, brandishing his meager dagger. Gildrid and Miss Adventure hacked and stabbed, finishing the four zombies but sustaining a few wounds of their own. In the struggle the lid of the sarcophagus had been knocked loose. With the combined strength of all three adventurers, the lid finally slid off and hit the floor.
Inside, a long dead warrior lay. His skin was gray and desiccated, his armor tarnished with age.
There was a flash of bronze, and an arm shot forth grasping Gildrid's throat. The elf dropped his sword and tried to struggle free form the dead warrior's grasp. The creature rose from his tomb, eyes glowing a malevolent red. His jaw opened, but no lips moved as he spoke.
"Who dares enter the tomb of Goroth the mighty, slayer of kings?"
Gildrid drew back and released an arrow. It hit the lead zombie with an audible "thunk". The creature rasped, but trudged on. Miss Adventure pulled her short free of its scabbard, let loose a high pitched battle
cry and charged forward. Her blade missed and her momentum carried her forward into the second zombie, knocking them both down in a pile. The monster clawed at her, and snapped with yellowed, broken teeth. The rest of the zombies sensed a closer prey and began to surround the halfling.
Otto and Gildrid now drew their weapons and charged. Gildrid's blade cleaved deep into the skull of the zombie he had already pierced with an arrow. Black gore erupted from it's shattered skull as it dropped motionless to the ground.
Otto swung wildly with a battleaxe. He missed, and the zombie he swung at, turned to thrust back at him with a bronze tipped spear. Otto gave a yelp, and ran for the horses.
"Get back here you jerk!" came a muffled cry from between two zombies. Miss Adventure was sandwiched between snapping jaws and clawing fingers. She was jabbing repeatedly at the zombie she was intertwined with on the ground, while trying to keep another at arms length.
While Otto tried to unstake the horses, Gildrid dispatched the zombie with the spear. The creature beneath Miss Adventure finally ceased moving and another well placed thrust from Gildrid finished the final zombie.
"Thanks a lot, Otto, " Miss Adventure yelled as she pushed a limp zombie from atop her.
"Hey, I just thought we might need the horses if things went bad." the thief replied.
Gildrid searched through the rotting corpses, swatting away flies and trying not to gag on the stench. He found only scraps of rotting clothes and dented bronze armor.
"They came from that way" Miss Adventure said as she pointed over the hill. "That's where we should go."
They gathered the skittish horses and road up the hill and over. In the valley below stood a group of standing stones. The horses were reluctant to go much further, so they tied them to one of the closer stones.
Centered amid the tall stone obelisks was a low slab. A set of stairs led to a dark entrance beneath it.
As the party moved closer, they could see the flat stone door that had once enclosed the tomb, was now pushed to the side. Miss Adventure wordlessly lit a torch, started down the stairs...
(Side note: I recently had an incident where our garage freezer went out and it was weeks before we noticed. The stench was overwhelming when I open it. Within minutes of throwing the meat away, thousands of lies covered the garbage bag. So I realized two things Hollywood zombie films haven't got right yet. One, you'd smell the undead way before you saw them, and that's if secondly you didn't hear the constant droning of flies. Zombies should be covered in the little buggers.)
It was the beginning of summer when Otto the Thief arrived in Wall. As is custom, he made his arrival known to the local Thieve's Guild. Of course, operating in a city without consent from the locals would have been a death sentence otherwise. He paid his dues, and went to where the local footpads and gutter snipes assured him he could find an expedition Beyond the Wall. A tavern known as the Hole.
He found self described adventurers aplenty, but none who had actually gone Beyond the Wall. None except for two. Otto found them arguing very animatedly with each other, One was a female halfling standing on a stool , shaking a piece of cheese, almost like a weapon at her tormentor. He was an elf. Tall and lank, as is their kind, with blond hair and new scar still healing on his cheek.
They became quiet when Otto approached. "Were they up for an expedition?", Otto asked. "Yes" was the reply. They had been rotting in this awful heat, running low on gold and the good graces of the Hole's management with their constant bickering. They were Miss Adventure and Gildrid the Elf.
The next morning was hot. The iron fittings on the great gates were hot to the touch. The Wall itself simmered in the heat. No wind blew Beyond the Wall. The grass of the hills surrounding the Old Road were yellowing and dry. The travelled slowly, trying to save their horses if need arose for a quick getaway. They sweated in their armor. They had nearly finished all their water when they reached the dryad Newly's tree.
Otto and Gildrid rested in the tree's shade, while Miss Adventure sought out Newly. "Newly", she called. "Newly, you have a new friend". The little dryad appeared, looking little more than a child.
"A new friend?" she asked. When Miss Adventure gestured towards Otto, Newly made a face like she ate something bad. "I don't like the looks of him. Are you sure he's my friend?"
The dryad melted into the tree, almost disappearing except now her face was knot in
the tree's bark.
"Newly, have any more bad men been around?" the halfling asked, referring to their last meeting, which had involved flight from some bandits.
"No" was her reply. But a party of goblins had passed nearby on their way towards Wall. They hadn't returned.
"Ask her if she knows about any treasure around", Gildrid said.
"Shut up, dufus, I do the talking around here!" Miss Adventure yelled back. She turned and gave her brightest smile. "Newly, from atop your glorious tree, can you see any places? Any places that might be of interest to us. Temples? Graveyards?"
The dryad brightened. "Oh yes!" she seemed exited when she thought she was helping. "To the north, there are standing stones. Does mean anything?"
"Perfect" Miss Adventure said as she picked up her pack. "Newly, is there any way we can pay you back for the help you've given us.?"
Before she could answer Gildrid spoke up. " I have some gold..."
Miss Adventure rolled her eyes. "Gold? Really? What's a dryad gonna do with gold, dummy? Gawd, you're elf. You're supposed to know this stuff."
"Actually," Newly spoke up. "The monsters. The ones that killed the men who destroyed my forest. They took something. Seeds. I need them to replant my trees. They're magic. The monsters went north long ago, but maybe you can still find them."
"Done." Miss Adventure said. They had mounted their weary horses and were headed north along the road. Soon, the sun was beating down again. Otto was listing in his saddle, and Gildrid was trying to get the last drops of water from his water skin. Tilting back the skin, he looked up and saw a lone buzzard circling above. That's when the horses stopped and an awful smell reached them. "Is that you?" Gildrid looked towards Miss Adventure waving hand in front of his face. He got a smile from Otto and a scowl form the halfling.
They were in a low defile between hills. Turning to pinpoint the smell Otto was the first to spot four figures cresting a hill, headed straight for them. Whoever they were, they weren't in a hurry. The shambled down the hill with a strange gait.
The party gathered their horses and tied them to a stake hastily pounded into the ground. They realized the stench was coming from the strangers. That, and a horde of flies that followed them.
Gildrid drew his bow. "I may not know much about dryads, but I know zombies when I see them..."
As the name suggests, the Gray Fenns is a vast colorless bog. The very pigment of things has been drained along with any form of life. No birds sing, frogs croak. Stunted, broken trees dot the landscape. A cloud of despair hangs over the Fenns, palatable to any who dare enter. Deep within heart of the Gray Fenns a faint glow resonates, a huge willow-the-wisp leading travellers to their doom. But, through it all, a great power fills the air. And where such places exist, so do the prospects for adventure and glory. picture to follow
Unlike most of the adventurers who come to Wall, Gruffydd Stoneseat's past is no secret. He is the son of an infamous dwarven family of rogues and thieves. Embarrassed by his family and their less than noble occupations, Gruffydd left his home and ventured forth to make his own name,and restore his family name to honor and glory.
But, for all his good intentions he is still a callous, insensitive, jealous, and somewhat dirty young dwarf looking for his way in a very dangerous world. Despite this, he is well-spoken, driven, and at times verges on the brilliant. His ability to go on when others cannot, has
made him a valuable traveling companion. Gruffydd's weapon of choice is a large stone hammer he has boastingly named Spinecrusher. He has a love of exotic animals, but hates goblinoids and all their relations. He is cheap, and is ever playing the martyr, using his embarrassment for his family as a stone to be borne and shown to all to see.
Gruffydd is played by Lead Addict, fellow lifelong gamer and bestest friend.
The elf known as Gildrid hails form The-Great-Woods-By-The-Sea, far to the south. LIke most elves his age, he has reached the time in life called Wundensheiv . This elven term refers to growing boredom with sedentary life amongst the great woods, and a need go out into the greater world. Gildrid arrived in wall with Mellion, a distant cousin (despite the fact that all elves refer to each other as "cousin", Mellion and Gildrid really are related closely by blood).
While adventuring, Gildrid has proven to be a fearless fighter, willing to step into danger, usually with a little more forethought than his cousin. He has a strange relationship with the halfling Miss Adventure. They keep up an almost constant banter, bordering sometimes on the hurtful. But, if either one is in danger, they are the first the help the other.
Another odd affectation is Gildrid's gruesome collection of trophies. Every monster slain adds a new trinket to his collection, giant spider legs, fangs, etc. Some of these trophies have been sold off to great profit at Professor Nodd's.
Whatever his sometimes odd behoavior, Gildrid has proven himself time and time again to his party. (Note: Gildrid is played by my 9 year-old son, brother in real life to Miss Adventure)
It was only a few months ago when a young halfling women arrived in Wall. She appeared from nowhere, and seemed ready for adventure in her polished armor and equipment. No one knows her real name, as she wants only to addressed as Miss Adventure. It is assumed that she hails from the Green Warrens, as most halflings do, the lands granted to halflings by Emperor Thaddeus in return for a particularly good halfling meat pie.
But, this is all speculation.
After visiting the tavern, The Hole, Miss Adventure found some companions for her first outing Beyond the Wall. She proved to be the party's lucky charm, finding traps when no one else did, spotting danger and generally being cool headed in most of their fights and encounters. Her one exception to this would be her immediate dislike of Newly, a dryad who has helped the party on several occasions. While the adventures trusted the dryad, Miss Adventure wanted her dead.
Miss Adventure has been a cool, calculating member of the party, keeping her thoughts to herself, and only speaking to make comments dripping with sarcasm. Her acquisition of a pair of Boots of Speed has made her the envy of at least two members of the party. As yet she has not giving in to the piles of gold they have offered her for them. With the money she has won herself, she has managed to rearm, and re-equip. She spends most of her time waiting in a dimly lit corner of the Hole, alone, ready for the next jaunt Beyond the Wall.
Miss Adventure is played by 11-year-old daughter, the only girl amoungst a band of smelly boys and weird old guys.
For generations, the very worst criminals met their end at the Gallows Tree. It stands at the end of long road. Which road? Depends on who you ask. It never seems to be in the same spot these days, and it lays Beyond the Wall now.
Besides it's variable locale, the area around the tree seems to have its own rules. The air switches between a foul, almost unbreathable miasma and the perfume of flowers. Time is off. Hours may pass in the blink of an eye, or not pass at all.
Some people hear voices or hysterical laughter. Sometimes corpses hang from branches, dripping blood and offal, but most times not.
So, traveller, if your road leads you to a dark, leafless tree, step off the road and find another path.
Somewhere, Beyond the Wall, on a secluded, wind blown hilltop, lies the Well of Souls. There are no signs of the people who dug this well, or why it lies in its current location. Those who know of its location are few. Its only description is of a low stone circle atop a hill. The area surrounding it is cluttered with spikes and grappling hooks and bits of old rope. These are the only remains of those who tried to climb down into its depths.
If you listen carefully, it is said, you can hear their low mournful cries.
For most people who dwell in Wall, the Empire is a distant idea. Few give it much thought, other than when money is exchanged, and they glance at the Emperor's profile stamped on the coin.
Speaking of Emperors, the current Lord and Protector of the Empire is Theodotius III, a mere lad of eleven years. He came to power in a palace coup, involving his mother Ekaterina, the current regent and real power behind the Iron Throne. The rumor is the Regent poisoned her brother, the former Emperor, to put her son in imperial purple. This was a double betrayal, as not only did Ekaterina kill her own brother, but the Captain of the Imperial Guard (also known as the Thurnian Guard) was involved. If true, this would be unprecedented. The Thurnian Guard are recruited from the Northern tribes, not only for their ingrained fierce loyalty, but also because it was hoped being foreigners, they would be free of palace intrigues.
Whatever the case, Theodotius sits upon the throne, however precariously.
The imperial standard still flies within its much reduced borders. The Empire is usually represented by three pillars representing the Emperor, the Great Council and the People. Sometimes, a sun, the symbol of Arnor the Greatfather, is shown alone or in concert with other symbols. Lastly, a three headed dragon is used to represent Kelus the first emperor, slayer of the legendary dragon Gorguth.
When a vein of Mithril was was discovered in the mountainous Dragon's Teeth, dwarven miners quickly moved in. That small mining community quickly grew, and in time became a Karrak Un Kraggen, or simply the Krag because of the mountain's jagged appearance.
It survived much of the strife caused by the collapse of the Empire, but soon became more isolated by the building of the Wall. Communication became scattered, then suddenly ended after the First Great Incursion.
Several caravans and search parties have gone Beyond the Wall looking for the Krag. It's very location has become lost to Time. But none of the parties has ever returned. In fact, as recently as three months ago, a well armed dwarven caravan left Wall to look for their lost cousins. No word has surfaced of their condition.
In its time, the Krag was a wealthy Dwarfhold. Who knows what riches (or dangers) lie there still. Will adventurers find a still thriving Dwarven city, struggling to survive a hostile world, or a monster infested deathtrap waiting to engulf them?
Three days march northeast of Wall, lie the Sundered Hills. The area got its name from the broken appearance of the landscape. It looks like great mountains were bashed to pieces by an immense hammer.
Legend has it, long ago Krolos, the Lord of Battle, went to Vaul, the Maker of Things. Krolos asked Vaul to make him a great war hammer that would be the envy of all who beheld it. Vaul agreed, and labored many days and nights to complete it. When the hammer was done, Krolos stared in wonder at its beauty and might. Vaul asked for payment. Still in awe, Krolos said he would pay anything for it. Vaul asked for the hand of Valena, goddess of love, and sister to Krolos.
Snapped from his trance by these words, Krolos laughed and refused Vaul his payment. The god of the Forge was enraged and snatched back the hammer. The two fought.
Their battle spilled into our world. They wasted the land in their struggle, and thus the Sundered Hills were born.
These days, the Sundered Hills lie Beyond the Wall, and are rumored to be firmly in the hands of the Blue Moon Hobgoblin tribe. The Blue Moons are well organized and disciplined. It is only a matter of time before they attempt a raid on Wall itself.
The Northern Wastes. Once, the last outpost of the Empire. A testing ground for young heroes and a cold grave for old champions. An abode of giants and ice drakes.
A perpetual frozen wind blows across the Northern Wastes, down from the Dragon's Teeth. It is said the sun never shows his face in the Wastes, except to weep at its cold vastness. Indeed, the gods themselves seem to have forsaken such a place. Krolos, Lord of Battle and the cold places of the world, warred here against the Old Ones. It is their dying breath that still blows down from the mountains. After his fight, the wounded Krolos left, never to return. Where his blood dripped, pools of magma formed. These hot spots are the only source of warm in an otherwise frozen land.
For a time, people settled around these warm places, making their trade in furs and plunder from the sea. But they too, were consumed by the hungry cold. Their tombs are still heaped in treasure, it is said.
Brave, or foolish, is the adventurer who seeks fortune in the Wastes.
For centuries, the Wall has kept the dark things of the barbaric North at bay. Its seemingly endless span is patrolled by the Guardians above, and its border is protected below, by the Underguard.
Dark forces have tried many times to circumvent the Wall by attempting to go around it, or hitting weak spots. They have also tried tunneling under. Each threat has been stopped by the stalwart forces of the Underguard.
The ranks of the Underguard are filled mostly by dwarves, with the occasional gnome, halfling or shorter human. Their life is just as harsh and under-appreciated as the Guardians that patrol above. The Underguard's life spans have been shortened by the sometimes brutal subterranean environment. A tragic fact given the normally longer life that demi-humans have over Man.
There is an almost endless maze of tunnels beneath the Wall, and earning all of them would take a lifetime. There is a cadre of mappers that do just that.
Most of time, however, the Underguard can be found at listening posts spaced inside the tunnels. A system of mechanisms, both magic and mundane, constantly monitor for the telltale sound of scratches and digging that proceeds an incursion.
Few above know of the small battles that happen more and more frequently below their feet. Not too long ago, a marauding Bullette found its way into the tunnels. Three Underguard died bringing it down. The harsh reality, is there are attacks, and fewer defenders each year. Who wants such a unforgiving job? How many Underguard die, alone in the dark?