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<![CDATA[Pen & Paper Games - Blogs - Max_Writer]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/blog.php/8662-Max_Writer Pen and Paper Games hosts a very powerful, but easy to seach and join database of players and game masters in the United States and Canada. Our forums are also a great place to find the most recent news, product releases, tips, and rpg discussion. en Tue, 21 Nov 2017 23:24:30 GMT vBulletin 60 http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/pnpg_style/misc/rss.jpg <![CDATA[Pen & Paper Games - Blogs - Max_Writer]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/blog.php/8662-Max_Writer Basic Roleplaying System: Maid Tournament http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1986-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Maid-Tournament Sun, 19 Nov 2017 22:14:35 GMT Thursday, November 16, 2017 (After Kyle Matheson ran his *Basic Roleplaying System* setting “Maid Tournament” with Hannah Gambino, Ashton... Thursday, November 16, 2017

(After Kyle Matheson ran his Basic Roleplaying System setting “Maid Tournament” with Hannah Gambino, Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, Katelyn Hogan, Ben Abbott, Ambralyn Tucker, James Brown, Katie Gallant, Yorie Latimer, and me Friday, November 10, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.)

The Report of Igor Hastur on the Tyrandar Maid Tournament

I had received a letter with a beautiful stamp upon it from Tyrandar, the co-called capitol of Earth. The letter was from the king, who invited me to his Maid Tournament in the capitol of Tyrandar. The king wrote he hoped I would come as he thought I was one of the best maids or butlers on the world. It said he had heard I was very talented and had a lot of potential.

I was ordered to go, in order to help the cause.

I was called Igor Hastur, a butler of some renown in my own part of the world. I was older and had a heavy face. I was tall and thin, gaunt almost like a cadaver, with heavy eyelids and eyebrows. Like all of the Hasturs before me, I had a slight lisp, but knew my duties to my master and my masters.

I boarded a train several days later. It was the king’s private train and named The Regalia. I found there were nine other butlers and maid competing to be the maid of the king. We were all placed together in the same car as we went from a lesser city to Tyrandar. I was able to size up the competition, not that I intended to win anyway.

I soon learned all of the other butler and maid’s names.

Danny Devito was short and fat, being 4’10” tall and weighing around 200 pounds. He had a thick Jersey accent and was some kind of troll, or so he claimed. He stank and wore a ragged t-shirt with mustard stains on it. He didn’t wear any pants but only dirty underwear.

Megumi Hevita was half waifu/half snake. The lower half of her body was a snake while the top was a normal woman, of sorts.

In one of the seats was a huge pile of beer bottles atop which sat a chimpanzee wearing a fez and a suit with long coat tails. He also wore a nametag that read: Josiah JoHoppler or JoJoHo. He was obviously from the small annex nation ruled by sentient chimpanzees.

Nyancy was a neko, essentially a cat lady. She had white hair, ears, and tail. One of her eyes was yellow and one was blue. She wore a standard French maid outfit.

Tonio Trussardi was a chef, obviously, from his tall chef’s hat and white chef’s uniform. He had brown hair and looked normal, not otherworldly at all. However, he spoke like he was from another world. He stayed far away from both the chimpanzee and the filthy little troll.

“Ah, that’s how it is on this planet,” he often said.

Anna May was beautiful beyond belief. She was of the purple race who worshipped Senpai. They were mostly human in appearance but no one was sure where they had come from. She was quite well-endowed and curvy, beautiful in every respect. She wore a very tight and revealing maid’s outfit.

Reginald Thistleton had a pencil-thin mustache and wore long coattails. He was over seven feet tall and slim. If you looked at him too long, it looked like he might have tentacles. He was obviously a slender-butler. Rumor had it they were ancient experiments on improving butlers as a whole but they had eventually been ruled too dangerous and destroyed. At least that’s what the legends said.

Stanley Stanwick was a short and stout, much like a teapot. He wore an ascot and dressed well though not as well as many of the rest of us. He had a handlebar mustache and otherwise appeared completely typical. That made me suspicious, of course.

Ivana Goodtime was a tall, thick, muscular woman with a thick, Russian accent. She wore double buns on corners of her head. She had long hair and, I learned later, worshipped the king in all his glory. Russia had been under the iron fist and dominant toe of Tyrandar for centuries. As she had gotten on the train, she had picked up and carried the man carrying her bags, obviously not knowing the custom of porters doing it for one.

“Excuse me,” the porter said. “I have your bags. Could you please put me down?”

Ivana put him down.

The train departed once she got on board.

“Oh, I found a little dog under my seat!” Danny Devito said. “Oh, that’s a good little dog.”

Whereupon he took a dirty little dog from under his seat. Danny Devito gave the dog sloppy kisses and was very loud and obnoxious. One of the conductors approached the terrible little man. He looked perplexed, as if he wondered why the man wasn’t wearing pants.

“Excuse me,” the conductor said. “Sir …?”

Danny Devito looked up.

“May I see your ticket … again?” he said.

Danny Devito reached down into his underwear, groping around for the ticket. Thistleton gagged at the scene. Then the little man pulled out a ticket and held the now-very-dirty thing out. The conductor reached into the back of his pants pocket, put on a glove, and took the ticket, looking over it with distain and disgust. Danny Devito went back to sloppily kissing on the dog.

“That is the royal seal,” the disgusted conductor said.

“Yep,” Danny Devito said.

“Or very well forged,” the conductor said.

I crept over to the conductor.

“I believe he thtole the ticket,” I said quietly to the official.

“Possibly,” the conductor said. “But I do not have the authority to stop this man as long as he’s on the train.”

“Conductor, am I on the right train car?” Thistleton called out loudly.

His voice carried.

“What?” the conductor said. “Where are you supposed to be going, sir?”

“To the … capitol,” Thistleton said.

“Yes, this is the right car,” the conductor said. “Everyone here has been invited to come see the king, yes?”

“Everyone here!?!” Thistleton said, looking at Danny Devito.

“Yes, you are on the right car,” the conductor said. “Some of these individuals are a little … surprising, but …”

The chimpanzee started snoring loudly.

“Based on some of the people I have seen here today, this tournament should be very fast,” the conductor said. “Very, very quick this year, yes.”

“Excuse me sir,” Tonio said.

“Yes?” the conductor said.

“Is there another car I can take … away from …”

He looked at Danny Devito. Danny Devito noticed and held up the dog.

“Have you seen this dawg?” he said.

“I do not want to see the dog,” Tonio said.

“Aw, look at the little dawg!” Danny Devito said.

“Of course I don’t want to be rude,” Tonio said. “I’m … an alien.”

“Oh, yes,” the conductor said. “Of course.”

He looked at Danny Devito as well.

“Fortunately, sir, this train ride is going to be very quick,” he said. “So, by the time I get the authority to move you to a different car, we will have arrived. I’m sure you understand. This train is very, very fast.”

“Unfortunate,” Thistleton said.

“It’s okay,” Tonio said.

Megumi had moved to the seat farthest from Danny Devito. She held a charm and prayed. The rest of us had also taken seats as far from the “man” as we could. Only Stanwick sat near him, reading a book and apparently oblivious to the sounds and smells coming from the horrible little troll.

“I just found this dog,” Danny Devito said. “He’s my best friend.”

I used my cell phone to call ahead to the Tyrandar police to report my suspicions of Danny Devito. I also called Tyrandar Animal Control to tell them of the loose chimpanzee but I was put on hold for some time and finally hung up.

“Are ve to be killing each ozer?” Anna May said in a thick French accent.

“Killing each other?” the conductor said. “I’ll leave that for the king to tell you all. No one here is familiar with how the tournament commences, yes? No? Okay, you’re in for a rude surprise then.”

“How would we underthtand how the tournament workth?” I asked. “We’ve never been in it before, nor had anyone elthe been in it.”

“I will just have to leave everything for the king and his royal subjects,” the conductor said.

I called Animal Control again but the train arrived so I hung up. Men from outside came in and took our bags. They escorted all of us out. Danny Devito put the dog on his shoulder like a parrot. He immediately ran to a trashcan and started rummaging through the trash. Megumi took photographs of the area with her phone.

We each got into our own vehicle, Danny Devito’s driver pulling him from the trashcan. I watched as another man came over and they picked him up. He kicked and flailed, urinating all over himself, and they finally forced him into the car, locking the door behind him.

“I thought the monkey was going to be a problem,” I overheard one of them say.

It was a 10-minute drive to the castle. My people’s spies told me a little of what happened in the others cars.

* * *

Stanley Stanwick asked his driver about the king.

“Yes, yes,” the driver told him. “The king is magnificent. He’s fantastic. You’re going to love him. You’re going to want to work for him. You’re going to want to win this tournament.”

“What does he like?” Stanwick asked.

“What is he like? Oh, he’s magnificent─”

“What does he like?”

“What does he like? Oh, he likes many things. I’m not going to tell you what he likes. That would be an unfair advantage!”

Stanwick tried to persuade his driver to tell him what he wanted but the man refused.

* * *

Megumi Hevita asked her driver what every single building they passed was as she took pictures of each one. He described each and every building, giving its name.

“And the king built that one,” he said about every single one of them.

* * *

“You had insomnia last night, didn’t you?” Tonio Trussardi said to his driver.

“Yes, I did,” the driver said. “How do you know that?”

“It’s … it’s one of the perks of worshipping … Pearl Jam.”

“The band?”

“It is … it is my … my deity.”

“I guess you could’ve picked worse than Pearl Jam. Does anyone who worships Pearl Jam get this ability?”

“Oh yes! There are many back on my … home planet.”

The divider between Tonio and the driver slid up.

“I have a dish that would cure that!” Tonio called.

The divider stopped for a moment and then continued up.

* * *

JoJoHo tried to get his driver to have a drink with him.

“What do you got?” the driver said.

“Huh?” the chimpanzee said.

“What do you got?”

“What do I got?”

“Yeah. To drink.”

“What do I got to drink? What do I not have to drink? What do you like?”

“I can’t have the king knowing I drink while driving.”

“Here, have a Miller. It’s Miller time.”

He handed a Miller Lite to the driver.

“I need somebody to drink with,” JoJoHo said. “I don’t like to drink alone.”

The driver drank with him. JoJoHo put his magical crown royal bag of holding away.

* * *

In his car, Danny Devito tried to climb into the front seat of the car he was riding in. The driver closed the divider immediately.

* * *

A huge crowd was roped off to one side outside the castle. They were screaming, some of them holding signs with some of our names upon them. No one was apparently rooting for Danny Devito except one creepy little man in the back. He looked just like Danny Devito and seemed to be a stalker. The one with the most fans was JoJoHo. They were a mix of humans, aliens, and a tiny group of chimpanzees in the back. Everyone else was pretty well-represented.

“I’m Phil!” Danny Devito’s only fan yelled.

We arrived at the castle gates and that led us to the throne room. As we entered through the massive, metal doors, we came to a long inviting throne room. The marble floor held equally-spaced columns that extended to the tall ceiling which had a golden-inlaid depiction of the king. To the left and right were various ornately crafted windows showcasing different victories of the king and his armies. As we walked what felt like a mile, we came to a forty-foot high staircase that led to the throne and the king himself.

“I’ve got to do my best for Sempai!” Anna May said.

The king was a giant man of at least eight feet tall and his throne was at least twice that. It was studded in gold and jewels and surrounded by the banners of the king. His queen stood beside him. As we took our place before the king, a knight stepped forward.

“Presenting King Tyrantis von Delphonso, Born First of His Name, Leader of the Free Peoples of Tyrandar, Commander of the World’s Largest Army, Champion of the Battle of 48 Kings, and Slayer of the Pale Dragon,” he said.

He looked up to the king and bowed. I bowed from the waist and the others followed suit. JoJoHo dropped to his knees, as did Anna May and Stanwick. The king motioned again.

“Presenting King Tyrantis von Delphonso, Born First of His Name, Leader of the Free Peoples of Tyrandar, Commander of the World’s Largest Army, Champion of the Battle of 48 Kings, and Slayer of the Pale Dragon,” he said more loudly.

He looked at the king and the king looked at us. I bowed again. The others followed suit. Ivana Goodtime made the signature gesture of the king’s religion.

The knight turned to us.

“I presume all of you are here for the maid tournament, yes?” he said.

We responded in the positive.

“Whatever Lords and Ladies you have presided with before, you must now elevate yourself to be accepted by the king,” First Knight Leonis Victoria said. “So, first, how did I introduce the king? Who’s already memorized it? Write it on these pieces of paper.”

He handed out several sheets of paper for us to write out his entire name and title. I wrote: “King Tyrantis von Delphonso, Slayer of the Pale Dragon among other things. The First Knight did not say it loudly enough the first time. His repetition was distracting, the fool!”

We each wrote it down and then read what we had written to the First Knight.

“Nyan!” Nyancy said.

“Is that your … cat language?” he asked.

“Nyan!”

“K.”

He looked us over.

“If that’s the case …” he said.

He looked at the king and the king looked back at him.

“I say all of you get three points,” the First Knight said.

The knight bowed and the king stood up from his throne. He looked very impressive and towered high above us.

“Thank you all for attending the Maid Tournament!” he said in a strange, high-pitched voice. “I have inquired from around the realm and some of the people I have talked to, your names have come up multiple times! You are the ten chosen ones that will participate in this prestigious tournament! Your bags have been taken up to your rooms. And I hope to see you all at first light tomorrow for the next challenge. Please come prepared this time.”

He sat back down and the knights showed us up to our rooms. Ivana Goodtime made a religious gesture to the king.

“Deuces,” she said.

He made the signal back to her.

“Deuces,” he said.

We were all taken to our apartments and I checked the entire room for bugs, cameras, and listening devices. I found none. I went out of the room. A handler was by my door, as one was by every one of our doors.

“Where’th the linen clothet and cleaning thupplieth?” I asked.

“What is it you require?” he asked.

“The linen clothet and cleaning thupplieth!”

“Are you wanting to know the location so that you may get these things yourself?”

“Yeth. Pleathe tell me or lead me there.”

“Out of courtesy for our guests, we do not allow them to get things on their own. We assist them. So, I could take you there, if you like.”

“You will take me there then.”

“I will.”

He led me to the linen closet with the cleaning supplies. Once I outfitted myself with such supplies, I turned to him again.

“Thow me the king’th thudy tho that I might clean it,” I said.

“To clean the king’s study?” he said. “Oh, it is meticulous already.”

“I will be the judge of that!”

“Okay.”

He took me to the king’s private study and I examined it with white glove. I already had one glove with a big, black mark on it and when I ran it along the underside of the desk and lifted my finger, it came back black.

“Oh my goodness!” he said. “That is …”

“You may go,” I said. “I will go to thleep when I am finithed.”

“No, the king must hear of this, actually,” he said.

I started cleaning the room.

“The king must hear of this!” the fool said.

He left and I tried to get into the king’s personal files but found the filing cabinet locked. Unfortunately I didn’t have the ability to open it, in my haste to get to the castle. I was foiled by the lock. The handler came back and I went back to cleaning. He was with the First Knight.

“So, this was dirty, yes?” he said.

“Yeth,” I said. “I athume the person who ith cleaning ith doing an inadequate job.”

“That would be Victor Guesseppo, the butler you are replacing.”

“I was under the athumption he wath dead.”

“No.”

“Then he thould be.”

“If this is terribly kept then he might be.”

I continued cleaning and they left again.

* * *

I later learned Nyancy had gotten a cardboard box to sleep in, JoJoHo had asked about a bar, and Megumi Hevita had wanted to go to the kitchens to cook something. But the strangest thing I later learned was of the antics of Tonio Trussardi, who asked to see his handler’s hand.

“Left or right?” the handler said.

“Either one,” Tonio said.

He handed him the right hand. Tonio looked at the man’s hand.

“You had diarrhea last night,” he said.

“Uh … no sir,” the handler told him.

“Oh! My skill! My skill wanes. Please, can I see the … the cooking facilities?”

“It probably was a top five poop though.”

“Must’ve been what it was.”

“You were close.”

His handler took him to the kitchen where he found others there as well.

* * *

Danny Devito had asked to be let out of his room and so he followed his handler, sniffing at him and walking in circles around him.

“Wasn’t-wasn’t I taking you somewhere, sir?” the handler asked. “You said you wanted out of the room. I took you out of the room and now you are following me and sniffing me.”

“Yeah,” Danny Devito said.

“Can I see the letter that the king gave you?” the handler said.

Danny Devito reached into his filthy underwear and felt around, finally finding the piece of paper he’d stolen The handler was already wearing gloves and took it, holding it up to the light.

“Oh, you don’t want to hold it up that high,” Danny Devito said.

“Why?” the handler said.

Then he noticed it was dripping with urine.

“This is wet that if it was a forgery, I wouldn’t be able to tell,” the handler said.

“Oh yeah,” Danny Devito said. “It’s a little wet.”

He took the invitation and dried it off on his shirt. That got more mustard on it.

* * *

We were all assembled in the throne room once again. Danny Devito had the dog.

“Remind me to ask the king if dogs are allowed for this tournament,” one of the knights said.

The king was not there but the First Knight came out with a man in butler’s uniform.

“This, here, is the man that you all will be replacing,” the First Knight said. “He was supposed to be retired, effective tomorrow, but it seems that he has failed on his last day, all thinks to our friend Igor here, who has cleaned the study of the king.”

I bowed.

“Appropriately,” the First Knight went on. “And found that our friend here, Victor Guesseppo, has decided to slack off. There is no slacking off for the king. You must be perfect every day. And for this …”

The First Knight unsheathed his sword. Guesseppo got on his knees. The First Knight beheaded the man right in front of us. I made not a sound but both Stanwick and Anna May seemed quite surprised at the violence. Tonio and Stanwick both vomited, Tonio puking directly onto the front of my jacket. I ignored it.

“It is a tradition on my planet …” Tonio said.

“You are a liar, thir!” I said. “And a cheat, I am thure.”

“I’ve never told a lie,” he said.

I wiped the puke from my chest and flicked it into his face. Be reared back his fist and swung at me, completely missing. I took a step back and put my foot out. Tonio tripped, crashing into Nyancy. I noticed Ivana Goodtime was on the floor, cleaning up the puke.

The First Knight drew his sword again.

“Do not make me behead more than one person tonight,” he said.

I just looked at Tonio, lying on the floor.

“All of you, back to your rooms!” the First Knight said.

He grabbed the vomit-covered rag from Ivana Goodtime and threw it onto the floor.

“All of you, back to your rooms,” he said. “Back to your rooms.”

“That’s what we do to people who puke on us on my planet,” I said to Tonio as I left.

We returned to our rooms and were locked in. I showered and laundered my suit before going to bed.

In the room next door, I could hear Danny Devito and his dog barking loudly. I was still able to get to sleep without much trouble thanks to my military training.

* * *

I was woken in the morning when breakfast was brought to the door. It was a classic English breakfast.

“Courtesy of our head chef,” the man told me. “You will meet him later. I don’t want to spoil the surprise.”

I ate the breakfast. I discussed the fact that I thought Danny Devito was a fake and an assassin, though I noted that was just what I had heard. Then I shrugged.

“A cruel world it must be that Guesseppo was beheaded yet this thing lives,” the handler said.

* * *

I later learned that Ivana Goodtime fed her handler while Danny Devito shared his food with his dog. The latter’s room was already disgusting by the next day. When the handler came in, Danny Devito barked, his dog barked, and then they both shoved their faces into the food to eat it. The stench of urine and feces filled the room and the handlers left immediately, locking the door behind them.

There had been many species discovered across the world and the galaxy but none had ever disgusted anyone like Danny Devito did.

“Did you see me in my movies!” he called through the door.

* * *

After breakfast, we were called back to the throne room. There was still puke and blood residue on the floor. Ivana Goodtime took out a rag and started cleaning it but someone took the rag from her. Knights escorted the king to the throne once again. I got the feeling the king was a little bit upset but their entering the way they did was just procedure. The knights stopped at the bottom of the stairs to the throne while the king climbed to the top and sat.

He looked down at us and the First Knight came forward once again.

“The king … is displeased,” the First Knight said. “Guesseppo was a good friend of his. And you made me behead him last night.”

“What?” Nyancy said.

I looked back with dead eyes.

“We’re going to need the throne room cleaned,” the First Knight went on. “As you can see, it is not … clean.”

“Nyan!” Nyancy said, raising her hand.

The First Knight ignored her.

“But first, we must reveal the secret of this castle,” the First Knight said. “And I feel not better way to reveal what it is then … Guesseppo himself!”

Guesseppo walked out, alive and well. I was nonplussed.

The king smirked.

“This castle is magical!” he said. “None who walk within its walls shall perish as long as I am king on this throne!”

“So we can execute each other?” Anna May said.

“Nyan!” Nyancy said.

“You can, but they will resurrect,” the king said. “But don’t.”

“I’ll drink to that,” JoJoHo said.

“This castle provides a magical aura to me and all whom I will it upon,” the king said. “If you kill each other …”

He pointed to Danny Devito and we all looked at the horrible little troll.

“… he will come back in a short moment’s notice,” the king said. “That’s why we had to get you all out of the throne room. Guesseppo was almost ready to be resurrected. But you all did not see and thus, here is the surprise. So, I have a room for each of you to clean in my castle to judge how well you are at cleaning. The most basic of maid abilities is cleaning. This should be no problem for the 10 best that I have found. Or … nine plus one.”

He looked at Danny Devito again.

“Ith there a time limit, your majethty?” I asked.

“Yes,” the king said. “One hour. There are 10 rooms which my First Knight will be giving all of you. Some of these rooms cannot be cleaned in an hour. If your piece of parchment has a circled ‘H’ on it. There is no physical way your room can be cleaned in an hour.”

We were each given a piece of parchment.

“But, fear not,” the king said. “If you have a circled ‘H’ on your parchment, all is not lost. For now I will give the room to my most esteemed of mages: H’mlsnock Morvla.”

In crawled a three-foot tall slug leaving a nasty trail of slime. It had purple skin and didn’t have any eyes or nose, just a mouth. He wore wizard’s robes.

“Hey, what’s up my brother!” Danny Devito called out.

“This game is simple,” H’mlsnock Morvla said. “You all have magical abilities now.”

“Nice!” Thistleton said.

“I know him!” Danny Devito told us all.

H’mlsnock Morvla then described the things we were each able to do. We could only use one of the spells per challenge. For the tournament, at least, we would be able to switch how we did with someone else in the tournament. The magic could also have been used to switch the rooms, in this case, and the other’s person’s work would be judged as one’s own. We could also protect what we had done by magic so that no one could use the first power upon us. However, that magic could only be used once during the entire tournament. We could also magically help ourselves to do things better. There was a spell that would make someone do worse at one of the challenges. Another spell was to find out the secret, allowing us learn some information when we needed. It could only be used once for the entire tournament. Another one-time-use power would allow one to simply succeed the challenge. That would also not allow someone else to use magic to steal one’s success. The last special ability would cause someone to automatically lose the challenge. One could use that as many times as one wanted.

Then we were sent to clean our rooms. I had the library. Apparently some of the others used their magic to switch rooms with each other but I was untouched. The library was immaculate by the time I finished.

We were all called back into the throne room and told which rooms were impossible: the dungeon, the throne room, the armory, and the mess hall. The throne room was perfect, which was surprising.

The king came down to from his throne and approached Ivana Goodtime, whose job it had been to clean the throne room.

“I sat here during the whole hour,” he said. “And I don’t know how you did it? Did you use the succeed spell?”

“You know it, brother!” Ivana Goodtime said.

“Five points to you!” the king said. “I must say: five points is the maximum amount of points you can get!”

Then he went to Danny Devito.

“To you Danny,” the king said.

“Uh,” Danny Devito said.

“One point.”

“Uh.”

“You tried on an impossible room. There were some bite marks that I must speak to you about.”

“I was trying to get the grime out.”

“Megumi: Three points. JoJoHo: one point for trying on an impossible room.

JoJoHo thought he should get two points.

“The tournament has never had two points,” the king said. “I don’t like round numbers.”

“So, it’s either one, three, or five?” Anna May said.

“But three is a success,” the king said. “And you did not succeed.”

“Negative one ith altho … not a round number,” I said.

“You may have … one point,” the king said. “And then another one point.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Anna May: three points,” the king said. “Three points for the cat.”

“Nyan!” Nyancy said.

“Tonio: three points,” the king said. “Reginald: three points. Igor!”

“Yeth, Mathter?” I said.

“I don’t know about you. Guesseppo tells me the room was clean. Yet you say it was not.”

“I thaid nothing, Mathter. I thowed the proof.”

“If you had performed badly today, I would have considered you a liar and beheaded you.”

“Yeth, Mathter. Whatever Mathter pleatheth.”

“You have successfully cleaned the room … perfectly. Beyond perfect sometimes. In some places.”

“I am humbled by your praith, Mathter.”

“You get five points Igor!”

“Thank you, Mathter.”

“Stanley: one point,” the king said. “You failed but it was an impossible task. Have you all figured out how the game works?”

“Yeth, Mathter,” I said.

“Go to your rooms, change your garbs, and come right back down to the throne room,” the king said. “Immediately.”

We all left the throne room. Megumi Hevita picked up her handler and ran \. I changed into another of my identical suits.

* * *

I later learned Anna May started to change right in the throne room.

“Oh my!” the king said.

His eyes got big and he blushed.

“My eyes are cute!” Anna May said.

“While I do appreciate what you’ve shown me here today …” the king said.

“These are not for you!” Anna May said. “This is not for you! How dare you assume my culture!”

“… for my knight’s honor, would you mind going upstairs?” the king said.

Blood dripped out of the slit of one of the knights helmets from a nosebleed. Anna May walked over to try to help him out. That only made it worse.

* * *

We all returned to the throne room a short time later. Ivana Goodtime was wearing a summer maid outfit. Some of the others had different clothing. A few of us wore identical suits, of course.

“The third challenge, as you might expect, is one that is also very commonplace in the maid/butler career,” the First Knight said. “Your next challenge is this.”

Other knights rolled in a wheelbarrow filled with something. They dropped it in front of us. It was a pile of dirty clothing. The stench was terrible. Several of the others turned their heads at the smell. Even Danny Devito was sickened by the stench, though I think it was the lingering smell of bleach.

“So, what you all must do is clean the king’s garments,” the First Knight said. “This is one of the challenges with a riddle.”

He looked us over.

“Here is your riddle for what the king’s favorite scent is,” the First Knight said. “If you can clean his garments with his favorite scent, you will get a five. If you clean the clothes, you get a three. Obviously anything better than the current state they’re in will get you a one. You get a zero if you don’t turn anything in or you die or … I don’t know …”

He then told us the riddle.

“I am black when you buy me, red when you use me, and grey when you throw me away,” he said. “This is the king’s favorite scent.”

I was completely perplexed what kind of scent that could refer to. I’d not been any good with riddles since the incident wherein my master had died from riddle infarction. The blood had been everywhere.

“To find the riddle’s answer, I will give you all a minute,” he said.

He told us to write the answer on the pieces of paper he handed out. Then he sent us to wash some of the clothing. I had no idea and so just washed the clothing. Riddles were dangerous. The king obviously had not learned that yet. Something interfered with my cleaning, however. Some malevolent magic, no doubt cast by those other foul butlers and maids.

We returned to the throne room. The king started with Danny Devito, who licked the king’s hand when he reached for the clothing. The king pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his hand.

“Burn this,” he said to his steward.

The handkerchief was whisked away.

“Clean,” the king said. “But the wrong ingredient!”

Danny Devito grabbed the clothing with his mouth.

Megumi Hevita was judged the same. The king sniffed JoJoHo’s laundry. Something black came away with his hands.

“I’m sorry but I thought we were meant it to be cleaned with the ingredient,” JoJoHo said.

“Write in my book, that we must clear these rules up for the next tournament,” the king said to his steward.

He turned back to JoJoHo.

“The ingredient was correct, but you didn’t clean the clothes,” the king said.

He awarded each of them three points.

“Only because you got the ingredient right, monkey-man,” the king said.

He told us charcoal was the ingredient. Many of us were disappointed and I heard Tonio cursing under his breath.

“I love the smell of a dead fire!” the king said. “Like a battle has been fought.”

“Me too, king,” Stanwick said.

“Deuces!” Ivana Goodtime called out.

I rolled my eyes. The king was obviously mad.

I didn’t hear the points for Anna May but Nyancy got five points, Tonio got one point, and I got three points, as did Thistleton. Stanwick only got three points because he actually tried to clean the clothing in charcoal.

“Picture the clothes as you would the throne room,” he said to Ivana Goodtime. “And it would be fine.”

“I also thought you were supposed to clean it with the ingredient,” Ivana Goodtime grunted.

“Three points, Ivana,” the king said.

The king looked around.

“We have completed three of our challenges,” the king said. “The leaders are Ivana, cat-lady, …”

“Nyan,” Nyancy said.

“… and Igor,” the king finished. “All tied for first place. In second place, we have a tie between Anna May, Reginald, Megumi. All in second place. And then we have in third place, the rest of you: Danny, JoJoHo, Stanley, and Tonio. But the points are close.”

The king went through the garments and picked out the clothing Nyancy had cleaned.

“I will wear this for the party tonight,” he said.

He looked us over again.

“All of you, please,” he said. “I know you have only worn the clothes for this challenge, but I can look upon them no more. Change your clothes again. To the best thing you brought.”

All my clothes were identical so I knew it didn’t matter.

“My noble friends will be here … shortly,” the king said.

We all left for our rooms.

“How many challengeth per day ith thtandard for thith … thing?” I asked my handler.

“This is … honestly, this is very rare,” the handler told me. “The king usually would drag this out over a week and make this a festival of sorts. But it seems that he’s trying to see which is the best maid/butler sooner? Possibly because Guesseppo’s retirement has come so soon and also he beheaded him and Guesseppo doesn’t want to be beheaded again. I don’t know. Guesseppo has no place here anymore.”

I went into my room and changed. I checked the windows but found they didn’t open. When I checked the door, I found it unlocked and so left the room.

“I need thome club thoda,” I said. “For the thtain that wath left by that alien cad.”

“I’ll show you were that’s at,” he said. “It’s this way.”

He walked off and I walked the other direction.

“Sir, you misheard me,” the handler called. “This way.”

“Oh, I’m thorry,” I said, following behind him.

The next turn he took, I went in the opposite direction. I was in search of Guesseppo but was soon found someone else in the castle. I told them my handler lost me and I was very upset about it and needed to be pointed in the direction of the throne room.

“Yes sir,” the man said. “I’ll take you to the throne room.”

Candlelight illuminated the throne room. Numerous nobles and royals were in the room, wearing very expensive clothing. The king, who had been wearing his armor, had changed into the clothing Nyancy had washed: a silk, red, white, and black tunic and tights.

Danny Devito had red on his chest, as if he’d crushed a tomato there. Other butlers and maids had dressed up as well. Anna May was wearing a partially see-through nighty that barely covered her … prominent assets.

The king laughed and chatted with a couple of people right in front of the throne and then he stepped up onto the first couple of steps.

“My regal guests,” he said. “Here are the challengers.”

Everyone clapped or raised their glasses to us.

“One of the most important features of our head maid/butler is to be able to wine and dine with my friends and not make it seem like they are a servant,” the king said. “I like to treat everyone the same, whether you’re a maid, a butler, or one of my most esteemed nobles. I would like us all to come to the throne room for a glass of red and …”

Danny Devito was growling.

“… and have a good time,” the king went on. “So … today I will be testing all of you on your etiquette.”

“Nyan,” Nyancy said.

“Here is how the challenge will go,” the king went on. “First off, I must see how you interact with my guests.”

The knights started putting us into separate groups of nobles.

“Show me how to interact with my friends,” the king said. “And then, I must see which of you is the most … polite.”

I used a little magic to help my results and then I proceeded to serve the nobles while bantering them with witty remarks and cheerful and entertaining mannerisms. I remained polite but obviously failed at the task that no butler should have to endure. I failed miserably.

Five of the others succeeded and they were put in an even smaller group of nobles in order to more closely prove who was best. More points were handed out for those successes and failures. Then there was a third round.

“And now I must see which of you has the best etiquette,” the king said. “Reginald, converse with Stanley in front of my friends.”

I spread dissent among the nobles of how each of them preferred the company of animals to humans, pointing to the other contestants and claiming they told it to me.

Reginald won over Stanley, obviously.

“Then let us see how you do against Megumi,” the king said.

Megumi proved to be better than Thistleton.

“Well, it might be one of those triangle effects,” the king said. “You two then.”

He pointed to Megumi and Stanwick. This time Stanwick shined.

“It seems we have a draw!” the king said with a laugh. “Oh. Five to the three of you, then. Well played.”

Thistleton cursed.

“I hope to know you better in the future,” Thistleton said. “I wish you eat … I mean meet you better in the future.”

His mouth opened up just a little too wide for a moment.

Ivana Goodtime was still picking up and putting down nobles, guessing their weights as she did so.

“What a great night!” the king said. “It seems we have all pregamed lovely. What do you say we have a feast? Yes, of course. May I present my head chef? Some of you may have met him. Other’s maybe not. Rordon Gamsay!”

A blonde man with a chef’s jacket walked into the room.

“I have decided that this will be the finale,” the king said. “Along with another event. We’re going to combine the two. You all will be cooking meals for my esteemed guests. And here we have 10 ladies who are single. I would like for each of you to pick a lady and do her hair before the meal.”

“I pick the one with the nicest hooters!” Danny Devito mumbled.

He stared at one of the women. She looked around in terror.

I headed for the woman and managed to get there before Danny Devito did. He was angry but the woman seemed relieved, crying. Danny Devito spit at me but missed me completely, luckily, as I saw the acidic spit was obviously dangerous.

“It seems the event is heating up,” the king said.

“Yeth Mathter!” I said. “Ath long as he can’t die, though …”

“He might wish he could,” the king said.

We set to work on the girl’s hair. Ivana’s girl suddenly fell to the ground, dead.

“Ivana, what happened?” the king said.

The Russian woman had apparently accidently broken the woman’s neck.

“Ivana, I’m afraid … I don’t know if I can trust you with such … delicate … work,” the king said.

“She’ll be alive again,” the Russian woman said.

The woman came back to life, her hair a mess. She got up and saw that everyone was looking at her, some gasping, some of the meaner girls laughing. She ran out of the throne room altogether.

“It seems even if I wanted to give you another girl …” the king said.

He looked at crowd. They all backed up.

“Ivana, I must ask you to sit out of this one,” the king said. “I’m sorry.”

“Deuces!” Ivana Goodtime said, apparently not caring.

JoJoHo took out a bottle of wine and tossed it to Ivana Goodtime.

“What a devious master plan!” the king suddenly said. “Ivana, I cannot believe you pulled this off.”

The king bowed to her.

“Deuces!” Ivana said.

“Anna May, may I have your lady please?” the king said as the magic of the place took hold.

Ivana Goodtime suddenly had Anna May’s lady.

“Anna May,” the king said. “Luck shines on you today.”

Thistleton’s girl went to Anna May due to the magic active in the room. Then Thistleton got JoJoHo’s. Then Tonio’s woman was magically transferred to the chimpanzee, leaving Tonio alone. It was all very strange.

Danny Devito had done a terrible job on his own woman’s hair.

“It would have been better if she had died and left early,” Thistleton said.

“I’ll consult with her,” the king said. “Would you rather be dead?”

“She loves it!” Danny Devito grunted.

The woman shook her head.

“One point and you’re lucky to have that,” the king said.

My own hairdressing was not great but I got three points. Nyancy got three points as well. With Anna May’s girl, Ivana Goodtime got five points. Anna May got five points for Thistleton’s girl. Thistleton got five points for JoJoHo’s girl. JoJoHo had gotten switched with Tonio and got five points. JoJoHo rolled back and clapped with his feet.

“Sir Tonio … should I penalize you for the mastermind that Ivana has pulled off?” the king said.

“Yes, please, penalize him!” Anna May said.

“You’ve basically broken the rules, Ivana,” the king said.

“How did he break the ruleth, Mathter?” I asked.

“Three points Tonio,” the king said. “Three points.”

“Thank God!” Tonio said.

“And now I must go sit down with my guests,” the king said. “I hope you all prepare a very nice meal for me and my friends. I leave you with my trusted chef: Rordon Gamsay.

“You sacks of shit!” Rordon Gamsay said. “You better make the best ****ing thing you’ve ever made.”

“Nyan nyan nyan!” Nyancy said.

“I vill do my best!” Anna May said.

The challenge started with another riddle.

“So, all points are doubled!” Rordon Gamsay said.

He told us we could get up to 10 points if we got both riddles correct and cooked a meal fit for the king. The riddles were something the king wanted in the meal. One was food. One was not.

The first riddle was not a food and went: “Brothers, all pair up, bodies firm and tall. You only care to eat the solid food and don’t care to eat the soup.” The second riddle was a food and the king wanted it with the meal: “You throw away the outside and cook the inside. Then you eat the outside and you throw away the inside.”

Anna May’s dish was corn chowder. She had chopsticks on the plate, the answer to the first riddle, and corn, the answer to the second riddle. Rordon Gamsay and the king both tried it and awarded her 10 points. Tonio’s dish had chopsticks and corn. He made a traditional Italian meal that included chopsticks and corn. It was excellent. He got 10 points. JoJoHo was next. His meal consisted of lobster ala king. It was beautifully cooked and he was awarded five points. Nyancy’s food was cooked beautifully and was a soft-boiled egg with a fork. There was no corn, however. She was awarded five points as she didn’t have the correct type of food or the chopsticks. Megumi Hevita made corn fritters. Reginald had corn on the cob with lobster bisque. He was awarded 10 points as he had the chopsticks as well. Stanwick had stir fry with baby corn and was awarded 10 points. Danny Devito made corn nuggets but didn’t have the chopsticks and was awarded seven points. Ivana Goodtime made baked apple slices with caramel and chopsticks. It was very good and she was awarded seven points.

My own meal was a complete turkey meal with mashed potatoes, gravy, corn on the cob, stuffing, green bean casserole, and the rest. I was awarded seven points for mine.

The winners were declared after the meal.

“I have tallied the points up,” the king said. “And it couldn’t have been this simple. We have a tie.”

“Nyan!” Nyancy said.

“Between two of you,” the king went on. “Reginald! And Megumi!”

“Fight to the death!” Danny Devito said.

As I slipped out of the throne room, Danny Devito suggested the king might have both a butler and a maid.

“Perhaps I should ask the two of them,” the king said. “Reginald, could you serve alongside Megumi?”

“I believe it to be possible,” Reginald said.

“Megumi?” the king said.

She nodded.

“Then they have it!” the king said. “For the first time in the realm, there shall be a head butler and a head maid!”

Everyone cheered.

“Deuces!” Ivana Goodtime said.

I later learned that Stanwick took second place. In third place was Anna May. In fourth place was Ivana Goodtime. Three people tied for fifth place: myself, Tonio, and Nyancy. JoJoHo came next. Bringing up the rear was Danny Devito.

JoJoHo stayed on as the king’s court jester. Ivana Goodtime got a job as a maid under the others.

Tonio returned to his home planet of Italy.

* * *

I crept into the king’s chambers and forced open his filing cabinet, stealing secret files my own people needed. I slipped several less important documents into Danny Devito’s room to implicate him, and then I fled the capitol. Danny Devito was apprehended and arrested for the theft. I got away scot-free. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1986-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Maid-Tournament
Pathfinder - The Sunless Citadel 4 - Goblin Talks and Dragon Priest http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1985-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-4-Goblin-Talks-and-Dragon-Priest Fri, 17 Nov 2017 17:55:37 GMT Wednesday, November 15, 2017 (After Jacob Marcus ran his *Pathfinder* game “The Sunless Citadel” with Justin Moser, Victoria Larson, Katelyn... Wednesday, November 15, 2017

(After Jacob Marcus ran his Pathfinder game “The Sunless Citadel” with Justin Moser, Victoria Larson, Katelyn Hogan, and me Monday, October 30 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.)

Iago’s Memoirs

Our 8th day in the village of Oakhurst, I checked in on Gurgle’s room and found the goblin had curled up in one of the dresser drawers to sleep. When I went down to meet the others, Hercule and Dolf were down in the taproom. Dem ran up the stairs as we came down. Catarina was also there, buying the two dwarves ale. She was telling Hercule of her system for his being mute: slap the bar once for more ale and twice for no more ale.

“Greetings Catarina,” I said.

“Come, my friends!” she said. “We found Dolf. We found Hercule. We’re drinking much ale.”

There were several mugs on the bar in front of her. I ordered breakfast wine and food for Gurgle and I, and we sat down at our usual booth. I told Catarina that if we could find a way to get Dolf’s tongue back, we would bring it back and give it to the dwarf. She looked confused.

“For his tongue!” I said. “He’s missing a tongue.”

“No no,” Catarina said. “But we can get the tongue and bring it to him, but how to do we put it back?”

“Magic!” I said. “If we find something magical down there, we’ll use it to bring his tongue back.”

“If we do find his tongue, we will not want to retrieve it,” she said.

“I don’t think Dolf would be good with you keeping his tongue,” Brook said.

Argie and I discussed the possibility of using someone else’s tongue for Dolf, perhaps with a mending spell. Brook noted she’d rather have her own tongue back.

“Why are we having this conversation?” I asked.

“Because I have questions!” Catarina said.

I didn’t think a mending spell would work though I noted it would make an interesting experiment.

I also told Catarina we had a map of the Sunless Citadel that Gurgle had given it to us. I showed her the map and she pored over it a little, asking what the scribbles on it were. I noted they were the map key, which showed what various symbols were and which direction was north and a scale.

“North’s the cold one,” she said.

“Very good,” I said.

Catarina talked about wanting to punch things that would punch back. I suggested Brook could go on a reconnaissance mission into Goblin Town, noting I could turn her invisible if she wished. I had noticed she was very quiet. Catarina did not like the idea as they would not see her when she punched them and being seen was very important.

“Yes, I wasn’t going to cast it on you, dear,” I said.

I realized the spell wouldn’t last very long, however, certainly not long enough for Brook to explore far.

“It was just a thought,” I said.

We looked at the map and Brook noted there was a way into Goblin Town via the kobold throne room.

“Ah, there’s a back door!” I said.

We discussed taking the back door to Goblin Town with the hopes of rescuing the kobold’s dragon that way.

After we ate and discussed everything we sent Brook, to see if Argie’s armor was ready. We had only commissioned it the night before and when Brook asked the dwarf about it, he told Argie to come with him. Argie went. When she returned, she wore a suit of fortress plate, with plates over her tail as well.

Catarina elbowed Brook.

“What’s that?” she said, pointing at Gurgle.

“That’s our goblin friend we made down in the pits,” Brook said.

“Y’all are friends?” Catarina said.

“Yeah,” Argie said. “We got another one too. He’s my favorite. We’re going to meet him again.”

“Oh yeah, she’s got a kobold,” Brook said.

“Yeah.”

“Little runt kobold.”

“He’s adorable.”

“Y’all are friends?” Catarina asked again.

“Yeah,” Brook said.

“Shit happens down in the deep,” Argie said.

I took Gurgle to the general store and outfitted him with short sword, short bow, arrows, leather armor and a leather helmet, clothing, basic equipment, and some smoked glass goggles to protect his eyes from the sun, which he was more susceptible to then we were. I told him he could go with us or go anywhere he wanted. Gurgle stood very proudly with more composure than he had before. He looked down as he struggled to affix his sword but eventually got it to hang as he wanted. He put his hands on his hips proudly.

“Gurgle will go with you now,” he said.

“Good,” I said.

We headed for the ravine. En route, we told Catarina of some of the other things we found, including the room with the elf sarcophagi. That prompted a discussion on looting of the dead with Argie firmly on the side of respecting the dead and Catarina of the opinion that people who don’t use items should be relieved of them. Catarina asked about things that attacked or walked and Argie was fine with looting those.

Gurgle kept looking directly at the sun with his goggles. I told him not to do that, warning him he’d go blind.

We arrived at the ravine a few hours later. There was the smell of smoke in the air like hot metal.

“Uh-oh,” I said. “I guess we’d better go tell the villagers the goblins are pissed off and it’s all the mayor’s fault.”

“Basically,” Brook said.

“Yes,” Argie said.

“They’re mad about the rope,” I said.

“Smells like a good fight,” Catarina said.

We discussed scouting out the area invisibly first. We threw down the chain, making a good deal of noise. Then we waited a few moments to see if any goblin skirmishers showed up. None did. When nothing happened for about five minutes, we discussed a little more. We talked of Brook going down to scout around or Argie, who had darkvision. In the end, we decided to just enter the ravine as a group.

We climbed down to the top of the strange butte and then headed down in the darkness of the ravine. I put the enchanted candle into my belt pouch again, the lit end sticking out to give us light. Brook had her enchanted lantern. Catarina led the way down with Argie and Brook following her. Gurgle and I brought up the rear.

We went down to the very bottom of the stairs and could hear, off in the distance, the sound of war drums. It was the same drums that escorted us in our flight the day before. I pointed out if we didn’t want to fight, we could just pull up the chain and they’d be trapped there.

“But what if they go after the kobolds?” Argie asked.

“Oh, that’s right,” I said. “All right.”

“We gotta help the kobolds,” Brook said.

“We gotta help the kobolds,” I said. “Let’s go.”

Catarina pointed towards the first tower we’d entered, where the sounds of drums came from.

“I assume I’m supposed to punch that,” she said.

“Eventually,” I said. “Let’s go talk to the kobolds before we attack the goblins.”

We tried to remember how many goblins there were. We thought there were 30 goblins and we’d killed five and a hobgoblin and taken Gurgle. The goblin had pushed his goggles up onto the forehead of his helmet.

We went by the trap and through the broken tower, heading down the corridor beyond and looking into the two side rooms as we moved through. The room we’d found Meepo had the bench \ overturned and smashed. Argie got anxious when she saw it.

“I don’t understand why a bench is important,” Catarina said.

“It was Meepo’s bench,” I said.

“It’s not the bench, it’s the person,” Argie said.

“If you knew Meepo …” I said.

“Who’s Meepo?” Catarina said.

“He’s her son!” I said.

“My son!” Argie said.

“You’ll meet him soon enough,” I said.

We opened the door to the hallway that led to Koboldville. We came face to face with a spiked barricade and some very angry kobolds.

“Greetings, kobolds!” I said in draconic. “It is us.”

“What did you do!?!” one of them screeched in draconic.

“What did it say?” Catarina said. “Is it dying? I didn’t do it. But is it dying?”

“No, not yet,” I said to her.

Then I turned back to the kobolds.

“We rescued one of the villagers from the town on our way through to get the dragon,” I said in draconic.

“The elder wants to see you!” the kobold said.

“Don’t you raise your voice to me,” I said.

The kobolds opened up the barricade for us, glaring at Gurgle as we moved through.

“Meepo!” Argie called.

Meepo came running, leaping into the air to land in the wyvaran’s embrace.

“Y’all keep picking up tiny sidekicks,” Catarina said.

“Well …” Argie said. “It wasn’t intentional but it’s welcome.”

“It’s all that was here,” I said. “Next time we’ll try to get bigger ones for you.”

They led us to the throne room where we noticed signs of combat. I guessed the goblins had come through the back door. More barricades were set up there as well. It looked like they had sealed the door shut as best we could. The female kobold elder glared at us.

“Hello!” I said happily to her.

“Please tell me you’re with them,” the kobold elder said in common to Catarina.

Then she turned to me.

“I don’t know what you did,” she said to me. “But the war drums started to beat─”

“We rescued the dwarf from the village who was captured by the goblins,” I said.

“That must have been yesterday,” the elder said.

“Yes,” I said. “On our way to find your dragon.”

“Just past lunchtime yesterday, war drums began to beat and they have not stopped beating since,” she said.

“Then we shall go stop them beating,” I said.

“And they have begun to attack us on an almost hourly basis,” she said.

“Oh good!” Catarina said. “It’ll schedule when I get to crush things.”

Yusdrayl looked at Catarina.

“You are most welcome to punch as much as you want,” the elder said.

“Yes!” Catarina said.

“We also got this from the goblins,” I said, showing her the map. “I don’t know if you have any maps of this place or not, but …”

The elder hopped off of her chair and scurried over to me as I lifted up the map and looked at it carefully.

“She’s already pissed off at us, Iago,” Brook said. “Please give her the map.”

“I just want to see it,” she said. “Can I just see it?”

I handed her the map and she looked at it for quite some time. She handed it back to me.

“If you can find another one, I want it,” she said. “Or, if you’ll permit us to make copies, can we do that?”

I nodded and handed her the map. She handed it to another kobold who ran to a table with ink and a very large, crude skin for drawing on. He made a crude but functional replica of the map. In that time, I apologized for the inconvenience of the attacks and for not alerting her, but did point out we sent three of her kobolds, who had been prisoners, ahead. I told her we thought they would alert the entire tribe.

“Yes, they did warn us,” she said. “They did warn us and we had quite enough time. Not enough time to barricade the back door, but enough to adequately repel them.”

“Did you know about the back door?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Why was it not already barricaded?”

“It was. With a trap that we put there.”

“The pit trap. The goblins knew about it. It’s on the map.”

“Obviously.”

“We have found something else. There’s a room with a fountain that might spew death. We don’t know for sure.”

I told her about the two fountains, one which spewed blood. I mentioned we hadn’t tested the other for fear of what it might do. Catarina asked what the blood did and I told her it was just blood. She wanted to know what might have happened if we’d dipped something into the blood and we pointed out we didn’t try. It was just glowing blood. I told her it seemed more decorative than anything else and magic had revealed it was a simple spell. She was not impressed by that. When the elder asked about the death fountain, I noted it might be a massive trap or do nothing at all. I showed her where it was on the map.

“It is a shame that we haven’t been able to explore this place even as much as you strangers have,” she said.

“Oh, you will be soon,” I said.

“Is that so?” she said.

“If we get rid of the goblins.”

“Do you have plans to do that?”

“Yes, that’s why we came back. We’re going to get your dragon. We said we were going to.”

“Oh. I would have thought you’d gone back on that.”

“No,” Argie said.

“Why would even come back here if we weren’t going to help you?” I asked.

Catarina asked if the kobolds had hurt Dolf and we pointed out to her it had been the goblins.

“They all must die!” she said in response to that.

We questioned Gurgle about where many of the goblins lived. We already knew where the dragon was being kept. Then I asked the elder what she wanted first: the destruction of the goblins or the rescue of her dragon. Argie was of the opinion that we should save the dragon first. The elder, Yusdrayl felt the same way, wanting her dragon back first.

“There’s a dragon in here?” Catarina said.

“There’s a little, baby black dragon, yes,” I said.

“Probably bigger than any of us,” Argie said.

“The kobolds are …” I said. “Yeah. ‘Little’ is a relative term.”

Argie laughed at that.

“How big?” Catarina asked.

“Ten foot long,” I said. “They kept it in a cage that was much too small.”

“You cannot be any more clear of that, can you?” Argie said.

I merely frowned.

“The kobolds did or the goblins did?” Catarina asked.

“The kobolds did,” I said. “They were taking care of it. The goblins stole it. We’re trying to get it back from the goblins for the kobolds.”

“There’s a 10-foot-long baby black dragon,” Catarina said with a smile. “That sounds adorable!”

“I agree,” Argie said. “Let’s go save him!”

We discussed an assault on Goblin Town. Catarina was very excited as she got to find the adorable dragon and hurt those who had hurt Hercule’s son. We discussed if they might have moved or drugged the dragon. I asked if the elder was willing to use some of the kobolds to help us. Argie gave me a look and the elder rolled her eyes.

“Let me tell you what my idea is,” I said. “If your kobolds can create a distraction at the other end, down here, make it look like a major party is coming to attack from your people, like you’re trying to flank, then the five of us will go through the back door here, avoid the trap, try to get to where we think the dragon is being held, in the trophy room, at least that’s what Gurgle’s told us. Your kobolds don’t have to even endanger themselves, just make a lot of noise. Like a bunch of them are coming. Talk kobold talk, you know, draconic.”

“If they need to make a lot of noise, I find getting very drunk helps,” Catarina said.

Yusdrayl just rolled her eyes.

“Just ignore her,” I said to the elder in draconic. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

“I will send two kobolds with pots and pans,” she said.

“That’s a great idea. I would send three.”

“Why?”

“Because sometimes there are situation where one person, in groups of three … there are situations where two people could survive if something happens to one person. Whereas with groups of two, sometimes there are situations where one person can’t survive.”

“I would like to discuss strategy with you one day.”

“It’s just an idea.”

“But it is a good idea.”

I told her to send them up there and make a lot of noise. At the same time, we’d open the barricaded door and send Catarina in first. Yusdrayl called three strapping kobolds and had them fetch the pots and pans and then run off. She told us that we’d know immediately when they made their noise.

I took my companions aside and asked if we should tell the elder about the room with the sarcophagi. Argie was fine with it and so I told Yusdrayl about the room with the sarcophagi and the trap within. I also noticed the room butted up against another nearby room, which Yusdrayl told us was the kobold kitchen and living quarters. I pointed out a hole could be broken into that sarcophagi room from there.

Brook asked for the key and Yusdrayl told us it was our reward for returning the dragon.

As the other kobolds had already left, we readied ourselves by the back door. After what felt like a long time, even over the sound of the war drums, came a cacophony of noise. It sounded as if all the drunken chefs of the world had come to haunt this locale. From the other side of the door we were about to go through came a roar of goblin voices. Then it became quieter.

“Go Catarina, open the door!” I said.

She considered the door and I knew what she was thinking.

“Just open it,” I said. “It’s a kobold door and we might need to close it behind us. Open the ****ing door!”

She kicked the door to pieces, the idiot.

“Brook, you go open the next door,” I said.

Catarina stepped into the hallway.

“Hello targets!” she said.

“Oh great,” I muttered. “So much for surprise. Watch out for the pit trap!”

The pit trap was open but it wasn’t very wide so we could easily jump over it to the closed door on the other side. Gurgle followed us. Argie had Meepo on her back.

“Brook!” I said. “Go get that door.”

“You said there’d be things to punch here!” Catarina said.

“We’re working on it!” I said.

I turned to Argie.

“Don’t forget to check the dragon,” I said for her. “When we get to it, check it.”

I had told her before to see if it was evil. I hoped it wasn’t … but we had to know.

Beyond the second door was a hallway leading perhaps 20 feet before turning to the left. We sprinted down and could hear the sounds of goblins getting closer. We came to another door about 20 feet further down the corridor.

The stench of garbage, rotten carrion, and half-eaten legs of strange animals spoke of years of use by unsanitary tenants. Tattered hides from six unstable hammocks surround a much-used fire pit, battered cooking equipment lying mixed indiscriminately with the broken and worn arms and armor on the floor. A door stood on the right. Four goblins looked at us in various stages of arming themselves.

“Catarina!” I said. “Kill!”

Then I thought a moment.

“Oh!” I said, changing to the goblin tongue. “Goblins! Surrender or be destroyed!” I switched back to the common tongue. “Now kill them.”

The goblins yelled out at us, drawing or grabbing weapons.

Argie flicked a little burst of fire at one of the goblins, burning it. The creature staggered to his knees and looked at her with a combination of terror and anger. Gurgle, much to my surprise, leapt forward and brought his short sword down on the injured goblin, killing it. Catarina stepped forward, close to the unarmored one and the partially-armored one and swung away. She missed and looked at her fist, confused.

The naked goblin faced off with the woman, throwing a clawed punch at her but striking her armor instead. He looked even more angry.

I got out my crossbow and loaded it.

“Just a minute,” I said. “Hold on. Just a minute. Just a minute.”

Brook rushed the naked goblin and cut it down with her scimitar. Argie drew her own scimitar swung at another goblin, missing completely. Catarina struck another of the goblins, backhanding it in the face. There was an audible crunch as the goblin’s face collapsed under the blow. It gurgled and then crumpled to the floor, dead. Then she punched the last one in the face as well, knocking it back against the wall where it died.

Brook moved to the other door and listened at it. She told us she didn’t hear anything and I bid her to open it.

Several torches mounted on crude wall sconces burned fitfully in the chamber, filling the air with a haze that blurred sight. A double role of marble columns carved with entwining dragons marched the full length of the hall. There were numerous doors in the north wall and one on either end of the hallway. I pointed out the third door on the north wall to get to the trophy room. We made our way to it quickly and quietly.

I distracted Catalina while Brook listened at the door, which proved to be locked. She told us she heard movement of something large. I told Argie to have Meepo ready.

“Let me try something,” I said. “Let me cast a knock spell and see if we can open it quietly.”

Argie passed Meepo the magical dragon statuette.

“Meepo help,” Meepo said. “Meepo help. Meepo help now.”

I cast the knock spell and we heard the tumbles click in the door. I moved forward.

“Go!” I said.

Argie opened the door and we saw the backside of a small dragon. It was more than 10 feet long, had black scales, a long, serpentine tail, and a large, plump body. It was swimming through the pile of gold.

“Meepo, is that your pet?” Argie said.

Meepo flew from her back, through the air, landing in front of her, and then sprinted to the dragon.

“Gleep!” he cried out. “Gleep! I found you, Gleep!”

He proceeded to jump onto the black dragon’s back and hug its neck.

“Can we bring him back to kobold town?” Argie said.

The dragon looked around with glazed eyes and a perpetual look of stupidity on its face. Catarina ran forward to hug the dragon as well. The dragon looked at Meepo.

“Gleep,” it said.

Brook started grabbing gold and shoving it into her backpack. Argie called out we needed to go. Meepo held the magical dragon charm over his head and pointed to the door. Gleep waddled that way, its tail flapping wildly behind it. Its tiny, stunted wings fluttered as it moved. I called for Catalina to grab gold but she ignored me, clutching the dragon’s neck. I quickly cast a detect magic spell but there was none on the horde of treasure.

“That’s why they were selling the things in the beginning,” Argie guessed.

“Catalina, get those meaty hands to work!” Brook said.

“But he’s so cute!” Catalina said.

“Gold is cute!” Brook said.

I asked Argie to check the dragon for evil though I doubted it was. She cast the spell but then shook her head. The dragon wasn’t evil. It probably wasn’t even smart enough to be evil.

Meepo had the dragon head back through the hall while Gurgle and I brought up the rear, Brook near us. We went back through the hall of pillars, then through the guard room, and back into the corridor to kobold town. I closed doors behind us. I stopped in the guard room and sent Gurgle on ahead. I took out and blew the magic whistle in that room. Two of the goblin corpses twitched and then stood up, almost against their will. They looked at me, groaned, and waddled over to me to stand next to me.

“I want you to guard this room,” I said to them. “If any goblins come in here, I want you to kill them. Do you understand?”

They just groaned. I turned to walk away and they followed me.

“Stay here,” I said.

Then I said it in the goblin tongue.

“Wait over by that door,” I said in their own language. “If any other goblins come in, kill them.”

They grunted. I walked away and they stayed put.

“Kill goblins,” I said again.

Then I fled the room, closing the door behind me. I caught up with the others as the dragon got to the pit trap. It shook Catarina off, and then flopped into the air, flapping it’s tiny wings, and crashing to the floor just the other side of the pit trap. We all climbed over the trap and fled into the kobold territory.

Meepo dismounted as Gleep danced around the pillars in the throne room. Several of the kobolds bowed to it.

“This is their future leader,” Argie said.

“This is why they aren’t evil,” I said.

I found Yusdrayl. She was on her throne, happily watching her dragon. I told her what happened and of our destruction of the nearest door. She nodded and tasked her kobolds to attend to it. I also told her about the goblin zombies in the guardroom that were set to kill any goblins that came through. She nodded.

“So, key?” Brook asked her.

I asked Yusdrayl what kind of breath weapon the idiot dragon had. Gleep, as if understanding, scrunched up his face and sneezed. A tiny bit of flame came out of his nose.

Yusdrayl went over and petted the dragon, who nuzzled her. She went back to the throne.

“Key!” Brook said.

“Brook, shut up,” I said.

Yusdrayl brought us the key from the dragon statue and handed it to me. I pocketed it. The drums had stopped beating a few minutes after our raid.

We discussed what to do next, talking about attacking the goblins or sending them a message to leave. I pointed out we had the death fountain and the key to the area at the bottom of the map now as well. I suggested we could also just order the goblins out.

When I learned the kobolds from the distraction were back, I suggested we head to Goblin Town to talk to the goblins, noting the chain was still down and, if angry enough, the goblins might have gone to the village. I also got permission from Yusdrayl to return to Koboldville whenever they wanted. I told her I wanted, at some point, to talk to her about trade with the humans.

“They might be willing to trade you for supplies to help you fix this place,” I said.

“That is a brilliant idea,” she said.

“I know,” I said.

We left and headed back to the room where we’d first met Meepo where I asked Brook to look for recent tracks of goblins. She didn’t find any so we headed back towards the entry. When we reached the round room, we encountered three very angry goblins heading out the other door.

“Stop goblins!” I called to them in goblin. “Or you’ll be made into zombies for our pleasure!”

I looked at my companions.

“Try to take one of them prisoner!” I said.

I saw Catarina frown.

“If at all possible,” I said.

The goblins drew their weapons.

“Hold goblins!” I called. “We need to speak to your chief.”

Brook cast an entangle spell, catching all three goblins in growing bubbles of moss climbing up their legs and grasping them all.

“It’s magic!” one of them screamed. “No!”

“Was that actual words or just a noise?” Catarina said. “I can’t tell.”

“Yes!” I called to the goblins. “Throw down your weapons. My comrade does not know how long she can control her murder plants!”

The goblins dropped their weapons, which were grabbed by the moss.

“Are they all going to be our prisoners?” Brook asked. “Or do you just want one?”

“Yeah, they’re all going to be our prisoners!” I said. “We’re not going to kill them!”

She sighed.

“What do you want, spell-chucker?” one of the goblins called.

“You must take a message to your chief,” I said. “If you survive the plants. The goblins must leave this place. Now. Within the hour. Gather your women and children and … meager-est of possessions.”

“We tell chief, but Chief Durnn no leave.”

“Chief Durnn─”

“Chief Durnn strong!”

“─is weak! He is a tiny child. He is no more than the smallest minuscule … the tiniest atom … the most insignificant speck!”

“Me not know those words.”

“Because you’re stupid. We have many spellcasters and we are allies of the kobolds.”

“We tell Chief Durnn. You let go.”

“Any aggressive action on your part and I’ll set loose that on you.”

I gestured towards Catarina.

“You can drop the spell,” I told Brook.

When the moss let them go, they crossed the room towards us without retrieving their weapons. They looked at me hatefully, carefully moving towards us and the doorway.

“I would suggest you crawl on all fours,” I said.

One of them actually complied with it but the rest bowed their heads as they passed by us. Catarina wanted to punch one but I told her we couldn’t as we were at a truce at the moment.

“Goblins,” I said to them as they passed. “Have your chief send a message to the kobolds. One messenger, unarmed, with his reply. This could go very poorly for your tribe. We don’t want to kill you all … well, she does.”

“Quite badly,” Catarina said.

“But we will if we have to,” I said.

They didn’t reply but ran away.

Gurgle looked up at me with absolute admiration. I complimented Brook on the spell, asking her to make sure she never caught us in it.

We headed back to Koboldville. I told Yusdrayl what happened and that I was going to try to negotiate with the goblins to leave.

“You know they won’t answer peacefully,” she said.

“Well, then we’ll destroy them all,” I said. “But we’ve given them the option of answering peacefully.”

Gleep and Catarina danced around the room.

“Here here!” she screamed.

Yusdrayl and I discussed the kobold defenses and then we waited for a reply from the goblins.

During that time I told Catarina about the advisor to the goblin chief, someone called Belak who we thought was a spellcaster. Gleep had noticed Argie, who had lowered her hood, and looked over the wyvaran. When she petted the creature, he licked her hand. Then he coughed a tiny breath of flame.

“Adorable,” she said in draconic.

The dragon looked very happy at that.

It was three quarters of an hour before there was some ruckus at the main entrance to Koboldville. Several kobolds escorted a goblin in a loincloth into the throne room. Unarmed, it was pathetic-looking. The goblin looked around and then looked at Yusdrayl.

“Chief Durnn no leave,” the goblin said. “Chief Durnn fight. Chief Durnn tell you leave!”

I surreptitiously cast a charm person spell upon the goblin followed by a detect magic to see if it had taken affect. The goblin looked at me.

“Your job must be terrible!” I said. “How can your chief send you, alone, not even with pants! He’s a jerk, that’s what I think. That’s just my opinion.”

“Chief Durnn send me ‘cause Chief Durnn love his son,” the goblin said.

“Your Chief Durnn’s son?”

“Chief Durnn’s favorite son!”

“He doesn’t have any other sons?”

“Chief Durnn have daughters and son.”

“You’re the only son?”

“Yes!”

“Shouldn’t you be chief?”

“Me be chief when Durnn die.”

“That could be arranged.”

“What you mean?”

“Do you want to stay in this place? It’s dirty, nasty, and infested with kobolds! Wouldn’t you rather have someplace nicer like, I don’t know, a whole mountain or something?”

The goblin looked confused.

“Wouldn’t you rather have someplace without kobolds?” I said.

“Kobolds only temporary,” he said uncertainly.

“Well, probably not. Wait, you’re the son of the chief so you know Belak.”

“Belak only meet with chief.”

“But I thought you were important to your chief, to your father. But he won’t even let you in on important things.”

“Belak have very special rules.”

“What’s the deal with these apples?”

“Belak give apples. Apples make goblins rich.”

“Where are the apples from? What do you spend your money on?”

He looked puzzled.

“Spend?” he said.

“So you just keep the …” I said. “What do you do with the coins? The rich?”

“Shinies.”

“Yeah.”

“Shinies make strong.”

“How? Can you eat it? You throw it at your enemies? How have the shinies helped the goblin tribe? I think your chief is misinformed. You don’t use the coins for trade. They’re useless.”

“Do they melt it?” Argie whispered into my ear. “Armor?”

“Trade?” the goblin said.

“When you give something that you─” I started to say.

“Oh!” the goblin said. “Like when we give forge master food and he give us weapon.”

“Yeah, kind of like that. That’s barter but it’s kind of the same thing. So why …”

“Shinies for trade? Who wants shiny?”

“I … ugh … I don’t have time to explain the intricacies of the monetary unit. You know how you trade things and you’re not sure, you’re like ‘I’ll give you food if you work for me’ like you said? The forge master, right? So, how do you know you’re getting the right amount of work for that amount of food? When you use coins, you’ll say ‘I’ll give you this coin to work for me for a certain amount of time’ or ‘I will trade you this coin for an item that you have.’”

I gave a short discourse on the basics of how economics and the use of money worked better than barter. I got sidetracked in talking about the communal system and the implied contract between government and the people, whether they were a democratic society or ruled by the monarchy, but that’s neither here nor there.

The goblin finally came over and extended his hand to me to shake it. I shook his hand.

“You teach Grenl more,” he said.

“You’re Grenl,” I said.

I nodded and whispered to Argie to see if Grenl was evil. She cast the spell and said he was not.

“Yeah, I’ll teach you,” I said. “But you can’t stay here.”

“Then where will goblin go?” Grenl said.

“I don’t know. We’ll find some place for you to go and then some night, you can go there. Because up there - have you seen the sun? You wouldn’t like it.”

“Oh! Blinding light.”

“Bingo. But at night you don’t have to worry about it. But, the kobolds have prior claim to this place and all the dragons on the wall kind of say that is so. Because they’re draconic and this is a draconic place.”

“They dragon people?”

“Yes,” Argie said.

“Yes,” I said. “See, look at them.”

“Look more like lizard,” Grenl said.

“Potato potato,” I said, pronouncing the two differently.

“Tomato tomato,” Brook said, likewise using two different pronunciations.

“Lizard make good food,” Grenl said.

Argie bristled.

“We don’t want to have to hurt your people but obviously the goblins and the kobolds cannot both live here,” I said. “If we find you someplace to live, will you go there?”

“Will it be better place?” Grenl said.

“Probably.”

“Are there other place?”

“This place is a mess. The kobolds want to renovate it.”

“This nice place.”

“No, this is not a nice place. There are many nicer places.”

He looked at me in awe, his mind obviously opening to thoughts he’d never had before.

“So, your dad loves you, right?” I said. “He’s not going to hurt you?”

Grenl thought on it a while.

“Not sure?” I said.

“He trust,” Grenl said.

“Do you trust him?”

Again he thought on it a while.

“If you take these ideas back to him, is he going to think about them or is just going to start slapping you and not be able to stop?” I asked.

“That one,” Grenl said.

“That’s what I thought. See, you goblins need a more enlightened leader. Your father should retire. We could find him a nice─”

“What retire?”

“Oh. He just goes and he sleeps all day and … uh … enjoys women. Female goblins. And … uh … doesn’t have to work anymore.”

“Goblin only do that when dead.”

“See, that needs fixed too.”

“We can arrange that,” Argie whispered in my ear.

“Look, if we find you a better place to live …” I said. “Look do the goblins follow you too? Do they respect you and trust you? Can you get some of them on your side?”

“Me Durnn’s son!” Grenl said. “Course they do!”

“Do most of them?”

“Some.”

“All right, well … talk to the goblins that are your allies. Don’t tell your father yet. Tell them you might have a nicer place to live. And we’ll see if we can find some place for you.”

I turned to Brook.

“You’re a ranger, right?” I said. “You can find nice goblin-y places? Dark woods or caves in mountains or something like that.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“We can probably even ask,” Argie said.

“We can ask in the village,” I said.

I turned back to Grenl.

“The villagers have already been trading with you,” I said. “I’m sure they’ll continue the trade. Even if it’s not apples, there are things goblins can mine. You know how to mine, don’t you? Dig up shinies out of the ground?”

“Yes!” Grenl said.

“Those shinies can be worth a lot of the coins and then you take the coins and you can buy nice armor and weapons, you can buy chairs, and …”

“Benches,” Brook said.

“Yes,” I said.

I explained the concept of trade and the use of coins.

“Grenl want know more,” Grenl said. “Grenl not have time now. Grenl must go talk to friends.”

“Go talk to your friends,” I said. “Your friends who agree with you Grenl, and you too, find a certain color to wear. So if things get really bad, we can identify you and your friends and, if fighting breaks out, we don’t want to kill enlightened goblins.”

“Green is best! We wear green!”

“Green. None of the other goblins wear green, right? The other goblins don’t wear green?”

“Durnn likes red.”

“Good.”

“Red’s a good color,” Catarina said. “The blood blends in well.”

“Gather your friends and we’ll try to find a place for you and we’ll see what happens next,” I said.

“I just had a thought,” Argie said.

“So, go in peace,” I said. “Come here again to discuss this.”

Yusdrayl looked amazed. Grenl left.

I asked what Yusdrayl wanted from us, noting we could stay to help defend Koboldville or we could go look for a place for the goblins to live.

“We abandoned our old home,” she said to me. “To come and claim the citadel.”

“Is it nicer than this?” I asked. “Is it … ‘nicer?’ You think the goblins might consider it nice?”

“When we’re done it’s going to be much better.”

“But right now, with everything broken, is your home - was it in caves?”

“Yes.”

“Are they nice caves? Are they warm? Are they cozy? Are there mines down there where goblins could mine?”

“Some mines. Mostly for fairly common gemstones, but gemstones nonetheless.”

“How far? Where is it?”

I learned the kobolds had come under the land but through the crevice. Only rats were there when they left and it was probably a good place for the goblins.

“Can they have it?” I asked.

“This is our ancestral home,” she said. “That’s not. They can have it.”

I asked how far away it was and if there were any human towns nearby they could trade with. She noted it was 50 miles to the north and there were several towns nearby. It was very cold in the winter and not very warm in the summer but I noted that neither was the Sunless Citadel. She said they could have it. I said we could make the offer to Grenl next time he showed up.

Our work done with the goblins for the moment, I suggested we check out the southern tunnels, now that we had the key. Argie was hesitant, worrying about a goblin attack. I let slip there were a couple of zombies watching the back door.

“Two what?” she said.

“I turned two goblins in that room into zombies and told them to kill anymore goblins that came through,” I said.

She shrugged.

“Meh,” she said.

Apparently she didn’t mind necromancy, which was good to know.

We left Koboldville and crossed back through the first tower we had explored, then going out through the southwest door to the collapsed hall. On the way I told them of our arrangement with Grenl, of the goblins who would work with us being dressed in green as opposed to the regular red of Dornn’s goblins. I told them if they saw goblins in green, at least give them a chance not to be murdered. There was some confusion from Catarina but we eventually made her understand to leave the green-clad goblins alone.

I handed off the key to Brook, but then changed my mind, figuring I should go first. Brook wanted to open the door, however so I gave her the key. She was hoping for more treasure.

She inserted the key and turned it. The door slid back and then opened inward into a black room. Argie peeked in and I walked over with my candle. Brook had her lantern.

The dust of ages long undisturbed covered every surface in the large gallery. There were three alcoves on the north wall and one on the south wall. Each contained a dust-covered stone pedestal with a fist-sized crystallized globe upon it. Although the globes in the northern alcoves lay cracked and dark, the globe in the southern alcove glowed with a soft blue light. Soft, tinkling notes sprung forth from it. I could hear a very faint, droning, musical sound.

Catarina began to walk slowly towards the globe.

“Uh … Catarina,” I said. “Where are you going?”

I cast a detect magic spell. Catarina glowed with magic but I wasn’t sure what kind.

“Somebody sleep her,” Brook said.

“Let’s see what she does first,” I said.

Brook ran into the room and tackled her but the woman didn’t even fall over. She continued to walk across the room, dragging the other woman. Argie cast a hold person spell and the woman suddenly stopped.

“Drag her out,” I said.

Brook dragged the woman out of the room. Argie cast a spell to detect evil on the globe. Then Brook’s eyes went blank. I pulled the door closed and locked it again. Brook shook her head and looked around, confused. Argie’s spell continued to affect Catarina for a little while before she could move again.

I asked Argie if she had bandages but she didn’t, relying solely on her magic. She asked why I needed bandages and I told her we could use them to stuff our ears so we couldn’t hear that magical music. I asked if she had a silence spell and she said she did.

“Why couldn’t I move?” Catarina said.

“Oh,” I said. “Welcome back Catarina. You were ensorcelled by an evil crystal.”

“The shiny thing in that room? Were we in there? We were in there. What happened?”

“There was an enchanted crystal. We rescued you using magic and brute force. And here you are. Yes. And now we might try to get in there again. Do you have a club or a mace or any kind of weapon at all?”

“I don’t use mace. I punch things.”

“Grab one of these big rocks over here, won’t you?”

“Are we going to break it?” Argie asked.

“Yes, we’re going to smash it,” I said.

“It is evil,” she said.

“It is evil!” I said. “It’s evil?”

“It’s evil,” she said. “Remember that seed in your pocket?”

Catarina went to the rubble pile on the far wall and hefted a good-sized rock while we discussed what to do about the thing. Argie thought we should muffle the sound and keep it. I thought we should destroy it. We were unsure what might be able to muffle it. We also discussed silencing it until my magic could determine what it was. I suggested scraping some of the wax off my candles and making earplugs. Argie felt fine against it.

We decided to silence it with magic, I’d check it with magic, and then I would signal Catarina if she should destroy it.

We opened the door and Brook started to move across the room towards the crystal. I pointed at the pillar as Catarina tackled Brook. Argie cast her spell and the sound stopped. I concentrated on the crystal. The crystal had magic of the conjuration school and I gave Catarina the thumbs down. She dropped the rock, obviously haven forgotten my simple instructions. I yelled at her to smash the rock and she took the wax out of one of her ears.

“What?” she said.

I grabbed the rock, ran over, and smashed the crystal. Plumes of smoke in strange shapes wafted out and flew away.

“That was a soul,” Argie said.

“What?” I said. “A soul?”

“One of the plumes was evil,” she said. “I’m assuming it’s a soul.”

“Well, at least it’s done,” I said.

Looking at the map, I pointed out there was a trap on the other side of the other door to the room.

“I wonder what would have happened,” Argie said.

“Possession probably,” I muttered.

“Sweet. By the evil spirit.”

“That’s my guess.”

“Cool!”

“Now they’re out there possessing someone else.”

“Sweet!”

“No!”

“We couldn’t prevent it! It was either us or them. Maybe they just ascended.”

We did a quick search of the room. The broken gems were actually alexandrite and of some little value so we took them all. I knew alexandrite was particularly good at holding souls.

Brook listened at the next door, but it was also stone. She stumbled and fell on her face on the ground.

“Brook, what are you doing?” I asked.

“Uh …” she said.

“Is there something in the floor?” Argie said.

“It’s tactical,” Brook said. “The crack under the door. It’s better for the hearing.”

“That’s funny,” Catarina said. “You fell.”

“Of course,” I said, realizing Brook was lying. “Well, whenever you’re ready, you can listen again.”

She listened at the door again but heard nothing so opened it to reveal a short, narrow passage. The air was stale and Catarina chucked her rock in. Arrows shot directly down as it hit the ground in the center of the hallway.

“Throw another one,” I said.

She did so but no more arrows came down.

“Simple trap,” I said. “Let’s move on.”

“Wait!” Catarina said. “I should throw a third one, just in case.”

“Yeah, go ahead,” I said.

She ran to get another rock and flung it down the hallway as well. Again, nothing happened.

We went to the door at the end of the short corridor and Brook listened to it, hearing nothing. I noted there was a circle that might have marked another little column or plinth. Brook opened the door and we saw a hall that was some forty feet long and 20 feet wide. Dust filled the place like a layer of gray snow. In the rounded northern end of the chamber was a dragon carved from red-veined white marble.

Brook entered the room and the head of the dragon statue animated. It looked us over and then said.

“We come at night, without being fetched. We disappear by day without being stolen.”

“Stars,” Brook said.

“Stars,” Catarina said.

The dragon bowed its head and the secret door on the western wall that was marked on the map slid open. We peeked in at the dust-cloaked 20-foot wide hallway with three narrow alcoves on the north and the south wall. Each alcove held a humanoid figure of red-veined white marble except for the southwest alcove, which was empty. The figures resembled tall elves in plate mail. The far end of the hall opened via a stone arch into a wide room from which a greenish light trickled. A dark pit was situated before the western archway.

Catarina walked over to the nearest statue and poked it. Nothing happened. I suggested she poke each one, just to be sure.

There was a burned place on the map that connected to the room so I cast mending on it and repaired it. That revealed a secret door between the two alcoves on the south wall.

“Before we open that secret door, let’s peek in that pit,” I said.

Brook noticed that, in the snow-like dust on the floor were ancient tracks that had been filled in with more dust. They went from the empty alcove, wandered a bit, and to the pit and on the other side. The pit was an open trap, 10 feet deep, with spikes on the bottom. Disintegrated wood was scattered in the dust as if it had once had a cover.

We investigated the secret door. I stood on the other side of the room while they looked for a way to open it. I watched across the pit in case something was over there. Brook found a piece of stone that, when pressed, unlocked the door. It revealed a small chamber coated in dust which obscured the words inscribed on the southern wall.

“What do they say, Brook?” I asked.

She didn’t know. When Argie looked at it, she said it was in draconic.

“A dragon priest, entombed alive for transgressions of the law, still retains the honor of his position,” she read.

Argie read it out loud and I walked over to look at it. Brook backed away from the words, unnerved. She returned and found a small trapdoor in the floor. She pulled it open, revealing a three-foot by three-foot crawl space going down and to the west. I pointed out it was heading towards the room on the other side of the pit. Brook hopped into little hole and crawled along the low corridor, watching for traps along the way. I sent Catarina next. She sighed and muttered about large people in small places and tall, skinny magic bastards.

I’m sure she wasn’t talking about me.

I went to the pit to look into the room. A few moments later, Brook and Catarina popped up out of a secret door in the southwest corner.

Violent hued marble tiles covered the floor and walls though all were cracked or broken, revealing rough-hewn stone beneath them. Wall sconces were attached at the walls at each corner, but only one still bore a torch that burned with a greenish light. A massive marble sarcophagus easily nine feet long lay in the room’s center. The stone possessed heavy carvings with dragon imagery. The head of the sarcophagus resembled a dragon’s head, rusting metal clasps firmly locked down the lid.

“I got a bad idea,” Catarina said.

“What’s that, Catarina?” Brook said.

“Open the sarcophagus,” she said.

I waved at them from across the pit.

“C’mon, let’s do it!” Catarina said. “C’mon, let’s do it.”

Argie on looked more with curiosity than anger.

“Just don’t loot it!” she said. “Don’t. Loot. It.”

“Wait for us,” I said.

Argie and I went through the crawlspace, leaving Gurgle in the other room. We found Catarina standing there with a rock, eyeing the rusty metal clasps. I stayed by the wall near the trapdoor in the floor. The others stood around the marble sarcophagus.

“Do we have the cleric’s permission to try to get into it?” Brook said.

“Don’t loot it,” Argie said.

“Does smashing this clasp count as looting?” Catarina said.

“Just don’t take anything out of it,” I said.

“Yeah, we can open it up and look at it but we can’t take anything out of it,” Brook said.

“Cool!” Catarina said.

She started banging on the clasps with the rock. Within seconds there was only one left.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” I said.

Brook and Catarina grasped the lid of the sarcophagus, sliding it off the top. Lying in the sarcophagus was a strange creature in a position of agony. Scratch marks covered the underside of the lid of the sarcophagus and as soon as the green light hit it, it twitched.

“Cover it!” Argie said. “Cover it! Cover it! Cover it!”

The thing sat up and leapt out of the sarcophagus. I realized it was created by magic and was a hybrid. Brook called out it was half troll.

“Burn it!” I said.

“This thing ain’t a dragon!” Argie said.

Brook drew her scimitar and slashed the horrible hybrid thing. It fell back and had to brace itself from the terrible wound. Catarina punched the thing in the head and it fell onto the ground.

“Back away,” I said.

I spread my hands out and cast burning hands on the thing. Then I stepped back once again. It writhed in pain.

“If it’s half-troll, it’s going to regenerate so we have to burn it!” I said.

I fled into the trapdoor and stood there, waiting. I was out of spells but wanted to stay if someone needed help.

“Y’all stay where you are,” Argie said.

She cast a burning hands spell as well, burning the horrible thing even more. Gurgle, on the other side of the pit, took out his bow. He shot the thing with an arrow. Then Brook cut the thing with her scimitar again. It shrieked, crumpled, and lay still.

“Burn it again!” I said.

“Just for good measure?” Brook said with a smile.

“Yes,” I said. “If it’s a troll it needs to burned until its …”

“Ashes,” Brook said.

“Yes,” I said. “Not necessarily ashes but it needs to be burned all over. The wound that has not been burned could potentially regenerate. Argie, burn it again.”

She did so, blasting away with more burning hands. The thing crumpled to ash.

“There we go!” I said.

We searched the ashes and found a masterwork dagger, a ring, two bracelets, and an amulet. Argie cast detect evil on the items but said they were not evil. She then cast a detect magic spell on the items and found none of them were magical. She did detect magic emanating from the bottom of the sarcophagus. There, we found 50 gold coins and four scrolls that Argie looked over and found to be divine. She said they had spells of command, cure light wounds, inflict light wounds, and magical stone. Argie, the only of us who could use such magic, kept them.

I took the dagger, tucking it away.

Brook put the ring and the bracelets into the sack with the other treasure we’d found. Argie kept the amulet for the time being. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1985-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-4-Goblin-Talks-and-Dragon-Priest
Pathfinder - The Sunless Citadel 3 - Kobold Politics http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1984-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-3-Kobold-Politics Fri, 27 Oct 2017 19:21:14 GMT Tuesday, October 24, 2017 (After Jacob Marcus ran his *Pathfinder* game “The Sunless Citadel” with Justin Moser, Katelyn Hogan, and me Monday... Tuesday, October 24, 2017

(After Jacob Marcus ran his Pathfinder game “The Sunless Citadel” with Justin Moser, Katelyn Hogan, and me Monday from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.)

Iago’s Memoires

Brook indicated she wanted to go to the northwest first. She led the way, I followed, and Argie followed behind. We only had one torch so we’d have to leave shortly before the light died.

Through the doorway was a long hallway some 10 feet wide and 50 feet long. Near the far end, two doors led off to the right and left. An archway stood at the far end. Brook led us to the door on the right at my suggestion.

“Let’s listen,” I said too late as Brook pushed the door open.

The ruined chamber stood empty of all but rubble and rocky debris.

“Let’s not search this room,” I said. “We don’t have enough light.”

I suggested going to the door across the hall. That one had a hand-carved relief of a dragon without wings swimming.

“Listen at the door first!” I said.

She did so and said she heard only loud dripping inside. The door proved unlocked and Brook opened it. The small room, barely 10 feet square, was mostly filled with an upright keg filled fashioned of rusty iron. Several pipes led from the keg into the floor. I guessed it was a cistern. There were valves but no pumps.

Brook and I entered the room to examine the strange pipes. Argie waited in the hallway. As I suggested to Brook to hold the torch over the water to see if anything was within, a watery creature rose from the water. It was small, with thin, leathery wings, small horns, and a mischievous smile. Argie urged us to leave the room. Then the horrible water goblin, crouched on the edge of the cistern, blasted water from its mouth in a wide spray. Only I was struck by it, the others deftly ducking out of the way, and it slammed me back against the wall.

The little thing screeched with laughter.

Brook stabbed the thing with her spear. The thing staggered and looked surprised and angry.

“Stand down, you little *****!” I said in draconic. “I’m your master!”

I readied myself to cast a spell as the thing looked confused at me, obviously not understanding at all. Then Argie stepped into the room, touching my shoulder and casting a cure light wounds spell, healing me nearly completely. When the water goblin reared back to spray us again, I blasted away with two magic missiles. Unfortunately, the second blast of water hit me harder than the first had. The others escaped unscathed. Again.

Brook whipped her hair and stabbed at the thing but it ducked to one side. Argie cast a cure moderate wounds spell on me, completely healing me.

“Now fight!” she said to me.

I asked if the creature spoke goblin in the goblin-tongue but the water goblin just looked confused. I crossed to the other side of the cistern from the other two in the hopes of not getting caught in the breath weapon again. Then I blasted away with another pair of magic missiles. The thing cried out and fell back into the water of the cistern.

“Quick, look in the water!” I said. “Let’s get out of the room!”

I left the room. As I tried to wring out my robes, the other two looked in the cistern. They later told me they found 30 gold pieces on the bottom of the cistern in the shape of the thing. They retrieved the money and returned to the hallway. Brook gave me 10 gold coins and I pocketed them.

“Well done,” I said, thanking her.

Argie suggested making a fire to dry me off but I waved her off, figuring we could press on. She noted she had used much of her healing magic so if we got injured again, we’d be in trouble.

After thinking about it, I realized the creature was a water mephit. I remembered the spear and my magic had both injured the thing. It had not faked its death. The thing was definitely dead. It probably had spoken the languages of the inner planes, hence its confusion at my speaking to it.

We headed to the dark archway and peeked into the room beyond. Crudely executed symbols and glyphs scribed in light green dye decorated the large and irregularly-shaped, crumbling chamber. A large pit in the chamber’s center showed recently evidence of a bonfire. A metallic cage in the center of the southern wall contained a gaping hole and stood empty. A small wooden bench draped with green cloth stood before the cage and, upon it sat several small objects. A bedroll lay near the wooden bench from which the sound of whimpering was plainly audible. A small bump was in the bedroll. There were several other entrances.

Brook walked towards the bedroll as I took out my light crossbow and loaded it to cover her. As she lifted the edge of the bedroll with her spear, I aimed at the bump in the bedroll. A small kobold looked up at Brook, terrified. He stopped whimpering and froze in place.

“Do you speak Draconic?” I called in that language.

“Iago, talk to it,” Brook said.

I walked into the room, unloading and slinging my crossbow. Behind me, I heard Argie cast comprehend languages. Smart.

“Do you speak Draconic?” I asked again.

The kobold nodded, obviously terrified.

“Go ahead,” I said in Draconic. “Speak some.”

The terrified kobold said nothing. I turned to Brook.

“I’m going to cast a spell on you so you’ll be able to understand this kobold,” I said to her in Draconic. “Perhaps we can help him.”

I cast charm person on the kobold though I acted like I was casting it on Brook. The kobold crossed its legs and looked up, fascinated.

“You okay, buddy?” I asked the kobold in Draconic.

“Yeah!” the kobold said.

“What’s your name?”

“Meepo!”

“Meepo, do you speak just Draconic or do you speak common?”

“Uh-huh.”

“You speak common?”

“Uh-huh!”

“Let’s speak common! It’ll be fun, right?”

“Okay!”

“Yeah!”

The kobold bounced in place happily but then looked at the broken cage and began sobbing uncontrollably.

“Meepo,” I said. “Meepo.”

I went over and comforted him, casting detect magic to make sure the charm spell had taken hold. I realized the kobold was small for its kind. He was probably a runt and didn’t appear to be a pup.

“Tell us what happened here, Meepo,” I said.

Brook went to the cage and examined it.

Meepo reached up and grabbed his horns, furiously shaking his head as he cried and sobbed.

“The nasty goblins took the clan dragon!” he cried out.

“What’s the clan dragon?” I said. “Perhaps we can help you get it back.”

“The goblins stole Calcryx! They took my pet away.”

“Calcryx?”

Brook moved to the cage.

“Was Calcryx in the cage?” I asked.

“Mm-hmm,” Meepo said.

I looked at the cage which was about six feet tall by six feet long and four feet wide. The bars were very narrow, like the cage I’d had made a few days before. I guessed it was a big cage to hold something small. The hole in the side had been pushed inward.

“Tell us everything, Meepo,” I said. “Tell us how we can help. Where’s your clan?”

“Small dragon?” Argie mumbled.

Meepo thought a moment. Then he wrapped his arms around himself.

“Meepo doesn’t know,” he said. “But the leader does. Meepo take you to leader Yusdrayl if you make nice. Grant you safe passage if you promise not hurt Meepo.”

Argie walked over to us.

“Well, Meepo,” I said. “We’re going to be in need of getting back to town soon, a human town near here. We’re going to have to go back to the human town so we won’t be able to take you up on that until tomorrow. Could we meet you here tomorrow? Or would you like to come with us and see the human town? I can grant you safe passage to the human town. They have beer there.”

Meepo started shaking his head as soon as I suggested his leaving the place. He went over and started to pet the cage.

“Which direction is your tribe?” I asked him.

“Not unless you promise to save dragon,” Meepo said.

“Dragon?” Argie said.

“Yes, I promise,” I said.

“I wait here for tomorrow,” Meepo said.

“All right,” I said. “Sounds fair. We’ll return tomorrow around this time.”

I held out my hand and he lifted a fist in the hair. I bumped two fists to his one in the kobold fashion.

I took a closer look at the items on the bench. I saw there was a small, jade figurine of the black dragon that looked like the dragon on the tapestry in the mayor’s house. A little pot of green paint and a large, crude paintbrush were also on the bench.

“Oh, this is quite lovely, Meepo,” I said, pointing to the jade dragon. “Is this your dragon? Is this Calcryx?

“That is what dragons grow up to be,” Meepo said.

“So that’s what Calcryx looks like?”

“That is what he look like one day.”

“That will help us to find him, then.”

“So, Calcryx is a black dragon then,” Brook said.

“Yeh,” Meepo said.

“We’ll be back tomorrow,” I said.

“He’s little and Meepo look after him,” Meepo said.

“So, is this yours then, Meepo?” Brook said, gesturing at the dragon figurine.

“Uh-huh,” Meepo said.

“We’ll be back tomorrow,” I said. “Let’s go.”

Meepo smiled at me and went back to his bedroll.

“Meepo wait here,” he said.

We headed out of the room. Meepo must have noticed Argie’s tail and leapt up, sprinted over, and got in front of her.

“What are you?” he asked.

“Half of you,” Argie replied.

He grabbed her by the legs and hugged her. She knelt and hugged him back.

“Can Meepo follow?” he asked her.

“Can Meepo follow?” she asked me.

“Of course,” I said. “We’ll protect him in the village.”

“Meepo can follow,” she said.

“Meepo,” I said. “That dragon over there. You should hide it before we go so that the goblins don’t come back and steal it as well.”

Meepo retrieved the items on the bench, stuffing them into a dirty little bag and throwing it over his shoulder. He held onto Argie’s tail, dancing, as we went. I asked Argie to detect evil but she found no evil in the little creature. I lectured on kobolds as we walked out of the place, noting that traditionally, kobolds were an evil race.

We climbed up and out of the ravine on the chain. Meepo didn’t climb but hung onto Argie’s tail as we went up. Catarina, who had left us after the fight with the skeletons, waited up there for us. We introduced her to Meepo and all of us headed back to Oakhurst.

Meepo attracted a lot of attention when we returned to the village. Many people came out to look and Meepo hid under Argie’s cloak. While Argie and I went to the inn, Brook went to the general store to get torches. Nackle was interested in Meepo when we got there, asking Meepo all kinds of questions. Most of the kobold’s answers were “Meepo doesn’t know, but the elder does.”

“You want something to eat?” I asked the kobold.

Meepo nodded.

“What do you like?” I asked. “Cooked meat?”

“Meat!” Meepo said.

“Meat. Cooked?”

“Cooked?”

“You can try it. If you don’t like it, we can get it raw.”

I ordered a tray of all the different meats the inn had available and Nackle told me if we shared it, it was on the house. She ran off and came back with a tray of all kinds of different cooked meats upon it, mostly fish. Meepo liked the salmon and ate it down so we ordered more.

“Meepo not know you can cook food,” he muttered.

He tried many of the meats and the only one he didn’t like was the pork. I ordered some cooked potatoes and bread as well to round out the meal.

Brook soon returned and sat down with us in the booth.

“Did you get the torches?” I asked.

“I’ll do you one better,” she said.

She took out a hooded lantern.

“Ah, a lantern,” I said. “Nice.”

“Not just any lantern,” she said. “A continual flame lantern.”

“Ah.”

“You could swim with it.”

“Yes, I know. That’s what we lit the entire university with.”

The lantern glowed with a red flame. I examined it closely and found the spell was merely cast on the wick. I pointed that out to Brook, telling her the wick could be removed if she wanted to use it in a different way. I noted if I had the spell, which I had been studying, it could be cast upon anything. A tiny stick in the brim of a hat was a favorite.

I questioned Meepo about the other adventurers but he knew nothing. The kobolds had only been in the place for three weeks, having come from the caves. Meepo told me, when I asked, that they had come because the elder said the sunless citadel was a holy place of dragons. I learned the elder’s name was Yusdrayl. Yusdrayl was the war chief and was smart and big, but didn’t know magic, as far as Meepo knew. He only knew there were lots of kobolds in the tribe.

I noticed Meepo was barely reaching the table and so I asked Nackle for a booster seat or something for the kobold.

“Is your dragon Calcryx the only dragon in the clan or have they been stealing more?” Brook asked.

“He only dragon,” Meepo said. “He my dragon.”

“Are there multiple clans in the citadel?”

“No. Just our clans.”

“How many attacked your camp?”

“Goblins come. Meepo hide. Goblins kill all kobolds guarding dragon. Then burn bodies.”

We learned there were four kobolds guarding the dragon including himself. They had been outnumbered by the goblins, which had come from the south. We discussed which direction to go when we returned, thinking the goblins were that way. He noted the goblins had been there for a very long time and his tribe had known about the goblins, which were defiling the holy place of dragons: the citadel.

Brook went off once again. I later learned she had gone to see Hercule, the dwarven blacksmith.

We got a little ale for Meepo and the kobold ended up sleeping in Argie’s room.

* * *

On the 7th day since our arrival in Oakhurst, we got up, ate breakfast, and headed back for the ravine, arriving there in the late morning. We climbed back down to the broken tower top and then made our way back to the room where we’d found Meepo.

“Why’d they keep the dragon in this room, Meepo?” I asked.

“Kobold camp not far,” he said.

“How far is the goblin camp? Any idea?”

“Meepo don’t know.”

We bid him lead us to the kobolds. He took us to the doorway to the west in the middle of the room. The hallway beyond went both to the west and north and there were more doors leading off it on either side. He took us to the right, the north, and to a long hall with great pillars. We passed between the columns to the far end of the hall.

A short throne constructed of fallen bits of masonry stacked against an old altar stood against the far wall. A small, horned figure in red-dyed robes sat upon the throne. A force of six similar creatures guarded her. The alter top contained a variety of small items while the masonry that served as the throne’s back featured a carving of a rearing dragon. A metallic key was held firmly in the rearing dragon’s mouth. It appeared to be part of the altar.

The kobold female on the throne eyed us all suspiciously, including Meepo. She didn’t appear to be upset.

“Why have you brought them here?” she asked Meepo in the common tongue. “Why have you brought these humans here?”

“And!” I said, gesturing towards Argie.

“What are you?” the kobold female said to her.

“A wyvaran,” Argie replied.

The kobold’s eyes grew wide and she leaned forward in her chair.

“Where are you from?” she asked.

“I don’t remember,” Argie said.

“How old are you?”

“A hundred and forty-nine.”

“I would like to have a conversation with you later. Why are you three here?”

I bowed slightly.

“Meepo told us about your problem with the goblins,” I said. “We said we would help him and he offered safe passage to come and speak with you.”

“It seems you have a family dragon loose,” Argie said.

“Not loose,” the kobold female said. “Taken.”

“Great.”

“The goblins came at night. They killed some of my best guards and they took my dragon. Sorry, Meepo. Your dragon.”

“What kind of dragon?”

“Black wyvernling.”

“I’m interested.”

“A very young creature. We hatched it ourselves. My father hatched it himself. Took 50 years just for it to get 10 feet long.”

“It was 10 feet long?” I asked.

“Coiled in the cage, yes,” she said.

I frowned. The cage was only six feet on a side, much too small for any creature 10 feet long.

“It was the best cage we have,” she said. “Meepo took very good care of it. We didn’t even have to keep the cage locked.”

Damned animal mis-handlers, I thought.

“After all, Meepo is one of the best dragon handlers in the kobold tribes,” she said.

“Okay,” Argie said.

“So, there are multiple tribes,” Brook said.

“Only one is here,” the kobold female said.

“Tell us about these goblins who took your dragon,” I said.

“Great defilers have been here ever since the citadel sank,” she said. “They have been … troublesome ever since we arrived. We had to fight our way here, into this sacred throne room.”

“How long have you been here?” Argie asked.

“Three weeks,” I said.

“A little over three weeks,” the kobold elder said.

“How many are there? Goblins.”

“That is something we would like to know as well.”

“So, you don’t know anything about the apples of life and death?”

“We know that they are operating with some help. Someone is telling them to do that.”

“Well, we know who that is,” Argie said.

“No, we don’t,” I said.

“Yeah, we do.”

“They’ve only been here two months.”

“Huh.”

“Another party of adventurers, did they come down here?”

“Oh,” the kobold elder said. “We have only heard of them from listening and spying on the goblins. The goblins do not mess with them. They do not go near them.”

“So, they’re somewhere else,” I said.

“Yes, they’re on the far lower levels. The far lower levels.”

“So, they’re not working with the goblins.”

“The place where the goblins don’t go.”

“So, what did you hear?” Brook said. “About them?”

“They came … from what we know, one of them is one of the ones who gives the seeds to the goblins,” the elder said.

“They’ve only been here two months,” I said. “Haven’t they?”

“We don’t care about the business dealings. The curiosity extends only as far as we learn why they’re here in the hopes of removing them from this holy place.”

“What do you plan to do once the goblins are gone?”

“Rebuild.”

She looked around the room loftily.

“So, the citadel … is it yours?” Brook asked.

“The citadel belongs to all of dragonkin,” she said. “It was built hundreds of years ago by those who worshipped Ashardalon.”

“Who is Ashardalon?”

“Those who worshipped the great dragon Ashardalon built this place. No doubt you’ve seen the reliefs and etchings all over the walls.”

“We saw the tapestry in the human town of Ashardalon dropping the citadel into the chasm. Was that how it happened?”

“The tapestry showed a black dragon …” I said.

“Flying over,” Argie said.

“Ashardalon was indeed the blackest of dragons,” the elder told us.

“Blasting the citadel,” I said.

“It was said when he flew through the night’s sky, you could only tell where he was because the stars would disappear.”

“It showed him destroying this citadel.”

“Yes. Those who worshipped here perverted what his desires were, so he sank it.”

“Makes sense,” Argie said.

“Interesting,” I said, not completely believing the kobold mythology.

“They started worshipping other dragons,” she said.

“You wouldn’t happen to have any writings about Ashardalon, would you?” I asked.

“All writings in this place disintegrated years ago. All that’s left are the runes and reliefs on the walls.”

I looked around and only then noticed the reliefs covering the walls. Unfortunately, it was in ancient picture storytelling and the carvings had been long damaged beyond any hope of repair. Discerning any meaning from them would be impossible by that point. Parts of it were remarkably similar to the mayor’s tapestry, however.

“So, do you have any plans to enact revenge on the goblins, or …?” Brook said.

“Most definitely,” the elder said.

“What are those plans? If I may ask.”

“It starts with getting our dragon back.”

“Where are they holding it. Do you know?”

“We don’t know. We only know that their main base is somewhere on this level.”

“This level. And this is the level we found Meepo. We can go get your dragon for you, if you like.”

“Would you?”

“I … think I speak for everybody when I say that we would.”

“Why are you here?”

“We are chasing the other band of adventurers and also trying to figure out what’s happening with the apple trade.”

“Fair curiosity. Be careful as you go deeper. You may not come back out. The goblins don’t go past the steps.”

“Where are the steps?”

“On this floor, there is a threshold that goes down. It stops being citadel and starts being cave immediately. The goblins don’t go anywhere near it. We assume it goes deeper.”

“And you said there was someone helping the goblins?”

“We know through listening to them with the help of our elite spies that they are doing this … not willingly.”

While they talked, I whispered to Argie to see if the kobolds were evil and she quietly cast a detect evil spell. She looked at the kobolds and then around the room curiously.

“They’re not evil,” she whispered to me. “But they can still be dangerous.”

“Do you have a name of who is working with the goblins?” Brook asked.

“We don’t know who they are, what they are, why they’re here, how long they’ve been here,” the elder said. “We haven’t even heard names, just that there is someone forcing them.”

Brook turned to us and told us we should go back Meepo’s room, find the goblins, and question them. We were all in agreement. I quickly learned Brook spoke orc and I asked Argie if she spoke orc but she didn’t.

“So, what do you think?” I asked Brook in orc. “Can we turn these two tribes against each other?”

“Is that what you want to do?” Brook replied in the same language.

“Well, what I’m thinking is, kobolds are generally evil,” I said in orc. “Wait.”

I turned to Argie.

“Are they …?” I asked her in common.

Then I realized Meepo was still with us and so I shut up. She chatted with Meepo, trying to get him to stay behind.

“Can we try to play the goblins off in the same way that we have … we befriended the kobolds,” I said in orc. “Can we play the goblins off and make them think we’re going to help them as well.”

“Not if they’re being controlled by a third party,” Brook said.

“They might be evil too.”

“They’re already butting heads.”

“I don’t know if the kobolds are evil.”

I turned to Argie.

“Argie,” I said to her. “What is the kobold’s … disposition?”

“Not evil,” she said.

“Really!?!”

“They seem to be a decent tribe.”

Meepo took out the jade dragon.

“Calcryx follow this,” he said.

“Huh,” I said. “The kobolds aren’t evil.”

“I’m not evil either,” Argie said.

She seemed a little offended.

“Well, as a rule, kobolds are evil, at least as far as the moral code of humans,” I said. “That’s surprising. That’s good! That’s good! They’re not evil!”

“If it’s not evil, it’s good,” Brook said.

“No, not necessarily,” I said. “But at least they’re not evil. And they seem very lawful in that they haven’t attacked us when they said they wouldn’t.”

“Some, we might not want to approach,” Argie said. “But she’s fine.”

Meepo tugged on her cloak and handed her the jade dragon.

“Calcryx follow this,” he said. “Show to Calcryx. Calcryx follow you.”

“I … see,” she said.

She tucked the dragon away.

“So, Meepo, are you going to wait for you here?” I asked.

We had, by then, returned to the room with the cage where the dragon had originally been.

“Meepo wait here,” he said.

“You need to tell your … your lady that …” I said, gesturing at the cage. “That needs to be bigger.”

Meepo nodded.

“Meepo,” Brook said.

“Meepo say that all along,” Meepo said.

“Meepo, why does Calcryx follow the jade dragon?” Brook asked. “Is it the paint or is it the jade?”

I cast detect magic on the jade dragon. It had an innate magic about it of the enchantment school. I guessed it was made to cause young dragons to follow it.

“Calcryx follow sculpture of daddy,” Meepo said.

“Where did you get that?” I asked.

“Elder give,” Meepo said.

“So elder know,” I said. “Interesting.”

“It heirloom of dragon tamers,” Meepo said.

We left the throne room.

“I’ll need you to check the dragon for evil when we find it,” I told Argie.

“I’m sure it will be,” she said.

“The kobolds aren’t. Kobolds in nature, generally, are evil.”

“Generally. But black dragons …”

“Generally are evil. What do we do if the dragon is evil? Because it’s going to grow up and it’s going to be leader of the kobold tribe. That means it will turn the kobold tribe to evil sooner or later.”

“That’s very true,” Brook said.

“I’m just saying, we need to know if the dragon is evil,” I said. “Then we make a decision on what to do with it. It might be too young to be evil. If these kobolds aren’t evil, there’s a good chance they’ll raise it not to be evil.”

“That’s what I’m thinking,” she said.

“Worse comes to worse, we just kill it and say the goblins did it,” Brook said.

“If it’s evil, I don’t know what we’ll do,” I said. “Because I can’t let an evil dragon come back to this tribe.”

“Yeah.”

“Eventually it will be in command of the tribe.”

“Exactly.”

“And then it will teach them to be evil.”

“Yeah.”

“So, we’re going to have figure out what to do if that’s the case, but I need to know from you if it’s evil or not.”

“I understand. But I’m not going to be happy about it.”

“I’m not going to be happy about it either. But in the long run, we can’t allow an evil creature to influence kobolds which aren’t evil. The goblins might not be evil either. I’m guessing they probably are, but they might not be.”

“If they stole a dragon?”

We returned to the room where we’d met Meepo and went out through the door Meepo had said the goblins had come from. Brook led the way. The corridor was choked with rubble except for a very small gap at the top that no normal-sized person could ever hope to fit through. The smell of rat droppings was heavy there.

We returned to the round tower with the secret room and then exited the southwest door of that room. It opened into a wide hall. The masonry walls were in poor repair. The far end was especially bad as it had completely collapsed, filling the southern section with rubble. The western wall was in much better shape than the other walls and it held a strong stone door with a rearing dragon carved in a relief upon it. The door contained a single keyhole which was situated in the rearing dragon’s mouth.

“I think we need a key,” Argie said.

“Bingo,” I replied. “We have to go back and get the key.”

Brook listened at the door. She heard nothing. The door didn’t have any kind of handle or knob and was made of stone. I suggested Brook push on it to see if it was open but, of course, it wasn’t. We headed back to the kobold area to see about getting the key.

“Ah, you have returned, but dragon-less,” the kobold elder said. “What can I help you with?”

“Could we get that key in the dragon’s mouth,” Brook said. “We found a door that has a keyhole.”

It was definitely the key. It looked like a perfect fit for the lock.

“We’d like that key,” Brook said.

“We think it will help us get to the goblin town,” I said.

“Where are you looking for the goblin town?” the elder said.

“We can’t fit through the hole that the goblins came through. So, we’re taking another route.”

“Where are you looking though?”

“To the south and west.”

“The goblin town is to the north.”

“What? Meepo pointed us south.”

“He pointed us south,” Brook said. “But that’s where they came from.”

“Meepo said the goblins came from the door to the south,” I said.

“Who pointed you in that direction?” she said.

“Meepo did,” Brook said.

“Meepo said the goblins came from the door to the south,” I said again. “When they raided and took the dragon.”

“The goblins have paths that you cannot use,” the elder said. “Their town is not there.”

“Ah, we made an assumption.”

“But that would definitely be the reason why they could have gotten past my guards so easily, seeing as they were posted on the doors we expected them to come through.”

I was a little confused about how the goblins could have gotten the dragon through the hole but we learned Meepo had not seen the way the goblins had left the room.

“Do you know where the goblin town is?” I asked.

“All I know is that it is to the north and east,” the elder said.

I groaned. We realized we had to go through the northeast door of Meepo’s room to go in the direction of goblin town.

“Could we still take the key, though?” Brook asked.

“Bring me my dragon and you can have the key,” the elder said.

“Agreed,” Brook said.

“Sorry to bother you,” I said.

“Bring me my dragon and you can each pick anything you want from the treasures,” she said.

We headed back out. As we walked, I nudged Brook.

“She’s going to pick Meepo,” I said, indicating Argie.

We returned to Meepo’s room and Brook listened to the northeast door. She opened the door, spear in hand, to reveal a long, narrow hallway. We followed it first to the east and then south and then east again. There was a door to the north at the end of the hallway. Brook listened at it.

The door proved to be unlocked. The room beyond was about 20 feet deep and thirty feet wide. The lonely chamber was home to only rat droppings, crumpled flagstones, and nameless dark stains. A door stood across from the one we’d entered.

Brook listened at the other door then opened it into a room of similar size and shape to the empty room we were in. Dust and odd bits of rubble and debris lay scattered across the floor. An ornate fountain was built into the eastern wall: cracked, stained, and dry. The fountain’s carving of a dragon retained its beauty. A relief-carved stone door stood on the western wall. An archway stood across the room from our door.

Brook went to the stone door and listened but didn’t hear anything. I asked Argie what she saw in the dark hallway to the north. She told us it split a little ways down and then held doors on either side of it. I went to the fountain and saw very worn draconic writing on the base. They spelled out “Let there be fire.”

“What’s it say?” Brook asked.

“It says ‘Let there be fire,’” I said.

The fountain sputtered and from the mouth of the dragon poured forth a red, glowing liquid that proceeded to cascade beautifully down into the fountain. I cast detect magic and gazed upon the fountain and the liquid coming from it. I realized it was a prestidigitation blood spell cast in the mouth of the dragon. The glowing red liquid was literally blood, created by the magic of the fountain. It was activated by speaking the words.

“It’s glowing magical blood,” I said. “Gross.”

The stone door was not magical and there was nothing up the corridor that was magical either. I pointed out the spell would last a couple more minutes so if they wanted to go somewhere, we could. Brook thought goblin town was down the corridor but she wanted to open the stone door so I bid her do so.

Brook opened the door and two large curved scythe blades swung down from inside the room, slashing from side to side across the door and then back where they went up into the ceiling once again. If Brook had entered the room, she would have been badly hurt if not killed.

“Leave that open,” I said. “Wait, close it and open it again but don’t walk in.”

Brook did so. The scythes swung down and back again. It appeared they were based on the opening of the door.

“So, if we get chased, we run in here and slam the door behind us and just wait for whomever walked in next,” I said. “We’ll leave the door open.”

The room was some 20 feet wide by 25 to 30 feet deep. Five dusty sarcophagi stood on end in the silent chamber, three on the north wall and two on the south. The carved stone sarcophagi each resembled a noble, elf-like humanoid in ceremonial robes. A shrine carved of obsidian was set in the center of the west wall on which a single candle burned. I was surprised there were no dead goblins on the floor. Brook assumed it was because, like us, they had been scared to enter.

The candle was obviously magical, or at least the flame was. I assumed it was another everburning torch spell. I asked Argie if she could detect undead and, when she said she could, I asked if she could through the stone sarcophagi. She said she couldn’t.

“Shall we loot the dead?” I asked. “Or at least take their candle?”

“We will not be looting the dead,” Argie said.

“We won’t be?” Brook said.

“We will be leaving them as they are,” Argie said.

“What about the candle?” I asked. “Can we take the candle?”

“Can we go up to the alter and look at what we’ve got?” Brook said.

Argie frowned.

“It’s a waste of magic!” I said.

“We are not going to loot the dead,” Brook said.

“How do you know it’s magic?” she asked.

“Because it’s a lit candle and I can tell that it’s magical,” I said. “I’m a wizard. We know these things.”

She frowned at me.

“And there might be undead in the sarcophagi,” I went on. “Shouldn’t we find out?”

“If anything, it’d be safer if we just leave the coffins alone,” she said. “In case there are living dead in there.”

“If you feel that strongly about it,” I said. “But we should see what’s on the altar.”

“If they pop out of the sarcophagi though, it’s fair game,” Brook said.

“Fair enough,” Argie said. “Or we leave them alone, undisturbed, in case they are undead.”

“Let’s see what’s on the altar,” I said. “And take the candle. It’s of no use to the dead. Are you with me, Brook?”

“I am with you,” she said.

“Besides, we could use another light source,” I said. “It would be good to have.”

We all crossed the room carefully to the altar. Two beautifully carved obsidian dragons were carved looking down at the altar.

In addition to the candle was a single red potion and a solid glass whistle in the shape of a dragon. There was writing on the whistle as well. It was like a little dog whistle. I looked closer. The writing upon it was dwarven. The magic upon it was necromantic and the magic upon the potion was adjuration. The latter seemed to indicate some kind of protection or warding. Argie guessed it a potion to protect from fire.

I carefully examined the dragon mouths but didn’t see any nozzles or anything. Nor was there any hint of magic about them. There was no magic in the room except the items.

I told them of the whistle’s necromantic powers.

“Whistle up the dead, maybe,” I said.

When I told them of the protection magic on the potion, Argie again pointed out it was probably to protect against fire. I said it probably was but noted a potion could be made any color.

“What do we do, moral compass of the party?” I asked Argie.

“We take it,” Brook said.

“Well, it’s not on a dead body, so …” Argie said.

“It’s not on a dead body,” Brook said.

“You are desperate to loot something, aren’t you,” Argie said to her.

When Brook asked me if I thought it was trapped, I told her it didn’t seem to be. There was no indication of mechanical or magical trap about it. I pointed out the sarcophagi might be the trap. I checked again with Argie and she was fine with our taking it.

I picked up the whistle and looked it over. The dwarven spelled out “Azangund” which translated into “Night Caller.” I figured the word was said and the whistle blown to summon something up. Brook pointed out there was a certain dragon that was darker than the night’s sky. I realized the whistle was incredibly special. It was made of a substance called nifleheim, which was magical iron designed to look like glass. That knowledge to make it had been lost for thousands of years. It only existed in artifacts like the whistle and all of them were very small like it as well.

Then I took the candle. Brook took the potion.

“If we could find a library in a big city, we could probably find out what this does,” I said. “Without just blowing and hoping for the best.”

“Which may or may not have been my plan,” Brook said.

I pointed out to Argie that the kobolds were going to loot the bodies anyway. She said why should we do it then. I pointed out if we didn’t, someone else would. As we argued, Brook more carefully examined the altar and then opened a hidden panel on the front of it.

“It doesn’t work through stone!” I cried about my detect magic spell.

A small obsidian box was in the compartment. I cast detect magic again but it was not magical. It had two ornate hinges on the back and a dragon-shaped latch on the front. I told her there was no magic and she opened the box to reveal six beautifully carved dragon-shaped objects. The green peridot gems were each carved into the shapes of dragons. Brook closed it and put it in her bag.

We argued about the sarcophagi again. I pointed out the kobolds were going to disturb them and she didn’t care. When I noted if there was undead inside, they would hurt the kobolds when they disturbed them, she thought they already would have done so if they were going to do so. She finally got an attitude and told us to go ahead and loot the sarcophagi if we wished, but if there was undead, she wouldn’t turn them for us. I conceded that we wouldn’t loot them then.

We left the room and headed down the hallway, bypassing the intersection that was choked with rubble at one end and had a door down the other. Argie could see three sets of doors on either wall of the northern corridor and an archway leading into a room beyond them. We went that way first. Brook noticed giant rat tracks on the floor.

The long, narrow hallway had six doors, all of them slightly ajar. I readied my crossbow and advised Brook to peek in the first door on the right and we’d keep an eye on the other doors. I had shoved the magical candle into my belt pouch, the lit end sticking out. Brook likewise hooked her continual flame lantern on her belt. Then she went over to the door and nudged it open with the point of her spear.

A rat burst out of the room and two others came from two other doors. Argie was fast, blasting one of the rats to ash with a wave of her hand. I gave her a nod of approval. Another rat scurried up to me and lunged at me, stumbling and slamming into the wall behind me. Brook stabbed the rat that rushed her but tripped and fell to the ground. The rat near her scurried past her and attacked Argie, but merely crashed off her armor. Then I used a pair of magic missiles to kill the rat nearest me.

Argie drew her scimitar and hacked at the remaining rat, hurting it terribly. It struggled to move. Then Brook leapt to her feet and ran her spear into the rat, skewering it. I suggested to Brook to bring the rats to give to the kobolds.

The rooms along the hall proved to have once been prison cells. The doors had bolts on the outside and the windows in the doors were barred. I noticed the hinges were on the inside, the fools. It would be easy to escape from the rooms. The three rooms the rats had come out of had nests in them and we found a total of 15 gold coins in them.

We continued down the hallway to the room at the end, which proved to be larger than the others in the area: 30 feet deep and 20 feet wide. As we were about to enter the room, Argie yelled at us to stop, saying she’d seen a trap. She pointed out where the trapdoor was in the floor and we crept around it. An open trapdoor stood just inside the room in the doorway to the right. It had been deliberately triggered and held open.

Another fountain was against the far wall with another ornately carved dragon upon it.

“Let there be fire,” Argie said.

Nothing happened.

We went over to the fountain and I saw there was draconic upon it. I pointed out that this fountain would be the trap, now that we had successfully dealt with the other fountain. There was writing on the fountain in draconic that read “Let there be death.”

“What’s it say?” Argie said.

“It’s similar to the last one but it deals death,” I said.

Brook noted small pipes around the dragon’s mouth.

“Gas?” Argie said.

“It would have to be magic if the words do it,” I said. “Any goblin tracks?”

Brook looked around but found none. There were only rat tracks.

Unnerved by the fountain, we decided to go back to the cross corridor we had passed before. We went back and Brook found goblin tracks. She listened at the door at the end but said it was fine. She braced her spear and kicked the door open. The 15 by 15 foot room was bare and empty. Another door stood on the wall to the right.

Brook listened at the door but heard nothing. She braced her spear and kicked the door open. The sounds of a dozen or more cowbells crashed behind the door and several things skittered along the floor. The seven-foot wide hallway beyond had a floor covered in caltrops. The corridor was 20 feet long. At the far end of the hallway there was no door, but a crude, makeshift wall had been constructed. It was stone and mortar and even had crenellations upon it.

A screech came from the room and two goblins with bows peeked up over the short wall.

“We’re here from the village to talk to the goblin king about his apples!” I called in goblin. “We have cash!”

The two goblins stopped, the stupid creatures obviously confused. I edged towards the door lintel to give myself a little cover. However, they didn’t shoot. They looked at each other. They looked at me.

“Money?” the larger one said. “What money? What village?”

“Oakhurst!” I called.

“The people that buy the apples?”

“Yes! You’ve heard of us? Very good. Very good.”

“Why are you here?”

“We’ve brought a message for your king!”

They looked at me stupidly.

“If you’re here to see the king, what’s his name?” the goblin called.

“We’re just messengers!” I called. “We didn’t know there was a password! Do I have to go back to get it?”

“Messengers know the king’s name!”

“Well, they didn’t tell us that.”

“I think you’re lying.”

I sighed.

“Fine, I’m lying!” I called.

I cast a magic missile spell that cleaved the larger goblin’s head. He fell behind the barricade. I pointed my still-smoking finger at the other goblin.

“Do you want to talk to me now!?!” I said.

The second goblin flung his hands up, dropping his bow.

“Spell chucker!” he cried out.

I narrowed my eyes at him.

“Shuffle up there,” I said to Brook. “Quick!”

She shuffled up to the goblin.

“Don’t hurt him unless he gives you trouble!” I said to Brook in common and then in goblin, loud enough the second time for the other goblin to hear.

Brook grabbed the goblin and brought him back to the room.

“You won’t be harmed so long as you cooperate with us,” I said. Then to Brook in common: “Rip down those cow bells too.”

She did so as she passed. We closed the door and then turned our attention to our prisoner.

“All right, goblin, what’s the name of your king?” I asked.

“Charm person,” Brook said.

“Oh yeah,” I said.

“Chief name Durnn,” the goblin said.

I cast the spell on the goblin and then cast detect magic. Unfortunately, the spell didn’t take so I cast it again. This time I saw the enchantment controlled the goblin.

“Chief?” he said to me in awe.

“Yes, it is I in disguise,” I said quickly in goblin. “Sh! Don’t tell these two.”

I winked at the goblin.

“How can I help, chief?” the goblin said.

“Very good,” I said. “You see, I’ve been struck by a terrible magical spell that makes me look like a human and it’s taken part of my memory, so I need you to tell me─”

“Chief, that terrible!”

“I know, right? So, I need you to tell me everything about our tribe again. It’s terrible.”

Argie cast a spell that I recognized as comprehend languages. Now she would understand what we were saying.

“They told me once I learned everything, I’ll get changed back,” I said to the goblin. “Maybe.”

“Our chief strong,” the goblin said. “You make our clan strong, chief.”

“I try. I try. How many of us are there again? What’s the disposition? Which room is everyone in?”

“They’re over 60 goblins here.”

“Sixty goblins,” I said in common.

“Good idea keep human prisoners.”

“Yes. They’re filthy. Even more so than usual.”

“We has prisoner human too.”

“Oh.”

“And prisoner dragon.”

“Yes! Yes, that’s right! Where are they?”

“They in stockade, just through hall a bit.”

“That way?”

“Just through next room. Out southwest door is stockade. Where we keep prize prisoner.”

“What does he look like again?”

“Prize prisoner … uh …”

“He’s a human? A male?”

The goblin described a dwarf. It was probably Hercule’s son

“How many are guarding him?” I asked.

The goblin thought.

“There only two guard,” he said.

“Between here and there?” I said.

“No, next room is practice room. Where all goblins train.”

“That’s right! That’s right. There’s how many in that room. There’s … uh … it’s … uh …”

I snapped my fingers.

“There’s how many?” I said. “Oh! It’s … it’s right on the tip of my tongue.”

“There be … there should be four,” the goblin said.

“Four! Yes. Four.”

“Four training.”

“And the alarm system? It’s still intact?”

“There no alarm system outside of wall.”

“Oh, just the bells. That’s right. I always forget that.”

“There not need be.”

“Exactly! Because of the …”

“It be goblinville.”

I tried to get more information on the spread of the goblins.

“See if he’s evil,” I said to Argie in common.

She cast a spell to detect evil and turned to me and shook her head. That was surprising.

“Gurgle too stupid,” the goblin said.

I continued to try to get information from Gurgle though he was not terribly smart. He got very giddy and happy.

“Chief!” he said. “I have just thing for you!”

He led us back to the guard room. There were also a couple of makeshift bedrolls and a small chest in the corner. Gurgle got into the chest and produced a map of the Sunless Citadel. That gave us something to look at and a great deal of information. The very detailed map allowed us to determine where the kobolds were and where the goblins were. Since the goblins had been there since the citadel fell, it was obvious they knew much of the current level.

We determined where we were and where the practice room was, as well as the stockade.

We talked about whether or not to attack the goblins. I noted I had a web spell and Argie had her flaming spells. I suggested we leave Gurgle there.

“Several humans have infiltrated our clan, disguised as goblins,” I lied to the goblin. “But I don’t want you hurt, so we’re going to go back while you wait here.”

“Gurgle do that!” Gurgle said.

“Is there anything else besides goblins in the training room?”

“There are hobgoblin.”

“How many of those?”

“Not as many as goblin. Not as many. Our forge master is hobgoblin. One of stockade guards is hobgoblin.”

“Ah. Where is the dragon, Gurgle?”

“Dragon live in trophy room.”

He was able to point it out on the map. It was pretty far away. We would not get the dragon then. But we could get Dolf.

We discussed what to do and how to rescue Dolf. I noted we could rush the goblins.

“I’ll leave Gurgle here to guard this!” I said.

I produced my sewing needle.

“It is powerful magic, Gurgle!” I said in goblin. “Don’t lose it!”

I handed it to the goblin, who looked at it reverently. That would keep him busy.

“Whatever you do, don’t leave this room,” I told him.

We went back to discussing how to handle the goblins during the rescue. I had a plan to rush into the room, casting a spell to trap the goblins and hobgoblins in a web. Then Argie would enter and blast as many of them as she could with her flaming hand. While she dealt with the creatures in the room, Brook and I would rush the stockade, kill whatever we found within, and free Dolf.

We crept to the guard room, Brook picking up several caltrops. We doused our lights as the goblins had a guttered torch burning in that room. Then Brook listened at the door. She told us she heard the sounds of metal on wood and someone firing a bow. Then she quietly opened the door that led to the next room. There was a small hallway blocking the room from us though light came around the corner. There was a cast of flames as if there were a large fire in the room.

Brook peeked around the corner and then whispered to us what she saw: a large room with four goblins, all of them training. A hobgoblin had a bow on the far side. There was a fire pit in the middle of the room. I did a little calculation and figured I should drop the web on the far side of the room, giving us a chance to cross to the stockade.

I stepped out and cast the web spell. The webs covered the entire far side of the room, completely enshrouding it but leaving us a wide way to the door in the wall on our side of the room. The goblins and hobgoblins were all caught by the web or surrounded by it. The web near the center immediately caught fire, burning furiously. The only one that wasn’t caught by it tried to bolt for the door but immediately got caught in the web.

Brook and I ran towards the other door, leaving Argie to deal with the ones in the burning web. By the time she got around the corner, one of the goblins was already dead. Then she started casting flames onto the trapped creatures.

I cast a knock spell on the door but nothing happened. I cursed and told Brook it was still locked. She barreled into the door, the lock snapping off. Inside the room was a hobgoblin and a goblin. Cages in the far end of the room held a young dwarf and three kobolds tied together, back to back. All of them looked as if they had been severely beaten. The kobolds looked at us, first in fear and then in hope.

“Yusdrayl sent us!” I called in draconic.

That seemed to reassure the kobolds.

Brook rushed in, spear in hand, and rammed it into the hobgoblin’s gut. The creature screeched and then fell to the floor. The goblin swung his stubby little sword at Brook but the blade crashed on Brook’s armor.

I ran across the room to the cages.

“Surrender or be destroyed,” I yelled in goblin as I ran by.

I saw the cages were held shut with wire wrapped around the bars. I put my crossbow down and started working on getting the wire off Dolf’s cage. Meanwhile, Argie cut off the last goblin’s head off.

I got the wire off Dolf’s cage while Brook went to the kobold cage and got the wire off that before releasing the kobolds. They looked at me and one called to me.

“So, all is not lost?” he said in draconic. “The queen lives?”

“Correct,” I said. “Let’s go!”

Dolf was in terrible shape and Argie cast a cure light wounds spell upon him. He was able to walk better.

We fled. We ran through the training room and the guard room and the corridor filled with caltrops. Brook scattered those she’d picked up behind us as we fled. Then we heard the sound of drums. We made it through the empty room, grabbing Gurgle as we went. The deep, angry drums were loud behind us.

When we reached the room with the blood fountain, we heard screams from behind us, probably from the room with the caltrops. We fled through the next room and down the corridor into the room we first met Meepo.

“Will you come with us?” one of the kobolds said to me in draconic.

“Nope!” I replied. “We’ll be back though. Coming to save the dragon.”

The three paused, bowed to me, and sprinted away. I quickly bowed and we ran out the opposite direction towards the first tower. We fled through there and up the platforms to where our chain hung. There was daylight at the top and we quickly climbed up the chain and pulled it up after us. I took off my hat, putting it on Gurgle, who was having difficulty seeing in the bright sunlight, and peeked over the edge.

A minute or so after we had gotten to the top, several goblins reached the landing and looked around. They seemed angry they couldn’t find us and then yelled about the missing rope.

We ran back to town as quickly as possible. I didn’t want to chance the charm spell running out in the wilderness.

It was an hour or so later when we returned to Oakhurst.

“Don’t tell the mayor that the goblins are pissed at us,” I said to the others.

Argie wanted to get Dolf some food before taking him to Hercule but Brook and I were adamant about taking him to see Hercule immediately. Hercule couldn’t believe what he saw at first but then he fell to his knees.

“My son!” he said. “You managed to find my son!”

“Yep,” Brook said.

I nodded, still out of breath.

“You found my son!” Hercule said.

“We rescued him too,” I said.

“He’s a little better now, too,” Argie said.

“Don’t let him go again,” I said.

Hercule helped his son into a chair in the corner allowing him to warm up near the fire. I suggested Argie get some food for the lad but Hercule stopped her and told her he’d get the food. He ran into his house and returned with half a boar which he stuck on a great spit and started turning over the forge.

“Whatever can I do for ye?” he asked.

“Well, we will need to talk to Dolf at some point,” I said.

“Let him rest a bit─”

“No no, not right now. I’m saying, once he feels up to it.”

“That makes sense. As long as he’s willing to talk.”

“I’ve also got to figure out what to do with my friend here.”

“Ah, ye brought one back.”

“Yes. He’s simple. He doesn’t speak common.”

“Most of ‘em don’t.”

“He’s not evil.”

I took my hat back as it was dim in the blacksmith’s shop.

“Really?” Hercule said.

Hercule cooked a massive meal for everyone. Dolf didn’t talk. He ate and warmed himself but he didn’t say a word. I took Argie aside, noting if she had any kind of spells that could help a person’s mind, she might want to use them on him in the future. She didn’t think she had any spells that could help.

I also took Gurgle aside and confessed to him that I was not the chief. He was heartbroken. I told him that though I wasn’t his chief, I was his friend. He stopped and thought about that a little bit.

“You did save Gurgle,” he said.

“I couldn’t leave you behind, Gurgle,” I said.

I told him I would remain his friend if he didn’t do terrible, evil things.

“You do more for Gurgle than anyone else,” Gurgle said.

We got him food and drink. Hercule had brought dwarven ale and wine for all of us. I told the goblin I was going to take him to the store the next day to buy him clothing, weapons, and armor.

Halfway through the meal, Hercule leaned forward and professed he would forge anything we asked him to. I suggested he forge Argie better armor than the banded mail she wore. He said he would and could make metal plates for the tail and a barbed spike for the end.

When he asked what he could make me, I told him he could do me a favor.

“Have you ever heard of this?” I said.

I pulled out the whistle we’d found in the room with the sarcophagi. Hercule leapt out of his chair and grabbed it out of my hand, looking it over.

“Careful what you say,” I said.

“This is azangund,” he said.

“Azangund?”

“It’s a death-caller. Where did you find this?”

“It was in the citadel,” Brook said.

“Yes,” I confirmed.

“Figures it’d be down there,” Hercule said.

“Is it evil?” I asked.

“Depends on your view of necromancy,” he said. “These are famous pieces of iron glass. Nobody knows how to make this anymore. If I were to stick this in the forge, I couldn’t melt it, bend it, hammer it, or dent it.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“You could hit this with a hammer all day and you’d probably break the hammer first. It’s called ‘Death Caller.’”

“What does it do?”

“What it does … according to legend, the people who play these can make the dead dance. A got a book that mentions them. Do you want to read it?”

“Yes. Please.”

He gave me the whistle back and then went into his house, returning with a dusty, dwarven tome that read “The History of Dwarven Craftsmanship” in dwarvish on the cover.

“I would love to borrow that,” I said.

We looked through it and I found it was just a list of artifacts and when they were constructed or lost. We quickly found the whistle and learned that, when it was blown, any nearby corpses would rise and do the bidding of the blower until they were destroyed. It would create either skeletons or zombies and could create two per week.

A few hours went by and Dolf was still not talking. Hercule eventually got a little worried and tried to talk to his son.

“Boy, how are ye feeling?” he said.

Dolf didn’t answer but looked at his father. He tried to answer but couldn’t. I cursed and looked in his mouth. The goblins had cut his tongue out with incredible precision.

“The healing lady, is she able to heal people?” I asked.

“I just help her out,” she replied. “I don’t ask questions. I’ll ask questions now.”

“Go ask her to come here,” I said. “Wake her up right now. This is one of the people from the village. It’s her job.”

Argie didn’t seem to want to go but did. She later told us she found the old Halfling woman awake and playing the harp while an old man danced. She wasn’t pleased to see Argie and when Argie told her Dolf was back but missing his tongue, and asked for something that could help him speak again, the Halfling woman said she couldn’t.

“Figures,” Argie had told the woman. “Just thought I’d ask.”

That didn’t make the old woman any happier and she ordered her out.

“Dolf, can you write?” I asked.

He shook his head. He wasn’t literate.

“He can still answer questions ‘yes’ and ‘no’ … when he feels up to it,” I said.

Dolf nodded.

“So, you let us know when you feel up to it,” I said to him. “We need to know about this party you joined.”

He pointed at the ground and nodded, which seemed to indicate he wanted to answer questions right then.

“Did the goblins capture you?” I asked.

No.

“Were you given to them?”

Yes.

“By the man with the sword?”

Yes.

“And the other two?”

Yes.

“Right after you got in there?”

No.

“Did you explore as an adventuring party before?”

Yes.

“And once you reached the goblins … did they talk to the goblins?”

Yes.

“Negotiated with them?”

Yes.

“And then they handed you over at that point?”

Yes.

“What did they get … did they get anything in return.”

Shrug. He didn’t know.

“So, you’ve been down there two months?”

Yes.

“Have they been using you as slave labor? The goblins?”

Yes.

“And beating you and everything else.”

Yes.

“Did you see a little dragon?”

No.

“Were the … was the other party … did they do anything to indicate they were bad people before handing you over to the goblins?”

No.

“So, it came out of the blue. Hmmm. And this was two months ago. This was right after you entered the place?”

Yes.

“Well, we’re going to see if we can’t …”

Dolf pointed at the sky and made a motion as the sun passing twice.

“Two days you were down there?”

Yes.

“So, two days after you were down there, you were handed over?”

Yes.

“Did you see anything else besides the stockade that you were held in?”

No.

“We’re going to do what we can to help you. I know there are certain regenerative spells priests can cast, possibly from the bigger cities. If we find anything down there that can help you, we’re going to get it for you.”

Brook talked to Gurgle through me, as the goblin didn’t speak common.

“Ask Gurgle if he knows anything about the third party that the queen kobold lady mentioned that was controlling the goblins,” Brook asked.

“Is there someone besides your war chief in charge or advising your war chief?” I asked the goblin.

“Outsider?” Gurgle said. “You talk of Belak.”

“Sounds like the person,” I said. “Have you met Belak? Do you know anything about him?”

I told Brook and she asked what he looked like. I relayed the message.

“Belak old as time itself,” Gurgle said.

“Is he a man?” I asked. “Do you know?”

“Gurgle never see Belak.”

“Have you heard his voice? Have you just heard about him?”

“Belak only talk to chieftain and … older members of tribe.”

“All right.”

“But Belak been there since before goblins.”

“And the goblins have been there since the citadel fell.”

“About 50 years after.”

“So Belak was with the citadel when it fell, I think,” I told Brook.

I turned back to Gurgle.

“But he advises your chief?” I asked.

“Talks to chief,” Gurgle said.

“Talks to chief,” I said.

“So Belak was in the citadel when it fell,” Brook said.

“Belak very powerful,” Gurgle said. “Belak very powerful.”

“Is he a wizard, do you know?”

“Me not know.”

“He’s got to be a caster of some kind,” Brook said. “Or something if he’s controlling goblins.”

“He might be leading your goblins astray, Gurgle,” I said.

“For some other purpose,” Brook said.

I reiterated we were going to shop for gear for Gurgle the next day and I told him he could stay with me as long as he wanted but if he wanted to go somewhere else, he could. I told him he could do whatever he wanted. He seemed very happy. He was deep in thought.

I got him a room at the inn that night. I told him how to use the chamber pot and asked him not to make a mess. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1984-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-3-Kobold-Politics
Pathfinder - The Sunless Citadel 2 - Entering the Crevice http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1983-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-2-Entering-the-Crevice Thu, 12 Oct 2017 00:19:34 GMT Wednesday, October 11, 2017 (After Jacob Marcus ran his *Pathfinder* game “The Sunless Citadel” with Justin Moser, Katelyn Hogan, Victoria... Wednesday, October 11, 2017

(After Jacob Marcus ran his Pathfinder game “The Sunless Citadel” with Justin Moser, Katelyn Hogan, Victoria Larson, and me Monday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.)

Iago’s Memoires

We had slept until noon on our fourth day in Oakhurst. We spent the rest of the day planning and preparing, wanting to get a good early start before we went to the Sunless Citadel.

* * *

We were woken on the morning of our fifth day in Oakhurst by the sounds of the vents in the ‘Ol Boar Inn. I went down after studying my spell book and found Brook and Argie there, eating breakfast in the corner booth. I joined them. We had just finished our meal and Argie stood up.

“Wait!” I said. “Don’t go yet. Don’t go.”

“Why?” she said.

“We should discuss when we’re going to the ravine,” I said.

The door was kicked open and a large woman stomped in. She was well over six feet tall and had long brown hair in a mix of dreadlocks and braids, covered in various metal and wooden charms that seemed to get nicer as they went up her mane. She was dusty from the road. She wore studded leather armor that also seemed to have several blades upon it. She didn’t appear to be armed but had a flat sack over her shoulder.

She walked to the gnome on the counter, it was Dem, and slapped one hand on the wood.

“Brov, I need a drink!” she cried out.

“Oh,” I said to the others. “Maybe she’s with those other adventurers. Would they fit her description?”

As the gnome leaped across the counter and ran to the kitchen via a small, gnome-shaped archway in the wall, I snapped my fingers.

“The ranger!” I said. “That no one could see his face.”

“He had a noticeably big bow,” Argie said.

“Yeah, you’re right,” I said.

The woman had no bow.

“Maybe she left it behind,” I said. “Once the gnome comes, I’ll ask him.”

The gnome ran out with a mug of beer and handed it to the monster of a woman.

“Thanks, gov,” she said.

She drank it down. I waved over the gnomes. Nackle scurried over.

“Is that … is that the ranger that was here with that other party a couple months ago?” I asked.

“Oh, good lord, no!” she said.

“Thank you,” I said. “That’s all we need. Thank you.”

“Let me know if you need anything else,” she said and scurried away.

The woman at the bar smacked it twice again.

“Oi!” she shouted. “You got breakfast here!?!”

Dem leaned out of the little archway and held up two fingers.

“Two gold?” the woman said. “No problem!”

She smacked the gold down on the counter. Dem returned a moment later with food, taking the gold, and ran away. The woman ate her food messily with her hands.

“So, what do you need to do today?” I asked Argie.

“I was going to go to the healer,” she said.

“This didn’t take long yesterday, did it?”

“She doesn’t really welcome me.”

“Why?”

“She’s one of those who think she can do it all on her own.”

“Oh yes. Yes, I’m used to those. Most of my professors were like that.”

I thought a moment and then asked Argie how far it was to the bottom of the ravine. She noted it was a 40-foot drop to the platform the thing had destroyed itself on two nights before. I noted we would need 50 feet of chain.

“I don’t trust that rope,” I said. “It looks like goblin rope to me and goblin rope is generally of an inferior quality.”

We discussed meeting Argie after she went to the healer. Brook and I left the inn to talk to the blacksmith. The mountain of a woman followed us out.

We found Hercule sitting in on his stool, his feet on the forge and his boots on the floor next to it.

“Hello gents,” he muttered. “How’s it going?”

“Ah, my good dwarven friend,” I said.

I greeted him in dwarvish and bowed in the dwarvish fashion. He rolled his eyes.

“What can I do for you gentlemen?” he muttered.

“Chain,” I said. “Do you have 50 feet of chain?”

“Fifty feet of chain?”

“Yes. Strong chain.”

“About how thick?”

“It doesn’t have to be terribly thick. A sword shouldn’t be able to cleave it with a single blow. But otherwise, iron or steel chain will do.”

“My chain couldn’t be cleaved with an axe if you tried.”

“Is it heavy chain?”

“Aye.”

“Can you pull it apart?” the strange woman interrupted.

I ignored her.

“How heavy?” I asked Hercule.

“Who are you?” Hercule asked the woman.

It was then time for me to roll my eyes.

“Bored by passer,” she said.

“All right,” he muttered. “So … what are ye gonna use this for? Are ye gonna pull a cart with it or …”

“We’re to climb!” I said. “We’re going mountain climbing with chain.”

“So it needs to hold people?”

“Yes. At least one person.”

“So, we’re not talking big ox chain.”

“No no no. By any means.”

“I can cobble together something for you. I’ll have it ready …”

“How much? How much and how long?”

“I can get you fifty feet and I can get it for you by tomorrow morning.”

“All right. I think that will do. What’s the cost?”

“Two gold.”

“Fair enough.”

“I’ve just got to attach it all together.”

It seemed rather inexpensive but perhaps he was bored and wanted something to do.

As we left the smithy, I noted we could either try the rope that day or wait until the following day. Brooke was fine with scouting the crevasse that day and then using the chain to lower ourselves into the crevasse the following day. I also wondered about talking to someone about the terrible twig thing, though I didn’t trust the mayor. Neither did Brook. I snapped my fingers again.

“Didn’t they say there was a ranger in this town?” I asked.

She didn’t know. We returned to the inn to find Dem visibly shaken, obviously by the terrible monster of a woman who had been here before.

“Dem, is there a local ranger in this town?” I asked him.

“What?” he said.

“It seems like someone said something about one before.”

“There are lots of local rangers. The problem is they don’t live here.”

“Ah. Then that’s a dead end, so …”

“They tend to come by every couple of weeks but they don’t live here.”

“Oh. Thank you. Thank you.”

We discussed scouting out the ravine again that day. When we told Argie about that after she returned, she was obviously uncomfortable. I advised her not to try to detect evil again. I assured her we would only look and not use any magic.

It took three hours to walk the few miles to the ravine. At the road’s closest approach to the cleft, there were several pillars jutting from the earth where the ravine widened and opened into something more akin to a deep, narrow, canyon. Two of the pillars stood straight but most of them leaned against the sloped earth. Others were broken and several had apparently fallen into the dark-shrouded depths. A few other pillars were visible on the opposite side of the ravine.

From one of the pillars hung the old rope. Almost all of the pillars were covered in a scrawl of some kind of angry graffiti in goblin-tongue. The words “Beware” and “Get Out” were written over and over and over again.

Looking down into the ravine, there was an unnatural blackness. Where the rope hung down was a perfectly white, polished stone landing some 30 feet below. Just below the landing were steps leading down from it. Argie told us the platform was actually the top of a tower. I had not noticed that before.

“The sun was in my eyes,” I said.

“Sure,” she replied.

“When you were looking down at the deep dark ravine?” Brook said.

“Yes yes,” I said. “Sometimes it happens. It’s a strange effect that happens to wizards occasionally.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works,” Argie said.

The stairs disappeared into a black fog. I cast a spell to detect undead but picked up only residual auras. Some undead had been in the vicinity at some time before. I suggested Argie cast a detect poison spell and pointed out the strange fog. She did so but didn’t see anything poisonous. She cast detect magic and realized the fog was magical and in place to obscure vision only. She didn’t think it would affect magical spells.

We headed back to Oakhurst.

The dark-haired woman was at the bar in the taproom of the inn when we returned late that afternoon, the counter covered with mugs and two still in the woman’s hands. We settled in our booth and ordered supper. I also got wine. We paid for our rooms for the night and I also paid for my room for a week more, just in case.

We ate and then discussed our expedition to the ravine the following day.

The woman from the bar came over with six mugs of beer in her hand. She put them down on the table.

“Bartender won’t talk to me,” she said. “I’m talking you y’all. How you doing, luvs?”

She handed each of us a beer. I looked at the liquid with distaste.

“Beer, man,” she said. “ Drink a beer.”

“I am a man,” I said. “And a wizard. So, more than a man, you might say. Better in every respect.”

“You’re really ****ing boring,” she said.

She pointed to Brook.

“You!” she said.

“Yeah … ah ….” Brook said. “He’s a bit to handle at first.”

“He’s just like every other intelligent poof that shoots sparks from his hands,” the woman said.

“Ah yes: sparks, fire, death,” I said.

“Don’t start,” Brook said.

“He’s just like every other magic poof from the airships,” the woman said.

I’m going to have to charm her, I thought as the woman turned towards Argie.

“What the **** are you?” she asked.

“I am a wyvaran,” she said. “Not many of us.”

“****’s that?” the woman asked.

“Well, you see …” I said.

“Not you!”

“There were experiments.”

“He’ll go on forever,” Argie said.

“Kobolds conducted experiments combining kobold with wyvern,” I went on. “It was actually quite fantastically interesting.”

“Do I care?” the woman said.

“You asked!” I said. “If you don’t want to learn than don’t ask!”

“I asked her, not you,” the woman said.

I pushed the beer towards Brook.

“Of course, he could probably tell better than I could,” Argie said. “I am basically an experiment crossbreeding a kobold and a wyvern.”

“His story was better,” the woman said. She turned to me. “What’s yours?”

“What’s my what?” I asked dryly.

“Your version of the story,” the woman said. “It sounded more fun.”

Argie got up and left the inn through the back door. I began to regale the woman of the experiments conducted by the kobolds using wyverns and draconic magic to combine their people into the wyvaran. They imbued dragon magic into their unborn babies, resulting in the creatures.

“So, it’s an experiment,” I said. “I haven’t figured out yet whether they can breed. I’m very curious about that. But don’t ask her about her breeding habits. I don’t think she would appreciate it.”

“No, I found most people don’t appreciate asking about their breeding habits unless they want you to participate,” the woman said.

“Oh,” I said. “I wouldn’t know.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“Of course not. I’m a wizard. I don’t have time for mating pettiness.”

“Whatever you need to tell yourself, love.”

She turned to Brook.

“He’s a looker until he opens his mouth, ain’t he?” she said, pointing a dirty thumb at me.

“A look?” I said. “Oh. Conventional slang.”

I laughed.

“I get it,” I said. “Ha ha. Very funny.”

“He’s a bit arrogant,” Brook said.

“I am a wizard,” I said matter-of-factly.

“He’s a wizard,” the unnamed woman said. “I appreciate the self-awareness.”

The woman slammed her hand twice on the table. Nackle ran over, leapt up onto her little stool next to the table, put down three more mugs of beer, and then ran away. The woman pushed the third beer into the center of the table. I pushed it on to Brook.

I went to the bar and got another glass of wine. While I was there, I surreptitiously cast a charm person spell upon the rude and boisterous woman who had joined us as I was tired of her insults and her behavior. I headed back over to the table and she had already headed for me. She told me she was going to pay for my wine for the night and I thanked her. She told me “Anything for a friend.”

“Now,” she said. “You were telling me some story about some lizard ****ing.”

That was one way of putting it.

I took her over to the table and told her more about the creation of the wyvaran. While I spoke, I caught Brook’s eye and tried to convey whether or not to ask the large woman to join our little group on the expedition to the ravine. I guessed Argie was not going to want the boisterous woman around, and I didn’t care either way.

I also learned the woman’s name was Caterina. She gave me permission to call her Cat.

“Iago,” I said, touching my chest. I pointed at Brook. “Brook. And our other friend is Argie.”

Caterina told us stories of the people she had met at the airship docks in Starfall, the capital of nearby Numeria and the same city I had gone to University in. I found it all very interesting, actually. She told of the sights of the airships, the weird people she’d drank with, and the other people whom she’d punched. It was a lot of people.

Brook got up and moved over to me.

“I like her,” she whispered in my ear. “Entertain her. I’m going go to go figure out how Argie’s doing.”

I continued to chat with Caterina as Brook left the inn. I told her what we had learned in Oakhurst. I told her about the apples of life and death, the evil seeds, and how they became monsters when planted and ran to the nearby rift and destroyed themselves. I told her supposedly the tower and the accompanied ruins at the bottom of the ravine were something called the Sunless Citadel. She recognized that name, having heard it of it before. I told her the mayor traded with the goblins of the rift, buying the apples to sell for profit and then the entire village profited. However, I told her we didn’t trust the mayor.

“Now, hear me out,” she said. “Have you tried punching him?”

“If you’d like to,” I said. “He is a druid of, we think some power. Or was. I don’t think he uses his power anymore.”

“But … have you tried punching him?”

“No. Like I said, if you’d like to try that, it’s up to you. We don’t trust him.”

She pulled up her sleeve and a charcoal pencil and wrote “mayer” on her arm. Also on her arm was an ‘x,’ a squiggle that looked like a spiral, “Dickie,” and a strange symbol, as well as many smudges. I figured those marked out ones had already been punched.

I told her we had scouted out the rift and planned to enter it the next day. I asked if she could climb and she said she could.

“Is that what you need the chain for?” she asked.

“Yes, there’s a rope that leads down─” I said.

“That won’t hold me. I can just punch the wall.”

“Yes. There’s a rope that goes down to the rift but it looks pretty old.”

“Me and rope don’t do well.”

“I thought a chain would be safer.”

I told her we’d go in the morning and search out the rift and find out the truth of it all. The trading was supposed to go on in a few days, when the goblins would bring the apples and sell them. I also told her about the other adventuring party that went a couple of months ago that consisted of a paladin, a drow wizardress, and some other person, perhaps a ranger. I described the great bow that was described to me the man had. I also noted they took Hercule’s son with them.

“They got Dolf?” Caterina said. “I heard all kinds of great stories about Dolf from Herkie.”

She told me Hercule had great stories. I told her about the wonderful cage we’d gotten from the dwarf that hadn’t held the strange wood creature and I told her more about said creature.

She had put an arm around me, constantly holding me as we spoke. I chalked that up to the spell and looked forward to its being over. I was certain my neck would be sore in the morning. Before I went to bed that night, I used a prestidigitation spell as an analgesic to relieve the pain in my neck.

* * *

On the morning of our sixth day in Oakhurst, I awoke, read through my spell book and went down for breakfast. I found the others already eating their breakfast. I hastened to eat some eggs, potatoes, bacon, and toasted bread, along with a light breakfast wine.

The chain had been waiting on the counter with a note addressed to Caterina: “The Large Woman.” Brook saw it and read the address aloud. Caterina took it. Alas, the woman couldn’t read. I offered to read it for her but she handed it to Brook.

“I don’t trust the magic twinklers,” Caterina said.

“The what?” Brook said.

“The hoodly doodlers,” Caterina said.

“Oh, that’s such a shame,” I said. “I thought we bonded over drinks last night.”

“I don’t trust you,” she said.

“I don’t trust you either,” I said. “We’re even.”

Brook read the note. Hercule thanked Caterina for the amazing stories.

“Take care of them with the chain,” Brook read. “I want you to take that chain and I want you to go down in that pit with them and I want you to make sure they all get back with my son alive.”

“Well, here’s your chain,” I said. “Enjoy it.”

Unfortunately, the chain only came with a very large screw bolt. Brook said it would be fine and noted she had plans. However, Argie said “Maybe the general store does.” She left. We followed her there and Lutgehr the half orc sold Argie a padlock to her for a gold piece. It took a key and, though old, was in good condition. When Argie asked to test it, she handed it to Caterina. The woman tried to pull it apart without any luck. Caterina tossed me the lock and I handed it to Argie.

We headed off to the ravine. It took some three hours to get there.

It was late morning when we arrived. Caterina grabbed the rope attached to the post and pulled on it. It broke immediately. Then she grabbed the post and tried to move it. It didn’t move at all.

“You’ve almost got it!” I quipped.

“We’ll be fine as long as we use this thing,” she said.

Brook put the chain around the post and locked the lock, holding it in place. She tossed it over the side. Argie handed me the key and I pocketed it. I suggested we descend one by one and it was decided I would go first. I climbed carefully down and then waited at the bottom with a feather fall spell in case any of the others fell. No one did, though Caterina twirled down the chain, showing off.

Along the edges of the tower were the remnants of battlements and ramparts. They had been badly damaged and they were broken, chipped, and falling apart. I found a large chip and dropped it over the edge, counting as it fell to try to figure out how high the tower was above the ground. It was several seconds before I heard it clatter to the stone below. I guessed it was about a hundred feet down and I told the others.

Caterina picked up a very large piece of cobble and held it over the edge. Brook stopped her.

“I’d suggest we not,” she said.

“Why not?” Caterina said.

“It’s a big boulder. Lots of noise. We don’t know what’s down there.”

“It’s not a boulder!”

“I appreciate your enthusiasm.”

“But he got to do it!”

“His was tiny. It wouldn’t make a lot of noise.”

“This is tiny.”

“Not for the rest of us.”

As they spoke, I went to the steps that led down into the horrible fog to keep watch just in case something came up.

Caterina rolled her eyes and sighed heavily. She put the cobble back where she had found it.

“Thank you,” Brook said. “I promise, if we run into anything big, you’ll be the first one to hit it.”

I heard a skittering noise coming up the steps and quickly backed away.

“Something is coming!” I said. “Something is coming!”

“Dibs!” Caterina said.

Caterina ran to the stairs as I moved away from them. What came skittering up the steps were five rats the size of small dogs. As the first one reached the top of the stairs, Caterina punched it in the face, knocking its skull back into its body and killing it with a single blow. The rat fell backwards and over the side of the steps to disappear into the fog below.

Brook rushed the next rat, sliding at it and slicing with a scimitar but missing completely. The rat tried to bite her but missed. It hissed at her. Another rat barreled up the stairs. It lunged at Caterina but missed her.

I backed up to the far edge of the tower, taking out my light crossbow and loading it. I pointed at the combat but didn’t fire, not wanting to hit my compatriots. Argie lifted her hand and fire appeared around it. She pointed at one of the rats and fire burst from her hand, missing the rat.

A third rat charged up the stairs, trying to bite at Brook, followed by another. Brook slashed the last one, cutting it in half. Caterina kicked another of them, stunning it. Then she grabbed both of their heads and smashed them together, killing both of the rats outright. Brook slashed last and it sunk its teeth into Caterina’s thigh.

“Bloody wanker!” she cried out.

“I think she’s been hit,” I muttered.

“No shit!” Argie said.

“Gadzooks!” I called.

I cast a magic missile spell, sending two missile at the last remaining rat. The missiles struck it and it crumpled to the floor without a sound. Argie went forward and cast a cure light wounds spell on Caterina, completely healing the woman’s nasty bite.

We headed down the steps with Caterina in the lead. Brook was nervous about entering the fog and I told her we’d already checked it. It was not poison, nor was it evil, but merely a magical fog to inhibit vision.

“There must be something down here that’s actually creating it,” I said.

“You coming?” Caterina yelled at us.

We headed down the stairs to a small landing. There was an entrance to the interior of the tower but the floor was gone. We continued down to another landing, this one slightly larger. The stairs continued down about twice as far after that and finally landed us on the bottom.

Brook had lit a torch and I lit a candle once we were in the darkness. The fog didn’t allow any light in from the outside and left it terribly dark below. The fog was limited to the top, near the tower’s roof, and didn’t fill the place as we thought, but hung over it like an evil cloud.

“You think it’s infected?” Caterina said, poking at her leg.

“Ask the cleric,” I said.

“I just told you,” Argie said. “She’ll be fine.”

She looked more closely at the wound.

“You’re fine,” Argie said. “It looks like filth fever but you should be able to work through it in a few days.”

“Filth fever?” Caterina said. “Filth fever. Oh! We got that in the docks.”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ll be alright.”

“But okay!”

“I think I’ve had that one before. Is that the one goblins give you if they grab you in the sewer?”

“I don’t know.”

“Ah, yeah, I’ve had that before. I’ll be fine.”

Just at the edge of sight, a fortress-top emerged from the darkness, a subterranean citadel, though impressive, it seemed long-forgotten. If the lightless windows, cracked crenellations, and leaning towers were any indication, all was quiet though a cold breeze blew up from below, bringing with it the scent of dust and the faint trace of rot.

The narrow stairs emptied into a small courtyard, apparently the top of what was once a crenellated battlement. The buried citadel had sunken so far into the earth that the battlement was now level with the surrounding cavern floor. The floor stretched away to the north and the south. It was apparently composed of a layer of treacherous, crumbled masonry which reached to an unknown depth. To the west loomed the surviving structure of what must have been the Sunless Citadel. A tower stood on the western side of the courtyard.

It was very quiet. I blew the candle out and noted we needed to bring more torches next time. Brook had confided in me she had only the one. Caterina suggested heading back and getting more light but we decided to press on to the tower.

We continued west towards the tower, Caterina leading with Argie following her, myself following Argie, and Brook bringing up the rear.

Suddenly, a trapdoor opened under Caterina as she leapt back, crashing open to reveal a pit with spikes at the bottom.

“Oh, that’s a classic trap,” I said. “Classic.”

Caterina looked around and picked up an armful of crumbled masonry. She started to toss the rocks at every flagstone between ourselves and the door. I examined the pit as she did so. It was only five feet by five feet wide and 10 feet deep with spikes at the bottom. I kept an eye out around us just in case the noise brought anything.

It didn’t.

Caterina didn’t find any more pit traps and we made our way to the tower. It was only a shell and probably an overlook over the fortress when it was on the ground. It was circular and there was no way to go up as the interior floors had crumbled. We noticed there were four small corpses in the room. They died in combat and one was clutching a spear that was lodged in its chest and holding him to the wall. Two other doors headed out of the room, one to the northwest and one to the southwest.

Caterina looked at the corpses.

“Aw, **** me,” she said.

She pointed at the corpses.

“They’re about two months old,” she said.

“Oh, that’s about the same time those other folks came down here,” I said.

I went over to the bodies. They stank and scavengers had obviously gotten to them. They were goblins, of course. Two of them were decapitated, their heads a few feet from their bodies. The third was the one lodged in the wall about three feet above the floor. The last was crumpled in a heap with multiple slash marks on his body, face, and chest. They didn’t appear to have been searched.

“Ah, they might have money on them,” I said.

Caterina searched the bodies and I took the torch and went to the doorway to watch our backs.

“What’s up?” Argie said.

“I’m just keeping watch,” I said. “Can you watch that door?”

I pointed to the northwest door.

She went to the other door and peeked out.

Brook pulled the spear from the wall, the corpse falling to the ground. Directly behind it were glowing runes. Caterina reached forward to poke the runes but Brook grabbed her hand.

“Iago!” Brook called.

She looked at Caterina.

“Don’t move,” she said. “There’s a trap door. Runes. Scary. Iago! Come read these runes. They’re scary. There’s a trapdoor.”

“Runes?” I said.

I crossed the room and looked. The runes were written in Draconic and spelled out “Ashardalon.” I had never heard of that name but put it firmly in my memory as it seemed important. I told them I thought the runes spelled out a name but I didn’t want to say it aloud, just in case.

“I don’t know why this would be here in glowing runes,” I mused.

“What about the door?” Caterina said.

“What door?”

“Apparently that door.”

She pointed down and I noticed the concealed door. It was a small square about three feet on a side beneath the runes. I wondered if the runes had been missed in the heat of the battle that had eliminated the goblins.

“This may be a password to open that door,” I said.

“Wait,” Caterina said. “I got another idea first.”

“All right,” I said.

I thought one what her idea might have been.

“Don’t punch it!” I said.

“I wasn’t going to punch it!” she said.

“All right,” I said. “All right. Just checking.”

She squared up and reared her foot back.

“Don’t kick it!” I said.

“Well, why not!?!” she said.

“Hold on,” I said.

I cast a detect magic spell but didn’t see any magic on the door. Only an illumination magic from the runes.

“All right,” I said.

I took Brook by the arm and we stood back. Then I motioned for Caterina to proceed.

“I just hope there’s nothing valuable and fragile in there,” I said. “Or we could try to open it for you if you’d like.”

Caterina kicked the door and it slid aside. A dart flew out and struck the woman in the leg.

We peeked into the room. It was a small 10-foot by 10-foot square room with three human skeletons on the floor and a chest in the corner. I realized the skeletons had been there for hundreds of years and were probably in the place when it had fallen into the rift. They were covered in debris and dust. I told the others. Caterina called for Argie to go into the room.

“I think it’s pretty safe,” I said. “I’m willing to go in first if you want.”

“Nah, I got it,” Caterina said.

She crawled through the hole, then poked her head back out.

“Can I get your candle, Gov?” she said to me.

I took out a candle, lit it off the torch, and handed it to the woman. She looked at it for several moments. She snapped her finger, popped off one of her shoulder pieces, bit it and put the candle onto it, creating a makeshift candle holder of it. Then she turned to the room.

She got a few steps in before fire ignited in the skeletons’ eyes and they stood up.

“**** yeah!” Caterina said.

“Undead!” I said. “Undead!”

I poked Argie and she pulled out her holy symbol as Caterina put the candle down.

“I’m about to punch some bone!” she called.

I rolled my eyes.

Argie held up the angelic ankh and suddenly all three skeletons turned and cowered against the far wall.

“Punch them!” I said. “Punch them to pieces.”

I shoved Brook’s shoulder.

“Go kill them!” I said. “You two go kill them! Go punch them now!”

“That ain’t no fun,” Caterina said.

“You kicked a door earlier,” Argie said.

“It ain’t no fun if they don’t fight back!” Caterina said. “The whole point is it punches you back!”

“If you don’t do it, they will,” I said.

“Good!” she replied. “I’ll wait!”

“You won’t be able to fight back if they kill you!” Argie said.

I crawled into the room and punched at one of the skeletons while Caterina pouted in the corner. Brook smashed one of the skeletons to pieces.

Caterina turned to Argie.

“Are you sure you can’t let them go for just a bit?” she said.

“No,” Argie said.

“Why not!?!”

“Because, I’m not here to play, ma’am.”

“That’s right!” I said. “This is your job! Do it!”

“I ain’t got a job!” Caterina replied.

I punched the thing again but hurt myself more than it. Then I picked up a large rock and smashed the skull of one of the skeletons. I turned to the last skeleton as Brook destroyed it. I cursed and crawled back out of the room.

Brook went to the chest. She called to Argie, who entered the room and cast a detect traps spell but saw no trap on it. Brook opened the chest and found 80 gold coins. We divided them up. I looked at the coins carefully and didn’t recognize the pictures but guessed it was very old currency. Each coin had a symbol of a dragon head upon it.

I showed one to Argie.

“Maybe we’re going to find out about your history,” I said to her.

“I wasn’t born here so I doubt it,” she said.

“Maybe … maybe your parents were born here, hmm?”

“I don’t know if I have parents.”

I cursed to myself. I had been hoping to find out if her people bred, but she had answered none of my questions.

I examined the trap in the secret little room and found a device over the chest to fire the dart. I wondered aloud if it was a one-shot or would reset when we closed the door. Caterina told us it would not reset but noted the room would be a good place to hide. She said we should put the goblin back up on the wall to help hide the glowing words. I said Brook took the spear and she looked at the thing more closely, noting it was very rusty.

I turned to Caterina and asked how we could get the goblin back on the wall. She took one of the other goblin’s short sword and stabbed him into the wall in the same place. I examined the goblin and skeleton weapons but all of them were worthless.

Brook looked at the floor and told us there were a lot of goblin prints and a lot of other prints that weren’t goblin. Further study and she told us they were kobold footprints.

We all looked at Argie.

“I don’t know ‘em!” she said. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1983-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-2-Entering-the-Crevice
Pathfinder - The Sunless Citadel 1 - The Many Mysteries of Oakhurst http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1982-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-1-The-Many-Mysteries-of-Oakhurst Sun, 01 Oct 2017 00:14:59 GMT Thursday, August 28, 2017 (After Jacob Marcus ran his *Pathfinder* game “The Sunless Citadel” with Justin Moser, Katelyn Hogan, and me Tuesday... Thursday, August 28, 2017

(After Jacob Marcus ran his Pathfinder game “The Sunless Citadel” with Justin Moser, Katelyn Hogan, and me Tuesday from 6 p.m. to midnight.)

Iago’s Memoires

I found myself in the village of Oakhurst, the only place where one could buy the apples of life and death. The enchanted apples were said to be able to cure or kill anyone who ate them. In the summer, they sold the apple of life, which could heal any wound, any disease, or anything wrong, physically, with a person. The apples of death did exactly the opposite: anyone who ate them died. It was said the apples were very distinctive-looking, having an otherworldly aura to them. They were shiny and perfect, without a single blemish. The apples of life were red and the apples of death were white.

It was midwinter when I arrived in the village, two weeks before the winter solstice. I had arrived early in hopes of being able to buy some of the apples. I hoped for the apples of life, but even the others would prove very valuable, potentially.

I, of course, was the wizard Iago of the University of Magic. A tall man, I wore red robes and a wide-brimmed, pointed wizard’s hat. I had a finely trimmed mustache and goatee, and I carried a sack on my shoulder. A backpack, tent, and bedroll were all strapped to the pack saddle of my mule, Hepzidiah. I owned a light crossbow and a dagger to defend myself, but I used my magic almost exclusively. I had even penned several magical scrolls that I kept on my person, just in case.

Oakhurst was a tiny town with the Ol’ Boar Inn prominent in the center, not far from a well and across from the general store. There was a healer, a blacksmith, and a larger house where I soon learned the mayor lived, as well as a small jail and place for the constable of the hamlet. A road ran through it and it had taken me some time to reach it as it was in the middle of nowhere.

I went to the Ol’ Boar Inn, tying my mule up out front.

“Innkeeper!” I called.

I strode into the place and found two gnomes within, one standing on the bar.

“Welcome to the inn, sir!” he said.

The female gnome didn’t say a word but merely waved to me as she worked.

“I need someone to take my mule to the stables,” I said.

“We can see to that sir,” the gnome named Dem said.

I later learned the female was named Nackle.

“Thank you,” I said. “And a room for the night! Your best room.”

Nackle left the inn.

“And a glass of wine,” I said. “The road was dusty.”

“That will be one gold piece for the wine and two for the night,” Dem said.

I paid the gnome and took a seat at a small table in the corner, my back to the wall. The gnome soon came to me with wine and a key for my room.

I noticed another woman in the room who sat at the bar. She had long dark hair, wore armor, and carried two scimitars. There was also a female in a booth with a red cloak over her figure. She was very tall and seemed to have a hunchback or something. She was not human.

One of the gnomes soon returned.

“What do you have to eat around here, my good gnomish fellow?” I said.

“We have lots of meat,” he said. “Any kind of meat you want, really.”

“Dragon meat?”

“You have to go into the bigger cities for that.”

“You said ‘any kind of meat you want.’”

The large woman in red gave me a strange look.

“We have dire bison,” he said. “Is that good enough?”

I frowned.

“Bring me some steak and potatoes then,” I said.

He hurried off.

“Thank you, good sir,” I said. “And another glass, please.”

“Gladly,” he replied.

I lit my pipe, casting a silent image spell at the same time.

I overheard two younger people at the bar who were dressed and smelled like farm hands. They sat near the warrior woman. One of them looked at the other, arms folded. They talked about some kind of goblin monopoly.

I made illusionary but silent sparks come out of my pipe. Then the smoke formed into things above my head.

“How much do they steal from you?” the woman at the bar asked. “The goblins.”

“Oh, they never steal any,” the local said. “They just come by and they sell the apples to us every year. But every time we try to plant the seeds to see if we can grow our own, they’re gone in about a day or two. The saplings come on up within a couple hours and they get to about yay high and … we wake up the next morning and they’re gone.”

I filled the corner up with illusionary smoke filled with strange and mysterious figures.

“We can’t grow our own apples here, so we just pay the goblins a bunch of gold for each one they bring us and then sell them to the people that come by,” the farmer continued. “They only show up twice a year. Bring a bunch of bags. And they leave. We don’t let them into the village. No.”

“All right,” the woman said.

I stood up and walked over to the bar, a smoky, illusionary dragon on each shoulder. My red robes stretched all the way back to the table I had been sitting at and moved strangely of their own accord.

“They come from that chasm, way over yonder,” he went on, pointing vaguely. “You know, legend says there’s supposed to be a great big ol’ fortress over there. But I can’t see how there could be. It’s just a great big old hole in the ground.”

“So, my good, sir, if I might?” I said as I reached the drunken lout.

“Eh?” he said.

He looked at me and seemed intrigued by the spectacle I presented.

“You must be one of them city spell-chuckers,” he said.

I thought on that a moment.

“Sure,” I finally said. “You mean to tell me your village doesn’t produce the apples of life and death, you purchase them from goblins?”

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s not a secret.”

“Well, it was for me.”

“Every time we try to go get ‘em ourselves, we think we know where they come from. There’s goblin writings all over the chasm.”

“And you try to plant your own and they get stolen?”

“Yeah. The saplings grow to about a foot tall overnight. We go to bed and then, the following day, they’re gone. They don’t even look like real saplings. They look like a bush rather than a tree.”

“Have you thought about putting a guard on your saplings?”

“Yeah.”

“What happened to the guard?”

“We didn’t find Clarence again. So, rather than risk another person - there’s only about 50 people here - rather than risk another person, we thought it’d be best if we didn’t put another guard and we haven’t planted since.”

“Do you have more seeds?”

“Yeah!”

“Oh.”

“Got a little bag in the back. Want one?”

“Perhaps … perhaps you need …”

“Two gold pieces I’ll give you one.”

“… adventurers to guard your saplings for you when you grow them. People who have some skill in … I don’t know … knowing how to use a scimitar or … cast magical spells might be able to help you with your situation.”

“Five gold pieces for one seed.”

“You’re upping the price when I’m offering to guard your apples while they grow?”

“Two gold pieces and you can guard the apples as they grow.”

I laughed at the simple man’s audacity.

“Oh my goodness,” I said. “Who the hell are you, anyway?”

“My name is Terry,” he said. “I’m the local farmer.”

“There’s only one farmer in this town?”

“There’s five of us. We share the same fields.”

“I see.”

“Ain’t no lord around here.”

“Not yet. Thank you for your information, Terry. I might take you up on your offer.”

I returned to my table. Terry got up and waddled out.

I kept my magical illusion going with smoke and light. I created a tiny battlefield on my table. Several people showed up just to look at the magical display.

Terry returned some 30 minutes later with a tiny bag. He walked over to me and placed a single, large apple seed on the table. It was black and the size of an almond. He pushed it towards me.

“Oh, Terry,” I said. “Have a seat. Have a drink with me. As you can see, no one’s here.”

He looked down at the strange illusion on the table and saw his drink at another table, went over, drank it down, and left.

“Good talking to you, too, my friend,” I said.

I examined the seed, allowing the illusion to fade away. The seed looked like an apple seed though it was immensely large. Though I had heard about the apples of life and death, I had never heard one described in detail. I wondered how large they were and if they were as large as a pumpkin. I cast a detect magic spell on the seed next and saw that it had been touched by druidic magic. It was some of the most powerful druidic magic I had ever come in contact with.

I lit my pipe again and thought about what I wanted to do with the seed.

The giant of a woman got up and walked over to my table and sat down.

“Ah,” I said. “Greetings.”

“Hello,” she said.

I now got a better look at her. She was solid. She had dark hair and wore an armored coat. She had green eyes and tan skin and two scimitars on her belt.

“I saw you pocket that seed,” she said.

“Yes, the apple seed,” I said. “I’m trying to determine what to do with it. I’m ruminating.”

“Well, if the rumors are true, we should probably plant it and see what grows.”

“Well, I understand that. But, at the same time, if we plant it this time of year, we’ll get an apple of death. That’s not why I came.”

“Well, if your goal is money …”

“Magic is my goal. You might not have a noticed, but I am a magician.”

“I noticed.”

“I’m a wizard.”

“I noticed, sir. You had a small battle going on the table just a few minutes ago.”

“Oh yes, it was quaint. My name is Iago. I am trying to determine the best course of action. The locals, I heard them mention a ravine where the goblins are from. They apparently despise the goblins but I’ve never been one to hold something against a race of creatures, even one as reputably evil as the goblins. So, I’m trying to make a decision what to do.”

I thought on it a moment.

“I wasn’t planning on spending the night alone watching over apples growing,” I said. “I suppose it’s possible for the two of us to watch it. Do you think that would be a good course of action.”

“I think it’s the logical course of action,” she said.

“I’m curious as to whether the seed would grow elsewhere, such as away from the ravine and the goblins.”

“I don’t know if you heard but a group of people, a group of adventurers came through here. They were looking for the Sunless Citadel.”

“The Sunless Citadel! The Sunless Citadel!”

I had heard of the Sunless Citadel though very little of it. It was a fabled place filled with vast riches.

I looked around the room and noted four men sitting at a table talking and mulling over papers.

“You, there, gentlemen!” I said to them. “You know where the Sunless Citadel is?”

“The three adventurers who came through here two or three months back seemed to know exactly where it was,” one of them said.

“Where?”

“It’s the goblin ravine.”

He gestured vaguely in the direction of the old road. It was the same direction Terry had gestured before.

“The old road used to be the major highway that all the people of the empire would come through on,” the man went on. “But ever since the ravine formed, nobody comes through there anymore because the road just ends. You can’t get through there anymore.”

“What are you … ever since the ravine came, is that what you just said?”

“Yeah. Since the cataclysm.”

“What cataclysm?”

“About 200 years ago, the earth shook like a mother****er and we noticed that traffic had completely stopped coming from the capitol. So, we went to investigate and discovered that about half a day’s walk up the old road there was a great big ravine that was about 60 feet across.”

“How far long is it? Why not just build the road around it?”

“The ravine is about 20 miles in either direction.”

“Well, that would be why.”

“There is a new road. It’s a much longer road but it skirts the ravine and comes from a whole other direction.”

“How big is this ravine?”

“It’s about 60 feet across at its thickest. It never gets less than 40 feet until you get to the end of it.”

“You never … you don’t have any …?”

“We tried to build a bridge across it if that’s what you’re asking. As soon as we built a bridge across it, it was destroyed. So we built another one and it was destroyed and by that point we’d run out of money.”

“Destroyed by?”

“Yes,” the warrior woman said. “Did anyone see who destroyed it.”

The man scratched his head.

“Our local ranger said that it was goblins,” the man said. “On account of the fact that, all over this thing, there’s goblin warning signs. You know how goblins don’t have writing? Goblins just put shapes on signs to tell their kinfolk─?”

“Yes, they’re called hieroglyphics,” I said.

“Uh-huh. The posts we stuck in the ground to make the rope bridge across are covered in those.”

“Did you try to talk to these goblins? Don’t they come here regularly and trade apples with you?”

“Mayor’s the only one that can talk to them. The mayor actually speaks goblin. And kobold. The mayor comes out. He meets them on the edge of town, does the business, and then brings the money in and shares it with the whole town and we all make a profit.”

“What’s his name?”

“Mayor Vurnor Leng. He lives over at the big house.”

The strange, large female in red got up from her place and left the back of the inn, probably for the privy.

“So, if I understand you, sir, the Mayor controls the apple business that goes on in town?” the woman asked.

“No,” the man said.

“No?”

“We give him a bunch of money to pay the goblins. He comes back with the apples and then we all divide the money.”

“You sell the apples to passers-through?” I said.

“Yep,” he said. “About twice a year. The first merchants to come. It’s a first come, first serve. As soon as they get here they buy as many as they can afford. The goblins … the goblins don’t really understand money … and it’s better for us that way.”

“They don’t understand money but they have a monopoly?” the woman said.

I realized goblins have a vague enough grasp of money but no real use for it in their culture which begged the question: Why did they need money?

“I don’t think we should do the seed tonight,” I said.

“Agreed,” the woman replied. “We need to wait until tomorrow and ask the mayor a couple questions.”

The large woman came back from the privy and sat back in her booth.

I learned the woman I was with was called Brook.

I also learned where Hepzidiah was lodged and made sure to retrieve my pack saddle with backpack, tent, and bedroll, which all went into my room. It was a small room with a feather bed and a bolt on the door. The inn was set up with an ingenious system of bronze vents and pipes that drew heat but not smoke from the main fireplace in the taproom. It kept the room warm most of the night.

* * *

I woke up when I heard the gnomes clattering in the kitchen below me. I studied my spellbook before heading down for breakfast. I found Brook and the other woman with scales there already. They were the only ones present. Brook sat at a table while the strange creature sat in a booth in the corner. I waved at Brook and then walked over to the stranger.

“Good morningtide!” I said. “I am Iago, a magician, a wizard of some renown.”

“I was … very much aware of you last night,” she said.

“Ah, my plan worked! That’s my friend Brook over there. We couldn’t help but notice you’re obviously not a local.”

“You are correct.”

Brook got up and walked over.

“I’m a cleric of Sarenrae,” the dragon-looking woman said. “I’m visiting the healer here and volunteering for a little while before I move on.”

“Oh,” I said. “I am a mage.”

“Clearly,” she said.

“Brook is a … Brooke, speak for yourself,” I said.

“I’m a ranger,” she said.

“Brook is a ranger,” I said.

“That’s nice,” the dragon-woman said.

“And we have this!” I said, producing the apple seed.

“I know,” the dragon woman said.

“I meant you to!” I said. “And now it’s gone!”

I had quickly cast a prestidigitation spell and made the seed vanish from my hand.

“Could we join you for breakfast?” I asked.

“I suppose,” she said. “So long as I do not put you off. There’s a reason I stay in the corner.”

“You’re a … wyvaran?” I said.

“How … do you know that?” she said. “There’s not many of us.”

“I know many things.”

“Of course you do.”

“If you haven’t noticed yet, he’s a bit full of himself,” Brook said.

“Since he came in with two smoke dragons─” the wyvaran said.

“I’m a wizard!” I protested. “Of course I’m full of myself!”

“─and asked for dragon meat, if I recall?”

“I asked if they had dragon meat.”

“Hm.”

“I didn’t ask for dragon meat.”

“Right. Right.”

“I didn’t. It’s called basic Common.”

“Well, did you need prayer? Is that why you’re here?”

“Probably. I also know that wyvarans are a fusion of kobold and wyvern and often found in leading kobold tribes, serving wyverns, or even dwelling with true dragons. Like wyverns, they are territorial creatures, but also have an acute sense of honor. Many civilized races dismiss wyvarans as fast, dumb, selfish brutes. However, they can make steadfast and loyal allies.”

“He’s educating me about myself,” the wyvaran said to Brook.

“May we join you?” I asked again. “As the only ones present, why should someone sit alone?”

She gestured at the table and Brook and I took our seats for breakfast and a sweet breakfast wine.

“We plan on investigating these apples and their seeds,” I said as we ate.

“Apparently the mayor has some kind of control over the economy,” Brook said.

I learned the wyvaran’s name was Argie.

We proceeded to tell the wyvaran what we had learned of the strange seeds and the apples of life. We related the mayor seemed suspicious as he, alone, dealt with the goblins.

“And why would goblins want money?” I asked. “They have no use for it. At least not in a hole in the ground.”

Argie just looked at me.

“It’s a rhetorical question, you see,” I said. “None of us can answer it. Not even me.”

“Right, right,” she said. “The smartest man in the world, I’m sure.”

“Thank you,” I said.

She rolled her eyes.

We told her we were going to talk to the mayor and explore the town. I told her she could join us if she wanted. She declined, saying she was going to the healer and we should get her when we went by there. Brook wanted to go to the general store and so we parted from the wyvaran.

* * *

The owner of the general store was a half-orc named Lutgehr. The store was mostly filled with farm equipment, nets, snares, a few fishing poles, hunting equipment, and the like. There was nothing that would really be valuable to us except for maybe camping supplies and a few rugged knives. He told us if we were looking for metal works, the blacksmith next door did most of that work, though he pointed out he sold much of what the blacksmith made.

She asked Lutgehr for maps and the half-orc sold her a map of the area for a couple of gold coins. It showed Oakhurst, a place called the Ashen Plain to the west, and the ravine to the southwest. A few pillars drawn on the ravine and the words “Sunless Citadel” had been added to the map as well.

Brook asked the half-orc about the mayor.

“The mayor’s a good man,” Lutgehr said. “It was his idea.”

“His idea to … what?” Brook said.

“Ever since he started talking to the goblins, we’ve been able to make a ton of money. None of us ever really want for anything. We only grow our own crops to feed ourselves. We got a hefty bit of cash.”

I remembered no one claimed Oakhurst. Two hundred years before, there was a lord of the area. However, the area had been affected the most during the cataclysm of 200 years before. Other small provinces and the like were nearby, but none of them claimed Oakhurst for some reason.

“Lutgehr, we’re practically strangers,” I said to the half-orc. “You shouldn’t brag about how much gold you have. Some who are not as moral and just and upright as us might take advantage.”

Lutgehr hung his head in shame.

“No no!” I said. “My good friend, my good man, my half-orc. You must not feel bad. I can understand your being flustered by Brook’s beautimous looks, muscular toned body, perfect legs, and flowing black hair. You must understand. Don’t be embarrassed. Anyone would do that same. I just want you to careful, for future reference. I just met Brook and she seems to be of upright character. I could be mistaken. I know I am of upright character.”

I gave the half-orc and approving look.

“Do you know anything about the Sunless Citadel, Lutgehr?” I asked.

“I see you noticed I added that to the map,” he said. “About two months ago, three adventurers came into town, shanghaied one of our town guards to go on an adventure, because they’d claimed they found the Sunless Citadel. So, I asked them where it is. They told me so I added it to the map.”

“This wouldn’t be that same place as that castle that used to be here, would it?”

He looked at me.

“Wasn’t there a castle in the area where the place was ruled until the cataclysm?” I said.

“Never thought of that,” he said. “But yeah. That’d be right where it should be.”

“Hm. And now it is the Sunless Citadel.”

I accidently dropped the map and used prestidigitation to pick it back up. Twice.

We left the man to look for the wyvaran.

* * *

Argie had been in the healer’s house, dealing with an old man and a person sick with a cold. The healer was a Halfling named Kerowyn, a priestess of Pelor.

* * *

The blacksmith was hammering away at a forge that was built just for dwarves. Argie came out of the healer’s house and I called to her, waving her over as she covered her head with her hooded cloak. We told her we were going to talk to the dwarf and saw the name “Hercule” over the shop. We told her of talking to the half-orc in the general store.

We walked over to the smith and I stood there and watched him work. The dwarf looked very busy. Two farmer’s scythes were heating up in the forge. He was sharpening two pitchforks on the anvil. To one side was a crucible melting steel. He looked very busy and very distracted.

He quickly noticed me watching him and he went into a frenzy of movement, probably trying to impress me. He worked on the pitchfork robustly, grunting and sweating as he did so. He dunked the heated pitchfork into water and then stuck it back in the fire. He got to work on one of the scythes, but his fury of work and possibly pride got into the way. He missed the anvil and bent the blade of the scythe. He had too many irons in the fire.

“Damn it!” he yelled angrily.

He tried frantically to hammer it back into shape but it was not the way it was supposed to be. He glared at me.

“How can I help you?” she growled.

“My good dwarf, I’m here to help you,” I purred. “Might I?”

I gestured towards the damaged scythe. One of his eyes twitched.

“I am a wizard, sir,” I said. “And I am only here to help. But not without your permission, of course.”

I bowed deeply to him in dwarven fashion.

“It is a pleasure to meet such a skilled craftsman,” I said in dwarvish.

He seemed flattered at that. He didn’t say anything but he backed away from the scythe and gestured at it. I cast a mending spell on the blade of the scythe, pulling it back into perfect shape. I stood away from it. The dwarf looked at it and seemed to calm down.

“I can’t help but feel it was partially my fault this happened,” I said.

He put the scythe off to the side.

“What can I do for you?” he asked.

“We’re investigating,” I said. “We have a few questions about the apples and your beautiful village, here.”

He rolled his eyes at the word “beautiful.”

“We are traveling adventurers,” I went on. “We are thinking about going to the ravine, but … but … and this is important. We understand the ravine is important to the economic welfare of your village and we don’t want to cause any trouble with that either.”

“My business is good,” he said. “It doesn’t come from the apples either.”

He looked me up and down.

“I understand one of your own is missing,” I said.

He tensed.

“How did you find that out?” he said.

“Someone at the inn last night mentioned it,” I said. “As well as Lutgehr said one of the town guards had gone away with some adventurers a few months ago and had not yet returned. None of them returned, I suppose.”

“That’s right. My son didn’t come back.”

“He was your son. My condolences. The goblins─”

“I don’t need your damned condolences.”

“Then I rescind them. The goblins might still have him as a prisoner. The possibility is there.”

“Goblins, especially these kinds, love their pit fighting. And I know my son. The little pansy-ass shit probably didn’t survive two rounds in one of their rings.”

“Not much faith in your son, I see,” Brook said.

“He couldn’t cut a ****ing tree down,” Hercule said. “Let alone swing a sword properly. I tried to train him. He thought he was good. That was the funny part. He thought he was good. So, when that damned wizard and the stupid, stupid paladin … I ****ing hate paladins. They always think they’re so good.”

Argie smirked.

“When he came through and he looked at my son and said …” Hercule went on. “You know what? I think he thought of my son as a pack mule because a big muscular boy he was.”

He found a chair and sat, leaning back, his foot up on the anvil.

“That ravine … that ravine …” he went on. “They came through claiming that the damned Sunless Citadel was at the bottom of it. And … I don’t think it is. Because if it were, I think there’d be a hell of a lot more people coming through to see it. The merchants and the mapmakers in town have already started adding it to the map as if it’s ****ing there. But I don’t think it is. At the same time, my son never came back. And … I do have hope that he is still alive. But I’d more like to see that damned paladin alive so that I can put my boot through his head myself.”

“What is your son’s name?” I asked.

“My son’s name is Dolf,” Hercule said. “His name is Dolf.”

He looked into the fire.

“And your name, good sir?” I asked.

“My name’s Hercule,” he said.

“Well, if we go to the ravine, we will look for him.”

“If you plan on going, take none of our people and you’ll do way better than those adventuring *******s did.”

“No no no. I don’t put others into danger. I put myself into danger for others.”

He got up and got to work and I thanked him and we left as he grunted an appropriate good-bye.

We went to the mayor’s house next. A wooden plaque over the door read “Mayor Vurnor Leng.” He was obviously not a local. He was sitting at a grant table and eating a meal. He had black hair, piercing green eyes, and slightly pointed ears that seemed to indicate he was half-elven. He dressed as the rest of the people in the village but was very clean. He was very lean.

“Okay, go talk to him,” I said to Brook. “This is weird.”

The massive building proved to be more a great hall than anything else. There were trophies all over the walls, as well as banners of the various other provinces and kingdoms adjacent to Oakhurst. Many of the trophies were made of animal heads. A tapestry covered a wall that told the story of the Sunless Citadel. It started with a picture of a black, multi-spired castle. Then there was a picture of a huge dragon that covered the sun. The dragon breathed fire on the keep and then the castle was gone and there was nothing but a chasm or ravine. Argie, once she saw it, went over to admire it.

Brook went to the mayor and pulled up a seat. The man leaned forward and looked at her, a near constant smirk on his face.

“Another adventurer?” he said, a lilt to his voice. “Wow. That’s a lot more than were used to seeing. What can I help you with?”

Brook leaned forward to show off her ample cleavage, taking a deep bow. He seemed unphased.

“Thank you for noticing, Mr. Mayor,” she said.

“Yeah!” he said.

Once they were talking, I quietly cast detect magic and looked around. Argie gave off a little glow, unsurprising as she was a strange draconic experiment. Vurnor Leng gave off a strange nature glow. Nothing else glowed in the place, however. Leng’s glow was the earthy green of the druids. It didn’t seem like he had used any of his druidic abilities in a long time.

“Can we talk about the apple trade in town?” Brook said.

“Sure!” Leng said. “You came at just the right time, man! In about a week, we get a whole other shipment. You get to buy them before the merchants show up.”

“Well I appreciate that, sir,” Brook said. “How does it work when the goblins come to town? Do they just come into town and sell to the merchants directly or … how does it work?”

Leng leaned forward.

“Yeah,” he said with a smirk. “About 50-odd years ago, they just started coming to the village and they would bring these apples. And we knew they weren’t normal. These apples are about the size of a pumpkin. One of them could feed a whole village. But then we ate one of ‘em and we realized we felt better than we’ve ever felt before. And … so we bought ‘em from ‘em and we started to sell ‘em. Do it about twice a year.”

“Well, Mr. Mayor,” Brook said. “It’s strange behavior that I’ve heard of for goblins to come into contact with people through trade.”

“You know, goblin tribes are weird.”

“That seems like a very simple explanation, Mr. Mayor.”

“I’m about 80 years old. Back when I was a practicing druid, in my village, we had had six goblin tribes that lived all around us. All of ‘em could speak three to four languages. Some of them had complicated rituals. Others used money. Others would even barter and trade. So the idea of a goblin tribe circumventing or usurping expectations is not alien to me, while it might be to you.”

“Well, Mr. Mayor, from where do these goblins come?”

“They come from that crevice.”

“Crevice?”

“The crevice on the old road.”

“I figured.”

“They moved in, according to the locals ledgers, they moved in about 50 years after the cataclysm. They’ve been there ever since. We don’t know where they live in that trench. We know the old fortress is down there. We assume they live in that.”

“The Sunless Citadel? The old fortress.”

“That’s what those adventurers called it. Never heard it called that before. Although I have heard of the Sunless Citadel.”

“What do you know of the Sunless Citadel?”

“It’s one of those legends they tell kids to stop ‘em from going into the woods.”

“Have anything to do with this large tapestry you have on the wall?”

“That’s just what happened when the cataclysm happened. Dragon came through and he ripped great big holes in the land. The local castle, where the lord lived who ruled this area, sank right to the bottom of it. Then the chasm closed up slightly again. I assume the castle’s crushed under there somewhere.

“But that’s just a legend. Nobody’s seen that dragon or any dragons in about 200 years. The cataclysm was the even what ended it all.”

He went quiet and took a bite off the turkey leg on the table.

“Well, Mr. Mayor, I know some people from the village, including a group of adventurers like me and my friends over there, had gone into the chasm prior to our arrival and have been missing some two months?” Brook said.

“Yeah,” Leng said.

“Have you sent anyone after them or … made any sort of inquiries into that issue? Have the goblin brought them up during trade or has it been too long since you traded previously.”

“Outside of the trade, we never see them. And we don’t interfere with them. And as long as we make sure … I don’t worry about those adventurers hurting the trade, I worry about their lives. Because we haven’t seen them. And we do not have enough people or enough knowledge or power to be able to go in after them.”

I asked Argie if she could detect evil quietly. She said she could and we talked about it.

Brook tried to sit on the table and fell to the floor with a crash. Argie and I looked over, wondering what happened.

“Brook, are you all right?” I asked. “What just happened?”

Brook jumped to her feet and brushed herself off.

“Aren’t you afraid, Mr. Mayor, that if adventurers go and exterminate the goblins, the money-making venture of your apple selling might … dry up?” I asked.

“The thought has occurred to me,” he said.

“You didn’t try to stop the adventurers?”

“Do I have a military?”

“Asking politely could do just as much, dependent upon what kind of people they are.”

“The man that came through and started it all was a paladin of the sun. A paladin of the sun wanting to visit one of the darkest places in this entire realm. Do you think I can stop someone like that?”

“The land is under your domain, isn’t it? Lawfully, you are the law of this land. Then yes, sir, I think if you tell a paladin that he is breaking the law by going into a place where you have told him not to, that he will not go.”

“His laws were not of this land.”

“Ah. Typical hypocrisy of paladins.”

“His first law of existence told him that he has to expunge darkness and evil wherever he found it, even if that goes against other laws. And it seems he had two shanghaied with him. He had a wizard and he had a ranger.”

“What did these people look like?”

“Well, the paladin’s name was Sir Braford. Braford … the only thing … he always had his helmet on. He never took that off. He was about … he was huge.”

“What kind of helmet? Cover his whole face?”

“Visor, yes. Full plate.”

“A paladin of the sun that won’t let it touch him. Interesting. What about the others? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Sir Braford, before I continue, little interesting detail. He had a sword around his waist that I’ve never seen the likes of before. Very, very, very unique. It had a jagged edge on one side and a smooth, razor edge on the other. And it had this … gem on the hilt.”

“Hm.”

“It was also inordinately long. To me or you, it would have been a full-sized, two-handed broadsword.”

“But he was immense?”

“He was immense.”

I recognized the description of the sword. It sounded like one of the Seven Great Swords, one of them being Shatterspike. It matched the description exactly. The weapon was evil and intelligent. The swords also commanded they could not be concealed. Thus the reason for his wearing it where all could see.

I asked for descriptions of the other two.

“The other two were pretty bland,” he said. “There was the wizard. I think her name was Sharwyn.”

“A bland wizard,” Brook said. “That must be comforting.”

“She just wore a gray cloak, had a wide-brimmed hat and she didn’t do much magic,” Leng said. “I could tell that she was rather powerful. Potentially even gifted. She didn’t like being looked-at directly. She was a drow.”

That was disquieting.

“Then there was the ranger,” Leng went on. “The ranger came through, and he was just an average human. There was nothing really special about him. He just … I couldn’t even tell you his name.”

“Name?” I asked.

“His name was Karakas,” Leng said.

I asked if the man had a bow but Leng said the only thing notable about him was that he kept his hood up and it was so dark under the hood, you couldn’t see his face. He said the man had a massive bow, the type used by people who lie on their backs and fire it using their feet.

“They seemed all right to me,” Leng said. “They came through, they said they wanted to find the Sunless Citadel. I told them they could go right ahead and look, that it’s not here. And they went off and never came back.”

“And you had no worries they might destroy the goblins and end your apple trade,” I said.

“No.”

“How did you initiate this apple trade with these goblins? I remain curious.”

“They really just showed up.”

“Goblins just showed up?”

“At first we thought they were going to try to raid our village. But they were carrying all these sacks.”

“Full of the apples.”

“Full of the apples. And when … I can speak goblin.”

“Oh!”

“So, of course, I went and I met them. And … they said they wanted to trade. So, I told them they couldn’t come into the village. They were fine with that. They sold us the apples and then they left. We thought it was over. And then, six months later, they came back, this time with white apples.”

“The death apples.”

“Yes. They don’t sell as well as the red ones but at the same time, it’s a different market for those.”

“I understand.”

“Wizards love to study them.”

“I can imagine.”

“That’s mainly who comes to buy them. Those and a bunch of shady people. But that’s about it.”

“How much do you pay the goblins for these apples?”

“Sixty gold each.”

“How much do you sell your apples for?”

“That depends on how many we have. Sometimes we get hundreds.”

“And that brings the price down.”

“Sometimes we get hundreds. Sometimes … last year’s crop only had 50 apples in it. And those, of course, were about a thousand gold apiece.”

“And I understand that the apples won’t grow around here.”

“They will, but we don’t know why─”

“They just disappear.”

“Yes.”

“Along with anyone guarding them.”

“I didn’t tell them to put a guard on it. I told them not to.”

“I’m not accusing you of anything. You’re looking out for your people. You’re in a precarious position here. You have so many countries around you and you’re still independent.”

“Terry came by yesterday, said he sold you a seed. Have you checked on it?”

“No. No.”

“Have you actually checked it? You’re a wizard. You know actual magic.”

“Yes yes yes. It’s magical, yes.”

“That’s all you know.”

“That’s all I know. What else should I know.”

“It doesn’t matter what color apple the seed comes from, it’s always evil.”

“The seed is always evil.”

Argie looked at me and then stepped back.

“Destroy it,” she said under her breath.

“So, the seeds are evil,” I said.

“Destroy it,” she said more loudly.

“No matter what apple they come from,” Leng said. “Even the apples that cure diseases.”

“Interesting,” I said.

“There must be a catch,” Argie said.

“Well, thank you mayor,” I said. “Unless you had something else. I’m sorry.”

“No,” Brook said. “But, you’ve been a valuable source of information, Mr. Mayor, but I think we’re going to try to go do something on our own?”

We left the place. I told them what I knew about Shatterspike and the Seven Great Swords. I told them it had not been a paladin. I warned them drow were not to be trusted. We also talked about the trees.

“You’re not thinking of planting this thing, are you?” Argie said.

“Well, the apples themselves are not good or evil, just the seeds,” I said. “You did look at it and it’s evil?”

“Yes.”

“I guessed as much. Very evil?”

“It looked like fire in your pocket.”

“Maybe I should get a little box for this or something.”

I pointed out there was no real hurry to get to the Sunless Citadel as we had nearly a week before the goblins came to the village. I suggested getting Hercule to build a little cage to use to grow the seed and see what happened.

“Does it get up and walk away?” I asked. “Does it attack those around it? Does something come and get it?”

“I don’t like this,” Argie said.

We discussed it and I told them I didn’t trust the mayor. Brook agreed that we should plant the seed and put the cage. I voiced that if it did turn into something horrific, we’d destroy it. Argie thought I’d want to let it run free but neither Brook nor I wanted that. I also noted someone was in charge of the goblins. The species did not traditionally trade with mankind.

We found Hercule, working less frantically than he had been before.

“Ah, Hercule,” I said. “We might have a commission for you.”

“Aye,” he said. “What do you want me to make?”

“We need a cage.”

“How big?”

“I would guess perhaps four feet tall. No, three feet tall. Two and a half to three feet wide. Narrow bars.”

“How thick do you want the bars?”

“What?”

“How thick do you want the bars? A ****ing birdcage or human cage?”

“A birdcage that a human would have trouble getting out of.”

“Aye. It’ll be 20 gold pieces and I’ll have it done in a day or two.”

“Thirty gold pieces to have it done tomorrow morning.”

“Done.”

* * *

Hercule was waiting in the taproom for us on our third day in Oakhurst. He had circles under his eyes but he had a cage that was perfect. It was iron and heavy with thick bars. I paid him and told him it was perfect and then complimented him in dwarven as well.

I had purchased a little box for the seed the day before. If it was as evil as Argie said, I didn’t want it against my skin.

We headed out of town and found a copse of woods on the other side of the village from the ravine. I took my backpack with my tent and bedroll. I pitched the tent in the trees and then planted the seed, putting a little water from my water skin on it and quickly manhandling the iron cage over it.

The plant grew almost immediately, beginning to sprout before the water could even touch the soil. Argie cast a spell but could detect no evil from the sapling. I guessed there was powerful druidic magic at work. Within 12 hours, it went from a small sapling to what looked like a bramble bush. It just fit in the cage by the end of the day and wasn’t touching the cage. I pulled one branch out so it touched the iron.

Night was falling by then and Brook said she’d take the first watch. I went to sleep in my tent while Argie chose to sleep under the cold stars in her bedroll.

* * *

I was awoken by Brook an hour or two after sunset.

“The cage is making noise,” she said. “I don’t know if you want to hear it.”

I climbed out of the tent and cast a dancing lights spell, creating four flaming lights in a square around the cage. I heard Argie chanting and realized she was casting detect evil again.

The horrible little bush was now shaped like some kind of humanoid creature that was small enough to comfortably fit in the cage. It’s hands, for lack of a better word, were grasping the bars of the cage while the thing made a terrible noise and shook the bars.

“Hm,” I said. “Intelligent?”

Argie cast a spell to create fire in her hand.

“Wait!” I said. “It can’t get out. It’s trapped.”

The sapling was gone and there was a hole in the ground. I ran over to the thing and stared at it. I tried speaking several different languages to it but it didn’t seem to understand any.

“Fascinating,” I said.

I cast a spell to detect magic upon the thing and found it was magic and held together by druidic magic. Argie cast a spell to detect evil and then raised her hand to fling the fire at it.

“Wait!” I said. “It’s trapped for the moment. It’s evil, I take it.”

“Yes!” she nodded. “Yes!”

I didn’t figure a charm spell would work on the thing.

“Don’t do anything reckless,” Argie said. “If this thing gets away …”

“No no no,” I said.

“Because it would have to go right through town to get where it wants to go.”

“No no no. We’re not letting it go. We’re not letting it go at all.”

Brook was making noises at the thing. It seemed to look at her and then curled up in a little ball and started to shiver, watching her with pure hatred in its glowing leaf-eyes.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“I just wanted it to calm down,” Brook said. “But look at it now.”

Brook leaned down by the cage and I warned that my spell was going to fail shortly. Then it did so, throwing us into darkness.

“Oh, that’s just the spell going out,” I said. “Hold on.”

I took out flint and steel and lit a candle.

“Better than cursing the darkness!” I said with a laugh.

The thing saw the flame and cowered even more. It seemed terrified of the fire of my candle.

“I don’t think that my charm spell will work on this thing,” I said. “Too bad we don’t have a piece of metal we can slide under it or something.”

The thing stood back up, looking around with hatred. While Argie and I discussed the possibility of her using a comprehend languages spell on it, Brook tapped the cage with her sword, which seemed to enrage the strange little thing.

“What are you … why …?” I said. “Just stop!”

“I just wanted to see how it reacts,” she said.

“Can you speak with animals?”

“No.”

The growling sounded like dozens if not hundreds of tiny tree branches rubbing together.

“How are they getting the apples?” I wondered aloud. “The seeds come from the apples. The villagers gather them before they sell the apples. Probably they don’t want to sell the apple seeds or send them out of the village, because that could potentially end their trade.”

I looked at the little thing, growling so strangely. I put the candle a little closer and it quieted for a moment.

“So, it’s not completely unintelligent,” I said.

“It just doesn’t have a language of its own,” Argie said.

“How do the goblins grow the apples from this?” I said.

“That’s assuming this is what actually grows the apples,” Brook said.

“But these seeds came out of the apples.”

“They did?”

“I’m assuming Denny didn’t tell me he was selling me an apple seed and handed me a monster seed in its place.”

“Well, if Terry didn’t know.”

“Terry was his name? I don’t remember his name.”

“Or he believes he sold us an apple seed.”

“Remind me,” Argie said. “This is a new experience for these farmers?”

“No, no,” I said. “They’ve been trading with the goblins for years.”

“Yes, but they were complaining about trees going away.”

“They did not say if it was a new experience.”

“But they did start complaining about it.”

“We need to ask Terry.”

A little comparing of stories made us think the last experiments with planting the seeds had been years before.

“So, perhaps the goblins know the way to plant the apple seeds to grow the apples without creating … that,” I said.

The horrible little thing shook the bars again but made no progress in escaping.

“Dwarven craftsmanship,” I said. “You can never ever pay too much for dwarven craftsmanship.”

“So, what do you plan, Mr. Mage?” Argie said.

“Well, this needs to be shown to … someone,” I said.

“Not the mayor,” Brook said.

“I don’t trust the mayor,” I said. “We need to at least trust Hercule.”

“I’ll stay here,” Argie said.

“He lost his son. The gnomes perhaps? The half-orc?”

“If the mayor is a druid and this is druidic magic─” Argie started to say.

The creature suddenly stopped. It looked off to the west, towards the village, and began to push the cage in that direction. Argie moved towards the cage.

“Hold on,” I said. “Let’s see where this goes.”

The thing couldn’t move the heavy, iron cage, but it continued to try to push towards the village and the ravine. It desperately clawed in that direction.

“We need a leash and a muzzle,” I quipped.

“No,” Argie said. “You got get your mayor.”

“I don’t want to get the mayor,” I said. “I don’t trust him. I think he has something to do with this. I honestly do. In my opinion, he made a deal with the goblins to do some terrible thing like, I don’t know, use the blood of innocents to fertilize their seeds so that they’ll grow wonderful apples so that he can make money in the town.”

“I say we let it go,” Brook said.

I watched the thing carefully. I didn’t want it to escape.

“I say we let it go and follow it,” Brook said again. “We know at least it’s going to the ravine.”

“We don’t know how fast it is,” I said. “It could zip away leaving us with no chance of catching it.”

“I’m a fairly avid tracker,” Brook said.

The horrible creature suddenly pulled itself apart and phased through the cage. I tried to run around the other side with the candle but it was too fast for me and sprinted away towards the village. We gave chase.

“Don’t kill it!” I called. “Don’t kill it!”

We couldn’t catch it and it ran all the way through the village and out the other side, the three of us in close pursuit.

“Hold on!” I said, out of breath, as we ran. “I can stop it! I can stop it! Hold on! Oh Gods.”

We chased it, sprinting, for over an hour. The pain of keeping up with the thing was terrible. Once I could see the ravine, I stopped long enough to cast a web spell. Unfortunately, the thing leapt free of the 20-foot radius of webs and was gone, took a few more steps forward and flung itself off the cliff.

We all ran to the edge of the ravine.

Only Argie could see in the dark. She told us she saw it land on a very small platform, shattering as it struck the stone and flying into a million pieces. It was obviously dead. She watched it for a little while just to make sure.

“Why?” she said.

She cast a spell to detect evil. Then she grabbed both of us and stumbled back.

“Wait!” I said. “Wait! Did you see anything?”

“This whole ravine is evil,” she said.

We noticed a couple of wooden pillars nearby, probably the pillars or stakes used by the villagers to make their rope bridge. A sturdy rope was tied to it, going down into the pit. She told us there was a platform with steps going down into the darkness beyond even where she could see. She also told us the cliff faces were as smooth as glass.

“I’m wondering if there really was a dragon,” she muttered. “And if that dragon fire …”

“Well, it wanted to get to the ravine,” I said. “After it tried to kill us.”

“I’m exhausted,” Brook said.

We walked back to the town while we talked.

“So, at first it’s feral,” I said. “Then it tries to get back home to destroy itself. That doesn’t explain why the man disappeared who was on guard before. If it attacked and killed him, his body would still be there. Did it take him? Did it kill him and drag him? Hm. Interesting.”

“I swear that dragon was evil and the left behind some weird-ass shit,” Argie said.

“Goblins and evil little imps?” Brook said.

We returned to town. I went back to the campsite, collected everything and trudged back to the inn to sleep the rest of the night.

* * *

I slept in until noon on the fourth day we were in Oakhurst. We ate together and then discussed exploring the ravine that day. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1982-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-1-The-Many-Mysteries-of-Oakhurst
Basic Roleplaying System: Deadworld Session Nine - Roanoke at Last http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1980-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Nine-Roanoke-at-Last Sun, 09 Jul 2017 02:07:25 GMT Monday, June 26, 2017 (After playing the *Basic Roleplaying System* original setting “Deadworld” with Ambralyn Tucker, Ashton LeBlanc, and Collin... Monday, June 26, 2017

(After playing the Basic Roleplaying System original setting “Deadworld” with Ambralyn Tucker, Ashton LeBlanc, and Collin Townsend Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.)

On the morning of Saturday, August 15, 2015, the ragged band of survivors of the meteor-created zombie apocalypse got up. They had spent the night in some peace at the Pirate’s Cove Marina on the east end of Roanoke Island in some of the abandoned condos there. One of them had been shot by the man guarding the bridge to the outer banks and she was still unconscious. The others fared only somewhat better.

It was eventually decided most of the crew, including the two doctors, would stay at Pirate’s Cove while a few of them would scout out Roanoke Island. In the end, Lisa Weiss, Manuella “Manny” Rodriguez, and Jonathan Franks took the white SUV Manny always drove and headed down Highway 64 onto the island. The handsome Franks had taken the shotgun position and napped. Manny drove, still unhappy about the broken window on the driver’s side. Lisa sat in the back seat, looking around nervously and drowsily.

It was overcast and had threatened rain all morning. It was hot and humid, despite the air conditioning blowing in the vehicle. They couldn’t see too far in the gloom. The GPS in the vehicle was working, though it was sporadic. There didn’t seem to be much to look at anyway, though they passed a darkened building to the right a half mile or so beyond Pirate’s Cove, and came to a wide intersection where the stoplights still flashed red, yellow, and green. Another wide road ran perpendicular to the highway they were on and they could see more structures to the north. To the south, the road headed into a wooded area.

In the center of the intersection was a big yellow arrow, spray painted, pointing to the south.

Just as they stopped in the intersection, the weather broke. It started raining heavily, water pouring out of the sky in buckets, making it hard to see very far. It crashed on the roof of the car and splattered on Manny through the broken driver’s side window. The roof rattled when hail struck the car and crashed off the pavement.

Lisa looked around, startled. She had been napping in the back seat a little bit. She wondered why they were stopped.

“Oh my God,” she said. “It’s ridiculous out there.”

“Manny, you driving over gravel again?” Franks muttered.

“Where should we go?” Manny said.

She turned on the windshield wipers, setting them for the highest setting. They tore across the windshield, whipping the water off.

“Jesus Christ!” Lisa said as hail clattered against the roof.

Manny turned on the lights and turned right, heading for Manteo, according to the GPS. They passed darkened buildings on the right and left, mostly set back from the road but were unable to make out the darkened signs due to the pouring rain.

They had only driven a quarter mile or so when they saw a lit building on the right, behind a parking lot. A vehicle was parked just off the road in the driveway of the building, crossed by an asphalt sidewalk or bike path. Though the sign by the road was dark, they could make out a lit sign on the little brick Dunkin Donuts shop behind the small parking lot. A drive-thru ran around the building, disappearing in the back.

The car was pulled over, partially blocking the main entrance to the parking lot. Manny pulled up behind it. She was unsure if the car were running, the sound of the rain on the roof drowning out any other sounds from outside. Her left side was getting increasingly wet from the rain.

“Hey, Manny,” Franks quipped. “Why are you all wet?”

“Do … do you want to go check out that car?” she replied. “Maybe there’s stuff in it.”

“Why do both of us have to get wet?”

“Well, I mean …”

“What?”

“Do you really want me to go check it by myself? I’m the driver here.”

Franks sighed.

“Yeah, I’ll go check it,” he finally said.

He took his pistol and his baseball bat out before climbing out of the SUV. He was almost instantly soaking wet due to the pouring rain.

“Do we not have an umbrella?” he muttered.

“If this was my car, it would have umbrellas,” Manny said. “But it’s not my car. Because they left my car when they tried to chop off my foot!”

Franks went over to the other car, a hatch-back, and found it empty, though there was a copious amount of dried blood on the driver’s seat. The door was slightly ajar and he noticed the dome light wasn’t on. He looked in the back seat but saw nothing. He went around it and opened all the doors, quickly looking in the back and the front. He found nothing of value though the glove compartment was locked.

He went back to the car and asked to borrow Manny’s crowbar. She handed it out through the broken driver’s side window.

“It’s a freakin’ Dunkin Donuts,” he said as he took it.

“Now I want doughnuts,” Manny said.

“I don’t,” Franks replied.

He took the crowbar back to the other car, pried open the glove compartment, and was disappointed to find it only held the registration, the instruction booklet for the car, and some old maps.

“Who locks their glove box?” he muttered as he walked back to the SUV in disgust.

He thought he saw the hint of movement from inside the Dunkin Donuts as turned away from the car. He looked at the building but couldn’t see anyone within.

* * *

“God, some coffee right now would be amazing!” Lisa said, looking at the building from inside the SUV. “Are they even open?”

“Why would they be open?” Manny said. “I don’t see the ‘open’ sign on.”

“Well, yes, I can see that,” Lisa said.

She slipped up to the front seat to get a better view of the building. They both wondered why Franks had stopped by the car. He finally returned to the SUV and Lisa climbed into the back seat once again. Franks, soaking wet, handed Manny her crowbar.

“So, apparently the Dunkin Donuts is still open,” he said.

“What do you mean?” Manny said.

“Are they?” Lisa asked, peering through the window.

“Yeah, sure,” Franks said. “All the … nah, I saw something move in the window. Should we go check it?”

“I mean … are zombies really worth some coffee?” Manny said.

“I haven’t had coffee in weeks,” Lisa said. “I’m ****ing tired of this.”

She got out of the SUV and walked in the pouring rain to the Dunkin Donuts.

“Man, she really wants that coffee,” Manny said.

Manny pulled the SUV into the parking lot.

“Why are you taking us closer?” Franks said.

“Well, let’s get her coffee,” Manny said.

“Why?”

“I didn’t say we were going in! I just said we were parking closer.”

“We just watch.”

* * *

Lisa reached the large double front doors of the shop. She leaned against them to look through the window and felt the door move. It wasn’t locked. She peered in through the glass. It was very dark within and she saw the counter and little tables and chairs within. Another door led to the back. She didn’t see anyone in the place so she pushed the door open a crack.

“Hello?” she called.

There was no answer.

She turned back to the SUV, which was parked in the middle of the parking lot.

“Guys!” she called. “Help me look around!”

“I’m not looking for damned coffee!” Manny called back.

“**** you, mate,” Lisa muttered under her breath.

* * *

“I’ll rock-paper-scissors you for it,” Franks said.

“What?” Manny said.

“Who goes in the house.”

They played rock-paper-scissors in the front seat. Manny lost.

“Well, if you want a quick getaway, I guess that’s out of the question now,” she said.

* * *

Lisa walked to the right side of the building as Manny got out of the SUV and walked to the front door. Lisa looked back at her but then went around the side of the building.

“I thought you wanted help …” Manny muttered.

She walked back to the SUV.

“Why are you back in the car?” Franks said.

He’d been keeping watch.

“Fine,” Franks said. “I’ll go.”

He was actually curious and wanted to look inside.

* * *

Around the corner of the building, Lisa found a drive-thru lane and followed it. There was an older-model station wagon sitting in the lane behind the building near the back door.

“Guys!” she yelled.

She heard the engine of the SUV and saw it pull around the side of the building in the drive-thru lane.

“Guys!” Lisa called again. “There’s a car back here!”

“There’s cars everywhere,” Manny said under her breath.

* * *

Franks entered the Dunkin Donuts and found the interior dim, only lit by the murky light coming through the front windows. The building sat on a slight rise, giving a view of the parking lot, porch, and street, but little else. A counter ran along the back of the room and a door obviously entered the kitchen in the back. The glass-covered counters were filled with doughnuts. He noticed the cash register on one side.

He thought he heard a rustling noise from behind the counter somewhere. Though it was mostly glass, there were also plenty of places to hide.

* * *

“I thought you wanted coffee?” Manny said to Lisa.

“But there’s a car back here,” Lisa said. “I’m sorry I yelled. But they might have more useful things in here.”

“Yeah, that’s fair,” Manny said.

She got out and walked over to the station wagon, Lisa following her. The car wasn’t locked and she leaned in, crowbar in hand. The older-model station wagon was dirty and filled with empty fast-food bags. There was the smell of old food and the interior was dusty. Dirt lay on the floor. It looked like it had never been cleaned. The glove compartment had two more McDonalds bags crumpled up inside, as well as a registration and a shake-light flashlight.

“Here’s what I found,” Manny said, handing her the shake-flashlight.

“Thank you,” Lisa said.

She turned on the light and it was very dim. She shook it for a while and it lit up for a few moments before almost immediately dimming again.

“Bullocks!” she said.

Manny moved to the back door and found it unlocked. She carefully pushed it open.

* * *

In the front, James crept around to the side of the counter, his Glock in his right hand and his baseball back in his left hand. He looked down the length of the counter and noticed one of the sliding doors on the back of one of the display cases had been opened and there were several doughnuts on the floor. It looked like a single bite had been taken out of each doughnut and then dropped on the floor. The little bites were also on the floor, as if someone were sampling the doughnuts, taking a bite of each, and then spitting out their bite.

No one was there.

It looked like there was a place under the cash register in the counter where someone could hide. Otherwise it was all glass display cases.

He picked up a napkin holder on the counter and chucked it at the register. He overshot and it crashed against the far wall. He thought sure he heard more noise coming from underneath the cash register.

“If there’s anybody under the cash register, come out!” he called. “I’m tired of this shit!”

Something came out from under the cash register, running at him. It was a short figure, head down, and running. Franks fired his Glock at it.

* * *

The kitchen was very dark because there were only a couple of small, high-set windows in the back. The room was filled with all the items and paraphernalia for making doughnuts and coffee. It looked very clean. A large walk-in freezer was on the wall to the left, the door slightly ajar. Manny noticed a draft of cold air coming from it. Across from the door they’d entered was a door that probably led into the dining area.

Manny glanced around for coffee and she and Lisa realized it was probably stored in the walk in refrigerator. As they went that way, Lisa also noticed the cold air coming from the slightly opened door.

They had just about reached it when they heard the gunshot from the dining room.

“Shit!” Lisa whispered.

She ran towards the door between the two rooms.

“I thought we were just coming for coffee,” Manny said, limping after her.

* * *

The bullet crashed into the far wall, shattering the plaster and tile. Franks realized the running figure was a kid with short-cut hair. The child was Caucasian and probably about 12 or 13 years old. He was dirty and wore somewhat tattered though tight clothing. He sidestepped and the child ran by him without a word, turning and heading for the front doors. As the child went around the corner, his feet slid on the tiles and down he went, crashing to the floor as he continued to scrabble for the front door, obviously terrified.

The door to the kitchen burst open and Lisa ran out.

“Are you okay?” she called when she saw Franks. “What the **** happened?”

“It’s okay,” Franks said. “It’s just some stupid kid.”

“A kid!?!” Lisa said.

The child regained his feet and ran towards the front doors. Franks ignored him and headed for the cash register. Manny came out of the kitchen.

“Wait wait wait!” Lisa called to the child.

She ran to the end of the counter.

“Hey!” Manny yelled. “We’re not going to hurt you.”

The kid stopped at the front door, looking back at Lisa and hesitating.

“Hey hey hey,” Lisa said. “Hi. We’re not here to hurt you. Wait. How did you get here?”

“Who?” the child said.

“Do you have any parents?”

“Who are you? I was looking … looking for the …”

The child pointed at the doughnut case. They thought she was a little girl whose hair had been cut very short. Lisa looked down at the case and saw the doughnuts on the floor with a single bite taken out of each.

“Oh, were you looking for some food?” she said.

The little girl nodded.

“Well Jeeze,” Lisa said.

Franks, meanwhile, found the cash register locked up. It looked like it was made out of plastic.

“Hey Manny, can I see that crowbar?” he said.

“Why do you want money for?” she asked.

“You never know. What do you want drugs for?”

“For trading! People actually want drugs. Why would they want money?”

“Find someplace where money’s still worth something. Or a sucker that still thinks it’s worth something.”

“Just came for the damned coffee and … the kid …”

“I was in favor of letting the kid go.”

Lisa, meanwhile, had moved out from behind the counter, hands at her side.

“What is your name?” she said. “Do you know your name?”

“Yeah, I know my name!” the little girl said. “I’m Jamie.”

“Your name is Jamie? Okay. Okay.”

Jamie was soaked and wore tight shorts and a tight shirt that had seen better days. Her sneakers were very wet too and she’d obviously been out in the rain.

“Where are your parents?” Lisa asked. “Do you know where your parents are?”

“They’re down at the fort,” Jamie said.

“At the fort.”

“Yeah, the fort.”

“Do you know the name?”

“Down at Wanchese.”

“Wanchese.”

Lisa turned to the other two, still arguing by the cash register.

“Guys, do you know of a fort nearby or …?” she asked. “Wanchese? Are you familiar?”

“Wen-what?” Franks said.

He had gotten the crowbar from Manny was prying the cash register open. It gave way with a snap and a metallic clang. He took the cash in the box. There was over $700 there.

Lisa turned back to the child, moving closer to her and kneeling down.

“Okay Jamie, my name is Lisa,” she said. “This is Manny and this is John.”

“What’re you doing here?” Jamie asked. “Wait! Are you - are you - are you here - are you the rescue?”

“We wish, kid,” Manny said.

“You’re not the rescue?”

“Nope. We’re waiting on that too.”

“Are you hunters?”

“No?”

“No,” Lisa said.

“Well, he said there’d be hunters,” Jamie said. “Whenever there’s … whenever there’s vampires, there’s hunters, right?”

“Who? Hunt? Wait. What?”

“The Professor said that.”

“Professor … Professor what?”

“He just calls himself the Professor.”

“Okay.”

“His last name wasn’t Wolfgang, was it?” Franks said.

“No,” Jamie said.

“Okay, then you’re fine.”

“What?”

“It’s not that drunken idiot.”

“Well, I guess we’ll give you a ride,” Manny said.

“The doughnuts are all stale!” Jamie suddenly said, tears in her eyes.

“Okay, we─” Lisa said.

“I came up to look for stuff. They don’t know I’m here. I don’t want to get in trouble. They - they - I don’t wanna …”

“You’re not in trouble, sweetie.”

“Yeah, I wasn’t supposed to come. I was told to look. Because it’s day. We’re safe in the day. And I was just coming─”

“Okay okay okay, who─?”

“But I heard something in the back and I was leaving and I saw him: that man with the gun.”

“Okay, well, he─”

“He tried to shoot me!”

“He was scared. We’re all scared, okay?”

“I’m scared.”

“We are not going to hurt you, okay?”

“Okay. You’re not marauders, right? ‘Cause the Professor said marauders come after the apocalypse. There’s going to be marauders.”

“No no.”

“They’re on bikes and stuff.”

“We’re just trying to get out of this, just like you are.”

“You’re not wearing all the spikes. He said they wear spikes.”

“No. We’ve got some food and water back in the car.”

“He’s been watching Mad Max too much,” Franks quipped.

“And we can get you some dry clothes,” Lisa went on.

“I just wanted to take some doughnuts back,” Jamie said. “‘Cause I was gonna share doughnuts with everybody ‘cause we haven’t had any good food in a long time.”

“Well … I’m … I’m not sure …”

“They probably have coffee in the fridge,” Manny said.

“It’s dark back there though,” Jamie said, shaking her head.

“Well, I got a flashlight.”

“Okay … I don’t like the dark.”

“Manny, can you go back and check what’s in the fridge, please?” Lisa said.

“That’s what I was gonna do,” Manny said.

“Be careful, Manny!” Jamie said.

Manny went into the kitchen again. Franks followed her.

“Just don’t let the kid bite you!”Franks called before he went into the kitchen.

“I’m … I’m not a vampire!” Jamie called after him, watching the kitchen door carefully. “God. Your friend is dumb.”

Lisa nodded. She put her hands on Jamie’s shoulders.

“It’s gonna be okay,” she said.

“You’re not a vampire, are you?” Jamie asked her.

“No. No, sweetie, I’m not.”

“You don’t have red eyes, so that’s good.”

Lisa showed the little girl her neck and Jamie looked very closely at it.

“Okay, Professor says they don’t act like regular vampires,” Jamie said. “They don’t … they don’t suck your blood. They just … they just kill you.”

* * *

Manny and Franks approached the refrigerator where cold air was still coming out. They realized there was still electricity in the building. They opened the door and Manny turned on her flashlight and shined it into the room. She reached to the right of the door and flicked on the switch. The florescent lights flickered but didn’t come on completely as they warmed up. They obviously needed to be replaced.

Manny shined the light around and saw two people lying on the floor. Two others were standing in the corners, leaning back against the walls. A shelf full of coffee stood against the far wall of the walk-in refrigerator, just between the two standing corpses. There were dozens of two-pound bags of the stuff, all marked with their flavor.

Manny turned the lights back off. Franks reached in and turned them back on though they didn’t really come back on, just flickered. Manny turned them back off again.

“Just grab the coffee and go,” Manny said.

Just wanting them to shut up about coffee, Franks crossed the room very quietly, reaching the coffee. He filled his arms with bags of coffee, getting about 10 bags of various flavors.

Manny noticed one of the men in the corner open his eyes. In the dimness of the room, they seemed to glow red.

“****,” Manny said. “Get away!”

The thing lurched towards Franks who glanced the thing’s way. It tried to grab him but he turned and ran away, not dropping any of the bags of coffee. He ran past Manny and to the door between the front and the back.

“Bye Manny!” he called.

The thing in the corner followed Franks with its eyes, which stopped on Manny. Then the other zombie leaning in the opposite corner opened its eyes. Then the ones on the floor opened their eyes.

“I’ll meet you out front in the car!” Manny shouted.

She turned and ran towards the back door.

* * *

Lisa heard the shouting from the back. She grabbed Jamie by the shoulders. The little girl looked towards the back of the building, terrified.

“Okay, we’re gonna go now, okay?” she said. “We’re gonna get in the car─”

“Okay!”

“─and we’re gonna leave here, okay?”

“Okay!”

Lisa tried to pick Jamie up but the girl was just too heavy. The little girl struggled against her.

“Okay!” Lisa said, putting her down. “Okay. Just walk with me, okay?”

“Okay!” Jamie said.

“Hold my hand,” Lisa said.

She pushed open the front door. The rain was still pouring down.

Franks burst out of the door to the kitchen, his arms filled with big bags of coffee.

“Nice job,” Lisa said to him, leading the little girl out of the building.

Franks ran along the counters and around the side, slipping on the damp floor right where the little girl had fallen earlier. He didn’t drop any coffee though! He scrambled to his feet.

* * *

Manny ran to the SUV and flung open the door. She jammed the key into the ignition and started it up. She looked over her shoulder and floored it, backing up down the drive-thru and increasing speed as she tore around the side of the building.

* * *

Lisa grabbed onto Jamie as the SUV roared out backwards around the side of the building and spun, turning and backing up past the front of the building, stopping about three feet in front of the two and coming to a stop. Both the woman and the girl watched, jaws dropped. Lisa flung open the back door and helped Jamie into the SUV, then climbed in herself, pulling the door closed.

Looking back, they saw Franks slipping and sliding towards the slowly-closing door. He hadn’t lost any of the coffee but stumbled towards the front door clumsily. Lisa climbed out of the back of the SUV and headed for him.

“Jesus, mate,” she said.

“Will you come here and take your God damned coffee!?!” Franks yelled.

“God, you absolute ledge!” she said, grabbing about half the bags of coffee.

Franks was finally able to get his balance.

The back door opened and they saw a man standing there wearing a Dunkin Donuts uniform.

“I took your money and your coffee!” Franks said to him. “What you gonna do about it!?! Nothing!”

Lisa noticed the man who came out of the kitchen had red eyes. He stumbled to the counter and climbed over, falling unceremoniously to the floor on the near side.

Lisa and Franks fled, Lisa leaping into the back seat again while Franks ran around the front of the car and got in on the passenger side in the front.

Lisa saw the man climb to his feet and walk to the front door of the building and then just stare at the SUV.

“Manny, let’s go!” Franks shouted.

Manny stared at the man in the shop for a moment but then put the car in gear and floored it. She tore out of the parking lot, turning right on the street, drifting but in complete control the whole time.

“Seat belts!” Manny called.

“No!” Jamie cried out. “Don’t go that way! The vampires are there!”

“What, do you mean there’s more vampires?” Manny said, slowing the vehicle.

“That’s where they live!”

“Then where are you from?”

“I’m from Wanchese! Fort Wanchese!”

Jamie pointed behind her, back the way they’d initially come.

“Are there car parts there?” Manny said.

“I … guess … I …” Jamie said. “I don’t … maybe?”

Manny slowed and made a u-turn in the center of the road.

“Oh my God, Manny, just go!” Franks said. “There’s probably cars that you can take parts from.”

“Yeah,” Manny said.

They drove past Dunkin Donuts a few moments later. It looked exactly as it had before. Franks flipped off the building as they drove by, laughing insanely. Lisa gave Jamie a towel.

They soon arrived at the intersection they had gone through before and Jamie pointed south, the direction the big yellow arrow pointed. They passed a pole barn or warehouse on the right and noticed a water tower over it. They drove by other scattered houses though the bulk of the road ran through woodlands with stunted trees common in the outer banks. It was about three miles before they saw more concentrated buildings and houses.

The Wanchese area consisted of widespread houses though they did pass a post office and three brick buildings connected together that almost but not quite could have been the downtown of any small town. Otherwise, the place was completely residential, though they had passed a church as the houses and buildings started to get more prevalent.

Jamie told Manny to turn left on Harbor Road. She did so and they passed some larger buildings on the left. Lisa took off her soaking wet shirt.

“Stop stripping in front of the kid,” Franks quipped. “You’re gonna give her ideas.”

Harbor Road ended when a makeshift wall made of various materials loomed out of the pouring rain where the water came closer on the right. They could see a few boats at docks down there. The wall ran across the road and ran across a portion of land with wetlands on the left.

“That’s it!” Jamie said. “That’s Fort Wanchese!”

“I’m tempted to just drop off this child,” Manny muttered.

“You will not hurt this child!” Lisa said. “This child is mine!”

“Well, she has people to take care of her!” Manny said.

“Uncle Ben,” Jamie said.

They slowly approached the rough wall and it looked like the gate was made of two low-slung automobiles that had some kind of warehouse siding welded and bolted onto them to make the entrance. They were pulled towards each other, obviously, to close it. A platform was over the gate and a few men stood behind a short metal wall there with rifles. They saw other men behind the top of the wall as well. Many of them aimed the rifles at their vehicle as it approached.

Manny pulled the SUV to a stop only a few yards from the gate. They all heard a banging noise that only lasted a few moments. Manny got out of the car.

“Hey!” she called. “We’re just giving a ride to this child we found in the city up north.”

“Stay there!” someone called.

Five minutes or so went by before the two cars making up the gate were each pulled back. A few more men came out of the gate, all of them armed with hunting rifles. They waved them in while looking around nervously.

“You want me to bring the car in?” Manny called.

“Yes!” one of them yelled.

She got back into the SUV and drove in through the narrow and roughly made gates. Once they were in, the drivers of the two cars pulled forward carefully, bumper to bumper, which closed the gates. There were braces made of two-by-four on the roofs of the cars, bolted into place, to brace up the back of the 10-foot tall siding that made up the gates.

Everyone looked nervous and everyone was armed. Jamie flung her car door open and jumped out.

“Jamie!” Lisa called. “Wait!”

The people seemed surprised and happy to see the little girl, calling to her and asking where she had been. Lisa climbed out of the back seat into the pouring rain. When she saw the people were greeting the little girl warmly, she climbed back in.

The north side of the “fort” consisted of several large buildings, probably storage for boats or possibly boat building businesses. They guessed boats might have been stored there in the winter. One of the men waved their SUV to follow him around a building and by a gate and then pointed them to a large, open warehouse door where they drove in to see some space where they could park where it was dry.

It was loud in the warehouse with the rain pouring down. There were places where boats had obviously been stored but it was, overall, fairly clean. A few other vehicles were pulled into the place and apparently under repair.

“We found this child,” Manny said as she got out of the SUV. “We were up in the city up there, looking for─”

“You were in Manteo?” someone said.

“Yeah.”

“You shouldn’t be up in Manteo! Especially when it’s this dark. They’ll get ya!”

“What? Who? The zombies?”

“Zombies? Ain’t no zombies here!”

“Have you seen any zombies?” Manny said to Franks.

“She thinks there’s zombies,” the local man said.

“You mean those *******s who I stole that money and the coffee from in the coffee shop?” Franks said. “That was good.”

“I mean … they were zombies, right?” Manny said.

“Wait!” the local man said. “Who are you folks?”

“May have been a wendigo,” Franks said to Manny. “It was cold.”

“That’s true,” Manny said.

They told the man their names and that they’d come from the Raleigh Durham area. When Manny asked them if there was a car parts store anywhere, the local men looked at each other.

“You gotta talk to Bob and Jimbo first,” one of them said. “And Tyson. And Cooter.”

Franks started laughing.

“Excuse me?” Lisa said to them.

“They’re in charge,” the man said. “They were all military, so they know what they’re doing.”

They were eventually taken up the road a little ways, past what appeared to be a restaurant or store with “O’Neal’s Sea Harvest” on the sign. They passed more pole buildings, one with the words “Briglia Boatworks” on it. They eventually came to a smaller building marked “United States Coast Guard Engineering Services Division” It appeared to be some kind of office though it had been converted over to living quarters and storage. It looked like two sturdy bars had been added inside the front door. Sandbags were around the outer walls and makeshift shutters were attached to the exterior over the windows.

There, they met four men in their 40s whom were gruff-looking. Tyson was missing his right leg and wore a prosthetic. Jimbo had a nasty scar on his face. The other two both had short-cut hair.

“Who are you folks?” Jimbo asked. “What you doing here? They put us in charge … ‘cause we kind of know what we’re doing. Where are y’all from? What’s going on? We’ve been kind of cut off.”

Manny told them she was from Durham and was told to come to Roanoke Island as it was some kind of safe haven. Shortly after their arrival, they found the little girl but they were just there looking for supplies. They noted she had found Jamie.

The men laughed when she mentioned a safe haven.

“Obviously that is not the case,” she said.

“I told you we shouldn’t follow some damned coke-head,” Franks said.

“Coke-head?” Jimbo said. “Wait a minute. Y’all know Skadooter?”

“Oh, God damn it!” Franks said.

“Is he here!?!” Manny said.

“That ******* came through here!?!” Franks said.

“No, he’s not here,” Jimbo said.

“You threw him out, right?”

“Yes, we threw him out!”

“Good,” Manny said.

“Dumb ass driving up and down the streets, blaring his horn!” Jimbo went on. “Yelling ‘Doot Doot!’”

“Oh, thank God,” Franks said.

“We started taking shots at him just to get him the hell out of here!” Jimbo said.

“Actually, by the way, where’d he go?” Franks asked. “Like, which direction did he go?”

“He went north, towards Manteo, but I think he was heading for one of the bridges,” Jimbo said.

“Ah, he’ll be fine.”

“If he went to the north bridge, it’s gone. They blew it up.”

“He’ll find a way across. Trust me.”

“There’s another bridge that goes to the mainland.”

“Like I said, he’ll find a way across.”

Jimbo cursed, using some nasty racial slurs.

“You will not find any coke for 40 square miles with that dude,” Franks said. “Unless of course, he finds out we have some.”

“He kept yelling ‘Where’s Floyd? Where’s Floyd?’” Jimbo said. “Who the hell’s Floyd!?!”

“What’s going on out there?” Cooter asked. “Is it vampires everywhere?”

“Well, I mean, I guess those were vampires in Manteo, but we mostly seen zombies and plants,” Manny said. “That’s what’s all over my car.”

“What are those dog things?” Franks said.

“Oh, triffids?” Jimbo said. “You saw triffids?”

“Where is that?” Manny said.

“They got a few over on Pond Island,” Jimbo said.

“Where was that?” Franks said. “About 20 miles back?”

“Those should be harmless,” Jimbo said.

“What about those dog things?” Franks asked.

“They attacked us,” Manny said. “That’s why my window’s busted.”

“Well, they been docked,” Jimbo said. “They should be fine. They cut off the stingers every year or so. And they’re harmless. Well, I guess it’s been about a year.”

Franks asked about the dog things and Manny noted they looked like some kind of monkeys. Franks said they meeped but Jimbo had no idea about that at all. There hadn’t been anything like that in Roanoke.

“Back in July, there was this meteor,” Jimbo told them. “It hit the elementary school up in Manteo. I mean, dead center, blew the whole frigging building to pieces.”

“Sucks to suck,” Franks quipped.

“It does,” Jimbo went on.

He told them the meteor hit around 11 p.m. The whole island shook. When people in Wanchese phoned up to Manteo and didn’t get any answer, they went up to investigate. There were fires and the people of Manteo had been turned into vampires. They thought they were zombies at first.

“Me and the boys, here, we came through a little later,” Jimbo said.

But the next morning, all the walking dead went to ground and those caught in the sunlight burned. Their skin turned black and they were terribly injured. Then the Professor showed up.

“He’s got his own little place down at the end of the marina,” Jimbo said. “He said he knows all about vampires. He’s been fighting them all his life is what he said. I dunno about that. But these people here think he knows what he’s talking about. He said stake ‘em, and we tried staking ‘em. That don’t really do nothing. But chopping their heads off helped.”

“We can do that,” Manny said.

Franks realized the thing that had attacked him Dunkin Donuts had not had the sharp fangs or canines vampires were traditionally supposed to have.

Jimbo told him many of the people from Wanchese, which was mostly residential, had gone up to Manteo to help after the meteorite hit. They got wiped out by the things. The fire department and police department, both in Manteo, were gone.

“All the departments?” Lisa said.

“Everybody who was called to help died,” Jimbo said. “Except for some people up there. Some people lived! There was dozen or two people who were in town who … what they did was they … they … a lot of them came down here. There might’ve been more.

“So, at some point, it was decided ‘We gotta stop ‘em from escaping … or getting anywhere.’ So, they blew up the Mann’s Harbor Bridge, to the north. They took all the explosives up there. And then old Carl, he went to the east bridge. He said he was gonna barricade it so nobody else could come here and suffer like we suffered. We ain’t heard nothing from him. So, no telling what happened to Carl.”

“That guy!” Franks said.

He laughed.

“Wait, you know Carl?” Jimbo said.

“Oh … wait …” Franks said. “Who?”

“Carl!” Jimbo said. “He said he was going to blockade the bridge, make sure nobody else came and got themselves murdered by vampires.”

“Never heard of him,” Lisa said.

“Carl?” Franks said. “Carl? There was a guy who was shooting at us and shot one of friends and almost killed her, but …”

Jimbo sent someone to find out what Carl looked like. They soon established it was probably Carl they had shot and killed on the boat the day before.

“Y’all should have sent a better guard,” Franks said. “Holy crap.”

“We didn’t send him!” Jimbo said. “He volunteered. Carl was always a little weird.”

“You should’ve had somebody volunteer to go with him,” Franks said.

“They probably would’ve been dead too,” Manny said.

They explained about the drawings and writing they had found in the cabin of the boat about Virginia Dare. They figured Carl had gone crazy.

“We just didn’t want marauders,” Jimbo told them. “The professor says marauders will come too.”

“Fair enough,” Franks said.

“Professor?” Lisa said.

“Yeah yeah yeah,” Jimbo said. “He’s got a place on the south side, the other end of the marina. He says he’s an expert on vampires. He’s been right about a lot of things, like chopping their heads off and burning the bodies. So, we’re just trying to survive here. Manteo is lost. There’s hundreds of them but they go to ground during the day. Can’t stand the sunlight.”

“You think they have tunnels underground?” Lisa said.

The men all looked suddenly very frightened.

“God damn it,” Bob said. “I didn’t think about that! Are they digging?”

“So, we can raid safely during the day,” Manny said.

“During the day is pretty safe,” Jimbo said. “Well, unless you got weather like this. They don’t like the light. Any kind of sunlight at all really … puts them off.”

“Well, you’re fine then,” Franks said.

“No, not when it’s like this! They might be able to get out in this stuff. I don’t know.”

“They didn’t come out for us.”

“We’re looking for car parts and clothes,” Manny said.

“We’ve been trying to get Wanchese back,” Jimbo said. “Because they kind of spread this way, fast. But it takes going into houses during the day, chopping heads off. We burned down a few houses because they were full. These things go to ground, they find a basement or they find a dark space or they find a fridge. They hide in refrigerators. They’re kind of smart! They know where they can hide. They’ll hide in a fridge or they’ll hide in a basement or even a crawl space. Sometimes they’re getting in cupboards.”

“So, there’s an infestation,” Lisa said. “Almost like rats.”

“All of Manteo was turned. I don’t even know what the population was up there. We ain’t no internets here now. But we still got fresh water. Apparently the pumping stations are still working.

“That’s good at least.”

“And we do have some electricity.”

“You need to burn that God damned Dunkin Donuts, then,” Franks said.

They were questioned about how many of the things were in the shop and they told him of the four they saw. Jimbo noted Jamie was a sweet kid. She just wanted to get some treats for everyone.

“See, I was in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Jimbo said.

“You need to tell her not to run at people,” Franks said. “Or guns or something. I almost shot the … kid.”

“Better running towards people than vamps.”

“Yeah, but she didn’t know that.”

“Well, I dunno. If you came in the front door, even raining out, she probably figured you were alive. Bless her heart. She was in 6th grade before all this happened.”

“You know, I’ll let her slide on that.”

“She’s just a kid.”

“Fair enough.”

“She’s a good kid. We told her ‘Cut your hair short so they ain’t got nothing to grab hold of’ and she did it. And she wears tight clothes so there ain’t nothing loose to grab onto. She’s a smart kid.”

“Y’all done good.”

“She’s a smart kid, but she probably panicked.”

They hadn’t heard of the Floyd fellow Skadooter was yelling about. However, they did offer for them to stay in the fort if they wanted. Franks asked if they were interested in trading and Manny mentioned they could stay there at least until it was sunny. When they asked for trade again, they told them there was probably things they could trade and they could help fix their car if they wanted too.

They learned Wanchese was safer than Manteo but there were vampires there as well.

They also learned a helicopter was up by the elementary school in Manteo. It had landed the day after the meteor struck and was full of army troops. They lasted until nightfall. They weren’t sure exactly what happened, as they had not arrived until a couple weeks later. However, they had heard the soldiers were overrun at nightfall and all of them were wiped out. The Chinook helicopter was up there and Jimbo guessed there were fully automatic weapons scattered up around there somewhere. He guessed there might even be some light machine guns, but it was right next to the elementary school, right in the heart of that place. He noted they hadn’t explored that far north yet. The helicopter had landed in the parking lot of the school.

He said they should probably get some boys on the bridge to watch it. There was still a bridge to the mainland as well and he noted the Professor said there was going to be marauders with the collapse of society.

“He says he’s read about this kind of shit,” Jimbo said. “Sooner or later, we’re going to get a group of people with good weapons who decide they’re going to prey on other people. We ain’t seen it yet, but we’re kind of secluded here. So, we’re keeping our eyes out. I’m glad Jamie fell in with folks who were nice to her rather than someone who would try to do something terrible to her. She might be young, but … I seen some bad things in my day.”

* * *

The three decided to stay in Fort Wanchese. They traded some of the food and drugs they had for some fresh clothing. They also traded some of the coffee they had recovered. The knowledge there were more bags of coffee was also of some value. Their main medical personnel there was a male nurse named Guy who was willing to take the cocaine, valium, and morphine in trade. It was enough for some car parts. Guy was referred to by the residents of the place as the “Chief Doctor” though he had been a nurse before the meteors fell. He was about 30 and had been a nurse for several years. He did the best he could.

They also told the residents of the fort about the group they had left at Pirate’s Cove Marina.

* * *

Lisa found the Professor was not what she expected. He had taken over one of the pole barns on the south side of the marina, near the water tower and not far from another called Blackwell Boatworks. He had the place set up with a small, enclosed office as his bedroom and the rest of the place filled with plastic bins filled with books.

The Professor was an 18-year-old boy who wore graduation robes, probably from when he graduated high school. She learned he had been watching zombie movies and playing tabletop role playing games since he was eight years old. He was not a goth or emo but had been a dungeon master playing Dungeons & Dragons for years and did a lot of research of vampire lore. He had also played a post apocalyptic game called Twilight: 2000 and played a lot of Vampire: The Masquerade. Though he was a geeky kid, when he talked to her about vampires, he came across with a confidence beyond his age.

When she asked about the things, he noted not all of his information was completely accurate. At first he thought staking them through the heart would be enough. When it proved not to be, he had people do it anyway, if they had to, to nail the vampires they encountered down in a position where leverage would not allow them to get up, then chop of their heads. He had also learned garlic didn’t work on the things.

He also had a lot of information on zombies as his father had made him watch zombie movies since he was very little. He had read Lucifer’s Hammer, a book about a comet striking the Earth, and he was trying to collect as much information as he could about farming, metalworking, and other important trades and crafts. They were mostly textbooks and library books about engineering and other important things.

He was very polite to Lisa and seemed a little nervous in her presence; she got the idea he was attracted to her. She intentionally bent over facing away from him to look in one bin and saw him sweating and nervous as he tried not to stare.

He was willing to take her on as a student or apprentice as he needed help collecting more books. When he learned she was a writer, he was very impressed. He told her they needed to get as much textbook information as they could to survive so society would have something to guide it in rebuilding someday. Realizing the youth could be an asset, she offered to help him, acting like a tease the entire time.

She later learned he showed up about three weeks before on a motorcycle with a sidecar. He was heavily armed and had come all the way from Raleigh by himself. He had been wearing biking leathers and a helmet. He had been on his high school football team as a running back before the whole zombie apocalypse happened.

He was also adamant about the lack of fossil fuel. He told her gasoline was only good for about a year before it went bad and was useless. They didn’t have a good way to refine more crude oil into gasoline. That was a problem to look forward to the following year. However, he had a solution, as did the military men they had put in charge. A lot of diesel engines could be modified to run on ethanol, which meant they needed the vehicles to modify and crops to process into ethanol. Many military vehicles were built to be modified for ethanol if need be.

She never learned his real name but he didn’t mind people calling him Prof. He talked about role-playing games a lot.

Jamie also spent a lot of time with Lisa, having grown attached to the woman after their first encounter.

* * *

Over the next few weeks, Manny worked on replacing the driver side window of the white Honda Pilot they were driving and cleaning up and repairing the car in general. She also heard what the Professor had said about diesel engines and learned how to modify a diesel engine to run on ethanol. She worked on other vehicles and machines that needed repairs at the place.

They contacted the group still at the Pirate’s Cove Marina to tell them what they’d found. They said they’d stay at the marina for the time being and loot as much useful stuff as they could.

* * *

They met some of the other members of the fort over the following weeks as well.

Katana Jimmy was a hobo from Asheville who had made his way all the way to Roanoke on foot with a shopping cart filled with katanas, or so the rumors claimed. He had tried to pull his hair into a top knot but it was too short and so it was kind of sloppy. He wore as much white clothing as he could. He thought of himself as a samurai. He was also an expert scrounger and very good at finding useful or valuable things.

He had all the Samurai Jack videos on VHS. Since the series had ended so vaguely, he thought of himself as making it up every day of his life since he’d found the katanas. He was certain Aku was behind everything.

He had a little mutt named Mange (or sometimes Sugar) that followed him around. The dog was a corgi/retriever mix and had spiky hair coming out in patches. He hated zombies. Katana Jimmy claimed Mange would attack zombies, ripping at their throats until he tore their heads clean off.

Jimmy actually had a place to live, but kept his shopping cart. He even put chicken wire around the little niche wherein he had his cot, hanging his katanas from it. “It’s like living in a shopping cart,” he would tell people.

When Lisa learned about him, she approached him to get a katana, as she knew how to use one.

May Eldridge was an older African-American woman of 56. She was missing her left arm, it having been cut off at the elbow sometime after the meteors fell. She had two children but had lost one in the Iraq War and one since the zombies rose from the dead. She usually said she lost one in that war and the other in “this war.” She always referred to what was going on as a war. She was fairly disenchanted but took care of people in the fort. She had been a nurse before being married and having kids and used her medical knowledge as best she could. She also tried to keep the kids there educated and teach them what she could as well.

She had made her way down the coast from New Jersey to Roanoke, looking for her younger son, who she had not yet been able to find. He had lived on Roanoke Island before “this war” as she put it. No one was sure what had happened to him and she assumed he was dead. She had lost her arm on her journey when, having been bitten by a zombie on the hand, she had been unable to cut her arm off herself and relied on another person to do it. She regretted her weakness. She only carried a harmonica and a pocketknife.

Lisa got along well with her. They became close enough that she learned a little about it. It further spurred Lisa to want to find some kind of cure for the virus or do something about it. When she talked to the Professor about it, he noted the place for that was probably the Center for Disease Control which was headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, though he knew there was a center located in Raleigh as well.

Bartholomew was a farmer boy from just outside Fayetteville. Everyone called him “Bolt.” He was blonde, skinny, and had just finished his senior year of high school before everything went to hell. He had been in track and field in middle school but then had to work on the farm instead when he got to high school. He had wanted to be a track star but his father had discouraged him, telling him he wasn’t good enough. He had a best friend who was a mechanic who taught him some of the basics of car engines.

Manny found a lot in common with the youth and the two soon found themselves getting along together well.

The three contributed to the fort as much as they could, Lisa working with the Professor, Manny helping with making various mechanical and electrical repairs, and Franks learning first-aid from May.

“Can I help you, son,” May said to him when he approached her.

“I want to learn first-aid,” Franks said.

“Oh, you want to learn first-aid?”

“I want to learn first-aid, ma’am. Yes.”

“Anything specific or just first-aid?”

“Just first-aid.”

“All right.”

* * *

In early September, a few weeks after they had gotten to Fort Wanchese, Franks, Lisa, and Manny all volunteered to go out and hunt vampires. Each of them was armed with a handgun. Lisa also had a katana, Franks was armed with his baseball bat, and Manny also carried her crowbar and shotgun. Franks, wondering if reflected sunlight would hurt the things, also took a small mirror. Since all of them wanted new clothing, they were told of a thrift store in a row of two-story buildings that had recently been built next to the post office. There were three of the buildings, all connected and set up like a small downtown. If they cleared a store, they had first dibs on what was taken out of the building and then others would loot the place for everything useful, which was often everything.

They talked to one lady who had lived in Wanchese. She knew there was an apartment on the second floor and a small basement under the thrift store. She wasn’t sure about the stores on either side. She knew there was a pump in the basement to keep it from flooding but no one was sure if the pump was still working. Others guessed there was probably a firewall between the three buildings so there was no access of one to another.

They picked a nice, sunny day to raid the place. They went on foot as it was not terribly far and soon arrived. The building was actually perpendicular to Mill Landing Road, sharing a parking lot with the U.S. Post Office Building. They first walked around and found doors on the front and the back. One door in the back probably led to the thrift store while the other, they guessed, led to steps up to the apartment. A narrow fire escape was connected to the second floor. The front of the place was a large, glass window with a sign over it that just said “Thrift Store.”

Franks decided he wanted to take the fire escape to the second floor. He tried to climb up the wall without luck, falling a few feet and hurting himself. Lisa then gave him a leg up. He reached the ladder and pulled it down with a loud rattle. He climbed up and got to the fire escape. There were darkened windows there and he could see a dark kitchen through one. He shattered one of the locked windows, reached in, unhooked it, and opened the sash. He used his mirror to shine around the room a little bit as Manny climbed up the ladder. Franks offered for her to go first, telling her he’d cover her with the light. She crept in, flashlight in one hand and crowbar in the other.

* * *

On the ground, Lisa found the back door locked but realized it had a cheap latch. She kicked it and the latch broke as the door swung open.

“If you find a leather jacket, please save it for me,” Franks called down to her.

She gave him a thumbs-up and walked into the dark shop.

The room ran to the front of the building and she could just make out dim light coming through curtains over the glass there. The place was cluttered with various bins, racks, and hanging clothing, making it feel claustrophobic and close. There were shelves and bins filled with a jumble of stuff: books, shoes, appliances, and the like. She drew her katana and looked around carefully.

* * *

The kitchen upstairs had a tiny table, cupboards, and shelves. An archway led into the rest of the upstairs apartment. Manny looked through the dim place for food and valuables in the open. She ushered Franks into the room and then headed through the archway. She found a landing with steps going down to the ground floor. Off to the right, it led to a living room while to the left it headed back to a hallway and three open doors that probably led to bedrooms and a bathroom.

She went to the living room and found it contained a television, couch, an easy chair, a few shelves, and a window seat. The curtains were drawn back from the windows, letting in a good amount of light.

Franks looked towards the back of the building. The rooms were quite dark, as if the curtains were closed.

* * *

Lisa soon found the men’s section. She looked for a big baggy shirt. As she crossed the floor, she heard a strange thumping below. She was unsure what it was so ignored it. She found a shirt and pulled it on.

* * *

Franks headed for the bathroom in between the two bedrooms. The narrow room had toilet and sink, with a bathtub running crossways along the back wall. The shower curtain was closed. There was no window in the bathroom so it was very dim.

He quietly opened up the medicine cabinet above the sink and found aspirin, Band-Aids, toothpaste, floss, and a used toothbrush with bent bristles. He looked at it and tossed it aside. As he reached for the other stuff, he heard the swish of the shower curtain being shoved aside. He turned towards the bathtub and fired his Glock.

* * *

Manny went to the first bedroom. The curtains were closed and the room was a little messy with bed, desk, and small shelf. She noticed the closet door was closed.

There was a gunshot from the next room.

Manny flung the closet door open and found a man in there. He lunged at her.

* * *

Franks blasted the man standing in the bathtub, the bullet striking him in the right leg as he panic-fired.

“Son of a *****!” he yelled.

There was a splatter of blood against the tiles on the wall behind the bathtub. Franks saw the man had red, glowing eyes.

* * *

“Guys?” Lisa called, running towards the back door.

“There’s shit up here!” she heard Franks yell.

“****!” she said.

* * *

The vampire or zombie or whatever it was climbed out of the bathtub without slowing and grabbed Franks, pulling him close. He pushed the gun up under the other man’s chin and pulled the trigger. The blast burst out of the top of the man’s head and the man’s eyes seemed to bulge from their sockets. That splattered Franks with blood and gore. The smell was terrible.

Mind blown, Franks thought.

The thing let him go and stumbled back, crashing into the bathtub.

* * *

Manny heard another gunshot and swung her crowbar at the red-eyed man. The weapon merely struck the thing a glancing blow in the shoulder. It came at her again but she fended it off as she backed away.

* * *

At the bottom of the ladder, Lisa heard another gunshot from above and quickly sheathed her katana and climbed up to the open kitchen window. She climbed into the kitchen and went through the archway onto the landing. She could hear the sounds of a struggle towards the back of the apartment.

* * *

The zombie in the bathtub climbed to its feet again, grabbing at the shower curtain and pulling it down, falling again. It grabbed the spigot and pulled itself to its feet. Franks noticed it wasn’t looking at him but was starting at the mirror on the wall. Its eyes were not facing the same way either.

Franks put the gun to the front of the thing’s head and fired. The blast knocked it back into the tub again. There was a spray of blood that splattered all over the tiles behind the thing.

“Shoot ‘em in the head!” he shouted.

* * *

Manny dropped her crowbar and pulled her shotgun from where it was slung on her back. She fired at the thing, the blast striking it in the left arm, which was blasted off and flung back into the closet. It tried to grab Manny again but merely slapped an arm against her.

* * *

Lisa drew her semiautomatic pistol and rushed towards the back of the apartment. She saw Manny in the nearest bedroom, working the action on the shotgun, which sent a smoking shell flying across the room. A man with red eyes stood just in front of her. Lisa thought she could hear something in the bathroom too.

As she stood there, looking around and trying to decide what to do, she saw the other bedroom door creak open. She headed into the first bedroom and shot at the zombie. The bullet struck it in the right foot.

* * *

Franks had heard a lot of gunfire from the next room but bent over to search the now-unmoving corpse in the bathtub. He knelt next to the bathtub and started going through the man’s pockets.

* * *

Manny backed away from the struggling zombie and aimed more carefully at the dead man’s head. It lunged at her, clutching at her with it’s one arm, scraping across her chest and practically groping her.

Lisa shot at the thing again and the bullet crashed somewhere in the back of the closet.

* * *

A bullet crashed through the wall, shattered the tile, whizzed by Franks’ face, and crashed through the tile on the opposite wall. He let out a shriek and then a gasp.

“Sorry John!” he heard Lisa call from the next room.

“God damn it!” Franks yelled. “That was good tile!”

He found a wallet in the corpse’s back pocket. It was very thick. He pulled it out and found over $700 in cash, credit cards, a safety deposit box key, and driver’s license with the name Gregory Smith on it.

“Well, thank you Greg,” he muttered to the corpse taking the cash and the key. “I’ll take that.”

* * *

Manny calmly shoved the shotgun into the zombie’s face and fired. The thing’s head exploded like a bomb going off in a pumpkin. Both she and Lisa were covered in blood and bits of bone. Lisa looked down at the new red shirt she had gotten below, now covered in gore.

* * *

With a second thought, Franks took the license and tucked it into his pocket. Then he felt someone grab him from behind. He shoved the gun behind him, near his own head, and fired it blindly. The blast nearly deafened his right ear. The ringing didn’t stop after he felt the thing fall away behind him. He leapt to his feet.

* * *

Manny and Lisa, hearing the gunshot from the bathroom, ran to find Franks. Another zombie lay splayed out on the floor, practically in the hallway, bullet through its skull. Franks stood in the bathroom, gun in hand, clutching his ear with his left hand and wincing in pain. He was covered with blood.

Lisa ran into the room to administer first aid to Franks, but she could not find any wounds on the man.

“Man!” Manny said.

“Damn it, Manny!” Franks said. “You’re supposed to kill these things. I ain’t bit, I just blew my eardrum out!”

Lisa backed away from the man.

“Now we’re equal on our kill ratio!” Manny said, disappointed.

She was upset. She was ahead on the kill ratio until that day. Then she heard something scratching on the firewall between their building and the next one. Lisa heard it too. It sounded like someone was trying to get through the wall. Lisa put her pistol in her belt and drew her katana again.

Manny ignored the sound and tried to remember how many zombies she’d killed as opposed to how many zombies Franks had killed. She was pretty sure he had surpassed her.

Franks clutched at his ear, still in intense pain.

“Well, there’s probably a zombie in the next building,” she said.

“Well, why don’t you shoot through the wall like that last one!” Franks said loudly. “Or was that you?”

“No.”

“Wait, that wasn’t a shotgun shell …”

“There ya go!”

“Wait a minute. Damn it, Lisa! What are you doing? You almost shot me through the wall!”

“Christ, I didn’t know you were there!” Lisa said.

Franks searched the dead body. The man was wearing pajamas and had nothing of value on him. Franks kicked him in the head.

“God damn worthless vampire … zombie … whatever you are!” he said.

Manny went to the other room. The closet door there was open and the curtains were closed, making the room very dark. She went to the kitchen to loot it and found spices and food, though everything in the refrigerator was out of date. There was electricity though.

They searched the entirety of the apartment. There was nothing of any great value but there was plenty of possible use for the fort. They gathered what they could and Franks cut off one of the more intact heads. Lisa got a “Life is Good” tote bag from the thrift store and they put it within. They went down to the thrift store and got some of the clothing they wanted, Lisa finding a leather jacket for Franks.

“I thought this was your size,” she said to him. “Sorry about your ear, mate.”

He gave her a fist bump.

They could hear something bumping under the floor. Something was in the basement.

Manny packed more clothing for herself, as did the others. Lisa put together a whole new outfit in addition to her other clothing. She found a pair of jean shorts, blue men’s t-shirt, and tall black, somewhat-tattered rain boots. They also recovered several umbrellas.

They found a door that led to the basement steps and Franks barricaded it, nailing it shut. He found a Sharpie and wrote “Vampire Inside” on one 2x4 and “Do Not Open” on the other. Lisa, meanwhile, opened up the old-fashioned cash register. There was a little cash and homemade coupons inside.

They headed back to Fort Wanchese and reported the place was cleared except for the basement, warning that there was something still down there. Several adults and children headed over to loot the place.

Lisa took the head to May, Guy, and the Professor to try to see what they could do to test it. They told her they needed better equipment.

When Lisa told them she had been a kidnap victim during the meteor shower, they told her what had happened on July 21. The meteors had been unpredicted and had come down in the thousands, blanketing the earth. Wherever one hit, everyone within a few miles died and then stood back up, seeking the living and trying to kill them.

Both May and Guy were curious as to whether cutting the head off without injuring the brain would leave it alive.

* * *

Over the next month, they considered what actions they could best take to help the little community or on a larger scale perhaps. As they went about their daily chores and duties, they discussed the possibility of going back to the CDC Center in Raleigh, raiding Outer Banks Family Medicine in Manteo, or even returning to Dunkin Donuts.

May looked at Franks’ ear but was unable to help the man of the damage he’d caused to himself when he fired the pistol right next to his own head.

Lisa became closer and closer to Jamie, whom she saw on a daily basis.

Manny was interested in converting as many vehicles as possible to diesel but they simply didn’t have many of those kinds of cars. There was some talk of a trip to Fort Bragg to look for military vehicles that would be easier to convert, but rumor had it from survivors who had crossed the state the military base had taken a direct hit from one of the meteorites.

They also heard stories about people from Manteo who had survived the meteorite strike and the ensuing zombies or vampires or whatever they were. One man was wasted drunk and lived alone. When he woke up the morning of July 22, he found the entire town deserted, apparently. He explored a little but made his way quickly south to Wanchese. Another man said he had stomach problems and was on medication. He had stayed in his house until dark the next night; it was then people came out of the surrounding houses and buildings. He had hidden in the house, listening to the things wandering the streets until morning, when they all apparently went to ground again. He left Manteo as quickly as he could that next day.

They met Billy-Joe, who had come to Manteo driving a combine harvester. He was cockeyed and a little off.

“I just drove down the road and zombies went in the front,” he said, “and pieces CAME OUT THE BACK!”

* * *

Franks was determined to go back to the Dunkin Donuts. He had been uninjured since they had left the experiment at Duke until he had hurt himself falling in Manteo and he wanted revenge on the dead inside the building. When he realized there was plenty of dough and sugary stuff in the refrigerator, as well as more coffee, he was even more adamant to go.

Lisa was hesitant but Franks was determined. Manny figured it was a good start but thought they should move on to the hospital next, then get a diesel truck and head for Raleigh to the CDC. Lisa eventually decided she wanted to bring back some kind of doughnut for Jamie.

September 28, 2015, was a warm sunny Fall day. Lisa, Manny, and Franks borrowed a flatbed truck and drove to Manteo in the morning, pulling into the parking lot of Dunkin Donuts. They had brought another resident of Fort Wanchese: Billy Blue, a somewhat secretive, decisive, and ornery older man. They didn’t really know anything about his past at all or if Barry Blue was even his real name. He was a gruff fellow with a shaved head and no facial hair. He had a deep, rough, voice and was skinny and of average height. He wore blue jeans and a blue jean jacket and carried a double-barrel shotgun.

Nothing had apparently changed at the shop. The lights were still off in the place and it looked as abandoned as ever. Franks and Manny had told Lisa and Barry Blue what they had run into in the refrigerator so they were all prepared.

“Dunkin Donuts?” Billy Blue grumbled. “Why we getting’ Dunkin Donuts? Jamie don’t need no doughnuts. She’s good with carrots.”

He complained constantly. He had grumbled about not wanting to take a vehicle all the way up to Manteo.

Once they got there, they drained the gasoline from the two cars near the building. The one out front was practically empty. The one in the back was also empty as well. They used the little bit of gasoline to top off their truck.

They went in through the front of the store and first searched the small bathrooms off the dining area. The lights were on in each and each was empty. They took the hand soap, toilet paper, paper towels and everything else they could carry from the rooms. There was also a little storage room off the dining room with more toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap, and cleaning supplies. They took everything.

They peeked into the kitchen and saw the refrigerator door was ajar but not as open as it had been when they’d been in the place before.

“Time to make the doughnuts,” Barry Blue quipped, thinking he was funny.

“Shut up, Barry,” Franks said.

“Hey! **** you, *****! I’ll murder your ass in the back of your head, boy. Let’s go!”

“That’s a good one, Barry.”

Franks clapped him in the back.

“Yeah, you too,” Barry Blue said. Then he muttered to himself. “God damned beautiful mother ****er.”

They opened up the back door of the building and then crept to the refrigerator. Franks flung the door open and Manny shined her flashlight into the place. Only one of the zombies was there, standing in the far corner of the room.

“There’s that ****er wearing the Dunkin Donuts uniform!” Franks said. “What the crap!?!”

He squinted to see the man’s nametag read “Bob.” Franks reached over and flipped the light switch. The fluorescent lights started to flicker and the man across the room opened his eyes. They glowed red.

“Go gettum, Barry!” Franks said.

“I ain’t gettin’ nothin’ you son of a *****, you call me Mr. Blue,” Barry Blue said. “You God damned mother ****ers!”

He poked Franks in the back with his shotgun.

“You’re funny, Barry,” Franks said.

“You get in there, do it yourself,” Barry Blue said.

“C’mon Barry,” Franks said.

He put an arm around Barry Blue in false camaraderie and pulled him towards the zombie. Barry Blue flung the man’s off him.

“C’mon Barry, we can do this,” Franks said.

The thing in the refrigerator shambled towards them.

“C’mon Barry, let’s level this thing with our guns,” Franks said. “You got your gun, I got mine. Let’s just pop it.”

Franks had his Glock in his hand and fired at the zombie, missing even at such close range.

“That was a shitty shot,” Barry Blue said. “You’re a shitty shot.”

Manny aimed her shotgun at the zombie’s head.

“I’m gonna give this sonuva***** both barrels!” Barry Blue said.

He blasted away with both barrels, missing. The blast also missed the shelves of dough and coffee, crashing against the far wall and scattered buckshot everywhere. He was knocked back several steps.

Lisa stood behind the others, katana in hand, looking around nervously.

Franks shot the thing in the left arm with his Glock, doing little harm to it, seemingly. He shot at it again, the bullet smashing between the shelves. Manny finally fired the shotgun, blasting the thing in the head. Unfortunately, the blast also blew apart several bags of coffee.

“That’s pretty good,” Barry Blue muttered. “Pretty good. Better ‘n him.”

“Shut up, Barry,” Franks said.

“What’re you doin’ tomorrow night?” Barry Blue muttered.

Behind them, Lisa thought she heard something in the bathroom and thought she saw someone duck out of sight. She exited the kitchen, walking over. She pushed open the bathroom door but nothing appeared to be in there. The stall door was closed.

She strode into the room and kicked open the door. No one was in there.

* * *

Back in the kitchen, Franks complained about the destroyed merchandise. Barry Blue grumbled and then let out a shout as a zombie grabbed him from behind. When they looked back, they realized there was an open cabinet amongst the doughnut-making machinery in the room. It had been hiding in there.

“Dang it, Barry!” Franks yelled. “Why didn’t you clear those!?!”

Barry Blue had just reloaded his shotgun.

“Get this God -damned …” Barry Blue shouted. “Get it off! Get it off!”

“Barry, just put the gun to its head!” Franks shouted.

“Get it off of me!” Barry Blue shouted.

“C’mon Barry!” Franks said.

He shot at the thing but missed completely.

* * *

Lisa had come out of the bathroom when she heard Barry Blue yelling. A bullet flew out of the wall of the kitchen near her.

* * *

Franks aimed at the zombie’s head and Manny worked the action on her pump shotgun and did the same. Barry Blue yelled and struggled against the thing gripping at him.

“God damned vampires!” he shouted. “I hate vampires! Sonuva*****!”

The zombie bit him on the lower neck near the shoulder. Barry Blue let out a shriek.

“You sons of *****es!” Barry Blue screamed.

He passed out and sank to the ground.

“God damn it, Barry,” Franks said.

Lisa burst into the room and saw what was going on. She hesitated, not wanting to get in the way.

Franks fired and missed. Manny also fired, blowing the thing’s head off with her shotgun. Blood splattered everywhere.

“This is the third set of clothes I ruined, Manny,” Franks said. “Third set of clothes. Third set of clothes. I’m glad I didn’t wear my leather jacket.”

Franks tried to bind up Barry Blue’s wound but didn’t seem to help the man much. Lisa considered waking him up but wasn’t sure if he would still be alive if he woke. She worried what woke up might be the undead.

“He’s gonna turn!” she said. “He’s gonna turn! I just know it!”

“Well, let’s take him outside,” Franks said.

He suggested tying him to the flatbed or laying him in the sun so if he did turn into a zombie, he would burn in the sunlight. Lisa didn’t believe the man.

“Yeah,” Manny said.

“You can stand over him with your katana if you want to,” Franks said.

“I agree with that,” Manny said.

“No!” Lisa said. “That’s not gonna work!”

“I got bit. I’m fine.”

“But your leg is horribly mangled!”

“Well, that’s from the cut, not the─”

“No!”

Lisa sighed.

“Do we have any rope?” Franks said.

“He got bit on the neck!” Lisa said. “You-you-you can’t just cut that off!”

“Well, the sunlight kills them so if we just tie him up outside …” Manny said. “… and give him time.”

“Yeah,” Franks said.

Lisa breathed heavily, backing away.

“You can keep guard over him with the sword if you like,” Franks said. “If he starts acting weird, chop his head off. Do whatever you want.”

“By then, don’t you think it’ll be too late?” she said.

“No, he’ll be tied down. You’re fast with a katana, aren’t you? You impressed Jimmy. He doesn’t usually let his katanas go lightly.”

She stared at him, backing up to the wall.

“Heck, I tried to take one from him and he almost cut my damned head off,” Franks went on.

“Okay,” Lisa said quietly.

She slid down the wall to a sitting position, holding her katana between her legs.

“C’mon,” Franks said. “You can follow me.”

He dragged Barry Blue unceremoniously out of the Dunkin Donuts by his feet.

“C’mon Barry, you dumbass,” he said to the unconscious man. “You silly kidder, you.”

He lay the unconscious man in the sun in the middle of the parking lot. Lisa followed him. Franks told her she could guard him and if he started acting weird to cut his head off. He started to look around for something to tie him up with and Manny, seeing him do so as she started hauling things out of the kitchen, suggested using one of the seat belts in the truck. He found a carving knife in the kitchen, cut off one of the seat belts, and brought it Lisa. She just stood there, looking at her katana.

“You’re that worried about him, you secure him, you guard him with the sword, he starts doing anything weird, kill him,” Franks said.

She pulled the unconscious man to a sitting position and then tied his hands in front of him and tied his feet as well. She thought he was tied fairly secure.

Manny moved the truck to the back and she and Franks took everything that was not nailed down out of the Dunkin Donuts: kitchen appliances and machinery, dough, sugary stuff, coffee, and everything they could find, carting it out to the flatbed truck. It took them four hours to get everything they could carry.

They left by around noon. Barry Blue was still unconscious and now very sunburned. Franks managed to wake the man up and he growled.

“What the hell?” Barry Blue muttered. “What’s going on? What’d you do to me?”

“How you feeling, Barry?” Franks said.

“I don’t swing that way! Get off me! God-damned mother ****er.”

“C’mon.”

“Get off me! Get them girls over here!”

“How you feeling, Barry?”

“Ow! My shoulder hurts.”

“Is that all?”

“What’d you do to me?”

“Huh?”

“Don’t touch me! What’d you do to me?”

“Well, gosh dang it, Barry. You were just not paying attention and one of those danged ****ers grabbed you. I just don’t know what to tell you.”

“I felt it grab me! It bit me! Sonuva***** tried to suck my blood!”

“Yeah, do you feel okay?”

“I feel like shit! Something bit me!”

“But is that all? You don’t feel like sucking blood yourself?”

“Wha? Shuddup!”

“Well, we can put him in the flatbed,” Manny said. “He’d still be in the sun.”

“You’re so stupid!” Barry Blue said to Franks. “I hate you!”

“Naw, he can─” Franks said.

“Don’t talk to me!” Barry Blue said to him.

“He can ride with Lisa, right?” Franks said. “You still want to keep an eye on him, right?”

“Sure,” Lisa said.

“She’s just going to keep an eye on you, Barry,” Franks said. “Just ‘til we get back and the medical people can take a look at you.”

Barry Blue growled at him.

“You’re fine,” Franks went on. “We’re sorry you’re a little sunburned but … just a precaution.”

“What do you mean I’m … Ah! Augh!” Barry Blue said. “AH!”

“You’ll be fine, Barry. It’s just a little sunburn.”

“It burns so bad!”

The man, who had been laying in the sun for four hours, was beet red.

“You’ll be fine, Barry,” Franks said again.

Barry let out a cry of pain.

“It hurts so much!” he said.

“I’m sorry, man,” Franks said. “But … it happened. I know you would have done the same for me had that happened.”

“Give me some water you stupid ****!” Barry Blue said to him.

They got him some bottled water. His lips were chapped and the sunburn was severe. He probably had sunstroke.

“I feel like I’m gonna puke!” he cried out.

“Ah, Barry, you’re such a kidder,” Franks said.

Lisa got a wet cloth and put over his head.

“Ah!” he cried out. “It still hurts!”

“Such a tough guy,” Franks said.

“Shush old man,” Lisa said.

“I’m only 27,” Barry Blue said to Lisa.

“This is nothing for you, man,” Franks said. “You got this. C’mon, let’s go back.”

“I hate you so much,” Barry Blue said to him. “Get my shotgun, you *****!”

Manny got some aloe from her medical kit and put it on Barry Blue. He cried out in pain at that as well.

They went back to Fort Wanchese. Barry Blue was treated for extreme sunburn and heat stroke. They locked him up in a large cage with a cot and a few amenities.

“See Barry, we were nice to you,” Franks quipped. “We didn’t lock you up in a cage.”

May noted the cage was just a precaution and Barry Blue would be exempt from his regular work and chores for a week or so until they saw what happened to him.

* * *

A day or so after their raid on Dunkin Donuts, the supplies and equipment they found was used to cook up a good deal of doughnuts and coffee for everyone in the fort as a little celebration for their windfall. Lisa handed Jamie a doughnut personally and hugged the girl. Jamie was very happy everyone got to have a little sweet treat.

* * *

Barry Blue’s health declined rapidly through the month of October. He had been given a slew of what antibiotics they had available at Fort Wanchese and tried to keep the wound clean. Unfortunately, it got worse very quickly. Both May and Guy were at a loss as to why he sickened so quickly. In mid-October, he died, passing away in his sleep in the night. He rose the next evening as one of the vampires or zombies or whatever it was infesting Roanoke Island.

“I ****ing told you guys!” Lisa yelled at the others. “You didn’t ****ing listen, did you mates!?!”

Guy wanted to experiment on the horrible thing as they’d never captured one of the vampires before. He wanted to get a sunlamp and a tanning bed to see if they would affect it. Franks wanted to try reflected sunlight to see if it hurt the things. May was on the fence, wanting to keep the thing contained but ready to destroy it if it escaped.

Franks was also for experimenting on it, saying Barry Blue would want that. Lisa was very uncomfortable having the thing around. Manny thought they should keep it around after experimentation. She reasoned if they went to Raleigh, they might need it for the CDC.

The cage with the terrible thing that had been Barry Blue was moved to one of the outlying buildings on the east side of Fort Wanchese. Then the experiments began. They got a tanning booth from somewhere and found the thing was injured by the light from it. Sunlamps worked the same. Even reflected light from a mirror could burn the thing, Franks found out. Otherwise, the thing didn’t seem to feel pain at all. It also avoided the sunlight as best it could and fled from an obviously sunny area. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1980-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Nine-Roanoke-at-Last
Basic Roleplaying System: Kyles Deadworld One-Shot: Escape from Boone http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1979-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Kyles-Deadworld-One-Shot-Escape-from-Boone Fri, 10 Mar 2017 16:24:44 GMT Tuesday, March 7, 2017 (After Kyle Matheson ran his *Basic Roleplaying System* setting “Deadworld” with Ashton LeBlanc, Hannah Gambino, Katie... Tuesday, March 7, 2017

(After Kyle Matheson ran his Basic Roleplaying System setting “Deadworld” with Ashton LeBlanc, Hannah Gambino, Katie Gallant, James Brown, Yorie Latimer, Katelyn Hogan, Collin Townsend, and Ambralyn Tucker Sunday from 1p.m. to 5p.m.)

Friday, June 23, 2017, was the last normal day I spent in a world gone mad …

* * *

My name is Mervin Terwilliger and I was 24 years old when it happened. I’m not the best-looking guy. I’ve been told my face looks goofy and my ears stick out way too much on the sides. I also have a terrible lisp that even years of voice therapy was not able to eliminate. I went directly from high school to flight school, getting my pilot’s license by age 19 and investing everything I had into a little Cessna 172 Skyhawk. I had a little courier business, taking small packages and sometimes passengers around the country. I usually ended up in Boone, North Carolina, for some reason though. I had some good friends there.

I had learned, a little, how to fly a helicopter simply because I wanted to know how. I’d always had dreams of flying helicopters but they were too expensive. I also knew how to fire a sub-machinegun pretty well. At one point, I had taken the training to get a license to own a Thompson sub-machinegun. Then the money ran out and I had to shelve that idea.

I always tried to get my friends to call my “Ace” but I guess I never fit into the name. At least not until it happened. At least not until everything fell apart.

* * *

This story doesn’t start with me, though. It starts with some of the other people I met on that terrible day.

Daryl Greene and Daryl Green were second cousins. It got very confusing with the entire family, not only the different spellings of their names but the fact that they had the same name. They often went by their middle names as Daryl Greene was “Clem” and Daryl Green was “Cletus.” They were both dating a girl named Katie, though they claimed it was not the same girl.

Daryl Greene was average-sized with red hair, blue eyes, and lots of freckles. That day, he wore camouflage clothing and an orange vest. Okay, he probably wore that every day. He was 22 years old. Daryl Green was shorter than his cousin, 21 years old, and very good-looking.

On that evening, around 9 p.m., they were tailgating in the parking lot of the high school in Boone. Six of their friends were there, most of them in their own trucks. No women were there, of course. As usual. They met every two months or so. They were drinking beer and blaring Keith Urban. Some of them were already really drunk.

“Where the girls at?” their drunken friend Billy said. “Where the girls at?”

“Why you say they’re coming?” Daryl Green said, taking a sip of his Bud Light. “You gotta ask Daryl over there.”

“Daryl! Where them girls at?”

“What?” Daryl Greene said.

“Harley and I, we want girls!” Billy said.

He sipped his Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

“Where them girls at?” he asked again. “You said you knew where the girls were at, Daryl, so where are they? Daryl?”

“We were huntin’ bucks all day,” Daryl Greene said. “Why would we know where girls are at?”

“Go ahead and blare that Keith Urban!” another friend shouted. “Turn it up!”

They rednecks howled in excitement.

“My speakers are louder,” Daryl Greene said.

“Daryl, what the hell did you just say to me, boy?” Daryl Green said.

“My speakers are louder!”

“I’m about to turn it up, boy! I turn it up all the way. I hear the neighbors complaining already!”

“Oooo!” Billy said.

“Shut the hell up!” Daryl Green said. “See this kid? Thinks he’s something cool, ain’t he?”

“Hey, wait a second,” another redneck said. “Hey. Hey Daryl. Ain’t yer girlfriend’s name Katie?”

“Yeah,” Daryl Green said.

“Ain’t your girlfriend’s name Katie too, Daryl?”

“Yeah,” Daryl Greene said.

“That the same girl?”

“No!” Daryl Green said.

“No!” Daryl Greene said.

“Oooo!” Billy said.

“My girl’s faithful,” Daryl Green said.

“What’s her last name?” Billy asked.

“I don’t know,” another redneck said. “There’s two Daryls. There could be two Katies.”

“What’s her last name?” Billy said again.

“Who invited this guy?” Daryl Green said, pointing at the last redneck.

“Who are you, fella?” Billy asked.

Then they heard police sirens. They all went silent for a moment and then pandemonium broke loose.

“Oh shit!” Billy said.

“Hide the beer!” someone said.

“Get in the pickup!” Daryl Green said.

They all ran around like chickens with their heads cut off as two police cruisers pulled up into the Watauga High School Parking lot. They had clearly been seen.

“Oh ****!” Harley said, stumbling drunkenly out of the truck and trying to run away.

Both Daryl Greene and Daryl Green had gotten into their trucks, started them. They were revving the engines. Billy had gotten into his own pickup truck but then thought better of it.

“Don’t shoot!” he shrieked, putting his hands in the air. “I’m not black!”

The police cars pulled up.

“He’s just gotta pee, officer!” Billy yelled from his truck.

He was pointing at Harley, who had run several paces before tripping and falling in the parking lot. The man lay sprawled in his face.

“Don’t shoot him!” Billy cried out. “Don’t shoot him!”

“Please put your hands in the air where we can see them!” blared over the loudspeaker of one of the police cars. “Do not make this harder than it needs to be!”

“I’m getting the **** outta here!” Daryl Green said.

“Daryl, is that you?” came over the loudspeaker.

“Who said that!?!” Daryl Green yelled.

“Daryl. Is that you?”

“Which Daryl?” Daryl Green called.

A police officer exited one of the cars and walked towards them.

“Who’s there?” Daryl Green said. “What do you want?”

When the officer walked up, Daryl Green recognized his old buddy Chris from high school.

“Aw Chris,” Daryl Green said. “How the hell you doin’, man.”

“Daryl, what the hell are you doing?”

“What the hell are you doin’ man? I’m out here listening to Keith Urban and drinking me some Bud Lights.”

“What the hell am I doing? I’m doing my job. What are you doing at the high school drinking beers again?”

“I’m drinking some Bud Lights, I’m listening to Keith Urban, and I’m celebratin’ America!”

“How many Bud Lights you had tonight Daryl?”

“I’ve had … a couple.”

“Daryl, show me on your hand how many you’ve had.”

Daryl started to hold up his hand but then stopped.

“Now, you know that’s a damn trick question,” he said. “I ain’t answering that shit.”

“Are you gonna pick them damn bottles up?” Chris said. “There’s bottles all over this damned parking lot.”

“Ain’t bottles, they’re cans! You got eyes! Bud Light.”

“Officer, we didn’t bring the bottles, they was here,” Billy piped up, his hands still up and out the window of his pickup truck. “We been drinkin’ outta cans. Here’s the rest of the PBR.”

“Shut the **** up, Billy!” Daryl Green said. “Billy’s got PBR with him! Nobody drinks BPR anymore. Billy.”

“I like PBR,” Billy whined.

“We don’t drink PBR here. Chris,” Green said.

“Daryl, how long have you been here?” Chris asked.

“I prob’ly been here about an hour. ‘Bout an hour?”

Billy just nodded. He had scooted over to the passenger seat in the hopes they wouldn’t get him for DUI.

“Have you been hearing a lot of … strange sounds been going on tonight, Daryl?” Chris asked.

“I been hearin’ Keith Urban,” Daryl Green said. “I don’t know how ‘strange’ that is to you, but to us … it’s America.”

“Have you not been noticing all the cars that have been speeding up and down this road?”

“That’s just Boone for you,” Daryl Greene said.

“They’re drag racing!” Daryl Green said.

“Them all them crazy college students and tourists.”

“They’re drag racing.”

They both realized, now it had been pointed out to them, it was not the typical Friday night drivers going up and down the road. Something was happening. People were swerving. People were speeding. There were more horns than there usually was. They had noticed it.

“Well, I guess we thought it was a little different,” Daryl Green admitted.

“Daryl, there’s been an incident,” Chris said.

“Well─”

“Daryl, what did you do!?!” Billy said.

“I didn’t do shit, Billy!” Daryl Green said.

“Is this about Katie?” someone asked.

“It’s always about Katie,” Daryl Greene said.

“This ain’t about Katie!” Daryl Green said.

“Listen,” Chris said. “The police chief, he sent me and the fellow officers all around town stopping to see everybody that we can, came here to the high school ‘cause I figured you’d be here. I’m your friend. I figured I would try to help you. There is an evacuation process going on in Boone right now. This is serious.”

“Oh shit!” Daryl Green said.

“Daryl. Daryl! This is ****ing serious!”

“Oh shit boy.”

“Can … can we go then, officer?” Billy said. “Should we go? Home?”

“None of you are in trouble,” Chris said. “You’re gonna be in trouble if you don’t get the **** outta here.”

“Okay,” Billy said. He pointed at Harley. “C’mon! Harley, c’mon! C’mon!”

“All right!” Daryl Green said.

“You need to go … you need to go to Kidd Brewer Stadium,” Chris said. “That’s where the evacuation is taking place.”

“The Rock?” Daryl Greene said.

“Yes. The Rock.”

“Hoorah!” Daryl Green said. “Am I right? App State!”

“God damn it, Daryl,” Chris said.

“There must be a game going on!” Daryl Greene said.

“Hell yeah!” Daryl Green said.

“That’s all that driving!” Daryl Greene said.

“Get to Kidd Brewer Stadium!” Chris said. “Get to Kidd Brewer Stadium.”

“Tailgating two-point-oh,” Daryl Green said.

Daryl Green realized that Chris was scared when he told him about the evacuation and the incident. Everyone else had noticed his fear as well.

Billy got Harley into his pickup truck and they left at a reasonable speed, Harley puking out the window while drinking more PBR.

Both Daryl Greene and Daryl Green headed out of the parking lot for Kidd Brewer Stadium. As they’d picked up a 24 pack of Bud Light and still had over half the case left, they didn’t have to make a pit stop.

* * *

Around the same time, I was at the Appalachian Mountain Brewery with one of my pilot buddies, Roger Stanfield, and an artist I knew in Boone: Josh Hardy.

Roger liked to be called Maverick. He was a lot older than me, being 48. He’d also done some time with the U.S. Air Force, having reached the rank of Major and a jet pilot before retiring. He was a little shorter than me, and a little better looking. Where I was skinny, he was a brick, and very strong. Probably that Air Force training. After retirement, he’d gone into the commercial aircraft trade. That’s how I knew him. We both found ourselves often in Boone.

Josh was a lot taller than either of us, standing about six and half feet, and being solid. He was much better looking than either of us and usually ended up going home with a girl when we hung out. He was an artist and, like me, kind of a nerd. I’d seen some of his art and thought it was really cool and, since he was my age, he was easy to hang out with.

“So,” I said with my terrible lisp as we sat drinking our beers. “We gotta find three … three girls who like us! Don’t forget: call me ‘Ace.’ Call me ‘Ace.’ ‘Cause I’m a pilot.”

“Why do we call you ‘Ace’ again?” Josh asked.

“‘Cause I’m a pilot,” I said.

“Do you sirs want another pint?” the bartender asked.

“Ah yes!” I said. “Thanks! Yes!”

“Which one would you like?”

“I like the dark. That gold. Dark Gold? Whatever it’s called.”

“The … the Black Gold?”

“Yes, the Black Gold. Yes.”

He gave me an odd look. I’d been there a few times but that guy was always surprised just how awkward I could be. He was probably surprised I still couldn’t remember the name of the beer I liked. He might also have thought the alcohol would loosen me up, but it never really did.

Josh still pretended he didn’t know us too well.

“You two want another drink?” the bartender asked the others after he’d gotten mine.

“Yes,” Roger said, ordering the Black Gold as well.

“It’s the Black and Gold,” I said. “Is it Black and Gold? Black Gold?”

“Black and Gold every night,” the bartender said.

“I’ll have a cider,” Josh said.

“Oh, God damn it!” I muttered.

The man got them their drinks.

“Only nerds drink that stuff, you know,” I said, lisping as usual. “Why would you drink that? The women don’t like it. You have to drink the … the porter. That’s what the girls like.”

“I mean … Mervin … does it look like he has trouble with the ladies?” Roger said.

“Porter?” Josh said.

I looked at Josh.

“How do you do that, by the way?” I asked.

“Maybe he’s born with it,” Josh said.

“Are you talking about yourself in the third person? Again?”

“You call yourself Ace!”

“Sh. I’m a pilot, God damn it!”

Josh looked around. He got up from the table and signaled one of the bartenders. Then he went to another woman on her phone who he talked to. She ignored him.

“Oh, he’s gonna get her!” I said. “She’s not that good-looking though.”

“No,” Roger said.

“I think he likes the plump ones that aren’t interested,” I said.

Josh walked to the bartender and asked them to put the news on. They had just gotten a new wide-screen TV at the place. When the man asked which channel, Josh asked them to put on the Charlotte station. The bartender changed to the channel and turned up the volume.

The headline at the bottom read “Breaking News: Eastern Seaboard Attacked.”

“Oh no, the Russians are finally invading!” I said.

“What?” Josh said.

The ticker read on: “This is not a test. Repeat: this is not a test. The United States Government as issued a mandatory evacuation for the following Eastern Seaboard States: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Call your local authorities for evacuation information.”

“Mandatory evacuation of the state?” I said. “The hell?”

The woman read out the same message over and over and over.

“We are under attack,” the woman read. “When we know any more information, you will know. We do not. Call your local authorities. Figure out how to be evacuated.”

I opened up my flip phone and dialed 911. I got a busy signal.

Roger had opened his phone and was calling someone as well. I noticed the bar was getting empty. Everyone looked nervous and scared.

“Hey, where are you going?” I called to one. “Where are you going?”

No one answered.

The bartender told us they were closing. I dropped money down for the beer I didn’t drink. Then I heard a police car pull up, sirens blaring. We went outside and saw the police car weave in and out of the people leaving.

“Evacuation at Kidd Brewer Stadium!” came over the loudspeakers. “Everyone to Kidd Brewer Stadium. Please go to Kidd Brewer Stadium. Do not stop. Do not go home. Go to Kidd Brewer Stadium.”

We got into Josh’s Ford F-350.

“I have to go home before I go to Kidd Brewer Stadium,” Josh said.

“Where’s home?” I asked. “Where do live?”

“Just down the street,” he said.

“That’s fine,” Roger said. “I’m gonna call my buddy, Phil.”

That’s when I noticed a girl standing behind the brewery by the picnic tables. She was leaned over by one of the picnic tables, puking profusely.

“Help me,” he muttered between puking. “Help me.”

I pointed her out to the two others in the car.

“What should we do, Maverick?” I asked Roger.

The police car stopped, lights still flashing, and the officer got out to check on the woman.

“Okay, she’s good,” I said.

“It looks like she’s getting help,” Roger said.

Josh later told me he thought he’d heard someone calling him from the bar. He checked to make sure he had everything. There was a shriek from the police officer and he fell to the ground. The woman jumped on top of him.

“The ****?” I said. “The ****?”

“Ooo,” Roger said. “He’s getting lucky.”

“No!” I said. “No, he’s not getting lucky. This is bad. Where’s his partner?”

There was a crunching sound coming from them.

“Wait in the car,” I said to Josh. “Wait in the car.” Then to Roger: “C’mon. We’re pilots!”

“All right Ace, let’s go,” Roger said.

I looked more carefully as we approached but couldn’t see anything though the officer was jerking and it looked very … strange. The crunchy sounds continued. It was the weirdest sex I’d ever seen.

“I should’ve helped her,” I muttered.

“No, he dead!” Josh called. “Just … get back in the car!”

“What?” I called.

I tried to look more closely. It didn’t look like sex, actually.

I went to the police car, got into the driver seat, and closed the door. I motioned for Roger to join me. Then I called to Josh we’d lead him to his house. I pulled the automobile in front of Josh’s 350 and, siren blaring, we left the parking lot.

I led him to his house, driving down Winkler’s Creek Road to Winkler’s Meadow Road, where there were duplexes and apartments. Josh had a big house at the near end of the street. When we arrived, he went in while Roger and I waited outside. I noticed the shotgun and told Roger I knew how to use it.

* * *

About the same time on King Street, Salama Pöllö, aka Jake Miller (don’t ask) was performing. He was young, wore a strange headdress, and had his face painted gold. He was naked except for a loincloth and had symbols painted all over his body. Hobo Joe Johnson was also there, a beggar who often roamed the streets of Boone. He was older, being 68 with thin gray hair, leathery, tan skin, and a single eye. His left eye was missing and had been for some time. He walked with a walking stick and wore old clothing and pushed a cart. He enjoyed Salama’s playing and the two were both street people so had bonded over new people coming to the school every year that didn’t like them. Freshman and tourists hated them.

Not far away, Matthew White, a junior at Appalachian State University and member of the baseball team, was heading for Boone Saloon. He was very tall, being 6’8”, and solid. A strong man, he was also very smart. He passed the two every Friday night but never paid the two much mind, though he was not rude to them. The smell and the awkward panhandling both held him off.

White went on to Boone Saloon to have a drink with his buddies. There weren’t a lot of students there or anywhere in town during the summer session. He wasn’t taking classes but had an apartment nearby so he stayed all year in the town.

On the street, a friend of Salama’s, in charge of the anthropology department at ASU, approached so he renewed his dancing act. However, Hobo Joe realized there was something wrong with the man. He shambled towards them strangely. It seemed a little early for someone this drunk to be out and about, but it was not unheard of.

As the shambling man came under one of the lights on King Street, Hobo Joe saw a lot of blood on him.

“Well, that ain’t right,” he muttered.

It was too much blood for it to be his own. The entire front of his clothing was covered in crimson.

“Salami, I think there’s something wrong with that guy,” Hobo Joe said.

“The Professor?” Salama said.

“Yeah. He’s got too much blood on him.”

Salama saw it was not his professor and there was too much blood. He and Hobo Joe backed away from the shambling man. When they turned, they saw two more shambling people coming from the other way. Hobo Joe ran across the street at speed.

“C’mon Swami!” he called.

Salama ran after him as the men slowly followed. They stopped on the other side of the street and looked back. Salama didn’t think they were normal humans and didn’t think it was a prank or a crazy murder. Then they saw more and more of the things heading their way.

Inside the bar, Matt White was drinking and having a great time. He hadn’t seen anything on the street. Then Hobo Joe burst into the saloon, pushing past the bouncer at the door. He looked scared. That’s when Matt noticed the people shambling towards Boone Saloon. He figured they were drunk. Then Salama ran in.

“There’s a bunch a Haitian zombies!” he shouted.

“What the hell you talking about Swami?” Hobo Bob said.

Salama ran towards the back of the bar, telling everyone there about the Haitian zombies. The bouncer grabbed him by the shoulder.

“Sir, I’m going to need to ask you to leave,” he said.

“I will leave but not that direction,” Salama said.

“We don’t have a back door.”

“I have my rights!”

The bouncer was taken aback and Salama broke free and ran to the back. Hobo Joe just sat down at the bar. Matt stared at them. The bouncer came at Salama and grabbed him again.

“I’m being oppressed!” Salama cried out. “The white man has come to get me!”

Both Matt and Hobo Joe knew the painted man was white.

“Boy, what are you talking about?” Hobo Joe said. “You’re whiter than I am.”

Eight people were at the windows of the bar, tapping on the glass and trying to get in. All of them were covered with blood.

“Nope,” Matt said. “Where the back door at?”

“Hey, bouncer man, look at the window,” Hobo Joe said. “Where’s my drink?”

“Bouncer bouncer bouncer!” Matt said, getting up. “Dude! Dude! Dude!”

He got to the bouncer and pointed to the window. The bouncer pushed Salama towards the bar and looked. Then he headed for the door.

“We’re closing soon,” he said to the people outside. “Y’all need to leave!”

He started to open the door but Matt stopped him.

“Do you not see the blood on them?” he said. “You need to lock this door.”

The man did. He took out his cell phone and called the police.

“Bartender, where’s my booze?” Hobo Joe said.

“You don’t have any money,” the bartender said. “I ain’t giving you no booze.”

“C’mon man, I just need a drink.”

The bartender found a shot glass on the bar and gave it to him. He drank it.

Matt noticed the glass windows were starting to crack. He ran back to the pool tables and grabbed a pool stick. The bouncer was dialing and redialing 911 over and over again. The bartender advised everyone to back away from the windows. Other patrons were also on their phones, desperately trying to call the police. Matt looked around for another way out but there were none.

He went to the bar.

“Do you have a gun behind your counter?” he said.

The man just looked at him. He looked terrified.

“God damn it,” Matt said.

People started to grab pool sticks. Matt started to push tables and chairs against the windows.

“Hey, barkeep, can I have another drink?” Hobo Joe said.

The man ignored him.

Several people helped Matt pushing tables and chairs against the windows. Then they heard glass breaking off to the left. The two men beating on it actually fell through the shattered window and crashed to the floor next to the bar. The bartender hopped over the bar and grabbed a pool stick. The other shambling guys heard the sound of the glass breaking and turned, still banging at the air, and headed that way.

One of the two men who broke through started to slowly get to his feet while the other crawled. Matt rushed them and brought the pool stick down on one of their heads. The man fell onto his side but he was still moving. It obviously hurt him but he showed no feeling. Salama tried to hit the other with a femur he carried but slipped in spilled beer and fell.

“Why’re these drunk dudes breaking into the bar?” Hobo Joe said. “Shouldn’t they be breaking out of the bar … if they’re already drunk.”

Matt punched at the zombie she’d just hit but missed the thing. Salama got to his feet and headed beyond the barricade. The two zombies got up and moved into the room. Everyone backed up to the very back of the place. Some of them were trying to find their way out.

“You gonna help?” Matt shouted at the others. “Either you help or we all die here!”

None of them moved so he threw another punch, connecting with one of the zombies and knocking it back to the ground. Meanwhile, Hobo Joe ran over to the pool tables and grabbed a pool ball.

“There’s too many!” Matt said.

One of the zombies tried to bite him, lunging at him, slipped in the same beer that Salama had slipped in, and fell to the ground. Then the bouncer fled the place, making a beeline for a window and jumping out of it. Matt took the cue and fled the place as well. Salama followed. They looked back and saw the zombies cutting off half the rest of the people there. Hobo Joe snuck out of the place carefully, grabbing a bottle of liquor as he went.

He caught up to the other two, running down King Street. They noticed people were running towards campus. They saw a mass of people fleeing towards Kidd Brewer Stadium and headed that way.

* * *

Billy and Harley took a detour after leaving the high school.

“Let’s go get Denise!” Billy said. “She’s cute. We’ll need breeding stock.”

Harley just looked at him. Then he turned and puked out the window again.

“She don’t listen to no radio,” Billy said.

Harley puked out the window some more.

They drove to the repair shop where Denise “Danny” Valerie Abbott worked. She was a broad-shouldered woman with black, pixie-cut hair and green eyes. She was of mixed race and worked as a mechanic. She wasn’t there, of course, so they went to her apartment.

“Don’t you listen to the radio?” Billy said. “You never listen to the radio. C’mon, we gotta get to … where we going?”

“What are you boys talking about?” Denise said.

“It’s that place at ASU where they play football?”

“The stadium?”

“Thank you. The stadium. We gotta go there.”

“Why?”

“Because things are going on.”

They took her to the truck and he turned on his AM radio.

“This is not a test,” the man on the radio said. “I repeat: this is not a test. Our United States government has issued a mandatory evacuation for the following Eastern Seaborne states.”

North Carolina was mentioned. The local blurb said for people to go to Kidd Brewer Stadium.

“Right now?” she said. “I’m working.”

“It’s a evacuation!” Billy said. “It’s a evacuation!”

“****,” she said.

“Just grab your wrenches and shit and lets go. We gots to go! The cops told us. They didn’t even arrest us. Look how drunk I am and I’m driving! He’s puking out the window! You can ride in the back. Just push that carcass aside and get in!”

She got into the back seat of the extended cab truck, pushing aside what appeared to be a deer carcass, and Billy drove them, at the speed limit because he was very drunk, towards Kidd Brewer Stadium.

* * *

Daryl Green drank two more beers on the way to Kidd Brewer Stadium. They saw dead people on the ground with people on top of them, apparently eating them. They had to avoid the ones in the road. Daryl Greene followed behind him and ran over some dead people, jacking up his truck a little bit. They saw a woman and her daughter running from the zombies. The woman led the girl by the arm down River Street.

Green stuck his hand out the window, signaling Greene to stop. He pulled up beside her.

“Jump in the back of the pickup!” he shouted at her.

She climbed into the back of the truck with her daughter and Green sped away. He didn’t even open up the back window of the cab.

* * *

While we waited for Josh in front of his house, I turned off the siren. Then I pulled the shotgun out and found it only had a single shell in it.

“Is there more shells anywhere around here?” I asked Roger.

“Let me check the glove box,” he said.

“Okay,” I replied.

He found five more shells in the glove compartment and put them into the weapon. Then I put the shotgun back into the clamp that held it.

“Where is he?” I muttered. “He’s taking so God-damned long. Can we just meet him there?”

“I mean, he’s your friend,” Roger said. “I don’t care.”

That’s when I noticed someone walking down the street towards us. I rolled down the window and called to the man, telling him we were to get to Kidd Brewer Stadium. Then I noticed where his stomach should be was torn out and there were no intestines at all.

“This is a dead man walking,” I said. “Dead man walking. Dead man walking.”

I rolled the window back up.

“We did see the girl eat that cop,” Roger said.

I looked towards the house. There was no sign of Josh.

“Shall I check on him?” Roger said.

“No,” I said.

I put the car in gear and turned around, driving away.

“Whoa whoa whoa,” Roger said. “Should we not just check on him?”

“Did you see the dead guy walking!?!” I shouted. “Did you not see it!?! It’s a dead guy!!! Dead man walking!!!”

It took me some time to calm down as I drove towards the stadium.

“It’s a ****ing zombie,” I said. “You can’t kill it. We gotta just drive away.”

* * *

Josh, meanwhile, had gotten his plate mail and exited the house. He saw a man with a missing stomach and noticed the police car holding his pilot friends was gone. He tossed everything in his truck and left as well.

* * *

Daryl Green, Daryl Greene, Billy, Harley, and Danny soon arrived at the stadium. Billy told the officers he’d been drinking and asked if that was okay. Harley just puked out the window. When Daryl and Daryl arrived, drinking beer while they drove, Green offered the cops a beer.

* * *

We soon arrived at Kidd Brewer Stadium. At the bottom of the stadium was a police car barricade with four cars. There was just enough space for a single car to get through. I lowered the window and leaned out.

“Whosever car this is, is dead,” I said.

He looked in the car and then motioned us in. That seemed surprising to Roger.

“Oh no,” I said. “Something bad has happened.”

The police were waving other cars in as well.

Josh arrived shortly after that.

It was after that when Hobo Joe, Salama, and Matt White ran up and through the barricade.

Cars were parked all over the place in the parking lot at Kidd Brewer Stadium. White tents were set up on the football field and a helicopter stood on either side of the goalpost.

“I can fly that,” I said when I saw the helicopters.

“I think it already has a pilot,” Roger told me.

“Oh.”

Ten police officers were at the gates to get into the stadium, using their cars to block the entrance. Roger and I got out of the police car. I brought the shotgun and looked around for pretty woman. I spotted Josh and called to him. He was wearing some kind of armor or something.

“Don’t I look like Sauron?” he said.

“I didn’t see that movie,” I told him. “I read the book. Where’s your sword? Do you have a sword?”

“No, it’s a mace!” he said, showing me a large, gaudy weapon.

At the gate, we met Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford. He was a solid man with a mustache. He seemed to know Hobo Joe, which surprised me.

“Hey Crawford, how’s it going?” the bum said.

“God damn, Hobo Joe,” Chief Crawford said. “I’m surprised you made it.”

He stopped us, including all of the people I’d been writing about and I noticed there was a pretty girl with our group. That was Danny.

He told us the evacuation process had no protocol. He said the eastern seaboard was hit by a Russian chemical weapon that had infected people on the coastlines mostly, but the fallout was spreading westward.

“Is it zombies, sir?” I asked.

“The ****?” Daryl Green said.

“Why is that man speaking gibberish?” Hobo Joe asked, pointing at me.

Chief Crawford said the white tents were there to quarantine us before evacuation. He said a helicopter came about every 30 minutes and we would be getting out of there in a couple of hours as it was backed up. He noted FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) had come to help in Boone but obviously as it was the entire eastern seaboard that was hit, the Agency was very spread out. Not only was this the evacuation spot for Boone, but also for all the neighboring counties as well.

“I know how to fly a helicopter,” I said.

“We have plenty of pilots,” Chief Crawford said.

“God damn it,” I said.

“Ace, slow your roll, buddy,” Roger said. “Slow your roll.”

Chief Crawford handed us off to Sgt. Joe Knapp.

“Hey Joe, how’s it going?” Hobo Joe said to him.

He told us Sgt. Knapp would escort us to a FEMA tent to be quarantined and after that we’d be placed in a waiting area up in the bleachers until the helicopter was ready to take us.

Daryl Greene tried to hide beers in his jacket when he found out they wouldn’t allow alcohol in the quarantine tent.

Sgt. Knapp led us to the FEMA tent where we met Dr. James Strickland, an older gentleman with glasses who was the lead scientist there. I immediately didn’t trust the man. He broke us up into twos to go to different tents. I tried to be with Danny, who I’d not even been introduced to yet.

Daryl Greene and Daryl Green were conferring about hiding their beers. He called Daryl Green first, pairing him up with Matt. Then he picked me, putting me with Daryl Greene.

God damn it! I thought.

I’d been hoping to be with Danny. Instead, I was with a redneck.

“I’m Ace,” I told Daryl Greene. “I’m a pilot.”

I spit in my hand and held it out, figuring that’s how rednecks shook hands. Daryl Greene seemed impressed and shook my hand. He offered me some chaw.

Billy got paired up with Harley.

“That’s good ‘cause we’re like cousins,” Billy said. “We’re also half brothers.”

Josh was put with a blonde woman and her daughter. They paired off the rest of us in twos or threes. They thought Hobo Joe was a zombie for a minute and ended up putting him with Salama. Roger ended up with Danny and I was quite envious.

In the tents, they took a swab from the inside of our cheeks and scraped some skin off the side of our necks. It was not pleasant. They told us they were testing for human rabies which had come from the chemical weapon on the eastern seaboard. I asked how long it would take before the tests were in. The man said it would be an hour.

“Daryl, you ain’t got rabies, do you?” I asked.

“I ain’t got no rabies,” the redneck replied.

* * *

The doctors didn’t tell Hobo Joe or Salama anything, just took the samples and get them out of the tent. They also didn’t tell Roger or Danny anything.

“What the **** is happening?” Danny said.

She bit the nurse’s finger as she swabbed the inside of her cheek. Roger tried to pull the woman off the nurse.

“You are a zombie!” the nurse screamed. “You just bit me! I’m going to be a zombie!”

She ran out of the tent.

“YAS *****!” Danny said.

Roger drew his Glock.

“What are you doing?” Danny asked.

“Uh … Denise, it was?” he said.

“Yes.”

“What the ****?”

“I’m not taking this shit!”

“What shit?”

“I don’t know what the **** is going on─”

“What shit?”

“─put her finger in my mouth─”

“You just bit a human!”

“Whatever!”

“Are you a dog?”

“She doesn’t have a right to put her fingers in my mouth!”

There was screaming outside.

“She’s going to try to come in here and kill both of us!” Roger said. “We gotta get out of here!”

* * *

I saw the nurse burst out of the tent.

“There’s a zombie in the tent!” she screamed.

I headed over to the tent with my shotgun followed by Josh in his stupid movie Sauron armor. I burst into the tent.

“Where’s the zombie!?!” I yelled.

“I am not a zombie!” Danny yelled back.

“Oh! Hey! Wait. She’s a zombie?”

“No, but she had to bite people!” Roger said.

“She had no right to be putting her fingers in my mouth!” Danny said.

“She seems kind of like … she can talk?” I asked, confused.

“Who is the one with the undead!?!” Josh said, bursting into the tent.

“So, you’re not a zombie?” I asked Danny.

“No,” Danny said.

“Hi, I’m Ace,” I said to her, holding out my hand to shake hers.

“The ****? No!” she said. “I’m not shaking hands.”

“She’s talking back and zombies don’t talk,” I said.

Police Chief Crawford entered the tent, gun drawn.

“I don’t think she’s a zombie,” I said. “I don’t think she’s a zombie. She’s talking.”

“Ace!” Roger said. “Gun up! Like, drop it!”

He held his gun up.

“Who are you?” Danny said.

“My name is Ace,” I said. “I’m a pilot.”

“A pilot?” she said.

“What the **** is going on?” Josh yelled in a strange, deep voice.

“This is Sauron,” I said to Danny, rolling my eyes.

Roger put his Glock down on the ground.

“Chief!” I said again. “Chief! I don’t think she’s a zombie. Listen.”

I turned to Danny.

“Talk,” I said to her.

“What?” she said.

“See?” I said.

“You all need to leave,” Chief Crawford said.

“Gladly!” Danny said.

“Okay!” I said. “Okay, c’mon. Let’s go!”

“I’m not going with you!” she said.

“This evacuation process has become compromised!” Chief Crawford said. “I need everyone to leave!”

“Everyone out of the tent!” Josh said in his deep voice.

“Walk with me like you don’t know what’s going on,” I said to Danny. “Walk with me.”

Sgt. Joe Knapp said he was going to escort us back to the gates. I looked around like I didn’t know where the zombie was. We headed for the gates.

“Something’s going on,” I said to her.

“Why did they swab my mouth?” she asked.

“Because they’re checking to see if you’re infected. Look, I saw a guy walking and he had no guts, okay?”

“What?”

“Yeah, it was like empty. And I said okay because … zombies.”

“What are y’all talking about,” Josh said in that deep voice.

“What the **** is wrong with your voice?” I asked.

“I gotta stay in character, man!” he said in his normal voice.

“Are either of you ****ing for real, right now?” she asked.

“Yes!” I said. “I don’t understand it, but I’ve watched a lot of movies. So, when it came, I just drove away.”

“Sci-Fi doesn’t give you a degree in the paranormal!”

“You’re right. You’re right. It doesn’t. But I know my eyes. And I saw what looked like a dead guy walking.”

We reached the gates.

“I don’t know this woman,” Roger said to Sgt. Knapp. “I don’t know why she chose to bite your nurse. Can I please continue with the evacuation as planned?”

“You swear you don’t know this woman?” Sgt. Knapp said.

“I swear, I’ve never seen her before today.”

“Okay.”

Josh had noticed a bunch of people approaching from the side, coming down the road beside the stadium. There were at least 15 of them. I was still trying to convince the girl of what had happened to me, telling her the man I’d seen had no guts.

“He couldn’t have been alive,” I said. “There’s no way.”

“He was walking?” she asked.

I nodded.

“So, I drove away,” I said. “I’m not hero.”

“Oh shit!” Josh said in his own voice.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“There’s a lot of people coming down now!” he said in his deep “Sauron” voice.

“Coming down what?” I asked.

He pointed.

“Oh shit!” I said.

“Back in the stadium!” Sgt. Knapp said. “Back in the stadium right now!”

“Officer Knapp!” I said, pointing out the dead guys.

He nodded and yelled at the other police officers.

“Okay, let’s go back in the stadium,” I said.

“Mike, Trent, over here!” Sgt. Knapp called.

I didn’t see Roger but went back into the stadium with Danny.

“Who are they?” she asked me when I pointed them out to her.

“I don’t know but they don’t look like they’re friendly,” I said.

“Let’s get outta here!” Josh said in a deep voice.

“What is with this ****ing voice of yours!?!” I asked.

“Shut up Ace!” he yelled.

“Okay, that’s your regular voice.”

As we ran back in, we passed Chief Crawford. He did a double take as if he wondered what we were doing back in there. Then numerous gunshots erupted from the gate so he ran in that direction.

“I will trust you,” Danny said to me. “I don’t like you but I wanna live!”

* * *

The rest of our group had been escorted into the bleachers. They saw the people coming down the road and heard gunfire.

“What is that?” Hobo Joe asked.

“I don’t like it,” Salama said.

“Well, I know you don’t like it but what the hell was it?” Hobo Joe said.

Some of them noticed a blood stain on one of the white medical tents down on the field. Hobo Joe pointed it out to Matt and he started to head that way.

* * *

Roger pointed out the bloodstain on the tent to me.

“Shit!” I said. “Hey, Lord Sauron, maybe you should go check that out!”

I pointed it out to him.

“Clearly there’s a problem over there!” he said in his fake deep voice.

Roger headed down that way, Glock in hand. Josh followed him.

“I’m Sauron!” Josh yelled.

“Oh God,” I said.

Danny headed to the tent and I followed her.

We ran into the tent. The blonde mother was over the little girl, eating her.

“Head shot!” I hissed. “Head shot!”

I aimed the shotgun at the woman’s head, trying to get a really good shot. Roger fired, grazing the woman in the gut. The bullet struck the daughter in the head.

“Rest in peace,” Roger said.

“Jesus Christ!” I cried out. “Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s get out of here!”

The woman had blood all over her mouth. I aimed at her head and fired. The blast blew her head off and I worked the action on the weapon, sending a smoking shell flying through the air. The body crashed backwards.

“Nice shot, Ace,” Roger said.

I just nodded.

It had gone very quiet. There were no more gunshots. Danny heard a shriek from somewhere.

* * *

Daryl Green had run down to the gate during all the commotion. He planned to return to his truck for his rifle. But he was unnerved by the silence that greeted him when he got there. There had been gunfire but all was quiet now. He saw only one police officer still on his feet of the dozen or so who had been there. The man shambled towards the gate, holding his side where he bled from a wound. It was Sgt. Joe Knapp.

“Help me,” he muttered. “Help me.”

“Hey, how’s it going Joe?” Daryl Green said.

Four zombies were heading their way. Daryl Green went to Sgt. Knapp and started to take him towards his truck.

“We need to get to the chopper,” Sgt. Knapp muttered. “Where? Where you going?”

Daryl Green turned and headed back into the stadium. He saw zombies coming from the top of the hill over the stadium as well.

* * *

Matt ran up to us.

“You know I could fly one of those helicopters,” I told everyone around me. “IRL. IRL.”

As we exited the tent, we saw zombies shambling in through the gate. I pointed and cried out. Daryl Green was helping a wounded police officer in our direction.

The nearer of the two Chinook helicopters had its engines roaring and propellers spinning.

“Ace!” Roger said. “Ace! Ace!”

Nine zombies were coming down the hill on the opposite side of the football field. The FEMA people were all already in the nearer helicopter. It took off.

“****!” I said.

* * *

Over by the still-grounded helicopter stood Hobo Joe and Salama.

“Hey, Swami, can you fly that thing?” Hobo Joe said.

“No,” Salama said.

“Damn it,” Hobo Joe said.

* * *

“Ace, you thinking what I’m thinking?” Roger said to me.

“Does anyone know how to pilot this!?!” Salama yelled at us from where he stood near the helicopter.

“By that I mean can you pilot that helicopter there?” Roger asked.

I nodded.

“Let’s move towards the helicopter!” Roger yelled. “We’ve got a pilot!”

We all headed for the Chinook. Several zombies were coming down near the scoreboard.

“We gotta lure them away from the helicopter!” I said.

“Yeah, that’s a great idea!” Daryl Greene said.

“All right!” Roger said. “All right. Listen. I’m going to go over to the left and start shooting. You get to the helicopter.”

“Okay!” I said seriously. “Be careful, Maverick. Be careful.”

“All righty,” he said.

I saw Hobo Joe jump into the helicopter even as Roger headed off to our left. Salama got in as well. Then Roger fired a couple of shots from his Glock. All of the zombies headed for him while the rest of us continued towards the Chinook. Daryl Greene reached the helicopter first.

“I know how to fly a helicopter,” I told everyone around us. “I can fly a helicopter.”

“Like **** you do?” Danny said.

I looked at her and then looked at my shotgun.

“Just cause you blew a *****’s head off doesn’t mean you can fly a helicopter!” she said.

“We gotta get outta here!” Josh said in his weird deep voice.

Josh climbed into the Chinook, followed by Matt, Daryl Green, Danny, and finally me. As I got inside, I called to Roger to keep shooting. A zombie looked at me and then headed back towards him when he fired again. As I made my way to the cockpit, I heard another shot fired. I looked out the window and saw Roger running perpendicular to the Chinook so I waved him away but he kept running in a path that didn’t take the zombies any further away from us. I kept motioning for him to get them further away.

Salama was chanting and praying or something. I kept gesturing for Roger to move away from us further.

When he was finally far enough away, I flipped the switches and the engines roared to life. It was very loud.

“Here we go folks!” I yelled.

I’d never flown a Chinook before and I did my best to get the engines going and get us off the ground, but it took me a while. Roger sprinted back and leapt into the Chinook and I kept working to get us aloft. The zombies were focused on us now.

“I’ve never actually flown this kind of helicopter before!” I called.

“Oh that’s really good to say!” Daryl Green said.

Roger climbed into the cockpit.

“Maverick!” I cried. “Help me!”

He couldn’t. He knew nothing about helicopters.

The zombies were crossing the field towards us and I finally got the Chinook off the ground. It lifted into the air and I took us up about 200 feet. Once we were hovering, I leaned into the back.

“Where are we going?” I shouted. “Does anybody … where are we going?”

“Are you drunk?” Daryl Green yelled back at me. “Are you drunk, buddy?”

“I only had two beers and that was an hour ago!” I said.

“You wanna be drunk?”

“Yes!”

We headed west. Roger checked the fuel and found the Chinook had a full tank. We listened in on the radio frequencies and started hearing coordinates for evacuation centers and places of safety on various radio frequencies. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1979-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Kyles-Deadworld-One-Shot-Escape-from-Boone
Basic Roleplaying System: Deadworld Session Eight - Arrival at Roanoke http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1978-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Eight-Arrival-at-Roanoke Wed, 07 Dec 2016 22:24:33 GMT Monday, December 5, 2016 (After playing the *Basic Roleplaying System* original setting “Deadworld” with Camilla Ekker-Runde, Ambralyn Tucker,... Monday, December 5, 2016

(After playing the Basic Roleplaying System original setting “Deadworld” with Camilla Ekker-Runde, Ambralyn Tucker, Ben Abbott, Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, James Brown, Kyle Matheson, Hannah Gambino, and Katelyn Hogan Saturday from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.)

On July 20, 2015, Dr. Jumin Han, who called himself Dr. Daddy, Lisa Weiss, and Alexa Suarez were all kidnapped by a couple of men over the course of the day. The three were all snatched up and driven somewhere and placed into a room with the windows boarded shut. There were three simple beds in the room and a couch but little else. The room had a connecting bathroom though the mirror had been removed and the shower curtain was tied to the rod with string.

Dr. Daddy, as he preferred to be called, was a tall, slim, Korean surgeon from western North Carolina. He was 28 years old and just starting out in the medical profession but already well thought-of. He was quite wealthy, which explained why he had been kidnapped.

Lisa Weiss was a pretty young redhead of about 20 who was a writer. She was a little over five and a half feet tall and very slim. She had numerous tattoos on her arms. She also spoke in a British accent. Though her family wasn’t wealthy, they were distantly related to some rather rich Weiss.

Alexa Suarez was tall and slim. She was Hispanic with dark, black hair. Secretly, she was a spy, which she figured accounted for her own kidnapping.

The two women and the man all found themselves without their phones and other possessions, including the pistols both Miss Suarez and Dr. Daddy had been carrying. They didn’t even have their wallets or I.D. The kidnappers seemed to know what they were doing as they never appeared without masks. They always entered the room together and one of them always had a gun in his hand.

As soon as the three were all conscious, they were told by the two men that so long as they didn’t try anything, they would be fine. They just wanted money from people who knew them and then they would let the three go.

“We’ve got nothing against you,” one of them said. “But if you try to mess around with us then we will hurt you.”

They were given changes of clothing and fed three times daily with bland but acceptable food. They had toiletries like soap, shampoo, and toilet paper for their use, but nothing that could be used as a weapon.

It only a couple of days after the kidnapping when they heard the two men arguing. They could hear the sound of a television or radio from somewhere else in the house but they couldn’t make out any of the words in either case.

A week went by. Then two. It seemed a lot longer than kidnappers would hold people.

One night there was a loud, vicious argument from somewhere else in the house. Then they heard a door slam and a car roar away. After that, only one of the men brought them their food, laundry, and the like. It was the same man every time. Once, he forgot to wear his mask and he looked haggard. After that, the food got worse. They only got water instead of milk or soda and the food became more like snacks instead of actually cooked and prepared meals. Another night, there was a hollow crash from somewhere else in the house that they thought sounded like a flat screen TV hitting the ground.

Also over the course of their imprisonment, Miss Weiss and Dr. Daddy hooked up. It was late at night and they thought Miss Suarez was asleep, though she wasn’t and watched the whole thing. The sex was good for both of them and provided a much-needed release. Miss Weiss initiated the encounter and Dr. Daddy didn’t seem to care one way or another.

They had been held, they thought, for almost a month when the kidnapper who’d been caring for them by himself came into the room, gun in hand. He wasn’t wearing his mask but he hadn’t been for some time. He pointed the gun at them.

“Look,” he said. “Look. You guys gotta go. You gotta get outta here. I’m-I’m gonna leave. I want you to count to 50 before you come out. If you don’t … if you don’t wait, I’m gonna shoot you! So … so just wait. Count to 50 and then … I’ll be gone and you guys are free.”

He backed out and closed the door. They didn’t hear the bolt or the lock, which they were used to.

They waited. About 20 seconds later they heard a single gunshot from somewhere else in the house. Dr. Daddy headed out the door directly after that though the other two waited another 30 seconds or so.

Dr. Daddy found a hallway with two other bedrooms, all the doors open and the rooms obviously slept in. He found a living room with a smashed big-screen television. Nearby was a radio plugged into the wall with nothing but static coming over the speaker. The kitchen was practically empty. Cupboard doors were open and when he quickly checked the refrigerator, there was nothing in it but condiments. All of the dishes were clean and put away however.

He found the kidnapper in the bathroom just off the hall. The man lay on the floor in front of the toilet. There was blood all over the sink and the medicine cabinet from where the man had blown his brains out with his pistol. He was quite dead. His cell phone lay next to him, smashed.

Miss Weiss arrived a few moments later while he was examining the body. He searched the body and found keys in the man’s pocket, along with a wallet with some cash, though no ID. He pocketed the money.

Miss Suarez, meanwhile, searched the other bedrooms and found her .45 semi-automatic pistol, a Desert Eagle semi-automatic pistol, and their wallets, purses, and possessions taken from them when they were kidnapped. Unfortunately, all their cell phones were dead as they had been sitting for weeks without a charger.

Miss Weiss picked up the bloody .45 semi-automatic pistol from the dead man’s hand and shoved it in the back of her pants. The barrel was still warm.

Dr. Daddy left the house and saw it was a small, single-story building with a propane tank beside it at the end of a long drive. There were numerous homes and houses down by the main road and he could smell the ocean. He went back into the house and looked for a land line but there wasn’t one.

Miss Weiss tried the sink and found they still had fresh water.

It was mid-morning.

“Let’s go to the ocean,” Dr. Daddy said.

“Let’s look around the house,” Miss Weiss suggested.

The obvious rental house was separated from other houses and homes in the area by a thick tree line. They could see what appeared to be a sound some ways behind the house. There was a garden hose on the side and a shed in the back with a push-mower and rakes.

They walked down the long driveway to the road. They could see more houses to the right thought the area to the left was completely overgrown with trees. A white SUV was coming down the road from the left. It looked like of beat up.

* * *

Manuela “Manny” Rodriquez was driving the somewhat torn up white SUV they were still using. She was Hispanic with long black hair in a braid, and dressed like a mechanic with a backward-turned baseball cap. Jonathan Franks was dozing in the passenger seat in the front. He was an incredibly handsome, tall man with brown, curly hair. Dr. Mikīl Wolfgang sat in the back, watching the passing terrain nervously. He had white hair and wore a white doctor’s jacket. The driver’s side window was still broken out in the vehicle since they’d been attacked by triffids, and they were still using a doughnut tire on the front passenger side. There were bits and pieces of triffid stuck in the grill, a smear of triffid ichor on the front, and the windows were all slimed with dry venom. But it was still running fairly well.

It was August 14, two days since they had visited the village of Wickwold and then been attacked by triffids before stopping at the village of Craft, where a zombie had bitten Courtney Dean, the fourth member of the group. She had disappeared the night before, not even leaving a note. Their other companion, Lindsay Mungham Fang, had left just that morning, heading inland from their camp on Wright Memorial Bridge between Point Harbor and the Outer Banks, seemingly disgusted with all of them.

The GPS was still off and on but Manny had figured out how to get to Roanoke Island, where Miss Bateman had said she was heading before they’d gotten separated. They had found their way around Elizabeth City and made their way to the Outer Banks via State Route 158. They were on South Croatan Highway in the area of Nag’s Head, having just passed Jockey Ridge State Park, when they saw people standing on the side of the road.

The slim red-headed woman wore skinny jeans and a tank top with a shirt over that, open and the sleeves pulled up. The Asian man wore long pants and a white doctor’s jacket. The other woman wore a tank top and jeans as well.

* * *

The white SUV slowed to a stop on the road next to the three, who were on the passenger side of the vehicle. It looked like it had seen better days but the engine sounded good. It looked like they’d been off-roading.

“Where are you heading?” Miss Weiss asked.

“Heading to Roanoke,” Manny said through the open passenger window.

“Roanoke … Rapids?”

“Island.”

“What happened to the car?” Miss Suarez asked.

“Yeah, what happened?” Miss Weiss asked. “What’d you guys do?”

“There were like these giant plant creatures or something,” Manny said.

“Plant creatures?”

“Yeah, they were, like, chasing us down!”

“Do you not know vhat’s been happening?” Dr. Wolfgang, the old man in the back, asked.

“No!” Dr. Daddy said.

“We’ve been enslaved and trapped for a month!” Miss Weiss said.

Dr. Daddy opened the back passenger side door and climbed in without a word. The older man with the German accent and the nice suit just looked at him.

“I’m a doctor,” Dr. Daddy said. “Or whatever you want, I can be it.”

Dr. Wolfgang’s eyebrows raised.

“Vhat?” he said.

“So, you’re a doctor too?” Dr. Daddy said. “We can be best friends.”

“That’s right,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Maybe we should get in,” Miss Weiss said, following Dr. Daddy and slipping into the far back of the car.

Manny put the car in gear and drove them through Nag’s Head. The numerous rental houses they passed all seemed empty of life. There were no other cars to be seen. Before they reached State Route 64, where Manny knew they would exit onto the large bridge that led to Roanoke Island, they spotted another man walking down the left side of the road, his back to them.

The man was tall with ginger hair and a horseshoe mustache, they saw when he turned to the sound of the car. He wore camouflage pants, a green tank top, and army boots. A camouflage jacket was tied around his waist but they could see a large knife on his belt and a pistol tucked into the back of his pants. When he turned completely towards them, they saw the M1 rifle in his hands. He took a knee and kept the rifle pointed in their direction though it was not aiming at the car.

Manny slowed the car and went to roll down the driver’s side window until she remembered it had been shattered. She stopped the car some 10 feet from the man, trying to keep the piece of metal that held the windshield in place between her and him.

“Don’t shoot!” she yelled. “Don’t shoot!”

The man pointed the gun a little more in the direction of the car.

“You civvies?” he called.

“Yeah,” she said. “Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. We’re all civilians here.”

Dr. Wolfgang looked over and saw that Franks was asleep again. He guessed the man was using sleep as a defensive mechanism to cope with everything that was going on.

“Where you going?” the soldier asked.

“Are you from Fort Bragg?” Manny asked.

“God, no.”

“What’re you doing out here?”

“If I could answer that, I probably wouldn’t be here.”

“Well, we’re heading to Roanoke Island. Where are you heading?”

“Why?”

“I mean … safety in numbers, right?”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Safety from what?” Miss Suarez, in the back, asked.

“The plant creatures?” Miss Weiss said.

“There is a disease going round that is … making people … grabby,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“What do you mean?” Miss Weiss asked.

“They’re like zombies,” Manny said.

“They attack you?”

“Yes. And there’s plants that apparently attack you and, like, monkey things … I don’t know. I heard it.”

“Is this like a zombie scenario?”

“You have people in there that don’t know what’s going on?” the soldier said.

“Yeah,” Manny said. “We just picked them up.”

“We were captured for a long time,” Miss Suarez called. “Didn’t have any connection with the outside.”

“I was captured with these two,” Miss Weiss said. “I still don’t know why; what we have in common. Please explain what’s going on. Right now. Because we’ve been trapped for a month and we don’t know what’s going on.”

“Listen here, lady, I don’t like sitting in one spot for too long,” the soldier said. “So either I join you or you drive on.”

“Ah, get in!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Who said that!?!” the soldier said.

They heard the sound of another car approaching coming from the same direction the white SUV had come. The soldier pointed down there road where a gray jeep drove towards them.

“Put your gun down,” Miss Weiss called. “You don’t know them.”

“Are you being followed?” the soldier asked Manny.

* * *

Dani Bateman, who had been traveling with Jaiqwan Jayshawn Skadooter, had found the young black athlete missing one morning. His yellow Porsche 918 Spyder was gone and a note, spray-painted on the asphalt near the building they’d taken shelter in, read simply “See you *****es at the beach. Doot-doot!” She had continued on without the man, who had found too much spray paint in a hardware store and filled the trunk of his car with all of it.

Miss Bateman was a Native American with tan skin and brown eyes. Her hair was long and pulled back into a braid. She was also very tall and built like a model.

She had stumbled across Elizabeth Tolini, one of the people she’d met at Duke University after the meteor shower, and the two of them had continued on in the latter’s jeep as it was in somewhat better shape than hers. They continued to head for Roanoke Island, where Floyd Wayne had told her he was heading. Miss Bateman was surprised at the amount of gear the other woman had: a sniper rifle, a crossbow, a black leather skin-tight outfit, and a dagger.

Miss Tolini had dark brown hair and dark brown eyes with olive skin. She looked Italian or Mediterranean.

They were driving on the Outer Banks when they spotted a white SUV ahead.

* * *

Manny looked into the review mirror and thought she recognized the jeep of the Elizabeth Tolini, who had been in the strange experiment with them at Duke University.

“Are you being followed?” the soldier asked again.

“What?” Manny said.

“Are you being followed? Shall I fire now?”

“No no no no no! That jeep looks familiar. It’s … uh … whatsherface?”

She shook Franks.

“What?” he said. “Why do you keep waking me?”

“Do you know this person?” Miss Weiss said. “Can this person help us?”

“I was asleep,” Franks said, looking at the soldier. “Where do you keep finding these people? Holy crap! I’ve been to sleep like an hour! What the hell? We haven’t see people in, like, what, two days and you suddenly find, like, five or six people. What the hell?”

“Wasn’t she in an experiment with us?” Manny said.

Franks looked at the approaching jeep.

“Which one?” he said. “Which girl?”

“The only girl besides me that escaped,” Manny said.

“Oh yeah.”

“Crossbow girl.”

“Oh. No, she had a sniper rifle.”

“She had a sniper rifle?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh.”

He remembered Manny had been unconscious with the zombie bite when they had fought off the strange creatures attacking the farm.

“She has a sniper rifle,” he said.

“What?” Manny said.

She got out of the SUV. She waved at the other car and called out. The jeep slowed down and stopped and she recognized Dani Bateman and Elizabeth Tolini. Skadooter was not with them.

“Did you finally kill him?” Manny said. “I wouldn’t blame you.”

“I’m going to miss that crack head,” Franks quipped.

Both Miss Bateman and Miss Tolini got out of the jeep.

“You know these too?” Miss Weiss asked Manny.

“Yeah, she was in an experiment with us,” Manny said, indicating Franks.

“Yeah,” Franks said.

“These are agreeable people?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Are they safe?” Miss Weiss asked.

“I mean … as safe as …” Manny said.

“Safe as a hole in the head,” Franks said.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Miss Bateman said. “Unless you give me reason to. So, yes, I’m safe.”

“I can tell you all for a fact,” the soldier said. “The longer we sit here, the worse it could be. So, we need to get moving or y’all need to get moving. I don’t care. But we do not need to be sitting here right now.”

“Okay,” Miss Tolini said.

Miss Weiss noted she would stay with the SUV as she’d known them longer though Miss Bateman was very, very pretty.

“Get in the car,” Manny said to the soldier. “Let’s go.”

“Which car?” the soldier said.

“I don’t care! We got room in each one!”

He opened the back door of the SUV while Manny and Franks got back into the front. Dr. Daddy slipped out of the door the soldier had opened.

“Wait wait wait wait,” Miss Bateman said. “Where are we going?”

“Just follow me,” Manny called.

The soldier looked Dr. Daddy up and down.

“You some sort of doctor?” he asked.

“I can be,” Dr. Daddy said.

Oh my God, Miss Bateman thought.

“Ain’t no ‘can’ in this world,” the soldier said. “Either it is ‘do’ or ‘don’t.’ You a doctor?”

“He do a doctor?” Miss Bateman called. “He do a doctor? It’s either do or don’t?”

“Just get in the car!” Manny said. “C’mon!”

“You don’t speak good,” the soldier said to Miss Bateman.

Dr. Daddy turned from the soldier and walked to the other vehicle without a word.

“Are you going the same direction?” Miss Weiss called. “Well, **** you, Daddy.”

“I didn’t know that was your dad,” Dr. Wolfgang said to the girl.

“Let’s go,” the soldier said. “Wheels up.”

He got into the white SUV.

Dr. Daddy slipped into the back of the jeep and the two women got in as well.

“Well, I’m not okay with any of this,” Miss Suarez muttered. “But I guess it will do.”

Manny put the SUV in gear and they headed off down the road followed by the Jeep. Franks leaned back and tried to go to sleep again.

“So, do you not know what’s going on here?” Dr. Wolfgang asked the two in the back.

“No,” Miss Suarez said.

“It seems zhat … uh … a zombie outbreak has occurred,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Zombies?” Miss Weiss said. “How did this begin?”

“It seems a meteor dropped some kind of device?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“You don’t know what’s going on?” the soldier said.

“We’ve been kidnapped for a month!” Miss Weiss said. “I’ve been trying to tell you!”

“Oh my ****ing God! You’re telling me people got kidnapped before all this shit went down?”

“Does it not happen all the time?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“It’s just very ironic, I think,” the soldier said.

“Well, please, just tell us,” Miss Weiss said.

“****ing zombies!”

“I … I still don’t understand. What do you mean: zombies?”

“Zombies. Aliens. Plant monsters.”

“Plants and zombies?”

“It’s everything!”

“The plants are new but … yes …” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“New to you!” the soldier cried out. “I fought that shit from day one! ****ing Intel didn’t know what the **** it was. Sent us green boys out there. Lost half my God-damned squad and now I’m running to the ****ing beach! **** this!”

“It sounds like you’ve been through a lot and I’ve very sorry─” Miss Weiss said.

“Oh, I’ve been through a whole lot of shit,” the soldier said.

“Well, we don’t know what’s going on,” Miss Weiss said.

“So, it seems like a zombie outbreak and those who are bit …” Dr. Wolfgang said.

The soldier drew his semi-automatic pistol and held it up.

“Anybody in this car bit?” he said.

They all looked at each other.

“I ain’t ****ing around,” he said. “Anybody in this car bit?”

“I swear,” Miss Weiss said. “I swear.”

“By anything!” the soldier said. “I don’t give a **** what it was. Were you bit by anything?”

“No!”

“Bugs. Dogs. Humans. I don’t give a ****. Have you been bit? What about this guy? He’s sleeping a lot! This guys sleeping a lot!”

“I’ll be honest. Daddy that one time. That was just a thing.”

“Daddy bit you? Who’s daddy?”

“Just one time. I swear to God. I swear to God. It was consensual.”

“Sexual? Or worse?”

“I’d rather not go into the details but I’m not infected.”

“You better go into the details right now.”

“There are things getting out of control,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Oh, it’s about to get way out of control if somebody don’t tell me who got bit!” the soldier said.

“I swear, whatever you’re talking about, I do not have it,” Miss Weiss said. “I swear. This is the first time I’ve heard of anything like this.”

“She was bit by another man that was not infected,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Was that the guy that got out of his car and went to the other car?” the soldier asked.

“Yes!” Miss Weiss said.

“Yeah, that guy’s ****ing weird,” the soldier said, holstering his sidearm again.

He decided to keep an eye on Franks though.

* * *

In the jeep, Miss Tolini thought she saw a gun being swung around in the other car for a few moments. She wondered about that.

* * *

“I need to know everybody’s names,” the soldier said. “Give me first name. Give me last name. I don’t really care. But I need to know your names when shit goes down. So, my name is Abraham. You, creepy old dude. What’s your name?”

“I … you call me Mikīl,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“I’m gonna call you Mike,” Abraham said.

“All right,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Driver, what’s your name?” Abraham asked.

“Manny,” the woman replied.

“Manny, that’s easy,” Abraham said. “Okay, sleeping guy. I might just call you sleeping guy, but you can give me a name.”

“Just call me John,” Franks said.

“John?” Abraham said. “Is that your name?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

“No, I’m joking. I’m joking. It’s Jonathan. But just call me John.”

“I got it. Girl that may have been bit … that I will shoot any second if I find anything going crazy, what is your name?”

“My name is Lisa Weiss,” she said.

“Lisa. All right. And you?”

“Alexa,” the last woman said.

“Alexa, okay,” Abraham said. “Hold on. Wait. We gotta back this shit up. Y’all was kidnapped?”

“Yes,” Miss Weiss said.

“Y’all need to talk about that shit ‘cause that don’t make no ****ing sense. Who gets kidnapped? What’d y’all do?”

“I was taken when I was walking to my car after I’d gotten a coffee from Starbucks.”

“Who’d you piss off?”

“I’m not sure. My family isn’t that rich. I’m not sure what they would want from me.”

“So, you pissed off so many people you don’t know which pissed off person kidnapped you?”

“Eh,” Franks muttered. “Seems legit.”

“I don’t know how to explain this but we need help to get out of here,” Miss Weiss said.

“All right, hold on,” Abraham said. “There is a pattern here somewhere. Alexa, who’d you piss off?”

“There’ve been a number of people,” she replied.

“All right, so y’all piss off a lot of people,” Abraham said. “Just so happened, they wanted both y’all. All right.”

He thought a moment and realized the name Weiss might make her related to Barry Weiss of “Storage Wars,” who was supposedly quite rich. Rumor had it he had relatives in North Carolina.

“Wait a second,” he said. “What was your last name … Lisa …?”

“Weiss,” she said.

“You got money?”

“No.”

“Don’t lie to me. You got money?”

“Okay. I will admit that my extended family has quite a lot of money but … my mother married an Arab so … we’re not …”

“That was probably the worst thing you could’ve told a soldier. I ain’t gonna lie. Don’t ever tell a soldier that your step-daddy might be an Arab. Don’t ever do that.”

“So, I am related but, I swear, I’m not part of that family, so I don’t know what─”

“Alexa, you got an Arab in your family too?”

“I’m not Arab!”

“Vhat does an Arab have to do with this anomaly?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“I’m sorry, I’m trying to play detective right now but I ain’t too good at it,” Abraham said.

“You got that right,” Franks muttered.

“Shut the **** up, John!” Abraham said.

Manny continued to follow the highway as it bore to the right and become S. Virginia Dare Trail. They passed other houses and buildings while the others talked in the back. The Jeep followed behind.

“I don’t think people are concerned with race right now,” Miss Weiss said. “People are concerned with the zombie outbreak.”

“Zombie. Plants. Aliens,” Abraham said. “I don’t know what the **** it is. I been without a squad for about five days. Shit got ****ed up.”

“Vhat happened?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Yeah, it happened. I didn’t like it!”

“No. Vhat happened?”

“Vhat happened? I’ll tell you vhat happened. ****ing everybody around me was dying. I don’t know how to explain it. Them plant mother****ers came out. We dealt with ‘em before. But they were stronger this time.”

“Did you kill them?” Miss Weiss said.

“Way stronger,” Abraham went on. “Kill the plants? Hell, no! We didn’t kill a ****ing one of ‘em! We were firing and firing, reloaded, reloaded, called in missile strikes. Missile strikes didn’t even come in! And we all just ran. I ran. I thought people was behind me. I heard footsteps. Then I heard less footsteps. Then I heard no footsteps. Next thing I know, I’m going to the ****ing ocean. If there’s some ocean mother****ers out there, then fine! But, least it ain’t gonna be God damned plants! I seen what them plants do. I don’t want none of that.”

“Is that the ocean that we see far away? Is it that ocean?”

“That ocean? Hell, yeah, that’s that ocean! I want to get the **** outta here!”

“No, he’s going to the Pacific Ocean,” Manny quipped.

“No, I want to go to the ocean!” Abraham said. “I want to get the **** outta here!”

“Pacific Ocean?” Franks muttered. “I thought we were going to the Gulf.”

“Ve are heading to ze Roanoke?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“We’re going to the ocean,” Miss Suarez said.

“All right,” Miss Weiss said.

“If there’s some seaweed mother****ers out there then fine!” Abraham said. “I’ll deal with that. But I ain’t dealing with whatever them ****ing bush mother****ers is. I ain’t doing that no more! Killed everybody! **** that shit. Anybody got a drink in this mother****er? Like, some liquor in here. Tell me you found some liquor.”

No one said anything.

“It’s the God damned apocalypse!” Abraham said. “You ain’t got no alcohol?”

“If this is the apocalypse, I’d like to have Twinkies,” Miss Weiss said.

Franks picked up a bottle of rum on the floor by his feet and handed it to the man.

“Oh, ***** tits!” Abraham said. “I need that.”

He took a swig of the white rum but it was very rough going down. He closed it back up and handed it back to Franks.

“Y’all got any whiskey?” he asked.

“No, I’m sorry, ve vere not looking for us to get swasted,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

Franks took a sip of the rum and put it on the floor.

They crossed a bridge to Pond Island, passing rental houses on the right. The left side, to the south, had low growth and shrubs but no buildings. Amidst the overgrowth, Manny and Dr. Wolfgang spotted more of the triffids standing not far from the highway.

“Ze plants!” Dr. Wolfgang said, remembering their last encounter with the things. “Ze plants! Dodge zhem!”

Once pointed out, the rest saw the dozen or so triffids, scattered in the bushes on the left side.

“Do. Not. Stop.” Abraham said. “Keep going!”

“Oh, I know!” Manny said.

They heard the rattle of the triffid’s clatter sticks even over the sound of the engine.

“**** that shit!” Abraham said.

“Wait, are these the plants that you were talking about?” Miss Weiss asked.

“Hell yeah,” Abraham said.

“Ve must avoid zhem!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

They left Pond Island and headed across the long bridge that, from what Manny could remember from the GPS, led to Roanoke Island.

* * *

In the second car, Miss Tolini noticed the triffids. She had never seen their like before. But she remembered hearing about them. She knew they were poisonous and very dangerous, though ones in a place like this had probably had had their stings docked, making them harmless. There was something else strange about them but she didn’t not remember what. Then they were passing onto the long bridge to Roanoke Island.

* * *

The bridge was vacant without any signs of wrecked or damaged cars at all. It was flat for a good length of the time and then rose up some way to allow the larger boats through, obviously. As they crested the spot where it was highest, they saw what looked like a roadblock made of cars about a hundred yards ahead.

“Stop!” Abraham said. “Stop the car!”

Manny braked to a stop. The other car stopped behind them.

There was no sign of any people at the spot where a half dozen cars had been parked to block the road, one of them turned on its side.

Abraham got out.

“Why are you getting out?” Manny asked.

Abraham crouched by the SUV and pointed his gun at the roadblock. He took out his binoculars and scanned the area. He saw no movement and no sign of anyone.

“Ve have to move the cars!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

Dr. Wolfgang climbed out and started to walk down towards the roadblock. When Abraham noticed the movement, he was surprised to see Dr. Wolfgang heading down the bridge towards the barricade.

“What the **** are you doing?” Abraham yelled at the man.

“I’m moving ze cars!” Dr. Wolfgang yelled back.

“Do not. Go towards. That blockade!” Abraham yelled.

“You don’t know why there’s a roadblock!” Miss Weiss called from inside the car.

“I want to find out why there’s a roadblock. Get down.”

There was a suburban area or condos huddled together to the right side of the road where the bridge met the island near the roadblock. A marina was also tucked in between the road and the houses.

“It’s probably just protection for the town,” Manny called to Abraham. “I mean, they’ll see we’re real people.”

“Ve have to move ze cars,” Dr. Wolfgang called again.

Miss Tolini climbed out of the jeep and came up to the SUV.

“We will move the cars once I know it’s safe,” Abraham yelled at the man, who had moved up about 10 yards. “Get back here. I want you to scout it while I move forward.”

“Oh … Okay,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

He walked back to the SUV as well.

“Just drive,” Miss Weiss said to Manny.

“They’re just being cautious,” the other woman replied. “It’s probably good.”

Franks got out of the car.

“Maybe there’s a reason for the roadblock,” Miss Weiss said. “Maybe we shouldn’t move the car. Maybe we should just turn around.”

Abraham turned around and saw Miss Tolini behind him. He had barely heard the woman walk up. He crouched and pointed his rifle at her for a moment, then lowered it.

“Calm down,” she said calmly.

“What are you doing out of the car?” he asked.

“I was wondering what I could do.”

“Are you a ****ing cat?”

“What kind of question is that?”

“Had a guy in my squad. Called him ‘Tippy-Toes.’ You know why? He’d always ****ing get you. Every time. Pranks? ****ing crazy.”

“Pranked?”

“And he was a great dancer. Hella-fag though.”

He looked at her.

“There’s a blockade ahead,” he said. “Did you not see it?”

“I see it,” she said.

“We’re scouting it out. Because, one thing I’ve learned, some of the worst things you can face is people right now.”

“Zhis is true,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Okay,” she said. “So …”

“I don’t know even why I trusted all y’all right now,” Abraham went on. “I shouldn’t have. But here I am, so we’re going with it. It’s almost like a GM made me into this situation.”

“A G-what?” Franks said.

“Are you coming along?” Abraham said to the woman.

“Yeah,” she said.,

“A G-what?” Franks asked again.

“Do you have a weapon?” Abraham asked the woman.

“Uh-huh,” she said.

“What is it?” he asked.

“All I have on me right now is a dagger.”

“Go get a real gun. Time is important. I don’t know how long it’s going to take for them plants to catch up to us.”

“All right. Hold on.”

She returned to the jeep and opened the back, taking out her Accuracy International AW sniper rifle and pocketing a couple of the magazines for the weapon. She walked over to the man with the gun raised onto her shoulder.

“Why … do you have this?” he asked.

“Well, you see, daddy had interests,” she said demurely.

“First of all, I’ve heard the word ‘daddy’ more than I should have this entire trip. But I’m going to let that go. New plan: you watch us with the scope of that rifle.”

He turned to Dr. Wolfgang.

“You’re coming with me,” he said to the doctor. Then he turned to Franks. “You’re with us as well, right?”

“Yeah,” Franks said.

“I saw you get out of the car. You want to do something now?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“What do you want from me?” Miss Tolini asked.

“You see anything with the scope of that rifle, I want you to whistle,” Abraham said. “Can you whistle?”

The woman whistled loudly. Abraham nodded.

“Real quick, while I talk to these three what we’re going to do, formation-wise, you tell the rest of the car what the ****’s going on, because I’m sure they’re confused as **** right now,” Abraham said. “All right. We need to all be on the same page. Military training, all right?”

“Okay,” Miss Tolini said.

Miss Weiss got of the SUV followed quickly by Manny with her pump shotgun. Abraham looked at her weapon with approval and then told everyone to squat by the car so they could plan what to do. He saw Miss Weiss had a semi-automatic pistol. Franks had a Glock and a baseball bat.

“I’m going to do my best to describe everything in civvie terminology,” Abraham said. “I know none of you have been in the military so I’m going to try not to do that. If I accidently slip up, tell me to go back and re-explain what the ****’s going on, okay?”

He looked at Miss Tolini.

“You’re going to be on overwatch, okay?” he said to her. “Overwatch the scenario. You whistle, tell us things are going up. I’m going to need somebody to watch her back because she’s looking forward the entire time. Is there anybody that can watch her back the entire time we’re on this mission?”

Miss Weiss raised her hand.

“I’m taking these two with me,” Abraham said, indicating Dr. Wolfgang and Franks. “Can you watch her?”

“Yeah,” Miss Weiss said.

“You got something? What have you got? You got a gun.”

She took out a .45 semi-automatic pistol. It looked like there was dried blood on it.

“All right, that’ll be fine,” Abraham said. “If anything goes wrong, you tell her and she can help you with whatever scenario is going on in the back. You two. What have you got? I see you’ve got a pump shotgun on you. You hiding something Alexa, what you got?”

Miss Suarez took out her own .45 semi-automatic pistol.

“I knew you was packing from the first time I saw you,” Abraham said. “Some person named Alexa definitely have a gun. Only met one other Alexa and they had a gun. Just saying that. It was in the military. Kind of shouldn’t count, but it does. Anyways, what is that? What have you got?”

“M1911,” she said.

“You want to come with us? We’re going to scout the area.”

“Information is always my game.”

“Okay. Fantastic. I think the shotgun would be good for close quarters. I would like to have you with us but since you’re the driver and you seem to know these people, I think you should back up our sniper. Just in case.”

“Aw,” Manny said.

“I think four should be good enough and I want more than one gun covering our sniper,” Abraham went on. “Does that sound good. Is everyone clear on what we’re doing? I don’t know where them other two mother****ers are.”

He looked back and saw that Miss Bateman had slipped into the driver’s seat of the other car and Dr. Daddy had gotten into the front passenger seat. They appeared to be chatting.

“If you two can convince them to help you guys out,” Abraham said to Miss Weiss and Manny, “with the guarding and stuff, be my guest. I’m not talking to anybody named Daddy.”

“Well, only one’s named Daddy,” Manny said.

“They’re both Daddy as far as I’m concerned. They’re both weird. Anyways.”

He looked at them all.

“Is everybody clear on what they’re doing?” he asked.

“How long do you want us to do this?” Miss Tolini asked.

“We’re checking the blockade,” Abraham said. “All we’re doing.”

“Okay.”

“We’re going to move the cars to make a path.”

They heard the engine of the other Jeep start. Abraham crouched and spun around, gun pointed towards the Jeep.

“What the **** is wrong with you?” Miss Bateman called from the Jeep.

“I’m trying to keep us alive,” he replied.

“I’m not doing anything!”

“You made a sound.”

“Oh! I made a sound?”

“I respect your defensiveness and your assertiveness but we don’t need this violence right now,” Miss Weiss said. “So please?”

“I’m just being cautious, you ****!” Miss Bateman said.

Miss Tolini climbed up onto the top of the SUV and lay down there, pointing her sniper rifle down towards the barricade across the road ahead. She lined up and looked through the site. Miss Weiss climbed up behind her and sat there, watching her back. Manny positioned herself by the left front tire of the SUV near the car door.

“Hey, turn off the car,” she called to Miss Bateman.

“Why?” the other woman called back.

“Because it makes noise!”

“What’s wrong with noise?”

“It attracts things.”

“****!”

Miss Bateman turned the car back off.

Abraham looked over the four men who were walking towards the blockade. He was the only one with a rifle and two other had pistols. Dr. Wolfgang was unarmed.

This was a mistake to bring you, he thought of the doctor.

They got about within 40 yards of the blockade when Abraham stopped them.

“Me and Alexa are going to post up here,” he said. “You two move the center car so we can go through. We will cover you. Got it?”

“Yes,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

Franks nodded.

“You guys can move the cars?” Abraham asked.

“I think so,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

As they headed on down, Abraham put his rifle to his shoulder and Miss Suarez aimed ahead, covering the men. When Abraham realized the pistol was out of range, he told her to go about 20 yards ahead of him. She nodded and headed up behind the other two men, stopping some 15 yards from the cars.

Dr. Wolfgang and Franks reached the barricade and saw the opening in the center was probably not quite wide enough to admit the SUV. Dr. Wolfgang headed around the right car and, as he moved around the car to get to the driver’s side door, he saw several bodies lying on the ground on the other side of the blockade. There was a great deal of dried blood around the men on the pavement. He counted a half dozen men dressed in rough clothing and still clutched sporting rifles in their dead hands. All of them lay just the other side of the blockade. He looked more closely at them and saw they appeared to all have been facing away from the blockade, towards the island.

It looked like the corpses had been shot with high-caliber rifle bullets. They appeared to have been walking away from the blockade, inland, when they were gunned down from the front, possibly from towards the marina.

Franks had not moved past the blockade but also saw the bodies. He turned and headed back towards the others.

Dr. Wolfgang opened the door of the car and put the manual transmission into neutral before taking off the parking brake. As he got back out of the car to push it, a shot rang out from somewhere nearby. The windshield of the car shattered.

“Zhey’re shooting at us!” he cried out.

A second shot rang out and a large hole appeared in the door to the car.

Further out on the bridge, Franks dived to the ground, hitting the asphalt solidly.

* * *

“What the **** was that, Elizabeth?” Miss Weiss said from atop the SUV.

“It was a gunshot, sweetie,” Manny said, moving back to get cover behind the SUV.

Miss Tolini didn’t answer. She was scanning first the barricade and then the marina. As she focused on the marina, she saw the shooter. A man was laying on the deck of a boat anchored in the middle of the marina. It was a small hard-topped boat between 20 and 25 feet long with twin engines. The man wore all white or had a sheet draped over him and was lying in the white bottom of the boat, effectively camouflaged. She could see the rifle in his hands and guessed he had a scope upon it. He was working the action on the bolt-action rifle as she looked.

“Go to the army guy,” Miss Tolini said to Manny. “Ask him if I should take him out. There’s a guy on a boat.”

“Elizabeth, can you see where that’s coming from?” Miss Weiss asked.

“Yes, I do.”

* * *

Abraham and Alexi peered over the wall that ran along the north side of the bridge. It was not much cover, being only a couple of feet high with a further metal rail running along the top of it to the height of about three and a half feet, but it was something. Both of them saw the man in the boat in the marina, but they were still over a hundred yards away.

Dr. Wolfgang crawled around to their side of the barricade and in their direction. Franks lay on the bridge between them and the barricade. Manny was crouch-running their direction from their cars.

Abraham crouch-ran down the bridge to the barricade. He looked back towards Miss Tolini.

“Take him out!” he yelled. “Boat!”

* * *

Miss Tolini saw the sniper, who obviously also heard the shout, start to aim towards the cars. The blast when she fired was the loudest thing Miss Weiss had ever heard in her life. Unfortunately the bullet missed, punching a hole in the deck of the boat near the man.

In the other car, both Miss Bateman and Dr. Daddy were startled by the sound of the report.

“Elizabeth, what the ****!?!” Miss Weiss cried out. “I’m right beside you! Can you warn me next time?”

Miss Tolini didn’t really hear her over the ringing in her ears. She worked the action on the sniper rifle as quickly as she could and tried to bring it back onto the target. She got it in time to see the shooter aiming right at her.

She rolled off the SUV away from the shooter, trying to dodge, but the bullet struck her in the right wrist and blood spewed out of the terrible wound. She crashed to the asphalt and lay still. Miss Weiss pulled off her shirt, revealing her tank top and tattoos. She slid off the SUV and tried to tend to the woman.

“Dr. Daddy!” she cried out. “Help me!”

In the Jeep, Miss Bateman saw everything happen. She turned to look at Dr. Daddy and saw the man was looking out of window of the car, apparently daydreaming. She started the Jeep.

“Dr. Daddy, you need to help them!” she said.

The man left the Jeep, running to try to help the girl. He saw that Miss Weiss had not done a very good job of binding the wound so he pushed her aside, took off the dressing, and bound the wound himself. The woman was unconscious but she was at least stable.

* * *

Abraham heard an engine start somewhere back up by their cars. Franks got up when he passed the man and followed him, pistol in hand. They saw Dr. Wolfgang get up and crouch-run back towards the cars. Miss Suarez was close behind Abraham. They got to the barricade. Manny arrived a short time later.

“Cover my east,” he to Miss Suarez. Then to Franks: “Cover my west.”

Miss Suarez realized the man was facing kind of northeast. She and Franks watched to either side of him as he stood up and started aiming with his rifle.

Abraham saw the shooter laying on the boat deck. He shot the man, hitting him in the left arm and saw blood splash across the deck of the boat. The man didn’t move so he shot him again, the second bullet striking him in the head. There was more blood and he didn’t see the man move at all.

“No movement,” he said to the others after he ducked back down.

* * *

When Dr. Wolfgang got back to the others, he found Miss Tolini on the asphalt. He checked the injury and found Dr. Daddy had done a good job of tending to her wound. Miss Weiss moved away from them and crouched down near the corner of the car, trying to see better.

* * *

Abraham got binoculars out and scanned the boat. The man had not moved. He also scanned the shore. There were numerous condos, apartment, and homes. It looked like a subdivision of some sort. He saw no movement.

“Alexa,” he said. “Cover me with the M4. I’m going to make sure I confirm the kill.”

“I’m not … um … okay,” Miss Suarez said, taking the rifle from the man.

“Just do your best,” Abraham said.

He looked again and scanned the boat once more. The man in it was not moving and the puddle of blood was getting wider and wider. He watched for 30 seconds. There was absolutely no movement.

“Done,” he finally said. “Gimme the M4. He’s out.”

He stood up fully and started to walk back to the cars.

“We got him,” he said. “Confirmed kill boys. Let’s go home.”

“But wait, was he the only one?” Franks asked.

“I hope,” Abraham said. “I don’t know, John. I really don’t. But we’re gonna go.”

Then he looked back at the barricade.

“Sorry,” he said. “Boys, let’s move these cars.”

They went back to the barricade. Manny looked the cars over but most of them had flat tires and the gas tanks were punctured. Abraham had Franks and Alexa move the vehicles enough for them to get through while he covered them with the M4. Then they returned to their own cars.

“Oh my God, what the **** happened?” Abraham asked when he saw Miss Tolini.

“She got shot in the arm,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Shot in the arm? How bad is it?”

“She’s going to be out for a while.”

Lisa Weiss was kneeling nearby with the pistol in her hand, watching the others. Dr. Daddy had returned to the jeep.

They loaded Miss Tolini into the back of the jeep along with Dr. Wolfgang. Miss Weiss was the last one back into the SUV, still looking around carefully before she loaded up. Abraham conveyed to the group they should loot the man who was shooting at them. He noted they would have to get into the water to get to him.

They drove down to the Pirate’s Cove Marina, at least according to the sign, and then into the area of condos and houses on Sailfish Drive. They saw very few cars in the driveways or parking lots. There was evidence of hasty evacuation with open doors and garage doors on several of the places. There were boats at some of the docks that had been sunken and most of the docks were empty. The shooter’s boat was anchored where the marina met the sound about a hundred feet out in the water.

“Is the threat neutralized?” Miss Weiss asked as they got close.

“Hell, yeah, it is,” Abraham said. “That just became my 30th confirmed kill.”

“Can anyone swim besides me? Because I can swim.”

“Are you proposing to go out to the boat?”

“I can.”

“Go ahead. Get on his boat and drive it back to the docks.”

She put down her pistol and climbed into the water, swimming slowly out to the boat. She had some difficulty getting up onto the boat as her clothes weighed her down but she finally made it up onto the bloody deck. The boat proved to be a small one with a single deck area and a small door that led to a tiny cabin. The name on the back of the vessel was Manteo Dreams.

She first checked the body. The man was dead, having been shot in the arm and the head. He had a Springfield M1 Garand rifle that looked like it belonged in a museum. A new model scope had been attached to it. The man wore white as if he was trying to camouflage himself on the deck of the boat. Searching the body produced three more magazines for the rifle and a key on a small key ring with a cork on it.

She opened the door to the tiny cabin and saw it mostly consisted of a cushioned floor, for sleeping, no doubt. She found food, mostly beef jerky and canned food. There were jugs of water as well as a lot of bottled water. A microwave was built into the boat. A few crayons lay on the floor and the man had written on the walls. It was mostly gibberish but she could make out “I will protect Virginia” and “They won’t take her again.”

She climbed back out and found the key fit in the boat. It started immediately and appeared to have about ¾ of a tank of gas. She carefully pulled the boat into the dock near their cars, bumping it roughly against the tires set into the sides of the dock. The others helped secure it to the dock.

They examined the boat and realized it would be a little tight for nine people. The cabin was only large enough to comfortably hold three. Up to five could probably sleep there if they didn’t mind being cozy. There was room enough on the deck of a half dozen more but they would not have any protection from the elements. The food in the boat would probably keep them all fed for at least a week.

Franks looked around but the little boat was probably the biggest left. They loaded all of the food and water into the suburban. Miss Weiss also showed them the rifle she’d found.

“I found this on the body,” she said.

“May I have that?” Abraham asked.

“Yes, if you know how to use it,” she said.

She also handed over the magazines.

“Dani, what about this Floyd guy?” Manny asked.

“What about him?” Miss Bateman said.

“Who is he? Why is he here? Where’s this Floyd fellow?”

“Dead guy’s not him, is it?” Franks said.

Manny had noticed another Honda Pilot parked not too far away. The vehicle didn’t have any keys in it but she took one of the wheels off it to replace their own blown tire. She put the doughnut wheel back into their own vehicle.

Abraham slow clapped her.

“Hey!” she said, standing up. “Hey!”

She walked over to the man and took a swing at him. Abraham leaned back, dodging out of the way of the blow. Then he held up his hand to high-five her. She reached up to his hand but grabbed it, pulling it down and getting in his face.

“You don’t do that again,” she said.

She turned and walked away.

“You’re more bad-assed than half the guys in my squad,” he said.

Miss Weiss just watched, wondering about the sexual tension that was already developing between the two.

They decided to split up and search houses in an attempt to scavenge useful items. It was only about 11 a.m. so they had plenty of daylight.

Franks and Manny headed off and started to search the nearby houses. Abraham called after them, telling them they needed to decide who was going to watch Miss Tolini.

“One of y’all can figure that out,” Franks called.

They walked away.

“I vote the nurse watches her,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Who’s the nurse?” Abraham asked.

Dr. Wolfgang nodded at Dr. Daddy.

“What kind of doctor are you?” Dr. Wolfgang asked Dr. Daddy.

“Surgeon,” Dr. Daddy said.

“I’m also a surgeon. What’s your specialty?”

In the end, Miss Bateman and Dr. Daddy said they would stay with Miss Tolini.

“Who wants to group up with me?” Abraham asked.

He ended up going with Dr. Wolfgang while Miss Weiss and Miss Suarez went together. They split up and searched the place until the late afternoon.

The houses appeared to have been abandoned in a hurry. In most cases there was rotten food, some toys, and other nonessential items in the places, often littered on the floor as if the residents had left in a rush.

Miss Weiss and Miss Suarez were not able to find anything of great value except some bottled water and pop. Franks and Manny found a lot of valium, some pot, and other medical supplies, including a great deal of gauze, medicinal alcohol, pain killers and aspirin, and the like, as well as a small stash of medicinal morphine. There were also a lot of Band Aid brand bandages. Abraham and Dr. Wolfgang found a great deal of liquor. They found whiskey, gin, vodka, rum, and such in great amounts, apparently abandoned by the owners of the houses.

They regrouped at the cars.

“If people have already left here, I think we need to as well,” Miss Weiss said. “I think we need to take the boat to wherever we need to go.”

“All I’ve got to say is the first person we saw here shot at us,” Abraham said. “So, I don’t think we should do anything anyone here did. That’s all I got to say.”

“So, are you agreeing with me? I don’t think we should stick around to find out because they might be hostile as well.”

“All I got to say is the first person we saw here shot at one of us, hit one of us. I ain’t trusting that shit. If they all ****ing left, we’re staying.”

“Why are we staying?”

“No no no no no,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Ve should leave and go to ze other side.”

“Aw hell no!” Abraham said. “We already got a blockade. We can block this ****ing bridge harder than they ever did. And we ****ing snipe the mother****ers. You saw me snipe the mother****er on the boat. I can snipe any mother****er. Especially you give me a rifle. Especially a rifle like that mother****er had. I can snipe any mother****er.”

“I’m able to compromise on staying here for tonight,” Miss Weiss said. “And just tonight.”

“Where are we going after that?” Manny asked.

“Here?” Abraham said.

“In one of these houses,” Miss Weiss said. “We have fortified the blockade so we have a safer place here tonight.”

“The blockade is fortified but I would at least say we all stay in the same condo so we’ll have protection around us,” Abraham said.

“Yes yes,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “We should move the next day zhough, so that ve are not in a compromised position.”

“What the **** did you just say?” Abraham said to him.

“What he’s trying to say is that he agrees with me,” Miss Weiss said. “We should stay the night.”

“Nod your ****ing head if what she’s said is correct,” Abraham said.

“Tonight should be fine,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “But tomorrow, we should we should work a better plan.”

“That makes a lot more sense than whatever the **** you said before,” Abraham said. “I swear to God. That is not what you said before.”

“I mean, I only knew Alexa and Dr. Daddy, here today,” Miss Weiss said.

“I’m just going to say this right now,” Abraham said.

“I mean─”

“We need a new name for ‘Dr. Daddy.’ I will not call that mother****er Dr. Daddy.”

“Okay, will it be better for you if I call him Dr. Han.”

“Yes! Any ****ing name other than Dr. Daddy. Listen, I’m from the military. I don’t call anybody ‘daddy’ any ****ing day, hour, minute, second of the ****ing day. I don’t do that. No one is daddy to me.”

“Let me say, I spent the last month with Alexa and Dr. Han, and I─”

“Dr. Han sounds ****ing fantastic.”

“I didn’t know any of you until today so I’m willing to spend one night here but we’ve got to get a move on tomorrow morning.”

“But where?” Manny asked.

“I’ve asked myself every ****ing second why I’m even here,” Abraham said. “I shouldn’t be.”

“I agree,” Dr. Wolfgang said to Miss Weiss.

“But where?” Manny asked again.

“Ze other side of ze island,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Vhere it’s more …”

“Are we not camping out?” Abraham said. “I thought we were camping out in that condo that he said.”

“Yes. Tonight we camp out and tomorrow─”

“Let’s get that shit prepared right now,” Abraham said.

“And tomorrow─”

“I don’t give a **** about tomorrow! If we make it tomorrow, then we decide tomorrow. But as far as I’ve seen, you don’t know if you’re going to live five minutes from now.”

“Is true. It’s crazy.”

“Yes, it is true! Okay? So, we ****ing plan for now and if we make it to tomorrow─”

“He’s very defensive, yes?”

“You’re ****ing German, yes!?!”

“I will agree,” Miss Weiss said. “But he’s all we have. Abraham is probably the most qualified person here. The next qualified person here is in the car, unconscious. So we need him.”

“I have fought since day, mother****ing, one,” Abraham said. “I don’t think anybody else can say that.”

“No, I help people,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “You shoot people.”

“Who do you help?”

“The people that have been shoot.”

“So, I shoot them, then you help them?”

“Let’s not get into an argument,” Miss Weiss said.

“Before they became─” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“No, let’s get into an argument,” Abraham said.

“Before they became mutant beasts, I helped people to become─”

“Can you talk in more English than what you’re doing!?!”

“I speak English!”

“I don’t hear English! Oh God!”

“Do you not understand the words out of my mouth!?!”

“If we were born 60 years ago, we would be ****ing fighting each other, do you know that!?!”

“What!?!”

“Can we please put aside our differences and fortify a place in one of the condos?” Miss Weiss said.

“I have no problem with this man,” Abraham said.

“Okay.”

“But he does not drink whiskey and he does not carry guns. And for me, that is a problem!”

“I don’t mind ze vhiskey,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“He’s not American and he’s not carrying a gun,” Abraham said. “He thinks he can fight everything with his ****ing fists!”

“Abraham!” Miss Weiss said.

“And he thinks he can heal with no medical solutions at all!” Abraham said.

“I drink ze alcohol because I find ze alcohol!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

While the argument continued, Franks started to fortify one of the condos.

“It is not continuous Octoberfest for you!” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Without me being on board as well!”

“We need to find a sanctuary,” Abraham said.

“Yes!”

“So, let’s go find a mother****ing sanctuary.”

“Yes.”

“We agree on that. Yes, you German ****! We agree on that.”

“You illiterate bastard!”

“I am not illiterate! I read what my CO tells me to read and nothing else! I am not illiterate!”

They all set to work helping Franks fortify one of the condos. He had gone into another of the nearby condos and found furniture to use to block the front and back doors. Since the condo was one of three in a building, all of them up off the ground with room underneath to park the vehicles, they were able to move some of the furniture from other condos into the one they were in. Each of the condos had three bedrooms and apparently enough beds and the like to sleep 12, so there was plenty of room.

They blocked the doors and windows near the bottom and also blocked the stairs that led up to the upper floors. Everything was done by nightfall. Though there was no electricity in the place, the water still worked. They also found a lot of scented candles and the like.

They spent the night of August 14, 2015, in the condo. Miss Bateman and Dr. Daddy hooked up in the master bedroom where they slept. Abraham and Franks slept on the lower floor, keeping a tentative watch, and placed Miss Tolini on the couch. Manny, Miss Weiss, and Miss Suarez shared another bedroom. Dr. Wolfgang got his own room where he thought he heard something from the master bedroom.

The night passed uneventfully. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1978-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Eight-Arrival-at-Roanoke
<![CDATA[Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition: Redcap's Rampage Session Two - Peasants Home]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1977-Advanced-Dungeons-and-Dragons-2nd-Edition-Redcap-s-Rampage-Session-Two-Peasants-Home Sat, 05 Nov 2016 00:48:47 GMT Monday, October 31, 2016

(After playing the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition scenario “Redcap’s Rampage” by Christopher Perkins from Dungeon Adventures #54 Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. with Katelyn Hogan, Collin Townsend, and Ashton LeBlanc.)

Arya had left the Dragon’s Flagon Inn in Luskwald on the 8th of Fireseek, 592 CY, when Leon Chamberlyn had rushed out of the building, having sensed evil. She decided to go with him as she didn’t think the man could take care of himself. He led them west through the woods and the freezing, falling rain for almost an hour. Some three miles down the road, the forest that surrounded Luskwald ended and the road continued west through the plains, though a second road split from it, heading north. Where the road split were the ruins of a stone and wooden house that lay partially collapsed.

Both of them were very cold and miserable by then and so they spent the night in the remains of the cellar of the house where it was somewhat warmer.

* * *

It was a clear and cold on the 9th of Fireseek, 592 CY, though the rain turned snow had left an inch or so of precipitation on the ground. They were both very hungry. They noticed a signpost where the roads split they had not noticed the night before. The sign for Luskwald pointed back the way they had come and had no indication of the distance to the village. Another sign pointed up the road that followed the edge of the forest. It read “Armskirk - 10 miles.” Leon was intent on heading west, despite being terribly hungry, and Arya, feeling like the man was a little too much, decided to follow the northern road that led to Armskirk.

She reached it a few hours later, close to noon. It proved to be a small village with a temple prominent on the hill in the center of town with the rest of the buildings arranged on the lower portion of the hill. The temple had a symbol of a lightning bolt upon it and appeared to be defensible with strong outer walls and arrow slits instead of stained glass. A tall steeple had a shining brass bell atop it. The town was probably twice the size of Luskwald.

The inn was called The King’s Shield and was a quaint establishment of two stories. She found a nice little taproom and talked to the older man who was in the place, learning his name was Samuel Croaker. She asked about a dark-haired woman with green eyes who was also a sorceress. Though he knew a lot of women with black hair and a few with green eyes, he knew of no sorceresses. However, he had heard of some kind of sorceress who lived in the Flinty Hills though his story was very vague.

The innkeeper’s wife was a gentle lady who asked Arya all kind of questions as to where she was from and what her name was.

“Have you eaten anything today, honey?” she asked at one point.

Arya had not and the woman looked at her with pity and offered to get her a meal if she would help around the inn for a couple of hours. The elf, not proud and very hungry, was willing to do that and, after her work was done, they fed her and gave her some ale to fortify her. The food was good and filling.

Noting her bow and arrows, Samuel offered her five gold pieces if she could bring him some a side of fresh venison. She said she could try. When she asked about a whole buck, he offered her 10 gold coins for good meat.

She learned the temple was dedicated to Hieroneous and was also used as a garrison for some of the Duke’s men in the vicinity, the only garrison within 20 miles, according to Samuel.

She went to the temple on top of the hill and met with a priest there. He was a middle-aged gentleman with light, thinning hair, cut short, who seemed quite friendly. He wore blue robes and a long sword on his belt. She asked about her eye and the man examined it and changed the dressing on it, tending to it and using some healing herbs on the wound. He was, unfortunately, unable to heal her damaged eyeball. He noted that in some of the bigger cities there were powerful priests who could cast a spell to actually grow back her eye. He asked what god or goddess she worshipped and she noted her goddess of choice was Ehlonna.

“Huh,” he said. “There was a ranger passed through here. I think he worshipped Ehlonna. His name was Blackwood.”

“I don’t know a Blackwood,” she said.

“If you can find some priests or priestesses of Ehlonna, maybe they’ll have a quest or something for you to do if you don’t have the money,” he said. “Or if you could help them in some way, they could probably help you back.”

She thanked the man and left.

She hunted for deer near the forest on the southern road that day. She managed to track down and kill a good-sized deer and drag it back to the village. Samuel was quite pleased and sent for the butcher. The two men took the deer to a rack behind the inn, bled it into a bucket which the butcher kept, and cut and dressed the meat. He asked the girl if she wanted any giblets or organ meat and also counted out 10 gold coins, noting there was a general store in the village. She asked him to wrap up a few pounds of the venison and he was happy to oblige.

She went shopping, replacing the gear the orcs had stolen, and was given a free meal at the King’s Shield that night. While she ate, she thought she overheard that the next town down the road from Armskirk was called Warrington. She spent the night in the common room of the inn, which she actually had to herself.

* * *

On 10 Fireseek, 592, Elriya and Tarmak had their breakfast at the Dragon’s Flagon Inn in Luskwald.

Arthelion had left that morning with his garnet, claiming he was going somewhere to spend the money. The others in the group were scattered around the village. They were unsure where Noiree or Kilb were either but assumed they were somewhere close.

That morning, the two also talked to the peasants and former slaves. They made sure to get the dozen people two meals per day and a place to sleep at night but it was starting to cost them. The people were also anxious to be returned to their homes, if at all possible. All 10 adults and two children told them where they lived and they finally took the time to learn their names.

The little boy and girl, each of them no more than 13, were Robertus and Idamay. Robertus was from a village called Archmouth and Idamay was from a town called Warrington. Another was a merchant named Tybalt Rice from Womthan, the capital of the duchy. Four of them were from a village called Troutberk and claimed they had been taken by the orcs when a large band of them had attacked the village some months before. They were Betsy the Gemsmith, Petur the Fletcher, Gaufroi Rapidmantle the Leatherworker, and Libbe Aphrah, a poor housewife. They weren’t sure if Troutberk had survived the attack. Another woman, Tatty Royse, had lost her husband and told them she was from Armskirk, as was Rulf the Butcher. Aimery Smith was the smith of a village he named Calmornock and Percyvell Sharp was a beekeeper from the village of Windrip. The last of them was a tax collector from Womthan who had been traveling in the area when he’d been captured by the orcs.

Tybalt Rice noted his family would reward them if they saw him safely back to Womthan. They learned from him the road that ran through Luskwald was called the Old Border Road and it didn’t see much use as it was a secondary road populated with tiny villages near the dangerous border of Nyrond.

Everyone wanted to go home, even the Troutberk people, who were unsure if the village had survived the attack. They wanted to go home if the village was still there.

Elriya questioned them at length and though none of the villagers knew where Luskwald was in relation to their own village, most of them had heard of it. She learned Troutberk lay on a river with woods across the water from it. Archmouth was the same way though there was a large stone bridge there that crossed the river. They all knew the forest was called the Gentle Birch Forest, which they learned from Coryston was the forest Luskwald lay within. Coryston also described the forest as vast. They learned Warrington was between two forests: the Shadow Forest and Hollow Butternut Woods. The Hollow Butternut Woods was also familiar to the villagers from Calmornock.

After talking to the people in their charge, Tarmak began fiddling with the red box they’d brought from the underground temple. The red box was approximately 12 inches long, six inches wide, and four inches deep. It was made of a strange red metal and was surprisingly well-preserved. Although shaking it revealed there was something within, no seam or method of opening the box was visible. The top was monogrammed with the letters JC in Flan lettering and the underside of the box contained four dials, each of which contained six Flan runes.

He tried different combinations and, surprisingly soon, found the combination of “ANYA” caused a “click.” He turned the box and, when he lifted it by the top, the lid pivoted back. Within was a small pouch and a long, ivory wand decorated with symbols and markings of vines, leaves, and flowers with stylized urns or pots on either end. When he opened the small pouch very carefully, he found it had a small amount of dust of some kind in the bottom. He guessed there were three small pinches of the stuff.

He closed the lid of the box with the items within and turned the dials on the bottom. The seam seemed to vanish, the box shut so tightly, and it was again impossible to open. But he knew the combination.

It was around noon when Arya entered the inn, having come back from Armskirk that day. She had a backpack and gear once again and carried a small, bloodstained piece of cloth around something. She went to Coryston and asked him for something to replace the cloth with.

“What?” he said. “What’ve you got in there?”

“Meat,” she said.

She opened it up to show him the venison.

“Oh,” he said. “Why do you need a new one? It’s just going to get wrecked with the blood from …”

She shrugged and went to Tarmak and Elriya.

“Where were you?” Elriya asked. “Where’s Leon?”

“Leon went finding trouble,” Arya said. “And I’ve been in a town called Armskirk. Nice people.”

“That’s where the butcher’s from.”

“Well … butcher?”

“And one of the women. If you know where that is, we can place them back.”

“You want some food? I killed a deer.”

“How long did it take you to get from Armskirk to here?” Tarmak asked.

“It’s about 10 to 15 miles,” she said. “Half a day. Leon went on some other path. I don’t know where he is now. I’m sure he’ll be fine. He seems able. A little reckless.”

“Were there any towns over there?” Elriya said.

“I heard something about a Warrington being somewhere nearby. But that was just talk. Who knows?”

Tarmak and Elriya realized there was only one person in the group of former slaves from Warrington. Then Laird Donavan Yanek arrived at the inn. He was a portly fellow with a well-trimmed beard and mustache.

“What?” he said. “I thought you people were going to go to the ruins today.”

“Um … our party seems to be out of sorts right now,” Elriya said.

“All right. I’m not paying you until … until … until they’re cleared out.”

“What?” Arya said.

“What?” Laird Yanek said.

“Who’s cleared out?” Elriya said.

“The ruins. Until the ruins are cleared out.”

“Oh.”

“You find out what’s going on.”

He went to another table and sat down and Coryston brought him lunch.

“What’s he talking about?” Arya asked.

“Well, we can get the butcher, the wife, and maybe the two kids,” Elriya said to Tarmak.

Arya looked on, confused.

“We could just take them all with us,” Tarmak said.

They discussed returning the former slaves. Arya took some of the venison to the dwarven innkeeper and he said he’d cook it up for them if she wanted. They soon smelled bacon and then venison. Elriya suggested they see if the peasants would go to Armskirk but when Tarmak talked to them, they were afraid to travel alone. None of them had any weapons or skill with arms and they feared getting lost or attacked. They only wore makeshift cloaks and light clothing as well. Though it was probably warm enough for them to travel during the day, weather permitting, they would probably freeze to death at night. They also had no money.

Elriya finally told the confused Arya what they were doing, trying to get the former slaves back to their homes. She noted they didn’t know where any of their homes were, however, making it more complicated. Arya suggested if any of them were from Armskirk or Warrington, at least they would know the way. She asked if there was any money left over from the money Leon brought back and Elriya noted they had some gold but taking care of all the people was making it dwindle quickly.

Tarmak suggested taking them all to Armskirk and giving them a few gold coins each. Elriya suggested people there might know where the other villages were. Tarmak pointed out there was a temple there as well.

Arya remembered coming from central Nyrond, from the southwest. She remembered going up a road that went through a swamp before she reached another village with a fine stone bridge, woods on the other side of the river from the village proper. She remembered the village had been called Archmouth and she had passed through it, following the road along the river, the forest on the opposite bank, until she reached the burnt out remains of another village. There were few buildings left and the wooden walls had also been burned to the ground, leaving only a few standing here and there. She had no idea what the name of that village was but there were no people there. She had taken shelter there that night in the remains of one of the homes. She related all of that to them.

They discussed it with the villagers and, when Arya described the burnt-out town, those from Troutberk guessed it had been their home. Young Robertus recognized Archmouth from the girl’s description of the stone bridge there.

They decided to return to Armskirk with the Tatty Royse and Rulf from there. They also took Idamay, who was from Warrington.

They followed the road back to Armskirk, passing the ruined house and heading up the road to the village, following the tree line. Arya left them to hunt once again. The road soon curved away from the forest and they saw Armskirk on the lone hill on the plains. They found the King’s Shield Inn, passing a blacksmith and a weapon smith and armorer on the way. They also saw the temple of Hieroneous on the hill.

Tatty Royse and Rulf the Butcher were happy to be home. The people of Armskirk were both surprised and happy to see the two, though when they learned Tatty’s husband had died as a slave at the hands of the orcs, they were very sad. Samuel Croaker was especially happy to see Rulf as they had been friends. Many villagers came to the inn that night to see the man and Rulf told his tale of how the adventurers had rescued them from the orcs.

Tatty Royse was very quiet. She had been pretty broken by the entire ordeal.

“What are you three called?” one of the villagers asked. “What’s the name of your group?”

The three didn’t really have a name for their group.

They learned over the course of the evening that Tatty and her husband had been traveling west to the next village, a place called Windrip. When they asked about Warrington, people in the village didn’t know where that place was. Idamay was terribly sad. She wanted to go home though her parents were dead.

“I told you we should have brought all of them!” Elriya said.

“I wanted to bring all of them but we walked out with only three of them!” Tarmak said.

Arya rolled her eyes.

They had a good dinner and found the ale there was 5 copper coins for a mug, a little more expensive than in Luskwald.

Some of the other villagers helped Tatty Royse back to her house and told the adventurers they would try to help the broken woman. Rulf was actually one of two butchers in the town who worked together in the butcher shop so he expected to return to his home and work soon.

Arya asked Samuel where Warrington was but the innkeeper was unsure. He did know it was not on the road which ran to Windrip and then curved back down to the Old Border Road, the same one that ran through Luskwald. However, he pointed her out to a well dressed man in a red jacket sitting in the back smoking a pipe. The man was heavyset and had a finely clipped and combed red beard, the edges of both it and his mustache curled upward. He wore a crumpled red chapeau on top of his head. A fine, fur-lined cloak hung over the back of his chair. A mug of ale was on the table in front of him as well as numerous pieces of parchment, a ledger of some kind, and an ink bottle and quill. He seemed to be writing. A leather satchel stuffed full of more paper was on the floor by his chair.

Arya introduced herself to the man and learned he was Bartleby the Mapmaker, a cartographer to the Duke of Womthan.

“I’ve been sent here to make new maps!” he roared.

The man didn’t seem to have a soft voice but spoke loudly all the time.

“Oh,” she replied. “Would you mind making me one?”

“You realize, of course, that it would take several hours and my time is very valuable!” he said.

“Do you have a spare then?”

“Again, it took me several hours to make the map and my time is very valuable!”

“How much do you want for one?”

“For 10 gold coins, I can show you a map of the area with everything that I have found on my journeys.”

“Just to show me?”

“No no. You will be able to keep a copy of the map. For two gold coins, you can look at the map for as long as you want, this evening. But I will require it back.”

She asked to think about it and he noted he would be there for several days as he was still making the finishing touches on his maps. She talked to the other two and they discussed purchasing a map, especially when she found out that ink cost some eight gold pieces a bottle and there was none for sale in the town.

The three went to the man and paid him 10 gold coins for a map of the area. He gave them a finely crafted map which not only showed towns but various ruined buildings and other structures. They found the villages of Armskirk, Windrip, and Luskwald and saw that Archmouth, Calmornock, and Warrington were all further to the east on the other side of the Gentle Birch Forest where Luskwald lay. They saw Troutberk was also listed. Two other small woodlands were marked: the Shadow Woods and the Hollow Butternut Woods. The Flinty Hills were far to the north.

“Warrington’s way over here,” Tarmak said.

“Yes yes, Warrington!” Bartleby said.

“Do you know about Troutberk?” Elriya asked.

“Troutberk, yes, I was there,” Bartleby said. “Nothing left. Burned out ruins.”

“Where is Womthan?” Tarmak asked him. “Not the duchy, the town. Because a couple people are actually from Womthan.”

“Womthan’s that way,” Bartleby said.

He pointed to the map. On the left side was an arrow, pointing to the west that was marked “To Schukendale - 40 miles.

“Maybe 200 miles,” Bartleby said. “That’d be my guess.”

Tarmak whistled. It was a long way.

“Is Archmouth a bigger city?” Elriya asked him.

“No,” he said.

“Is there a big trade city around here?”

“Armskirk’s the biggest town in the area.”

Elriya asked Samuel Croaker how often caravans passed through Armskirk. He admitted it was not very often as they usually followed the Old Border Road while only a few came through to Armskirk.

“I’m going to go hunting,” Arya said.

She left the inn.

The other two saw Bartleby go up the stairs to the second floor just before they went to bed. He had rented the large room above. They decided to spend the night in Armskirk and head back for Luskwald the next day. They spent the night in the common room. Three other travelers stayed there that night. One was a cobbler and the other two were farmers looking for work from some village past Windrip.

* * *

Arya had the luck to take down a massive buck that night. She dragged it back to the village, taking it to the butcher shop, which was closed by the time she arrived around midnight. She took it around the back of the flat-topped building and noticed a ladder to the roof there. The building itself was stone with a parapet around the roof and almost appeared to be built to help defend the town. There were a few racks out back for bleeding out animals and the like.

She tied the buck onto one of the racks and slit its throat, getting one of the buckets hanging on the back wall of the building and catching the blood. She ended up sleeping by the back of the building, using her winter blanket to keep warm.

* * *

The 11th of Fireseek, 592, was cloudy and overcast. Arya awoke that morning when Rulf the Butcher touched her shoulder tentatively.

“Excuse me,” he said. “Excuse me. Is this yours?”

“The big buck?” she said. “Yes.”

“Yeah. Wow! That’s … wow! We’ll prepare it for you if you give us some.”

“Sure.”

The other butcher showed up shortly after and they got to work on preparing the meat. She headed back to the inn.

At the King’s Shield Inn, Tarmak and Elriya were eating the complimentary breakfast of cold meat, cheese, bread, and watered-down wine when Arya came into the place, yawning. Idamay was there with the two. Arya gave the venison to the innkeeper on the condition he cook some up for them.

“I’m never going to get home,” Idamay said sadly.

“We know where your home is, now,” Elriya said.

“Where?”

“It’s …”

The Halfling showed her the map.

“We’re here,” she said, pointing at Armskirk. Then she pointed to Warrington. “And it’s over there. We’re going to take you there.”

“That’s a thousand miles!” Idamay said.

“Actually, it’s only about 40.”

“My feet hurt!”

Idamay looked at her shoes, which were too big for her feet. Elriya looked around and spotted the traveling cobbler eating porridge nearby. She asked him how long it would take for him to fix up Idamay’s shoes so they would be tight around her feet. The man examined the shoes and gasped, looked at the woman, gasped, looked back at the shoes, and gasped again.

“Were these made by Otto Bellinek?” he finally asked.

“Yeah,” Elriya said.

“He’s the most amazing cobbler in the land! I can’t believe these are Bellineks!”

The man was quite flustered by it and Arya was confused as to why.

“It won’t take much,” the cobbler finally said. “Here.”

He had some cloth in his poorly-made satchel. He pushed some into the toes of the shoes and gave the rest to Elriya.

“Wrap her feet in this,” he said. “That should take care of it. They’re Bellineks. They won’t fit? That’s impossible. No no. Did you steal these?”

“No, we bought ‘em from him,” Elriya said. “He lives in Luskwald.”

“I know! I aspire to be half as good as he. Otto Bellinek is the most amazing cobbler in all the land. He … his shoes make your feet feel more comfortable. He’s amazing! But if you’ve got shoes that don’t fit her, that’s very suspicious!”

He narrowed his eyes and looked at the Halfling.

“He does not sell shoes that don’t fit perfectly!” he went on. “Did these - did they kidnap you, little girl?”

“He was definitely heartbroken over it,” Elriya said.

The cobbler pointed to his eyes, then to hers, and then back to his own. Tarmak explained they had been in a rush to get shoes for people who had been slaves of the orcs and the shoes were just what Bellinek had laying around. The cobbler took him at his word. Then he leaned close to Tarmak.

“I don’t trust that Halfling though,” he said. “Keep your eyes on her!”

He watched the Halfling carefully.

Arya left, returning to the butcher to ask them how long it would take to dry some meat for her. They told her they could salt it but that would take a few weeks. They also said they could smoke the meat, which should only take a couple of days. She wanted about enough for three weeks and they were fine with that. She returned to the inn and told them she was getting food smoked.

* * *

Tarmak ran back to Luskwald that day as he was very quick. He learned nothing had happened the night before. The curse was apparently lifted from the village. He paid for the eight remaining people to stay for the night. He also told the four people from Troutberk their village was gone. He asked if they wanted to stay in Luskwald or wanted to be taken to another town. Betsy, Petur, Libbe Aphrah, and Gaufroi Rapidmantle all wept at the news. They had suspected such, but had hoped they were wrong. He showed them on the map where Troutberk had been.

The four were thinking about staying in Luskwald. Gaufroi was a leatherworker and thought about setting up in one of the abandoned houses, though he didn’t have a good water source. After some short discussion, they decided they would ask Laird Yanek if they could have one of the houses, preferably the one not filled with broken glass, and use it for their own and try to set up some kind of shop there, perhaps. They had absolutely no money, however. But they had gotten to know some people in town.

Tarmak also realized Arya had been hunting deer and the like and the hides from that could possibly be used by Gaufroi to start his business.

Coryston heard the conversation about Troutberk and Tarmak guessed the word would get around town fairly quickly.

Tarmak quickly found Percyvell Sharp, who he knew was from Windrip, and brought him back to Armskirk by that afternoon. They continued on to Windrip, arriving by dark. A little larger than Luskwald, Windrip had perhaps 30 buildings and stood on the plains surrounded by farmlands. It was very windy in the village. The place held a tavern and inn and once they arrived, Percyvell told the man he lived a half mile from town.

The house was north of the village and very small. Percyvell noted he had been snatched by the orcs some five weeks before when he was out looking for seeds for more flowering plants. They found the place very dusty and obviously unlived-in, but intact. The food in the place was rotten and Percyvell had to throw it out, opening the windows to air out the house. He did have plenty of honey and the two built a fire in the living room and then sat at the table and ate honey out of a jar and talked. They closed up the house after that and he offered Tarmak his room up above. He also gave the man five clay pots filled with honey from his store in the basement and thanked him profusely, telling him if he was ever in Windrip, he would have a place to stay.

The tiny loft was warm and toasty as the chimney ran up one side of the room and put off a good deal of heat. A small bed with a straw tick was in the room a small stand next to it.

* * *

Also that day, back in Armskirk, Elriya noticed Bartleby the Mapmaker spent a lot of time in the taproom drinking ale and drawing or revising maps. She crept up the stairs and tried to break into the most expensive room, which actually had a lock on the door. She found the lock too much for her, however.

The doors to the other rooms all had latchkey strings hanging out, pieces of leather coming through the hole in the door over the latch within. They could easily be opened from either side but if the renter wanted privacy or security, he could pull in the leather string to “lock” the door. She peeked into one of the rooms and saw there was a narrow bed with a straw tick, chamber pot, tiny stand with pitcher and bowl, chest with a key in the lock, and pegs on the walls. The room had a window and shutters, both closed, but was very cold. She found the chest bolted to the floor and empty.

She thought about the architecture of the inn and realized there was probably an attic space up above somewhere. The roof was above the second floor and without gables though most of it was flat.

She really wanted some ink. Theft seemed to be the best way, to her, to get it.

Arya left the village and went looking for wild vegetables that day. She found a few wild potatoes and onions, returning with them that evening around dinnertime.

Elriya watched Bartleby the Mapmaker carefully during supper that night. The two and Arya were the only ones staying the night in the inn. A few locals were there for ale and to gossip or play darts early in the evening but left shortly after suppertime. Bartleby ate a substantial supper of venison, as did the women, who were not paying for their dinner due to the deal Arya had made with Samuel for the meat.

“I suppose I shall be moving on tomorrow,” they overheard the mapmaker say to the innkeeper. “I suppose everything is in order here. I will spread the word of your lovely inn!”

They learned he was heading for Windrip and then back in the direction of Womthan. He told the innkeeper he had started at the far side of the Duchy of Womthan and was traveling back towards that city, mapping the border area as he went to make a new map for Duke Finelann for “defense of the realm!” He talked loudly and long about his mapmaking expedition and his closeness to the duke.

Samuel complimented Arya on the venison.

Bartleby, an hour or two after dark and having smoked several bowls of pipeweed and talked to the local villagers, gathered up his maps and notes and tucked them into his satchel. He bid the two women good night and went up the steps to his room, candle in hand.

Elriya jumped up, crossed to the stairs, and slipped up the steps after the mapmaker. She saw the man draw forth a key from his money pouch and open the door. He slipped into the room and closed the door behind him. She heard the key turn in the lock. She crept to the door and listened at it but could not hear very well. The door was obviously solid.

She crept back down the stairs. Arya watched her from across the room, the elf ranger making sure all of her items were on her person in case they had to beat a hasty retreat. Elriya crossed to the kitchen and pushed open the door, peeking in. She saw Samuel and Amanda cleaning up the kitchen for the day, hanging pots and pans back on the hooks from the ceiling. Amanda took cold meat and cheese and opened a small door in the outside wall, putting them into a box there. Elriya guessed the little door probably led to a small chamber or box attached to the building to use as refrigeration - at least during the winter. Samuel put a bar on the back door.

The fireplace in the room was straight across from the door on the back of the building. She guessed Bartleby’s room was directly above it.

She slipped back into the taproom where Arya watched her with interest.

Samuel returned some time later and asked if they needed anything else. When they said they didn’t, he bid them “goodnight” and went to the front door, pulling in the leather latchkey strap. He didn’t bar the door, though one leaned against the wall next to it. He left, going into the kitchen, which they knew connected to a small room he and his wife lived in.

Elriya crept back into the kitchen. A fire roared in the fireplace, obviously recently stoked by Samuel or Amanda. Pots and pans hung from the ceiling near dried herbs, spices, and dried meat. Part of the counter actually had a stone top for cutting. The kitchen door opened and Arya walked in.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

Elriya looked at her.

“I was … just checking on their fire,” she lied badly. “It seems to be roaring pretty well.”

“Oh … kay, but why?” Arya asked.

Elriya went to a pump and drank down several cups of water. Then she announced she was going to bed, leaving the kitchen. Arya realized the Halfling was planning on waking up soon but didn’t know why. She gave the Halfling a suspicious look.

The two bedded down. Arya lay there, watching the Halfling carefully. She was tired but able to stay awake. She was still awake a couple hours later when Elriya got up, looked at the elf, picked up a chamber pot, and crept out of the room. Arya heard her urinate and then she returned to the room and put the chamber pot back down. She crept back out of the room.

* * *

Elriya crept into the kitchen and found the fire had been reduced to red hot coals that glowed and pulsed in the darkness. They were still obviously very hot and so she took the cauldron, turned it upside down, and put it atop them. She figured that would protect her well enough.

She climbed up into the chimney, starting to sweat immediately from the heat from the fire. She clambered up and didn’t find any connection to the room above at first. She thought she heard someone in the kitchen below not long after she began her ascent.

* * *

Arya got up not long after Elriya left the room. The taproom was empty and the latchkey chord still pulled in, so she looked into the kitchen. No one was there either and the bar was still on the back door. The connecting door to the innkeeper’s room was closed as well. The only other place the Halfling could have gone was up the chimney, but that would be stupid, if not completely insane.

* * *

Elriya had never climbed up a chimney before and it wasn’t pleasant. She felt like she’d been climbing for some time and guessed it was going to go all the way to the roof. She’d expected the fine room to have a fireplace and then found a connecting chimney, obviously above the second floor room. She looked down into it with irritated eyes and could see the glow of coals. The flue was open. However, the chimney was very narrow and she wasn’t sure she’d be able to climb down it.

She climbed back down.

* * *

In the kitchen, Arya heard debris falling down from the chimney, landing in the coals and bouncing off the cauldron, which she noticed was sitting upside down in the fireplace. She wondered what was creeping into the inn from the roof so she took out her bow and nocked an arrow. Then booted feet came down and landed on the cauldron. Elriya leaned down to exit the fireplace, saw Arya, and stopped. Arya sighed in relief and lowered the bow.

“Why the hell are you in the chimney?” Arya hissed at the Halfling.

“I’m trying to steal ink from the cartographer,” Elriya said.

“Oh. Okay. I thought you were trying to steal from the innkeeper.”

“No. He’s a nice guy.”

“Do you need help?”

“Do you mind greasing me up?”

“What?”

“I’ve got to fit through this hole in the chimney and it’s really tight.”

“Can’t you just pick his lock?”

“I tried and I wasn’t able to.”

“Oh, that’s where you went. Okay. Okay.”

They found a little jar filled with lard. There was not a lot as Elriya had hoped. Arya helped her put it on her shoulders and hips. Then the little Halfling climbed up the chimney again.

* * *

Elriya scuttled up the chimney again, getting to the attached chimney to the room. She climbed into the tight little aperture and wedged her way in, feet first, sliding down to the fireplace just above the coals. She could hear a light snoring. She peered into the good-sized room and saw a large bed to the left, Bartleby sleeping in it. The door was directly across from the fireplace. A wardrobe and dresser were to the right and there were a few hooks on the walls, one of which held his fur cloak and another which held the man’s satchel. A chest was at the foot of the bed and a small nightstand with a single drawer was by the bed, a bowl and pitcher atop it.

She stepped into the room and stood very quietly.

She quietly moved to the chest of drawers. The three drawers were filled with extra clothing, undergarments, and the like. Nothing of value was in the piece of furniture. She crept to the chest but found it locked. She tried to pick it without luck. The lock was simply too complex.

She crept across the room towards the nightstand and heard the man suddenly snort and stop snoring. She dropped to the shadows beside the bed.

“Is somebody there?” he asked.

He looked around but didn’t seem to see anything. He leaned over, obviously listening. Finally, after what seemed like a very long time, he lay back down and, after about five minutes, she heard him start snoring again.

She stood back up looked at the nightstand. A pipe and a pouch, probably filled with pipeweed, was on top of it. She slid the drawer open. Some pocket items were in the nightstand, as well as two keys. One was large and one was small. She guessed the smaller one went to the chest and she took it, creeping to the foot of the bed. She was halfway there when the snoring got louder. She stopped a moment and then crept on.

She fit the key into the lock on the chest and opened it up. Within was a belt pouch, boots, and saddlebags. She quietly searched the bags. She found paper, journals, and 11 bottles of ink. One of the saddlebags held 10 bottles of ink while the other held only one. There was a great deal of blank pieces of parchment and a couple of dozen quills. She moved one of the bottles into the bag with a single bottle and then took two bottles from the other bag, sticking them in her pouch. She stole a couple sheets of parchment and two quills. She also took one of the eight leather bound blank books.

She crept back to the fireplace and climbed into the chimney again but slipped, falling back down onto the coals. The lard on her had dripped down onto her legs and feet and the flames licked at her as she almost let out a scream. She had been badly burned. She pulled herself back up into the narrow chimney, wedging herself through the tiny one. Then she fell again, dropping down onto the cauldron, flopping out into the room, smoke coming from her boots.

Arya ran to the Halfling woman and patted her down, putting out the smoldering fire on her feet and legs. Then she picked up the Halfling and headed out of the inn through the taproom, putting the leather latchkey back out through the hole. She carried Elriya up the hill to the temple.

The temple was dark and she laid Elriya down and knocked on the front doors. Eventually, she saw a light from within and the door opened. The priest was there, holding a sword in his hand. He looked at her suspiciously.

“Yes?” he said.

“I need some healing,” Arya said. “My friend is unconscious.”

“Well, bring her in, bring her in.”

He opened the door and she carried Elriya into the church. The priest looked the Halfling woman over, his lantern hanging from a hook nearby. Elriya was partially burned and covered in soot. Her shoulders and hips glistened with the lard they’d spread on her. She still wore her mask and black clothing.

“What happened to her?” the priest asked.

“Uh … I don’t know,” Arya lied.

“Why are her feet burnt? Why is she covered in lard? Just tell me what happened.”

“I really don’t know. She gets herself in trouble all the time.”

“How did you find her?”

“She was laying down on the kitchen floor.”

“The kitchen floor? Where is this?”

“In the inn.”

“Why was she …?”

“I don’t know. Maybe she was getting water and got caught.”

“How did you find her?”

“I walked in. Heard a noise.”

“This all sounds very suspicious. Well, she’s in no danger. She’s just knocked out.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Yes.”

He looked the Halfling over more carefully.

“She’s unconscious,” he said again.

“Okay,” Arya said.

“She also has these thieves’ picks in her pocket. What’s this about?”

“I don’t know her that well, okay?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Does it really matter that much?”

“We’ll keep her here for the night and look after her.”

“Okay.”

He picked up the Halfling and took her out of the room. He returned a short time later.

“We’ll take care of your friend,” he said.

“Okay, I’ll wait,” Arya said.

“You can go,” he replied.

He opened the door to let her out into the cold.

“I can sleep in the pews, right?” Arya asked.

“No,” he said.

“Why not?”

“You may go.”

“Okay.”

She went out and he closed the door behind her. She settled down by the side of the church, covering herself up with her winter blanket.

* * *

The morning of the 12th of Fireseek, 592 CY dawned cold and cloudy again, though it had not been as cold as it had been the night before. Tarmak had honey for breakfast with Percyvell and then took his leave of the man, walking back to Armskirk and arriving in only an hour or so.

When he got to the Shield’s Rest, he was greeted by Samuel, who asked if he wanted breakfast for three copper pieces. The innkeeper noted they still had venison from the day before and he was going to make some eggs to go with it. Tarmak sold him the pots filled with honey for two gold coins and breakfast of eggs and venison.

There was no sign of Arya or Elriya.

“Do you know where my friends went?” he asked Samuel once he’d eaten.

“No, they were gone,” the innkeeper said. “Though someone was fiddling in the kitchen. Somebody was messing with my cauldron. I don’t know what was going on there.”

Bartleby the Mapmaker came down the steps loudly.

“Ready for my breakfast, innkeeper,” he called out. “The breakfast of Bartleby the Mapmaker!”

Tarmak got up and headed out the door. Bartleby waved at him and he returned the wave as he left, going to look for his friends.

* * *

Elriya woke up. She found herself in a clean room in a comfortable bed. She was only wearing her underclothing. Everything else was gone. A tall man with thinning brown hair sat on a chair next to her bed. He had a lightning bolt symbol on his amulet and wore blue clothing. Two men stood by the door, both of them heavily armed and wearing chain mail.

“Hello, are you feeling all right?” he asked.

“I feel like I fell off a building,” she said.

“Ah, could you tell us what happened?”

“Yeah, I was at the innkeeper’s and I went to get up and get some water. Relieve myself. There was a coal that had fallen onto the kitchen and I stepped on it and crashed into some pot or something. I don’t know. Hit my head.”

“You didn’t have any head trauma, actually. That’s interesting. You had some trauma to your body on the whole. You could probably see the bruises if you lift up your shirt. Your feet were apparently on fire, which was interesting as well. Why were you covered in lard?”

“Why was I covered in lard?”

“It’s still on your shoulders.”

“I mean, I must have fell in the lard in the kitchen.”

“Ah. Interesting. All right. Very well. Thank you.”

He left the room.

* * *

Arya sat by the church and wondered what to do about Elriya. Then she saw the priest exit one of the doors towards the back of the building, walking past her without noticing her, heading down the hill towards the inn.

* * *

Tarmak had gone by the butcher, the blacksmith, and the weapon smith and armorer. He was a little surprised at the number of old men hanging out in the latter two buildings, playing checkers and gossiping. He noticed a priest of Hieroneous heading down the hill and going to the inn. He stopped the man before he went in.

“Have you seen an elf or a Halfling?” he asked the man.

“I have,” the man said.

He walked into the inn. Tarmak followed him and asked him where they were at.

“I’m sorry,” the priest said.

“Where are they?” Tarmak asked. “You said you saw them.”

“The Halfling is part of an investigation,” the other priest said.

“Investigation?” Tarmak said.

The priest looked over his shoulder.

“There you are, Samuel!” he said to the innkeeper as he came out of the kitchen. “Anything odd happen here last night?”

“Well, now that you speak of it, Nathaniel,” Samuel said.

The innkeeper related the story of the cauldron upside down on the fire and the lard all being missing from the kitchen. The priest asked if the lard jar had been knocked over or if there was a mess. Samuel said there was not, just the missing lard and the cauldron. He noted they were frying a lot of bacon that morning to get more grease and offered the priest some.

“Interesting,” Nathaniel said. “Interesting.”

Tarmak left and headed up the hill to the temple. He saw Arya sitting by the front door of the temple on the ground, her winter blanket wrapped around her. She looked bothered and sad.

“What happened?” Tarmak asked her.

“Well, you know how thieves get,” Arya said.

“And you brought the thief to Hieroneous.”

“I did not realize who he was.”

“The priest of Hieroneous.”

“I just knew that she was unconscious and could have been hurt or maybe even died the next morning. So, I did what I thought I could. You weren’t around so I couldn’t just take her to you.”

“Hm. Do you know where she’s at inside or …”

“No, except for wherever he took her last night. It was some room. I don’t really know where.”

“Hm. Guess we’ll just wait around for that priest to come back.”

Nathaniel returned shortly, walking up the hill.

“Good morning,” he said to them. “Good morning.”

He went around the side of the temple towards an attached building they assumed were his quarters.

“He seems too happy,” Arya said.

They caught the man before he entered the building.

“Yes, can I help you?” he asked.

The man looked at the holy symbol around Tarmak’s neck.

“Are you a priest?” he asked.

“Yes,” Tarmak said.

“I don’t recognize …”

“Priest of Fharlanghn.”

“Fharlanghn! Fharlanghn. Ah yes. We don’t have many of those around here. Surprising. You would think traveling priests would be more common in Armskirk. But can I help you?”

He looked at Arya.

“Ah,” he said, obviously recognizing her. “I might need to talk to you.”

“I’m still looking for the Halfling,” Tarmak said.

“Yes, yes,” the priest said. “She is a person of interest at the moment and I have to question her about a certain incident.”

“Interest in what?”

“I’m … not sure yet. Some very strange things happened at the inn last night. The stories are not quite matching up. You know how that goes. And so as the lawful priest of this town, I need to find out what happened. So far, we haven’t had any complaints of being robbed, but finding out the truth is important, wouldn’t you say?”

“I would but you see that Halfling is in my charge and I was out of the town for the evening.”

“In your charge? What do you mean by that?”

“She’s traveling with me.”

“Oh, yes.”

Tarmak explained how they had escaped from the orcs and he was taking one of the former slaves home to Windrip. The priest seemed unfamiliar with the town but once Tarmak explained it was the next town up the road, he recognized it.

“That’s right,” he said. “That’s right. I never can remember the name of that town. Yes yes. Well, something happened at the inn last night. I just want to get to the bottom of it.”

“Hm,” Tarmak said.

“You understand, of course.”

“Yes.”

Nathaniel turned to Arya.

“Perhaps you could explain to me what happened,” he asked.

“Not much to my knowledge,” she said.

“Hmmm,” he said. “Of course. Of course. Understandable. But, anyway, I must talk to your friend. I haven’t gotten her name yet. What’s her name?”

“Uh … Elriya,” Tarmak said.

“Yes yes. I haven’t gotten her name yet. I haven’t talked to her quite to that extent. But, just trying to get to the bottom of what happened. Perhaps it’s nothing. Perhaps it’s just mischievous pranks.”

“She does do that from time to time.”

“Yes, well, a spell will let me know. So, if you’ll excuse me.”

He bowed his head slightly and went into the building.

* * *

The bed was very comfortable and Elriya was lying there, dozing, when the priest returned.

“Ah, Elriya,” he said.

“How do you know my name?” she asked.

“Oh, that’s not important. I’m going to cast a spell which … you must tell the truth. If you lie to me, you’ll react … it will not be pleasant. It won’t hurt you, but you’ll be very uncomfortable and I’ll know that you’re lying. All right?”

He pulled out a large emerald, ruby, and diamond. They were too large to possibly be real and she guessed they were glass. He touched his holy symbol and said a few magical words, gesturing briefly. The gems disappeared from his hand. She didn’t feel anything.

“Do you know how much that was worth?” she asked.

“Were you doing anything illegal last night?” he asked.

“Did you just─”

“Were you doing anything illegal last night?”

“Did you just destroy that?”

“They’re fake. They’re fake. Were you doing anything illegal last night?”

“No.”

“What happened?”

“I went into the kitchen. I was getting some water.”

“Yes. Continue.”

“And I fell.”

“Continue.”

“Because of a coal.”

“How did you get lard on you?”

“I just have fallen into it.”

“Hmm.”

The priest thought a moment.

“Hmm,” he said again. “I need you to lie to me now. What’s your name?”

“What’s my name?” she asked.

“Yes, please tell me your name. A false name. Say Finkelbottom - whatever you want to say - just don’t tell me the truth.”

“My name’s Elriya.”

“Tell me something that’s not your name.”

“My name’s Elriya.”

The man sighed.

“All right, let’s try this again,” he said, leaving the room.

The man returned after a minute or so with more of the large, fake gemstones.

“This are glass,” he said, showing her the stones. “These are not worth the glass they are used to make them, by the way. See, glass. They’re garbage. Oh wait. See? I have a spare diamond.”

He flung it violently at the ground and it shattered like glass.

“What?” she said. “It’s still expensive to make glass.”

“No,” he said.

“It’s such a waste.”

“I can get a bag of these for a copper coin. They’re garbage. It’s like the leftovers.”

“Why?”

“Because, I need them to cast a spell. It requires this to cast the spell. Now, what I require of you: I want you to lie to me when I ask you the next question. If you don’t, I’m not going to believe anything that you say. Understand? Thank you.”

He cast the spell again.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Arya─” she started to say, then grabbed her head as if in pain.

He looked at her quizzically.

“Interesting,” he slowly said.

“Don’t make me lie again,” she said quietly.

“Interesting,” he said, turning to the guards. “Hold her here.”

He left the room again. He was back in a few minutes.

“Look,” he said. “I know the spell didn’t affect you.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“You know what I mean,” he said. “It didn’t affect you. You would have known if it affected you. It wouldn’t cause you any pain, per se. Perhaps discomfort. Not what you did. Now, we found, on your possession, some vials of ink and some paper and quite a substantial amount of gold. Now, there’s a priest outside who says you are in his charge. He’s a priest of Fharlanghn, so not completely honest, but sometimes they can be. I understand that. If you tell me the truth now, I’m willing to release you to his charge so long as any and all items that were stolen are returned. Are we of an understanding? I will not have crime in my town.”

He stared at her.

“I’m willing to overlook this,” he went on. “This time. So long as you place yourself under his charge and he is willing to accept any and all responsibility for you in the future.”

“That’s fair, it’s his gold,” she said.

“What did you steal?”

He pivoted his head and gave her a sideways look that seemed to say “I will know if you are lying to me. Don’t lie to me.”

She thought for some time.

“You’re thinking far too long about the lie you’re going to tell so I need you to tell me the truth,” he said, frowning. “What did you steal? Was it the gold?”

“No,” she said.

“Was it the ink? Was it the paper? Was it the silver dagger? We will be questioning everyone in the inn and will find out.”

“It was the silver dagger.”

“It was the silver dagger. Interesting. Anything else? Because the only other person staying at the inn, I have found, is some mapmaker or something, whom I will be asking to search his belongings to make sure he is not missing anything, like a silver dagger. Or ink and a pen and paper.”

“The gold is me and the priest’s.”

“The dagger?”

She thought on it.

“Don’t think about it!” he said. “Just answer me!”

“The dagger I stole from the orcs,” she said.

“The orcs? Okay. I don’t care about that then. What of the ink and the quills and the paper?”

She thought on it again.

“The notebook’s mine,” she lied. “I just … I ran out of ink to write in it and … the cartographer wouldn’t give me any.”

“Very well,” he replied, obviously not completely believing her. “We will be questioning the cartographer as well. You may wait here until we find out the truth … because the truth is all.”

He stood up and left the room. The two guards remained in the room with her.

* * *

The priest exited the temple once again.

“Oh, hello,” he said. “Still here? You could probably wait at the inn.”

“Hm,” Tarmak said.

They followed him to the King’s Shield and they entered the place.

“This person, this cartographer who’s been staying here for the last several days,” Nathaniel asked. “Is he still here?”

“Oh, he just left about 20 minutes ago,” Samuel said.

The priest frowned.

“Dammit,” he said. “Okay. Very well.”

He looked at Tarmak and Arya.

“You sure there’s nothing you want to tell me?” he asked.

“I told you everything I did,” she replied.

“You did tell me everything you … did,” he said.

He walked out of inn.

* * *

Nathaniel the priest returned to Elriya’s room.

“Very well,” he said. “I’m going to assume that you also stole the quills and the paper. The rest will be returned to you. I do not have anyone actually claiming to have been robbed. But this town is under my protection and I will not have thieves. Are we of an understanding?”

“Can I pay for them?” she asked.

“Pay for the … no. No. The ink will be returned to the cartographer when he returns or else I’ll have it sent on to him. I do not allow thieves to buy their ill-gotten gains.”

He quietly spoke to one of the other men and he left the room.

* * *

At the inn, Tarmak and Arya had sat down to see what would happen next. A man arrived with a tabard with the symbol of Hieroneous upon it.

“Are you the priest of Frarlang?” he asked.

“Fharlanghn,” Tarmak said. “Yes.”

“You’re to come with me,” the man said.

“Okay,” Tarmak said.

He left with the man, who took him back to the temple. The priest of Hieroneous introduced himself as Nathaniel and shook his hand. Tarmak introduced himself as well.

“The Halfling Elriya is guilty of theft,” Nathaniel said. “She confessed to it. However, in deference to the fact that there is no complainant, I am putting her in your charge. Literally in your charge.”

“She was already in my charge, but okay,” Tarmak said.

“She was a traveling companion. Now she is in your charge. If she is found thieving in the bounds of Armskirk again, you will both be punished for any of her crimes. Is that understandable to you, sir?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t wish to hold it against you. You seem like a fine fellow. But I will not have crime in my town. So … I have also confiscated two bottles of ink, two quills, and two pieces of parchment from her that she confessed to have stolen. You will watch her and make sure she does not thieve again. Is that agreeable? Can I have your word on it?”

“Yes.”

“Very good. I’m sorry you’ve had to be a part of this. You might wish to talk to her about the evils of thievery.”

He left Tarmak.

* * *

The priest returned to Elriya’s room and told her she would not be charged for the healing spell he cast upon her although she was now under the charge of Tarmak of Fharlanghn.

“Should you break any laws, you’ll both be punished for it,” he said. “If the law calls for your hand to be chopped off, his hand will also be chopped off. If the law calls for you to be fined for something, he will also be fined an equitable amount. If you are jailed, he will be jailed. If you are to be executed for a crime, he will be executed for a crime.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“You really should take this more seriously miss. We could have had you locked up and confiscated all of your property, but you’re a stranger here and certain people in the town seem to like and respect you and your comrades. So you are free to go.”

He motioned to a guard, who went to the wardrobe in the room and brought her all of her items. The priest removed the vials of ink, the paper, and the quills. The guards left to give her privacy to gear up. She soon left the room and found Tarmak waiting for her in the next room.

The two walked back towards the King’s Shield Inn.

“Damn elf,” Elriya muttered.

Tarmak casting a healing spell on the girl on the way.

“At least there’s good priests in this world,” she said.

“Just the next time you want to steal something, don’t get caught,” Tarmak said. “And don’t let the elf take you.”

“I didn’t tell her to take me anywhere!” Elriya said.

They found Arya at the inn, eating breakfast. After they ate, they returned to Luskwald with Idamay. On the way there, Tarmak told her about certain gods of law and justice that she should avoid, at least if it was due to the Halfling getting into trouble. Arya paid little attention to it. Elriya told her to simply not trust any priests except Tarmak.

“I was just trying to help,” Arya said.

They also explained to her what the priest had said about Tarmak being in charge of Elriya while in Armskirk.

They arrived at Luskwald around noon and picked up Robertus and Aimery Smith. Tarmak gave Tybalt Rice and Geffrei Foregrain five gold coins each in the hopes they would be able to find their way back to Womthan. Then they continued on east from there.

Archmouth proved to be only about five miles away. It was a quaint little town on the other side of a solid stone bridge marked with symbols and runes. The craftsmanship was superb and the bridge in good shape despite its obvious age. They asked around town about Robertus and it took them the rest of the day to find his great aunt, who lived near the center of town. She was older but more than willing to take the boy since his parents had died in slavery.

The older lady rewarded them with a pie.

“Here’s all I have,” she said. “You can have this. It’s a blueberry pie. Thank you so much for bringing my nephew back to me. Oh my goodness. Oh.”

“Wait, what if I want to come with you and be an adventurer?” Robertus cried, clinging to Tarmak’s tunic. “Can I come with you and be an adventurer?”

He lowered his voice to a whisper.

“Please!” he hissed. “She’s so old!”

Tarmak explained to the boy he needed to stay with his family.

“But adventure!” he cried out.

“Oh Robertus, come on,” the old woman said, taking him by the ear. “I don’t have any boy’s clothes, but we still have your mother’s clothing. Let’s put you in a dress.”

“No! Please! No!”

The old woman closed the door.

It was close to dark by then so they stayed at the River Rook Inn, a place with the sign above the door showing a river with a chess piece, a rook, standing in it. The food and drink were good and the innkeeper read poetry and history aloud in the taproom in the evening. Though not a bard, the man apparently aspired to be one.

* * *

The 13th of Fireseek, 592 CY, continued cold and overcast. They headed east that morning to the village of Calmornock, some five more miles down the Old Border Road. The people of the village were so happy at the return of Aimery Smith, the only smith the village had had, they had a great celebration. The adventurers were told they could stay at the local inn for free and there would be a feast that night. People were very happy about the return of their blacksmith.

Tarmak considered taking Idamay back to Warrington but remembered the last time he had left the others alone and the bad things that had happened.

There was a feast at the inn that night. The building was long and built more like a feasting hall than an inn. There were no actual rooms but anyone who wished to spend the night there could stay in the taproom for a small fee, which was waved for the adventurers. They were plied with ale and even wine that evening and not allowed to pay for anything. The locals were also impressed with the fact that an elf was with the party, something most of the people had never seen before. Much to her discomfort, they pointed and stared at her.

Locals wanted to know the names of the adventurers in order to spread word of tem far and wide.

* * *

It continued cold and cloudy on the 14th of Fireseek, 592 CY. Warrington lay some 10 miles down the road past Calmornock and they arrived at the place before noon. The small village had stone walls around it and everyone in the village appeared to be armed. Even the children had knives on their belts. The locals seemed very cautious of outsiders. Idamay told the adventurers she looked forward to getting her knife back and Elriya gave her the silver dagger they’d gotten in the Scar. Idamay hugged the Halfling girl with tears in her eyes.

They eventually located some cousins of the girl who said they would take her in. There were more tears when they parted from the little girl. She said she would miss them and asked them to write her.

“Tell that paladin … tell the paladin to write me … please,” she said.

She cried some more about that. She ran into the house but soon returned with a piece of paper.

“Please give this to Leon,” she said.

It surprised them the little girl could write and once they left the house, they looked at the note. It read “I luv you Leon, Idamay” with several hearts on it, one before and one after her name. The exterior read “To Leon.”

Elriya found the local provisioner actually had ink and quills for sale so she purchased some.

“See how much easier that is to buy the stuff instead of shimmying up a chimney and trying to get back down?” Tarmak said to her.

“He had plenty of it,” Elriya said. “He wouldn’t have missed it.”

They figured they could reach Archmouth by nightfall and so headed west again.

In the mid-afternoon, they were on the road between Warrington and Calmornock, approaching an old, ruined tower that stood to the north of the highway, when four men stood up from the ditch on either side of the road some 20 feet ahead of the party.

“Stand and deliver!” one of the men shouted. “Give us your money.”

They wore rags under their leather armor and each of them had a small ratty-looking shield on his arm. Each had a long sword on his belt and held a spear in his hand.

“Go home,” Arya called.

“Not without your gold!” the man shouted.

“Go get a job.”

“Don’t make us get rough!”

“Okay.”

“Give us your money and you can go by!”

“Put that bow down!” another called.

“No,” Arya called.

“They’ve had enough time!” the man on the right said. “This is your only warning!”

He flung his spear at Tarmak and it struck the priest in the gut. It seemed to surprise all the bandits.

“We’re not playing around!” another man yelled. “Now give us your damned money!”

“By Istus, Bob, that was a great shot!” one of them said to the man who’d flung the spear.

Elriya rushed the man who’d flung the spear.

“Look out, Bob!” another man called. “That child is running at you!”

“It’s a kid,” Bob said. “I’m not scared.”

Elriya stabbed Bob in the right hand and he let out a scream.

“It hurts!” he cried.

He glared at the Halfling woman as Tarmak started to chant.

“Gadzooks!” one of the men yelled. “They’ve got a wizard!”

Arya changed her target to the front man on the left but the arrow flew high over their heads. Then Tarmak stopped chanting and touched himself in the chest, casting a healing spell.

“He’s casting on himself!” another man cried out. “I’m so scared.”

The man in front of Elriya drew his sword as two of the bandits flung their spears at Arya. One of them scratched the girl as it flew by her arm. Another man flung his spear at Tarmak but it missed. The man with the sword swung high as Elriya ducked to one side. Arya shot the man who’d flung that spear that had hit her, the arrow striking him in the chest. He fell with a shriek.

Two men drew their swords and rushed at the priest and the ranger, both of them missing completely. The man near Elriya also swung wildly and didn’t connect with the Halfling. Arya stepped back from the man and fired at him but the arrow slapped against her arm and she dropped her bow. Tarmak, next to her, swung his staff but the bandit blocked the blow with his shield. The man cried out in pain from the blow.

Elriya stabbed the man she faced and he fell with a gasp.

Tarmak swung at his opponent once again but the blow was too high. Arya drew her dagger and stabbed at the man she faced but missed. Elriya ran up behind the man fighting Tarmak and stabbed him in the back. He fell with a confused scream. The last remaining bandit rallied.

“You killed my friends!” he cried out, swinging wildly at Arya and missing the elf.

Elriya tried to flank the last bandit but he watched her so she rushed the man and stabbed him in the side.

“No!” he screamed. “No!”

Tarmak charged the man as well, bringing his staff down on his head. He went down like a house of cards.

Tarmak went around to the bandits and bound their wounds, stabilizing each of them before he cast a healing spell on himself.

They searched the men and found each had a spear, long sword, shield, and leather armor. None of them had any money in their pockets. They decided to examine the tower and see if anything was within. The floor was dirt and the doorway was very low, only about five feet in height. Stone steps went up to the remains of a second floor but they could see sunlight above. The place didn’t have a roof.

A search of the ground floor revealed a spot where the dirt was disturbed as if it had been dug up and piled back. When they dug it up, they found a small chest. Opening it revealed four money pouches and a few worthless odds and ends. There were a few coins in each of the coin pouches and a quick tally revealed a total of 36 copper coins and 12 gold coins.

“So, uh, four for each of us, right?” Arya asked.

Tarmak suggested keeping the copper in the party treasure and dividing up the gold.

Elriya climbed up the stones steps to the cobblestone floor above. She found the corpse of a man in fine clothing who had been stabbed several times, his clothing covered with bloodstains. She searched the man and found a good-sized opal tucked into his cheek like chewing tobacco. She guessed the man had been a traveling merchant and had been murdered by the bandits.

They gathered the men’s spears, swords, and shields in the hopes of selling them at some later time.

Tarmak noted he could run back to Warrington while the women watched the bandits. He returned within a couple of hours with a few men from the village who came to collect the bandits. They told them about what happened in the attack and the body that was found. The constable and men from the village took the body and the four men back, the body for burial and the men for justice.

The three returned to Calmornock that evening and spent the night in the inn. They sold the swords, spears, and shields for a few gold coins. Arya purchased a short sword in the village as well.

* * *

They returned to Luskwald by noon on the 15th of Fireseek. Elriya got Betsy the Gemsmith to appraise the opal and learned it was worth 90 gold pieces. Tarmak found that Tybalt Rice and Geffrei Foregrain were still in Luskwald and so gave each of them five more gold pieces to help them survive until they could find a way back to Womthan.

The three of them went to Armskirk that afternoon.

Arya picked up the smoked meat, keeping about a week’s worth for herself and giving a week’s worth to Tarmak and a week’s worth to Elriya. Tarmak talked to the butchers and purchased the hides of the two deer from the men for five gold coins. Rulf the Butcher noted they had been kept in the upper room that was ventilated so they were not rotten at all. Tarmak bargained the men down to four gold coins, even though Rulf told him the one deer had been called The King of the Forest due to his size.

They returned to Luskwald that day by nightfall. Tarmak found Gaufroi Rapidmantle the leatherworker and gave him the hides. He was most gracious, telling Tarmak he was still getting his chemicals and materials together to get to work leatherworking.

The two rooms at the inn were open that night so Elriya and Arya shared a room while Tarmak took the other room himself. The cost was two silver coins per night, but it was nice to sleep in a comfortable bed for a change. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1977-Advanced-Dungeons-and-Dragons-2nd-Edition-Redcap-s-Rampage-Session-Two-Peasants-Home
<![CDATA[Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition: Redcap's Rampage Session One Part 1 - Investigation]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1976-Advanced-Dungeons-and-Dragons-2nd-Edition-Redcap-s-Rampage-Session-One-Part-1-Investigation Mon, 24 Oct 2016 02:38:47 GMT Monday, October 17, 2016

(After playing the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition scenario “Redcap’s Rampage” by Christopher Perkins from Dungeon Adventures #54 Sunday from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, Adam Frager, Collin Townsend, Ashton LeBlanc, Hannah Gambino, Aaron Scott, and.)

Arthelion the Enlightened had escaped the orcs with the others but had gotten separated from the them on the 7th of Fireseek, 592 Common Year. He had gone looking for shelter and found a cave nearby, spending the night there. The next day, he traveled south in hope of returning to Nyrond and had come upon thick woods as the hills began to taper out. He soon found a small village.

He wandered down a rough road through the village in the evening of the 8th of Fireseek. Dark Clouds loomed menacingly over the grim, rain-drenched hamlet. The settlement was little more than a cluster of weather-worn cottages surrounded on all sides by solemn, densely-wooded hills. Rivers of mud flowed between the wood-frame houses, which seemed unfriendly, as if they were unwilling to relinquish some dreadful secret. They also shared one other odd similarity. Flickering in the window of each tenement was a scowling pumpkin, its innards carved out and filed with candlelight. The shutters inside the windows were closed.

He walked with a staff he’d ripped from a tree in the woods on the way. He was passing another road coming into the village from the east when he saw a man wearing dark clothing and a cloak walking into town. A hood covered most of the man’s face. He had a short bow on his back as well as a backpack. A long sword was on one side of his hip while a dagger was on the other. He wore many pouches on his belt.

The half-elf ranger priest Blackwood saw the mage as well. The other man wore dirty robes and was almost as tall as he was. He had shoulder-length brown hair. His robes and wizard’s hat were colorful and he carried a staff. He shivered in the cold.

Arthelion fled to the nearby rain-drenched, single-story structure with few windows, adjoining stables, and a large, weather-worn crest painted on the front wall depicting a green dragon, its wings unfolded, clutching an ale tankard with two fearsome claws. He grabbed the front door but it was locked or barred. He could hear voices inside.

“Oh my gods!” was screamed from inside. “It must be out there! It’s out there! Help us, adventurers!”

Blackwood followed him at a slower pace.

* * *

“My friends will help you,” Leon Chamberlyn had said to Tarmak and Elriya earlier. “I sense evil outside!”

He had handed over the gold they had found to Tarmak and left the Dragon’s Flagon Inn with Arya close behind to keep an eye on the man.

When the door of the Dragon’s Flagon Inn had rattled a short time later, Laird Yanek had cried out in alarm for Elriya, the Halfling thief, and Tarmak, the human priest, to do something. Tarmak went to the door while Elriya hid in the shadows in the corner near the entrance. As he pulled back the bolt, Laird Yanek cried out in alarm. Tarmak cracked the door open.

Arthelion was surprised to recognize Tarmak, the priest he’d been imprisoned with and had lost track of the day before.

“Oh, thank goodness,” he said. “Can I come in and have a room and some food, please?”

“Very funny,” Tarmak said. “You don’t recognize me?”

“Who?”

“Let him in or close the door!” Laird Yanek cried.

“Oh my gosh,” Tarmak said.

“It’ll get in!” Laird Yanek said. “The curse will get in!”

“Just … come on in,” Tarmak said.

“Thank the gods,” Arthelion said. “I’m freezing.”

The chamber Tarmak admitted him to was cozy, perhaps 20 feet wide and deep, with a pair of windows on one side around a small fireplace where two yellow dogs lounged. A black cat sat on the mantle and haughtily looked over the place. A dozen of the commoners, former slaves of the orcs, sat at the four circular tables in the room. The place was lit by lanterns suspended from the rafters. A large ale barrel stood in one corner near two doors in the wall, the open one obviously leading to cluttered kitchen. Two more doors stood on the wall to the right and a hallway near them led into the darkness, probably to the stables attached to the building. A dark-haired dwarf in a leather apron stood near the ale barrel. A pretty blonde woman stood near him. A portly man with short brown hair and a well-trimmed beard sat at one of the tables, a chain of office of some kind around his neck.

Arthelion crossed the room to the dwarf in the leather apron. He greeted him in dwarvish.

“Oh!” the dwarf replied, surprised. “You’re the second person tonight who’s spoken dwarvish to me! That’s great!”

“Who’s the first?” Arthelion asked.

“Uh …” he said, looking around the room.

“Liar!” Arthelion said.

“What?” the dwarf said, glaring at the man. “What did you say?”

“Can I have some food please?”

“I misheard something you said. I’ll need you to repeat what you said.”

“I mumble a lot.”

“What did you say?”

“I said … ‘Howdy doody.’”

The dwarf glared at him.

“All right …” he slowly said. “You have any money?”

“I do not,” Arthelion said.

“How are you going to pay for your food?”

“I can dance.”

“Don’t really need dancers.”

“You don’t think you need dancers.”

“Look, I got a lot of these people who were slaves of the orcs─”

Tarmak walked over and put down a gold coin on the ale cask, hoping the dwarf would just give Arthelion some food to shut him up.

“Oh … that’s … you’re going to have change coming,” the dwarf said.

“Thank you, Tarmak,” Arthelion said.

“What do you want?” the dwarf asked. “You want stew? We got stew.”

Arthelion had smelled the stew and after being a slave of orcs for almost a week, his mouth watered at the prospect of solid food with taste.

“And ale,” the dwarf said.

“Yeah, I’ll take one of both, please,” Arthelion said.

“All right,” the dwarf said.

“Thank you,” Arthelion said.

The dwarf took out several coins from one of the pockets on his robe. Arthelion held out his hand for the change. Tarmak just shrugged and the dwarf gave the mage the coins. The dwarf brought the mage a bowl of stew and a tankard of ale.

“Is there more of this?” Arthelion asked Tarmak.

Someone rattled the front door to the inn again and then knocked.

“Oh no!” Laird Yanek cried. “It’s here again! Oh my gods!”

He looked at Tarmak, who crossed the room, staff at ready, and pulled back the bolt to open the door. He found himself facing a man in a dark cloak who appeared to be heavily armed. He wore a holy symbol around his neck that Tarmak recognized as the symbol of Ehlonna, the nature goddess.

Blackwood found himself facing a very average-looking man with sun bleached brown hair who wore a holy symbol around his neck as well.

“Is the inn open?” he asked, his voice raspy.

“Yes, it is,” Tarmak said. “Are you a follower of Ehlonna?”

“Yes,” Blackwood said.

He shouldered his way into the room and went to the corner.

“Greetings traveler!” the dwarf said. “Are you hungry or thirsty?”

“Dinner, please,” Blackwood said.

“You want ale too?”

“Yes.”

“All right.”

He got the man a bowl of stew and a mug of ale, telling him that two tankards were five copper and one was three. Blackwood ordered two and the dwarf got him another mug and charged him for the food and drink.

* * *

When Rome, Helius Wik, and the female dwarf warrior Noiree Fragginth had left the others during their first escape attempt on the 3rd of Fireseek, they had followed Rome to a secret panel in the wall and slipped through. Orc reinforcements had charged past the entrance to the horrible temple and they had quietly followed them, slipping up the ramp leading outside and into the cold where they fled.

Noiree had soon parted from the other two. She didn’t feel like she needed them and that she’d be able to do things better on her own. She had survived in the wilderness until she found her way south into a forest. She soon found the tiny town and eventually found her way to what she thought was the village inn.

She listened at the door and heard people talking quietly within. There were quite a few voices but they only spoke lightly. It was raining and she was soaked almost through to the skin. She tried to open the door but found it locked.

* * *

Tarmak heard the door rattle once again.

“Oh no, it’s here!” Laird Yanek cried out. “It’s at the door! It’s at the door! The curse! The curse is here!”

“Just leave it unlocked,” Arthelion said.

“We don’t want it to come in! Are you mad?”

“Why not?”

“It’ll kill us like it killed the others!”

“Well, it’s not going to kill me.”

“It’ll kill somebody!”

“Who?”

“It’ll kill somebody!”

“Who do you think it would kill?”

“What?”

Tarmak, meanwhile, went to the door and opened it up. He recognized the dwarf Noiree Fragginth. She was wearing the orc armor she’d stolen. She was solid and had brown hair, orange on top, tied in a pony tail. She carried a battle axe in one hand and a hammer in the other.

Tarmak let her in.

“Noiree, you made it out!” a voice came out of the shadows.

Arthelion laughed.

“I thought you were dead!” he said.

“Can you believe that idiot made it out?” the voice from the shadows said in dwarvish.

Noiree chuckled.

“I heard that!” Arthelion said, also in dwarvish.

* * *

The kobold rogue Kilb Bronzescale had separated himself from the others during their escape attempt on the 7th of Fireseek. He was certain the orcs would capture the commoners and the others but figured he could escape in the commotion. He was right, at least about his escaping. He managed to get out of the Scar during the entire fiasco and then headed south, towards the country of Nyrond.

He found his way to the very same village with its dark, locked-up houses and its sinister jack-o-lanterns. It was lightly raining and very, very cold. He carried only a spear he’d taken from one of the orcs. He had killed whatever he could to survive and was very hungry.

He scouted around the village, trying to find an empty house. He had found the inn and heard many people within. He looked at some of the houses on the south side of town. At the first house he had fled from barking dogs within the building that had obviously heard him without. He went to another nearby house that had a half-keg mounted above the door with some words he couldn’t read underneath it. It looked occupied.

He moved to another house, this one with a porch and a jack-o-lantern glaring from one of the front windows. It looked dark an empty. He listened but didn’t hear anything in the place. He tried the front door but found it locked. The orcs still had his lock picks and the shutters were on the inside of the glass windows.

He started to go door-to-door, looking at the houses. He soon realized there were people in most of them. He could either hear people within or see a jack-o-lantern in the window outside of the glass. He grabbed one of the jack-o-lanterns and ran into the woods. He lifted the lid of the jack-o-lantern and took out the candle, carefully putting it aside where the rain wouldn’t put out the flame. Then he ate the pumpkin, finding the lid that had been scorched by the candle the tastiest.

* * *

Arthelion went over to the nervous Laird Yanek and stood in front of him.

“Would my dancing cheer you up, sir?” he asked.

“What?” Laird Yanek said. “No no no no no. This adventurer and─”

Arthelion started dancing.

“The paladin said they would help us out and this is his man,” Laird Yanek said, gesturing to Tarmak. “This is one of his companions. They’re going to save us from the curse. The curse that’s on the village.”

“I know of them,” Arthelion said, still dancing. “But watch me, okay?”

“What?”

“Just watch.”

Arthelion danced as the confused laird watched.

Noiree, meanwhile, had gone to the dwarf innkeeper and gotten a bowl of stew and a mug of ale with the gold coin Tarmak tossed to her.

“What happened to you?” the dwarf asked her.

She signaled him to wait a moment as she ate the delicious stew and drank the heavenly ale, the best food and drink she’d had in the months since she’d been captured by the orcs.

By the end of some five minutes, Arthelion was dripping in sweat. He stopped and Noiree applauded. The dwarf innkeeper and the barmaid looked a little confused.

“That was very nice,” Laird Yanek said confusedly.

“Do you feel better?” Arthelion asked.

“No. I don’t feel any better.”

“How do you … how do you not feel better after see that?”

“Because I’m scared! My village is under a curse. There’s a terrible, murderous thing loose and it’s been killing people and they said they would help! They said they would help the village!”

“How do you think it would react if it saw me dance?”

“I don’t know what it is!”

“You don’t know what it is.”

“I don’t know what it is but it’s killed three people in their sleep in the last two days.”

“Does it have a soul, because obviously you don’t! You didn’t enjoy that at all.”

“What?”

The man seemed completely befuddled by the entire conversation. Arthelion wandered to the keg and got another mug of ale from the innkeeper. He drank it quickly down. Then he returned to the laird.

“I will help you with this … curse that you speak of,” he said. “But I require financial gain and a goat.”

“I … don’t think we have any goats in the town,” Laird Yanek said.

“Then I can’t help you.”

“But I could pay you if you’ll help.”

“Can you lead me to someone who can sell me a goat?”

“The tradesmen might know where you can get one.”

“Have you ever seen a goat?”

“Yeah, I’ve seen a goat. I know what a goat is.”

“Where should I go to get one?”

“You won’t be able to find one in this town. You’d have to go to one of the other towns around here. But I’m not sure which one would have a goat.”

“Could you send a messenger to get me a goat?”

“Sure. As part of the payment, if you help me solve my problem, I’ll do my best to help you find a goat. How about that?”

“A strong goat?”

“What are we doing here?” Noiree interjected.

“There’s a curse on the village,” Laird Yanek told her. “There’s a keep to the north of here. There were goblin problems a few months ago. I decided to pay to have it renovated and we brought in some stonemasons. Some of the people from town helped. But then strange things started happening and … like sabotage. People would find nails stuck up that they would step on or wooden scaffolding would fall on people. It was - it was quite terrible. Then some adventurers came and took care of the goblins that were up in the Flinty Hills so we didn’t have to worry about it anymore. So, even though I wanted to finish it, the villagers thought it was cursed. So, everyone just stopped worrying about the keep. But then, over the last few days, the … there have been three murders. They had their throats slit and weird, strange words were written on the walls that don’t make any sense at all and … something has been somehow getting into locked and closed buildings and killing and leaving these messages that don’t make any sense and … I-I-I asked and the paladin said he said he would help us. And the other said they needed a good night’s sleep. And then you folks arrived. And … any help you can give us would be greatly appreciated.”

He seemed nervous and was sweating profusely.

“Do you know anybody who would want to stop the keep from being renovated?” Elriya said, stepping out of the shadows.

She was a Halfling who wore dark clothing and a mask that covered the bottom half of her face. Her hooded cloak covered her head though her bright blue eyes were visible. She was armed with a dagger and had a grappling hook on her belt.

“No, not particularly,” Laird Yanek said. “Some people didn’t care one way or another but it would have been a place to go if the village got attacked. We could run to the keep and be safe there. It’s not very big, but it’s big enough to hold all the villagers for at least a short period of time until whatever threat was gone. It’s two miles to the north.”

“I require parchment and paper,” Arthelion said. “And I will need to talk to you further about the victims.”

“Well, can I bring it in the morning because I don’t want to have to go back to my house and then come back here,” Laird Yanek said. “I’m getting ready to go home. I’m getting ready to lock my doors and go hide under my bed.”

“Do you even care?”

“I do! I do!”

“I’m trying to solve this.”

“Can you do it tonight?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, the villagers are all locked in their homes. They’re not going to come out at night.”

“Why not?”

“Because the monster … whatever it is will kill them.”

“No,” Noiree said.

“You want me to walk you back to your house and we can talk there?” Arthelion said.

“If you wish,” Laird Yanek said. “But I wouldn’t wish upon any of you to walk alone at night. I’m scared to go.”

“Let’s do it.”

“No, I’m not going to walk. I’m going to run. I’ll be running, not walking.”

“I can run.”

“If you want to go with me, you can.”

“I’ll go with you too,” Tarmak said.

“What about all these people?” the innkeeper asked Tarmak.

He needed money to keep all of the people under the roof. There were 12 commoners who seemed happy to see Arthelion when they saw him. He requested they sing his praises and they did, but it was awful. Of the 12, two were children, a little boy and a little girl, while the other 10 were adults. They all started telling the story of the heroic adventurers saving them from the orcs. They spoke of Arthelion leading them out of the orc lair while the others fought bravely to kill their pursuers.

While they talked, Elriya talked to the innkeeper. She learned there were two rooms, each with two beds, in the inn. He was willing, for a silver piece a night, for anyone who wanted to sleep on the floor of the common room. Each of the rooms were two silver pieces for each bed for the night.

Arthelion, hearing the conversation, put his arm around the little boy.

“I think the kids have earned a bed tonight,” he said.

“Uh … no,” Noiree said. “They should be grateful they’re out.”

“Just decide who’s sleeping where,” the innkeeper said.

He pointed to the dark corner where Blackwood leaned against the wall.

“Is he with you?” he asked.

“No,” Tarmak said.

The innkeeper approached Blackwood and asked if he wanted a room. He looked at the others and saw most of them wore no armor and carried no weapons but wore torn and ragged clothing. Even the adventurers wore rugged clothing and armor, for the most part.

“What do you think about all this?” Arthelion suddenly asked the shadowy figure. “Is the mayor crazy?”

“I just got here,” Blackwood said.

“I’m not crazy,” Laird Yanek said.

“So, you haven’t heard of the curse either?” Arthelion said.

“Ten seconds ago, when he was talking about it,” Blackwood said.

“I’m not crazy!” Laird Yanek exclaimed. “People have died! Three people are dead!”

“They can have the room,” Blackwood said to the innkeeper.

“If you want to sleep on the floor in here or if you want to sleep in stables, it’s a silver,” the innkeeper said. “How about that?”

“We’re having a sleepover at the mayor’s house if you want to come,” Arthelion said.

“What?” Laird Yanek said.

“Huh?”

“What?”

“Huh?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Nothing.”

“No, nobody’s sleeping in my house! I’m locking my doors and I’m barring my windows and hiding under my bed!”

“Exactly.”

“Not with you!”

“Wait. You’re hiding under the bed.”

“You’re not sleeping in my bed.”

Laird Yanek stood up.

“I will get you parchment and quill tomorrow,” he said.

“I thought we were running to your house together!” Arthelion said.

“Not if you’re staying. You could be the killer for all I know!”

“But mayor, he’s a wizard,” Tarmak said. “He could protect you.”

“Please. No!” Laird Yanek said. “I don’t need a dancing wizard in my house.”

He ran to the door.

“Everyone needs a dancing wizard in their house!” Arthelion yelled as the man ran out the door, leaving it open.

* * *

Outside, Kilb saw a man run out of the inn and flee up the road. He heard someone yelling out the door as the man fled. Then a Halfling in a mask peeked out before closing the door.

* * *

Blackwood finished his ale after the altercation with the laird and then headed outside. Elriya went and locked the door once again.

Noiree asked who owned the dogs.

“Those are ours,” the dwarf innkeeper said. “Well, they’re their own but … they stay here.”

“This your cat too?” Noiree asked.

“Yep,” the dwarf said.

The woman told her the dogs were Winkin and Blinkin and the cat was Nod.

“If we save your village, can I have your dogs?” Noiree asked.

“Oh no,” the dwarf said. “No no no.”

“Why?”

“Because they’re our dogs! They’re family.”

“What if I find gold?”

“What do you mean?”

“Can I buy your dogs?”

“They’re not for sale!”

She gave the dogs her bowl to lick anyway.

“Can I teach your cat a trick?” Arthelion asked.

“What?” the innkeeper said.

“Can …” Arthelion asked again, this time in dwarvish. “Can I teach your cat a trick?”

“What are you talking about? You can’t teach cats tricks!?!”

“I can, actually.”

“Are you going to hurt him?”

“No. It’s just going to be a trick.”

“I don’t care.”

“What’s the trick?” Noiree asked.

Arthelion began working on training the cat but realized it would probably take weeks to really teach the animal to do a trick. He was also only proficient with training a goat so he trained the cat as if it was a goat.

Tarmak paid the innkeeper for all of them to spend the night, giving the two rooms to the commoners who were in the worst shape. It was hard to decide who, actually, because they were all so weary from their enslavement.

* * *

Blackwood examined the ground carefully, first trying to figure out where the laird went and finding his tracks. He followed them to a house on up the road. Three steps led up to the front door of the well-kept house. Mounted on the door was a brass plaque etched with the words “Donovan Yanek, Laird of Luskwald.” A sinister jack-o-lantern peeked through the front window of the residence with wicked, candlelit eyes.

He set to work casing out the entire town and looking for other footprints and the like. It was intensely cold so he cast a spell upon himself to ward off the freezing weather for some time. He took that time to search but didn’t find anything in his general searching of the tiny town.

* * *

Kilb crept back to the inn and tried to open the exterior doors that appeared to lead to the attached stable. They wouldn’t move and he guessed they were barred from within. There were a couple of large doors in the sloped roof above the main ones as well, probably for bringing hay into the loft. He crept around the place and noticed an outhouse behind the building. There were also a couple of back doors to the inn but they proved locked and bolted as well.

He used his spear as a pick in the frozen ground and started the long, arduous process of digging his way under the stable wall. After an hour, he had dug a nasty little hole that was just enough for him to slide into the stables. He was able to get the spear in with a little more work. His candle had burned out by then.

He found himself in a chilly stable. Directly across from the stall he came out in was a door that looked like it led into the inn. He crept out and found a wide area that ran the length of the room with stalls for horses on the side opposite the smaller door. All of them were empty. A ladder hung on the interior wall near the doors that led outside. It led up to a loft with several bales of hay. A bar was over the doors above as well.

He pulled a good deal of hay down into the stall on the end and made a nest, burying himself in it and going to sleep.

* * *

Everyone in the inn bedded down as best they could within an hour of Blackwood leaving the building. Arthelion had been trying to train the cat without any luck though he felt it was going well.

“You’re my cat now,” Arthelion said, petting the cat before bedding down.

“What’re you talking about?” the dwarven innkeeper, who Arthelion had made sure was close by, said.

“Huh?”

“Don’t take the cat out of here.”

“Can I sleep with the cat?”

“The cat sleeps where he wants.”

“You wanna sleep with me, don’t you?”

As he bedded down and the dwarf and woman opened another door and headed in and the cat jumped down from where he was and followed them into the room along with the two dogs.

“I knew it,” Arthelion muttered.

They bedded down and, about a half hour later, another knock came at the door.

“You wanna flip for it?” Arthelion said to Tarmak, who he noticed also woke up.

“No, I got it,” Tarmak said, getting up.

“I win,” Arthelion said.

Tarmak opened the door to find Blackwood standing out in the rain.

“Tell the innkeeper I’d like to sleep in the stables,” Blackwood said, figuring Tarmak was the doorman and giving him a silver coin.

Tarmak said he would. He went back to the door he’d seen the dwarf and the woman disappear into and knocked.

“Who is it?” the dwarf’s voice came. “What do you want?”

“The … traveler that came earlier wants to sleep in the stables,” Tarmak said.

The door opened.

“He gave me a silver to give you,” Tarmak said.

“What?” the dwarf said.

“To sleep in the stable.”

“Him?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Did you lock the front door? Bolt the front door so the curse doesn’t get us.”

He closed the door and Tarmak returned to the front door and bolted it. Blackwood noticed a narrow hallway and headed down the corridor. He found a locked and bolted door and another door with bolt and latch that proved unlocked and open. It led to the stable and he heard heavy breathing coming from one of the stalls. It sounded like a child. He just figured someone else was sleeping there so ignored it, going up into the hay loft and making himself comfortable with his winter blanket.

* * *

The rain had stopped in the early morning hours and the sky was clear on the 9th of Fireseek, 592 Common Year. It remained cold though promised to be at least above freezing that day.

The innkeeper was up and about fairly early that next morning. He reheated the leftover stew and the innkeeper added some scrambled eggs to the mix.

“Is that all you know how to make?” Arthelion asked the dwarf when he got his breakfast.

“I know how to make other things,” the dwarf said.

“Can you? Please?”

“I’m not just not going to make it today.”

“Oh.”

“Maybe for dinner.”

“Oh! Nice.”

“This is leftovers anyway.”

“I knew it.”

He asked the dwarf where the laird’s house was and the dwarf game him instructions on how to get there, telling him what the house looked like as well. When he asked if he could get stew to go, the dwarf told him if he planned to get stew for the laird, he didn’t have to as the man ate all his meals at the inn.

“Shouldn’t he be here by now?” Arthelion asked.

“Maybe,” the dwarf said.

Arthelion left the inn but it was frigidly cold. He went back inside and asked the dwarf if he had a coat he could borrow. The dwarf didn’t. He asked if his wife had a coat he could borrow.

“No,” the dwarf said. “Leave my wife alone.”

“Where can we buy clothes and such?” Elriya asked.

“There’s a provisioner,” the dwarf said.

He gave them instructions on how to get to Dalagar’s Provisions, which was around the curve of the road on the right. Tarmak asked if he sold boots and the innkeeper wasn’t sure.

Everyone else ate and enjoyed the stew.

“So, what’s the deal with the gold?” Arthelion asked Tarmak.

“I don’t know, it’s just what the paladin brought with him and left with us,” Tarmak said.

“That paladin … I still have his shoes on.”

Tarmak took out the pouch of gold and talked of dividing it up. Elriya wasn’t sure they should divide it up as they still had to provide for the villagers they’d rescued. She pointed out that he’d kept the gems though.

They saw the woman who worked at the inn go up a back hallway and open up a door.

* * *

Blackwood and Kilb were both awoken by a woman’s voice.

“All right, c’mon, wake up!” she cried into the stable. “Time for breakfast!”

Then they heard a door close again. Kilb lay very still.

Up in the loft, Blackwood got up and got his things together, climbing down to the ground floor and going into the inn.

* * *

“So, Tarmak, can I have some gold so I can go get supplies for this … new adventure that … we have been … called to do?” Arthelion asked.

“We can all go together,” Elriya said.

“I need money,” Arthelion said, hand still extended.

Tarmak thought on that a moment and then took out five gold coins.

“Holy shit!” Arthelion yelled.

He ran out the front door.

“I knew that would get rid of him,” Tarmak said.

Cold wind blew in.

“Born in a barn,” Elriya said, closing the door.

Blackwood also headed out to look around the town.

Elriya suggested buying provisions for the former slaves and Tarmak noted he needed shoes. They headed out of the inn as well.

Noiree asked the dwarf innkeeper about her stronghold: Thorzak.

“That … that place, I heard … I heard … no … that place is just a story,” he said.

“No,” she replied.

“There used to be a place up in the mountains on the other side of the Flinty Hills. But that was years ago, a generation ago, and they were destroyed by humanoids, weren’t they?”

“That’s where I’m from.”

“No!”

“Yeah. That’s why I asked.”

“Ah … well … really?”

“Yeah.”

“They’re still alive?”

“They were given tribute to the goblins to─”

“What!?!”

“─keep ‘em off us.”

“Oh … that’s … that goes against the grain!”

“Uh-huh. It was a tough situation.”

“Well, I’d heard they’d been wiped out years ago. A generation ago.”

“Huh-uh.”

“Huh. That’s what I heard.”

“What direction would I go for that area?”

“That I don’t know. I don’t know much about navigation. I’m not a navigator. I haven’t been out of this town in 30 years.”

“Okay. That’s okay.”

“Sorry.”

“Thank you anyway.”

“Oh, you’re welcome.”

She also learned his name was Coryston Dalnor and that he was married to the human woman named Penelope.

* * *

The village store was a dark and foreboding structure, even though lanterns hung on either side of the entrance. A sign that read “Dalagar’s Provisions” swung gently above the portal. There were no windows in the front of the building though Arthelion had seen one on the side as he’d run up. Smoke came out of the chimney towards the back of the structure as well. When he tried the front door, he found it locked. He banged on the door.

“Who is it?” a terrified man’s voice came from within. “Who’s there?”

“I’ve come to spend gold at your establishment,” Arthelion called through the door. “Let me in!”

There was confused mumbling from within and then he heard the bolt pulled back on the door. It opened into a dim chamber. The man was average-looking and the room was large. Shelves lined with sacks and jars of foodstuffs occupied most of the room though there was room enough for a long counter along the south wall.

“What can I help you with sir?” the man asked. “This town is dangerous. Are you passing through?”

“I hope to be, yes,” Arthelion said.

“Haven’t you heard?”

“What? Haven’t you?”

“Assassins are stalking Luskwald, using the village as a training ground to hone their evil skills. Haven’t you heard that?”

“Yeah. Yeah yeah.”

“It’s terribly dangerous!”

“Yeah, your mayor was telling me that last night.”

“Well, it’s terribly dangerous here.”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m trying to buy some stuff from you. Are we going to get on with it or what?”

There was another knock at the front door. The man jumped almost up into the air with fright.

“It’s them!” he said. “The assassins!”

“Yeah, don’t let ‘em in!” Arthelion said.

“Who is it?” the provisioner asked. “Who’s there? Are you assassins?”

“Probably,” Arthelion said.

“Travelers who came into town last night,” Tarmak said. “Looking for provisions.”

“That’s what an assassin would say!” Arthelion said.

“That’s what an assassin would say!” the provisioner said.

“Is that wizard in there with you?” Tarmak said.

“Wait, are you a wizard?” the provisioner asked Arthelion.

“No, I’m an assassin,” Arthelion said with a laugh.

“What?” the man said.

“He’s an idiot!” Elriya called. “Don’t listen to him.”

The man seemed confused and walked away from Arthelion, suddenly untrusting.

“You have gold?” he asked the mage.

“Yes,” Arthelion said.

“Let’s see it!”

Arthelion held out the coins.

“I’m rich,” he said.

The man unbolted the door and looked out at the man and the Halfling girl. Tarmak held out a couple of gold coins.

“All right,” the man said. “Come in, come in. My gods, people. What’s wrong with you?”

It was chilly in the room and Arthelion shivered. There was clothing to buy. There was only one pair of boots and Dalagar told them the cobbler in town made the best shoes in all the land. There were only four cloaks so there was not enough for the commoners. Arthelion purchased clothing as he was freezing and needed something to protect himself from the elements.

“What kind of store is this?” Arthelion asked when he saw the lack of stock.

“It - it - it’s my store,” the man said.

“Do you not expect a lot of travelers?”

“There aren’t a lot of travelers along this road. And they usually already own cloaks.”

“Well … some of us … don’t.”

“Well, I’m sorry, sir.”

“Do you have a goat?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Is there a seamstress in town?” Elriya asked.

“There’s a mender,” the man said. “Ylandra Morgyr.”

He told them she was just next door to the north. When Tarmak asked about the cobbler, he gave him instructions to his house and said his name was Otto Bellinek.

“Who are you people?” he asked. “Why are you even here?”

“We escaped from some orcs,” Elriya said. “They enslaved us.”

“Oh no!” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“Have you ever been enslaved by an orc?” Arthelion asked.

“No,” he said.

“Do you want to?”

“No. What’s wrong with him?”

They continued making purchases. Arthelion bought a cloak, backpack, food, and a torch. The others bought what they could for the former slaves.

* * *

Kilb shimmied out of the hole to the barn and then gathered leaves and covered the hole with them. He tried to keep out of sight. He occasionally saw the others walking around the town. He recognized the average-looking priest and spotted Arthelion and Noiree, whom he also recognized.

* * *

Blackwood continued looking over the town but didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. He got a general layout of the village and learned which houses were also shops of some kind. He noticed the building with the wagon out front had people outside talking. An old, horse-drawn cart sat in the front yard of the residence, its wheels mired in the mud. The house itself was a proud testament to its builder, standing against the elements without the slightest sign of wear. A candlelit jack-o-lantern sneered through one window. The people seemed very disturbed. He wandered close and eavesdropped, trying not to be too obvious.

Apparently, something had been in the man’s house the night before and called out in strange, unintelligible words. None of the family had gotten any sleep, not Ezekiel Devek, his wife Jezebel, or their son Zandor. Devek said it was just like the other houses where people were murdered and he was afraid he was next. There were strange noises from inside the house. Something was moving inside the house. They heard creaking floorboards and a baby crying at one point. Blackwood figured the man was the town carpenter and the whole family was shaken by what happened. They were afraid of what was going to happen that night.

“It will be just like Ezner,” Devek said. “Or Karn and Bryne. I’m scared. I’m really scared.”

Blackwood kept his distance and, when people dispersed and departed, he looked around the house for tracks of some kind. Though the rain had been coming down most of the morning, he found strange tracks that appeared to be tiny footprints. They were impossibly small, however, and indicated someone who couldn’t have been more than a couple of feet tall. He tried to follow where they went but they were soon lost in the mud. Now that he knew what to look for, he found more tracks all over the village.

* * *

Elriya and Tarmak went down the road to the cobbler’s house, which seemed especially grim, perhaps the result of its dark wood frame. A boot-shaped sign swung listlessly above the front door. Tarmak knocked.

“Who is it?” a voice called from within. “Who’s there?”

“I’m a traveler that came in yesterday evening and brought a group of slaves with me,” Tarmak said. “I need to get boots for all of them if possible.”

“Oh dear, oh dear,” the man said.

The cobbler let them in and showed them the shoes and boots he had in the shop. He told them he was a hardworking cobbler but he tailored his shoes to fit the wearers. However, when he quoted them the price of the shoes, it was a fair and average amount.

He had 18 pairs of shoes in the shop but he was loathe to sell them as he considered them cast-off shoes that didn’t fit their wearers. He was willing to sell them to the two though he seemed quite upset about doing so. When Elriya suggested the peasants come to the place to try on the shoes, he said he would, but noted it would take at least several days to make each pair of shoes. The price was the same either way.

“I don’t know how long we’re going to be here,” Tarmak said. “We’ll take what you have.”

“Yes, how long are you going to be here?” Otto Bellinek, the cobbler, asked. “Luskwald is dangerous right now. Haven’t you heard?”

He lowered his voice and spoke more confidentially.

“Hazel Glaghorn is a witch,” he said. “Her ‘House of Spirits’ is precisely that! She is responsible for the evil that plagues Luskwald!”

“Where is she at?” Elriya asked.

He told them she lived up the road to the north, just past the provisions store but on the left side of the road.

* * *

Noiree petted the dogs that morning and thought about hunting though she didn’t have any kind of ranged weapons. She headed out, eventually, to catch up with the others. She saw a few of the villagers out and about. Laird Yanek walked up to her.

“There you are!” he said. “Aren’t you one of the ones who’s going to help us?”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Well what have you found out? Anything?”

“I haven’t. I know other people are out.”

“Well, Ezner Mourne, the glazier, was the first one who died.”

He described where the glazier lived in a long house on the north side of the village.

“The other two were Karn Ironstar and Bryn Bellowforge,” he said.

He noted they lived right across the road from the glazier.

“I don’t know if there’s anything there you might find to aid in your investigation or not …” he said.

He also noted the keep was two miles up the road that led north out of town. He related that he heard Ezekiel Devek and his family had been terrorized the night before by something that was in their house, running around and crying like a baby.

“That’s what I’ve heard,” he said. “It’s terrifying.”

“How much?” Kilb said, stepping from behind a tree to stand next to Noiree.

“What the!?!” Laird Yanek cried out. “Ah! It’s a kobold!”

“He’s okay,” Noiree said.

“Protect me!” Laird Yanek said.

“He’s okay.

“What!?!”

“He’s not that bad.”

“But it’s a kobold! He’s going to murder me!”

“He’s not going to touch you. If he does, I’ll smash him.”

“You know him!?!”

“I’ll smash him.”

“Do you know him?”

“Yeah, kind of.”

“Really?”

“I know of him.”

“Oh … all right.”

“How much will you pay us?” Kilb asked.

“Well … uh … I-I-I … I …we … the village does have some money,” Laird Yanek said, completely flustered. “I’d be willing to pay. I have some garnets. I have a garnet. It’s worth a hundred gold pieces, that I could pay to your party. Is he with those others too, the Halfling and the Tarmar? Tarmark? And that wizard?”

“I don’t know,” Noiree said. “Have you talked to anybody else?”

“No,” he said. “Everyone just seems to have left.”

“We could just go look for them because that’s what I planned to do anyway,” she said.

“I know where the loudmouth is,” Kilb said. “I saw him─”

“Is that what you want?” Laird Yanek said. “One of the garnets. I mean the garnet.”

“Yeah, sure,” Kilb said. “Sounds good.”

“Once you find the thing and stop whatever’s going on, that’s what I’ll pay you,” Laird Yanek said.

“You better,” Kilb said.

“Let’s go look for the others,” Noiree said. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” he called, watching them as they walked away. “You’re welcome.”

They found Blackwood. Kilb pointed to the man.

“That guy’s been sneaking around town,” he said to Noiree.

“Hey, what’re you doing over there?” Noiree called to the man.

Blackwood looked closely at the kobold. He had bronze-colored scales, stood about three and a half feet tall, and had purple eyes. He walked with a spear that was almost twice as tall as he was and wore some dirty, ragged clothing.

“What are you doing with a kobold?” Blackwood said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kilb said.

“Come here,” she said to him.

Blackwood walked over to the two.

“What’ve you found?” she asked. “You seem like you’re looking around.”

When he got close, Kilb noticed the man actually had pointed ears like an elf though he looked more like a man. He thought the man was a half-elf. The high cheekbones and the finer skin also gave it away.

“Elves can’t keep themselves out of anything,” the kobold said under his breath.

Blackwood just barely heard it. Noiree didn’t know what the kobold meant.

“I’m simply looking into the disturbance of the village,” Blackwood said.

They discussed the family that was terrorized. Noiree said the laird had told her about the disturbance at a house. Blackwood noted the carpenter’s family was disturbed.

“Is this … kobold … under your watch?” he asked.

“I don’t watch him,” Noiree said. “But he’s been nothing but friendly to me.”

Kilb just glared at the half-elf.

“That’s good,” Blackwood said, glaring back.

“So, you said you looked at the house,” Noiree said. “Did you see anything? I was just about to go over there with the kobold.”

“I have a name,” Kilb said.

“Hm,” Noiree said. “So?”

“Maybe, but I need to get more information first,” Blackwood said. “What have you learned?”

“Uh …” Noiree said.

“Just what the mayor told us,” Kilb said.

They talked about what they’d learned and shared all of the information they had so far. Kilb noticed most of the strange things had happened on the northern part of the town.

“So, you two are interested in solving this?” Blackwood asked.

They saw Tarmak and Elriya come down the road, their arms filled with shoes as they headed for the inn. Arthelion also walked down the road and walked over to them while the others went to the inn with the shoes.

“We need to check out the houses,” Kilb said. “I need you to come with me so no one attacks me.”

“Kobolds are unusual in human towns,” Blackwood said.

“Yeah,” the kobold replied.

“So, is he the reason this curse is happening?” Arthelion said, looking at Kilb.

“I swear to Norebo …” Kilb cursed.

“How did you get out of the orc caves?”

“After you all left me down there, I was able to find my way out myself.”

“Okay, whatever,” Noiree said. “We’re─”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Arthelion said. “We were just having a conversation.”

“Regardless, we need to talk about what we’re doing right now,” she said. “We need to gather up the other two or … what do we want to do there?”

“Yeah, if they want to, yeah,” Arthelion said. “Is he with us now? What’s going on here?”

He gestured at Blackwood.

“Are you?” Noiree said.

Arthelion looked at the man for the first time and noticed he was a half-elf.

“I’ll meet you back at the Dragon’s Flagon Inn around lunch,” Blackwood said.

“Okay,” Noiree said.

The man strode off.

The other three headed around the south side of town where the road circled around to the north with the intention of going to the house that had been attacked the night before. As they passed the inn, Elriya and Tarmak, who had distributed the shoes to the commoners in their care, came out of the building. They both recognized Kilb. Noiree told them everything they’d learned and what their plan was. The other two joined them and they headed to the house on the north side of town.

When they arrived at the house, Tarmak said he was going to check on something and headed off, leaving the gold with Elriya.

“How do you know about who got terrorized last night?” Arthelion asked.

“The laird told us,” Noiree said.

“You saw the laird? Where is he?”

“I don’t know. He walked off after we talked to him. I mean, I’m holding him as prisoner.”

“You are?”

She laughed at the mage.

They reached the residence where the old horse-drawn cart sat. They talked to the people inside and learned it was the house of Ezekiel Devek, who lived there with his wife Jezebel and their youngest son, Zandor, who was about six or seven years old.

“What’s with these faces cut into these squash?” Kilb asked.

“What?” Devek said. “Is that a kobold?”

After that confusion was cleared up, he told the group they were supposed to ward off evil spirits.

“Well, it didn’t work, huh?” Arthelion said.

“All right, ignore him, please,” Noiree said.

“Well, it might’ve worked,” Elriya said. “They didn’t get eaten.”

“I suppose,” Devek said. “You know, someone or something deliberately sabotaged our effort to rebuild the fallen keep. Whatever dwells there does not like intruders. My oldest son, Voltan, was crushed beneath a collapsed scaffolding while helping to repair the ruined keep. We’ve been mourning his death ever since. For weeks!

“I want to leave this village but I can’t afford to buy horses to pull my cart. To pull this cart here.”

He gestured towards the cart. Then he told them someone was moving around the house and at one point they heard a baby crying the night before. He also said there was a weird noise like a howling coming from the chimney. The horror had terrorized them all night long. He looked very tired. He also asked if they knew where he could buy some horses cheap.

Noiree suggested staying in the house that night to see what happened but Elriya pointed out the attacks had been in different houses every night.

“That is true,” Noiree said.

“It sounds like we need to go to the fallen keep,” Arthelion said.

“That’s where it seems to stem from,” Elriya said. “It is on this side of town.”

“If you stop it, we’d be eternally grateful,” Devek said.

“How much?” Kilb said.

“I can’t even afford horses …” Devek said.

“I mean …” Kilb said.

“Mayor’s pay you,” Noiree said.

“If you have any wagon wheels that need repaired, I’ll fix ‘em for free,” Devek said.

“Clothes are fine,” Kilb said.

“Can you take the peasants with you?” Elriya said.

“Just get the peasants to carry their stuff,” Kilb said. “Just make them a bunch of pack mules.”

“You’re slaves again,” Arthelion said.

“But not to orcs,” Kilb said.

“Stepping up!” Arthelion said.

Just then Elriya remembered she had Kilb’s bow and arrows back at the inn.

“Do we just want to head for the keep then?” Noiree said. “Or do we want to do something tonight?”

“We have to meet our mysterious elf friend at the inn at lunchtime,” Arthelion said. “Also, I want to eat lunch.”

“That doesn’t sound like a bad idea,” Kilb said.

“I still need to go buy clothes for the peasants,” Elriya said.

“I want to talk to your son,” Arthelion said to Devek.

The man allowed him to talk to Zandor. The child was still very scared and told the wizard he’d been terrified all night long, waking often to the sounds of someone moving around the house, a baby crying, and a noise from the chimney. When Arthelion asked the boy if he saw anything, he said he didn’t. He only heard someone move around and scratching noises. The parents couldn’t corroborate that information.

Noiree was confused as to why no one had died in the house.

“Maybe they were just paranoid,” Elriya said.

“Maybe it was the face gourd,” Kilb said.

The house did have a pumpkin. Kilb remembered taking the pumpkin from the house with the half-keg mounted over the door across town the night before.

* * *

Blackwood arrived at the Glazier’s house but found the front and back doors of the long house both locked. He broke down the back door to find himself in a kitchen and living area. Every piece of furniture in the room had been knocked over, pulled down, or smashed to bits. He saw another door towards the front of the house and looked around the room carefully. He found tiny footprints next to a spilled bag of flour. He was unsure if it was a single set of prints moving back and forth or several little people.

The door led to a display room, the floor of which was covered with broken glass. The walls were lined with wooden display shelves, several of which had been knocked over. Only a few glasses and dishes remained unbroken amidst the thousands of shattered pieces. A bloodstain was under one of the fallen shelves. Two other doors led into the house and the front door was in the corner.

He went to the nearest of two doors and found a bedroom. The room’s contents were in utter disarray. Many personal belongings lay scattered on the floor including a spilled pouch of silver coins. Written in blood on the side of the dresser was “GIVHAT MINE KEEP OUT” in a rough script.

The last room was a glassworks. In the corner was a metal stove used for heating and molding glass.

He searched the house thoroughly but found nothing else of interest.

* * *

Arthelion left the house and went across the road to the house with a solid, well-kept porch embellishing the front. The windows had all been shuttered. There, he met Doland Mirklar, a carpenter and roofer lately turned the town’s coffin builder and gravedigger. He lived there with two orphaned apprentices, Angus and Timmel. He told Arthelion he thought the ruined keep was haunted by ghosts of slain goblins.

“Have you ever been to the fallen keep?” Arthelion asked.

“I did,” Mirklar said.

He also noted his two apprentices had worked at the keep before the renovations were abandoned. Angus put his foot through a nail jutting out of the floor and Timmel had a chunk of rock dropped on his head. Arthelion wanted to talk to them and found both boys were frightened and thought the keep was haunted. Timmel thought it a mistake to rebuild it and thought anyone who stepped foot within it was cursed for life.

“Who was the main builder?” Arthelion asked. “Who is the person who decided this was going to be the job?”

“The laird,” Angus told him. “He decided to rebuild it several months ago so the villagers would have a place of safety if the area was invaded by goblins.”

* * *

Elriya want to the mender on the other side of town. Her house stood between Dalagar’s Provisions and the laird’s house. Pounded into the front lawn of the property was a handsomely carved wooden sign with the words “Village Mender—Open All Hours” painted on it. The house was missing a few shingles and shutters.

She met Ylandra Morgyr, an average-looking young woman whom she learned lived alone. She was very skeptical of rumors concerning “evil spirits” and feared the village was beset by a crazed lunatic. She was also not a seamstress but a healer, “mending” people. One of the smaller rooms in the house was used as a hospital, complete with a patient’s bed and a locked medicine cabinet. By mender, they meant healer.

She apologized when she found out Elriya was trying to get clothing, noting people made their own clothing in the town. When Elriya asked where she could get fabric, the woman suggested the traders’ guild. Elriya thanked her and headed across town.

* * *

Noiree and Kilb went over to the workman’s house where the second set of murders had taken place. They found the long house had front and back doors that were both locked. They crept to the back door and Noiree put her shoulder to it. It was solid but she quickly broke it down. She found herself in a large den. A fireplace was on one wall and all the walls were covered with hunting trophies. Scattered across the floor were a deck of cards, silver and copper coins, and other miscellaneous items. Another door led to the interior of the house.

Noiree quickly gathered the silver and copper coins.

“You’re messing up the evidence,” Kilb said.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Noiree said. “You’re not going to get any?”

“No. This is a crime scene.”

“Oh, they’re all mine then. I have no money. I have no shame. This place is dead.”

Typical dwarf, Kilb thought.

She gathered up the coins and pocketed them. Kilb peeked into the interior door while she did so and saw a narrow kitchen. A broken table lay in the center of the room. Various jars and food sacks lay broken and empty on the floor, their contents creating a multicolored carpet. Two doors were on the wall opposite the front door.

Kilb went into the room and opened the door closest to him. A blood-soaked, dwarf-sized bed rested against one wall of the room. Next to the bed lay an overturned wooden chest, its contents scattered across the floor: pieces of leather armor, a torn hunter’s cap, an emptied wineskin, a pair of bearskin gloves, six iron spearheads, and a spilled sack of copper coins. A small table had also been overturned, along with the lantern that once stood upon it. The room smelled of the spilled oil. On the headboard of the bed were words Kilb couldn’t read.

Noiree arrived at the room a few moments later.

“There’s more coins over there if you want them,” Kilb said to the dwarf.

“All right, bud,” she replied.

“Can you read?”

“No.”

They went to the last bedroom. It contained a blood-soaked bed, an overturned trunk, and a bearskin rug. The straw stuffing inside the mattress had been strewn across the floor along with the contents of the trunk: pieces of hide armor, two wooden candlesticks, a pouch, a heavy crossbow, and several broken bolts. Noiree picked up the heavy crossbow. All of the bolts were, unfortunately, broken.

Kilb noticed the straw pulled out of the mattress and wondered why the mattress in the other room hadn’t been damaged.

* * *

Arthelion went to the next house. A rain-filled birdbath stood on the front lawn of the well-tended residence. A sign suspended above the door read “Eregauld’s Pottery & Clayworks.” A clay, candlelit pumpkin peered through every glass pane. He knocked and talked to the village clayworker, Lorna Eregauld, who refused to open the door. She was willing to talk through the door but sounded terrified.

“I want to know why they haven’t killed you yet,” he called.

“Go away!” she cried out. “Leave me alone! No!”

“Did you know the Deveks?”

“Leave me alone! Leave me alone! Go away! Go away!”

“I’ve come here to buy pots!”

“Go away! Just go away!”

He went around to the back door and found it locked as well. When he tried the latch, he hear a noise from inside the house and something hit the back door. The tip of a crossbow bolt protruded out of the door.

“I’m reloading!” the woman within screamed. “Get away from my house!”

“You’re no fun,” Arthelion called.

He left, heading for the inn.

* * *

Elriya was heading for the trader’s hall when she ran into Arthelion going the same way. He did not seem happy to see the Halfling girl.

The walls of the building were in desperate need of paint, yet the structure itself seemed to have weathered the passage of time. Above the main door hung a sign that read “Luskwald Traders’ Guild.” The guild actually consisted of two buildings: the trade-hall and an adjoining stable sealed by a pair of heavy wooden doors.

They found the front door locked and Elriya knocked.

“Who is it?” a man’s voice came from within. “Who’s there?”

“I’m here to trade,” she said. “I need some cloth.”

With a grunt, the man within opened the door. Arthelion abandoned dealing with the Traders’ Guild altogether and went back to the inn.

Elriya met Skaldar Larimil and Vaxalt Larimil, the two traders of the village. Skaldar was a large, friendly man. His brother was heftier and shorter. Skaldar was willing to sell some cheap fabric and for a cost of two gold coins, she was able to get enough to at least give makeshift cloaks to all of the commoners and former slaves.

* * *

When Blackwood got to the other murder house, he found the back door broken open and went inside. He heard a floorboard creak and thought someone was in the house. He put his hands on his weapons.

Both Noiree and Kilb, in the kitchen, heard someone enter the house. They readied their weapons. The two heard footsteps heading towards them. Noiree picked up broken table leg and then asked Kilb where she should throw it. Then she flung it into the next room.

Blackwood saw the table leg land on the ground. He moved to one side so he could see into the doorway. He saw Noiree alone in the kitchen of the house.

“It’s the guy we talked to earlier,” she said.

Kilb peaked out.

“Oh, it’s rogue man,” the kobold said. “Or cloak guy. Whichever sounds better.”

“Cripes man, I was going to hurt you,” Noiree said to Blackwood.

“Yeah,” Kilb said. “With that table leg.”

Blackwood raised his eyebrows.

“Have you found anything?” he asked.

“Yeah … we, well - apparently they were after something, but we don’t know what,” Kilb said. “Because they’ve torn apart the mattress looking for something. I think.”

Blackwood started looking around for footprints in the house but didn’t find any. However, in the bedroom with the torn up mattress he found a candlestick with two very small, bloody handprints.

“Oh! Can you read?” Kilb asked.

He pointed out writing on the headboard.

“Tell us what it says,” Noiree said.

“Please,” Kilb said.

“Please.”

Blackwood looked at the words.

“We’re both very stupid,” Noiree said.

“Speak for yourself, all right?” Kilb said.

The blood spelled out the words “GIVHAT ORKIL.”

“I don’t think whoever wrote this … knows how to write well,” Blackwood said. “‘Give hot or kill?’”

“Wait, what did you say?” Kilb said.

“I think they were trying to say ‘Get out or kill,’” Blackwood said. “‘Give hot or kill?’ I also saw something similar in one of the other houses. It said … ‘Give out mine keep out.’ So …”

“Well, I’m out of ideas,” Noiree said.

“Sounds like the keep … is there a name for that place?”

“I don’t know,” Kilb said.

“Are any of you familiar with these handprints?” Blackwood said.

He showed them the candlestick.

“I’ve seen footprints around town of the same size,” Blackwood said.

They searched the house. The pouch with silver coins falling out proved to have some gemstones in it as well. Kilb realized the blue quartz was worth 20 gold coins and thought the moss agate, though small, exceptionally fine and probably worth about 1,000 gold coins.

“This is pretty good stuff,” Kilb said. “In case anyone’s wondering. At least this is.”

* * * ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1976-Advanced-Dungeons-and-Dragons-2nd-Edition-Redcap-s-Rampage-Session-One-Part-1-Investigation
<![CDATA[Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition: Redcap's Rampage Session One Part 2 - Setting the Trap]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1975-Advanced-Dungeons-and-Dragons-2nd-Edition-Redcap-s-Rampage-Session-One-Part-2-Setting-the-Trap Mon, 24 Oct 2016 02:36:51 GMT * * * Tarmak had been walking for some time. Two miles north of Luskwald lay the ruins of the fallen keep. The ivy-covered... * * *

Tarmak had been walking for some time. Two miles north of Luskwald lay the ruins of the fallen keep. The ivy-covered structure was partially obscured behind the skeletons of dead trees. Both the gatehouse and the keep itself showed signs of collapse, and one of the courtyard walls had completely crumbled. The roof’s tiles had peeled away from the rooftops, leaving plenty of holes for the rain to trickle through.

He went to the front door of the gatehouse and could see light beyond. A muddy path led to an arched entrance in which two wooden doors stood splintered and agape. Although ruined by the ravages of war and time, the doors were still affixed to their rusted iron hinges. Without going any further, he cast a spell to detect evil and felt an evil presence somewhere ahead in the place. It felt worse than the orc evil and he quickly retreated and headed back to town as quickly as possible.

When he got back to the town, he was surprised to see three cats apparently hunting together. They stopped as if they were talking and then continued their hunt. They disappeared around the side of a house and when he went to look for them, they were gone.

* * *

Arthelion returned to the inn, having to knock to be let back in. He hung out at the inn, still trying to train the cat to do a back flip. Elriya soon arrived with a load of cloth that she gave to the commoners who were still in the building hiding from the curse. She had also purchased needle and thread from the merchants in the hopes one of the commoners could sew.

* * *

Kilb looked around the messy room.

“What could they have been looking for?” he pondered.

It was obviously not coin and not the amazing gem he’d found.

“They were looking in different places so it’s obviously something they haven’t found,” Noiree said.

“Why would they look in the mattress?” Kilb said.

“They were really looking for something,” Noiree said.

“Don’t you think some of the neighbors would have heard all of this commotion?” Kilb said.

“I wondered the same thing,” Blackwood said.

“They probably did when it happened,” Noiree said.

“Have you been to the clayworks house?” Blackwood said. “They’re right next to it.”

“Not yet,” Kilb said.

They also found a loosened wall board through which someone tiny would have been able to crawl.

“Someone that big killed these dwarves?” Noiree asked, unbelieving.

“Didn’t you see those handprints?” Kilb asked. “They probably have tiny, little knives.”

“Even a kobold can be dangerous,” Blackwood said, turning and walking out of the house.

“What a sick burn,” Noiree said.

Blackwood went to the glazier’s house, entering the back door. The other two followed him and found him inside doing a more thorough search of that house as well. He showed them the tiny footprints in the spilled flour. Noiree grabbed the silver coins on the floor. There proved to be 112 of them.

“How could something that small move furniture?” Kilb said when he saw the mess in the building.

He also looked into the metal stove in the glassworks room and he found tiny footprints in the ashes. They appeared to Blackwood to be the same size as the prints in the flour. When they looked up the stovepipe chimney there were numerous scratches on the sides of the metal.

They returned to the Devek’s and asked if they had a fire in the fireplace, learning the family did. They discussed how the thing might have gotten into the places and wondered if the chimneys were the way the thing might have entered the house. The dwarves had a fire as well but there was the hole in the wall of their house. They were of the opinion they needed to tell everyone to make sure their fireplaces are lit.

* * *

It was getting close to noon and they all met at the Dragon’s Flagon Inn for lunch. Elriya gave Kilb his bow and arrows. Tarmak was already there. Coryston told them there was leftover stew for lunch and chicken, mashed potatoes, and warm bread for dinner.

“Where were you?” Elriya asked him. “I thought you were going with me to get cloaks.”

“Uh …” he replied.

“Hey, Tarmak,” Arthelion said. “You have any more …”

“Actually, I don’t have the money anymore,” Tarmak said. “I gave it to …”

He pointed to Elriya.

“Because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen at the keep,” he said.

“Oh no!” Arthelion said. “Why are you so tired?”

“I went up to the keep to check thing out,” Tarmak confessed. “And we’re dealing with some sort of evil─”

“Wait, you went to the keep?” Kilb asked.

“There’s something─”

“You’re cursed for life now! At least that’s what I heard.”

“I didn’t go inside. I just went to the door.”

“Oh.”

“Checked it out. There’s something evil in there.”

“Well, we found tiny footprints all over the houses. They’ve got in through holes in the wall and chimneys from what we figured out … hypothesized.”

“You can’t even read and write and you say words like ‘hypothesized,’” Arthelion said.

“He’s very learned,” Tarmak said.

“That’s rude,” Noiree said.

“They didn’t get in that one house last night because they had their chimney lit,” Kilb said.

“But they did get in,” Arthelion said.

“Oh,” Kilb said.

“They didn’t attack or anything,” Noiree said.

“Well, that’s interesting.”

“They didn’t say they got in, they said they heard noises.”

“They heard footsteps inside of the house,” Arthelion said.

“Well, it could have been in the chimney,” she replied. “In the house?”

“The wind,” Kilb said. “It was the wind.”

They discussed what they had learned that day. Tarmak told them about the strange cats.

“Maybe it’s the witch lady,” Elriya said.

“Can anyone talk to animals?” Kilb asked.

“Where did this happen?” Blackwood said.

Tarmak said it was around the Mirklar residence.

“Wait, was this cat acting weird?” Arthelion asked, pointing at Nod, the black cat at the inn who was sleeping on the mantelpiece of the fireplace.

“It wasn’t that cat,” Tarmak said.

“Of course it’s not!” Arthelion said, petting the cat.

“They say there’s a witch that lives in the house across from the laird,” Elriya said.

Blackwood told them about the messages he’d read, relaying what they said. Arthelion spoke several languages and didn’t recognize the words from any of them.

“Maybe there’s a little hat,” Noiree said.

“Give my hat?” Elriya said.

“Give my hat. I love that thing.”

They laughed.

“What were you talking about with the cats?” Arthelion asked Tarmak again. “That sounds like something weird.”

“There were three cats,” Tarmak said. “Looking like they were talking and then they walked around the corner of the house.”

“Maybe we have to sacrifice the cat in the inn,” Noiree said.

They discussed which house, Arthelion noting it had not yet had anything happen to it. He also noted it was in line with the others that had been cursed. He pointed out there were young men at the house who worked at the keep. He thought whatever was seeking the revenge was attacking people who had worked at the keep before.

“That would only make sense,” he said. “We could … if you actually think what the cat’s were doing was really suspicious, we could stake out that house tonight. I’m sure whatever attacks, will attack again tonight.”

“We should probably talk to the house of spirits too, before we do that tonight,” Noiree suggested. “They might know something.”

“What’s the House of Spirits?” Arthelion asked. “I haven’t been there yet.”

“We haven’t either,” Noiree said.

“Well, you know of it.”

“Yes.”

“So what is it?”

“A house of spirits.”

“You know as much as we do,” Kilb said.

Blackwood went over to the cat and petted it as well. It enjoyed that very much. Then he left without a word.

“Bye,” Noiree called.

* * *

Blackwood searched the village and soon found three cats. They seemed organized and acted as if they were looking for something in the town. He approached them and the cats stopped long enough for him to pet them. They loved him and were very friendly, obviously domesticated. He looked around and found they were over by the laird’s house.

He crossed the center of the village and went to the house Arthelion said he had seen them before. There, he met Doland Mirklar, and questioned the man and his two apprentices. He asked if they owned any cats and they said they didn’t. When he asked who the cats belonged to, the man said several people in town owned cats.

* * *

Noiree picked up one of the dogs in the inn and it struggled against her.

“What do you think you’re doing!?!” Coryston asked.

“I’m petting them!” she said.

“Leave Winkin and Blinkin alone.”

“Aw, those are terrible names.”

“That’s their names and they go where they want.”

He looked at the dogs.

“Right?” he said.

The dogs both gave him a nod.

“Holy shit!” Arthelion said. “They’re dwarves in dog suits!”

“Those aren’t dogs!” Noiree said.

“They are dogs,” Coryston said. “They’re good dogs!”

He petted one of the dogs.

“I’m going to the witch’s house,” Elriya said.

“Let’s go to the spirit house,” Noiree said. “I’m going to the spirit house.”

“Yeah!” Elriya said. “Let’s go.”

They all headed for the House of Spirits though Arthelion tarried behind to tell Coryston about the strange behavior of the cats. The dwarf agreed it was strange but he didn’t know much about the other cats in the village. Arthelion asked if they could hire the dog for the quest or if someone in town might loan him their dog for the quest. Coryston wasn’t about to loan his own dogs but noted that Emily Dalcus owned a couple of dogs. He noted they weren’t as good as his dogs. He noted his own dogs protected the inn. They lived there, it was their home, and they’d protect it.

When Arthelion asked how to get there, he gave the wizard instructions, noting she was the village chandler.

* * *

A curious sign hung above the doorway of the modest residence. It read “House of Spirits.” Given the mystique of the eerie little village, they could only imagine what kind of spirits lurked within. They knocked on the door.

“Who is it?” an old woman’s voice called.

“Iunno,” Noiree said.

“Whoozit?” Kilb said.

“Who’s there?” the voice called.

“We’re travelers,” Elriya said.

A moment went by.

“What the hell does that mean?” the voice called. “What are you talking about?”

“We’re from out of town,” Elriya said. “We’re here investigating─”

“Are you the one’s killing everybody? Slitting throats and─”

“No, we just got here.”

“That literally makes no sense,” Noiree said. “What are you talking about?”

“What are you talking about?” the voice called. “What do you want?”

There was a strange rattling, hissing noise from inside the house. A lot of smoke came out of the chimney.

“We just want to ask about what your business is,” Noiree said.

“Okay,” the voice called. “But I can defend myself.”

“Okay,” Kilb said.

“I can too!” Noiree said.

The bolt was drawn back and the door opened. The woman was older, probably in her 40s, with frizzy, fly-away hair and a wacky-looking face.

“Hey, what’s your names?” she asked.

She pointed to Tarmak.

“You, what’s your name?” she asked.

Tarmak just looked at her.

“Just a cleric a Fharlanghn,” he said. “My name doesn’t really matter.”

“I didn’t ask who you are,” the woman said. “What’s your name?”

“Does it matter?” he replied.

She turned to Elriya.

“All right, what’s your name?” she asked.

The Halfling woman just stared at her.

“Oh my Gods!” the old woman cried out.

She slammed the door shut and sent the bolt home.

“Way to be rude, dudes,” Kilb said.

Tarmak cast a spell to detect evil but detected nothing in the area.

“I’m sorry about my comrades,” Noiree called through the door. “My names Deidre.”

“My name’s Kilb!” Kilb called. “I’m not lying.”

Noiree looked at the kobold. They heard the bolt drawn back once again and the door opened.

“I’m Hazel Glaghorn,” the woman said.

She looked at Tarmak once again.

“Who the hell are you?” she asked.

“I’m Tarmak,” he said.

“Arya,” Elriya said.

“Deidre?” Hazel Glaghorn said to Noiree.

“Yes,” the dwarf replied.

“And Kilb,” the old woman said.

“Yep,” he replied.

“Why you have a kobold?” she asked.

“Well, he’s not my pet, but he is my accomplice,” Noiree said.

“I didn’t think he was a pet,” Hazel Glaghorn said. “Why would you call him that?” She looked at Kilb. “Are you with her? Why do you have a dwarf?”

“I’m not his pet either,” Noiree said.

“That remains to be seen,” Hazel Glaghorn said.

“‘Cause everybody … wonders why I’m here,” Kilb said.

“Well, most kobolds are trying to murder us,” Hazel Glaghorn said.

“This guy’s not,” Noiree said.

“All right,” Hazel Glaghorn said.

“Sometimes they’re not,” Kilb said.

“Some - well, you’re not going to murder me, are you?” Hazel Glaghorn said.

“No!” Kilb said.

“Fair enough,” she replied. “I won’t murder you either. What do you want?”

“We want to know what this establishment is,” Noiree said.

“It’s the House of Spirits!” Hazel Glaghorn said.

“What does that mean?”

“I make spirits.”

“You make spirits?” Noiree and Kilb said together.

“Yeah!” Hazel Glaghorn said.

“Can we see?” Noiree said.

The woman looked at all of them.

“All right,” she finally said. “Wait! I’ll give you the tour! But it costs a copper common.”

They all paid a copper coin to the woman, who bit each of them and tucked them away before taking them into the house. They noticed she wore a fine ring on one finger. She led them into the house where they saw a pair of orange cats, snoozing on a rug.

“That’s Rapscallion and that’s Ragamuffin,” she told them. “You-you get out now. You go looking.”

The two cats obeyed, heading out the door, which she closed behind them.

Hazel Glaghorn took them to the back room where the rattling metal and whooshing noise came from. Almost the entire room was filled with a very large still made of steel and copper. She was obviously making alcohol in the back room.

“That better not be the spirits,” Kilb said to Noiree. “I’ll be pissed.”

She showed them the still.

“Yeah, I’m pretty proud of this,” she said. “Hold on. Hold on. Hold on a second. I gotta go in the next room. I’ll be right back.”

She left them for a few moments, returning quickly and looking at them with a mischievous smile.

“What do you need?” she said.

“We’re not talking about ghosts, are we?” Kilb said.

“What? Ghosts? Well I might have heard some things. What’s it worth to you to know?”

“I thought that’s what spirits meant.”

“Spirits are … it’s this.”

She showed off several varieties of wine, numerous kegs of ale and an ample supply of more exotic elixirs.

“What’s it worth to you to know?” she asked again. “I have to run a business, you know.”

“Well, this is not what we expected,” Noiree confessed. “We expected a sort of oracle.”

“Oh! Who says I’m not?”

“Are you?”

“Maybe. I might be a powerful wizardress. You don’t know.”

“Show me magic.”

“Just because I don’t wear a hat - what? Why should I prove myself to you?”

“Why shouldn’t you? I don’t believe you otherwise.”

“How much is it worth to you to know?”

“A copper?”

“Pshaw!”

“A copper?”

“A copper common? For me to waste a spell?”

“You don’t have a spell to waste, do you?”

“I do!”

“What is it?”

“Maybe I’m a powerful wizardress.”

They looked at her.

“What’d your cats go to get?” Kilb suddenly asked.

“Oh, they’re looking,” Hazel Glaghorn said. “I can tell you that for … how much is that worth to you?”

“I don’t have money.”

“I’m poor. I need money.”

“A copper,” Noiree said.

“No,” Hazel Glaghorn said. Then she said conspiratorially to Kilb: “Don’t let her negotiate for you. She’s bad at it.”

“Well, what do you two think about this?” Noiree said to Tarmak and Elriya.

“They’re quiet and rude,” Hazel Glaghorn said to her.

“How about I give you a gold piece and you tell us everything we ask you,” Tarmak said. “Or answer everything we ask you.”

“Hm,” she replied. “How about you give me a gold piece … for every question!”

“Uh-uh, you’re asking too much!” Noiree said. “You ain’t going to get any money! You like money, right? You get one piece, you get something.”

“Maybe a couple silver per question,” Tarmak said.

“There’s not a lot of people who come around here!” Noiree said.

“Three silver per question,” Hazel Glaghorn said, ignoring Noiree.

“Two,” Tarmak said again.

“You already said two! This ain’t no way to negotiate! I came down seven! You’re going to go up … nothing!”

“Two silver and three copper per question.”

She held up three fingers.

“Three silver there … normal-man,” she said. “You’re so very plain-looking. I knew somebody, when I was a kid, looked just like you. I did.”

She cackled.

“Oh, sorry,” she said. “That slips out sometimes.”

“Two silver or we leave,” Noiree said.

“There’s the door,” she said.

“There’s silver all over the floor in the house across the street!” Kilb said. “Just give her the silver!”

Elriya slipped over near the woman.

“What’re you doing, Halfling?” she asked.

She pulled aside her coat and they saw a dagger on her belt.

“Three silver,” she said. Then to Elriya: “And stay away from me. You’re already rude.”

“How do we know you know anything?” Noiree asked. “Give us an answer we haven’t heard before.”

“Because I know things because I’m a powerful wizard,” the old woman said. “I told you this.”

Noiree went to the door, opened it, and walked out.

“Okay, good luck with that,” Hazel Glaghorn called.

Kilb also walked out without a word, intending to track down her cats.

“Well, average-man,” Hazel Glaghorn said to Tarmak. Then she looked at Elriya. “Hey! No! Stay over there. Stay away from me.”

“You’ve got to give us something,” Tarmak said. “I mean we don’t know for sure if you have anything. We don’t want to be cheated out of it. If you would answer the first one for a single silver─”

“What are you?” Hazel Glaghorn said. “A priest?”

“Yes, I’m a priest.”

“Can you tell when things are magic? Why don’t you check on that on me and then you’ll see how magical I am.”

“Hm.”

“Hm?”

She looked at him.

“I know you can afford it,” she finally said. “Don’t act like you can’t.”

Tarmak sighed.

“Trust me, I know things,” she whispered to him.

“You a witch?” he asked.

“I am. I’m a good witch.”

“If you would answer at least the first question for a silver, I’d do three for the rest.”

“Give me a silver.”

He handed over a silver coin.

“Do you know what’s been going on in the village?” he asked. “What’s been attacking people?”

“I have my suspicions,” she said.

“Suspicions?”

“Well, they say that goblins are hiding in the dungeons of the keep and they’re stalking the villagers one by one, until no one in Luskwald remains to stand against them. But that ain’t true! You hear anybody say that, it ain’t true. ‘Cause I seen something.”

“Seen something?”

“Seen something.”

“What exactly?”

“Well, that was your question.”

“Here’s three more.”

“Well, what’s your question?”

“What did you see?”

“Well, I use a magic spell. I can see through the eyes of my cats. With this magic ring, I tell them where to go. And then … I peek inside my neighbors’ houses … because I think it’s funny. By chance, I caught a glimpse of something two nights ago over at the workman’s home. I saw me a sneering leprechaun!”

“Leprechaun?”

“That’s right! I can tell you more.”

He sighed and handed over three more coins.

“He was searching the workman’s house with a knife in his hand,” she said. “Then, all of a sudden, he just disappeared! So I’ve been … oh! But I have a plan.”

She held out her hand with a smile.

“This is the last three and that’s it,” Tarmak muttered, handing over the coins.

“I’m using the cats to scour the village for him,” she said. “Find that little mother … that little …”

She muttered profanities.

“He’s little and he’s wily and he’s mean-looking,” she said. “Ugh!”

“But there’s just the one?” Tarmak asked. “There’s not multiple …?”

“I only saw the one,” she said.

He nodded.

“Now do you believe that I’m a powerful wizard?” she said. “You go tell your dwarf Noiree friend that she’s full of shit!”

“Thank you for your help and I apologize for my previous rudeness,” Tarmak said. “Ma’am.”

“That’s all right,” she said.

He left the place though she tried to get him to buy some wine.

Noiree waited for the two of them outside and asked what the old woman had said. They conferred to her what they’d learned.

* * *

Arthelion, meanwhile, had gone to the Dalcus residence on the south side of the village. The sound of barking dogs—large ones—echoed from the residence. A candlelit pumpkin lit every window of the house.

“Who’s there?” a woman’s voice answered his knock.

“Uh, I was told to come here by the innkeeper to inquire about … hiring a dog,” he said.

“They’re not for hire!”

“I really need one.”

“Nope! I’m not letting ‘em go!”

“How many do you have, ma’am?”

“I have two! You can’t have ‘em!”

“They would be returned to you. I just need one.”

“Then I’ll be killed in my sleep!”

“You’re not going to be killed in your sleep.”

“The curse will kill me!

“Uh─”

“It’s gonna slit my throat!”

“Ma’am, I know─”

“Pull my tongue right out that hole!”

“I─”

“I know how it happens.”

“I know how to end the curse! I just need a dog!”

“No! No no no. No dogs.”

“Then I can’t end the curse.”

“You can’t have my dogs.”

“All right, I didn’t want to tell you this but it’s coming to your house tonight.”

“What?”

“It’s coming to your house tonight.”

“You’re just trying to get me to give you my dogs!”

“I just need one dog.”

“No, you can’t have ‘em.”

“All right, well, rest in peace. What kind of wood do you want for your coffin? I’ll go tell the guy.”

“I want it make out of … teak.”

“Well─”

“You can pay for it!”

“Well, that’s the one wood I’m not going to get, so …”

“Get away from door, you rapscallion.”

“Your candles suck. Everyone says it behind your back.”

“You get out of here, you bully!”

* * *

Kilb was finding none of the village cats and it suddenly struck him that there was no gold in the houses of the deceased, just silver and copper. Leprechauns loved gold! He thought it terribly important.

* * *

Blackwood found Tarmak, Elriya, and Noiree and they told him about the wizardress Hazel Glaghorn and her need for money. Tarmak noted the houses that were attacked didn’t have either a cat or a dog. Then Kilb ran up to them.

“Guys!” he cried out. “Gold!”

“What do you mean?” Noiree said.

“Let’s set a trap with gold!” he said. “All of the houses were turned inside out but the only thing we didn’t find in the houses was gold pieces.”

“I have no gold,” Noiree said. “Who has gold?”

“I don’t either!” Kilb said.

“Setting a trap inside the inn probably wouldn’t work because there’s a cat and a couple of dogs there,” Tarmak said.

“So, we should all wear green,” Kilb said.

“I think we should talk to the mayor to see if they took anything from the keep when they rebuilt it,” Blackwood said.

Kilb mentioned the jack-o-lanterns and Noiree noted they weren’t really working. They all went to the laird’s house.

* * *

Arthelion got back to the Dragon’s Flagon Inn and asked Coryston about other dogs in town. The dwarf didn’t think there were. He decided to go to the laird’s house. On the way, he saw three cats walking in a wide line, keeping the same distance between them and sweeping back and forth as if they were looking for something in formation.

He cast a spell to detect magic and got magic on the cats. Concentrating, he figured out it was a charming or enchanting magical spell on the animals and one of them had a divinatory magic upon it.

He sprinted to the laird’s house and found Blackwood, Elriya, Kilb, and Noiree at the front door. They had just knocked and Laird Yanek opened the door to see the five of them.

“Oh!” he said, surprised. “Thank goodness. Come in! Come in!”

“Guys, someone’s using magic to control the cats!” Arthelion said.

“Yes,” Kilb said.

“We know,” Blackwood said.

“It’s the old lady at the spirits place,” Kilb said.

“What!?!” the laird said.

“Good job everyone,” Arthelion said without skipping a beat.

“Well get in,” Laird Yanek said. “Get in. Quick quick quick!”

He let them in and bolted the door behind them. They found themselves in a fine parlor with a fully stocked cedar wine cabinet, a pair of leather armchairs, a cushioned sofa, a wooden coat rack near the front door, and a pile of wood by the wide fireplace. A portrait of Laird Yanek was over the mantle and three other doors led off the room.

“What do you need?” he asked them. “What do you need? Is everyone all right?”

“We need to know what you took from the keep when you were working on it,” Blackwood said.

“Yeah,” Arthelion said.

“Nothing, Laird Yanek said. “Nothing’s been taken from the keep. There was nothing there. The place was trashed. We sent stone and wood and stuff out there to make … to do repairs but we didn’t finish. Some of the stuff got left behind when people were scared off from the terrible place. Have you found anything? Do you know what’s doing these terrible deeds?”

“I’ve figured out that dogs are really important,” Arthelion said.

“Dogs?”

“Houses that have animals will not be attacked.”

“Oh.”

“And it also seems to attack businessmen or people with money,” Blackwood said.

The laird looked nervous.

“I’m poor,” he said.

“Specifically─” Blackwood started.

“Bullshit!” Arthelion said.

“You’re the mayor!” Kilb said.

“You have a garnet!” Arthelion said.

“Well, that’s to pay you,” Laird Yanek said.

“How did you know about the garnet?” Kilb said. “I didn’t tell anybody.”

“I overheard it,” Arthelion said.

“According to Hazel Glaghorn, it’s a leprechaun,” Blackwood said. “And your kobold friend thinks he’s only getting gold from the houses.”

“Can we suggest to tell the villagers to put all their gold into a pile and put it at the keep and see if─” Noiree said.

Arthelion burst out laughing at that suggestion.

“I don’t think they’re going to give up their gold,” Laird Yanek said. “They don’t have much. We’re very poor.”

“I have a little,” Blackwood said.

“I mean, it’s a tiny town.”

“I can donate.”

“It would be the dwarf to suggest they pool their gold,” Arthelion said.

“Well, do they like living?” Noiree asked.

“I have convinced the candle lady that she will die tonight,” Arthelion said. “So if you could just reiterate that story─”

“What?” Laird Yanek said. “Emily Dalcus is going to die tonight?”

“That’s what I heard.”

“Where did you hear that?”

“Hey, rumors spread, alright? Just tell her, if you see her, to give us her dogs.”

“What?”

“Do we want to have a town meet?” Noiree said.

“Well, hold on just a second,” Arthelion said. “Where did this leprechaun stuff come from? ‘Cause this is the first I’ve heard of leprechauns. Why do you think it’s leprechauns?”

“Spirit lady,” Kilb said.

“She … looks through her cats,” Blackwood said.

“Oh, the cat lady,” Arthelion said. “All right, well, she’s definitely got some magic so I trust anything she does. Magical people know everything.”

They all looked at him.

“All right,” Noiree said. “All right, bud.”

“Why don’t we turn in our silver for gold?” Blackwood said. “Make a trap and have the woodworker make a cage or a trap that we could put it on and trap the thing?”

“But it disappears,” Noiree said. “Unless we have some kind of magical enchantment.”

“Maybe it just turns invisible,” Blackwood said.

“We could just kill it,” Kilb said.

“I think maybe the leprechauns might suspect a trap,” Arthelion said. “Maybe we should be inside of a house with a lot of gold and plant a trap. And also, maybe not all of us be in that house. Because I have noticed, from what I’ve seen, it seems like the leprechauns are attacking houses that have very few people, whereas this lady’s house, which should have been next in line, she has so many kids, that I think the leprechauns might have found it difficult to attack.”

“I found that weird too,” Noiree said.

Arthelion suggested putting the trap in one of the houses where people had already died. Elriya wondered if they would attack the same house twice. Noiree was also unsure about that and suggested having the Devek family go to the inn for the night and using their house. Arthelion suggested they might have better luck at the Mirklar house as he had boys there that worked at the keep. He felt if the leprechauns were connected to the keep at all, they would target that house because people there went to the keep.

“Are you a hundred percent sure that nobody took anything from the keep?” he asked the laird.

“Well, no,” Laird Yanek said. “I guess somebody could have picked something up, but I don’t think so.”

“You never heard mention of it?”

“There was nothing there. The place was ruins.”

“Who else worked with the now-deceased?” Blackwood asked.

“What?” Laird Yanek said.

“The people that were killed. Did everyone work at the keep that were killed?”

“I hired out-of-town stonemasons as we didn’t have any. But the remaining crew were all Luskwaldians. There was Hans Bellinek, Gustav and Justin Orlesky, Erne and Homme Shyndle, Karn Ironstar and Bryne Bellowforge, Ezekiel Devek, and Donald Mirklar and his two apprentices.”

They recognized Bellinek as the same name as the cobbler. They also recognized the dwarf names and remembered meeting Devek, as his house had been terrified the night before, and Mirklar.

“I think we should talk to the carpenter,” Blackwood said.

“I second that notion,” Arthelion said.

They returned to the Devek residence, Blackwood telling Arthelion on the way that Devek wanted to leave the town. He suspected Devek might be trying to get out of town because he had money. They found the people there still unnerved, afraid it was going to happen again that night. When Blackwood asked if they’d taken anything from the keep, the man said neither he nor anyone had taken anything from the place. There wasn’t anything there. He corroborated the laird’s tale that the place was a wreck but nothing had been brought back to the village. When Blackwood asked if the man had any gold, he said he only had a few silver coins. He didn’t even have anything made of gold in his house. Like the rest of the villagers, he was very poor.

“That’s why they didn’t kill him,” Kilb guessed.

“That might be why,” Elriya said.

Arthelion suggested going to the Mirklar house again, avoiding the house of the clayworker whom he knew was armed and dangerous. They questioned Doland Mirklar, who had worked at the keep, but he denied bringing anything back to the village. He reiterated how the apprentices had been injured at the place as well. Mirklar wanted to end the horrible events in the village.

“Oh, you want to end it?” Arthelion asked. “But business is booming right now, isn’t it?”

“People are dying!” Mirklar said.

“Yeah, that’s good for business.”

“My friends are dying. No, it’s not.”

“Pfft.”

“That’s terrible! What kind of person are you?”

“Aren’t you making money?”

“I’m making coffins! I’ve been making a lot of coffins lately!”

“So, people’ve been paying for these coffins, correct?”

“The laird’s going to pay me eventually.”

“Is he going to pay you in gold?”

“What? It doesn’t cost that much.”

“Do you have any gold?”

“No, I don’t have any gold. Who are you?”

“Do you really have no gold? For real?”

“No, I don’t have any gold.”

“Well, okay.”

“We’re not rich city people like you folks.”

“Don’t be spreading rumors or nothing but, if you have gold, you have a higher chance of being attacked.”

“What?”

“That’s just between me and you.”

“What makes you say this? What?”

“Listen, man, I’m just trying to help you out. Also, Emily Dalcus told me to tell you she’s going to need a coffin sometime soon.”

“What?”

“She says she’s got a tab. Just put it on her tab. She’s expecting to die very soon.”

“She doesn’t have a tab! Why does she expect to die?”

“That’s just what’s going around town, man, I don’t know what to tell you. That’s who we’re expecting.”

“What?”

“You see anybody, you say ‘Emily Dalcus dies tonight.’ All right? That’s what you tell ‘em.”

“No!”

“She said she wants her coffin made out of the shittiest driftwood you got.”

“We don’t have driftwood. There’s not even a river here.”

“Listen─”

“Why would she say that?”

“It’s her last request. Can you just find some driftwood?”

“There’s not driftwood anywhere within 50 miles.”

“Take all your payments in silver and copper. That’s my last word to you.”

“What?”

“Right? Peace out, man.”

“Where are you going? What’s going on?”

They left the very confused man.

“Okay, so he doesn’t have gold,” Arthelion said.

“Don’t you have gold?” Blackwood asked Tarmak. “You’ve been paying for everybody’s meals with gold.”

“Yes,” Tarmak said. “We going to use that for the trap? But how are we setting this trap.”

They discussed setting a trap but no one knew how to set snares. They didn’t know of any trappers or hunters in the village though they suspected the two dead dwarves possibly were. They approached Devek and Mirklar about making some kind of trap and both agreed to help, though it would take some time to make a little cage. Blackwood suggested some kind of trapdoor. He also suggested they talk to Hazel Glaghorn to see what she might know about leprechauns and their weaknesses.

“Somebody else can go back there,” Tarmak said. “I’m not going back there.”

“I’ll go back there,” Blackwood said.

He returned to the House of Spirits and talked to Hazel Glaghorn.

“Oh, I know a few things,” she said.

“How much does this cost?” he asked.

“Five silver … 10 silver pieces.”

“Total?”

“Sure!”

“How about seven silver and five copper?”

“Is that all you got, honey?”

“No.”

“Well, then, no!”

“Fine.”

“Nine! Nine silver.”

He paid the woman, who didn’t know much. She’d never heard of leprechauns attacking people as they weren’t evil. She said they were merely mischievous and usually didn’t murder people. She described the thing she’d seen to him. It had long hair, no hat, and an evil-looking face. When he asked how she knew he was a leprechaun, she said he was tiny, no more than a couple feet tall. When he asked if there was anything else that could fit that description, she said there was nothing that she knew of. She thought it was an evil leprechaun. He didn’t think that made any sense, nor did she. That’s why she was trying to get the cats to find it and kill it.

“Are leprechauns attracted to gold?” he asked.

“Leprechauns have gold,” she said. “They don’t like when you steal their gold.”

She fixed her hair.

“But they’re not naturally drawn to it?” he asked.

“No, they can’t detect gold or anything like that,” she said.

“Yeah.”

“If they see, it like anyone else …”

“That’s weird.”

He returned to the others and relayed the information to them. Elriya was of the opinion they should just go to the keep.

“I feel like, if we waste another night, they’ll attack someone,” she said. “So, we should just go to the keep and find them.”

“That or we could always try the gold trap, if it’s drawn by gold, whatever it is, even if it isn’t a leprechaun, it might come after it,” Blackwood said.

“Maybe it’s best not to go to the keep at night,” Tarmak said.

“What if we go there and we’re there over the course of the night?” Blackwood said. “Somebody could still be killed in town here if it’s not at the keep.”

“I think the trap idea and the keep tomorrow is what I’d do,” Arthelion said.

They agreed to that and made plans to set a trap for the horrible little creature. Arthelion thought they should switch places with people and letting them stay at the inn. Blackwood suggested using a house with the chimney but not lighting it, setting up the trap at the bottom of the chimney. Arthelion noted they should remove all the jack-o-lanterns from the house as well.

Then they tried to figure out which house.

“Who have you not talked to?” Blackwood asked Arthelion.

“I think we should just put the gold out in the open,” Kilb noted. “We don’t have to put it in a house.”

“I think that’s too suspicious,” Arthelion said. “I wouldn’t fall for that.”

“Who leaves gold out on the front porch?” Tarmak said.

Arthelion was of the opinion they should talk to Doland Mirklar and try to use that house.

“I did talk to this guy, but I didn’t say anything mean to him,” Arthelion pointed out. “I just told him that candle lady’s going to die.”

Blackwood wondered about flues in the chimneys. He suggested waiting in the house without having a fire but tying a rope to the handle of the flue. If something dropped down, they could pull the flue shut so it couldn’t climb back up. Tarmak pointed out the thing only attacked houses with a few people, and perhaps only half the party should be in the house. Though Blackwood and Elriya suggested hiding, he noted they shouldn’t be too close.

Mirklar was willing to go to the inn though he suggested they might should talk to Emily Dalcus as she was apparently supposed to die that night.

“We’re trying to prevent that,” Arthelion said.

“How is staying here preventing her from dying?” Mirklar asked.

“It’s too complex. You have to understand.”

In the end, he allowed them to stay in his house and they paid for him to stay the night in the inn.

The house was long and had a layout that was similar to both the glazier’s house and the house the dwarves had lived in. There was a large room that served as both a living area and a work area. There was a narrow kitchen and two bedrooms, one for Mirklar and one for his apprentices, which also served as a storage room. Arthelion asked how much gold they had. Blackwood noted he had five gold coins. Tarmak said they had 103 gold pieces. Blackwood suggested they use about half of the gold.

“Yeah, just in case this goes wrong,” Arthelion said.

They could picture the terrible creature grabbing the gold, yelling “Thanks,” and disappearing.

They tied a rope on the flue and figured it would be easy enough to pull it shut if the thing showed up. They made sure all the jack-o-lanterns were gone and stomped out the fire. It started to get chilly very quickly. Arthelion looked for any other ways to get into the house but found nothing out of the ordinary. Blackwood got sticks to jam the windows shut and they made sure to bolt all the shutters as well.

In the late afternoon, there was a knock at the door. Arthelion peeked out the window and saw Coryston, the dwarven innkeeper, was there.

“He wants his money,” Arthelion said.

They opened the door.

“I found a burrow or something in the stable,” the dwarf told them. “Whatever that thing is, I think it tried to get in the inn by digging underneath.”

“Huh,” Blackwood said. “We’ll check it out.”

“I’ll show it to you,” Coryston said.

“Okay,” Blackwood said.

The dwarf led Tarmak and Blackwood to the stable on the inn and they found a hole dug from outside the stable into one of the stalls. The hole had been covered by leaves outside and hay inside. Blackwood looked around and found kobold prints everywhere, inside and out.

“Penelope came in here to clean up and noticed all this hay,” Coryston said. “She looked under it and she found a hole and I looked outside and found a pile of leaves where somebody had covered it up. This is very suspicious. Is that thing … what is it?”

“This is just … a groundhog,” Blackwood lied. “Probably trying to stay warm.”

“That’s a giant groundhog!”

“Maybe … maybe a wolverine. But … you should be fine. I don’t think it’s what is causing the stuff around town.”

“Can I close it up?”

“Uh-huh.”

The dwarf got a shovel to fill the hole back in. While he worked, Blackwood leaned over to Tarmak.

“That’s your kobold friend,” he whispered.

“Oh,” Tarmak said.

They returned to the house and continued preparing it for a trap. They had gotten a key from Mirklar. Blackwood got some of the spilled flower from the glazier’s house and spread it out on the floor around the small pile of gold coins. Arthelion suggested three should stay in the house while the rest were outside. Blackwood didn’t think the things could actually detect how many people were present. He was of the opinion some people could hide in the bedrooms while others hid in the main room. Arthelion agreed to that so long as the ones hiding were good at it. Blackwood also suggested putting sheets or blankets over some of the furniture to aid in the hiding.

In the end, Blackwood, Elriya, and Kilb would hide in the main room with the gold while the others hid in the two bedrooms. Elriya had her whistle ready. Noiree actually lay down in the bed in Mirklar’s room and quickly fell asleep. In the apprentice’s room, Arthelion and Tarmak lay in the beds but managed to stay awake.

In the wee hours of the night Arthelion, laying under the blankets in the comfortable bed and trying to stay awake, and Elriya, huddled in the cold living room holding the rope to pull the flue shut, each heard yelling and screaming coming from somewhere in the village. It didn’t sound very far away and seemed to be somewhere behind the house.

Elriya blew the whistle loudly.

* * *

In her room, Noiree immediately woke up when the whistle was blown.

* * *

“What are you doing?” Blackwood hissed at Elriya.

“I hear yelling,” she said. “It’s over that way.”

She pointed to the back wall of the house.

“Lead the way!” Blackwood said. “Go!”

They heard a door flung open somewhere in the house and footsteps run to the back door. Arthelion struggled to get the door open. He crashed his shoulder into the door but slipped and fell to the floor.

“Who’s got the key?” he cried.

Blackwood had the key.

Elriya ran to the back door and found Arthelion on the floor. She shook her head as Blackwood and Kilb ran into the kitchen. Tarmak ran by them, heading for the living room to scoop up the gold. Noiree burst out of the room she’d been sleeping in.

“What happened?” Blackwood asked Arthelion as he unlocked and unbolted the back door.

“I heard screams behind the house,” Arthelion said, getting up. “It’s somebody over there.”

“All right, let’s go!” Blackwood said, flinging the door open.

They ran from the house under the leafless trees of the village. Luna was waxing and nearly full in the sky above, giving plenty of light. Celene, waning from her fullness of nearly two weeks before, was closer to the horizon, glowing bluely in the distance. Ahead of them, yelling and crashing noises came from the house of the village mender: Ylandra Morgyr.

Open all hours, Blackwood thought.

“Bust the door down!” Kilb called to Noiree.

Arthelion ran by the outhouse behind the house and found the back door. It was closed and locked as was the entire house. Screams and sounds of breaking things were coming from inside. He tried to peek into the window. Kilb was next to reach the door and found it locked. He got out of the way.

“Bust it down!” he said to Noiree again.

A childlike scream came from inside the building.

Noiree and Blackwood crashed into the door and it flew open under their combined strength. The sounds of a struggle continued in the house, as well as a child screaming and a woman shouting “Get out! Get out of this place you evil thing!”

“We’re here to save you!” Arthelion cried out.

He ran into the house and found himself in a darkened kitchen with a door in the opposite wall. He stumbled to the door and flung it open. In the dim light of the coals from a fireplace, he saw Ylandra Morgyr standing in the middle of the room with a mace in her hand. She swung it around herself wildly. He smelled blood and saw the glitter of broken glass on the floor. She screamed for “this devil” to get out.

“Who wants this gold!?!” he cried out.

Blackwood ran through the kitchen, dagger and long sword drawn. With his infravision, he could clearly see the main room of the mender’s house. Nothing else was in the room except for Morgyr. He saw blood on her arm. He saw no footprints on the floor. He moved towards her, looking for her attacker.

Elriya ran into the room and stood by Arthelion, looking around the room.

“We’re here!” she called out. “What’s going on?”

Kilb also ran into the room. He moved to the other door to the room and flung it open. It proved to be a hospital complete with bed and locked medicine cabinet. Unlike the other room, nothing was damaged in the place.

Morgyr swung wildly, backing up until she bumped into the fireplace.

Noiree ran into the room and then rushed by Kilb and into the hospital room where she made her way to the window and flung open the shutters.

“It’s here!” Morgyr cried. “It’s here! I can’t see it but it’s here!”

Elriya looked around and spotted a fallen candle in the corner.

“Does anybody see anything?” Kilb cried out. “I don’t see it!”

He had his bow ready but had no target. Arthelion chanted and waved his arms as he cast a spell to detect magic. He saw that Morgyr had a magical scroll tucked under her clothing but didn’t see anything else. He realized if the thing was invisible, such a spell wouldn’t allow him to detect it.

Noiree, in the next room, got scared from the chanting in the next room. She stopped what she was doing and looked around the hospital room. An unlit candle was on a stool. She didn’t see anything strange in the room. She didn’t have anything to light the candle.

“There’s a candle in here!” she called out.

In the other room, Blackwood dropped his dagger, which was tied to his wrist by a leather strap, took out a bit of foxfire, and started chanting. Elriya ran to the far corner of the room where the fallen candle lay, taking out her flint and steel and grabbing up the candle. Then the spell went off. A strange, greenish fire seemed to outline Morgyr. There was no sign of the invisible thing in the room. Then a cut appeared on Morgyr’s shoulder and she let out a cry.

A strange, high-pitched giggling laughter resonated through the room.

“Keep the doors blocked!” Kilb yelled, standing in the doorway to the hospital.

Blackwood started chanting again.

In the next room, Noiree closed the shutters and bolted them again. Then she ran to the doorway where Kilb stood.

Blackwood’s spell went off and suddenly a tiny, two-foot-tall figure appeared, running at him. The green flames outlined his figure, showing his horrible little face and the tiny pikestaff in his hand. He appeared to be a gnarled old brownie with sharp, protruding teeth, long and tangled hair, and wide eyes. He had a tiny knife on his belt. Most of them could even seen a ring on his finger. Arthelion saw that the ring on his finger and a long stick or wand tucked into his belt were both magical.

“Get ‘em!” Blackwood called out.

“There he is!” Arthelion called out. “His ring and his wand are magical! Watch out!”

In the corner, Elriya lit the candle with her flint and steel. The horrible little creature cried out like a stuck pig.

* * *

Tarmak reached the back door of the house just as he heard someone yelled “Get ‘em!” He stopped and looked for some stones outside of the house but couldn’t find any. He headed into the house and stood near Arthelion.

“What is it!?!” Morgyr cried out.

The tiny, green-glowing man ran to the fireplace, jumped over the coals, and scuttled up the chimney and out of sight. He was terrifyingly fast. They heard him crawling up the chimney and saw bits and pieces of creosote fall down. A ghastly howl came from the fireplace.

“I’ll go try to head him off!” Kilb yelled.

He ran out of the room and out the back door of the house. He moved along the side of the structure.

Inside, Tarmak ran to the fireplace and flung a few logs onto the hot coals. They immediately started to smoke. Arthelion ran out of the room, also exiting the back of the house. He saw Kilb off to his right and so went around the left side of the house, moving away from the building until he could see the chimney. A green glow came from within.

“He’s still in the chimney!” he cried.

Inside, Elriya went to the front door and found it locked and bolted. She pulled the bolt back and then took out her picks and tools and got to work on the lock. She unlocked it and pulled it open.

Outside, Arthelion saw the horrible little creature pop out of the chimney and onto the roof. The thing seemed to look around and tried to wipe off the green-glowing flames. Then it headed towards the opposite end of the house, closer to them.

“He’s out the chimney!” Arthelion cried out.

Blackwood ran out of the front door and saw the horrible little creature on the roof.

“I’m following him!” he yelled.

He ran along the side of the house, trying to keep up with the horrible little thing. The little thing ran all the way to the far end of the roof, squealing like a pig and still trying to wipe the flames off himself. Blackwood found himself near Arthelion.

Noiree ran out the back door and looked around, running around the left side of the house. Also in the back, Kilb moved away from the house and spotted the thing on the roof. He pulled his arrow to his cheek and shot at the horrible thing. His arrow just missed it.

Inside the house, Tarmak and Elriya watched Morgyr cast a healing spell on herself

The horror on the roof leapt down to the ground, stumbling but not falling. It ran towards the road, heading towards the house there which had a pumpkin patch growing on one side. The terrible little man continued making a awful squealing noise.

Blackwood started to cast another spell, chanting and touching his holy symbol. The little monster let out another squeal. Then Tarmak burst out of the house and ran after the terrible little thing, curving around and ending up in front of it, staff in hand. He jingled when he ran. Elriya ran after him but couldn’t match his speed, lit candle in hand. Noiree came around the other side of the house and rushed after the thing as well, crashing through the night. Arthelion also rushed after the thing, striking the horrible little creature with his staff. It shrieked in pain and Arthelion noticed, when it opened its mouth, the green flames outlining its every feature, it didn’t have a tongue.

“Give me the gold,” Arthelion said to it.

Blackwood stopped chanting and the grass, leaves, trees, and every plant in a huge area that surrounded the horrible thing, Arthelion, and Tarmak, came to life. The trees reached down to grab at them. The grass and bushes reached towards them. Leaves billowed up to obscure their vision. It was as if the plants in the area were all trying to kill everything within. The vines, trees, bushes, and grass grabbed Tarmak and the horrible, glowing thing. The plants thrashed around Arthelion.

Just then, Kilb came around the side of the house and spotted the strange overgrowth going crazy. The little, glowing creature shrieked and screamed as the grass grabbed him and held him in place. Kilb moved towards the area without entering it.

“Hit him at a distance if you can!” Blackwood yelled.

“Are we trying to kill him?” Kilb called.

“It doesn’t seem like he can talk!” Noiree said.

“He’s killing things at will!” Blackwood said.

Arthelion quickly moved out of the horrible area. He readied his quarterstaff. Blackwood dropped his weapons and drew his bow, getting out an arrow. Noiree, having no ranged weapons, stayed ready with her axe. Kilb moved to a better position and pulled an arrow to his cheek. The horrible thing in the entangling growth screamed, shrieked, made strange noises, and cried like a baby. Then Kilb shot the horrible thing in the left leg and it squealed. Blackwood fired too quickly as he was still aiming, missing completely, the arrow striking Noiree in the right leg in his haste. Blackwood’s mouth was an “o” of surprise.

Elriya moved closer to the horrible little creature and fired a sling bullet but missed the creature completely. Blackwood ran to Noiree and looked at her wound but decided to wait until he had a healing spell before he tried to remove the arrow. He looked up at her, embarrassed.

“Sorry about that,” he muttered.

She frowned and shoved him over.

“Aw man, that must have hurt bud,” she said.

Tears came from the dwarf woman’s eyes.

Arthelion took out a piece of beef jerky and sat down to watch.

Kilb pulled and arrow back and fired at the glowing little man just as the fairy fire started to fade away. It lasted long enough for them to see the arrow go through the horrible thing’s abdomen, coming right out the other side. The thing shrieked one last time as there was a gush of blood. The fairy fire went out as the thing disappeared. Then it exploded like a firecracker and vanished. Through the magic glow of the vines, Arthelion could see the ring and the wand had survived the blast and still glowed in the light of his spell. He concentrated and found the wands was some kind of divination magic and the ring was some kind of conjuration magic. He guessed it was some kind of protective ring.

The arrow had been grabbed by several vines and grasses and hung there, dripping blood.

They heard the front door of the mender’s house slam shut.

“You’re welcome,” Kilb called.

Several minutes passed while they waited for the spell to dissipate and the vines to disappear. Once that occurred, they found a few shreds of cloth, the scorched wand and ring, a tiny knife, a tiny pikestaff, two small, iron boots, and a single split tooth. Tarmak was happy that the entangling ended. The priest cast a spell to detect evil and found residual evil about the tooth and the boots. Arthelion grabbed the wand and the ring as well as the tooth, hoping there might be a spell that needed a leprechaun tooth. Kilb grabbed the tiny knife.

Tarmak examined Noiree and removed the arrow, patched up the wound, and then cast a magical healing spell upon the dwarf woman. Blackwood yelled through the Morgyr’s door they had destroyed the thing

They returned to the house where they’d been spending the night, closing up the doors again and, this time, lit a large fire in the fireplace.

Arthelion took the tooth to the laird’s house and knocked on the door.

“Come look at this!” he called.

“Go away!” Laird Yanek called from within, probably from under his bed.

“Come look at this!”

“Go away!”

He wouldn’t come out so the wizard returned to the house and settled in with the rest of them.

* * *

In the early morning hours, Blackwood crept into Noiree’s room and quietly cast a healing spell upon her, completely healing her. He crept out of the house and left the village.

* * *

The 10th of Fireseek, 592 Common Year, was greeted with a thunderstorm that lasted from 5 a.m. until about 8 a.m. It was cold enough that the thunder and lightning was accompanied by snow instead of rain and it dropped about seven inches of snow on the ground before it broke up into overcast and cloudy skies. It warmed up after that and most of the snow melted.

They talked to the laird and told him what they had dealt with the night before. He seemed quite relieved.

“I said I’d paid you what?” Laird Yanek said. “Ten gold?”

“No, a bunch of garnets!” Arthelion said. “All your garnets!”

“I think I promised a garnet …”

“All your garnets! There’s probably more of these.”

“Then I’m not paying you until they’re gone.”

“Just kidding. There’s not.”

“Uh-huh.”

He ended up paying them two garnets, telling them they were worth 100 gold coins each. He handed them to Kilb and Arthelion though the rest saw them take the stones.

Ylandra Morgyr found the party that day as well to thank them. As she approached them, Arthelion asked her for a reward.

“No, you get nothing,” the woman said to him.

“Oh,” he said. “Man, being an adventurer is hard. They don’t even pay you.”

“Being a jerk is easy though, isn’t it?” she said.

“Yeah,” he said. “Bring it. You would have died.”

“I want to reward you all,” she said. “I don’t have much I can give you.”

She was, however, willing to give all the rest of them a healing salve that was not magical but would heal them. She gave each of them one, even Arthelion.

“Here,” she said to the mage. “You can have one too, I suppose. Perhaps you should work on your manners. Just because you’re a wizard doesn’t mean you have to be jerk.”

“That’s what I’m talking about!” he said.

Hazel Glaghorn found them and wanted to see the thing. She was disappointed when they told her it had exploded but, when they described it to her, she recognized it as the thing she had seen before.

“That’s the one,” she said. “Why was it here though? Why was it here? Oh well.”

She left them.

They had not found any gold on the thing. They were still unsure why it was in the village.

Laird Yanek, once he learned of the terrible thing and it’s power, asked if the thing was going to come back as Tarmak told him about detecting evil at the keep.

“I don’t know,” Tarmak said.

“Could it?” Laird Yanek said. He turned to Arthelion. “You’re a wizard. Could stuff from the keep come to the town.”

“No, you’re safe,” Arthelion said.

“Okay,” Laird Yanek said. “Because I might pay you some more money if it poses a danger to the town if you clear it out.”

“Well, when it happens it happens,” Arthelion said.

“Okay,” Laird Yanek said uncertainly.

He walked away.

“Wait wait wait!” Tarmak said. “We’ll clear it out.”

“Really?” Laird Yanek said.

“Yes.”

“I can give you … another garnet if you clear it out.”

“Yo, what, you got a garnet mine somewhere?” Arthelion said. “What’s going on?”

“I just came into a few,” Laird Yanek said.

“A few?”

“Three.”

“Oh.”

“I’ll give you my last one.”

“I’ll accept that,” Tarmak said.

“Once it’s cleared out, let me know,” Laird Yanek said. “You’ve done a great job. Thank you so much adventurers. You’ve saved our village!” ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1975-Advanced-Dungeons-and-Dragons-2nd-Edition-Redcap-s-Rampage-Session-One-Part-2-Setting-the-Trap
<![CDATA[Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition: The Scar Session Three]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1973-Advanced-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-2nd-Edition-The-Scar-Session-Three Fri, 16 Sep 2016 18:55:43 GMT Sunday, August 11, 2016

(After playing the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition scenario “The Scar” by Ray Winninger from Dungeon Adventures #80 today from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Katelyn Hogan, James Brown, Ashton LeBlanc, and Collin Townsend.)

Arya Amannodel was a wood elf ranger who had left her homeland in search of someone who had wronged her. She had traveled extensively for years, but had most recently lived with the reclusive wood elves of the Celadon Forest just west of Nyrond. In the last few weeks, she had traveled across Nyrond to the Flinty Hills, a journey of some 500 miles, in search of a lead of the woman she was looking for.

On the evening of the 4th of Fireseek, 592 Common Year, she had set up her tent in the Flinty Hills and wrapped herself in her thick, winter blanket. She had fallen asleep to the cold, light rain that had been coming down all day.

She was awoken not long after she settled in when something started beating on the tent.

“Stop!” she cried.

The tent fell down on top of her and she got angry and crawled out, as she reached the opening, she was roughly grabbed by several orcs. She found herself surrounded by the creatures and counted at least a dozen of them.

“You’re coming with us, elf!” one shouted into her face.

They tied her hands behind her back and scooped up her tent and everything within it. One of them threw it over her shoulder and another put a bag over her head and pulled a drawstring, nearly choking her. She was very irritable as she stumbled through the darkness. She felt like she was going downward at one point and then the sound of the wind and the rain stopped. It felt like she was underground. She was dragged through passageways and she heard orc speak. She didn’t understand it. At one point they stripped her of her armor and roughly searched her.

Then she heard the clanking of chains and the grinding of stone on stone. The bag was jerked off her head and she was flung into a room, crashing to the stone ground. The clanking of chains and grinding of stone came behind her as the door came down and crashed to the ground.

She slid back to the nearby wall and looked around. The room was roughly 50 feet wide and 30 feet deep. In the near corner was a pile of rubble while two of the other corners held large piles of hay. Several men, women, and even a few children were lying in the hay, trying to sleep. In the other corner were two men and a Halfling woman, talking quietly.

* * *

Just before the slaves had been thrown into their room that night, Storr, the orc sub-chief, had taken Arthelion aside. Out of earshot of the others, he had told the mage if he acted out again or did anything to annoy any of the other orcs, his tongue would torn out by the roots and his own cleric friend would be used to see he survived. The orc asked him how well he’d be able to cast his spells then, but told him, by all means, to mouth off again if he so desired. He had some money riding on it.

When they had returned to the room, Arthelion had flopped down on one of the piles of hay, despondent. Kilb was exhausted that night and merely climbed into the hay and went to sleep.

The amazingly handsome Leon Chamberlyn the paladin, the ugly Elriya Warrick the Halfling thief with bad teeth, and Tarmak of the Winding Road, the average-looking priest of Fharlanghn, however, all planned their escape. They had been conferring in the far corner of the room, noting what Leon had learned when he had been “fighting” the Gnasher, when the orcs had brought in the elf girl and flung her to the floor.

Neither Leon nor Tarmak could tell what had happened, it still being pitch-dark in the room. However, Elriya could see the elf, who had darker skin and hair than any elf she had ever seen. The elf girl’s eyes looked lighter-colored.

“Dinner’s here early,” Leon remarked.

Elriya walked over to the elf.

“So, they captured you too?” she said.

“In the middle of the night while I was sleeping,” Arya said. “I’m not happy about that.”

“How long have you been traveling?”

“A few weeks.”

“Are you able to help us free these people?” Leon said from across the room.

“Can we?” Arya said.

They heard the clank of chains and the grinding of stone on stone. A half dozen well-armed orcs entered the room. Some of them gave out bowls of gruel while the others stood by, weapons ready. The gruel was thin but had a little meat and grease within. It was not very good but most of the prisoners ate it voraciously. Arya ate as much as she could stomach. Leon ate in the most polite manner he could while not being able to see his food. After they had mostly finished, the orcs took back the bowls and left, closing the door behind them once more.

A half hour or so after they were fed, they heard the nightly orc revelry begin somewhere else in the underground complex.

Tarmak, Leon, and Elriya all starting working on moving rocks from the pile in the corner. Arya got up and went to them.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Moving rocks,” Leon said.

“Why?”

“There could be something under it.”

“And what if there’s not?”

“Maybe it’s a way to escape,” Elriya said.

“Why would they put a way to escape in a jail cell?” Arya asked.

“Maybe that’s why they covered it up,” Elriya said.

“This looks pretty impromptu,” Leon said.

“I mean the ceiling’s not collapsed or anything,” Tarmak said.

Arya looked over the rock pile. It looked like a portion of the ceiling had collapsed against the wall.

“I think you’re wasting your time,” she said. “I know you probably can’t see this but, the ceiling? It just looks like it’s rubble that fell from it.”

“Doesn’t mean there’s not something behind it,” Elriya said.

“All right then,” Arya said, walking away and watching them.

They worked for an hour or so before the orcs came in to search the prisoners and then again for an hour after that. The three were even more exhausted after they had finished. About three hours after that, the orcs returned to roughly search the prisoners and the room again.

Arya was especially curious about the kobold she’d seen.

* * *

They were all woken on the 5th of Fireseek when the orcs pounded on the door and then opened it and ushered them back out into the stone corridors beyond. Two people didn’t get up that next morning. They had died in the night. One of them was the little girl Rome had made friends with. The other was a woman. Orcs unceremoniously dragged the bodies out.

They passed a few closed doors, each of them eight feet tall with an arch at the top. Rusty chains to hoist the doors were in a slot to the right side of each. They took the slaves down a corridor, through an open door, down another corridor into a room and then opened another door. They passed through a room with rubble on the floor, around a corner and past more rubble, and then past a huge, brass lamp that stood on the floor with a wick the thickness of a fist that gave out a great deal of light. Then they passed through an area of rubble that had been broken through to another room where the slaves were given shovels and told to clear the rubble there.

Several of the slaves were cut out from the rest and taken away, including the nondescript man.

The orcs watched as the slaves worked. Arya noticed each of the orcs carried a spear and had a scourge on his belt. They wore leather armor and black cloaks.

* * *

Tarmak and several other slaves were taken to the library once again and ordered to search for anything of value.

“Skarg wants you to find stuff,” one of the orcs said.

“Find what?” Tarmak said.

“Anything important!” the orc grunted, slapping the priest.

“Fine! Fine! Gods.”

They all set to work sorting through the loose papers and pages in the library. At three points during the day, one of the slaves came with buckets of water for them and then they were put back to work.

* * *

The others worked at moving stones and rubble from the pile. Three times that day, a slave was sent for buckets of water for them. They actually made a great deal of progress on the pile during the day.

During the first water break, Leon approached the subchief, Storr.

“Storr,” he said.

“What?” the orc growled.

“I wish to wager.”

“Huh! What do you want to wager, blue eyes?”

“So, I wish to test my mettle against one of your own.”

“What does that mean? Speak clearly, manling. I’ve had my fill of bargains and bets.”

“Would you like to see a brawl?”

The orc considered for a moment.

“All right,” he said. “How about the Gnasher? Why don’t you go fight the Gnasher?”

“You wouldn’t be able to watch,” Leon said.

“You could lure it out. Or how about that guy?”

He pointed to one of the other slaves.

“Would that be entertaining?” Leon said.

“Then what?” Storr asked.

“One of your men against me.”

“I’ve already had my orcs fighting amongst themselves. I don’t need to lose any more. Not to mention one who beat up one of his fellows and then claimed that some handsome man, a woman, and the Mouth came in. Wait a minute …”

“Would the Mouth be able to do anything?”

“He was lying anyway. They’d been having a feud for some time.”

“I could lure the Gnasher out to where we could see him. I am curious.”

“I suppose you’ll want a sword or something.”

“Uh, it would be preferred.”

“You’re asking a lot of favors. What am I going to win from this wager … from you?”

“You get to see─”

“No. That’s the wager. That’s not the prize.”

“True.”

“Gambling requires a prize.”

Leon thought on it.

“What do you propose?” Storr said.

“Well, if I’m dead, I’m no more use to you,” Leon said.

“That’s why you’re going to put a wager up before you do this thing. You think about it. Get back to work.”

The orc walked away from the paladin, who was ordered back to work by the other orcs.

Leon later approached Arya as they worked.

“You look capable,” he said to her.

“Thank you?” she replied.

“Would you be willing to help us in our escape? Once it’s figured out, of course.”

“Uh-huh. So … you don’t know how to escape? But you want me to help with your escape?”

“When we can. We already have some things … planned. Just waiting for a better opening.”

The wood elf looked around carefully.

“Uh … sure?” she finally said. “As soon as you figure out what it is you’re going to be doing. Otherwise …”

She went back to work.

Later in the day, after the third water break, Elriya struck loose rubble as she was digging. It caused a minor cave in as the wall collapsed. The daring Halfling thief did a double back flip out of the way, landing perfectly, her shovel at ready. A few small stones bounced her way and she batted them away with the tool. Arya stopped and watched, amazed. The peasants also stopped their work to merely stare, open-mouthed at the Halfling.

“Stop showing off!” one of the orcs yelled at the Halfling. “Get back to work!”

“Quick causing cave-ins!” another orc yelled at the Halfling, cuffing her in the head. “Stupid Halfling!”

Not long after that, they broke through to the next chamber. Storr ordered the orcs to move the slaves back and sent off another guard. Within a few minutes, a larger orc that those who had been present longer recognized as Skarg arrived with a tall, gaunt man in black chainmail with a two-handed sword in his hand. The latter wore a black helmet that completely covered his face except for a y-shaped slit. Only his red, glowing eyes were visible. The helmet had strange, bat-like wings on the sides. Leon felt a wave of nausea as he saw the horrible thing.

Skarg ordered some of the slaves to clear away more of the rubble and debris and then he and the horrible knight went into the darkness. A few moments later, angry cursing and shouts came from within. The two stomped back out and Skarg gave orders in orc to Storr and other guards. Then the slaves were ordered to continue clearing rubble. They looked into the next area and saw more rubble behind the second pile.

The orcs brought in an additional brass lantern and set it into the new room so exposed. Everyone could see a frieze running around the top of the room. It depicted the construction of a small parlor, its fireplace, and a chimney. There was a caption around it in Flan, which, though none of them could read, Elriya was able to make out. It read: “A second hearth exists in the northwest wing of the complex.”

Not long after that, they were taken back to the slave quarters, as were the slaves taken to the library. The door was closed again and about a half hour later they were brought gruel with some kind of pork. The bowls were taken away once again and the orcs began their revelry an hour or so after that.

They discussed what had happened to them that day, Elriya telling Tarmak about the frieze she’d seen and what the writing had read. Arya had sat apart from everyone else in the place, mostly watching.

“Come, sit with us … if you’re not already,” Leon called into the darkness.

He was not looking in her direction. She looked around, unsure who he was talking to.

“Elf, I think he’s talking about you,” Elriya said.

“Um … sure,” she said, getting up and joining the other three.

“What is your name?” Leon asked.

“Arya,” she said.

“Arya?” he said. “I am Leon Chamberlyn.”

“You look like one.”

“Thank you!”

“So, how’d you end up in here?”

“Same way you did,” Elriya said. “Orcs captured us.”

“Getting kidnapped in the night?”

“Yes.”

“That’s unfortunate.”

“The bard over there and I were camping out and they attacked us,” Leon said. “I wasn’t in my armor.”

Arya looked to where he’d pointed but there was just a wall there.

“Bard?” she said. “Where?”

“Are you going to help us escape?” Elriya asked.

“Depends on how,” Arya said. “He asked and he said you didn’t know how to escape.”

“Not quite yet,” Leon said. “Not fully done.”

“So, what do you have?” she asked.

“Well, I won that bet with Storr and he’s going to let me walk around the complex for an hour tomorrow,” Tarmak said. “So I can scout out a little bit more.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Possibly find an exit.”

“And we’ve already explored several areas,” Elriya said.

She explained the areas of the complex she had seen and the others had explored and shared with them. That included the area where the Gnasher lived and where they thought their gear was being stored. They also described to her where they thought the exit lay.

“We may have some weapons,” Leon said.

He told her of the shield, two spears, two halberds, long sword, suit of leather armor, and suit of studded leather armor they’d found and secured in a nearby room.

“How’d you get this?” she asked.

“I found it while we were exploring,” Leon said. “Then we killed a few … well, mortally wounded a few orcs and stole their weapons.”

“Is it all in this room?” she asked.

“No no, not in this room,” Leon said. “They’re stored in a safe place.”

He turned to Elriya.

“If you could get the magical sword of greatness from Cameron …” he said.

He was referring to the frieze they had found that showed the room with statues and noted a great weapon had been put in Cameron’s hands.

“Hopefully, it means the statue,” Leon said.

“It could also mean his body,” Elriya said.

“If we put that with our stores, we should have enough weapons.”

“Unless Cameron’s entombed with his weapon.”

“I could always give it a check,” Tarmak said.

They decided to work on the rubble pile once again. Leon and Elriya helped but they only worked an hour that night.

As they finished, a half-dozen orcs came in again and searched everyone and the room for contraband. No one woke them three hours later, but a group came in some six hours after they bedded down.

* * *

It was only three hours after the orcs searched them that they returned to the room on the 6th of Fireseek to take the slaves out once again. On the way to the work area, Tarmak noticed a hole in the wall in the hallway. Some of the slaves were taken to the library once again while the rest worked on the new pile of rubble. Tarmak was able to get a good look at the frieze and then almost immediately asked Storr for the hour to look around.

“Okay,” Storr said, obviously unhappy. “It’s a deal. Go. If you’re caught, you’ll be brought back here. And we might beat you.”

“Fair enough,” Tarmak said.

“Fair enough,” Storr said. “Good luck, you …”

He had been trying to think of some insult but the man was so average, he couldn’t make up anything. Tarmak merely threw the orc a salute and walked away.

Tarmak walked around through the wide tunnel and remembered where two orcs stood guard towards their quarters. Instead, he headed towards what the friezes called the Hall of Honor. He found it very, very dark in most of the room. In addition to the piles of rubble and debris, four nine-foot-tall statues dominated the room. A long, thin pool of smelly, stagnant water ran the length of the hall, just east of the statues. Each statue had an engraving.

He looked at the first statue which was of a woman dressed in flowing robes with a dove perched on her fingertips. He skipped it entirely. The second statue, he could barely make out, was a man wearing some kind of mail and holding a long sword in his hand. He felt the engraving, trying to figure out the name and, after some five minutes work, realized it was “Cameron.”

“Oh!” he said.

He climbed up the side of the statue and grabbed the metal sword. It had been set there and he easily pulled out, though it let loose a good deal of dust into the air. He climbed back down with the sword, which felt very light in his hands.

“If only I could use bladed weapons,” he mused.

He thought about what to do with the blade, knowing he could probably not get to where the rest of the weapons and gear was hidden on the other side of the complex. He decided to see if he could make it and so slipped past the nearby lit lantern and peeked around the corner to where they thought the entrance of the place was. Two orcs stood on guard duty there. He didn’t think he could get by them to the hiding place without being seen.

He went back to the Honor Hall and carefully opened the door in the hallway outside of the room. It seemed horribly loud to him but he persisted and slipped inside. He could just make out, in the dim light, a few splintered sticks of furniture and scraps of carpets. He could just make out the opposite wall of the room had collapsed, leaving a crack wide enough to squeeze through though he could see nothing but darkness beyond it. He saw the frieze in the room, which depicted a starscape in the night sky. There was no caption.

He guessed the room had already been searched and tucked the sword in a corner.

He headed out of the room and went down the hallway connected to the Honor Hall, creeping down the other side and looking for more orc guards. He stopped when he spotted a couple around the corner near the library.

* * *

While Tarmak was gone, Leon approached Storr again.

“What?” the orc growled. “What do you want now, blue eyes?”

“I figured out a way to compete with you with easier gains for you,” Leon said.

“What?”

“Of course, it’s less interesting.”

“Oh Gruumsh! You never shut up! Just say it.”

“I’m better than the Mouth.”

“Not by much. What do you want!?!”

“If we have a contest of strength. An arm wrestling match. Surely, you can’t turn me down. That would look bad.”

Storr looked at the man.

“You’re like a damned brick shithouse,” he muttered.

“But you’re an orc!” Leon said.

“Yes, and if I lose to you, I lose more face in front of my men.”

“True, but then how about one of your men? They can use both hands.”

“Two against one!” Storr said.

“Well, what would you want if I lost?”

“If you lose, I’ll give you what I gave him. You get to look around the complex for an hour. But you have to bring me something that’s worth at least 10 gold pieces. If you don’t, I’ll throw one of you in the hole. Either you or one of your friends can go in the hole for the day.”

“Wait, but if I win, that makes you win as well.”

“If you win, what do you want?”

“The exploration could be nice. Get out on my feet.”

“I can give you a day off. You can rest for a whole day.”

“How about this. I explore. If I can’t find you something of value.”

“You better. Or you’re going in the hole.”

“Then I go in the hole.”

“That’s what you get if you lose, dumbass.”

“A day off then. Or would I be able to meander?”

“Not for a whole day. And I’m not giving you any permission with any of the orcs to be out, either. If you get caught and brought back, you get caught and brought back.”

“Fair enough. And then in the hole.”

“Depends on if you find my stuff.”

“Let’s do it. But I get to give that day off to someone else of my choosing if I win.”

“Fair enough.”

Storr called over two of the larger orcs. Neither of them was as big as Leon but they were both fairly large. They grabbed the man’s hand and, though he struggled valiantly, they quickly pulled his arm down. It was, after all, two against one. Storr laughed at his victory.

“Once your friend gets back, you can go look for my stuff,” he said. “Don’t fail me. Get back to work until then. That was only mildly entertaining.”

* * *

Tarmak crept back to the Honor Hall and towards the back of the room where he knew there was a door. He pulled it open but it was pitch black beyond. He could see nothing and would have to feel his way. Then he got an idea.

He went back to the room where he’d stashed the sword. He got an intact stick and wrapped some carpet around it. He went to the nearest lantern and lit the makeshift torch on it. He knew it wouldn’t last very long as he had no access to pitch or oil. The great brass lanterns had the caps on the fonts, where the oil was kept, tightly closed. Each cap was a foot across and had a ring on it the orcs passed a bar through so two of them could tighten or loosen it. It would be impossible for him to open himself.

He quickly made his way back to the door he’d opened to find a small antechamber with another door directly across from him. He opened the door and peered into the room in the failing light of his makeshift torch.

Two huge, empty, rusted iron vats occupied the center of the chamber, and a number of rusted iron racks stood against the south wall. An old pile of frayed linens rested on the bottom shelf of the easternmost rack. A hole was in the north wall and two other doors were in the room. A frieze ran around the top of the wall depicting the construction of a large table and a surrounding council room. The caption read, in Flan, “The Answer Stone is set in the council chamber in the southwest wing of the complex.”

He guessed that was near the library somewhere, perhaps. He figured the door in the angled wall of the strange-shaped room led back to where they were working. His torch was quickly burning out and he grabbed a bit of the old linens and ran back out to the Honor Hall. The linen, though old, was sound and he wondered if he could make a rope out of it. He wrapped some of the linen over the piece of wood again and then lit it on the lantern and headed back to the room where he’d put his sword.

He crossed the room to the hole in the wall and crept through, finding a long chamber with a single door to the left he guessed led back to the hallway where they were working. The room was, for the most part empty. The frieze that ran around the ceiling depicted a number of tall trees in a dense forest. There was no caption.

He quickly crossed to the room with the vats and opened the door on the far side of it, revealing another long room with nothing in it. The frieze depicted a number of tall trees in a dense forest. The other door to the room probably led out into the hallway where they were working.

He crossed through the antechamber into the Honor Hall and went to the door directly across from the one he’d already opened. Another antechamber lay beyond that door. He crossed it and opened the door on the other side.

The floor of the large room was covered in broken glass, smashed bits of glassware everywhere, though a few pieces of pristine glassware, wine flutes of some kind, survived, sitting atop an old workbench. Alone one wall were shelves that housed various curiosities including a human skull, a candle, a silver dagger, and a rack of test tubes. The test tubes contained three measures each, according to the marks on them, of five colored powders: black, green, yellow, blue, and orange. A broken area of wall was to the right, a door not far beyond it. Another broken area of wall lay directly ahead of him. The frieze depicted two moons orbiting the planet, presumably Oerth and the moons of Luna and Celene. The caption read “The sisters.”

Tarmak quickly lit the candle. It was about three inches tall and he guessed he had about a half hour of candlelight but it was still better than the makeshift torches he had been using. He picked up the candleholder and looked around more carefully. Then he went back to the room with the linens and grabbed a larger piece. He returned to the room and used the linen as a makeshift sack, wherein he put the glassware and the three test tubes of powder. Each was sealed tightly with a cork. He also tucked the dagger in.

He left the bag next to the door and went through the hole in the far wall.

The room beyond was an L-shape with a northern and western section. A single door stood on the north wall of the western area, a moldy carpet resting on the floor near it. A tattered, canopied bed sat against the north wall of the north section. The remains of a writing desk stood against the south wall and a tall brazier stood in the southeast corner. The frieze depicted a torrent of flames and rubble shooting skyward from the ground, presumably from the temple. The caption read “Once the holy endeavor is complete, a great cataclysm will bury the temple forever.”

He guessed the door led back out into the corridor near the library.

He went to the writing desk first but there was nothing upon it and there were no drawers. He picked up the moldy carpet next but found nothing under it. It fell apart in his hands. He looked under the bed and found an iron box that was open. The lock had been smashed and it was empty.

He crept out of the room, going back to the room with the broken glass and then through the other hole in the wall. He found himself in a relatively small chamber with another door that he guessed led out into the hall. The room was mostly empty except for some broken trash on the floor. He searched the room for 10 minutes but found nothing.

Feeling like he was running out of time, he returned to the room with the broken glass, got his makeshift bag and put it with the sword in the first room he’d examined. He blew out the candle, only about a third of which was left, and left it with the bag. Then he crept out of the room, closing the door behind him as he’d closed all the others.

He crept back where the slaves were working and started to open one of the doors nearby. It sounded like the orcs were rolling dice and gambling. He pulled on the chains but then thought he heard the orcs asking what that noise was so he quickly closed the door and walked into the room where the others labored. He had noticed light in the room, however.

“What was that noise?” one of the orcs said.

He cuffed Tarmak on the head.

“Was that you?” the orc said.

He cuffed the man again.

“I had to get─” Tarmak said.

“Answer my question!” the orc said.

He cuffed the man on the head again.

“I had to get back here on time!” Tarmak blurted out. “Apparently I’m a little early.”

“Get back to work!” the orc told him.

He did so.

“So, were you able to do it?” Leon asked him as they worked.

“Yes, I was able to find Cameron,” Tarmak said. “Found a long sword in his hands and took it back.”

He told them everything he had found and described the rooms he’d explored. He also told them about the powders and the silver dagger and the expensive-looking glassware. He described the strange friezes about the Answer Stone and the destruction of the whole place. He told them of orc guards he’d seen as well. They talked about Kilb and wondered if he might be able to determine the value of the glassware but the kobold seemed very uncooperative. Leon used his divine powers on the kobold but detected no evil from him. None of the other slaves were evil either.

Leon asked if the glassware would be worth more than 10 gold coins and Tarmak thought it would.

“It’s more ‘Would Storr think it’s 10 gold?’” Elriya said.

“Good question,” Leon said.

“Yeah, if you have to take him something back, grab one of them,” Tarmak said. “There’s six.”

Storr walked over to them.

“We’re even,” the orc said. “But if you can think of some other amusing bets, I’ll be around.”

“Oh, you’ll be the first to know,” Tarmak said.

“I better be,” Storr said.

He cuffed the priest in the back of the head.

* * *

Between the first and second water break, Leon approached Storr to go find his treasure. The orc sent him off an hour after the first water break, ordering him to bring him treasure or suffer.

Leon headed in generally the same direction Tarmak had gone. He made his way to the room where Tarmak had hidden the gear and picked up one of the pieces of glassware. He tried to determine the value of the thing but was unable to tell how much it might be worth. Unsure, he put it back with the others.

He picked up the sword. It had a very good balance. He put it down and looked at the powders in the test tubes. He thought about tasting them but then discarded that very bad idea. He put the powders back down but held onto the sword.

He carefully headed down the hallway, through the Honor Hall, past a door no one had examined yet, and around the corner towards the library. There was a large lantern in the empty hallway and he knew, from what Tarmak had told him, there were orcs just around the corner. He went to the door around the corner that had not been explored and opened it.

“Who dat?” an orc voice came from within.

He quickly pulled it closed.

“Hey!” the orc yelled. “Who’s out there!?!”

He ran as the door opened behind him, fleeing back down to the room where they’d hidden their things and closing the door there. He waited several minutes but heard nothing so crept back out.

He went back down the corridor to the other door he didn’t think, from his mental map, anyone had looked into. It stood on the hallway between the Honor Hall and the wider halls outside of the library. He pulled the chains and loudly opened the door. In the light spilling in from the hallway, he could barely make out another door in the opposite wall of the room. The splintered ruins of a number of bunks and a rickety writing desk were all that remained in the room. He could just make out frieze, which depicted a group of workers moving delicate steel cages into what appeared to be an aviary. He couldn’t read the caption.

He knew he’d not be able to see anything in the next room but opened the door to it anyway. He went out and lit the candle, returning to enter the room. He felt a sensation of cold and evil. The frieze depicted a starscape in the night sky and had no caption. There were a few splintered sticks of furniture and scraps of carpet. Another door probably led out into the corridor near the library. The feeling of evil was palpable but only seemed to be a residue of what he’d felt when the horrible knight had passed by him on two separate occasions.

He left the room and closed the door, blowing out the candle.

He returned to the hallway and thought about where to go and what to do. Then he crept back to the lantern and north, heading to the place where the others thought the exit might lie. He crept by the two orcs on guard there, making his way to the wide corridor to the north without being seen. He could see the other orcs at the far end of the hallway but crept through and to the room where the keys were. He lit his candle on the nearby lantern and opened the door.

The room was exactly as Elriya had described it. Hundreds of keys of all descriptions were hung by hooks on the walls of the small chamber. The frieze around the top of the wall depicted two moons orbiting the world. After a moment’s thought, he closed the door and, instead, went to the room where they’d hidden all of the gear they had collected thus far. That was the room with the frieze of the Honor Hall.

He picked up the other longsword and compared them. The balance on the sword from the Honor Hall was much better. Then he donned the studded leather armor and picked up the small shield. He crossed through the hallway to the other part of the room and opened the door that led to the hallway to the slave quarters. The door to their quarters was open but he knew no one else was in there. He went to the door on the south wall and opened it. He found a room that had a frieze around it that showed the construction of a hearth and chimney and a caption he couldn’t read.

In the wall adjacent to their own cell, he found a breach with some rubble blocking it. He realized if they cleared the rubble from the other side, they could get into the room from their cell. He also noticed another breach in the wall that led out to the corridor on the opposite side, meaning they could creep out without having to open any doors. There was nothing to hide things with, however. It looked like it had been searched already.

He quickly transferred all of the weapons and armor from the other room, as well as the citrine gem. He closed the door and headed back out into the hallways near the key room once again. He blew out the candle and headed back to where the other cache of goods had been hidden by Tarmak. However, the orcs on guard near the entrance spotted him.

“Hey, whatta you doing, slave?” one of them yelled.

The orcs came over.

“Storr asked me to go find him something, which I did,” Leon said.

The orc cuffed him in the head.

“Liar!” the orc screamed.

The orc grabbed him by the arms.

“I say, sir, I do not lie!” Leon said.

The orc punched him in the face, not even hurting the paladin. The other poked him in the back with the spear and they dragged him back to the working area.

“Storr, this one of yours?” the orc asked.

“I don’t know how he got away,” Storr said.

He slapped Leon in the face.

“All right,” he said. “Sorry.”

Once the other orcs left, he glared at the man.

“Well?” he said.

Leon held out the piece of citrine he’d gotten. Storr snatched it out of the man’s hand and looked at it.

“All right, that’ll do,” he said. “Get back to work.”

Leon got back to work and told them everything he’d seen and done.

“And guess what, that pile of rubble isn’t a waste of time,” he said.

Arya just shrugged. When he told them about the weapons, Elriya was disappointed.

“The dagger isn’t though,” she said.

She was not happy about that and a little peeved about it.

“But, if I was caught, we would have lost the dagger,” Leon said. “I wanted to take minimal risk. And I know how to use the sword. I don’t know how to use a dagger.”

They worked the rest of the day and were given their water breaks. After a grueling day of work, they were sent back to the slave quarters. While they waited for the orcs to bring them food, Leon used his divine power to lay on hands to aid Elriya and Tarmak, both of whom were still injured. The orcs brought them their gruel, which still seemed to have some kind of pork in it.

As soon as the orcs took away the bowls, the four of them got to work on moving the pile of rubble in the corner. Elriya asked some of the stronger peasants if they would help.

“It’s a way out?” one man asked. “Really?”

“You’re just going to get us all killed,” another said.

“We’ve already lost two,” Leon said.

“That’s that ugly girl,” another peasant said.

Still, four of them agreed to help them move rubble as much as they could, though they were already exhausted. The four only worked for an hour before they had to fall into one of the piles of hay and sleep. The heroes all worked for about three hours between the orc searches. They had made an appreciable dent in the rubble but did not yet reach the other room before they had to stop from exhaustion.

* * *

They were woken only a few hours later on the 7th of Fireseek and dragged out to work on the pile of rubble at the work area. A few of the slaves were taken to the library again that day. Elriya was chosen again to fetch the water. But the orcs remembered how slow she’d been before.

“Get it faster this time,” the orc said.

He cuffed her in the head.

The orc took her to the cistern the first time and brought her back.

“I remember how long that took,” he growled at her, glaring at the Halfling girl.

He sent her to get more water.

She walked to the lantern that led to the entrance, but then ran to the room where Tarmak had stashed the dagger and the strange powder. She grabbed everything he’d hidden there and tucked it into the bucket, then walked calmly by the guards at the entrance. Once she was out of sight of them, she ran to the room where they had initially hidden their things, crossed to the room where the weapons and armor were now hidden and tucked the dagger with the rest, then ran all the way back, got the water, and returned.

“*****!” the orc said, slapping her. “Better hurry up!”

She ended up fetching the water for the rest of the day, making nearly good enough time not to get slapped repeatedly, though she was told she could have done it faster. She related to her allies everything she had seen and done.

A couple of hours after the last water break, they heard thunder. Every once in a while they heard the rumble coming from above. Leon, who worshiped Hieroneous, took it as a good omen. A lightning bolt was his god’s holy symbol. About an hour after that, they were returned to the slave quarters. They could still hear the occasional rumble of thunder.

The orcs brought their gruel and fed them before leaving them alone once again. The gruel seemed to have some hardtack in it that night. One of the villagers was doing very badly and so Leon used his divine power of healing to help that man and Elriya, who was also injured.

“This is a sign from Hieroneous,” Leon said of the thunder.

He tried to convince the other slaves to help them dig at the rubble and, in the end, six of the villagers said they would help. They worked for an hour before everyone feigned sleep again. Orcs came in to search them and they got back to work after that. After only about 20 minutes of the second hour they worked, they broke through to the next room and could squeeze through one at a time. They asked the peasants to put the rubble back once they left. By then, the sound of thunder had stopped.

“Stay here,” Leon said. “It’s safer here. We will come for you.”

“Find my spellbook,” Arthelion said.

The peasants were unsure but complied. As soon as the four were through, they set to work covering the hole back up.

The heroes geared up. Leon took the studded leather armor and the shield, as well as the well-balanced sword. Elriya picked up the silver dagger, content with that. Arya was disappointed at the selection of weapons. Tarmak broke the end off a spear to use it as a quarterstaff.

“I can’t use edged weapons,” he told Leon. “My god forbids it.”

They talked about using Arya as a diversion. Leon noted they needed to get into the room with their equipment.

“If we can get in there, we can get your bow,” he said.

“Do you know where this room is?” she asked.

“Yes,” Tarmak said.

“We know where the room used to be,” Leon said, “and we’re hoping the orcs, of questionable intelligence, wouldn’t have moved it.”

“They still keep my holy symbol in that room, so …” Tarmak said. “Possibly, they would have kept everything else too.”

“If nothing else, we’ll have our healer,” Leon said.

“Now how to do you think I could be a diversion?” Arya asked.

“Honestly, just run through screaming,” Leon said.

Tarmak suggested giving her the other suit of armor and she donned the nasty orc leather. She broke the end off one of the halberds and turned it into a makeshift club.

“If all else fails, hopefully we can dispatch many of them so they’ll route,” Leon said.

They left the room, opening the slave quarters enough so someone could crawl under if they wanted. Then they made their way through the room where they had earlier hidden their things. Arya and Elriya guided them through the dark room where they found the gold and gems still hidden. They went out through the north door of the room and then through the area near Skarg’s chambers. They opened the door to the central room where some of them had hidden during their earlier escape attempt and which Leon had passed through after being in the gnasher’s area. Then they crept down the hallway to the wide hall.

Leon peered around the corner and saw two orcs by the bonfire near the gnasher area. He told the rest and Arya asked if they could open the door just a little to slip in. Leon suggested trying to sneak and if the orcs saw them, they would try to deal with them. Arya told them if they got her bow, she would hurt the orcs. Elriya said she could sneak into the room.

Elriya moved out into the corridor, sneaking to the door. She pulled on the chains, only raising the door about three feet, and then peeked in. She didn’t see any orcs in the dim room so slipped in and found her things. She also noticed a hole in the wall that opened to another room, which was dark. She quickly put on her armor and got her gear and weapons. She also saw numerous other items. There were more spears, orc-sized leather armor, the black cloaks the orcs wore, a shield, a broadsword, another sling and bullets, as well as gear that probably belonged to the rest of the party.

She saw there were two short bows, one black and the other looking pretty typical. There were two quivers of arrows as well, one black and the other a rustic brown. She took the non-black items and the holy symbol that she recognized as belonging to Tarmak. She also saw a thick book and guessed it was Arthelion’s spellbook. She took it. She slipped back to the others, startling them a little.

“Hey,” she said.

Arya got her bow and arrows while Tarmak took his holy symbol.

“If you can, I have splint mail, a shield, and a bastard sword,” Leon said. “And a heavy lance but I don’t need it.”

Elriya remembered seeing the items. Tarmak mentioned studded leather armor and a staff. She snuck back into the room, retrieved the splint mail and the bastard sword. She noticed another suit of leather armor obviously made for a female and guessed it was Arya’s. She also got leather armor and the morning star. She crept back to the rest completely quietly.

They went back down the hallway to the central room and put on their own armor, equipping themselves with their own weapons once again. Leon opened the door to the gnasher’s lair a little and shoved in the gear they were not using. There was a growl from behind the door and a huge claw came out under it after Leon had pushed the things through. It looked like the arm of a bear. Leon quickly lowered the door, first pinning the claw, which was withdrawn, and then closing it all the way. The door rattled in its frame but held firm.

Arya slipped down the passage and peeked around the corner at the orcs on guard duty. They looked back towards the gnasher’s area with some concern.

They discussed what to do next. Leon suggested they could free the gnasher to create a distraction. Or they could go back to where they were and try to kill their way out with the peasants. There was some discussion about the wisdom of that second plan and the efficiency of their trying it the first time. It was pointed out numerous shouts of alarm had been raised already when they tried to escape before. Leon was adamant to rescue the peasants. He also noted they could possibly kill off enough of the orcs to completely rout them, if not make future attempts, at least, much easier. They talked about sending Elriya back into the storage room. Leon said his top priority was the peasants so they should get them out and come back if necessary. He thought they should get the peasants before retrieving any more gear. Tarmak was fine with that.

They headed back through the back corridors and to the room where they’d hidden their stuff when they heard orc voices from around the corner. Then they heard someone walking towards them. Arya and Elriya ducked into the room while Leon and Tarmak ducked behind the pile of rubble. They heard orc speak for a few moments. There was silence for a half minute and then the slap of orc feet going away.

Leon took a long time to sneak back to the room where they had hidden their things, creepy slowly to be quiet. When he arrived, they decided to leave the door open. Elriya retrieved the gold and silver coins as well as the gems and other valuables they had stashed in the room. Leon pointed out he was coming back later because the orcs had to be purged. Tarmak took Odila’s notes.

They crept back to the slave quarters and opened up the door. When they told Arthelion about guiding the peasants with his magical light he said he could when the time was right. He was very happy when Elriya begrudgingly gave him his spellbook back. He snatched it out of her hands and gave her a dirty look.

“Thank you,” he said insincerely.

The peasants were afraid but followed after them all in the dark as they made their way through the nearby corridor that usually took them to the work site. They hesitated in the larger room, knowing there were two orc guards outside during the daytime shift. They didn’t remember there being any guards there when they last tried to escape so opened the door.

The wide corridor outside was empty, lit by the nearby great lantern.

“What about the box?” Arthelion said.

“I feel like they’re going to be hindered if we take the box,” Leon said.

“What is the box?” Arya asked.

Arthelion opened the door to the room where they’d found the box and they retrieved it. The red, metal box was 12 inches long, six inches wide, and four inches deep. It was made of a strange, red metal and was surprisingly well-preserved. The top of the box was marked with two Flan signs and on the bottom there were four dials with Flan lettering on them. Tarmak examined it and noted he could read it. He could see that each of the four dials had five letters upon them. He also noted the letters “JC” on the top in Flan runes. When he shook it, something rattled and something soft moved around inside.

They continued moving through the place towards the north, Leon closing the door behind them. They arrived at another of the giant lanterns and realized it would cast their shadows once they passed it. Arthelion quietly chanted a short spell and a flame appeared in his hands. He closed his hand again and it was gone. He nodded at them, ready.

“I’ll find my own way,” Kilb said.

He took Odila with him and they crept into the dark tunnels and disappeared.

“Are you good at fighting?” Leon asked Elriya.

The Halfling looked very small to him and he had little experience with the folk. Elriya gave the man a look and then took the silver dagger by the blade, flipped it up into the air, and caught it again by the blade. She spun it with a single hand so that she was holding it by the handle. She didn’t say a word.

“Perfect,” Leon said. “So, as soon as we round the corner … can you use that mace?”

“Can I use that mace?” Tarmak asked sarcastically.

“I’m just making sure.”

“Last time we tried to escape I killed three or four orcs with it.”

“Well, then, excellent. We should just rush up and try to kill these orcs before they can sound an alarm. We can have her peek out and not get caught. We can have her shoot at them.”

“Maybe our thief friend should be the one to go peek. Since she could sneak into that room and get our gear back for us, she can do that.”

“If I hear someone scream, an orc do anything. I’m going to charge it.”

“Fair enough,” Arya said.

Elriya crept up by the wall and peeked around the corner. There were three orcs watching in her general direction.

“Somebody’s coming,” one of them said.

Tarmak rushed forward and slammed his morning star into one of the orcs, striking the creature in the side of the head. Elriya ran forward as well, rushing by the orcs and stabbing the same one in the kidney. The orc fell without a sound, bleeding profusely. Then Leon ran forward and stabbed with the sword he’d found, which seemed to move in his hand as if seeking out the orc’s heart. The swing was bad, however, and even with the magical sword, Leon only stabbed into the orc’s armor, not injuring it. Finally, Arya moved into the room and aimed and fired into the fray. The arrow flew over their heads and disappeared into the darkness beyond.

The orcs, though surprised, rallied quickly.

Leon swung wildly at one of the orcs, missing. Arya fired another arrow into the fray but missed completely. Behind the orcs, Elriya slipped around and stabbed at another, but didn’t pierce his armor. Arya shot another orc, striking him in the chest, and the creature fell backwards. Tarmak circled around and swung at the final orc, who yelled something in orcish and stabbed Leon.

Elriya and Leon both tried to stab the last standing orc but he deftly dodged the man’s attacks while his armor turned aside the Halfling’s silver dagger. Arya moved to one side and fired into the melee again, the arrow narrowly missing Leon and disappearing into the darkness. The orc shouted something in orcish and swung at Leon again, the spear bouncing off the man’s armor. Tarmak, behind the orc, swung away and struck the orc in the back of the head. The creature’s eyes crossed and he went down.

More orc feet slapped against the stone in the direction they were heading. They saw three more orcs running their way.

“I need healed!” Leon said.

“Hey you!” one orc shouted.

“What are you doing!?!” another orc cried.

Arthelion moved forward with his charges, getting into the room but trying to stay behind the others. Arya headed towards the exit and spotted the orcs coming. She fired into their ranks but the arrow went low and struck the ground, sliding out of sight. Tarmak started chanting. Then the orcs rushed them, spears flailing. One of them charged at Arya and stabbed her in the side. Another tried to stab Tarmak but he was able to parry the spear with his staff. The third tried to stab Elriya but she leapt out of the way and then stabbed at the orc’s knee with her silver dagger.

Tarmak moved to Leon and cast a healing spell on the paladin. Leon pushed past Tarmak and swung his magical long sword, missing completely once again. He stabbed at the orc again but the blow bounced off the orc’s leather armor. Elriya stabbed at another orc but didn’t penetrate it’s armor.

One of the orcs stabbed Arya in her left eye. There was a sickening pop and she felt warm fluid pour down her face as she was almost overwhelmed with a horrible, sickening pain. Another of the orcs futilely beat on Leon’s shield but was unable to hurt the man. The last one stabbed Elriya in the gut and she stumbled backwards and fell to the ground. Arthelion let out a shriek.

Tarmak rushed the orcs and his morning star merely struck one of the orc’s shoulders. Arya fired at the orcs again but missed completely. Arthelion moved around the battle, leading the peasants towards the exit. Leon finally managed to stab an orc, who went down with a cry. Then Leon moved forward to get closer to the nearest two orcs. One of the remaining ones tried to stab Tarmak unsuccessfully. The other pivoted towards Leon and stabbed the man, who stumbled but did not fall. Arya, who had fallen back, shot the orc who had stabbed her in the left eye. He went down with a shriek.

Tarmak chanted and then cast a healing spell on Elriya. The Halfling thief blinked her eyes and awoke.

Arthelion activated his cantrip and moved into the corridor where the orcs had come from. The peasants followed him.

“It’s a way out!” he cried.

He led the other slaves out of the terrible place.

Leon swung wildly at the last orc, who turned to the man and stabbed him in the side. Leon fell to the ground. Tarmak started to chant again as Elriya stood up and rushed the last orc, who had turned his back to her. The orc was pulled his spear from Leon when she stabbed it in the back.

“Ow!” the orc cried. “Quit it!”

Tarmak cast another healing spell on Leon. Unfortunately, the paladin did not awaken. Then Arya fired two arrows at the orc. The second one hit it in the chest and it fell to the ground.

“My duodenum!” the orc cried out as the elf cursed him.

They heard the slapping of orc feet from the other side of where they thought the entrance lay.

“Grab him!” Elriya called to Tarmak. “I’ll lead you to the exit.”

Tarmak grabbed Leon, throwing him over his shoulder. With the adrenaline running through him, he was able to pick up the heavy man. They raced through a vestibule. Those with infravision could see that it was some 30 feet by 30 feet with the side walls decorated with faded murals depicting sylvan landscapes. Beyond the room was a sloping passage leading up to the cold. The walls of the passage, like the rest of the place, were hewn from limestone.

They found themselves on the bottom of a ravine. They could see Arthelion ahead, a light in his hand, leading the other slaves up a path in the side of the ravine. It was very dark and cold but at least it wasn’t snowing. Those in the rear could hear the slapping of orc feet behind them and those with infravision could see three more orcs running after them.

Arya ran to grab Elriya and pick her up but found the Halfling weighed more than she first assumed. She nocked another arrow and then turned and ran up the path up the ravine. Elriya raced up the path, running past them all. The orcs jogged after them.

Tarmak, trying to run, dropped Leon’s prone form into the mud up the path. He simply couldn’t carry the man any more. The other two women had outrun him. He pulled the morning star from his belt and turned. As the orcs came up the path, Tarmak leapt at the lead orc, hoping to use the high ground to his advantage. He tripped and crashed to the path, striking his head on a rock. He lay still on the ground, stunned.

Arya pulled the arrow back in her bow and let fly. The lead orc raised his spear to murder Tarmak but the arrow struck him in the neck and he fell back, crashing to the ground on his back. She pulled back her bow and fired a second shot. This one struck the next orc in the chest and he fell backwards as well. The last orc looked at the two, turned, and ran away, heading back into the temple. Elriya moved down the path to Tarmak’s fallen form, her sling swinging over her head, and fired a bullet at the retreating orc. It flew off into the darkness and the orc ran away.

Arya ran down and she and Elriya helped Tarmak up.

“Hey!” Elriya yelled up the ravine. “Help the paladin!”

Four of the men and women broke from the other group.

“The paladin!” one yelled. “He’s in trouble!?!”

As the peasants arrived and picked up Leon, Arya pushed the two unconscious and bleeding orcs off the edge of the path. They flopped down the side of hill to crash at the bottom of the ravine some 20 feet below. Then she headed up the path after Elriya and Tarmak, helping with the priest, who was barefoot.

“Lead Tarmak,” Elriya told her. “I’m going to lead these peasants out.”

“Okay,” Arya said.

Tarmak shook his head. He had a terrible headache and but was able to walk on his own. It was very cold and his bare feet were very, very cold. As they reached the top of the ravine, they thought they could hear someone rushing up from the bottom, far below. The ravine ran in a roughly east and west direction but they had no idea which way to go. They were surrounded by hills with only a few small copses of trees anywhere near. They were unsure where they were though Tarmak knew which direction was north.

They could see flashes in the sky miles away to the east where a thunderstorm played. It seemed to be heading their way though it would probably be hours before it got to them.

Tarmak chose a northeasterly direction to get them away from the ravine and the orcs, at least. Arya knew that Nyrond lay to the south of the place she camped when the orcs ambushed her. Northeast would take them further into the Flinty Hills. She tapped his shoulder.

“Nyrond is south, though,” she said.

“South?” he replied.

“We’re going north,” she said. “Just further in the hills. I think.”

Tarmak continued them moving to the northeast, telling them they would start in that direction and then circle around to make a southerly course once they escaped the orcs. However, they soon heard the sound of barking dogs behind them as well. Tarmak’s feet soon stopped hurting, which was also a bad sign.

They traveled about a mile to the northeast and then Tarmak started them curving towards the south, hoping they would go around the ravine. They didn’t see the fissure again and Tarmak led them south through the cold and the darkness. They had lost sight of Arthelion and were not sure what happened to the mage.

Arya suggested they make camp at some point and so they continued walking south for another hour. By then, they no longer heard the shouts of orcs or the dogs and they found a deep place in the hills not far from a small copse of trees. The peasants collected debris, kindling, and branches from the nearby trees and Elriya had flint and steel. Tarmak soon had a cozy fire burning in the spot, though it continued to get colder, already below freezing.

Arya went hunting in the cold despite having no cloak or anything to keep herself warm.

Tarmak’s feet hurt even worse once they warmed up and he feared he had frostbite. The peasants put Leon close to the fire as was safe and some of them warmed his unconscious form with their own bodies. Some of the peasants gave strips of cloth from their sparse clothing to wrap Tarmak’s injured feet.

* * *

Arya found deer tracks and, after following them for two hours, found her prey. However, she spooked the deer and it ran off. She tracked it again and after only another half hour, she was able to creep up on it. She got to within 130 yards and could just make it out. The thunderstorm continued to approach in the distance.

She shot the deer, striking it in the neck. The animal was not killed but was spooked and ran away. She set to tracking it once again and soon found it. She was able to get within 160 yards. She shot at it again but missed it and the deer was spooked once more. She tracked the animal again and then got within about 150 yards. She shot at the deer again but missed once more. The deer didn’t seem to notice. She crept closer and was able to get within about 130 yards. She crept closer and shot at the deer again. The animal bolted and ran and she lost the animal’s trail.

Snow started to come down and she looked for another animal. She found cleft hoof prints and so followed them. She soon found the wild boar almost 200 yards away in the darkness. There were some trees within about 100 yards of the boar. She crept closer but the animal spooked and took off. She tried to track the animal but soon lost him in the rough barrens.

It was getting colder and colder and she was unsure what direction the camp lay. She had a choice of trying to find some cover and just wandering aimlessly. She wandered for some time but soon felt the cold cutting into her terribly. She eventually found shelter in some trees and covered herself as best she could with the pine straw for the night and keep somewhat warm.

* * *

Dawn of the 8th of Fireseek was partly cloudy. The snow had stopped after only an hour in the early morning and the small fire in the hollow kept the peasants and other adventurers warm. They had seen no sign of Arya. Tarmak prayed to his god and cast healing spells on Elriya and Leon.

However, they found three of the villagers had succumbed to the cold and died during the night. One of the villagers had lain down by the fire and was dead by the next morning. Another had not come back when he’d gone to get more sticks and wood for the fire. The third came back and sat by the fire and watched it. He was dead by morning.

After building up the fire, they put the two dead bodies on it and headed east, in the direction Arya had gone.

* * *

Arya woke that morning, happy to still be alive. She felt terrible. She was cold and stiff and uncomfortable. She made her way to the top of a hill and spotted smoke. She made for it, guessing it was the fire the others had talked about making the night before. She ran into them coming her way roughly an hour later and realized she had wandered some four miles from the original camp during the night.

Tarmak cast a healing spell on Arya.

“Thanks,” she said.

It was still very cold but it was warming up somewhat and it looked like it might get above freezing that day. The snow was melting all around them.

They headed south. Towards the end of the day, they moved out of the hills into a wooded area. It was almost dark as, traveling through the woods, they came across a track and soon saw a village ahead. Dark clouds loomed menacingly over the grim, rain-drenched hamlet a sign marked as Luskwald. The settlement was little more than a cluster of weather-worn cottages surrounded on all sides by solemn, densely wooded hills. Rivers of mud flowed between the wood-frame houses. The houses seemed unfriendly, as if they were unwilling to relinquish some dreadful secret. They also shared one other odd similarity. Flickering in the window of each tenement was a scowling pumpkin, its innards carved out and filled with candlelight.

Leon, looking for a town hall, went to the first building on the left, which was larger than the others. The walls of the building were in desperate need of paint, yet the structure itself seemed to have weathered the passage of time. Above the main door hung a sign that read “Luskwald Traders’ Guild,” according to Tarmak. The guild actually seemed to consist of two buildings: the trade-hall to the south and an adjoining stable sealed by a pair of heavy wooden doors.

They continued down the dirt track past three smaller buildings that appeared to be homes. All of the windows were tightly shuttered and the doors closed against the night. The peasants were cold and tired, some complaining about stopping. Leon told them they were trying to find someplace to stay.

The next large building was on the left, just past near where another road left the village to the east. The large building was a rain-drenched, single-story structure with few windows, adjoining stables, and a large, weather-worn crest painted on the front wall. The crest depicted a green dragon, its wings unfolded, clutching an ale tankard with two fearsome claws.

“Well, this says food and drink and possibly rooms,” Leon said.

“And possibly dragons,” Elriya quipped.

“Dragons?” one of the peasants whined. “I don’t like dragons. We shouldn’t go in there if there’s dragons!”

“Let us find warmth and food,” Leon said.

“And information,” Arya said.

“Information is secondary to safety,” Leon said.

He walked up to the door of the inn and knocked.

“Who is without?” a voice came from within.

“What?” Arya said.

“Who is within?” Leon asked.

He heard someone on the other side of the door gasp.

“I think it’s people!” a voice said. “I think there’s a person out there.”

They heard the bolt pulled and the door was opened by a portly fellow with short hair and a well-trimmed beard.

“Our village is cursed!” he exclaimed loudly.

“Uh …” Arya said.

“Is … this not a good stop?” Leon said.

“Quickly!” the man said. “Come inside. Before it gets in. Quickly! Quickly!”

“Everyone in!” Leon said.

They got everyone into a warm and cozy chamber lit by lanterns suspended from the rafters. Four circular tables occupied the floor space and a large ale barrel stood in the corner. A toasty fire was in the hearth between two shuttered windows on one wall. Several doors led off the room and they could smell stew and hay. A dwarf stood by the ale barrel and a woman stood near the door that obviously led to the kitchen. Two golden brown dogs sat near the hearth, watching the newcomers. A black cat lay on one of the tables.

It was quite crowded in the room with the four adventurers and the 15 peasants, many of whom sat down at the tables, exhausted. The man at the door quickly bolted it again. He seemed very nervous. Arya went over and petted the cat, which rubbed up against her hand, enjoying it every much. In her mind, she beat herself up over the deer she’d wounded.

“Do you have enough food for everyone?” Leon asked.

“We’ll make do,” the dwarf said. “This is my place.”

Elriya greeted him in dwarven and he smiled and spoke his own language back to her.

“I haven’t heard my tongue in many and many a year,” he said to the Halfling. Then in the common tongue: “Who wants stew?”

Tarmak laughed nearly maniacally.

“Everyone,” Leon said.

“Penelope!” the dwarf said. “Stew! Let’s get stew for everyone.”

The adventurers took a table while the peasants all sat down. Some of them put their heads down on the table, exhausted. The four adventurers took out the sacks of coins and Arya said she was carrying some that wasn’t hers.

“That is very forthright of you,” Leon said with genuine respect.

“It’s not mine,” she said again.

“Arya is not a thief,” the paladin exclaimed.

They found they had a total of 150 silver pieces of mixed denominations. There were 131 gold coins as well as the three gemstones. Tarmak pulled out the strange red box he’d found and put it on the table. The dwarf and the woman came out of the kitchen with trays covered in bowls of a thick, hearty stew with plenty of meat and vegetables. The dwarf innkeeper told them the stew was a silver coin a bowl, and came with a piece of bread, which the woman went to fetch. He noted ale cost three copper coins, or two tankards for five copper coins. A bed for the night was two silver coins though he noted most of them would have to stay in the common room as he only had two rooms, the village never getting a great amount of traffic.

They made sure to give all of the villagers food and a mug of ale. The final tally to feed them was about 20 silver coins and the dwarf was not in any hurry to charge the group, making sure all of the people got food and drink first. It was the most delicious food they’d tasted in days.

Unbeknownst to any of them, Elriya had squirreled away 20 gold coins from their loot, mostly as she didn’t want the paladin to give away all of their gold. Leon tucked the three gems away and held onto the other coins.

It was only after they had eaten and drank and put the coin away that the portly man who opened the door approached their table.

“My name is Yanek,” he said. “Donovan Yanek. I’m the laird of this town. Luskwald is beset by a menace … a terrible and mysterious menace. Ezner Mourne, the village glazier, was found dead in his cottage two mornings past, lying in a pool of blood and broken glass. Two others have died since: a pair of local woodsmen named Karn Ironstar and Bryn Bellowforge. Both were murdered in their sleep, and all three victims had their throats slit. Words were scrawled in blood in each of the victims’ homes, but we could not decipher their meaning. I believe the message warns of more deaths to come. Only you can help us stop the evil ─ before it is too late. Adventurers, please, help us!”

“Of course, sir,” Leon said.

“Is the writing still there?” Elriya asked.

“It is,” Yanek said. “One of them, it was … I couldn’t read it … and the others.”

“We’ll investigate it on the morrow,” Leon said.

“Very well,” Yanek said. “Very well. What happened to you folks?”

“We just escaped an orc encampment.”

The man gasped.

“Orcs?” he said. “Are they invading?”

“No, they were trying to uncover some sort of treasure,” Leon said.

“Oh. Well, there was supposed to be some kind of goblin invasion some time ago. That’s why we were repairing … repairing the keep. I-I think the murders are somehow related to the peculiar events that happened in the old keep, a couple miles north of the village. We’ve been fraught with ill-luck ever since repairs began. If you’re willing to help …”

He told them six months ago, the residents of Luskwald heard rumors from passing merchants of a possible goblin incursion into the region. News from the nearest city confirmed speculations that goblin tribes were massing in the Flinty Hills. Worried about the future of his small community, Yanek commissioned a stonemason and several carpenters to rebuild a damaged keep two miles north of the village. The old keep, neglected since the last goblin invasion 10 years before, could be rebuilt and defended at minimal expense. When the villagers got news of a goblin advance, they could retreat to the security of the keep’s thick stone walls.

The repair crews worked for weeks restoring the keep’s fallen walls, while waiting nervously for the first goblin to show its ugly head. For the first several days, the restoration proceeded according to schedule, but in the weeks that followed, several “accidents” led many to believe the keep was cursed or haunted. The first incident was dismissed as a mere mishap: a section of floor collapsed beneath the stonemason, seriously injuring him. Unable to continue his work, the mason left an apprentice in charge of restoring the outer walls. Most of the workers blamed the accident on rotten floorboards, while a handful believed something more sinister was responsible.

But the collapsed floor was just the first of many unfortunate incidents. Over a period of several days, falling blocks of stone struck crewmen, nails pierced their boots, and unsteady scaffolding sent more than one worker tumbling to the ground. At the same time, rumors that the keep was haunted began circulating among the crew. The keep’s restoration was terminated altogether when, just four weeks into the repair schedule, an entire section of the scaffold collapsed, killing one workman and injuring three others. A study of the wreckage revealed that the scaffold had been sabotaged; someone or something had deliberately sawed through three support beams.

Yanek said he tried to convince the workers that the keep was an important bastion against the goblin hordes, but the crewmen were adamant about staying away from the haunted ruins, claiming the site had “a life of its own.” Fortunately, several bands of brave adventurers sent from distant cities put a quick end to the growing goblin threat, and with the village of Luskwald spared, Yanek abandoned his effort to rebuild the fallen keep.

However, the haunting did not end.

In the past week, three villagers had died, each the victim of a grisly assassin whose identity remains a mystery. Several villagers had heard or seen peculiar things over the last several days, leading them to believe that Luskwald has been cursed , or worse, ravaged by angry spirits - perhaps sent by a greater evil that dwells within the ruined keep! Yanek didn’t believe such nonsense, though he told them he wasn’t getting much sleep at night. Beyond any doubt, something was stalking the people of Luskwald … and everyone was afraid.

He suggested they start in the village itself and maybe the nature of the curse would be revealed by exploring the victims’ homes. He also said some of the villagers actually worked on the keep.

“So we can talk to them,” Elriya said.

“Yes,” Yanek said.

He told them the villagers who had worked in the keep included Hans Bellinek, Gustav and Justin Orlesky, Erne and Homm Shyndle, Karn Ironstar and Bryn Bellowforge (who were now both dead), Ezekiel Devek, and Doland Mirklar and his two apprentices. When asked, he noted that the glazier Ezner Mourne, the first to die, had not worked at the keep.

Outside, a light rain began to fall. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1973-Advanced-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-2nd-Edition-The-Scar-Session-Three
<![CDATA[Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition: The Scar Session Two]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1972-Advanced-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-2nd-Edition-The-Scar-Session-Two Wed, 27 Jul 2016 18:37:01 GMT Monday, July 25, 2016

(After playing the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition scenario “The Scar” by Ray Winninger from Dungeon Adventures #80 on Sunday from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, Collin Townsend, Aaron Scott, Ashton LeBlanc, James Brown, and Helen Koeval.)

The mage Arthelion the Enlightened, the priest Tarmak of the Winding Road, and the kobold rogue Kilb Bronzescale ran towards where they hoped the entrance to the terrible underground temple lay. Along with them were the elf priest Rome, the hedge wizard Helius Wik, and the dwarf warrior Noiree Fragginth. They arrived at the room with three doors to find the halfling thief Elriya Warrick there with the other slaves. She was looking around the corner of an archway into the darkness to the west. The room itself was only dimly lit by the large brass lanterns down the halls to north and south.

Elriya could see three orcs in a corridor towards the center of the complex, directly where they wanted to go. One of the rare halflings who had infravision, she could see in the pitch blackness perfectly.

Rome, Helius Wik, and Noiree said they would look for another way out. Rome said he knew of a secret door.

“I really don’t think we should split up,” Arthelion said.

“We’ll be okay, man,” Helius Wik said. “We’ll be fine.”

“All right. I trust you.”

“Wizards!”

The three of them headed south into the darkness and were soon lost to sight.

“We’re only assuming the exit is this way,” Elriya whispered.

“I really don’t want to fight anymore,” Arthelion said.

“I mean, none of us do,” Elriya said. “Why don’t you go distract them, distracting wizard?”

“Nah, I don’t want to do that,” Arthelion said.

“Hm,” Tarmak said.

“Hm,” Arthelion said. “All right, where’s the exit?”

“Well, I assume it’s past them,” Elriya said.

Arthelion hid in the corner as best he could. They heard the slapping of feet on flagstones come from the north. Then came the clanking of chains as one of the three doors rolled up into the ceiling. An orc strode out and they recognized him as Storr, the orc sub-chief. He wore the same black cloak the orcs wore as well as leather armor. A footman’s mace was on his belt, as was a scourge. He grinned when he saw the slaves. Nine orcs came out of the room behind him, all of them armed with spears and scourges.

“Prisoners,” Storr said. “You’ve had a good run. Drop your weapons … we’ll let you live.”

“Can you show me how to drop my weapon … like, can you do it and then I’ll know how to do it?” Arthelion said.

Storr looked at him.

“You’re outnumbered, except for those pansy-asses there,” Storr said, gesturing towards the other cowering slaves.

“Are we?” Arthelion asked.

“Yep,” Storr said.

“Hey listen, you guys have had a good run,” Arthelion said. “Let’s just kind of call it quits on the whole enslavement thing.”

“As soon as you go back to your room, we’ll discuss it!” Storr said.

“Like … nice conversation?”

“Civilized human …”

“I would like a debate. Can we debate now?”

“That’s a negative.”

Elriya grabbed Tarmak’s hand and pulled him towards the darkness.

“Grab the next person!” she said.

“Guards! They’re comin’ yer way!” Storr yelled.

Tarmak reached out blindly and grabbed Arthelion’s hand, dragging him along. Arthelion reached out to grab at Kilb but missed the kobold completely.

“Oh no! I wanted to surrender!” Arthelion called out.

“Why’d you grab him?” Elriya said.

“You gave me like two seconds and said ‘Grab somebody!’” Tarmak said. “I grabbed somebody! It’s kind of dark in that corner.”

“Get ‘em!” Storr yelled. “You three!”

He pointed at the other slaves and three orcs rushed to take them prisoner. Three more orcs ran to Kilb and surrounded the kobold, pointing their spears at him. Two of them tried to strike the kobold with the blunt end of their spears. Storr and the other orcs rushed forward, the orcs moving past the fleeing slaves and turning on them. Storr ran up behind Arthelion.

“Hey, I tried to surrender!” Arthelion cried out.

Storr struck Arthelion on the head with the handle of his mace and the man went down, letting go of the spear and Tarmak’s hand.

“Eat my ass!” Arthelion cried.

Kilb dropped his sword and the orcs pointed their spears at him. He looked disgusted.

Several other orcs approached from the other direction, blocking the corridor out with lowered spears. Elriya turned to the left, pulling on Tarmak, who was moving more slowly in the pitch blackness. That gave the orcs time to close ranks in that direction and block them. Several of them started to rear back with their spears to beat on them with the blunt end. Storr put his foot on Arthelion’s chest. He pointed the mace at his face.

“Surrender, wizard!” he said.

“I have,” Arthelion said.

Elriya backed a few feet from them and dropped her dagger, surrendering.

“Can you get your foot off me, please?” Arthelion said.

Storr leaned down to the mage.

“If you’re ever in the mood for bets, let me know,” the orc growled.

“You ever kissed a human before?” Arthelion said.

“Get up!” Storr said, standing back up as he held Arthelion’s hat.

Arthelion held up his hand for help.

“Get up,” Storr said.

Arthelion grabbed the orc, using him to pull himself up. Storr backhanded the wizard and shoved him off and flung his hat at him.

“Thank you,” Arthelion said, putting it on. “How’s it look?”

“Get back in there!” Storr said.

The orcs herded all of the slaves back to the slave quarters.

“Well, we did it once, we can do it again,” Arthelion muttered.

When they got to the room, they got the orc out who was under the door. He was still alive, surprisingly. Some of the orcs kicked his unconscious form.

“Dumb ass!” one said.

“I was just want to say that he was like that when we escaped,” Arthelion said. “He opened the door, guys, and he just slammed it on his back and said ‘Get out of here!’ and we just did what he said.”

He realized the orc was probably still charmed, but also realized he didn’t even know what the orc looked like. It was pitch black in the slave quarters and he had never seen the orc’s face.

The orcs stripped them of their gear and possessions again. Arthelion started to take off his robes as well but one of the orcs shoved him in the chest and he fell backwards.

“Oh, you don’t want …” Arthelion said.

The orcs talked in their own tongue and then closed the door and left. Later that night, when orcs came to search them and the room, they were in groups of six each time. The other slaves whined about what had happened.

* * *

Leon Chamberlyn, Champion of Justice, was a paladin of some little repute. He was amazingly good-looking and had brown hair that was thick but short. He wore splint mail and carried a shield, as well as a bastard sword and a heavy lance. He had come to the Flinty Hills in search of orcs he’d heard were terrorizing the land near the border of Nyrond, committed to ending their reign of terror.

On the evening of the 2nd of Fireseek, in the bitter cold of the hills, he had met with a woman wearing primarily red. She had introduced herself as Odila Redfeather, a traveling bard. She was pretty and rather tall and had blonde hair and green eyes. She had been traveling between some of the gnome villages hidden in the hills.

The two decided to camp together for the night for safety. Unfortunately, they were ambushed by a dozen orcs who entered their camp and took them prisoner, putting bags over their heads and marching them off into the darkness. They walked for what felt like hours before they headed downwards and into some kind of tunnels.

* * *

When the orcs came to get the slaves on the morning of the 3rd of Fireseek, they were all exhausted. The nine orcs also brought two people with bags over their heads, shoving them into the room. Only Kilb and Elriya saw the two in the dark.

“Two more!” an orc said. “C’mon. You’re all getting to work.”

They were all herded out back to the area where they had been working the last two days. In the light, all of them could see the two new arrivals. The orcs gave them shovels and ordered them to clear rubble from the end of a passageway. They grabbed about six of the other slaves and ushered them off towards the library.

The newcomers saw that most of the other slaves were merely commoners though a few stood out, particularly the man in robes and the pointed hat, the man with intense green eyes, a kobold, and a halfling. They seemed to be close to being done clearing the rubble pile they were working on.

“Can I get some ****ing shoes?” Arthelion said to one of the orcs watching them.

“No,” the orc said.

“Please.”

“Back to work.”

“I really need shoes to work effectively.”

“Get back to work.”

“Have you ever stubbed your toe?”

“You’re the mouth, aren’t you?”

“Wait, take off your boots. How many toes do orcs have?”

“All right, get back to work or I’ll start beating on you and if I start, I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop.”

“All right, I will work twice as fast if you just show me your feet.”

“Get back to work.”

“Gods damn it.”

He went back to work.

“Is anyone here injured?” Leon said the other slaves.

“Describe injured,” Arthelion said. “Physically or mentally?”

“I can fix physical.”

“Do you think I could have one of them boots?”

Leon looked down at the man’s feet. He was not wearing shoes and his feet were bruised and dirty.

“Why just one?” Leon said. “Here. Take both of them.”

The paladin took off his soft boots and handed them over to the wizard.

“Wow,” Arthelion said, genuinely surprised.

“Your feet look so injured,” Leon said.

Arthelion put the boots one. They were a little loose on him but he could make do.

“We could just alternate every other day or something,” he said.

“But I don’t want you to have to suffer … walking on this cold ground,” Leon said.

“I really appreciate all the niceties but … in a couple of hours, you’re not going to be nice anymore. This place ruins you.”

“It’ll take more than these foul orcs to change my attitude.”

“I don’t think we should be calling them foul orcs!”

He said it loud enough to for the orcs to hear.

Kilb walked by the two and then dropped a large rock almost on Arthelion’s foot. He had done the act on purpose, aiming at the man’s foot, but made it look like an accident.

“Oops,” he said. “Sorry.”

Arthelion was suspicious for a moment but then remembered the kobold was terribly clumsy. He dropped rocks all the time, particularly larger stones.

“Does anybody know where they keep our stuff?” Leon asked some of them.

“Yeah, we got it before,” Elriya said. “Unless they moved it.”

“You look like you were injured as well,” Leon said to Arthelion when he noticed the bloodstains on his robes.

“My pain goes deeper than this stab wound, friend,” Arthelion said.

“Internal injuries?”

“Yeah. You could say that.”

“Try mental,” Tarmak quipped as he walked by.

“Well, I’m sorry these orcs have mentally broken you so,” Odila said.

“Nah, they didn’t mentally break me,” Arthelion said. “I’m about to mentally break them.”

“Um … that doesn’t make much sense.”

“You’ll see.”

“Are you this group’s fool?”

“Nope.”

“Yes,” Tarmak quipped as he walked by.

Others nodded.

“You’re obviously a paladin,” Arthelion said to Leon. “You wouldn’t have given me the boots otherwise.”

“You are correct,” Leon said.

“And you don’t necessarily look strong so, what do you do, sing?” Arthelion said to Odila.

“Yes, I’m a performer,” she said. “I travel around and I sing and I tell stories. I’m sure this will make an excellent one when I get out of here.”

“Your parents must be proud.,” Arthelion said.

“My parents died several years ago,” she said.

“You’ll be dead soon, so you’ll get to see them again anyways,” Arthelion said.

“How long have you been down here?” Leon asked him.

“What is time?” he said philosophically.

A rock struck Arthelion on the back of the head, stinging like the dickens. He spun around and saw Elriya lowering her hand and turning away and guessed she had thrown the rock. He picked up a rock and flung it at the young woman despite Leon trying to stop him.

“People, we mustn’t hurt ourselves!” Leon said.

Elriya was bleeding where where the rock had struck her in the back of the head.

“Why did you do that?” Arthelion said to her.

“Well, now I’m hurt, Mr. Paladin,” she said to Leon.

“Why did you do that?” Arthelion said again.

“We need to not hurt each other!” Leon said as he laid his hands on Elriya’s wounds, magically healing her.

“I-I-I feel─” Odila started to say.

“I think she’s working with the orcs!” Arthelion said.

“I don’t think─” Odila started to say.

“Yes, because I helped you escape!” Elriya said. “Because I was working with the orcs.”

“I don’t think that─” Odila said.

“If we escaped, why are we still here?” Arthelion said.

“You were the one who surrendered first!” Elriya said.

“I’m not the one that ran into six orcs,” he replied.

“There’s a lot of finger-pointing going around,” Leon said.

“You were the one who alerted them to our presence in the hallway!” Elriya said.

“I’m the one that charmed the guard so we could get out in the first place?” Arthelion replied.

“So, you are an effective wizard?” Leon said.

“Oh, highly effective,” Arthelion said.

“I feel like this team is going to be totally hopeless,” Odila said.

“Ain’t no team, honey,” Arthelion said. “What are you talking about? All you do is dance and stuff. This guy can’t even walk straight.”

He gestured at Kilb.

“Everybody’s going to take advantage of you,” he said to Leon. “You’re going to be the prison *****, probably.”

He looked at Tarmak.

“That guy just looks normal,” he said. “I ain’t got a problem with him. And he healed me! I like this guy.”

Leon stared at the raving wizard but didn’t detect any evil coming from the man.

“Do you think we could take him?” Elriya said to Kilb in the kobold tongue, looking at Arthelion.

“Definitely,” Kilb said.

“So, everybody says that you’re a normal person,” Odila said to Tarmak. “So, what’s your name?”

“Thanks,” Tarmak said. “My name is Tarmak. I’m a priest.”

“You’re a priest?” Leon said.

“Yes,” Tarmak said.

“Really?” Odila said.

“Who is your deity?” Leon asked.

“I’m an adherent to the great Lord Fharlanghn, long may he travel,” Tarmak said. “And you, paladin?”

“I serve the great Heironeous,” Leon said.

“Oh,” Tarmak said.

Tarmak knew Heironeous was a good god of chivalry, justice, honor, and war. He knew there were a lot of worshippers of Heironeous in Nyrond.

“Well, if we have a priest … some kind of wizard …” Leon said. “And you can actually do stuff with song, right?”

“Yes, I can,” Odila said.

“If we can reach our equipment, we may be able to free these people,” Leon said.

“Again,” Arthelion said.

“We already tried that,” Tarmak said.

Leon turned to Arthelion.

“And … you, I guess,” he said.

“Again,” Arthelion said.

“He’s the one that ****ed it up last time,” Elriya said.

“I didn’t **** up anything!” Arthelion said. “How did I **** up?”

He looked at her.

“I’m genuinely asking!” he said. “What did I **** up?”

“She just might think you did,” Leon said, playing the peacemaker.

“I don’t think I did anything wrong,” Arthelion said.

Storr walked up to the group slaves.

“I ****ed it up, apparently, and I don’t know how!” Arthelion said. “No one’s going to say anything so …”

“Look alive slaves!” Storr said. “The master’s coming down to check. And if you mouth off at him, Mouth, he’s likely to cut you in half.”

“I don’t give a **** anymore!” Arthelion said.

“It’s hard to cut someone in half with a mace,” Elriya said.

“Would you like to make a wager on it?” Storr said to Arthelion.

“On what?” Arthelion said.

“Are you going to mouth off to him?”

“I might. I just do what I want.”

“All right, if you mouth off to him … and survive … I’m willing to give you some favor of some sort.”

“Like freedom?”

“No, not like freedom. Of course if you die, I get nothing anyway so that doesn’t sound like much fun. Never mind. I love to wager.”

He left them.

They worked for another hour before the orc chieftain Skarg arrived. He wore studded leather armor under his black cloak and a longsword hung from his side. He was in the company of a man in black armor with a helm that covered his face except for a y-shaped slit for his eyes and mouth. Darkness lay within the helmet except for two red glowing pinpoints where his eyes should have been. Small, nasty-looking wings were attached to the helmet. A was very tall and his black chainmail was rusted and old. He carried a two-handed sword in one hand. The temperature of the entire area seemed to drop in his presence.

Leon could feel almost a palpable evil emanating from the terrible creature even without trying.

“They’ve almost broken through Mohab,” Skarg said to the armored man. “We’ll be here when they do! Finish slaves! Break through the wall! We must see if it’s there.”

The man in armor watched, unmoving. The other slaves started working at quickly as they could and soon they broke through the barrier of the rubble to another chamber beyond. As soon as a way was cleared, the orcs ordered the slaves back and Skarg and Mohab entered. They returned after some angry cursing as it only opened into another portion of the room with more rubble beyond it. Both of them seemed incensed at yet another delay.

The orcs ordered the slaves to get back to work and started to lead the slaves into the next antechamber.

“What the hell?” Arthelion said. “I thought when we broke through the wall we were done.”

Skarg walked over and backhanded the mage.

“You’ll work ‘til we’re done with you!” he growled.

“So, do you backhand me because that guy backhands you?” Arthelion said. “Is it kind of a trickledown effect of backhands? I bet his armor hurts you when he hits you, doesn’t it?”

“Does this happen all the time?” Leon asked Elriya.

“I’ve heard of you,” Skarg said. “You’re the Mouth aren’t you?”

“I haven’t heard of you,” Arthelion said. “What is your name, good sir?”

“Skarg. Or you may call me master, if you wish.”

“Did your mother call you that?”

The orc glared at him and then slapped him hard in the face, knocking him backwards.

“Sir, leave him alone!” Odila said, coming forward. “He’s just trying to get a rise out of you. I’m sure he means no harm.”

“He’s succeeding!” Skarg bellowed at her. “Would you like some more?”

“So you admit I’ve succeeded,” Arthelion said.

“Would you like some more?” Skarg said.

“I’ve heard all I need to hear,” Arthelion said. “Thank you.”

The orc glared at him before turning and leaving, followed closely by Mohab. Arthelion rubbed his face, which was beet red where he’d been slapped. His teeth felt loose in his skull. The orc had hurt him. Leon felt nauseous form the overwhelming sense of evil that clung to Mohab.

“We have to kill it somehow,” he muttered.

They worked the rest of the day on the new pile of rubble blocking the room. One of the slaves was sent to bring water three times. Leon thanked the person each time. The slave seemed pleasantly surprised at that. Some hours later, they smelled food and then nine orcs returned to collect them and return them to their terrible cell. It was a half hour after that when six orcs brought gruel and a tiny piece of tough meat for them to eat. Soon after they, they could hear the orc revelry they indulged in every night.

“This might be a good chance to get out of here,” Odila said.

“Welp …” Arthelion said.

“They tried that last night!” another of the slaves said. “You’re gonna get us all killed.”

“Hey man, if they haven’t killed us yet, they’re not going to kill us,” Arthelion said.

“How do you know that?” the panicked voice said.

“They do need the labor,” Leon said.

“They haven’t killed me yet,” Arthelion said.

“It’s too much trouble to get new people,” Elriya said.

“I’ve only known you for half a day and I’m surprised they haven’t killed you yet,” Leon said.

“We’ve only known him for two,” Elriya said.

“Imagine what you saw, but for the past two days as well,” Arthelion said. “But with boots now!”

“You’ve only been here three days?” Leon said.

“Yeah.”

“I didn’t know earlier.”

Tarmak remembered they had not cleared the pile of rubble in the corner of their quarters so he felt his way over to it and started to work in shifting some of the stones. Elriya went to help him.

“What is all that noise?” Leon asked.

“What are you doing?” Kilb said.

“There’s a pile of rocks in the corner,” Elriya said.

“Going to see what’s behind it,” Tarmak said.

“We’ve been moving rocks all day,” Kilb said.

“A couple more won’t kill us,” Elriya said. “I don’t think.”

“A quick question,” Odila said. “Do you know what the orcs and that creepy guy from earlier were actually trying to accomplish?”

Silence filled the room.

“You’re the one who read the papers,” Elriya said.

Tarmak told them of finding a paper that discussed a magic weapon in Cameron’s hands that lay to the south in the Honor Hall. The elf Rome had told them about a hall with statues as well.

“So, what kind of mage are you?” Leon asked.

Arthelion, already asleep, didn’t answer.

Orcs came in twice that night to search the prisoners and the room.

* * *

The next day, the 4th of Fireseek, saw them woken roughly and taken to work on the wall again. A few of the commoners were taken to the library again and the rest were set to work on the new pile of rubble that sat before them. Leon heard two orcs talking about Skarg, but he didn’t understand their language. It was just gibberish to him. Some hours later, Elriya was chosen to fetch water. Two orcs led her to the room with water storage where water dripped down into the tuns there. It was raining lightly above somewhere but even the overcast and cloudy day seemed bright to the halfling after spending so much time underground.

She noticed an orc guard outside of the room where they had found their things two days before. She also noticed the orcs guarding the area near the bonfire at the far end of the tunnel. She had seen two orcs guarding in the area they had almost escaped through but otherwise there were not many orcs about.

The two orcs escorted her back to the slaves with her two half-filled buckets to water the slaves. They cuffed her in the head and ordered her to return with more water, threatening if she tried to escape again, it would go very hard on her. One of them kicked her as she walked away. She walked back towards the water room but turned right and headed into another lit corridor to the northwest.

A pile of debris filled the wide corridor and she spotted a door in a small niche to the right. She walked to her left and saw the corridor open up. Numerous doors were closed on the corridor. She wandered down another corridor and peeked around a corner. Another lantern stood there but there were no orcs in the vicinity.

* * *

“So, what kind of wizard are you?” Leon asked Arthelion.

“Why does that concern you, friend?” Arthelion said.

“You could aid in my rescue of these people.”

Your rescue?”

“I mean … our rescue. It doesn’t matter as long as these people get saved. The orcs will surely kill them after they’re done with what they’re doing.”

“What do you think they’re doing?”

Leon thought on that.

“Moving rocks to get to something?” he finally said.

“What do you think they’re getting to?” Arthelion said.

“It doesn’t matter what they’re doing,” Odila said. “They’ve enslaved us and they’re obviously evil.”

“I’m not convinced yet,” Arthelion said.

“Are you daft?” Leon asked.

“What’s it going to take to convince you then?” Tarmak asked.

“Just … just get hit by one of them,” Arthelion said. “You’ll see they’re not hitting us as hard as they could.”

“They don’t want to hurt their workers too much,” Leon said. “They just want us in line.”

“What is it you want me to do?” Arthelion said.

“Just assist in our escape,” Leon said. “But it would help to know what you can do.”

“What could assist in our escape?” Arthelion said.

“If we could get to our equipment and … probably … is there anything in here that’s dangerous?” Leon said. “Lead them to a pit?”

“There’s the gnasher,” Arthelion said.

“Do we know what a gnasher is?” Leon said.

Tarmak shook his head.

“We only know the guards are afraid of it,” he said.

“What is a gnasher?” Leon said again.

“I don’t know,” Arthelion said. “But if you want to see it, they’ll let you.”

“Are they scared of this gnasher?”

“They won’t go with you.”

“Maybe we could release this gnasher.”

“I think that’s a wonderful idea.”

“It sounds big. We could probably be safe in one room and see how the orcs kill it. Maybe it can take out a few.”

“Do you want me to ask them if they’ll let us go see the gnasher?”

“That actually might not be a bad idea.”

“Oh guard!”

“By Gruumsh, what do you want now!” the orc guard growled.

“Guards, I’ve found somebody who wants to see the gnasher,” Arthelion said.

“Are you insane or just stupid?” the orc said to Leon.

“Why does it have to be one or the other?” Arthelion asked.

“Because there are no other choices,” the orc growled. “Or perhaps both?”

“So, yes, I─” Leon said.

“You want to see the gnasher?” the orc said.

“What is a gnasher?” Leon said.

The orc turned to one of his fellows.

“Go get Storr, he’s going to want to bet something on this,” the orc said.

The other orc nodded and ran into the darkness. He returned after a short while with Storr.

“You boys wanna see the gnasher, huh?” he said to Arthelion and Leon.

“No!” Arthelion said.

“I would actually like to see the gnasher too,” Odila said.

Storr laughed.

“All right … so … place your bets boys,” Storr said to the other orcs.

“We don’t want to go up to it, we’d like to see it,” Leon said.

“Oh, you’ll see it,” Storr said. “Especially you, Mouth, since you were part of that whole uprising the other day.”

“Well, you see …” Arthelion said.

“And no one’s holding your hand, by the way,” Storr said.

“No, but … I want to see them see the gnasher,” Arthelion said. “Is what I want to do.”

“Aw,” Storr said. “So, you don’t mind throwing your friends to the gnasher, huh?”

“Friends?” Arthelion said. “Why are we … nobody’s friends here.”

“You’re all humans,” Storr said. “All humans are friends. You all know each other. We know that.”

“That is not accurate,” Tarmak said.

“Are all orcs friends, then?” Arthelion said.

“All orcs are enemies,” Storr said.

“So, would you stab that guy beside you?”

“Yes.”

“Show me?”

“Don’t be stupid.”

“Okay. So, we going or what?”

“Who thinks they’ll survive?”

Storr didn’t get any takers who would back the men.

“I’m going to wager that they’ll survive,” Tarmak said.

“What have you got to wager, slave?” Storr said.

“Hm,” Tarmak said.

“Well, he’s got some rocks,” Arthelion said.

Tarmak offered healing spells if they didn’t come back and was willing to heal them if they got wounded.

“Heal them?” Storr said.

“No, you,” Tarmak said.

“I’m not going in there!”

“Any of your men that get wounded.”

“All right, all right. You’re a priest, eh?”

“Yes.”

“Healing upon demand.”

“Yes.”

“For the next week.”

“Yes, if they do not come back.”

“Oh. All right, what if they do come back?”

“He can’t heal your face,” Arthelion said.

“Nor yours,” Storr said.

Without even looking at the wizard, he punched him in the face, breaking his nose and sending him stumbling backwards.

“Are you a glutton for punishment?” Leon said to the man.

Tarmak rolled his eyes. The other orcs readied their weapons before they relaxed again.

“What if you win the bet, there, priest?” Storr said.

“That you would allow me to have my holy icon for at least a small amount of time each day so─” Tarmak said.

“You’ll have it for your healing!”

“Obviously if I win the bet, I don’t have to heal you for the next week. It’s just so I can commune with my god.”

“No, I don’t trust you. You’ll cast other spells.”

“Well, it takes a long time to cast spells, even with the icon.”

“Tell you what. You win the bet; I’ll let you roam around for an hour. Anywhere you want to go.”

“Seems fair.”

“I’m not telling any of the guards though, so you’d better keep clear of them.”

“Oh. I’ll take you up on that bet then.”

“What?” Arthelion said, blood pouring from his nose.

“He gets an hour off,” Storr said.

“That’s the most unfair bet I’ve ever seen,” Arthelion said.

“He is getting a lot from it, but who cares?” Storr said.

“You have to survive for me to get that,” Tarmak said to Arthelion.

“Yeah!” Storr said.

“Don’t make me look like an idiot,” Tarmak said.

Storr spit in his hand and shook hands with Tarmak, sealing the bet.

“C’mon, you get to come too,” Storr said to him.

“I’m not going to go in there, am I?” Tarmak said.

“Hey, I’m not going to be able to beat the gnasher already injured,” Arthelion said. “Can you at least let him heal me so I can go fight the gnasher.”

“Wait,” Leon said. “Are we actually fighting this gnasher?”

“I didn’t know that but I like the sound of it,” Storr said. “Sure.”

“What do you think we’re going to do, going in there?” Arthelion said.

“I wanted to look at it,” Leon said.

“If you look at it, it’s going to fight you,” Arthelion said.

“There ain’t no light in there,” Storr said. “Good luck looking at it.”

He took Tarmak, Arthelion, Odila, and Leon. Kilb thought about trying to follow but with six orcs there, he didn’t know if he was going to be able to get by.

* * *

Elriya walked quietly down the corridor knowing any door could have orcs behind it. She came around the corner and found another pile of rubble. Bearing again to her right, she found herself back where she’d started. After some consideration, she chose to open the door in the niche, pulling the chains and slipping into a smaller room that was only about 20 feet across. It was pitch black within but she could see with her infravision.

The chamber housed hundreds of keys of all descriptions, shapes, and sizes, hanging from hooks on the walls. A frieze ran around the top of the room depicting two moons orbiting the world. It had a caption but she couldn’t read it. She recognized it as Oerth with its moons of Celene and Luna. She was unsure about the keys and realized she’d not seen anything like a keyhole on any of the doors but guessed if there was one, it would probably be near the floor.

A small hole was in the back of the room.

She returned to get water and took it to the slaves again. The orcs slapped her.

“Where you been?” one of them bellowed at her. “Hurry up! Faster next time!”

She was kicked again.

“I’m a short little Halfling!” she cried.

“Run then, you stupid *****!” the orc growled at her.

She ran away with the buckets, slowing only when she returned to the key room. She slipped into the hole. The next room was larger than the strange key room and filled with smashed sticks of furniture and trash. Two doors lay close together in one wall and a short corridor connected the large room to another, smaller one with a single door. The frieze was identical in both rooms depicting a hall with statues. She was unable to read the writing, however.

She guessed the door led back to the corridor outside their slave quarters and pulled on the chains to open the door. It was, indeed, the corridor just outside of their quarters. No one was inside the quarters and the door had been left open.

She closed the door behind her and went back through, returning with water. She was slapped again for taking so long and then sent for one last time to get water for the slaves, admonished to hurry it up.

This time, she turned left just after leaving the area where the slaves were, going down the corridor she knew led to the library. She stopped at the hall where the statues were, however. The long hall was 30 feet wide and 100 feet long. In addition to several large piles of rubble and a long, thin pool of smelly stagnant water that ran the length of the hall to the east, were four damaged, 9-foot tall statues covered in a thick dust. A name was engraved on each statue in the common tongue.

The statue furthest north was of a priestess dressed in flowing robes with a dove perched upon her fingertips. The name on the statue was Josia. The second was of a knight dressed in chainmail wielding a longsword. The name upon the statue was Cameron. The third showed a man in flowing robes holding a large stone sphere in his hands. The name Thomas was on the statue. The last was a huntress dressed in a tunic and wielding a bow with the name Dionna upon it.

The frieze that ran around the room depicted the construction of a room filled with small desks upon which papers seemed to be sitting. Men sat at the desks and wrote. She couldn’t read the writing that ran along the frieze.

She headed back, got the water and returned with it. She saw Storr and two orcs leaving with some of the others as she arrived. The orcs cuffed her head and one of them took the buckets back.

“Where are they going?” she asked Kilb.

“They’re going to go see the gnasher,” Kilb told her.

“Why?”

“A wager.”

“For what?”

“They’re going to allow the average guy to walk around for an hour if we win. In exchange for the Mouth’s life. If he dies, then …”

“He’s gonna fight it!?!”

“I don’t know. They went to go see it. There’s a chance they’ll die.”

“Okay. Whatever. Hopefully they survive. I’ve got some stuff to tell ‘em.”

She told Kilb about the areas she’d explored, speaking in the kobold tongue in the hopes none of the orcs understood it.

“So, I’ve noticed Storr likes to wager,” Kilb said.

“Um … what would we wager him?” Elriya said.

“Anything. We could find something of value and try to wager for it. Something they can’t just take from us.”

“Well, something to think about.”

“Like the priest’s ability to heal, apparently.”

“Huh.”

“Can you do something interesting? Because I can.”

“I mean … I can tumble.”

“I can tumble as well. I can walk across a tightrope but …”

* * *

Storr took the four to the room with three doors. Two other orcs were there and Storr went to one of the three doors and got three more orcs to guard them. Then he left them for a short time and returned with Tarmak’s holy symbol. He told his three orcs something in their own tongue and they lowered their spears to point at the four, almost jabbing them with the points.

“Any tricks and you are tonight’s supper,” Storr said. “Understood?”

“No tricks,” Tarmak said.

Storr also drew his footman’s mace. They all watched Tarmak very carefully as he cast a healing spell on Arthelion. The mage’s nose clicked painfully back into place with a nasty-sounding snap. A single tear went down his cheek. It had hurt terribly.

Storr snatched the holy symbol out of Tarmak’s hand.

“Watch them,” he said to the other orcs.

He left them for a short while and then returned again. Then he and the three orcs took them down the wide corridor to the bonfire at the far end. Four orcs stood guard there, watching the darkness beyond.

“All right,” he said. “Go and see the gnasher.” He turned to Tarmak. “You’ll stay here as witness.”

“Now, as to seeing it, don’t we need some sort of light?” Leon said.

“Yeah,” Odila said.

“There’s a bonfire here,” Storr said matter-of-factly.

“Oh,” Leon said.

“I would advise not going too far in,” Storr said.

“Do we have a torch or stick?”

“No!”

Storr bowed mockingly and pointed them to the darkness.

“So, we gonna get some weapons or what?” Arthelion asked.

“No!” Storr said.

“How are we supposed to kill it?”

“I thought you just wanted to see it.”

“Well, if it attacks us, I’d like─”

“Oh, it will!”

“Then I’d like to be able to fight it.”

“Okay, well, good luck with that.”

“So … can I have my stuff?”

“No. Go.”

“Out of curiosity, wouldn’t it be more entertaining for you if we were able to fight it?” Odila asked.

“No,” Storr said.

“Put on a show for you?”

“No, the screams of your dying will probably be quite entertaining enough. And besides, we have a wager.”

“Yes,” Tarmak said.

“That would go against the wager,” Storr said. “Unless your reneging. In which case, you lose.”

“No. We’ll keep going with it. I have the utmost faith in y’all.”

“And remember, you have to tell us what it looks like. Giving you fire would be an undue advantage on your side anyway.”

“You haven’t even seen it?” Arthelion asked.

“Is it afraid of fire?” Leon asked.

“I didn’t say that,” Storr said. “But I think it would be an undue advantage.”

He looked at them.

“Go!” he said.

Leon led the way past the bonfire and into the darker area. He tried to sense evil ahead of him but detected nothing. Odila followed him, as did Arthelion.

The area directly past the bonfire was a room some 25 feet on a side with a wide archway that led to a darker area. In the center of the room was a large pile of rubble. They crept around it and could see a larger pile of rubble in the wide area beyond the archway. The smell of rotten meat began to get stronger. In the shadows to the left, they could see a door some yards away. In the shadows to the right was another door at about the same distance. They looked back and could see Tarmak and the orcs.

Somewhere ahead, they heard deep panting. Leon could still not sense any evil ahead of them.

The three crept to the right and found a corridor leading further into the darkness. They went to the door that lay in the shadows, looking around warily. They heard laughter come from back where the orcs were. Odila thought she’d heard one orc ask another in orcish “How long you think they’re going to last, Storr?” whereupon Storr had answered “A minute? I give them a minute. Anyone want to take more than a minute?” One of the other orcs had said “No.” and they had all laughed.

It was a testimony to orc humor.

Leon pulled on the chains, opening the door. He only opened it about three feet. Odila heard one of the orcs ask what the noise was but didn’t hear any reply. It was pitch black in the room.

“Where are you going?” Arthelion asked.

“Checking stuff out,” Leon said. “Why not?”

“Coming with you,” Arthelion said.

They crept into the dark room and groped around, trying to see if there was anything within. They thought they could feel debris and even what felt like cut stone. Leon wondered if they were gems. He found a necklace as well. Arthelion bumped into some sacks that jingled. Odila also bumped against a sack that jingled. They felt around as best they could. Then Leon felt what seemed to be a round shield.

Arthelion cast a cantrip spell and a tiny flame appeared in his hand. It only illuminated a small area but it was enough, when he was very close to something, to see it.

“Seems like we’ve found some sort of treasure room,” Leon said.

The room proved to be 20 feet deep by 30 feet wide with the door in the center of one of the wider walls. Leon held a small, round, metal shield. It was primarily made of wood with an iron rim and a round iron plate in the center. Embedded in the wood were two bronze serpents or legless dragons coiling around each other and facing each other with long tongues extended. It was quite elegant and very light.

The cut stones proved to be gemstones. Among them was a piece of jasper, a rock crystal, a moonstone, and a piece of citrine. There were also small bags, each filled with a few gold coins. A larger bag held hundreds of copper pieces and yet another bag held at least a hundred silver coins of ancient mintage. The necklace was simple but made of gold. They also found a suit of studded leather armor and a longsword, neither of which appeared to be of any great value, but both of which were in good condition.

Arthelion picked up one of the bags of gold coins.

“There’s no point in taking it with us,” Leon said.

“If we were to come back out, do you think you could fight a couple of these orcs?” Arthelion asked Leon.

“I feel if we could get them in here, the gnasher might be able to help us some too,” Leon said.

“That’s a possibility,” Odila said.

Arthelion guessed if there was a door in the corridor behind the room they were in, it connected back to another empty room the others had found before. He described the rooms he’d been told about when they had last tried to break out some two days before. It would circle them back around to the wide corridor.

They got Leon into the armor and gave him the shield and sword. While they got him in the armor, Odila made a rousing speech about defeating the orcs, noting the orcs were a bunch of oppressive jackasses. However, with the weapon and armor, they could fight them.

“Should we check that other room across the way?” Leon asked.

“Let’s!” Odila said, caught up by her own words.

Arthelion put the necklace around his neck, not even trying to hide it. He tucked the moonstone in his boot. Odila carefully counted the gold coins, finding 20 in each sack.

“The first priority though, is to save the innocent people,” Leon said.

“Yes,” Arthelion said.

“Then we can come back!”

“Well … um …”

“You know what?” Odila said. “You know what? You’re right.”

Arthelion picked up the sacks of gold coins and the sack of silver coins. When Odila asked for a bag of gold, he gave it to her.

“It seems the orcs are scared of this room,” Leon whispered as they left the treasury. “So, if we are running somewhere, we could run over here.”

They could hear panting somewhere in the dark.

“I hear the gnasher!” Odila said.

They crept around the back of the room and, in the dim light of the cantrip in Arthelion’s hand, saw a door exactly where he expected it to be. Arthelion pulled on the chains, making a terrible racket, and opened the door. Light spilled from the room beyond, which proved to be a wide room with a single large, brass lantern in the center. A corridor led to the right, presumably back to the wide tunnel, and another door stood on the far wall. The corridor to the left proved choked with rubble and completely blocked.

They discussed leaving the door open in hopes the gnasher would come out and attack the orcs, eventually doing so.

* * *

While Kilb and Elriya continued to work with the other slaves. One of the people they didn’t know well stumbled.

“I-I can’t … do anymore,” the man muttered.

He was one of the middle-aged men who was very thin but looked as if he might have once been overweight. He looked exhausted and they both knew he’d been their longer than either of them. One of the orcs unhooked the scourge from his belt and walked over to the man.

“Get up, you son of a *****!” the orc said.

He struck the man on the back with the scourge. The man let out a scream and tried to get to his feet.

“Keep working!” the orc shrieked at the man, cutting his back with the scourge once again.

The man screamed out in pain, eventually getting up and stumbling back to work

* * *

“Well, I don’t hear any chewing noises yet,” Storr said to Tarmak.

He glared at the cleric.

“We’ll keep waiting,” the orc finally said.

“Okay,” Tarmak said uncomfortably.

* * *

“If we go to our right, they’ll find us,” Leon said.

“Yeah, we just want to go where they’re not going to find us,” Arthelion said.

“Let’s go straight,” Leon said.

They opened the door directly in front of them as quietly as possible, which was not very quietly. They slipped through and closed it behind them. They were in a large open room with a wide hallway ahead of them and a more narrow one to their left. Debris filled the middle of the room and light came from the wide corridor, where another of the great brass lanterns stood. They could see some doors down the wide corridor and a few more down the narrow corridor.

They turned to the left and found two doors, one on either of the passageway. Leon picked the door on the left and pulled the chains to open the door. The room within was about 20 feet by 20 feet and was musty. It was filled with a messy pile of blank papers and writing implements. The light from without and the dim light from Arthelion’s spell only illuminated part of the room.

“Seems …” Odila said.

“This room seems boring,” Arthelion said.

“Completely useless!” Odila agreed.

Arthelion held up his hand and they could see a frieze around the top wall of the room. It depicted the construction of what appeared to be a cistern and showed a long key with a looping handle. They could not read the caption as it was in a language they didn’t understand. They noted the looping key and determined to remember it.

They went to the doorway across the hallway. The room proved to be very large. Most of it was occupied by smashed wooden benches, shattered statues, and fallen support beams. It was dark and empty and they found it occupied a space some 30 feet wide by 80 feet deep. The frieze along the ceiling depicted a number of men in regal robes who looked like priests.

Against the far wall was an old altar and dais upon which rested an iron bowl and a dried tree branch. When Leon stepped onto the dais, he suddenly received a brief, mysterious vision and dropped to his knees. He could see a crystal-clear image of a long iron key with a thick hoop for a handle.

Odila ran back to the open door to the last room and got pencil and paper to write down what they had found. She wrote down what they’d found and descriptions of the friezes.

* * *

“So, what kind of time limit are we putting on this before you lose?” Storr said to Tarmak.

“I didn’t know there was going to be a time limit?” the priest said.

“I’m bored!”

“What? We’ll just give them a little bit longer. We haven’t heard any─”

“Hey! Are you dead in there!?!”

There was no answer.

“That seems like proof,” Storr said.

“Yeah, don’t you usually hear the gnasher eating?” Tarmak said. “Or making other types of noises when he’d feeding?”

“We usually hear screams.”

“Well, then they’re obviously not dead yet. We would have heard something.”

The orc glared at him.

“Just a little longer,” Tarmak said. “Perhaps they’re still stumbling around in the dark.”

“All right, priest, since you’re going to lose anyway,” Storr said. “We will wait. For now.”

Hurry up, Tarmak thought.

* * *

“Shall we go back and play dumb?” Leon said.

“Um …” Odila said.

“And just, obviously, put the gold back, and the armor?” Leon said.

“Nope,” Arthelion said.

“And come get it later?” Leon said.

“Nope,” Arthelion said.

“Nope?” Leon said.

“I don’t wanna do that,” Arthelion.

“Um …” Odila said.

“Then let’s try to go free those other people,” Leon said.

“Oh!” Odila said.

“I say we keep checking the other doors,” Arthelion said. “We’ve got more to check.”

“Let’s check the other doors,” Odila said.

They moved to the next door and could see down the next hallway. Another brass lantern stood in it, as well as more doors. The ones on the right obviously went back to the temple room they’d just been in. Two others stood on the wall to the left.

“Look, there’s a lantern,” Arthelion said.

“Although if the orcs think that we died, we could work that to our advantage,” Odila said.

“We could,” Leon said.

“Some of us died a long time ago,” Arthelion said.

“It was three days,” Leon said.

“You’ve been here for three days,” Odila said. “I know that the orcs suck but they couldn’t have totally broken you in three days.”

“And you look like a glutton for punishment,” Leon said to him. “You might even be enjoying this.”

They went to the next door but, as Leon was pulling the chains to open the door, a shout came from within.

“Who the hell is that!?!” the voice sounded like Skarg’s.

Leon stopped pulling on the chains.

“My mistake,” Odila called in Orcish. “Sorry.”

“Get out!” Skarg cried.

“Yes sir!” Odila said in orcish.

She motioned for Leon to lower the door and he quickly did so. They moved down the hall to the next door on the left. Leon opened it and, as it went up, they saw two orcs in the room talking. There were bedrolls on the floor.

“What the hell?” one of them said.

“Skarg sent me to give you these for your hard work,” Arthelion said.

He held out some of the pouches and shook them. They jingled.

“Why is he in armor?” one of the orcs said as they got up. “Why does he have a weapon?”

“We work for you guys now,” Arthelion lied.

“You do! You’re slaves!”

“Yes, but we actually will help you with the other slaves.”

“Put down the sword!”

“I was told to escort,” Leon lied.

“Bullshit!” one of the orcs said.

They picked up their spears.

“Uh!” Odila said.

“Nope,” Arthelion said.

Odila ran into the room and grabbed the spear of one of the orcs. The two struggled with it. Arthelion flung one of the bags of gold at the other orc. It missed and burst open as it hit the wall, spilling gold coins all over the floor.

“You *****!” the orc yelled at Leon.

When he got close he suddenly looked nauseous, probably due to the magical ability the paladin had against evil creatures.

“That feels awful!” the orc cried.

He raised his spear over his head and brought it down, slipped, bringing the spear down into his own belly. He shrieked and fell, the tail of the spear breaking off. He landed on the ground, bleeding profusely.

The other orc continued to struggle with Odila for the spear. Leon ran over and swung at him, missing completely as the beast tried to keep the woman between himself and the paladin. A look of disgust went over his features as Leon got close. Then Arthelion ran over to the orc and tried to drop kick him. He only managed a glancing blow and landed on the hard stone floor on his back. Odila continued struggling against the orc but was unable to get the spear from him. Then the orc jerked it out of her hand.

“Oh, you little *****!” the orc growled.

Leon tried to stab the creature, but the orc ducked under the blow. Arthelion stood up and tried to punch the orc as Odila tried to get the spear away from the orc again but the orc pushed her off. Leon finally stabbed the orc in the belly and the orc dropped his spear and shrieked for mercy. He begged for quarter, tears welling up in his eyes as he fell to his knees. Leon looked down at the orc, and saw he was evil. Odila picked up the spear while Arthelion picked up the gold coins and put them in another sack.

The orc continued crying and begging for mercy.

“Will you assist in freeing the prisoners?” Leon asked him.

“Ask him to lead us out of here,” Arthelion said.

“Don’t kill me!” the orc cried. “Please don’t kill me!”

“Will you assist in freeing the prisoners?” Leon asked again.

“Don’t kill me!” the orc cried. “Please don’t kill me! I don’t want to die! Please don’t kill me!”

“You know what?” Odila said. “If you help us escape, we won’t kill you.”

“I can’t!” the orc said. “They’ll kill me! Skarg will kill me! He’ll kill me! His room is right over there! I can tell you where his room is! It’s right over there. It’s right over there.”

“Where is our equipment?” Leon asked.

“It’s over in that armory room down that main hall,” the orc said, still crying.

It sounded to Arthelion like the same place their stuff had been before. He nodded at Leon, who struck the orc in the head with the pommel of his sword, knocking him unconscious. Leon tore the orc’s clothes and tied him up. Then he put the bleeding orc atop the other orc, as if they had been fighting.

The room held rickety tables and decaying floor mats. Five piles of sleeping skins also covered the floor and a rusty pole arm rack holding a pair of halberds sat in the far corner of the room. A frieze along the ceiling depicted two jeweled eggs. There were words none of them could read.

Odila also found a coin pouch on each of the orcs with a total of 31 gold coins between them. She also got the orcs’ spears. She took off the leather armor from the unconscious orc and donned it.

* * *

“Maybe you should go look for them,” Storr said to Tarmak.

“I mean, there’s not much I can do,” the priest said. “Plus, if I die, you won’t get your healing.”

Storr glared at the man. Then he turned to a couple of the other orcs.

“You two go and look around,” he said. “This doesn’t feel right.”

The two orcs turned and walked away. Storr turned back to Tarmak.

“You set this whole thing up, didn’t you?” Storr said.

“No,” Tarmak said. “I mean, how could I know what’s down through there. I don’t think we’ve even been to this side of the complex─”

“Shut up!” Storr said.

He slapped the man smartly across the face.

* * *

A hole in the wall peeked into the next room but they couldn’t see anything in there aside from, via their very feeble light source, more rickety tables and rotten mats. They pushed into the room through the narrow hole but found nothing of value. They realized they had been gone for a while.

“Well, now we know where are stuff is,” Odila said. “Where do we go now?”

“I feel we should rescue the prisoners,” Leon said. “That is the first priority. We could arm them.”

“You know what … well, we have this spear that I have,” Odila said. “There’s two more.”

Leon retrieved the halberds and the damaged spear.

“Well, two of us can sort of fight,” Odila said. “We’re all going to die, aren’t we?”

She looked at them both and then gave them another motivational speech. Arthelion knew where the rest were, but it was a long way. However, when they went around the corner further down the passage, they spotted two doors side-by-side. They discussed which way to go and decided to open the double doors. The room beyond was dark and so they entered.

The large room was filled with smashed sticks of furniture and trash. It was connected to a smaller room via a short corridor with a door on the other end. The frieze around the top of the wall depicted the construction of a long hall with several statues in it. They could not read what was written on the caption as it was in another language. Arthelion thought the other door out of the room led back to the hallway outside of the slave quarters.

They opened the door and found themselves in the hallway where their quarters were. They found their quarters wide open, spotting the piles of straws and the rubble in the corner after a quick look around. Leon headed through another door at the end of the hall. In the chamber beyond that, they saw a hole in the wall. They headed down the narrow corridor and opened the door there. It was very loud.

They found themselves in a room they’d never been in before. It had an elaborately patterned tile mosaic countersunk into the far side of the room. A small kettle was in the far corner, filled with water. Beyond a few broken splinters of furniture, the only other object in the room was a small box in the corner opposite the kettle. A door was on the wall to the left and they guessed it led to where there was light and a pair of orc guards. At least there always had been when they were taken to the digging area before. The frieze around the top of the room depicted a number of trees in a dense forest. There was no caption.

Leon picked up the box which was approximately 12 inches long, six inches wide, and four inches deep. It was made of a strange red metal and was surprisingly well preserved. No seam or method of opening the box was visible but the top of the box was monogrammed with strange sigils, like the lettering of the friezes in the rooms. The underside of the box contained four dials with more of the strange sigils upon them. Each of the dials had five letters. When shaken, something soft moved around and something harder tapped against the sides.

Arthelion took the box, holding it along with the other treasures.

Leon opened the door to the south, where they thought there would be two orcs on guard duty. Odila and Leon waited against the wall while Arthelion hid in the corner.

“What was that?” one of the orcs said in orcish. “Who’s there? Is that you Pall?”

“Yes, it’s me, Pall,” Odila said in orcish.

Leon looked at her.

“Didn’t sound like Pall,” the orc said in common. “Sounds like a human girl trying to sound like Pall.”

The orcs marched over to the door and saw them. One of the orcs stabbed Odila, hurting her slightly. The other stabbed Leon, hurting him badly. Leon tried to stab one of the orcs with the longsword but missed completely. Then Odila tried to stab one of the orcs, her spear not penetrated the orc’s leather armor.

One of the orcs stabbed Odila again but the bard didn’t fall. Leon blocked the other orc’s spear with his shield, which seemed to move deftly through the air. Then he slashed the orc in the gut and the creature went down without a sound. Odila tried to stab the other orc but missed once again. She tried again without luck, unable to hurt the horrible thing.

The remaining orc ran Odila through even as Leon tried to cut him down. She fell to the floor, bleeding.

“*****!” the last orc said, looking sick to the stomach.

He stabbed at Leon but missed the man completely. Leon slashed at the orc, who deftly dodged out of the way. He stabbed the orc in the stomach and the creature fell with a muted cry. Then the paladin quickly laid his hands upon Odila. The bleeding stopped but she didn’t awaken.

Leon pulled the orc bodies into the room and closed the door. He thought about what to do but, in the end, decided it might be prudent to hide the items they had found and sneak back to the gnasher’s area and then claim Odila’s wounds had been caused by the beast. He thought about hiding the gear in the slave quarters under the rubble, but was unsure if the orcs searched it.

He told Arthelion to put the box back where he’d found it. The wizard didn’t want to do so but eventually complied. Then the two carried Odila back into the large double room filled with debris off the corridor to the slave quarters and they hid away the gems, gold, silver, shield, studded leather armor, sword, halberds, spears, as well as the notes, pencil, and leather armor Odila had been using, and even the few gold coins she’d squirreled away from the orcs in the first room.

Arthelion kept the necklace around his neck but put the moonstone he’d hidden in his boot with the rest of the treasure.

They crept back the way they’d come, carrying Odila and closing doors on the way. They moved quickly through the gnasher area and got to the bonfire, still carrying the woman.

“The most terrible thing I’ve ever seen!” Leon said.

“What’d it look like?” Storr asked.

“Look what it did to my friend!”

“Meh. What’d it look like?”

“I couldn’t see! It was in the dark! I barely got her out.”

“So you didn’t see it.”

Storr turned to Tarmak.

“The bet was they’d see it,” he said.

“No, the bet was they’d come back alive from the gnasher’s lair,” the priest said. “I don’t remember you saying anything about them actually seeing it.”

“All right, fine! You can have your hour tomorrow.”

“Thank you very much.”

“Hey, take her to the slave pit. Throw her in.”

“Can he not try to heal her?” Leon said. “Then she can get back to work?”

“It’s true, I can heal at least once more per day,” Tarmak said.

“Go get his gewgaw,” Storr said.

One of the orcs went up the hallway and into the same room they’d raided two days before. He returned with the holy symbol and all of the orcs pointed their spears at Tarmak while he cast the spell on the woman. She awoke and was unpleasantly surprised to find herself surrounded by orcs.

“What happened?” she said.

“The gnasher got you!” Arthelion said.

“The gnasher got you,” Leon echoed. “The gnasher!”

“Right,” she said. “Right.”

“He got you,” Arthelion said.

“Where’d you get this!?!” Storr suddenly said.

He grabbed the necklace around Arthelion’s neck.

“Where’d you get this necklace!?!” Storr said again.

“It was terrifying,” Odila said. “It had thousands of teeth.”

“Shut up!” Storr said. “Where’d you get this gold?”

“Where did you pick that up?” Leon asked.

“I found it,” Arthelion said. “It was on the floor. The gnasher gave it to me.”

Storr slapped the mage and took the necklace from around his neck.

“The gnasher looks just like your mom,” Arthelion said.

Storr slapped him again.

They were sent back to the rest of the slaves where they resumed their labor for the rest of the day. The others told them everything that happened to them during their adventures with “the gnasher.” Elriya told them all about the key room she found that sounded as if it was close to the large room filled with trash where they’d hidden their stolen gear. She was disappointed Arthelion had found the other rooms before she could tell them what she’d found.

“Well, you didn’t see the key room,” Elriya said with a laugh.

“Well, maybe I did!” Arthelion said. “Wasn’t there a room full of keys? Yeah, yeah. We found a room full of keys.”

They looked at Leon.

“See, silence gives consent,” Arthelion said. “We found a room full of keys.”

Leon just shook his head. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1972-Advanced-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-2nd-Edition-The-Scar-Session-Two
Basic Roleplaying System: Deadworld Session Seven - The Weirdos of Wickwold http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1971-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Seven-The-Weirdos-of-Wickwold Wed, 20 Jul 2016 17:11:53 GMT Friday, July 15, 2016 (After playing the *Basic Roleplaying System* original setting “Deadworld” with Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, James... Friday, July 15, 2016

(After playing the Basic Roleplaying System original setting “Deadworld” with Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, James Brown, Katie Gallant, and Leigh Ann Philbee Wednesday from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.)

Manuela “Manny” Rodriguez and Jonathan Franks decided to stay at Simon Smith’s farm for a week while Manny recuperated. Jaiqwan Jayshawn Skadooter, Dani Bateman, and Elizabeth Tolini had taken the two vehicles and left them. After a week, on August 8, 2015, they left the Smith farm, which had still had a few incursions by the creatures from the woods, but they had further barricaded the house and none of them wandered very closely. The two continued east towards the coast in hopes of finding the others.

They eventually reached Interstate 40 again and found an old Dodge Ram with an extended cab that had the keys in it and gas. It was also very heavy duty. Though Manny wanted to return to her own car, she sadly admitted they probably couldn’t make it safely there.

They headed east.

* * *

Dr. Mikil Wolfgang and Courtney Dean, the cheerleader, had been travelling with a group when the first meteors had struck in July. They had soon gotten separated from the others when Courtney Dean found an injured young man and dragged Dr. Wolfgang to help him. The boy was beyond help but they had to hole up in a house when nightfall came. When they returned to where they had left the others, somewhere in the foothills of North Carolina, they had already moved on. However, they remembered the plan to head east and get to an island on the coast. The two managed to find a relatively new Honda Pilot and some supplies and headed east.

Unfortunately, due to the weather and a malfunctioning GPS in the Pilot, they ended up going further south than they had actually planned.

* * *

Lindsay Munghan Fang had been on the way home from one of her excursions. An explorer by trade, she traveled often but was home in Fayetteville, North Carolina, when the whole “zombie apocalypse” apparently caused by the falling meteors struck. She didn’t worry too much due to her proximity to the army base but when Fort Bragg was reportedly hit by one of the meteors, she decided to stay home and stay safe. She started to run out of supplies after about a week and then travelled as she could in the city, which seemed to have been abandoned.

She was a tall and athletic Asian woman with long, black hair she usually pulled back into a pony tail. She wore a tank top and polo with shorts and good shoes. She had a Glock in the holster on her belt and a marine magnum shotgun with a foldable stock and several shells she’d gotten on one of her forays to the base.

It was August 5 when she was scrounging for supplies that she found out why most parts of Fayetteville had been abandoned. There were a lot of zombies in the city. It seemed like the virus or plague or whatever it was had spread through Fayetteville like wildfire. She found herself pursued by at least a dozen dead men and women with blank eyes and rotting skin.

One of them ran ahead of the rest.

She ran out of an alley and saw a white SUV driving slowly down the road. It pulled to a stop and the window rolled down.

“Qvickly!” Dr. Wolfgang called. “Get in!”

He was an older gentleman in a rugged-looking suit. He had a strong German accent and sat in the driver’s seat of the Pilot. In the passenger seat, a German shepherd puppy in her lap, was a young girl in pink camouflage.

“Hey, you wanna ride?” Courtney called cheerfully.

Lindsay ran to the back door and pulled on it, finding it locked. They quickly unlocked it and she leapt in as a man ran around the corner, sprinting at the vehicle. Dr. Wolfgang thought it might be another survivor. Courtney noticed he ran strangely and had his mouth open. He didn’t look like he was alive.

“Go go go!” she screamed.

Dr. Wolfgang floored it and they drove away. The running man kept up with them for only a little while before they finally lost him. After a short discussion, they decided to make a more northerly course as Lindsay told them the zombies were worse to the south of the city. They planned to head northeast as best they could with the malfunctioning GPS.

“Mikil Wolfgang,” the doctor said by way of introduction.

“I’m Courtney!” she said. “This is Killer.”

The German shepherd puppy wagged her tail.

* * *

On Tuesday, August 11, 2015, they had just stopped and filled up at an abandoned farm with a gas tank on U.S. Route 17 near Hertford, North Carolina. They had spotted several large arrows painting along the highway and the sides of buildings the last few miles with captions like “Skadooter was here!” and “Going to the beach! Love, Skadooter” or “ASU rocks!” or “Football Forever!” or “Enjoy coke!” or just “Doot! Doot!” so they had been following them. The arrows were all very straight and well drawn but the captions were always very messy, as if two people had done them. As they headed down the road, they spotted a white truck ahead, moving slower than they were. Dr. Wolfgang started flashing his lights at the vehicle.

Courtney rolled down the window and hung out.

“Hey!” she called, waving.

The white truck slowed and pulled over. They pulled up as the window of the Dodge Ram rolled down. Manuela “Manny” Rodriguez looked out. She wore a plaid shirt and a baseball cap facing backwards. She wore her black hair in a ponytail and was Hispanic. Jonathan Franks, in the passenger seat, had sandy-brown hair and was very good-looking.

They were in the middle of nowhere with farmland all around them.

“Hey!” Courtney said when she saw him. “You wanna come join our group?”

Manny looked at the pilot - the interior was much larger than the pickup truck and it probably got better gas mileage.

“Ve have a lot of seats,” Dr. Wolfgang called. “Lots of gas.”

Manny looked down and saw their Dodge Ram had three quarters of a tank of gas.

“Did you all see signs?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“What?” Manny replied. “The Skadooter signs?”

“Yes!”

“You know Skadooter!?!” Courtney said.

“Yeah,” Manny said.

“Omigod, that guy is awesome!” Courtney replied.

“Ze black guy with ze drugs?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Yeah,” Manny said.

“Oh, he’s black?” Courtney said. “Do you want to come with us to find Skadooter?”

“I mean … yeah,” Manny said. “The more the merrier, right?”

“Yeah,” John said.

“Probably a good idea to ditch this gas guzzler,” Manny said.

“Do you have lots of supplies?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“We’ve got some food,” Manny said. “And with more people we could get more supplies probably.”

“All right, cool,” Courtney said. “Well, let’s find Skadooter and go to the beach!”

“That is vhere we’re going,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“You want to sit in the back with me?” Courtney called to John.

He rolled his eyes.

Whatever, he thought.

Lindsay just watched from the back seat, cleaning her Glock.

It had been overcast and darker clouds rolled in. Though it was mid-afternoon, the clouds made it dark. None of the GPS were working very well with the overcast and cloudy signs and they could see lightning in the distance. They guessed they were over an hour from the beach at their present speed. According to signs, the next town was Woodville, a few miles on down Route 17. They knew Elizabeth City was beyond that.

They talked about camping in the nearby fields.

“Okay!” Courtney said. “Killer, I think, needs to go potty.”

“Get ze dog out of car!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

Courtney took the dog out by the road. Killer peed and pooped and was very happy about it. The storm continued to roll in, getting closer. They could see lightning in the distance and hear thunder. Lindsay was of the opinion they should move on to a town where they could find shelter.

“It does look like a thunderstorm,” she said. “I don’t want to be in the middle of a field.”

They quickly transferred everything from the Dodge Ram into the Honda Pilot and the other two piled in as well, Manny getting in the back by herself as Lindsay took shotgun. It started raining, gently at first, but soon the water was coming down so hard it was like buckets were being dumped onto the car. It made it very hard to see and they had not gone very far when they saw a sign at an exit that read “Wickwold” and beyond that “Waterville - 5 miles.” There was a small exit.

“Good thing ve didn’t do field,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

As they approached the Wickwold exit, they saw there were lights in the area. The place looked like one of those little towns that used to pop up on the highway with places to eat, get gasoline, and sleep. The entire strip looked like it had grown along the side road. A McDonald’s was lit up but appeared empty, as was the Burger King. A Sunoco station was also lit up though an Exxon station was dark. A motel stood across the street from the Exxon station. It probably had about 20 rooms and a small office at the end. A vacancy sign glowed from the window.

“We’re good on gas,” Lindsay said. “We don’t need to go to the gas station. You want to go to McDonalds?”

“We could get some extra gas though,” Manny said from the back. “I’m sure the gas station has gas canisters.”

“Ve vill pull over,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Exxon!” Courtney said.

“Sunoco,” Dr. Wolfgang said, pulling into the station.

“No, you always go for the dark one!” Courtney said. “Less people around.”

He had already pulled in.

“Oh! I want to go see if they have any Red Vines!” Courtney said.

As they pulled up, a man walked out of the side of the building that looked like a convenience store. The building was pretty old and there were a couple of bays for repairs on the other side, closed up. Courtney cried out as the man stepped out of the building.

“Uh … hi,” the man said. “Hi. Hi.”

His face twitched and he walked very strangely, as if he was having trouble controlling his own body.

“Do you need gas?” he asked.

“Do you have any Red Vines?” she asked.

“Uh … you can … go look,” the man said, his head and face twitching.

“Kay,” she said, going inside.

The man walked towards the car, his gait jerking and twitching, as Courtney ran into the convenience store.

“I vould like gas, sir?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Yeah yeah yeah,” the man said, apparently eager to please as he continued to twitch and jerk. “We still got gas. Not many people been … been stoppin’ by.”

He sniffed the air and then laughed.

“Wow!” he said with an idiotic grin. “You guys smell funny.”

He laughed oddly.

* * *

The interior of the convenience store was well-lit if quite small and somewhat claustrophobic. The aisles were narrow and the shelves, for the most part, stuffed with candy and snacks. She found the narrow candy aisle and saw there were several packages of Red Vines near the back. As she picked them up, she saw an old woman sitting in a rocking chair in the back corner of the store, knitting. The old woman twitched and her face screwed up in a strange tic. She looked right at Courtney, who turned to walk away.

“Come over here,” the old woman said. “Come on.”

“No, that’s okay,” Courtney said.

“Come on over here.”

“What … what do you want?”

“Just come over here so I can see you better.”

Courtney looked at Killer, in her arms, who wagged her tail and licked her face. Then she inched closer to the old woman.

“Wha-what?” she said. “What?”

“Oh!” the old woman said. “Oh!”

“What?”

“Yeah.”

“What do you want?”

“Are y’all stayin’?”

“I don’t know!”

“We ain’t had many people … stayin’ here.”

The old woman twitched again. Courtney turned and ran. The rocking chair squeaked as the old woman stood up but Courtney had fled by then.

* * *

“Could you pull the thing?” the man outside said as he went to the gas pump.

He nearly stumbled as a spasm wracked his body.

“The thing?” the man called again as he took the nozzle from the pump. “You gotta pull the thing so the gas tank will open.”

“No,” Manny said, leaning out of the passenger side window. “The tank’s full. We want extra gas.”

“Do you have canister to hold gas?” Dr. Wolfgang asked.

“There might be some in the store … you could buy,” the man said. “You could buy in there. There might be some.”

Courtney ran out of the convenience store and flung open the back door, climbing quickly in.

“We’re ready to leave!” she cried. “We’re ready to leave.”

“I’ll look for gas cans,” the man said with another twitch in his face.

He stumbled and jerked his way back to the convenience store. They saw him looking around in the place for a moment and then he left the lit part of the building for the repair bays, which were dark.

“So, what are we doing after this?” Manny asked. “Going to the motel?”

“Yes,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Does anyone have a gun? He looks suspicious?”

“I got a shotgun,” Manny said.

“I’ve got a Glock,” John said.

“She’s got a shotgun and a Glock,” Manny said, pointing at Lindsay.

“Do you like sharing?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“No,” Lindsay said. “You come at me again, you gonna see this up your face.”

“Okay,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

The man came back with a couple of old five gallon cans. Dr. Wolfgang climbed out to help him fill them.

“Thank you sir,” he said.

“You folks … have any problems comin’ here?” the man said.

“Just a few. People seem to want to eat other people …”

“They’re dead!” Courtney cried out. “Everyone’s dead!”

“Heh,” the man said, another spasm crossing his face. “We don’t got no problems with them around here.”

“Why not?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“‘Cause we’re protected,” the man said, his head jerking to one side.

“By?” Manny asked.

“How?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“By … by them,” the man said. “They’re protectin’ us. Here ya go.”

He handed the doctor the cans.

“We’re not really takin money anymore,” the man said. “Ya got anything to trade?”

“Oh no,” Courtney muttered. “I don’t like this.”

“What do you want?” John asked.

“Ve have some food,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Well, we usually … food’ll be good,” the man said, his eye snapping shut for a moment. “Your friends took some Red Vines, I saw. Some food for them. We don’t have … candy ain’t as good any more. That’s the only bad thing.”

“So … what do think is appropriate trade?”

“I dunno. You got, like, fresh fruit, or, ah, meat?”

They didn’t.

“Well, we can settle up,” the man said with yet another jerk. “You stayin’?”

No, Courtney thought

“Ask him if he’s seen Skadooter?” Manny said.

“Uh …have you seen ze black man waving things around, snorting various substances?” Dr. Wolfgang asked.

“Skadooter!” Courtney said. “He’s talking about Skadooter!”

“Uh … no, no,” the man struggled to say, his body shaking again. “Ain’t had many people … people pass through here lately. Not ma-many.”

“But …” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Cars go by once in a while. Not many. Not many.”

“If … ze other people zhat valk funny and try to eat you come by?”

“Nope. I mean, they come. They don’t care. We’re protected!”

“Protected by what?” John said.

“Henry, you get back in here!” the old woman, twitching and spasming like the man, said. She stood in the doorway. “You talked enough to those strangers.”

Courtney ducked down in the back seat.

“Oh!” Henry said. “That’s my mom. Okay, maw! Okay. Are you staying at the motel? Clem. Clem owns it now. So, good-night.”

“Good night, sir,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

Moving with twitches and tics, Henry stumbled back into the convenience store after the old woman.

“Guys, I don’t want to stay here!” Courtney said after Dr. Wolfgang got back into the car.

“Zhis place is strange,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Apparently ze retardation grants immunity from ze … monsters.”

“Well, if that was true, Courtney would be fine,” Manny quipped.

“Oh!” John said.

“What?” Courtney said. “I’m immune? So cool.”

She smiled.

“Seriously though, I don’t want to stay here,” she said. “That lady gave me the creeps, you know?”

“Uh …” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Did you see her? In her rocking chair? The little needles?”

“Zhis is strange. I am exhausted though.”

“Can we just find another motel?”

“This rain doesn’t seem like it’s going to let up,” Manny said.

“Does anyone else like to drive?” Dr. Wolfgang said. “I need a … break.”

“Manny will drive!” Courtney said.

“If you can take ze vheel, I need to lay down,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Vatch yourself though.”

“I’m fine to drive but this storm seems pretty bad,” Manny said.

“We need to stay somewhere until it lets up,” Lindsay said.

“Okay, well, I’m sleeping with Johnny then,” Courtney said.

Manny rolled her eyes.

“I also say zhat ve should stay on our second floor,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “It seems safer.”

“Are you French and German?” John said, having a hard time understanding his accent. “Against my better judgment, I guess we should stay.”

“At least at the motel,” Lindsay said. “We can get one on the second floor.”

“Does … you not understand me?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Yes, I understand you,” Lindsay said. “I speak French!”

“I mean, I wanna keep driving but if we’re going to go to sleep, let’s just do it already,” Courtney said.

“Zhen ve should stay at Red Inn Motel?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

He put the car in gear and they crossed the highway. The sign out front of the motel read “Happy Valley Motel” and it looked like there were two stories with rooms in the front. A staircase went up on both ends of the building and a balcony ran across the second floor, where the doors opened from the rooms. He parked nearer the road than the building.

Dr. Wolfgang, John, and Lindsay went into the office. The man at the front desk also proved to have a strange twitch.

“You must be Clem?” Dr. Wolfgang asked.

“Yeah, that’s right, I’m Clem,” the man said.

He had a very thick southern accent and blinked his eyes very quickly. He also twitched occasionally.

“I need two rooms,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Preferably two beds each.”

“Whatchu got to trade?” Clem said. “We ain’t had nobody with money.”

“I … I have money. I could give you food.”

“You ain’t protected, are yeh?”

“Uh … I do not believe zo. People have chased me before.”

“Aw. That’s a shame. That’s a shame.”

“It is.”

“Well, you gonna have to take the second floor and be careful. If you ain’t protected. Yeah.”

“Yes.”

“What you got to trade?”

“Ve have canned goods.”

“Aw … that’s not bad. That’s not bad. Or you could join us. We got church in the mornin’. You get protected there.”

“Ve could see ‘bout ze church.”

“Sleep in the church?”

“Sleep at ze church?”

“Isn’t that what you just said there, Frenchy?”

“No,” John said. “No, he didn’t.”

“Ve could ask at the church, there, tomorrow,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Meet the church. Come to the church,” Clem said. “Get protected. That way you’re protected from them fellas. The fellas that … the dead guys.”

He looked at them and his head twitched again.

“Okay … how many of you are there?” he asked.

“It seems … I see two rooms,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Two beds each?”

“So, four’ve yah?”

“Uh …”

“You married?”

“No, dear, we’re not married,” Lindsay said.

“You’re in a separate room, then,” Clem said with another blink. “Okay.”

He thought on it a moment.

“How about a dozen cans of food?” Clem said. “You got any fresh meat? Love some fresh meat!”

“Uh … not fresh meat,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Dammit! So hungry.”

“But the canned food is good too.”

“All right. Dozen cans for the night?”

They discussed it and, though John tried to get the price down, Clem would not budge. They only had 14 cans of food and were loath to give up so much of it. Lindsay tried to persuade the man to lower the price but he wouldn’t come down.

“Ve have enough,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Ve have dozen cans.”

“Well, bring ‘em in!” Clem said. “You got any peaches?”

“No peaches, but we have creamed berries, asparagus …”

“Asparagus? Ugh. Awful. Just bring me 12 cans and you can have two rooms. Bring ‘em in, I’ll give you keys. Keep your doors locked.”

They brought in 12 cans of food and he handed over the two keys.

The motel had electricity and they had noticed the water tower during a break in the pouring rain. They climbed to the second floor where they had rooms 11 and 12, close to the office. John went into one of the rooms to investigate it. Dr. Wolfgang went into the other while Lindsay kept watch outside. The rooms proved to be relatively clean and, though the air conditioning was off and the rooms were stuffy at first, when they turned on the units, they worked.

Courtney, having seen John go into one room and Dr. Wolfgang another, left the car, ran through the pouring rain and up the steps, to enter room 12.

“How does it … how does it look in here?” Courtney asked John.

“It looks fine,” John said. “I haven’t finished checking it yet. Why don’t you wait outside for a bit?”

“Oh …well that suits me,” she said. “That’s fine.”

She left the room.

Each hotel room was typical, with a bathroom in the back with a toilet and bathtub/shower. The sink was outside of the bathroom on the far wall with a wide mirror. Two double beds were in each room, as well as a television and clock. A few pieces of mediocre hotel art were on the walls and a small table and two chairs were in each room as well.

Dr. Wolfgang went into the bathroom of room 11, locked it, and took a long, hot shower.

Courtney waited outside.

“So, Lindsay,” she said. “What do you think about … John?”

“He’s cute but he’s too skinny for me,” Lindsay said.

“Oh, thank God. ‘Cause you’re way prettier than I am.”

“Thanks.”

John came out of room 12.

“Can me and Killer go in yet?” Courtney asked. “It’s kind of weird out here.”

“Yes, you can go in,” John said. “I would suggest that, since our host seems to be a little … cultish … that the ladies stay in one room and the gentlemen stay in another.”

“We don’t get a protector with us!?!” Courtney said. “We’re just ladies.”

“You’ve got Lindsay with you,” John said. “She looks like she could take down a … small army. You’ll be fine. You’ve got Killer too.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” Courtney said. “Well, thanks for checking the room.”

She went into the room, which was cooling off quickly due to the air conditioning. She played with Killer with her bunny toy.

Lindsay headed down to the car to check on Manny and to tell ask if she wanted to take a shower.

“Hot shower?” Manny said.

“Yeah, the shower works and everything,” Lindsay said.

Manny quickly climbed out of the car and went up to the room, where she went to the bathroom of room 12 and got into the shower.

“Hey Manny,” Courtney said to her as she went by, disappointment in her eyes.

A few moments later, Courtney knocked on the door.

“Manny?” she called.

“Yeah?” Manny called from inside the shower.

“Can I come in and talk? It’s scary out here.”

“Yeah.”

Courtney went in and saw the steam coming from the shower. She sat down on the toilet and chatted inanely to the other woman through the shower curtain. Once Manny was done showering, she washed her clothes in the bath water she’d collected as they were still bloody and disgustingly dirty. Courtney continued to tell stories.

“Okay, and this one time, Mandy took two Jell-O shots before we even went out to dinner,” she said. “And then she took six more she had in her purse. Like, six!”

John was finally able to get into the shower once Dr. Wolfgang finished a half hour later. The water felt magnificent.

* * *

Outside, Lindsay saw a couple of men stumbled slowly down the road, just like zombies always did. She suspected the people were not really alive. She watched them carefully as they moved through the pouring rain. There wasn’t much light on the balconies - those lights were out - but the office was lit up. The two dead men in ragged clothing headed towards where she knew Clem was and she watched them very carefully. She went to the top of the steps, trying to stay hidden in the shadows of the balcony.

As they approached the office, Clem came out and walked to them fearlessly. When they saw him, they opened their mouths and started to move towards him but, when they got close they slowed and came to a stop. Clem took each of them by the shoulders and turned them around, giving each of them a gentle shove. They started to wander back down the road. Clem twitched and jerked, as he always seemed to do. Then he walked slowly back to the office with his clumsy gait, disappearing within.

She had never seen anything like that before. She returned to her position between the two rooms.

* * *

A short time later, John came out of his room and crept down the balcony, trying to peek into the other rooms. They all had their curtains pulled and it was dark in each. He returned to his room and cleaned his Glock.

“Do you have more zan one?” Dr. Wolfgang asked when he returned.

“What?” he said. “More than one what?”

“Ze guns?”

“No, just the one.”

“Drat?”

After he was done with the cleaning, John settled into the bed, watching the door, gun in hand. Dr. Wolfgang told him to wake him up if anything happened, climbed under the covers, and quickly went to sleep.

* * *

Courtney had climbed into one of the beds and lay there with Killer, petting her. Manny looked towards the motel clock. It was only about 7 p.m. but was so dark outside it seemed like it was much later. She went out to the balcony and told Lindsay to wake her up when her shift was over. She was glad she could see the car from the balcony. Then she went back to the room and went to bed.

Courtney went back out onto the balcony to talk to Lindsay.

“Hey, how’s it going out here?” she asked.

“Good,” Lindsay said.

“You see anything weird?”

“Uh … no, not really. Just a lot of thunder and lightning. And rain.”

“That’s cool. Isn’t Killer so cute?”

“Cute puppy.”

“So … have you seen the guys? What are they up to?”

“No clue right now. I heard a lot of banging in there. I think someone was trying to clean their gun.”

“All right. So, wasn’t it weird how all those local people were, like, …”

She pantomimed her head at an angle and made a face.

“… and stuff?”

“Yeah, I noticed it,” Lindsay said. “It just looks like a town with a bunch of insane people.”

“You think they’re going to come in and, like, murder us and stuff?”

“Uh … not at the moment. I mean, I’m keeping watch out here and, probably in another few hours, I’ll wake Manny up and she’ll take another watch.”

“That’s cool. So … do you get your hair done somewhere … because it looks really good.”

“No … it’s just a lot of dirt …”

“Oh, is that like a spa treatment? Like a scrub or something?”

“No … it’s self-American scrub from Brazil.”

“Oh, cool. Cool. Okay.”

“I mean, if you want to, you should probably go back in and see if you can get at least a little bit of sleep.”

“Oh, I can’t sleep right now. I’m, like, so, like, awake right now, it’s ridiculous. Don’t you want to talk to me?”

Killer started to growl.

“Killer, what’s wrong?” Courtney asked.

The dog was looking down towards the other end of the building and growling.

“What’s up, Killer?” Courtney said. “My goodness.”

She grabbed Lindsay’s arm.

“Lindsay, what’s going on?” she said.

The dog kept growling and, when they looked down towards where the dog looked, Lindsay saw a man standing by the side of the building. She guessed it was another zombie. He just stood there.

“What is it, Lindsay?” Courtney asked. “You see something?”

Killer continued to growl and bark.

“Uh …” Lindsay said. “Go back inside real quick and wake Mandy up and we’ll check it out.”

“Okay!” Courtney said.

She ran into the hotel room and flung Killer onto Manny.

“Mandy!” she cried. “Mandy! Wake up!”

“It’s Manny, God damn it!” Manny said. “Leave me alone!”

She pushed the dog off of her as she tried to lick her face.

“Lindsay says she needs you to check something out,” Courtney said.

“With the car?” Manny said groggily.

“I don’t know. What do I look like, a mathematician?”

Manny just looked at the girl. Then she got out of bed, all business, grabbing her shotgun and heading for the door. She found Lindsay out on the balcony, watching the far end of the hotel.

“What’s up?” Manny said.

“I saw what I believe to be a zombie down there at the other end of the balcony,” Lindsay said.

“Why didn’t you shoot it? You have two gun.”

Lindsay pointed out the man.

“Why didn’t you shoot it?” Manny asked again. “You have two guns!”

“I didn’t want to disturb the rest of them,” Lindsay said. “Especially if there’s one, there’s probably more somewhere nearby. And he’s not being aggressive right now. He’s just kind of standing there.”

“Yeah. You know, I’ve got my crowbar. Maybe I can take care of it real quick.”

Lindsay nodded.

“I’ll be real quiet,” Manny said.

She retrieved the crowbar from her room. Courtney had laid down on the other bed and was asleep, cuddled up with Killer. The puppy didn’t get up when she came in but her tail thumped against the bed. Manny looked at the clock and saw it had only been about 15 minutes since she laid down. She groaned and left the room.

The zombie hadn’t moved so she crept down the balcony and then down the stairs at the far end of the hotel near it. The metal stairs had concrete steps and she was able to slip down fairly quietly.

* * *

Lindsay, meanwhile, pushed open the other hotel door. It stopped only a few inches in, banging against the short table John had shoved up against the unlocked door.

“Who’s there?” John called.

“John, it’s Lindsay,” Lindsay said through the slightly opened door. “We might have a situation out here. Just be apprised in case I yell for you to run.”

“Uh … okay,” John said.

Dr. Wolfgang sat up and looked around sleepily.

“Is there anything we should be worried about?” John said. “What’s going on?”

“Not at the moment,” Lindsay said. “But if you hear gunshots, just go ahead and start running.”

“Gunshots at what?”

“Uh … I’ll let you know in a little bit.”

She pulled the door shut. John leapt out of the bed as Dr. Wolfgang shrugged and lay back down.

* * *

Manny made it down the steps without, apparently, alerting the zombie, who stood by the edge of the building, facing partially away from her, swaying slightly in the wind and blowing rain. She crept up to the man, trying to keep as much behind him as she could.

* * *

The door behind Lindsay flew open and she spun around, a little startled. John peeked out, Glock in one hand and baseball bat in the other. Lindsay shushed him.

“What the hell’s going on down there?” John whispered.

“She’s going to kill a zombie,” she whispered. “Shut up!”

“Oh, is that all? You could’ve just told me it was a freaking zombie!”

* * *

Manny struck the man in the back of the head with the curved end of the crowbar with a loud crack. He went down like a sack of potatoes, the crowbar lodged in his skull. He twitched for a few seconds and then stopped moving. She jerked the crowbar out of the man’s head, blood and brain matter splattering into the parking lot. She looked around but didn’t see anyone.

“Man, now I gotta wash my crowbar,” she muttered. “Just finished washing my pants …”

She returned to the others and then went back to bed after washing off her crowbar. John went back to his room as well, shoving the low table in front of the door once again. He had looked for something to steal but there really wasn’t anything in the place.

Lindsay kept watch until about midnight, some four or five hours later. She checked to make sure no one was around and then went into the women’s room and woke Manny up. Manny look at the clock and saw it was around midnight, which seemed all right. She got up, took her shotgun and her crowbar, and took the other woman’s place. Lindsay climbed into the bed and went to sleep.

At one point, the lights in the office went out but Manny didn’t see Clem leave the building. She guessed there might have been a room or two behind the office where he lived.

Around 4 a.m., Manny knocked on the door to the men’s room, waking John up. He had meant to stay awake but had fallen asleep sitting up in the bed.

“What?” he said, glancing at the clock.

He had probably fallen asleep between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.

“It’s your turn for watch,” she said.

“Uh … oh,” he said.

He moved the table he’d used to block the door and went out onto the balcony. Manny went to the other room, where the light was still lit. Killer obviously heard her. Her eyes opened and she looked at the woman, though didn’t move except to wag her tail. She climbed into the bed with Lindsay and fell quickly asleep.

* * *

The storm was worse in the morning of Wednesday, August 12, 2015, when they all got up. John was tired but had gotten several hours sleep. The lightning and thunder had stopped but the rain continued to come steadily down. Manny was the last to get up. They stood on the balcony by the rooms and talked.

“So, should ve see the secret of how ze are protected by ze undead?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“What are you talking about?” Courtney said. “What secret?”

“I think they’re just too dumb,” Manny said.

“They could be too dumb,” Dr. Wolfgang admitted. “But, in zhat case, ve should probably steal some of the canned food back, right? Ve won’t be back here.”

“You know how they say zombies won’t eat brains, so …” Manny said.

“Oh!” Courtney said. “What?”

“Vhat!?!” Dr. Wolfgang said. “So, who cares about ze zombies? We’re stealing from them!”

“I don’t want to go near those people anymore,” Courtney said. “Can we just get on the road?”

They heard someone come up the steps. It was Clem.

“Who’s that!?!” Courtney said.

“Clementine,” Manny quipped.

The man walked in the same strange gait the gas station owner had, his neck twitching and his hands gripping and opening. Courtney moved behind John and put her hand on his shoulder. John took a ready position with his baseball bat.

“I’m going to go get the car ready,” Manny said.

“Are y’all comin’ to church?” Clem asked them as he blinked and twitched.

“What day is it?”

“Sunday.”

“Sunday? What-what time is the service?”

“It’s - it’s in an hour.”

“In an hour?”

“In the church down there.”

Clem pointed down the road to what looked like some building that had been converted into a church. Manny looked but couldn’t tell what kind of church it might be.

“Is it a Baptist church?” she asked.

“No,” Clem said, stuttering and starting. “No, not Baptist. Methodist.”

“Well, I mean, I’m Catholic so, I can’t. Not my cup of tea.”

“You’re missin’ out. Anybody comin’? It’s in an hour.”

“Uh … no, unfortunately, we have to─” John started to say.

“Ve might be zhere,” Dr. Wolfgang said, interrupting him.

“You should come,” Clem said. “Get protected.”

“No, we’ve got to get on the road,” John said, elbowing Dr. Wolfgang. “We’re looking for a friend of ours. Have you seen a man named Skadooter? You would definitely know you’ve seen him.”

“Doot-doot,” Manny said.

“Nope,” Clem said.

Courtney showed him a selfie she’d taken with Skadooter when they first met.

“He don’t look familiar,” Clem said. “Well, if you’re going back out there not protected, that’s a bad thing. It’s a bad thing.”

“Uh, we were unprotected before,” Manny said.

She headed for the car.

“We got protection from a fella comin’ through,” Clem went on. “He was a real nice fella.”

“How does he give you ze protection?” Dr. Wolfgang asked.

“What?” Clem said. “I can’t understand yer French there, fella.”

“What kind of fellow would offer you protection?” Courtney asked.

“French!?!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Does he have any more?” Courtney said.

“He was comin’ down the road and he said ‘This’ll protect ye’ and-and-and Pastor John, he said he would try … and it worked, so we should try, and we tried,” Clem said, twitching and stuttering, seemingly having difficulty sometimes even forming words. “And it worked. Protection.”

Manny had gone down the steps on the opposite side of the building. The zombie she’d destroyed the night before was still there on the ground.

“I don’t really know that we should, but maybe we should go to this church,” Courtney said.

“Well, come if you want,” Clem said, starting to move towards the nearby stairs in a creeping, jerking walk. “It’s safer that way. Them fellas don’t getcha then.”

“I wanna find Skadooter but … safety, right?” Courtney said. “Doctor? Right?”

“Yes,” Dr. Wolfgang said, watching the man walk away. “Safety.”

“Right John?” Courtney said.

“Vell, because it is survival of the fittest, ve are more fit zhen Mr. Clinton …” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“True,” Courtney said.

“Maybe ve should grab zhe food before we make way east,” Dr. Wolfgang continued.

“We can pick up food in the next town,” Lindsay said.

They walked down to the Honda Pilot where Manny was looking it over as if she was preparing an aircraft for takeoff.

“Ve should make note of zhis place,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Just in case.”

“Just in case they were right about everything,” Courtney said.

Everything was still in the car and it appeared to be in good working order. There was not much food left. Perhaps enough for maybe a day for the five of them.

“The next town will probably have food that has no people guarding it, so let’s go,” Manny said.

They drove out in the pouring rain though the weather began to break by the time they got back onto U.S. 17. As they left, they saw people leaving the various buildings to head towards the church. There were maybe a couple of dozen people and all of them seemed to be twitchy, having trouble walking.

They continued on east, passing an exit with a small sign noting Woodville lay to the right five miles past Wickwold. They also passed Bypass 17, which went further north. They started passing more cars on the sides of the road. It looked like they had crashed off the highway.

They were some five miles beyond the Woodville exit when they came over a rise in the road and were surprised to see numerous cars and trucks blocking the entirety of both lanes of the highway. The highway had been smashed about a half mile ahead and a crater sat in the median between the two roads of the highway where one of the meteors had struck. A lot of people stood there, all of them turning their way. They started walking slowly in their direction. Many of them were clustered around the center of the crater.

Manny, who was driving, slammed on the brakes and brought the Honda Pilot to a stop. Lindsay was riding shotgun with John and Courtney in the back seat, Killer on Courtney’s lap, and Dr. Wolfgang napping in the third row. He rolled off the seat and crashed to the floor with a grunt. Manny turned the car around.

“What’s going on?” Courtney said.

“I saw an exit back there,” Manny said.

“Well, what’s going on over there?” Courtney said.

They drove back down the highway to the last exit, which actually was one of the rare overpasses in the area. As they drove the wrong way down the exit ramp, something slapped against the windshield of the car, leaving a swath of strange green liquid. Courtney let out a cry.

“What is that!?!” she yelled.

Manny slammed on the brakes again, bringing the Pilot to a halt. Dr. Wolfgang, napping again, rolled off the seat once again and woke up when he crashed into the floor of the vehicle.

“What’s going on?” Courtney said.

“Aw, this crap just got on my windshield,” Manny said.

“What is that?” Courtney said. “Ew.”

“Your first instinct is to stop?” John said, looking out the windows nervously.

“Vhere is ze homeless man when you need him?” Dr. Wolfgang quipped.

No one laughed.

“Wipe it off!” Courtney said.

Manny engaged the windshield wipers, which just smeared the greenish stuff across the windshield. She used the sprayers and it cleaned mostly off the glass. They noticed several tall plants they didn’t recognize on the side of the road. Each of them was tall, topping probably six feet easily, and had a straight stem springing from a round and circular woody bole. Three small, bare sticks grew straight up beside the stem. Leathery green leaves and shaggy rootlet hairs grew from the sides of the bole. The top of the stem had a curious, funnel-like formation.

“Is this The Happening?” Courtney said. “Oh, those are pretty.”

She looked around.

“Why aren’t we still moving?” she said. “Why have we stopped?”

“Ignore flora!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“What about fauna?” Courtney said.

Just then the small sticks protruding up from the bole started to rattle against the stem. Then things began to strike the car over and over again. They saw that from the funnel-like formation at the top of each plant, long vines lashed out and whipping at the side of the car. Where they struck, they left more of the greenish liquid.

“Oh my God, this is just like that movie with Marky Mark!” Courtney said.

“Step on gas!” Dr. Wolfgang cried.

There were only five or six of the things and Manny floored it. They tore down the exit lane to the intersection below, where she pulled the car to a stop. The two-lane road at the bottom went to the left and right but the sign at the bottom was missing. Only the metal poles still jutted out of the ground there. One of the poles was bent as if someone had hit it. The area was lightly wooded and the road disappeared out of sight around a curve in either direction.

Manny tried the built-in GPS but there was no signal. It was still cloudy and overcast.

“Let’s go!” Courtney said. “Which way did Skadooter go?”

“The problem is, we can’t keep following the highway because of the crater,” Manny said. “There must be some way around.”

“So, let’s take it,” Courtney said. “What’s the way around?”

They only had a state map so they weren’t sure of the smaller roads in the area.

“Can we just go down a little bit and cut around the crater?” Courtney said in a moment of, for her, sheer genius.

Manny and John just looked at her.

“Yeah,” Manny finally said.

“It’s like that one time when, we were out late, and we all wanted to get drunk, and there were cops because we weren’t 21 yet,” Courtney said. “So we just had to keep going.”

Manny finally pulled forward, turning left. She planned to look for the next left that was going somewhere. About a half-mile down was another country road that was paved at a four-way stop. They turned left and immediately started seeing a chain-link fence on the left. It looked like perhaps the land for a factory farm - no trees were within the chain link. Then they started passing more of those unusual-looking plants.

“The Happening!” Courtney said. “I’m telling you! This is just like Marky Mark and that movie The Happening. He’s so hot, by the way.”

Signs on the chain-link fence noted “Danger” or “Keep Out” or “Protected Environment.” There were no signs of Skadooter. They started seeing the strange plants off and on.

“Maybe this is like when the government tried to put fluoride in the water to make our teeth better and really it was to take over the world,” Courtney said.

They passed a dirt road to the left that didn’t look like a main road. Shortly after that, they saw the chain-link fence on the left again. A sign upon it read “East North Carolina Triffid Zone.” They had heard of triffids, and thought they were some kind of plants, but weren’t exactly sure what they were. After that, the road curved to the left again and as they drove down it, they saw the chain-link fence ahead had been knocked down, the poles holding it up fallen towards the road.

“Why can’t they just build straight fences?” Manny said.

Dozens, if not scores, of the plants were in the area. Some seemed to be growing up out of the asphalt of the road itself, which was strange. Manny braked. There was room between the plants to get by but they’d have to slow their vehicle considerably.

“What’s going on?” Courtney said. “Why did we stop?”

“So, there’s these plants,” Manny said. “And they’re kind of weird. And they kind of threw green stuff at us earlier.”

“Yeah, there were dead people and now there’s like dead … live plants. What does this mean.”

“So, I can move boldly forward or we can go back and try that country road that I saw.”

They started to hear a rattling noise that seemed to come from all around them.

“I vote for the country road, personally,” John said.

“Sounds like a good idea,” Manny said.

She turned the car to make a three-point turn. That’s when they noticed some of the plants were walking. Most of the plants around them were tapping the three short branches sticking up from the boles along their stems, making a strange, hollow, rattling noise. But some had actually stood up on three roots and started to move, almost like a man on crutches. Two of the roots slid forward and then the plant lurched as the rear one drew almost up to them before they slid forward again. Each step caused the long step to whip violently back and forth.

They closed in around the back of the car.

“Guys, I think those plants are coming after us,” Courtney said.

“Manny, I don’t mean to rush you, but … could you hurry it up?” John said.

Manny finished her three-point turn. There was a report as something struck the side of the car, leaving another swath of green liquid of some kind. As more and more of the plants came closer, more reports from the sides of the car came close after each other. Manny floored it again, running down the terrible plants. The windshield was getting covered in the goo and she turned the windshield wipers up to full and doused the windshield with water to try to clear it.

The driver’s side window suddenly shattered as a long vine tipped with a sharp-looking stinger burst into the car. The vine was just as suddenly whipped out of vehicle in a flash. Manny pushed the accelerator to the floor as they bounced over the plants and were finally past the mass of the horrible flora, leaving them behind. However, a light came up on the panel and Manny recognized it as a tire inflation warning. One of the tires was losing air. Manny thought either one of the stingers might have hit he tires or perhaps they damaged the tire when they ran over one of the heavy boles of the plants.

“What’s going on?” Courtney said. “Why are we just driving? Let’s get out of this place!”

“The hell is going on!?!” Dr. Wolfgang cried.

Manny drove back to U.S. 17 and went under the underpass, heading the opposite direction from the plants. Less than a half mile down the road, tucked into the trees, was a small town of perhaps a dozen older buildings. The sign on the road read “Craft, North Carolina.” There was a church and an old gas station, as well as several houses. The place might have been abandoned before everything went so terribly wrong as most of the houses had peeling paint and even the church looked worn out.

Manny pulled up by the gas pumps. The rain was letting up.

“Let’s get some food, guys,” she said.

She got out and started to examine the tire, quickly finding the low one.

“Oh!” Courtney said. “My daddy showed me how to fix a tire. I can help.”

Manny rolled her eyes but didn’t object. She got out the jack and working on replacing the tire. Courtney looked under the car for the spare while she told nonsensical stories about high school and college that vaguely had to do with cars.

* * *

Lindsay and Dr. Wolfgang went to the convenience store. The pumps didn’t appear to be work and were old, not even having credit card readers on them. The upper half of the front door was a window. While Dr. Wolfgang looked around for a rock or something to break it with, Lindsay smashed one of the panes with the butt of her shotgun. She reached in and worked the bolt.

The convenience store looked like it was probably in use in the last month or so. Unfortunately, several shelves that probably held bread and canned foods were bare. All that was left was snack food and candy bars. Someone had beat them to it for the actual healthy food. There was plenty of soda in the tall coolers towards the back of the store though there was no power. They would be warm. A door led to the back of the store.

* * *

John went to look at one of the houses that lined the street. All of them had peeling paint and appeared to be in pretty bad shape though the windows were intact. The front door of the first house he checked proved to be locked. He peeked into the window and could barely make out a living room through the partially drawn curtains. However, someone appeared to be lying on the couch. He decided to try the next house.

The curtains were open in the front of that house and he could see a neat little living room. An archway led to the back of the building and he guessed a kitchen might be there. He tried the front door and found it unlocked. It opened with a loud creak. There was a rotten smell in the house and it was terribly hot in the building. He could see the archway did lead to the kitchen. Two other doors were closed in the living room.

He went to the door to the left and cracked it open. The stench hit him and he closed the door again. The other door led to a small, neat bathroom. It was old with porcelain that had been kept clean probably for decades. Tiles covered the floor and walls and a bathtub sat in the back of the room on small, white feet. The sink and medicine cabinet were likewise quite old, the latter filled with some over the counter drugs and the like. He guessed a woman had lived in the house from the makeup he found. He took the aspirin and such.

He went to the other room. The smell was very bad like rotting meat. He saw someone lying on the bed. They were completely unmoving and there appeared to be a big stain near the person’s head. There was a small closet door and a dresser. He crept across the room to the closet and found some out-of-style woman’s clothing but little else. He thought he saw a moving shadow as he looked in the closet and spun around. No one was there. Perhaps it was the trees outside, blowing in the wind, casting their shadows into the room.

He nudged the form on the bed with his bat but it didn’t move. A pistol sat on the floor next to the bed. It looked very dark under the bed. He tapped the floor near the gun with his bat and, when nothing happened, he reached down and picked it up. It looked like a .38 revolver. He opened it up and found five bullets and a spent shell in the gun. He tucked it into his pocket.

The dresser had a mirror upon it and was filled with ladies clothes. A jewelry box was atop the dresser and he opened it and was amazed at the value of the jewelry within. He guessed the stones alone were probably worth thousands of dollars and he filled his pockets with everything in the box. He also found a box of .38 pistol rounds.

He finally went over and pulled the sheet off the body. The stain on the pillow and upper mattress was blood. The old woman appeared to have shot herself in the head with the gun he’d found. He was very disturbed by the terrible act and by the stink of the old woman.

He turned and left, hesitating at the door and looking back. He hadn’t looked under the bed. He leaned down and he could see a shadow there. He crept to the bed and used to his bat to sweep under it. He bumped it to one side and it appeared to be good-sized. Then a clown face fell into the light, grinning with empty, glassy eyes at the man. He jerked back and then smashed it with the bat. Something shattered under the bed and he looked again.

The face must have been made of some kind of china as it had shattered with the blow. The whole of the thing proved to be some kind of large clown doll, dressed in bright colors and with a brightly painted china head.

“Lady, what the hell were you into?” he said.

* * *

Dr. Wolfgang and Lindsay were disappointed to find no substantial food in the convenience store. There was just candy and melted ice cream and warm soda. However, they heard a scratching noise coming from the back of the store.

“Vhat vas that?” Dr. Wolfgang whispered.

He moved towards the back room and peeked in. There were several shelves filled with boxes of more candy and such, as well as a back door. A chest freezer stood against the back wall. Next to it was a large trapdoor, about the size of a normal door, in the floor. A bolt held it shut. The scratching seemed to be coming from there.

“Could be valuables,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“I’m going to stand back,” Lindsay said. “If you want to open it, it’s on your ass.”

He tried to position himself to be behind the trapdoor but realized he wouldn’t be able to as it opened up so it could lean against the wall. He stood next to it and unbolted it and lifted it up. Kneeling on the steps that led down into the dark cellar was a man. His fingernails were cracked and torn, the ends of his fingers ripped and bloody. A wide hole was in the middle of his chest and he looked up and then lunged at Dr. Wolfgang with open mouth.

Lindsay put her shotgun to her shoulder and blasted the zombie in the head, blowing the man’s skull to pieces and spewing blood, brains, and bones all over Dr. Wolfgang, who had pulled his arm back to punch the zombie in the face. The body stumbled backwards and fell down the stairs, disappearing from sight. Dr. Wolfgang staggered back and bumped into the chest cooler, hurting his hip. He let out a shout.

* * *

John was getting ready to leave the house when he heard the shotgun blast.

“What hell was that?” he said to himself.

* * *

Manny scooped up her shotgun and ran into the building, followed closely by Courtney, who drew her machete. They saw Lindsay in the doorway and could smell the gun smoke. They stopped in the doorway behind the women.

“What happened?” Courtney said.

“What’s going on?” Manny said.

“Uh … he decided to open the cellar and there was a zombie down there,” Lindsay said.

She worked the action on the shotgun and a smoking shell flew out and clattered to the floor.

“Zhere could be supplies down zhere!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Oh!” Courtney said. “Well what was down there? Did y’all check it out?”

“No,” Lindsay said. “Dead zombie in the way right now, so …”

* * *

John left the house and glanced over towards the little gas station but there was no one out front at all. He turned and headed for the next house in the line. He found the front door unlocked so looked in through the window. Nothing moved within so he entered.

The house resembled the other one with a kitchen in the back and two bedrooms. What appeared to be one of the closets had been nailed shut with boards. That was unusual.

* * *

Manny left, heading back to the car to finish replacing the tire.

“Let’s go check out what’s down in the cellar,” Courtney said.

She pushed by Lindsay and headed down the stairs, pulling the flashlight from one of the many pockets on her pink camouflage clothing and shining it around. The steps were very steep and curved to the right. Killer was right behind her. The basement below appeared to be the same size as the building above, with bricks set into the foundation.

Dr. Wolfgang followed her down while Lindsay stopped at the top of the stairs.

The headless and now still corpse had fallen all the way down to the bottom of the stairs. The place smelled of rotten meat though it was not overpowering. Courtney’s light finally stopped on a little girl in a pretty white dress in the back corner of the room.

“Oh hey little─” Courtney said.

Killer started barking and growling.

“What is it, Killer?” Courtney said.

The little girl suddenly rushed towards her. Her dress was actually covered in blood. Dr. Wolfgang stepped forward and kicked the little girl, using his Tai Chi and slamming her in the face. The little girl stumbled backwards but stayed on her feet and moved forward again.

Lindsay took a few steps down the stairs and saw what was going on. She slung her shotgun over her shoulder and drew her Glock. Courtney hacked at the little zombie girl with her machete, cutting her right leg. The little girl didn’t make a sound but tried to bite her, her teeth coming together very close to Courtney’s midsection.

Lindsay headed down the stairs, aiming her Glock at the little girl, as Doctor Wolfgang tried to drop-kick the dead child in the face but landed short of the dead little girl with a scream.

“My hip!” he cried.

Killer barked and growled.

* * *

Manny heard Killer barking and picked up her shotgun for a second time, heading inside the gas station. She made it to the open trapdoor and thought she heard some kind of fight or scuffle going on below.

* * *

The little girl looked down at Dr. Wolfgang.

“Aha!” Courtney said.

She dropped her machete and slammed her fist into the little girl’s face. There was a snap as the girl’s nose broke and she stumbled back once again. Reddish black liquid squirted down out of her broken nose and onto her dress. The blood also sprayed the fallen Dr. Wolfgang.

“Ew!” Courtney cried.

The little girl opened her mouth and fell at Courtney’s feet, biting her in the left foot. Courtney screamed.

Lindsay fired at the little zombie but missed, the bullet smashing into the bricks behind the terrible little girl. Dr. Wolfgang kicked up and landed on his feet, coming down onto the little girl, landing on her neck. There was a terrible snap and the girl turned her head and glared at him, her neck obviously broken.

* * *

John heard screaming somewhere nearby and then heard the report of a pistol.

“They’ve got it in hand,” he said to himself. “They’re fine if they’re still shooting.”

* * *

“What’s going on?” Manny called from the top of the steps.

She went down a couple more steps and saw them clustered around a small, mostly white form on the floor.

“This ***** just bit me in the foot!” Courtney cried out.

Courtney slapped the little girl in the top of the head, causing it to flop to one side. The little girl put a hand on either side of her head and stood up between Dr. Wolfgang and Courtney. She opened her mouth and went for Courtney, holding her head in place, and bit at Courtney, tearing her clothes. Courtney cried out.

Lindsay moved for a better shot, firing at the little girl again. This time the bullet struck the little girl in the right hand, smashing the bones there. The little girl’s head flopped onto her shoulder. Dr. Wolfgang cried out and palm struck the little girl in the face, knocking her back against a protruding peg at exactly the right level. With a crunching noise, the little girl stopped moving, though she was held in place by the peg in the back of her skull.

Manny nodded and headed back to the car to finish with the tire.

“Dr. Wolfgang!” Courtney cried. “Look at my foot! What can we do?”

“Did her teeth pierce you or was it your shoe?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“I don’t know! You’re the doctor!”

He led her out of the cellar to the back room where there was more light. He sat her on the chest freezer and examined and cleaned the bite wound with alcohol and iodine. He wrapped it in gauze and gave the girl some of the antibiotics he’d gotten at the veterinarian in West Jefferson. The drugs were in a form of jelly that tasted like meat and was meant for dogs. He shoved the syringe without a needle into the girl’s mouth and pushed the plunger.

“Ew!” she cried.

“Pinch your nose!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Thanks doc!” she said.

Courtney returned to the car as Manny lowered the jack. A doughnut tire was on one of the wheels.

* * *

John had searched the house but found nothing else of value or use. Only that nailed shut closet or whatever was there. He tapped on the door with the bat. He heard nothing. He looked more closely at the nails and found them driven in down to the head though he was unsure how long they were. He remembered Manny had a crowbar.

He left to check another house and spotted Manny just finishing up with car. When she touched the green goo from the plants, her hand started to go numb. She dropped the tire and wiped off her hand. He walked over to her.

* * *

Dr. Wolfgang returned to the basement with Courtney’s flashlight and looked around. Lindsay was still down there. It looked like the room was full of old junk and now he noticed the floor was simply dirt. There was nothing of real interest in the room and, at first, he thought the man might have gone into the basement with his daughter and shot himself. However, there was no sign of a shotgun, which had obviously been used at close range on the man at some point.

He was puzzled.

He examined the bodies and found no bite marks on either one of them. He decided to take samples Then he heard a strange noise from above.

* * *

Lindsay made the mistake of opening the chest freezer. The stench of the rotten meat within was overpowering and she bent over and violently vomited, the lid dropping back into place. She fled from the room, still vomiting, and ran out the front of the building.

* * *

“Is everything okay?” John said.

“Oh yeah,” Manny said. “It was just a little tiny zombie. Like a kid.”

Just then Lindsay ran out of the building, fell to one knee, and vomited onto the ground.

“Oh!” John said.

“Are you okay?” Manny said. “What’s wrong?”

Lindsay vomited again.

“She’s fine,” John said. “I found a door that was nailed shut. Do you still have your crowbar?”

“Yeah,” Manny said

It was tucked into her belt.

“Can I borrow it?” John said.

Manny said she’d go with him and they went to one of the houses.

* * *

Dr. Wolfgang had heard the puking and headed up. The stench was horrible and he immediately vomited, fleeing from the room towards the front of the building. He stopped at the door to the building and puked again.

“Ew, gross!” Courtney said. “What are you doing?”

Dr. Wolfgang got a few sample vials and covered his mouth and nose before heading back into the place.

* * *

Manny pulled out the boards holding the door shut. The hinges were on their side and when they opened the door, they saw steps going up, probably to some kind of attic. A dead man stood there and came at them. John panicked and punched the zombie in the face. The dead man stumbled back and Manny brought her crowbar down on the man, striking him in the head. Unfortunately, it was a glancing blow, merely knocking the man to one side. He stumbled but didn’t fall. Then the man lunged at Manny.

“Not again!” she screamed.

The man’s teeth snapped short of her face. She continued to scream.

* * *

The other three were all by the car when they heard a woman screaming.

“Vhat is it now?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Oh no!” Courtney said. “Mandy!”

Lindsay ran for the house, shotgun at ready. Dr. Wolfgang ran after her.

* * *

John swung his bat but only struck a glancing blow on the dead man’s arm. Manny dropped her crowbar and pulled her shotgun from her back. She shoved the barrel into the zombie’s mouth and blew the entire back of his head off. Blood and brain matter spewed everywhere as the man was flung backwards and crashed to the steep steps.

Lindsay and Dr. Wolfgang ran in a moment later. John and Manny climbed the steep steps and found an attic room that had been set up like a bunker. There was a cot and large bottles of water as well as tins of food, canned goods, bread and perishable food, most of which were moldy and rotten. There was still enough that was good to keep the five of them going for a week or two. It might even have been the food from the gas station across the street.

They loaded up the Honda Pilot with everything and headed off again. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1971-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Seven-The-Weirdos-of-Wickwold
Impromptu Zombie Role-Playing http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1969-Impromptu-Zombie-Role-Playing Sat, 02 Jul 2016 17:59:17 GMT Friday, July 1, 2016 (After sitting in the hot tub Wednesday, June 29, talking when I started a short diceless, narrative zombie game to give... Friday, July 1, 2016

(After sitting in the hot tub Wednesday, June 29, talking when I started a short diceless, narrative zombie game to give Camilla and Herman and idea of what tabletop was like. With Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, Camilla Ekker-Runde, and Herman Lee.)

On Wednesday, June 29, several people had come out to Andy Miller’s house for tubing. Collin was the first to arrive, around noon, followed by James Brown and Leigh Ann Philbee a short time late. Andy had already started drinking, of course. Camilla had texted she was running errands before coming so they were debating making the first run of tubing down the Watauga River when a car pulled up below. Andy went down and found it was Camilla.

They all talked for a short while and got themselves sprayed down with sunscreen before grabbing tubes and the small cooler tube Andy had found in the attic the day before and heading down the lane. Andy ran a few towels down to the river where they would land after the short trip. He ran back, something he much regretted, as he had two beers on his mostly empty stomach.

They walked the half mile or so down the lane and the logging trail to the river, put in, and had a pleasant trip downstream. It took maybe a half hour, sitting on the tubes, drinking beer and pop, and chatting. Collin had some trouble keeping up for some reason, but handled it with style and grace. After they arrived at the landing, Collin lounged in his tube while Camilla and Andy swam a little. Then they headed back up to the house.

Ashton arrived around then. Perfect timing. After re-applying sunscreen, they headed back down the lane, seven of them this time, Camilla and Andy with beer in hand for the walk, and put in a second time up above for another pleasant trip down the river. It was a warm sunny day. This time Andy and Camilla took the lead somewhat, heading downstream ahead of the rest, while James and Leigh Ann followed with Ashton and Collin in the rear. It all went horribly wrong at one point - a dead spot where Collin had gotten caught before this time caught Andy and Ashton as Camilla and Collin abandoned them to their fate. They made it back to the group in short order, however.

The water was starting to feel a little cooler by the time they got back to the Miller property a second time, but it was still warm out and pleasant. After a little swimming, most of them wanted to head back to the hot tub but Camilla wanted to go again. Andy was up for it so the two of them headed up the lane one more time. Pleasant conversation took them down the road and they put in upstream. They had a nice heart-to-heart, chatting about numerous things as they floated down the river a third time.

When they returned, Andy put hot dogs on the grill and they all had a nice meal. It was getting a little late and Leigh Ann had had a tooth pulled that day so she and James took their leave, Collin moving his car from the upper lane for them to get out. When he returned, the four remaining went to the hot tub. It was very warm after the cold river but Andy had a little cooler filled with beer and pop and they enjoyed the bubbles and the company. It had gotten dark by then, but the tiny white Christmas lights had a pleasant glow and the conversation was amusing.

They started talking about role-playing games and Andy said he could give Camilla an example of one as she’d never played before.

* * *

As Andy, Ashton, Camilla, and Collin sat in the hot tub, they heard a commotion from somewhere up the mountain. A man stumbled down, bleeding from a terrible wound on his shoulder.

“Help!” he said. “He just attacked me!”

The man stumbled into the gazebo where the hot tub stood and Andy leapt out and past the man.

“I’m going to call 911!” he said making for the back door.

Camilla was the next out and grabbed one of the towels, draping it around the man’s shoulder as a makeshift bandage. The man, meanwhile, had leaned against one of the pillars of the gazebo and slid down to the floor, breathing heavily. Collin and Ashton climbed out of the hot tub.

The man suddenly looked up at Camilla and then stood, leaning towards her, his eyes glazed over and his mouth open. Recognizing someone who’d become a zombie, she shoved him hard and he went back down to the ground. She ran from the gazebo towards the back door of the house.

When the dazed and apparently unbreathing man stood again, Collin rushed him and shoved him hard. The man flopped back over the back of the railing this time, not even uttering a scream, and crashed down the hill to smash into the side of the house below, where he lay in a heap for a moment. Then he stood up, his neck bent at a terrible angle. Collin couldn’t believe the man was still alive.

Ashton ran for the back stairs but the railroad ties used for steps were already slippery from the passage of two other people. She slipped and fell down the last few, crashing into the rocks at the foot of the steps leading to the back porch. Collin rushed after her and heard someone else stumbling down the dark mountainside behind them. He quickly helped Ashton to her feet. She favored her right leg and worried it might be broken, it hurt so much. He helped her to the top of the steps to the back porch as the man he had pushed clumsily climbed up the hill towards the steps.

Camilla and Andy burst out of the back door. Camilla had a tiny knife in her hand that was also fitted with a compass and a few other survival items. The blade of the knife was exposed. Andy held the cordless phone in his hand. Collin handed off Ashton to Andy to help into the house even as his own foot broke through the damaged board on the back porch. He pulled his foot out and then started to work the board loose.

Camilla stood at the top of the steps as Andy helped Ashton into the house. As the uninjured man came at her, she tried to stab him in the temple with the knife but caught him in the neck instead. It didn’t seem to even hurt the man and he tried to bite her shoulder but she screamed and held him off. Then Collin, stick in hand, moved forward and shoved the man’s shoulder hard. The man toppled over backwards and fell to the bottom of the steps even as the other man came up them. They crashed at the bottom again.

Camilla ran down the steps and stabbed both of the men in the temple, killing each of them in turn. Then she and Collin headed back into the house.

* * *

Andy helped Ashton to the couch. She was babbling about zombies and such and Andy handed her the cordless phone and ran down the steps to the living room, heading for the garage, where the shotgun was.

“Andy’s mom?” Ashton called.

“You’re making a lot of noise out there,” Mrs. Miller called back.

Ashton started telling her there were zombies outside.

* * *

Herman, Camilla’s boyfriend, was driving in the darkness of Watauga County. He had his GPS set for Andy’s house and was heading there to hang out with them towards the end of the day. He had passed over the bridge across the Watauga River and come to a steep hill that was not far from the address when a man stumbled out into the road in front of his car. He slammed on the brakes but the man still went down in front of it.

In shock, he pulled out his cell phone. He had service so he dialed 911.

“Watauga County 911, what is the nature of your emergency?” a woman answered.

“I just hit a guy in the road!” Herman said.

A hand came over the hood of the car and the bloody, broken man pulled himself up, standing. He started to make his way around towards the driver’s side but Herman, thinking the man must have been a zombie, floored it and ran him over again. The man didn’t make a sound as he went under the car.

“I just ran him over again!” Herman said to the dispatch operator. “He was a zombie!”

“Excuse me, sir?” the woman replied.

Herman saw movement in his rearview mirror. Red-lit by his brake lights, he saw the terribly injured man stand up behind the car and make his way around towards the driver’s side door. The man didn’t make a sound but Herman could see his left arm was hanging limp and he was stumbling as he walked. He cracked the window.

“Are you okay?” he said. “I didn’t think─”

The man grabbed the window with his right hand and pulled hard. The glass shattered and Herman dropped the cell phone and pushed the accelerator to the floor once again, leaving the undead horror behind. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1969-Impromptu-Zombie-Role-Playing
<![CDATA[Advanced Dungeons & Dragon 2nd Edition: The Scar Session One]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1968-Advanced-Dungeons-amp-Dragon-2nd-Edition-The-Scar-Session-One Sat, 02 Jul 2016 17:33:33 GMT Monday, June 27, 2016

(After playing the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition scenario “The Scar” by Ray Winninger from Dungeon Adventures #80 on Sunday from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, Nathaniel Steelmen, Logan Scott, Collin Townsend, Aaron Scott, Hannah Gambino, and Ashton LeBlanc.)

On the last day of Needfest, 592 Common Year, two new prisoners were brought into cell holding slaves of the orcs led by Skarg and tossed into the darkness. They would begin their labors the next day.

Arthelion the Enlightened was a mage. The man had shoulder-length brown hair and bright blue eyes. He was trying to grow his wizard’s beard but it was still scruffy. He was achingly handsome and wore white robes with black trim and a matching pointed hat. He had come to the Flinty Hills in search of the orcs, wanting to be captured. He had heard of other people being taken by the orcs and thought if he got captured, his notoriety would go up. He had run into an elf and asked about the orcs.

Rome was an elf priest of Corellon Larethian. He had grey hair that was teased back and muttonchops, very unusual for an elf; many had commented that there must have been some human blood. He had gold eyes and was wandering in the wilderness when he had met the wizard Arthelion. Moments later, they were surrounded by orcs and taken prison, blindfolded and dragged away.

The other prisoners’ muscles ached from the long hours of manual labor and their backs stung from the lash. They’d been prisoners of the orcs for more than just a day. Just after they were captured, the orcs brought them there, the ruins of an ancient underground temple located in a barren wasteland of the Flinty Hills known as the Scar, not terribly far from the Nyrond border.

The orcs were looking for something. Their leader, a ruthless animal named Skarg, drove them onward and they in turn, drove the slaves. The prisoners spent 14 hours of every twenty four digging and hauling rubble, opening the passageways that would soon allow Skarg to find his prize. Those who defied Skarg fell beneath the slavers’ lash - or worse.

It was unlikely that Skarg would be even this hospitable once he had achieved his objective. The slaves’ only hope was escape. There were 25 of them, most of them peasants, captured merchants, a few women, and a few children. However, in addition to the two who had just been captured, there were also five more of a different sort.

Helius Wik was a hedge wizard. The man wore robes that looked like they’d been patched together from other robes of dark earth tones. Twigs and beads and dried leaves adorned his dark brown hair. He had only a little scruff of a beard on his chin and he was young, having seen only 21 summers. He was pretty dirty. He’d been captured by the orcs a week before while gathering herbs to make the beers he brewed. They had thrown a hood over his head and dragged him into the terrible underground temple.

Tarmak of the Winding Road was a priest of Fharlanghn. The man was average-looking aside from his brilliant green eyes. He had brown hair, bleached by the sun, and was average height and weight. He had the beginnings of a beard only because the orcs allowed them no blades, even to shave their faces. He wore a tunic. He had been captured by the orcs a week and a half before when he had been camping out in the wilderness and had seen their shadows. Thinking they were fellow travelers on the road, he invited them to his fire and they jumped him.

Kilb Bronzescale was a kobold rogue. He was small, standing almost three and a half feet tall, and had bronze colored scales. His eyes were deep purple and he was 15 years old, a young adult in the kobold tribes. He had been traveling from the Bone March through the Flinty Hills towards Nyrond to rob the humans when he stumbled across some orcs who snatched him up three days before. He had kept to himself and the other slaves had left him alone.

Noiree Fragginth was a dwarf woman. Half of her head was shaved and, though her hair was brown, the top of her hair that was still long was dyed orange. She also had an orange braid that came down longer than the rest of her hair. Many of the dwarves in her stronghold were not happy about it as they said it went against dwarven tradition. She had been there the longest: a slave for two months.

Her isolated stronghold stood in the Rakers where it met the Flinty Hills, and had always, it seemed, been subject to humanoid attacks and subjugation. The dwarves had eventually capitulated, giving tribute of gold and sometimes even slaves to certain humanoid tribes to keep them away. However, two months before, the orcs who had come had taken more gold and slaves than usual. Noiree had gone after them but found herself surrounded and captured by another group as she pursued the first.

Elriya Warrick was a Halfling rogue. She went by the nickname “L” in her hometown. She stood just over three feet tall and had short black hair and piercing blue eyes. She normally wore a cloak with a mask that covered the lower portion of her face as she had very crooked teeth. She had seen a caravan of orcs moving towards the part of the Flinty Hills called the Scar 11 days before and decided to try to rob from it. However, she found the caravan full of slaves so she tried to free them but the orcs had captured her. She had been enslaved ever since.

The room the slaves were housed in was about 30 feet deep by 50 feet wide. There were two large piles of straw for the slaves to sleep on in two corners while a pile of rubble filled another corner. The doors in the complex were unusual. Each was eight feet tall and arched at the top. Rather than swinging inward or outward, they rose into slots in the ceiling when opened. Rusty chains used to hoist up each door were found on the right side of the doorway. They made a great racket when they were pulled and anyone nearby could hear them, making sneaking through the place problematic. The door to their quarters had no chain on the inside.

Additionally elaborate friezes illuminated by strange writings that Helius Wik and Tarmak had recognized as ancient Flan, were in some of the rooms. They ran in a continuous strip across the uppermost two feet of the walls and depicted various things. They had briefly seen the one in their prison at one point, though light was only rarely brought into the room. It depicted the construction of a hearth and its chimney with the caption “The great hearth was built in the western wing of the complex.” In another room they passed through to get to the area they worked in was a frieze of construction of some kind of hall with statues that read “A great hall of honor was constructed in the south wing of the complex. A great weapon was placed in Cameron’s hands.”

The underground complex was lit sporadically with great brass lanterns with thick wicks made of hemp rope. They burned brightly enough that they illuminated an area some 60 feet across. One was near the place the slaves worked to clear rubble and was the only illumination they had in that area though another light came from a nearby corridor they noticed each time they passed.

They were fed at the end of the long work sessions and given water breaks during them. Sometimes orcs came in after they bedded down each night to search them for contraband. They also occasionally searched their quarters.

* * *

The next day, the first day of the month of Fireseek, they were all woken by nine orcs, as usual.

“Happy Fireseek everybody!” Helius Wik said.

“Quiet you!” one of the orcs said.

It was pitch black and those with infravision were forced to help those who could not see to navigate the corridors until they reached the part of the complex illuminated by one of the huge brass lanterns. Then the orcs, as usual, split off about a quarter of the slaves, including Helius Wik and Noiree this time, and headed off into the complex in a direction none of those who had been slaves had yet seen.

Each of the orcs carried a spear and a scourge. They wore leather armor and had heavy black cloaks.

“Get to work!” another orc said to those who remained.

They were all given crude shovels and started working on moving debris from a pile that blocked the corridor.

“What do we do?” Arthelion asked.

“You’ll figure it out!” an orc said, slamming the mage in the back with his spear.

“Ow!”

The slaves knew they were move the debris to clear the tunnel beyond. There was a lot of it there and it would probably take a couple of days work to clear it, even with the number of people there. Arthelion looked around. There were some bones on the ground that were somewhat fresh. Otherwise there was little on the area of the corridor beside a few closed doors.

“Yeah, we got fresh meat for dinner tonight,” one of the orcs said to another in common.

He laughed and looked at Arthelion.

“Hey, I like that goat,” Arthelion said. “Please don’t─”

“We’re gonna like him too!” the orc said and laughed again.

“He’s … uh … he’s poisonous.”

“Oh, we’ll let the captain eat him first then.”

The orc laughed again. He probably thought he was making a joke.

“I’m going to tell the captain,” Arthelion said.

“What’d you say?” the orc barked.

“Nothing.”

“I thought so.”

“Yeah.”

“Get to work!”

* * *

Helius Wik, Noiree, and a handful of other slaves were taken down a long corridor, past a deep room with a statue, and then down another corridor where yet another large lantern illuminated the area. They were pushed into a room nearly buried with wooden debris. It appeared to be the remains of a library and a frieze went around the top of the room depicting the construction of a hall with statues within it. Helius Wik could tell the writing said “A great hall of honor was constructed n the south wing of the complex. A great weapon was placed in Cameron’s hands.”

They were not told what to do but one of the other slaves said they were to find books and papers. Helius Wik found a scrap of parchment and hid it into his long hair.

* * *

Arthelion tried to persuade the orcs to find some other work for him as he was very weak but the orc merely growled for him to get back to work.

“I’m not very strong,” Arthelion said.

“I don’t care,” the orc replied. “Get back to work!”

“This is all I can lift.”

“That’s something.”

Arthelion lifted the meager amount he could and moved it.

“Good job,” the orc growled.

Arthelion walked over to the other adventurers.

“You don’t look like peasants like the rest of them,” he said. “How’d you get captured? How long have you been here?”

The kobold just glared at him and continued working.

“Are you racist against elves?” Rome asked.

“No,” Arthelion said. “Are you all special?”

“Yeah,” Rome replied.

“This guy’s an idiot,” Elriya said to Kilb in kobold. “Don’t talk to him.”

Kilb’s eyes opened wide. He was surprised she could speak his tongue.

“I don’t speak it, but was that the kobold language?” Arthelion asked. “I can speak dragon.”

He looked at Kilb.

“Do you speak common?” he asked.

Kilb just glared at him and kept working.

“Don’t worry,” Arthelion said. “I’ll get us out of here soon.”

“I’ve only been here for one day,” Rome said.

“Oh yeah.”

“And I could break this place with a straw of hay. I didn’t mean to rhyme but … that’s what happened.”

The elf looked around him and guessed the place was some kind of orc stronghold that had been taken over by men as they were too lazy to build their own. He guessed the orcs had merely retaken it. He told the rest of his hypothesis.

“Huh,” Arthelion said.

Arthelion kept talking to the orcs all day, trying to convince them he was not strong enough for the work.

“This will make you stronger,” one of the orcs said, swatting him with his spear.

“All I have is a staff and a goat,” Arthelion said. “My life sucks.”

“You don’t have either now.”

“I … I mean, you’re going to die if you eat him. I’m just telling you that. He cost half of my fortune so … if you could not eat him … I really love him. I mean, as much as one can love a goat, I love him.”

The orcs ignored him.

“Okay, I have a proposal,” he later said. “I’m really good at dancing. And it must be really boring guarding.”

“Get back to work!” the orc told him.

“Don’t eat my goat and I’ll dance.”

“Get back to work.”

“I can do a dancing lights spell.”

“Wait … you’re a caster?”

“Oh yeah. I’m so smart.”

“Don’t cast spells or we’ll cut your fingers off so you can’t cast.”

“I might’ve already cast one, I’m not sure.”

Displeased with that, they knocked the mage around with their spears.

At another point, Arthelion put his back to the orcs and cast a charm person spell, turning at the last moment and focusing on one of them. The orcs didn’t notice he’d cast the spell. However, Tarmak, Kilb, Rome, and Elriya all saw his casting. He walked over to the orc he cast the spell on.

“So, do you want to watch me dance or what?” he asked.

“No!” the orc said. “Shut up! Get back to work!”

“Huh.”

The spell hadn’t worked.

“Well, they’re not willing,” Arthelion said to the other slaves. “You want to watch me dance? I’m pretty good.”

No one seemed to. He told the orcs he needed a very private area to pass his water but was told to piss with the rest of them. The orc hit him with a spear.

“Where?” Arthelion asked.

The orc pointed to a corner.

“I’m kind of shy,” Arthelion said.

The orc took the scourge off his belt and started swatting it against his leg.

“You are getting on my last nerve, boy,” the orc said.

“I have something really cool in my pouch, if you want to see it,” Arthelion told the orcs.

“We’ve seen everything in your pouch,” the orc said. “We took it.”

“I made something invisible in it though. You want to see it?”

“You a wizard? You try that crap with us and we’ll rip your tongue out.”

“I need my materials to cast spells. I can’t cast spells.”

“Bullshit! My uncle was a shaman. You don’t need no materials. I bet you already wizzened me! Didn’t you?”

“Nah!”

“I should rip the beard off your face. You ain’t got much. Go piss over in that corner with the rest of them.”

“Can you make sure nobody sneaks up on me?”

“I’ll whip the shit out of you! Get over there and piss.”

The orcs started to watch the wizard more closely after that. Kilb dug away with his shovel but kept an eye out for sharp rocks he might use as a weapon. He didn’t find anything he could use that day. Rome started to shovel the rocks more efficiently in an attempt to get onto the orcs’ good side. He had a plan for an assembly line that would speed up production and keep everyone busy. He decided to do it himself in the hopes the orcs would notice, which they did.

“Elves, I hate ‘em,” he said. “But he’s really working hard.”

Before he finished for the day, he asked the orc for his medallion so he could pray to his god. The orc told him to piss off.

They continued work and were brought water three times over the workday. Elriya volunteered to bring water but they refused to take a volunteer to do it. They were all finally taken back to the slave pen. Arthelion, remembering the straw from the night before, felt his way to the pile in an attempt to call dibs on a place to sleep.

* * *

In the library, Helius Wik crept into the side of the library the orcs couldn’t see from their place in the corridor. He cast a spell to detect magic and looked around but could not see anything magical within his field of vision.

A slave was sent off three times that day to bring water to the others. They were very tired by the time the orcs took them back to their room.

* * *

A half hour or so after they were brought back to the slave quarters, the orcs brought them gruel and a tough piece of meat. That was all they would get in terms of food and it really wasn’t enough. A half hour or so after they had their food, they started smelling cooked food and heard the orcs start their loud revelry, as they did nightly.

They might be drinking my beer! Helius Wik thought. Those bastards!

Arthelion, Rome, Noiree, and Elriya all thought they smelled roasted goat.

Oh well, Arthelion thought. I’ll have to buy another goat.

They bedded down, the adventurers all finding themselves in the same pile. Elriya tapped on Arthelion’s shoulder.

“Hello?” he said.

“Did you try to spell those orcs earlier today?” she asked.

“Nah.”

“I saw you waving your hands around and chanting.”

“Yeah.”

“And you looked at ‘em.”

“Yeah.”

“What were you trying to do?”

“I have the tremors. I get hand tremors when they hit me with the spear more than seven times. They hit me a little more than I was hoping today. I was shaking a little bit.”

“Well … I know you’re new here but, at night, only one orc comes to check up on us.”

“Oh. That’s pretty cool. Maybe he’d like to see me dance. You know, nobody took me up on that today.”

“I wish I could see you dance,” Helius Wik said from the darkness.

“Who said that?” Arthelion said. “I’ll dance for you tomorrow, stranger.”

“Awesome. The name’s Helius.”

“My name is Arthelion.”

“Nice to meet you, Arthelion. What kind of dancing do you do?”

“I can do all kinds of dancing. I prefer … have you ever seen the taps?”

“I’ve only heard of the taps.”

“I can taps it real good.”

“Yeah, I’m not a very good dancer myself but get a few beers in me and I’ll try anything. At least once.”

“That sounds like an opportunity.”

A little girl on the edge of the pile of straw was crying.

What a baby, Arthelion thought.

“So, you gave me that information about the lone guard coming at night,” he said. “Have you got a plan, friend? What do you want to do about that?”

“Yeah, I’m trying to get out of here,” Helius Wik said. “You guys trying to get out of here?”

“Why would you try to get out of here?”

“I’m just … I’m just saying … you guys look like wizards,” Elriya said. “If you can a spell on the orc, that would be a good time to do it.”

“I kind of need to rest before I can perform a spell, personally,” Helius Wik said.

“Well, you know, if I could cast a spell, I’d probably couldn’t now,” Arthelion said.

“It’s not like we’re going anywhere,” Elriya said.

“It’d probably have to be later. If I could.”

Rome walked over to the little girl and sat down next to her. She was startled in the dark but he comforted her and told her about his god, Corellon Larethian. She snuggled up to him and asked him to tell her more stories. She finally fell asleep.

“So, everybody,” Noiree said.

“Who is this?” Arthelion asked. “Who’s talking?”

“Who is that?” Helius Wik said.

“My name’s Noiree Fragginth,” she said. “I’ve got an idea. So, I’ve been here for a little bit.”

“How long,” Arthelion asked.

“Two months.”

“That’s a long time.”

“Yep. I hate it.”

A couple others chimed in they hated it too.

“Guys, it’s not that bad,” Arthelion said.

“Well, I plan on trying to get out of here soon,” Noiree went on. “Now, I still have my clothes from when I was captured. And around my waist I have a band that wraps around. I’m thinking, I’m a strong person. I’m a strong dwarf. I think─”

“Strong, independent woman,” Helius Wik said.

“Yes, thank you,” Noiree went on. “I think that if we, a few of us, get to the sides of the walls, when they come in, I take my wrap, hold it, and I can take them down from behind.”

“I don’t mean to burst your bubble, Noiree,” Arthelion said, “but they’ve got some pretty good armor and might scream out in the night.”

“We also outnumber them,” Elriya said.

“If I get them around the neck, they won’t scream,” Noiree said.

They knew most of the common people would be useless in a fight. Helius Wik also said he was not a good fighter and would prefer to stay out of battles.

“Why don’t you just keep hyping up how good of a dancer I am,” Arthelion said. “Tell ‘em you saw me. And you’ve heard of me. And the orcs should really watch me dance.”

“Hm,” Helius Wik said.

“Well, there’s got to be something we could do,” Noiree said.

“I could distract them … with my dancing,” Arthelion said.

“They’re going to whip you,” Noiree said.

“This might have nothing to do with the escape plan but … in the room that I was taken to today, I saw something on the ceiling, something written down about the great hall in the south complex and a great weapon in Cameron’s hands,” Helius Wik said.

He remembered the route he’d taken to the library and described it to the others.

“There was something written on the ceiling about Cameron’s hands and a big weapon,” he went on. “Does that ring a bell with any of you guys? Even to the people who have not been here long.”

Arthelion remembered a legend he’d once heard or read. It was about a people who worshipped one of the world’s nature gods who had made a huge underground temple somewhere in the Flinty Hills. They were apparently trying to create some powerful magic. He remembered the elf who had been on the chain gang with them had mentioned the place being an orc lair, but he didn’t think so.

“Story time,” he said.

He described the story as best he could remember it.

“So, you think that this is the same hall?” Helius Wik said. “You think this might be where that magical weapon might be kept?”

“Oh, most definitely,” Arthelion said. “Without a doubt.”

“Maybe if we find this magical weapon before the orcs, we can take them out,” Helius Wik said.

“If we do find said magical weapon, I would consider it a great honor if you all would bestow it upon me,” Arthelion said.

“Oh, you would consider it an honor,” Helius Wik said.

“Hm,” Noiree said.

“Yeah,” Arthelion said. “What you will see of my dancing will be enough payment for whatever this item is.”

“Would you even know how to use said weapon?” Helius Wik said.

“If I could use said weapon … yeah, I could probably figure it out.”

“Well …”

Helius Wik laughed.

“But I’m really thinking that I could distract them tomorrow,” Arthelion said. “So … you can formulate the plan from there but I’m going to give them a show. I’m going to give them the what’s up.”

“We’ll try anything,” Noiree said.

“Distract them with your dancing skills?” Helius Wik said.

“Yeah,” Arthelion said. “So, I mean, I don’t know if you noticed but you all look different. All the rest look like peasants that are going to die here.”

“Hey!” one of the other prisoners said.

“No offense,” Arthelion said.

“Okay, no offense,” the other man said.

“I can’t tell in this darkness,” Helius Wik said. “I can’t even tell how you can tell.”

“Is he really a wizard?” someone said.

“But I’m thinking if I can distract them, what would you like to do?” Arthelion went on. “Just get to that library?”

“The orcs took me to a room where they were looking for a magical artifact or a magical book or something,” Helius Wik said. “I feel if I had more time, I might could find this magical artifact. And I remember the way to get there, past a couple hallways, a few doors.”

“Do you think this distraction idea’s good? Then you could get back there unseen possibly? Or do you even know if they’ll take you back there tomorrow?”

“I have no idea if they’ll take me back to the library tomorrow. But if we can hold a big enough rabble where you guys are digging, maybe I could … maybe me and a few other people can do some investigating and track it down.”

“It sounds like, to me, what you’re proposing is they need to make sure they don’t take you there tomorrow, and you’re there with the bigger group so you can lead us there. When I perform the distraction.”

“I could lead anybody to this library.”

“Is that man going to dance?” someone muttered.

“So, for all of you who want to get out of here, there might be an uprising tomorrow,” Arthelion said.

“All right,” Helius Wik said.

“I don’t wanna die,” someone said.

“The signal will be my tapping,” Arthelion said.

“Well, we need to find our weapons and stuff if we’re going to have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting out of this place,” Helius Wik said.

“Can anybody here hold their own? I mean is anyone here a fighter or something?”

“Not me.”

“Not I.”

“Those shovels suck,” someone said.

“But we do outnumber the orcs,” Arthelion said.

There was some dissent among the commoners. Most of them were scared. However, they didn’t give the impression any of them would betray them to the orcs. Everyone was afraid of the orcs.

“I’m pretty strong myself,” Noiree said. “I can pull my weight. Help out. Strangle a few orcs.”

“It will have to be a quick attack,” Arthelion said. “And we will all have to fight at some point.”

“Oh gods,” Helius Wik said.

“But I will try to get the orcs to turn their backs on the digging,” Arthelion said.

“Well, as long as I get a good night’s rest before all of this goes down, I think I can help out,” Helius Wik said.

It was about an hour later when the door opened and a single orc came in and looked around. Only a few of them could see him. He left fairly quickly however. It was several more hours before a single orc arrived to search the room for contraband, but he did it very quickly and inefficiently.

* * *

They were awoken early on the 2nd of Fireseek when the orcs opened the door to their room. They were led out of the room once again and to the place where the digging was taking place. The orcs took Tarmak, Rome, Kilb, Noiree, and Elriya, as well as the little girl, to work in the library. Rome memorized the route as they walked. Six orcs escorted them and kept watch outside the door of the room.

Noiree was really, really angry that they’d been split up in such a way that the plan was wrecked.

“Hopefully those idiots don’t spend their spells while we’re gone,” Elriya muttered.

They got to work searching for papers and books. Kilb continued to look for a something sharp to use as a weapon. Tarmak recognized the language of the frieze as ancient Flan and was able to read it.

* * *

The others, including Arthelion and Helius Wik were put to work on the pile of debris once again.

“So … it does look like our plan has failed,” Arthelion said to Helius Wik as they worked.

“Partially, yeah,” Helius Wik said. “Though I’m still here if you still want to dance. You were talking it up last night.”

“I mean … I was going to dance to distract while you took the other people, so … I don’t think you and me can overpower these orcs.”

“I can’t take anybody in my condition.”

“So, I guess we’ll just have to wait until they get back. But hey, did you hear a door open last night.”

“Yeah, I heard it open twice. Those are the guys. They go through and make the rounds, you know. They check up on us.”

“Seems like they only send one guy.”

“Yeah, you know, after partying, he’s probably boozed up. He’s probably not all there. You know what I’m saying.”

“If you could cast a spell, do you think you could cast it when he shows up? I mean, if you could.”

“I know a few spells. You know.”

“Right.”

“I can throw my voice here and there.”

“Okay.”

“I got some jubilee fireworks.”

“I’ve possibly got something I could do that might make him our friend.”

“Oh yeah?”

“I say, tonight, why don’t me and you, if we can cast spells, why don’t we try it? You know?”

“Okay, so … I guess I won’t …”

When it came time to give water to the slaves, Arthelion was picked to go fetch it.

“So-so what do I do?” he asked.

“Come with me,” the orc said.

He led him in a different direction than those who went to the library had been led, past a pile of rubble and by a large lantern before going through another chamber with rubble in the center. They came to another large lantern and turned left where a wide corridor led off some ways. The orc led him to the second door on the right, which the orc made him open. Further down the corridor, Arthelion could see a large fire with four orcs standing guard near it.

The room itself was painfully bright. A number of small holes were in the crumbling ceiling overhead. Sunlight streamed down through the ceiling holes, brightly illuminating the room and making Arthelion’s eyes sting. Four large tuns half-filled with water dominated the center of the room where the holes were. The orc pointed at two buckets, told him to fill them, and then follow him back. When he gathered the water, he looked up and could see a blue sky high above.

“These are some pretty big buckets,” Arthelion said. “Are you going to help me carry them?”

“No,” the orc said. “Fill them. I heard about you!”

“Have I not met you? You all look the same.”

“Do we?”

The orc walked over to the man.

“Yeah, you’re all very beautifu─” Arthelion said.

The orc struck him with the scourge and he stepped back.

“They call you ‘Mouth,’” the orc said. “I don’t wanna hear it any more. Fill ‘em and let’s walk back.”

Arthelion filled the buckets and the orc escorted him back. The slaves drank the water but quickly emptied both buckets.

“You know where it is!” the orc growled at him. “Just go. You’re not back … then I’m going to come looking for you.”

He swung his scourge at the man.

“I don’t know,” Arthelion mumbled. “I’m pretty fast.”

“What was that!?!” the orc said.

“Nothing.”

“Thought so.”

The orc pointed and Arthelion walked back to the water storage room. He noticed a corridor in the wall next to the room and saw light coming from that direction. It looked like lantern light. Further down the corridor, near the large fire, the four orcs continued to stand guard. He dropped off the buckets at the water storage room and started to head down the corridor next to it.

“Hey!” one of the orcs down the hall shouted. “Where are you going?”

“I’m getting water,” Arthelion called.

“The water’s in there!”

“Oh, that’s right. Whoops.”

He walked back into the water storage room and got the water, heading over to the four orc guards.

“Are you guys thirsty?” he asked.

“Gimme that!” one said.

He grabbed the bucket and drank it. Another grabbed the other bucket and drank from it as well.

“How are you guys doing?” Arthelion asked.

One of the orcs poked him.

“You’re awful skinny,” he said.

“Have you guys heard of me?” Arthelion said.

“Iunno,” an orc said.

“They said you guys had heard of me,” Arthelion went on. “You call me ‘Mouth.’”

“Mouth,” the orc said. “That’s Mouth.”

“Hey. What’s up guys?”

“You got purty teeth,” an orc said.

“I’ve offered this to everybody; nobody’s taken me up on it. You want to see me dance?”

The orcs looked at each other.

“No,” one finally said.

“Man, the─”

“No no no no.”

“Why not?”

“Ain’t … ain’t there no … we … no.”

“Okay.”

“Get some human women. They can dance.”

“So, I made a bet with this one guy that this is the way out. Is it? I just want to know if I’m going to win the bet.”

“Back here?”

One of the orcs pointed at the area beyond the fire near the barricade they stood by. A pile of rubble was there and the next chamber opened into a larger area.

“You wanna go back there?” the orc asked.

“Why is it barricaded?” Arthelion asked.

“Yeah! You wanna go back there?”

“There something cool? To see?”

“Yeah! It’s real cool.”

The orcs looked at him.

“You know what’s back there?” one said.

“I mean … I’m a little curious, but …” Arthelion said.

“You can go look.”

“Well … are you gonna come with me?”

“No. Gruumsh no.”

“How bad is it? Tell me. What’s going on?”

“The Gnasher’s back there.”

“The Gnasher?”

The orc moved forward and got in his face.

“That’s where we throw people that talk too much.”

“Well, I feel like I talk about the right amount, so …”

“So, you don’t want to go see the Gnasher?”

“I don’t guess so. If you don’t want to see it, I don’t want to see it. But if we hold hands and go look at it …”

“Get back to work.”

“Okay.”

Arthelion returned to the workers so they could slake their thirst. The orc told him to take the buckets back to the water storage room and he did so, returning with all due haste. He noticed a couple of orcs in another room he passed through before he returned.

* * *

Both Tarmak and Elriya found pieces of paper in the library. Each of them depicted one of the friezes. Tarmak’s displayed construction of what appeared to be an armory. It read: “An armory was established near the northwest wing of the complex.” Elriya found one that depicted a council of priests. She could not read what the script read but noticed Tarmak reading a piece of paper. She handed it over and he saw it read: “The high priests come together to set the stage for the new order.”

They knew they were supposed to hand over anything they found to the orcs.

“Can you conceal these?” Tarmak asked her. “At all?”

“Probably,” Elriya said.

She hid them on her person as best she could.

* * *

Helius Wik took the time to examine the lantern that lit their area as best he could. He saw it was made of brass and very large with a wick that almost appeared to be a thick piece of hemp rope. He guessed it was filled with lamp oil and probably weighed hundreds of pounds.

He also overheard a couple of orcs talking. Unfortunately, it was in their own language. He didn’t understand a word of it.

* * *

They were returned to the slave quarters after several hours, exhausted. Most of the slaves flung themselves down on the straw to get what rest they could. A half hour later, they were brought gruel and meat.

“Can I get some more?” Arthelion asked.

“No,” the orc, hidden in the pitch blackness, said.

“Hey, have you seen the Gnasher?”

“Yes.”

“What does he look like?”

“I’ll let you go see him if you want.”

“Will you come with me, though. Because the other guys─”

“No!”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want to die, idiot.”

“Wull─”

“Shut up Mouth. You’re the mouth, aren’t you?”

“Yeah.”

The orc slapped him in the face and walked away, leaving shortly after giving them their food. They knew it was a little while before the orcs began their revelry and possibly an hour before an orc might go in to inspect them.

“Hey, so I’m pretty tired but I think we should stay up tonight to maybe do some spells,” Arthelion said. “Maybe.”

“Yeah,” Helius Wik said. “Except I would have no idea what we would do once we get out of this room.”

“Full disclosure, if I was a wizard, I would probably have a spell to charm somebody, maybe. That’s if I was a wizard.”

“Okay, but you don’t─”

“I need to see them though and I can’t see shit.”

“How old are you, man?”

“What?’

“How old are you?”

“What’s my age matter?”

“Because you look like a pretty young wizard. You can probably only cast one spell a day.”

“Pshaw.”

“I know, just from experience, that your spells won’t always work, man.”

“‘Cause they won’t work,” a voice out of the darkness said.

“Whoa, who’s that?” Helius Wik said.

“Who was that?” Arthelion said. “I wonder if he’s a wizard.”

Noiree, Rome, and Elriya all saw it had been the little kobold who had not spoken to any of them previous to that very moment. Elriya smiled and gave the little creature a high five.

“You tried to charm somebody yesterday and it didn’t work,” Kilb said.

“No, I didn’t!” Arthelion said, still unsure exactly who he was talking to in the darkness.

“We all saw you. You didn’t even hide it that well.”

“I wasn’t hiding it from you. I didn’t try to cast a spell. When I cast a spell, it always works.”

“Oh yeah?” Helius Wik said.

“Yeah,” Arthelion said.

They couldn’t see Elriya put her face in her hands but they did hear her sigh very loudly.

“It may not work instantaneously, but it does work,” Arthelion said.

“I just know from experience that they don’t always work and we might need more than just spells to get out of here,” Helius Wik said.

“Well, yeah.”

“We have to work as a group. What does everybody else have to offer, besides spells?”

“Well, possible spells.”

“Possible spells.”

“This is all hypothetical. If we were wizards.”

“My strength’s my strong suit,” Noiree said.

“Who said that?” Arthelion said.

“I,” Noiree said.

“How much can you lift?” Helius Wik asked.

“I can lift a lot,” Noiree said.

The others were silent.

“So, is that all we have, two hypothetical spells and some strength or are you pussies going to start talking?” Arthelion said.

“I know how to appraise gems,” a voice said.

“I mean, unless you guys want to live here forever, which is cool,” Arthelion said. “I get it.”

“I … I kind of want to get to my wineskin,” Helius Wik said. “I’m kind of hurting for some beer right now.”

“I kind of want to get back to my goat,” Arthelion said.

“Your goat’s dead,” Noiree said.

“We don’t’ know that. There’s a lot of things that smell like goat.”

“Like what?”

“Like other goats. They didn’t kill my goat. I asked them not to.”

“How many goats were there? Yeah.”

“I dunno. I didn’t see ‘em.”

“I think there was one goat.”

“Well, we’ll see.”

“Good talk.”

“The idiot has a point, though,” Elriya said. “Even if we get out of here, how do we get out stuff back?”

“One of those papers I found earlier that I gave to you said there was an armory to the northwest section of this fortress or wherever we are,” Tarmak said. “And I might be able to get us there if we can get out of this room.”

“Do you know which way northwest is?” Elriya asked.

“Yes, I do,” Tarmak said.

“Nice,” Noiree said.

“Well, that’s a start,” Arthelion said. “Why don’t we all sleep next to the door and try the spells. If they do fail, which it won’t, but if they did fail, then we can just overpower the one guard.”

“So, are you just trying to persuade this guard to help us out or something?” Helius Wik said.

“Aw yeah. He’s going to be our best friend. And if, if he does become out best friend, then him leading one of us around won’t look as suspicious to the other guards.”

“But him leading all of us around would look pretty suspicious.”

“Yeah, him leading one person.”

“Well, who would that one person be?”

“Me, of course.”

“But you would … hypothetically you would already have used your spell.”

“Naw, I just came up with this today.”

“So …”

“Trust me. This is a brand-new plan.”

“You know, we might not need the charm spell. There’s a pile of rubble over there. Why don’t we just knock him out when he comes in to look in on us tonight.”

They realized, from the description of the few in the room who could see in the dark, the pile of rubble was large enough it might even cover a door or something.

“I have a sense there might be more to this pile of rubble,” Helius Wik said. “I might not have any night vision or anything─”

“I’m going to be completely honest with you,” Arthelion said. “I didn’t even know there was a pile of rubble.”

“It’s pretty dark.”

“We’ve got digger extraordinaire in the room,” Kilb said, thinking of the work he’d seen Rome do.

“Who’s the digger extraordinaire?” Arthelion asked.

“Yeah,” Rome said.

“Who’s talking?” Arthelion asked.

Helius Wik felt his way over to the rubble and started to dig around, trying to get a sense for how large some of the stones there were. Arthelion noted that as he couldn’t see the pile, he was going to just lay there, but to let him know if they found anything. Noiree, Elriya, and Kilb helped with the rubble, moving it a little bit and looking for large rocks.

“What was the Gnasher?” Rome asked.

“I don’t really know,” Arthelion confessed. “The orcs are scared of it so, I think we should be scared of it.”

“Maybe we could use it to our advantage.”

“Yeah, I was … it’d be really cool if I could let it out or something.”

Helius Wik found a good-sized rock in the pile.

“I found a giant rock we could crush some heads with,” he said.

“I like that idea,” Noiree said.

“Right? You could probably be more efficient with this rock. Where are you? I can’t even see you right now.”

She walked over and took the large rock from him.

“I have a belt,” Kilb said.

They discussed what to do and Helius Wik asked if Noiree wanted to bash the guy’s head open with the rock when he came in. They made a plan wherein Noiree would stand near the door with the rock.

“Guys, if you charm him, then he’ll lead us out,” Elriya said. “And probably to our stuff.”

“But we’re not entirely sure the charm will work,” Helius Wik said.

“I’ll have to kill him,” Noiree said.

“Some of us are pretty sure it’s going to work,” Arthelion said.

“Well, mouth is really good at aggravating these guys so we can have him stay near the back of the room and say something,” Rome said. “When he steps into the room, they can be ready to bash his head in.”

“The order that you’ve got to think about is we’ll try to charm him and if that doesn’t work, we hit him,” Arthelion said. “But if we hit him and we fail, then charm’s not really going to work.”

“Do you have any magic tricks besides charm?” Helius Wik asked.

“Possibly,” Arthelion said.

“Okay,” Noiree said.

“What are they?” Tarmak asked.

“Well, what if we don’t need charm right now?” Helius Wik said.

“I don’t want to reveal everything right now,” Arthelion said. “I’ve got some things.”

“You should hold off on your magic until you absolutely need it. I feel. Speaking as a magician myself.”

“Well, I mean, if you’re just going to hit him with some rocks then I’m just going to go to sleep. Okay?”

“But we need you─”

“But we need you because your mouth is pretty magical,” Rome said.

“Your mouth is magic itself,” Helius Wik said. “When the guy comes in, you should try your best to get him to slap you in the face or something. So that we have time to take him out.”

“Lure him in,” Noiree said.

“Or perhaps we lure him in the room and then we go out and slam the gate back on him,” Rome said. “There’s no need to take the risk of knocking him out.”

“The opening apparatus is only on the outside of the door,” Kilb said.

“He’ll scream,” Arthelion said.

“But they won’t hear him,” Kilb said.

“I’ll kill him,” Noiree said. “It’s okay.”

“They can’t hear us scream,” Rome said. “We scream every night.”

“You just have to promise me that, if you do hit him with the rock that it’s going to work,” Arthelion said. “Because if I do aggravate him and you try this─”

“I-I won’t be hitting him because I’m a weakling over here,” Helius Wick said.

“Okay, I’ll get him to come in and come after me, I guess,” Arthelion said. “You guys just make sure he doesn’t hit me. Make sure you get to him before he gets to me.”

“Well …” Noiree said.

“My face is kind of sore,” Arthelion said.

“He closes the door behind him,” Kilb said.

“I thought we were knocking him out,” Arthelion said.

“Once we get him inside, we lock him in the room,” Kilb said. “That way if he yells or anything, they won’t hear it.”

“Why don’t we try screaming now and see if they come?” Arthelion said. “I bet they come.”

“But there might be more than one,” Helius Wik said.

“I’m pretty sure they can hear us.”

“We only have one rock and we know that only one guy comes at certain times.”

“What’s the worse that’s going to happen?” Rome said. “Scream tonight and see if they come.”

“So are you going to knock him out?” Arthelion said. “You going to do it?”

“Yeah,” Noiree said. “I’ll do it.”

“But where do we go from there?” Tarmak asked.

“Yeah, that’s true,” Helius Wik said.

“Trapped outside of our cell.”

“Well, you mentioned an armory, right?”

“Yes, to the northwest.”

They discussed, at length, everything they had seen in the place, putting together a rough map in their heads of the layout. With what Arthelion had seen on his water run and those who went to the library describing the way there, they all had a rough idea of the layout of the place, at least as far as any of them had seen. They also discussed the Gnasher and whether or not it was even real.

Arthelion said he’d be in the hay and try to lure the orcs back.

“What should I say to ‘em?” he asked.

“You just be you, Mouth,” Helius Wik said.

It was about another half hour before the door was loudly opened.

“Line up!” an orc voice came from the darkness of the doorway. “We’re searching you.”

Only those with infravision could see the lone orc. He stood there, spear in hand, and glared at them. Noiree had put the rock down behind her foot.

“Who’s ‘we?’” Arthelion asked.

“Me,” the orc said. “Shut up.”

“Aw, this is horseshit.”

“What?”

“I ain’t lining up. **** this. I’m trying to sleep, dude.”

The orc walked over to where Arthelion lay in the straw. Those who could see in the dark saw the orc take the scourge off his belt. Kilb and Elriya crept up on him. Kilb got close but the orc turned towards him. Elriya got close enough to throw one of the rocks she’d picked up.

“What’d you say?” he growled.

“I said eat my shit!” Arthelion said. “You want to eat my shit?”

“You son of a …” the orc growled.

Tarmak tried to head towards the orc while looking like he was heading towards the lineup. Then Elriya flung a rock at the orc, hitting him in the right hand.

“Ow!” the orc shouted.

Rome moved towards the open door in the pitch blackness. His elvin sight allowed him to see and he slipped out the door. The orc was too busy looking around for whomever threw the rock at him. He glared at Elriya. Then Arthelion started chanting. The orc looked back at him and raised his scourge but then suddenly stopped.

“Hey man, how you doing?” he said, putting his arm down.

“Well, it’s about time you got here,” Arthelion said. “This guy was about ready to whip me.”

Then the orc turned towards Elriya.

“You!” he said. “You!”

“Hey, hold on there, bud,” Arthelion said. “She was trying to hit me. It was an accident. I talk too much. You know that.”

“You do talk too much,” the orc said.

The orc glared at Elriya but also kept an eye on Kilb, who stood near him.

“Can I have that scourge though?” Arthelion asked him.

“No,” the orc said. “Can’t give it to the prisoners.”

“I’m not a prisoner. We’re buds.”

“You’re still a prisoner.

“Well, can you give me something?”

“No, I’m not allowed.”

“Okay, how about─”

“I’ll give you some extra … meat. There’s some goat left over.”

“I thought we were good friends. What is this?”

“We are good friends!”

Tarmak was struggling to figure out where he was in the dark. The rest of them watched Arthelion and the orc.

“These are all friends here, man,” Arthelion said. “There’s no need to be hostile anymore.”

“They’re slaves,” the orc said. “You’re a good slave.”

“I agree with you. But … I got this bet with this one guy that one corridor leads outside. Can you at least confirm that for me.”

He described the corridor next to the cistern room that had light at the end of it.

“No, it’s all blocked up,” the orc said.

“Oh,” Arthelion said.

“Hey, get over there!” the orc said to the others. “Get in line.”

“Yeah, get over there.”

“Get in line!”

“So, we gonna search these guys or what?”

“You’re human. You can’t help. Just relax.”

Arthelion leaned towards the orc.

“All right, between you and me,” he whispered.

“What?” the orc said.

“How do we get out of here?”

“There’s an entrance.”

“Where though?”

“It’s in the middle. In the middle.”

“What?”

“It’s in the middle! This is an old stupid temple. Skarg’s got all this stupid crap. I’m so sick of this place!”

“Hey. Take me there.”

“No, I can’t. I gotta search these people. Wait here.”

“All right.”

The orc started to search the others, starting with Kilb and then moving on to Tarmak. Arthelion started sneaking as best he could towards the door.

“You’re next!” the orc said to Elriya. “What’s this? You hiding these pieces of paper? This could be important!”

He grabbed the Halfling by the shoulder and shook her, shoving her against the wall.

“Stupid stupid slaves,” he muttered. “Always causing trouble. I hate you people.”

He turned to Noiree and searched her as well, finding nothing. She glared at him and he glared back.

“Hey guy,” Helius Wik said. “It’s the second night of Fireseek. I haven’t had any beer. Can we just get to my wineskin?”

The orc searched him roughly. Helius Wik noticed he stank of beer.

“He’s one of my best friends,” Arthelion called.

“My wineskin has a gallon of beer,” Helius Wik said.

“You’re awesome,” the orc said to Arthelion. “This guy …”

He slapped Helius Wik in the face.

“Aw, c’mon guy,” Helius Wik said.

“You all stay in line,” the orc said.

He started to search the other slaves.

“Arthelion, tell him how great my beer is,” Helius Wik said.

Arthelion had made his way, finally, to the door in the complete blackness. In the hallway, Rome saw the man slowly making his way out of the room.

“Hey,” Rome whispered to the wizard. “What information did he give you?”

“Nothing, man,” Arthelion whispered back. “I’m just trying to get out of here.”

“Arthelion, tell him how great my beer is,” Helius Wik said. “Tell him how great my beer is.”

“His beer’s amazing,” Arthelion said.

“I don’t care,” the orc called over his shoulder, still searching the other slaves. “He’s a filthy human. No offense.”

“None taken,” Arthelion said.

“None taken,” Helius Wik said.

“I wasn’t talking to you, you filthy human!” the orc growled.

“It’s in the middle,” Arthelion whispered to Rome.

The elf was suddenly gone, heading for the other door.

* * *

Rome pulled on the chains and opened a nearby door. The orc didn’t seem to notice. He fled, going through the room with the frieze along the ceiling and pulling the door there open as well. Light streamed in from the great lanterns not far away and it was dazzling after being in the pitch darkness. He moved through the next area and past a pile of debris, heading to his right and past another large lantern. As he entered the next open chamber, he saw three orcs standing in the archway to his left. They didn’t seem to notice him and he slipped back around the corner.

* * *

Arthelion waited in the hallway.

In the room, Kilb waved at the others with infravision. He pointed at Tarmak.

“Get that guy,” Elriya whispered to Noiree in dwarvish. “I’ll get him.”

“Take him out,” Noiree said.

“No …”

“Take them out.”

“No.”

“Take them outside.”

“Yes.”

Elriya walked over to Tarmak while Kilb snuck to the door and waited there. The orc glared at Elriya.

“I know it was you!” he grunted. “Shrimp.”

Then he went back to searching the other prisoners. Elriya grabbed Tarmak by the wrist and started leading him towards the door. The orc didn’t notice. Noiree headed towards the door and Elriya got her attention and pointed again at Helius Wik. Noiree nodded, remembering, and went over to the man. She hit him lightly on the arm.

“Come here,” she whispered.

He moved blindly towards the voice, going the wrong way. She just watched him.

Elriya pushed Tarmak out the door and then crept to Helius Wik.

* * *

After watching the orcs for a few moments, Rome crept back down the corridor that he knew led to the library. Aside from some statues in the long hall to the south, he saw nothing of interest. He wanted to make his way to the northwest side of the place where Tarmak had said the armory lay. He made it all the way past the next lantern before he stopped to peek around a corner and saw another set of orcs on guard.

One of them saw him.

“Hey!” the orc yelled. “Hey! Get over here!”

“****,” the elf muttered.

* * *

Elriya grabbed Helius Wik by the wrist and led him to the open door. He was completely blind in the darkness but could feel people around him. Tarmak was outside the door and bumped into someone.

“Who are you?” Arthelion’s voice whispered to him.

“The cleric,” Tarmak said.

“What kind of clothes were you wearing?”

“A tunic.”

“Okay. What are they waiting on?”

They were all clustered around the doorway by then but the orc, still busy searching the other slaves, hadn’t yet noticed. Another person bumped into Arthelion and he asked who they were. Everyone was out of the room and Noiree followed, leaving only Kilb in the room with the slaves. The kobold slipped out and then grabbed the chains and started pulling down the door.

“What the hell?” the orc yelled. “Sons of *****es!”

He ran for the door as it slid down. He went down on all fours and crawled through the opening, trying to punch Kilb. He missed the kobold completely.

“Hey, beau, what’s going on?” Arthelion said.

“Get this door open!” the orc said to him.

“Well, you’re under it.”

“Open! Open the ****ing door!”

Noiree walked over to the orc and kicked him in the face. He let out a shriek. Helius Wik leapt away from the fight as far as he could. Kilb continued to pull on the chains, bringing the door down. The orc screamed as the door crashed down on his back.

“Whoa, don’t kill my friend!” Arthelion said.

“We need to know where our stuff is,” Elriya said. “Ask him where our stuff is.”

“Give me the whip and I’ll take these guys out!” Arthelion said to the orc.

“Yes!” the orc said. “Okay.”

The orc pulled the scourge off his belt and slid it towards the man. It went about halfway. Noiree saw it and snatched it up.

“Hey!” the orc cried. “No! Give it to him! No!”

“Oh no, he’s defenseless,” Elriya said. “If only had his staff, he could beat us.”

“Get this door off me!” the orc cried, trying to get up. “Go get your staff! It’s in that room! By the cistern. Across the hallway from … go get your staff, stupid!”

“Okay,” Arthelion said.

“Okay, so we have what we want?” Noiree said. “We have what we want? Can I finish him off to the face?”

“Hold on, hold on, hold on!” Arthelion said as she raised up the scourge.

“Let’s get out of here,” Elriya said.

“I want his armor,” Noiree said.

“We don’t need it,” Arthelion said. “We’re going to go get our stuff. Let’s go. We don’t have much time.”

Noiree brought her arm down, intending to hit the orc just once. She did so, striking him in the face with the scourge. The orc let out a scream and his head dropped down.

“You feel good?” Arthelion said.

“Yeah,” she said.

“You feel good about yourself?”

“Uh-huh.”

“You probably just killed him.”

“Good.”

“Where’s the other priest?” Elriya asked.

They looked around and those who could see in the dark realized the elf was gone.

“I don’t know,” Arthelion said. “You guys spent so much time dicking around in there, I don’t know where he went. Plus, I can’t see.”

* * *

“Come over here!” the orc called again.

“Just the people I’d like to see!” Rome said. “The gnasher has been released! Yeah! Run!”

“Shit, get over here!” one of the orcs said, looking behind them.

Three more orcs ran over from the that darkened area. Then all six of them headed up to the north where three more orcs stood near a bonfire. Rome turned and headed back the way he’d come. He noticed a secret door in the wall as he ran back but ignored it.

* * *

“Can somebody take me to where my stuff is, please?” Arthelion asked.

“Everybody hold hands,” Elriya said.

They headed out and could soon see light as they passed through the room with the friezes along the ceiling. They bore right, now all of them able to see. They passed the rubble pile and continued north. As they reached the second lantern, they saw Rome come running down the other corridor at a dead run.

“What happened?” Elriya asked.

“I’ve been compromised!” Rome said.

“Where did you go?” Arthelion said.

“I guess we’re turning right then,” Elriya said.

“Yeah, let’s go right,” Helius Wik said.

“Wait, are we going that way?” Rome said. “No, there’s three orcs there. I saw them. We don’t want to get caught.”

“There’s seven of us,” Arthelion said.

“What about the other direction?” Tarmak said.

“Yeah, how many are that way?” Elriya asked.

“There’s six the way I just came from,” Rome said. “But we haven’t explored that yet.”

“The cistern’s this way, though,” Helius Wik said.

“It has all our stuff,” Elriya said.

“There’s guards everywhere,” Rome said.

“Let’s go there anyways,” Arthelion said. “Maybe they left.”

“Yeah, maybe they did leave,” Rome said.

Kilb crept up to the corner and peeked around it. He returned to tell the rest of three orcs on guard there.

“Nah, they’re still there,” he said.

“I think we should just sprint for our stuff,” Elriya said.

“Not back the way I came from because those guards told the other guards,” Rome said.

“Why?” Arthelion said. “Do they know we broke out?”

“We could throw a rock or something and distract them,” Kilb said.

“I could distract them,” Helius Wik said. “And get them to go to the Gnasher.”

Everyone just looked at him but he nodded confidently and then crept up to the corner. He pulled one of the tiny scraps of parchment from his hair and rolled it up into a cone. Speaking a few arcane words, he cast his ventriloquism spell.

“The Gnasher’s escaped!” he said, trying to imitate an orc voice and using the magic to fling his voice behind the orcs.

“What?” one orc yelled.

“The Gnasher!” another yelled.

“Shit!” the last said.

They ran across the room ahead of the group to three doors on the opposite wall and worked the chains, getting the door open and rushing inside before slamming it shut again. They could hear voices within. Helius Wik motioned for them to come to him.

“Wait,” Arthelion suddenly said. “We need to let the other peasants out.”

“Too late for them!” Helius Wik said. “Let’s get our materials and then─”

“I’ll go with him,” Elriya said. “Because he can’t see in the dark.”

“I’ll say a prayer for them,” Rome said.

“Right now the way is clear for them,” Arthelion said. “They won’t be able to fight.”

“We won’t be able to either,” Kilb said.

“You get our stuff and meet us back here,” Arthelion said.

“Yep, we need to meet at the middle anyhow, because that’s the exit,” Elriya said.

“All right,” Helius Wik said. “I’ll grab as much shit as I can carry.”

“What did you guys come in with?” Kilb asked.

“Just grab it all,” Arthelion said.

“We’re just going to grab our stuff,” Rome said. “You guys can be weaponless.”

Arthelion and Elriya headed back while the rest went north, to the next lantern and turned left down the wide corridor. They spotted a group of orcs at the far end, but the orcs didn’t seem to notice them. They ducked into the corridor next to the cistern. The orcs were close enough that they would probably notice if the group got any closer.

“Can you do your voice thing again?” Kilb asked.

“I can only do it once,” Helius Wik said.

“A ways back there, there was a secret door,” Rome said, suddenly remembering the door.

* * *

Arthelion and Elriya returned to the prison cell. The orc lay on the floor, still unconscious. However, he seemed to have stopped bleeding. Elriya pulled on the chains and opened the door.

“Let’s go,” Arthelion said.

Elriya told the peasants to all hold hands as they were going to lead them out. Once she saw they all had done so, she took the first peasant’s hand and started to lead them out. The peasants were quietly thankful and worried.

“Arthelion has returned for you,” Arthelion said.

“Yes,” someone said.

The peasants thanked various gods.

* * *

“We need to get in there,” Noiree said.

“You think we should just rush it?” Kilb said. “They won’t see us until we start opening the door.”

“I think we should. I have a weapon.”

“They’ll hear the door even if they’re not looking,” Rome said.

“As soon as we start opening it, we should all run in,” Kilb said.

“I could … I don’t know …” Rome said. “There’s no orcs back in that room we came from. Right? And there’s no orcs through the way that I ran. I could go back, all the way back around and say ‘Hey stupid orcs’ and then run into the secret door. I can try to figure out how to open it.”

“We don’t know how long those orcs will be stationed there,” Kilb said. “Once they realize the Gnasher isn’t out, they’ll go back to their station.”

He pointed out they were on a time limit. Rome said he could go figure out about the secret tunnel.

“What if we don’t hear from you?” Kilb said. “What if you get captured?”

“I’m equipped with my brain,” Rome said.

He headed back the way they’d come.

“What’s the plan?” Kilb said.

“I want to open the door that we ran past,” Helius Wik said.

“It’ll still make as much noise,” Kilb said. “All they have to do is look down the hallway and they’ll see us.”

“Well …” Helius Wik said.

He searched the floor for rocks and pebbles. He flung one of the rocks past the orcs but they didn’t pay it any attention.

“Well shit, I’ve tried everything,” he muttered.

* * *

Rome reached the secret door and tried to figure out how to open it.

* * *

“We’re going to be safe,” one of the slaves said when they reached the room with light beyond.

“I sure hope they have our stuff,” Arthelion said.

“What?” the slave said.

“Surely they didn’t just stand there the entire time.”

“You’re heroes and adventurers, right?”

“Well …”

They passed the first pile of rubble and passed the lantern near it, then went north to the other light in the wide tunnel. Elriya slipped down the side where the orcs had been guarding earlier and spotted three more orcs further down on guard duty.

* * *

Kilb slipped further down the corridor they were hiding in. It ended in a chamber some 20 feet deep and fifty feet wide. Another corridor on the far side was blocked with rubble and doors stood on either side of the chamber. It didn’t have a frieze or any decoration. One of the huge brass lanterns sat in the middle of the room. Helius Wik followed the kobold. He wanted to try one of the doors but Kilb warned him of the noise.

* * *

Elriya caught up with the rest as they reached the wider corridor. Arthelion stopped them all as he had seen orcs on guard duty at the other end of the long passage. Elriya quickly made her way to the corner and peeked down that way. Arthelion saw Noiree in the passageway that ran perpendicular to the wide corridor.

“Stay there,” Elriya whispered to the villagers.

They were terribly frightened.

“I don’t suppose any of you know where the exit is,” she said. “Or speak orc?”

“I think ‘Bree-yark’ means ‘I surrender’ in goblin,” one man said. “Right?”

Arthelion, meanwhile walked up the corridor towards the passage where Noiree stood.

“Which one of you has my stuff?” he asked.

“Hey!” one of the orcs down the corridor called. “Hey you! What are you doing?”

“What the **** do you want?” Arthelion said.

One of the orcs headed down the corridor towards him.

“Wait a … you’re supposed to be locked up!” he said. “What’re you doing out!?!”

“Getting water, *****,” Arthelion said, confident the others had gotten their weapons. “What are you doing?”

The orc changed his spear to his left hand and took the scourge off his belt.

“I’m about to beat down a mother ****er!” he said.

“I’ll beat your ass!” Arthelion said, trying not to seem scared.

“Son of a *****!” the orc yelled.

* * *

Helius Wik heard the conversation in the corridor. He pulled on one of the sleeves of his robe and tore it free. He lit one end of it on the lantern.

Further down the corridor, Tarmak lined up behind Noiree and got ready for the fight that seemed to be coming.

* * *

The orc walked directly towards Arthelion, taking his time, a terrible glare upon his face. Arthelion strode towards the orc, sparing a glance up the narrow corridor where the others were. He noticed none of them had weapons or armor except for the scourge in Noiree’s hands.

“Come get me, big boy,” he said as bravely as he could.

* * *

Kilb headed down the narrow corridor towards the others slowly. Back down the corridor, Helius Wik started to swing his burning sleeve around his head like a sling and then jogged down the corridor to where his friends stood. Then Arthelion turned and ran into the narrow corridor.

“Son of a *****!” the orc yelled.

He ran into the corridor and stopped suddenly when he saw the group of people.

“Aw!” he cried out.

He tried to whip Noiree in the face even as she swung her own scourge at him. The orc, however, tripped and fell, crashing into the floor with his face, stunned. Noiree brought the scourge down as Arthelion tried to grab her arm but missed.

“Don’t do it!” he barely had time to hiss.

She brought the weapon down on the orc, cutting him badly. Helius Wik dropped the lit sleeve on the back of the orc. Kilb grabbed the orc’s spear. Tarmak chanted and reached over the kobold, casting a spell and touching the orc. The orc let out a tiny cry and jerked before he stopped moving.

* * *

Elriya, seeing the orc fall and her companions fall upon it, sprinted from the corner towards them.

* * *

“Prisoners are out!” one of the other orcs cried. “Prisoners are out!”

The two orcs near the bonfire at the far end of the corridor ran down towards them. Noiree ran out of the narrow corridor to the door of the cistern. She grabbed the chains and started pulling on them. The door noisily rolled up into the slot in the ceiling above.

In the hallway, Tarmak stepped forward but stayed in the corridor, hidden from the orcs.

Elriya ran down the corridor to the door they thought held their gear and started to pull on the chains. It rolled loudly up into the ceiling.

In the corridor, Arthelion picked up the burning rag. He walked out into the main hallway.

“You guys ready to be incinerated?” he said to the orcs.

He started chanting. The two orcs stopped, their eyes wide.

* * *

Rome heard an alarm being shouted somewhere in the distance. He gave up on the secret door and turned to run down the corridor nearest him that led north. He hoped the battle was going on between the party and the orcs near the bonfire he’d seen before, near the lair of the Gnasher. If that was the case, he hoped to get behind them. As he got to the area with the archway where he’d tricked the orcs before, he saw they were back. They saw him as well.

“It’s one of the prisoners!” one yelled. “Stop you son of a *****!”

“There’s escaping prisoners!” another cried out.

* * *

They all heard the orcs yelling elsewhere in the place.

Helius Wik ran back to the lantern in the empty room, tearing off his other sleeve. Kilb brought the spear down on the orc lying on the ground, hurting him badly. Blood started to pour out of the creature. Then Helius Wik ran down the narrow corridor, swinging the burning sleeve over his head.

Tarmak ran out of the corridor and into the room Elriya was opening. He was dismayed to find two more orcs in the room, rousing themselves due to the noise outside. He could see several spears leaning against the wall, a few suits of leather armor, some black orc-cloaks, a shield, a broadsword, and a sling and pouch of bullets. He also spotted a pile of weapons and armor in the corner, probably those of his friends. He spotted his staff and so ran in and grabbed it.

“What the!?!” one of the orcs cried.

“Hey!” the other yelled. “Slaves’re out!”

Elriya ran into the room and grabbed up some of her items.

“You cooked my goat, now I’m going to cook you!” Arthelion said, slowly moving towards the orcs.

They didn’t seem convinced.

Just then Rome came running around the corner by the bonfire. He glanced down the corridor and then ran for the closed door next to the open one. The two orcs heard him and turned.

“What the?” one said.

“Son of a …” the other replied.

“You take these,” the first orc said. “I’ll get him.”

“Okay,” the other said.

Noiree ran across the narrow corridor and to the door Tarmak and Elriya had gone into. She saw two orcs in the room and moved towards them. Kilb pulled the spear out of the orc on the ground. He peeked out and saw the orcs discussing dealing with the elf so he charged in absolute silence and skewered the one with his back to him. The orc went down with a grunted shriek. His blood spewed and splattered on Rome. The other orc looked terribly surprised and turned to Kilb.

“*****!” he yelled.

He tried to stab the kobold but missed completely.

“The prisoners are escaping!” he cried. “The prisoners are escaping!”

Arthelion ran over to Kilb and threw the flaming rag in the orc’s face.

“Burn!” he yelled.

The rag hit the orc’s chest and fell to the ground ineffectually.

“Just wait for it,” he said.

The orc was unimpressed. Rome pulled on the chains and noisily opened the door he’d run to.

In the other room, Noiree ran to the corner, switched the scourge to her left hand, and picked up her war hammer from the pile in the corner. Elriya lunged at one of the orcs with her dagger but missed completely. Tarmak grabbed up his morning star in one hand and his holy symbol in the other. Then Helius Wik ran into the room and flung his burning rag into one of the orc’s faces. The orc batted the cloth away.

“*****, get those flames out of my face!” he cried.

The other one tried to run Noiree through.

In the corridor, Kilb tumbled back down the corridor, leaving Arthelion to face the orc alone. The orc tried to stab the mage but missed. Then three more orcs appeared in the hallway near the bonfire, tramping loudly their way.

“We should grab our stuff and run!” Elriya yelled when she heard them.

“What do you think you’re doing!?!” one of the orcs yelled.

“Suck me!” Arthelion yelled back.

That seemed to enrage them all.

In the tiny chamber, Elriya ran to her stuff and grabbed what she could. Then Rome ran into the room, having abandoned the room he’d just opened. He snatched up his long sword and his holy symbol. Helius Wik ran to the corner to grab his belt pouch and his wineskin. He was disappointed to find the latter nearly empty. Arthelion ran into the room as well, grabbing his staff. Then Kilb ran in as well.

Tarmak strode to one of the orcs in the room and swung at him but missed completely. Noiree grabbed the shield off the wall and ran at the other orc, swinging her war hammer. Unfortunately, the blow struck the orc in the side but didn’t injure him. The orcs tried to stab Noiree and Tarmak in return without luck. The one facing Tarmak dropped his spear.

“You ever use one before?” Noiree quipped.

Helius Wik rushed one of the orcs and splashed him with the last of his beer. It distracted the orc, who cried out. Arthelion picked up his pouch and looked over. He moved to Tarmak and grabbed up the orc’s spear. Elriya continued to grab things in the corner, getting her leather armor and her belt. Rome pushed between Noiree and Tarmak and stabbed the orc Helius Wik had splashed with his beer. Tarmak swung his morning star again, striking the other orc in the head. The orc dropped to the ground with a scream. Noiree’s next swing missed the confused orc covered in beer.

Kilb moved to one side of the door and readied himself to stab any orcs that came through.

Elriya grabbed her sling and ran towards the orc blocking the doorway, dropping and somersaulting under his legs. The orc looked down, confused as she fled down the corridor. Arthelion reached into his component pouch and took out the live spider he always kept there for his spider climb spell. He rushed the orc and flung it at the orc’s face. The orc shrieked.

“I hate spiders!” he cried.

Arthelion ran out of the room and down the corridor.

Noiree missed the orc again and then Rome stabbed him and he went down with a scream. Nearby, Helius Wik put a bullet in his sling and started swinging it, backing into the corner. Tarmak ran out of the room as well, but then stopped to attack the orc in the door. The blow struck the orc in the head and he went down with a cry.

Kilb ran to the corner and grabbed some of his things.

One of the orcs in the corridor rushed Tarmak but missed the man. Another ran to Arthelion and stabbed him in the side. Another ran towards Helius Wik and tried to stab him but missed him completely. Arthelion jogged down the corridor, bleeding badly.

“Tis but a scratch,” he called.

Tarmak ran back into the room and grabbed up more of his stuff. In the room, Rome picked up his chain mail shirt and started putting it on.

Out in the corridor, Helius Wik backed away and swung his sling. He fired a bullet at the orc that attacked him but missed completely. Elriya ran towards the corner where the villagers hid. One of the orcs ran to Helius Wik and tried to stab him. Another orc sprinted right past Arthelion and Elriya, turning to block their escape route.

Another orc ran into the little room and stabbed Rome.

“Surrender stupid slaves,” the orc said. “We need you to keep working!”

Noiree, still in the room, dropped her war hammer and snatched up her battle axe. She swung at the orc but missed him completely. Kilb picked up his short sword and tried to stab the orc but missed as well.

Tarmak fled the room, jogging down the corridor to the orc striding towards Helius Wik. He swung his morning star, striking the orc in the right arm. There was a terrible snap as the orc’s arm broke and the creature fell to the ground.

In the room, Rome stopped trying to put his chainmail shirt and backed out, leaving Noiree with the orc. She swung again without being able to hit it. Kilb stabbed at the orc but the orc blocked the blow with his spear, striking the tail of the kobold’s weapon, which broke off and fell to the ground.

In the corridor, Elriya ran around the orc blocking her way and headed for the villagers. Arthelion, meanwhile, turned back and fled towards the others in panic.

“Help!” he cried. “Help me!”

Helius Wik flung another bullet at the orc but it missed, flying down the corridor.

“You *****!” the orc cried.

The orc charged the mage and tried to stab him ineffectually.

* * *

Elriya got close to what she thought might be the entrance, but saw three more orcs on guard duty there. She stopped with the slaves, unsure what to do.

* * *

Tarmak ran over to Arthelion.

“Let me heal you,” he said.

“Please!” Arthelion said.

Tarmak chanted and laid his hands upon the mage, completely healing him. Arthelion turned and ran past the orc.

“You smell like shit!” he said to the orc.

Nearby, Rome pulled his chainmail shirt on. The last orc in the corridor rushed Helius Wik but the mage deftly ducked to one side, backing up and slinging a bullet at the orc, which missed.

“I thought you were slinging your bullet at me not at the wall,” the orc quipped.

In the room, Noiree struck the orc with her battle axe as the orc stabbed her with his spear. Neither of them fell but both were hurt. Kilb also tried to stab the orc but his sword just bounced off the orc’s leather armor.

Tarmak chased the orc that pursued Helius Wik. He shoved the morning star into his belt and swung at the orc with his staff, missing completely. The orc turned and stabbed the cleric in the side. Nearby, Helius Wik fired a shot at the orc but missed.

Rome came into the room where Noiree and Kilb fought the last orc there. He stabbed at the orc but struck the creature’s armor.

“I smell the stink of elf!” the orc said. “And I am hungry!”

The blow from his spear was turned aside by Rome’s chainmail shirt. Then Kilb stabbed the orc and he fell.

Noiree ran to the corner and found her chainmail. She started putting it on.

Outside in the corridor, Tarmak backed away from the orc and cast a healing spell on himself, chanting for what felt like a long time. He was still chanting when Helius Wik fired another sling bullet at the orc, missing completely. Tarmak finished his spell and cast it upon himself, healing his wounds.

Rome ran out of the room and charged the last remaining orc, running him through. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1968-Advanced-Dungeons-amp-Dragon-2nd-Edition-The-Scar-Session-One
Basic Roleplaying System: Deadworld Session Six http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1964-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Six Sun, 08 May 2016 18:28:06 GMT Sunday, May 1, 2016 (After playing the *Basic Roleplaying System* original setting “Deadworld” with Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, Katelyn... Sunday, May 1, 2016

(After playing the Basic Roleplaying System original setting “Deadworld” with Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, Katelyn Hogan, Hannah Gambino, and Kyle Matheson Saturday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.)

On July 1, 2015, six people answered an ad in the paper looking for volunteers for a month-long experiment at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The work would pay $2,000 for the month’s work but those who volunteered would have to clear the entire month from July 1 to August 1.

Manuela “Manny” Rodriguez wore her black hair in a ponytail, usually with a baseball cap set backwards on her head. She was Hispanic and of average height, standing just under six feet tall. She wore a white tank top and a flannel shirt, primarily. She was a mechanic and strapped for cash but she bribed her boss with $100 to let her take the month off.

Jonathan Franks stood about 6’2” tall with sandy brown hair and was very good-looking. People often mistook him for a fashion model or thought that was what he should have done for a living. He told people he was a bank teller though in reality he was a conman. He needed the money and this sounded like an easy deal.

Elizabeth Tolini, as she called herself was Italian-American with dark brown hair, pulled up, and dark brown eyes. She was tan and obviously of Italian descent. She stood over six feet tall and was very leggy. Her actual name was Ella Auditore and she was an assassin. There was not much call for work in the last month so she decided to make an easy two grand.

The other three included Dan Adams, a plumber; Michael Curtis, who worked in a bank; and Dawn Henson, a housewife.

When they arrived, they learned it was a deprivation experiment. The scientists at Duke had set up a bomb shelter some 50 feet under the psychology classroom building of the university. The six subjects would be placed in the bunker with plenty of food, access to water, and books and video entertainment. However, they would have no contact with the outside world and would act as if they were survivors of a nuclear holocaust for the month.

The bunker was self-supporting with a generator, food, and water reserve to last a group of six people at least two months if necessary. It would be sealed from the outside world.

Every week or so, the scientists would contact them via intercom. In the meantime, they would be video and auditory recorded in order to gauge how people reacted to being literally in a bunker underground for that time. Additionally, there would be different difficulties placed upon them over the month to determine how average people would react to each other in such a situation.

All six of them signed the paperwork and were admitted into the bunker.

* * *

Over the course of the next few weeks, the six people dealt with each other in close quarters and amid the various tasks and tests the scientists set for them. One was a limited water supply for three days wherein the taps were only turned on for an hour a day. Other difficulties were set as they went. In one case, all power except for the air vents went out for two days.

They got to know each other fairly well. Dan Adams proved to be a creepy guy who hit on all three women in the place and grew depressed when he was rejected. Michael Curtis, when he learned Franks worked in a bank, pestered him incessantly about which bank he worked at. Dawn Henson talked about her children and her home life but treated the entire thing as a vacation.

Though the scientists told them they would contact them at least once a week, after the third week, the intercom remained silent. There was actually no contact after about the 22nd of July all the way until August 1. Miss Rodriguez assumed it was part of the experiment. Though the last week and a half of their time in the bunker was boring, it was pretty much a cakewalk.

* * *

Noon on August 1 rolled around but the hatch didn’t open as it was supposed to.

“What should we do?” Adams asked.

“Meh,” Miss Tolini said.

“What?”

“Meh.”

“Meh?”

“Meh.”

“I wanna get outta here!”

“Meh.”

“You know how long it’s been since … I need to get outta here!”

Miss Rodriguez continued reading the book she’d started the day before.

“Fine!” Adams said.

“I say wait a couple more hours and if they still haven’t contacted us, maybe try to get out somehow,” Franks said.

They waited a few more hours and, around 4 p.m., opened the sealed door, which they were surprised was not locked. An alarm went off and red lights flashed in the small room outside. They were surprised no one was in the outer area. The lights there were off but they knew an elevator stood on the opposite wall with a stairwell nearby.

Miss Rodriquez retrieved a flashlight, as did the others. Adams was ready to go.

“Gotta find my girlfriend!” he muttered. “I’m so ready. I’m so ready!”

“You’re so annoying,” Miss Tolini said.

“Whatever, I’m ready to go!”

“Then get out.”

“I’m going!”

Something about this doesn’t feel right, Franks thought.

Nothing happened when the elevator button was pressed so they went to the stairwell. It was just a shaft with a set of metal stairs made of metal mesh. It was about 50 feet up the shaft to the classroom building above. Miss Rodriquez assumed it was all part of the experiment and they made their way up, flashlights shining around as best they could. Adams led the way.

They reached the top without incident and opened the door into the darkened classroom building. They didn’t see anyone in the hallway and the classrooms seemed empty as well. Adams headed for the front door. Miss Rodriquez went to the hallway light switch. The clear plastic dome over it, to keep anyone from messing with the lights, had been smashed and pieces of jagged plastic lay on the floor under it. She tried the light switch there was no power.

Curtis and Mrs. Henson headed for the back door of the building, where they’d parked their cars. The others followed Adams towards the front of the building where the hallway opened into a foyer with windows. They saw about a dozen cars in the parking lot, one of them turned on its side.

“The ****?” Miss Tolini said.

A few bodies lay on the ground in the parking lot. Miss Tolini headed out the door to inspect one. Miss Rodriguez, watching out the window, was still convinced it was part of the experiment. She went to look for a circuit box. Adams walked towards his car, fiddling with his keys. Franks slipped into one of the classrooms to look for something to steal.

Miss Tolini reached a prone body on the ground lying face down on the asphalt. He stunk of a corpse and she grabbed him by the shoulder and flipped him over. He’d obviously been dead for a while, his throat torn out as if by an animal. The dead man’s eyes opened and he looked at her. Then he reached for her.

As Adams opened the door of his car, someone grabbed his foot from underneath.

“What the hell?” he cried. “Get out of there you son of a *****!”

He started kicking at the person under his car.

Miss Tolini ran from the walking corpse towards her own car.

* * *

Miss Rodriguez didn’t find a circuit breaker on the front hall of the building. She walked back to the front window of the building.

* * *

Franks searched a disheveled classroom but the only thing he found was a woman’s finger. He picked it up and looked at it. It stank and he quickly dropped it.

* * *

Miss Tolini opened the trunk of her car and took out a small dagger. The man stumbled to his feet and shambled towards her. Another body sat up and looked in her direction.

“Nah,” she said.

She tucked the dagger into her jacket and pulled out the crossbow.

Miss Rodriquez walked out of the front door of the building, still convinced it was all part of the experiment.

“Ha ha,” she said. “Very funny guys.”

They could hear a car engine somewhere in the distance.

* * *

Dani Bateman drove the white Jeep Wrangler carefully through Duke University Campus. She was Native American and very tall and slim. She had very long braided hair. She wore camouflage clothing and heavy, steel-toed boots. Jaiquan Jayshawn Skadooter rode beside her, crossbow in his lap. He was tall and solid, a black man with dreadlocks. He wore camouflage clothing, the shirt unbuttoned so the Appalachian State Football jersey was visible underneath it. He had a chinstrap beard and wore a camouflage bandanna on his head. He was also very high on cocaine, as usual. Miss Bateman’s own crossbow, loaded and ready, sat in the backseat.

It has been nearly two weeks since the terrible things happened in the Boone, North Carolina, area and they had been making their way towards the coast ever since, only getting to the area of Raleigh/Durham in that time. Between blocked roads, zombies, triffids, and people trying to stop them, it had taken them that long on Interstate 40 and back roads to get just that far.

They had seen some terrible things. In Winston-Salem, the Wells Fargo Bank building looked like it had gotten hit by one of the meteors, the top floors smashed and fallen. There had also obviously been many fires downtown. They barely made it through the city with their lives. Closer to the capital of the state, they’d passed a church with all the windows boarded up on a back road. Someone with a rifle was up in the steeple. He’d shot as them as they drove by. They had to deal with some feral animals. Skadooter had insisted on stopping at hospitals and police stations in search of drugs. He had gone through it quickly at first but started to space out his use of the drugs as his supply had dwindled. They didn’t see much in the way of zombies on the highway but occasionally spotted one of the strange plants.

He had also wanted to drive all the time.

“I wanna drive,” he said.

“Why don’t you let me do this one?” she’d replied.

“Why?”

“So you can focus on more important matters … like dealing out your cocaine and everything.”

“You smart!”

“Yeah.”

They had been traveling in a caravan with gravedigger Floyd Wayne riding them with. Driving the other car had been EMT Abraham Jandhyala, Dr. Mikīl Wolfgang, and ASU student Courtney Dean in Jandhyala’s 2001 Audi A-3 hatchback. However, they’d lost the other vehicle in some confusion in the Greensboro area several days before and hadn’t seen them since. Just two days after that, Floyd Wayne had told Miss Bateman he couldn’t take Skadooter anymore and said he’d find his own way to the Outer Banks, meeting them down the line somewhere. If they made it to the Outer Banks, he’d find them.

“I’ll meet you in Roanoke,” he said to her.

He was gone the next morning.

“Where’s Wayne?” Skadooter said.

“Um … he went out for a little bit,” Miss Bateman said. “He was just wanting to … you know … he was just wanting to enjoy the scenery. You know.”

“Cool. Let’s wait for him.”

“Well, we don’t have to do that because he’ll just catch up. He’s a pretty smart guy.”

“Wayne’s my bro.”

“What’s even cooler is when he gets to see you, it’ll be a bro reunion, man. It’ll be so fun. It’ll be better than now.”

“Where’s Wayne?”

“No, man. He just … I didn’t want to tell you. Do you know what he said?”

Skadooter looked at her.

“Do you want to know?” she said.

“I love gossip,” he said.

“Okay. He was … he was planning on surprising you. He was going to throw a party and get a bunch of shit together like a bunch of drugs. And you just made me ruin it!”

“Naw, that’s so good. I’m so glad you told me. I hate surprises.”

“Okay.”

“Low-key, I’m kind of scared of surprises.”

“What … okay, that’s cool. Now you know. So it won’t be a surprise so we can go have fun. So let’s go meet ‘em!”

“Yeah!”

“Yeah, Skadooter give me five!”

The man did so.

“Doot doot!” Skadooter said.

They went on their way, coming to Duke University that day. Campus was actually the best way to go through the area. As they passed through campus slowly, they spotted a woman in the trunk of her car who took out a large black crossbow. Nearby, a man seemed to struggle with someone on the ground. A couple of zombies shambled towards the woman. Miss Bateman noticed another woman was in the doorway of one of the classroom buildings.

“Dani!” Skadooter said. “Dani! I think that’s Wayne’s crossbow!”

“Maybe we shouldn’t get close to her because then she’ll get really mad,” Miss Bateman said. “She might want to shoot us.”

“I think she knows where Wayne is.”

“You think she’ll shoot us? ‘Cause I think she’ll shoot us.”

“Ain’t nobody shoot Skadooter. *****, I’m too fast.”

“Hey, Skadoots, there looks like there’s a zombie over there. You think we should get out and attack it or do you think we should just run over it or something?”

“Do you think it would hurt the car?”

“I think this car’s pretty strong.”

“Run that ***** over, then.”

“Okay. I’ll run the ***** over.”

* * *

One of what Miss Rodriguez thought were just more testers messing with them turned and walked towards her. Then a white Jeep Wrangler roared into the parking lot, just missing one of the zombies and curving towards the classroom building, stopping near her.

“I think you missed him,” Skadooter said Miss Bateman in the car.

“What are you doing!?!” Miss Rodriguez yelled at them.

“Should I bump the lock?” Skadooter said.

Miss Rodriguez ran to the car as it slowed.

“What are you doing!?!” she called again.

* * *

Franks heard the screech of tires from out front and so looked out the classroom window. He saw the white Jeep.

“Aw, that’s cute,” he muttered.

* * *

Miss Tolini pointed her crossbow at one of the zombies and let fly. The bolt went wide and struck a yellow car across the parking lot.

* * *

“Lock the doors,” Skadooter said, pressing the lock button.

He hit it wrong and accidently unlocked the doors.

“Skadooter, you know what you did?” Miss Bateman said.

“I’m savin’ our ass!” he replied.

Miss Bateman stopped the car and rolled down the window.

“What the hell you doin’?” Skadooter said.

“Hey, what’s going on?” she said to Miss Rodriquez.

“What’s going on!?!” the other woman replied. “Why’d you just tear into this parking lot?”

Franks appeared at the front door of the classroom building.

“Get in the car!” Miss Bateman said.

“You gonna talk to me about this?” Skadooter said.

Miss Rodriguez looked at the vehicle, trying to figure out how to get in and if she wanted to get in. Then she jogged towards her own car.

“It’s okay, I got my car!” she called.

Across the parking lot, Miss Tolini started to reload her crossbow.

“You wanna try and hit that person again?” Skadooter said to Miss Bateman. “And maybe not ***** out?”

“Hey Skadooter, why don’t you get out and go save her?” Miss Bateman said.

“Why don’t you let me drive?” he replied.

* * *

Franks surveyed the arguing couple in the Jeep, Miss Rodriguez running for her car and Miss Tolini working on reloading a crossbow.

* * *

Miss Rodriguez looked more closely at the man shambling towards her. He appeared to have a couple of bite wounds and smelled like road kill. She continued jogging towards her car.

Miss Tolini reloaded and backed away from the man walking towards her. He didn’t make any noise at all, just shambled towards her, looking at her with dead eyes.

* * *

“Why don’t you let me drive?” Skadooter said again.

“I think it’d be faster if you just got out─” Miss Bateman started to say.

Skadooter reached forward and turned up the radio. The only radio station they had been able to find was suddenly loud. It was someone talking as he described w