Nemon is recently arrived from the Free Cities, where he claims to have been a mercenary captain. Indeed, he did show up in Wall with several hirelings, but they quickly departed soon after. Nemon affects a roguish attitude, and seems eager to "go adventuring", but also has developed a reputation for sullen periods full of drink and despair.
The Hole tavern has existed almost as long as Wall itself. And for as long as anybody can remember, Miss Maggie has run it. Assisted by her barkeep, Tancred, the Hole is a run like a well oiled machine. No one is without food, drink or information if the money's right. There isn't much that goes on in Wall that Maggie doesn't know about, and she watches over her kingdom from her throne, the last stool on the right.
Few things are known of Maggie's past, but the general consensus is she was an adventurer of some renown. Her opinion is much respected by customers and city fathers alike, and her word in the Hole is law.
No fighting, no magic, and no mischief making are the rules. Lawbreakers quickly find themselves out on the street, and count themselves lucky if they still have all their teeth.
Anyone seeking adventure Beyond the Hole, should make their first stop in the Hole. The few that return usually have a bit of thanks to Miss Maggie. A scrap of information, or a bit of advice from Maggie has often saved their hides.
The great ape bared its yellowed fangs and swatted Mellion aside. The elf slammed into the far wall and slumped to the ground, bloodied. Its attention shifted to the party. Gildrid readied his bow. Gruffydd and Dimzad charged. Alabazium backed away and Miss Adventure disappeared. Further back in the tomb, standing by the sarcophagus having a smoke, Gwynfor felt a breeze go by.
Miss Adventure found herself by the steps to the tomb, not quite sure how she got there. The experience rattled her.
Meanwhile, the dwarves hacked away at the huge white ape. Gildrid was pelting it with arrows. Most bounced off its thick hide. Gruffydd was struck in the head, but the ape was wearing down under the repeated blows of the party. Finally, Mellion stood, and from behind drove his sword into the creature's hide. It gave one last growl and dropped to the floor.
Afterwards, while Mellion was busy hacking open the corpse of the ape with great delight, Dimzad and Gildrid checked the south door of the earlier passage. It creaked open. Alabazium held up the light. The floor was heaped high with garbage and rats. There were bones and offal, blood and filth.
They shut the door and backed away. The north door was checked. This door had a viewing sit cut into the door at roughly man height. Gildrid attempted a listen at the door. Dimzad banged on it.
"Will you stop?" the elf asked. "All I can hear is your stupid banging."
The door was locked, but a few whacks at the lock with Gruffydd warhammer knocked it open.
It was empty save for a few filthy blankets and a bucket in the corner filled with urine. On the wall near the door was a wooden lever.
"Looks like a trap door", Gruffydd said after eyeing it a few moments. The party decided it was best if they stood in the room when the lever was pulled. A deep breath, then the lever was pulled.
Nothing. Then a sliding, hissing noise. Then a loud crash down below. Then a BOOM! Then drums. Drums in the deep below. Howls and shouts and the sound of many feet.
The party paused and looked at each other, then ran. They went barreling down the passages. "Go. go, go go, go!" Gruffydd shouted at Gwynfor as they passed him. They finally reached the main entrance hall where they battled the orcs. They found a befuddled Miss Adventure.
"We'll form a semi circle here at the hallway, so we can out number whoever it is", Gwynfor instructed.
The party followed and waited.
First, they heard the gutteral shouts in the dark. Then, a few crude spears clattered to the floor in front of the group. The hallway before them filled with a mass of stinking grey shapes. They had long stringy hair, and feral red eyes. The had the appearance of degenerate humans, bent and twisted.
"There's too many", Gruffydd shouted over the monster's cries.
Mellion, Gwynfor and Dimzad threw their flasks of lantern oil at the floor in front of the onrushing creatures. Alabazium tossed his torch.
Whoosh! Flames filled the hallway. The albino creatures fell back, howling. The party turned and made for the entrance. Miss Adventure turned to run, and found herself at the top the stairs, with the party bellow, two pits between them.
With the help of the ropes they had hammered in earlier the crossing up the steps went well, for all except Gildrid. At the first pit, probably distracted by the creatures behind them, Gildrid missed and fell into the pit. He managed to survive the fall, but just barely. Dimzad volunteered to go in after him. He cut the rope from one side and slid down. After securing the rope around Gildrid, they partly climbed and were partly pulled from the depths. No sooner had they escaped the pit then the pursuers were on them.
The chase went all the way up the long stairs. Gwyndor and Mellion had been busy at the top, prying the entrance open. Just before the creatures were on them, the door opened. The last bit of sunlight of the day filled the stairway. The creatures howled and retreated. Apparently they didn't care for the light.
The party emerged from the tomb, beaten and bruised, squinting against the daylight.
The sun would be down soon, and their pursuers would soon follow.
"Back to the road, and south to the wall," Gruffydd said. "And hope we don't run into our bandit friends."
They didn't. They reached the road as the sun was setting, craning their necks in ever direction, looking for pursuit. Along the way Miss Adventure discovered she could cover great stretches of ground in short bursts. It winded her quickly and the disorientation it caused made her slightly nauseous. She decided her pretty boots would be put away in her knapsack for now.
When the party reached the Wall it was night. They were cold and hungry, and ugly stretch of stone separated them from civilization never looked so beautiful.
A lone figure leaned out from the heights at the top.
"Have a nice walk?"
They were part spider, part crab and the diameter of a tavern table. They hissed and spat, venom dripping from their fangs. The party formed a semicircle, trying to keep the circling crab spiders to their front.
"Hah!" Gildrid jumped forward and spitted one on his sword. The other one lunged at him and missed, tearing his cloak. The elf turned and pinned the other one to the ground. "Cool. I'm going to put some that venom on my sword. " Gildrid said happily.
"Me, too!", said Miss Adventure.
"Cut 'em open," Dimzad said. "There might be treasure inside."
Gruffydd, disgusted, turned away to check the rest of the room. There were two wooden doors, iron bound, in the otherwise empty room. After it became evident there was no treasure amidst the black guts of the crab spiders, the party decided on the north east door.
It was unlocked, but it took some work to get the centuries rusted hinges to let go. Inside the chamber was the familiar rectangular shape seen before. This one had been lived in. Ancient tombs of the north were sometimes open to the public, as places of worship of the ancestors. Priest, therefore lived in these tombs to act as custodians. This was obviously one of the priest's private quarters. A bed, table and chairs, and long rotted away under the weight of the ages. Dust covered everything. Along the south east wall, a book shelf still held. Alabazium eyed them, drooling with anticipation.
"Scrolls!" Dimzad yelled, then leaped across the room. His big, calloused hands ground the ancient scrolls to dust. A single tear rolled down Alabazium's cheek.
"Nice one, Hammy-hands'" Gruffydd said. "Sure your name isn't Dim-whit?"
But all was not lost. Amid the ruin of the scrolls, a single lambskin parchment remained. It was wax sealed with a dove symbol. He carefully placed it in his sack.
Dimzad, properly chastised, began to look around. "Hey, there's a place on the floor where the dust has been blown away". Sure enough, where shelves met wall, a faint triangle of dust was missing. After checking for traps, Dimzad and Gruffydd pushed the shelves inward. They swiveled on a central axis to reveal a small closet or pantry. The walls were lined floor to ceiling with all sorts of spoiled food stuffs and bottled curiosities. There was a lot of coughing, because of the dust. Tucked away in cubby holes and jars were gold and gems. A black box was found containing a small vial of black sludge, which Dimzad quickly pocketed. Gildrid grabbed a fancy robe, the only one that didn't fall apart when touched.
Another scroll was found, bearing a picture of a wolf. It was quickly handed over to Alabazium.
"Ooohhh, these are pretty", it was Miss Adventure. She had found some boots tucked away in a dark corner. They were velvet with little wings stitched on them.
Being a halfling, she could never understand the need for shoes. These were so pretty however, she had to try them on. They fit perfectly. Everyone got a good laugh as she tried to walk around in them.
The party left and went to the other door across the entry chamber where the spiders were. This door was locked. Much pounding and pulling finally broke it free. It opened to a hallway with a "T" intersection at the end, and two doors, north and south along its sides.
Mellion, as always, bounding to the end of the hallway. "Hey! The hall goes north and south."
There was rumble. Then a sharp hoot. The ground shook, and giant, fanged, dirty white ape bounded from the darkness of the north passage.
"When is he going to learn?" Gruffydd said as he readied his axe.
I might have mentioned it earlier, but four of the players in this narrative are under 11 years old. The same age I was when I started playing D&D 30 years ago. I decided to keep their actual dialogue in and not change it to fit the tale. This may take some readers out of the story to have an elf say "Shut up, dummy" to another party member but it's truer to what happens. During the first session, Dimzad repeatedly referred to Mellion, played by his younger brother as "SMELL-ion". It doesn't get any better than that.
Also a note on the illustrations. I've purposefully tried to keep the drawings quick and a bit cartoony. It fits my vision of what I first drew feverishly on a my notebook many years ago.
Now back to the action!
The orcs came screaming from the darkness. They had obviously heard the crash of the steps. Mellion was frozen. He took two steps back from the doorway. They were almost on him.
Behind him came a great shout. "Outta the way pointy ears!" It was Dimzad. He and Gruffydd had flown down the steps, made the leap across the pit, and dashed past Mellion to form a shield wall in the doorway.
The orcs impacted with the strength of a charging bull. The dwarves could smell their rancid breath. The one opposite Gruffydd was crushing his shield with blows from his great axe. Rather than fight him, he began to push forward. Gwynfor was right behind him, ready to strike at another opponent. The orc fighting Dimzad dodged an ax swing, and slid a rusty blade beneath their shields. The blade struck home, and bit hard into Dimzad's side. He gave ground and the orc came tumbling down on top of him.
Gildrid saw what was happening and leapt from the steps down to help. He thrust down with the bandit's spear,... and missed horribly. The spear slammed into the ground, snapped and sent Gildrid flying into the grounded orc, sandwiching the creature between elf and dwarf. The three became a mass of flailing arms and weapons.
Gruffydd had pushed his orc into the chamber, and Gwynfor stepped in fill the gap and take on another orc. Gruffydd dodged a blow over his shield, but the ax clipped the top of his head, dripping blood into his eyes. He swung wildly and struck the orc square in the chin. It made a whiney noise and fell to the ground dead.
Gwynfor's barking hound snapped at his opponent, and distracted him enough for Gwynfor to cleave the orc in two. On the ground, Dimzad turned his battle axe around stabbed the top spike into the orc's side that was crushing him. It belched out a last breath, along with some black blood and died.
The final orc fell to the combined blows of thr rest of the party. After the fight, and the orc was dragged off of Dimzad, the bodies yielded little treasure. Nobody wanted the rusty weapons or filthy armor.
The took stock of their surroundings. The chamber was large, at least 50 by 50 feet, with passages on each wall. It was dusty with misuse, other than the direction the orcs came from, the east. In the center was a fountain. It no longer worked. The water in the basin was brackish, and the statue had been decapitated. The ceiling was vaulted and ornate, quite the opposite of the rest of the chamber.
After a brief discussion the party decided to check on the passage where the orcs had emerged from.
The passage was short and cut from the same smooth stone as the rest of the tomb. The chamber it lead to was rectangular. The smell hit the party first. It reeked of orc.
The walls had once been covered with frescoes, but they were faded, and in some places burnt by the campfires built in there. The floor was covered by discarded rags and gear, bones from meals, and in some places excrement. Only Miss Adventure was willing to dig through the mess, and was rewarded by a few gold coins and a good sized gem.
After finding nothing more of value, the party went to the chamber opposite.
This passge was indentical to the one across the way, but much dustier. Dimzad took the lead, studying the stonework around him. The chamber he entered had collapsed at the far end, and when he entered more crumbled. A large chunk of masonry fell from the ceiling and whacked him silly. Gwynfor grabbed him, and pulled him to safety before the chamber completely collapsed.
After Dimzad's wound was staunched by Alabazium, the party headed south to the remaining passged. Again, it was the same as the rest. It opened into the tomb proper. A large stone sarcophagus dominated the room. It had been opened. Gwynfor and Miss Adventure seemed to be the only ones willing to investigate. The lid had been shoved open a crack. Inside was a mummified skeleton. It had been ravaged by search, and was now a mess. Miss Adventure climbed in, with Gwynfor searching, too. They found, tucked in a fold of clothing, a massive clear gem. Miss Adventure gave a squeal of delight. While everyone was distracted by the gem's brilliance, Gwynfor snatched the dead king's head, and tucked it in his bag.
After the brief celebration over the first real treasure, everyone noticed a slab a rock that had been wedged in a doorway against the south wall. The slab covered the opening except for a small crack at the top which had stuffed full of rags.
The rags were removed, and Miss Adventure volunteered to crawl up and view what lay beyond.
"it's a chamber with two doors." she said back to the group. "Hand me a torch, and I'll throw in."
The torch popped and sputtered when it hit the center of the room. Immediately it was apparent their was a body in the center. She climbed down, and after a heated discussion, it was decided to move the rock. "I'm going to take a rear guard, in case someone shows up behind us," Gwynfor said. He and his dog trotted off.
They heaved, and they pushed, and the combined strength of the dwarves finally moved the stone.
Inside was indeed a body. It was orcish. It's skin was pulled tight against it's body, almost mummified. "Ewwww", Gildrid said. A loud thump sounded behind him. He turned and saw two forms, with too many legs.
The last statement caused the party to pause, and glance around nervously.
"Thank you, Newli." Gruffydd said. "May we visit you again?"
She looked at the ground again. " I suppose".
The party made ready to leave, and give up the shelter of the tree. Alabazium turned, "Newli, do you know of a tomb around here?"
She stared blankly at him.
"It would be large, and made of stone." He said "Maybe, with a great statue of a king. You know, a man with crown." Alabazium put his hands to his head and mimed a crown.
"Oh!" Newli said excitedly. "I know where he lives. That way!" She pointed northwest. "I can see him from the top of my tree. I wave to him sometimes, but he doesn't ever wave back."
"Thanks, for your help." It was Gruffydd this time. "We'll see you again soon."
They moved on, off the road and across a new crop of windswept hills. When they turned back to look, she was gone.
"Stupid Dryads," Gildrid said.
"Yeah", Dimzad responded, "we should have lopped off her head. She might be nice now, but I promise you, she'll be trouble later."
They became strung out along the hills. The weather and the walking was taking its toll. Mellion was bringing up the rear. He turned to get a gauge on where they were in relationship to the road. That's when he saw them. Four cloaked riders were keeping pace with them. They were just far enough away to be out of bow shot. Mellion alerted the others.
It was about this time the front of the party saw a great statue rising from a large hill, surrounded by 4 smaller ones.
"Everyone!" Gruffydd shouted. "Make a run for those hills!"
The hill turned out to be steep, and the climb took the last of their energy. It was around noon, but the sun stayed hidden.
The Statue was enormous, at least 20 feet tall, but it leaned at an odd angle. The elements had taken their toll. Most of the detail had been worn away, but one could tell this was once a great man.
The base of the statue was roughly square and swallowed by vines and undergrowth. The party began to frantically search for an entrance to the vault that had to be below. Swords and axes hacked at the vines till finally a recessed door appeared.
"Outta my way!" Dimzad shoved his way past the others to the door. "Not trapped. But you'll need a dwarven back to push this door open."
He pushed. He strained. The door didn't budge. Everyone crowded around, trying their strength. Still nothing. Everyone was so busy examining the door, they forgot about the riders.
Alabazium, left the top of the hill, and the shelter of the bush, to have a look. That's when they jumped him. One of the riders readied a bow. The magician yelped and ran for the top. Gwynfor's dog was the first to notice the commotion and started barking. His master readied his bow while the dwarves charged down the hill giving great war cries.
One of the rider's shouted as he menaced Alabazium. "If you want to travel these lands, you must pay the Bandit King!"
The mounted bowman loosed and barely missed Gwynfor. The fighter did not. Gwynfor's arrow struck a spear armed rider in the chest. He slumped in the saddle. One of his brethren grabbed his reins and began to lead his horse away. More arrows were exchanged to no effect.
Alabazium grabbed the distracted archer by the leg and dragged him from the saddle, just in time for the dwarves arrival. The stunned rider looked up just in time to have his head caved in by Dimzad's massive battle axe. "There's your payment," the dwarf said.
By now, the three remaining riders, or bandits as they were now known to be, had made good their escape. Miss Adventure had watched the whole skirmish unfold from her vantage point atop a rock, eating cheese.
Mellion had been studying the door. With little effort, he slid the door to the side. "Hey dummy, it slides open! You don't shove it", he shouted over his shoulder to Dimzad.
"I knew that," the dwarf replied.
Further examination of the bandit yielded a little gold and silver. Gildrid grabbed the discarded spear, and Miss Adventure the bloodied cloak.
Meanwhile, Mellion had decided to head into the tomb. His elven site required no light, and revealed a steep staircase down into the depths. It was made of finished stone, and as the elf descended, he heard the dwarves behind him comment on its quality.
"There's a lot of steps!" he shouted to others further up.
"Wait for us!" Gruffydd shouted back.
"Hey,"said Gwynfor,"let's drag this body inside and spike the door shut, in case his buddies show up."
While the banging of hammers on spikes echoed down the tunnel, Mellion discovered the steps ended abruptly. There was a large section, 3 or 4 steps missing, before the steps continued. Mellion made the leap. After alerting the rest of the party, he moved on.
The rest of the party lit torches for the humans to see, and began driving more spikes into the steps to tie off ropes, in case not everyone was as agile as Mellion.
Everyone took turns making the leap. It wasn't hard, as the pit wasn't wide, and was down hill. The ropes were more for the return journey, where the leap would be upwards.
Gruffydd was next to last. He slipped on some rubble and went head first into the darkness. The rope around his waist held, but his beloved warhammer disappeared into the abyss. A few moments passed and a loud clang announced the the hammer's arrival at the bottom.
Gwyndor and Dimzad were able to lower Gruffydd down far enough he could grab the hammer amidst the rubble at the bottom.
While Gruffydd was being hoisted up, Mellion had gone farther down the stairs. "Guys!" he shouted. "There's a doorway down here with a large room." No sooner had he said that, the he heard a loud "click". The stairs he walked over collapsed with a loud crash. They dissolved into another large pit, similar to the one above. Dust and noise filled the air, but Mellion had managed to leap forward, down to the doorway below. A pit now separated him from the rest of the party. He gained his feet just in time to see four wide figures rushing at him in the darkness. Their stink reached him before their battle cries.
"Orcs". Mellion said under his breath.
It was a strange day to start an adventure. It was the Feast of Valena, goddess of Love. And while everyone else was huddled away inside, sharing gifts of sweets and tenderness, seven souls braved the terrible weather to begin their fortunes Beyond the Wall. It was cold and it was raining. It was the kind of rain that can't seem to make up its mind if it wants to be snow or not. It was steady and relentless.
As they reached the massive gate, a lone figure stepped from gatehouse and began hammering the hinges and lock with a large wooden mallet to knock loose the ice that had accumulated. It was no surprise the guards were waiting. Everyone in town seemed to know when somebody was going to try to make go of heading north. Normally there would have been a crowd of onlookers, but not today. Not in this weather.
"Lovely day for walk", the cloak covered figure laughed to himself. It was Sergeant Malloy, or simply Sarge. The old Gray Guardian of the Gate, had been at his post for as long as anybody could remember. He began to turn the crank on the massive mechanism the open the iron bound gates that had held so long against the dangers beyond. He still giggled to himself as worked the handle. For someone who seemed so frail, he seemed to have no trouble cranking away, until the gates opened just enough for the adventurers to squeeze their horses past.
The remnants of the Great Northern Road stretched out before them. Some of the paving stones still stuck up from beneath the soil, but centuries of neglect and misuse had mostly left the road a shadow of itself.
"You see old Ned out there," Sarge spoke from the crack that was left where the two great doors met,"You tell him I still owe him for this." He pointed to the ruined mess of an empty socket that used to be his right eye. He cackled to himself once more and the great gates slammed shut.
The already drenched and sad group outside the Wall couldn't decide if it was the miserable weather, or the sound of the bolt sliding down on the gates, that made them feel so uneasy.
The seven trudged forward into the sleet, up the only road. North.
There was Alabazium, a worker of magic. He was a rail thin man with a past, and the nervous, darting eyes of someone being hunted.
Beside him was Dimzad, a rugged dwarf from the mountains of the west. He was fearless. But, he was fearless in a way that could save the party, or doom it.
Gildrid and Mellion were Elves from the Great Wood by the sea. They had left the comfort and safety of their woodland home in search of adventure.
Another dwarf, Gruffydd, was the gregarious unspoken leader of the group. He managed to keep everyone's spirits up, despite the constant downpour.
A halfling had joined the group. She had taken the moniker of Miss Adventure, and had been adopted as a kind of good luck charm for the group. Her good luck, however had yet to be tested.
Bringing up the rear, with his massive wolfhound, was fighter from the southern cities named Gwinfor. He had once come from a wealthy family, but appeared at Wall in rags. Most of his equipment was bought on credit, from the kind of folks who don't like late payments.
For hours they trudged on foot, through the featureless rolling hills, with only the ancient road as their guide. And always the Wall. It had shrunk to a dark ribbon along the southern horizon.
Finally, they paused to eat their meager rations. That's when they spied a few structures ahead. They sat amid a ruin of a forest. Huge chunks had been ripped from a once great wood. The party moved forward and discovered long rusted logging equipment, shattered wagons and broken ruins. Whoever had carved out this land was long gone. A few saplings had grown, and were fighting the elements to survive. But one tree stood out. It was enormous, and it provided the only shelter for miles. The party stopped to rest.
There was slight movement behind the tree. Swords and crossbows were readied.
A small face emerged from behind the tree. It was a girl. She appeared human, very pale, wearing only a wisp of a dress despite the cold. Her green eyes were enormous, and the color of evergreens. Her hair was black, but it had an almost green sheen to it.
"Lower your weapons," Gruffydd said. "What's your name girl?", Alabazium followed.
The girl looked puzzled. She stepped from behind the tree. "My name?" Her voice was that of a child, but also mixed with sound of blowing wind through branches. "No one ever asks my name. Newli. That's what you can call me."
"Well, Newli," Gruffydd said, a big smile appearing, "what are you doing here?"
"I live here. With my tree." She smiled and placed a hand lovingly on the enormous oak.
"Where are the people who lived and worked here?" the dwarf asked.
"Gone", the girl said. "long ago. The monsters took them."
Everyone in the party gave a furtive look around. "What kind of monsters?"
She looked down, then looked up again, and spoke very quietly.
"The worst kind".....
Tancred is the grizzled, battle-scarred barkeep of the Hole. Always ready with a sympathetic ear or piece of advice, Tancred is the keeper of knowledge for all things Beyond the Wall. Would be adventurers often look to Tancred for rumors and news. With his missing eye, missing hand and numerous scars, he stands as a stark reminder of the dangers outside Wall's confines. Though he's not shy about his adventuring past, Tancred is strangely tight lipped about where his injuries came from.
Tancred quickly handles any disagreements that get out of hand, as the Hole is neutral territory for all. He is fiercely loyal to the owner of the Hole, Miss Maggie, and keeps her peace enforced. No matter what dangers await Beyond the Wall, there's always a cool mug of ale, and one of Tancred's tales waiting for you when you get back.
For as long as Wall has existed, the Hole tavern has been there too. Tucked into a dark corner of a dead end street, the Hole doesn't offer the best food or drink, or for that matter, clean beds. What it does offer, however, is information. Everybody at the Hole knows something, and odds are, they'll be willing to share it, for a price.
Want the latest rumors? Need a map? Head for the Hole.
The Golden Age of the Empire was a glorious time. Peace and knowledge reigned supreme. Those within the Empire knew no war, or hunger. But, as they say, all good things must end.
The imperial line became sickened with a succession of increasing brutal and deranged Emperors. Those on the fringes of the empire became disillusioned and angry, overtaxed and under appreciated.
The borders of the civilized world collapsed. The spark that was the Empire dwindled.
To the north, a vast wall was built. For centuries it held back the chaos and the unceasing hordes of dark creatures that assaulted it. Things settled and stagnated. The city grew up behind the wall, the last bit of civilization in the north, left it's old name, and simply became Wall.
The citizens of Wall are a hardy stock. They and their ancestors managed to survive the hostile environs, and some even to prosper. In the middle of Wall, tucked in the corner of a dead end street, is the smokey little tavern known as the Hole. Here, adventurers gather. These brave souls are few, but daring. They alone, go beyond the wall, into peril and certain death. Those that survive become legends. A new Time of Heroes is at hand. And I, a simple bard, will tell their tale.