Friday, September 14, 2007

Chronicles of the Blackmoor

These pages portray the adventures of four friends from the small village of Eldeen in the Blackmoor: Laurian, a monk; Anazi, a mysterious spell-casting warrior; Rââm a half-giant fighter; and Rowan, a druid with a roguish streak. During their travels they join forces with Ludo, a silver-tongued gnome, who is handy with a bow.

Chapter 1. Mysteries and presents

The journey to Longdale lasted just less than a week. While on the road Lau and Rowan foraged daily thus leaving the dry provisions in their backpacks largely untouched. Compared to Eldeen, the village of Longdale was a large settlement, counting some 850 inhabitants in the city itself and more in the farmlands beyond. The wooden temple of Erlik resided on a small hill overlooking the houses as did the homes of father Cadwell, the local priest, and his assistant Tia, a priestess of Sharyn in her own right and an accomplished archer/bowmaker. Just as the weary travellers entered the city perimeter, a terrible rain shower broke, prompting everyone into a running pace up the hill, where they were heartily welcomed by the two priests. Sheltered from the rain, they were offered to share in a delicious rabbit stew, and Rowan handed over the funds entrusted to him by his master, father Atkins of Eldeen, for the benefit of the many homeless and orphans, who had sought refuge in Longdale after the fever. As the showers finally lessened, they took their leave and made way to the Inn of the Gnarled Club (“den knortede kæp”).

The Gnarled Club was crowded with people seeking refuge from the rain, and Rowan was almost knocked over by a group of dwarves, who were ploughing their way to the outside without much consideration for anyone. Under the table where the dwarves had been sitting, Rowan discovered a piece of paper written in the Dwarven tongue, which they had left behind. The dwarves, however, were already long gone by the time Anazi reached the door. Studying the document closely, it turned out to be some sort of rhyme or poem with a secret message: if one were reading only the first letter on each line, a word formed. The word was “Skullhill”. The paper itself was marked by an upside-down holy symbol of Dumathoin, the dwarven God of Secrets.

Next morning the quartet split up to try and locate the dwarves, who were obviously strangers in Longdale too, but there was no trace of them. While investigating the streets, they got a good impression of the small city, including some of its most notable places: the Emmerinth estate (home of the townspeaker Jonas Emmerinth), the Toliath estate (home of his age-old rival Candén Toliath), Linmann’s Warehouse, Oleg’s Fine Imports Shop and the house of Lordemar the Scribe. While talking to one of the locals, Rââm was approached by a little girl in desperate need for “a great warrior”, who would slay the monster with yellow eyes stalking her window at night. Searching the ground under the window carefully, Rowan discovered footprints lending some credibility to the girl’s story, and therefore it was decided to watch her room at night.

The same evening back at the inn, Rowan introduced everyone to Alia, the village bard and storyteller, who shared with them some of the myths of the Skullhill. Apparently, the name referred to a skull-shaped cliff to the north of the Blackmoor, about a days travel from Longdale. There were many stories about this place, which supposedly had been shaped by the magic of a wizard called “Skull” and was now haunted! Indeed, some of those young men and women, who had sought it out, had not come back alive and their fates remained a mystery to this day. Later, having thanked the bard for her efforts, Rââm, Anazi, Lau and Rowan left the inn with the last patrons to take up positions in front and at the back of the house of the girl, whom the half-giant had met in the afternoon. They waited all night in hiding, but nothing out of the ordinary happened, and at first light they stumbled back to bed, where they slept till mid-day.

After a quick consultation with Tia, who knew the location well, the four set out in the direction of the Skullhill, which they reached well into the night. Having rested uneasily, they went on to examine the place the following morning. Close to the cliff, which housed the entrance to a cave, appeared a group of strange deformed black trees, which Anazi and Rowan concluded were affected by something … not natural. Meanwhile the “mouth” of the cliff proved to open up into a tunnel, which was guarded by a darkmantle. The tunnel led to a large hexagonal room, illuminated by the eerie green light from a set of double bronze doors decorated with images of light rays, a hilltop and a crown, mythic winged creates, half humans and half horses, and angels with stylized auras of light. As Lau went closer to touch the doors, he set off some kind of trap, causing flames to burst out from the doors. Everyone was badly burned, and so it was decided immediately to withdraw to the outside, where, thanks to Rowan’s healing skills, it only took four days to recover from the terrible burns. On the second visit, by an incredible stroke of luck, Rowan somehow succeeded in disarming the magic fire trap and the portal opened up into an underground complex, where skeletons lay scattered everywhere, the silent testimonies of an ancient confrontation between the human residents of this keep and their dwarven attackers. After bypassing three portcullises, forming the second line of defence, the party ventured deeper into the darkness to encounter two "shadow monsters" and to find a huge hall, which obviously had once served to display the trophies of its masters. Moreover, several crumbling maps hung on the walls showing the Blackmoor as it must have been hundreds of years ago, when these lands were flourishing and fertile.

Chapter 2. Hidden in the Dark

Entering the great hall the four adventurers were immediately showered by a spray of poisoned darts, which hit everyone but Rââm. Fortunately, the poison had lost most of its potency and thus only Anazi was affected. At the same time a strange creature suddenly formed out of shadow to launch a surprise attack with its dark tentacles. Mostly thanks to Rââm and Lau the creature was swiftly defeated, allowing Rowan to check on Anazi, who seemed to have fallen into a deep coma from which he could not be awoken. Having first made sure that Anazi was REALLY completely stable and well hidden in one of the rooms overlooking the main entrance, the remaining three eventually decided to dare a little more exploration, before returning to Longdale. A quick search revealed two elven skeletons in the middle of the vast room, which was otherwise only filled with the bone remnants of dwarves and humans intermixed with their ancient arms and armour. The elves appeared to have fought on the side of the defenders, but also to eventually having caused each others demise. Not finding any answer to this mystery, Lau, Rââm and Rowan went on to investigate the two corridors leading out of the hall, each covered by a crumbling wooden door. The first one led to a dining hall and a kitchen, whereas the other led to another hall. This second hall had once been adorned with valuable tapestries of which most had fallen apart, that is, except two which depicted scenes from a great city of countless spires connected by bridges. This hall also contained a great chair and a crystal watch of sorts, indicating that this might be the throne room of the keep. Two sets of double bronze doors, the first probably connecting to the main corridor, dominated the middle of the room. Inspired by the tapestries Rowan suggested looking for cities on the maps matching the illustrations – and true enough – the maps showed two cities to the far north, their names written in an ancient language none of them could read. Hence Rââm instead carefully memorized the writings, so he would be able to reproduce them later.

More or less at the same time Lau entered the kitchen alone to be confronted by a huge transparent blob of ooze, a gelatinous cube. Unable to escape the monk was quickly brought to within an inch of his life by its pseudopod, when Rââm fearlessly entered the fray to do battle with the acidic blob. Expertly avoiding its blows, the half-giant almost cut it down single-handedly, before carrying Lau and Anazi out of the complex. Meanwhile Rowan tried blocking the two bronze doors covering the entranced behind them that they would not have to bypass the fire trap again, if they returned.

After three days of Rowan’s care Lau was finally fit to travel back to Longdale, while Rââm had to carry the still comatose Anazi all the way back to the care of father Cadwell. At the temple they found the priest surrounded by 12 farmers, who were urging him to summon the city council for a decision to purge the lands of the bandits they claimed were endangering everyone. After a bit of heated discussion the farmers disbanded, and Rowan recollected their adventures. From the description of the maps father Cadwell speculated that one of the two northern cities shown could be the legendary city of Nemeth, home of the serpent people know as the yuan-ti, a race corrupted by an evil Snake God. This information was confirmed by Alia, as she translated the writings memorized by Rââm. The bard added that Nemeth – if it existed – would be located hundreds of miles to the north. The other name, she explained, was Rathandor, a horrible site where the living, who fall, rise immediately into undead, and where a group of heroes fifty years ago had fought and prevailed in the name of Asteriot against the very avatar of the Dead God Morgûl, thus foiling its plans of rejuvenating the Lord of the Undead. As for the description of the underground complex at Skullhill, Alia found many similarities to a mythic people called the Malidians, who supposedly had lived more than a thousand years ago. According to legends the Malidians had built great cities, possessed great wisdom and their symbol was a crown.

Chapter 3. Murder at the Well

Later the same night Rowan awoke at the sound of loud noises coming from the street beyond. The druid rushed to the front door, however, nothing could now be seen or heard outside. A few minutes later Rowan therefore returned to his bedding, where he rested uneasily until first light.

Next morning the village of Longdale was in a state of uproar! A frequent patron of the Gnarled Club, a man named Mugins Lander, had been brutally murdered near the well on Little Square, his throat slit during the night using a crude bladed weapon of some sort. Moreover, the aging drunk, whom most people just called “Mug”, seemed to have been beaten up real good too, before his assailant had delivered the killing coup-de-grace. So far the evidence pointed unambiguously towards one Cristobal Valencia, a permanent resident of the Gnarled Club, who had been seen leaving the inn that night just after Mug and was known to hold a grudge against him. The accused had already been apprehended by the town constable, Rob Nadine, and brought to the Constabulary near the Gnarled Club. Indeed, word on the street was that he had already confessed to the murder.

Eager to shed more light on these rumors, Rowan, Rââm and Lau started their own investigations. After examining the crime scene and the corpse carefully and questioning many people, including several members of the city guard; Ryan Gilmore, proprietor of the Gnarled Club; and the accused himself, a different story seemed to unfold.

Apparently, Mug had started drinking heavily after losing his wife and children to the fever, and when he got really drunk, he got quite unpleasant. On more than one occasion he had therefore gotten himself into “duels” with Valencia, a man well known for his foul temper and fondness of strong spirits. Clearly, Cristobal Valencia presented somewhat of an enigma for the locals having come from the Baelena Islands about three years ago, carrying naught but two suitcases and a fine rapier. An expert swordsman, the newcomer resided at the Gnarled Club, where his bills were always paid in full; however, no one knew was the wiser as to where the money came from. When slightly drunk (which was most of the time) Christobal was a pleasant enough sort, but at other times he was outright disagreeable. Over time he had engaged in many duels since all who challenged his “honor” swiftly found themselves facing the carefully balanced tip of his rapier. These duels had always ended at the drawing of first blood, though, and hence no one had ever actually been slain. According to a testimony given to Lau and Rââm at the Constabulary, on the night of the murder Cristobal had entertained Lisa, a young girl from the Toliath household, at the inn, when Mug had offended her. Consequently, he had asked Mug to “step outside” and the culprit had gladly accommodated him. With Lisa as witness, the two men had then dueled outside the inn, where Cristobal had quickly drawn first blood with a precise and non-lethal stab under the shoulder. Mug on the other hand did not want to call it quits, and so Cristobal had subsequently knocked him down with his bare hands before succumbing to the alcohol in his blood.

Seemingly everything about this story seemed to fit: from Cristobal’s swollen knuckles to the puncture mark which Lau identified in Mug’s shoulder and jacket. Furthermore, whoever had slit the unfortunate widower’s throat would have been covered in blood, whereas only a few drops, probably from the shoulder wound, had stained the right white sleeve of Cristobal's shirt. Lastly, there was no sight of Mug’s sword anywhere. Instead, under the window of Mary, the little girl who several days back had approached Rââm, Rowan found traces of blood and new footprints too small to belong to neither Cristobal nor Mug. The same window which faced the well on Little Square!

After sharing most of these findings with Father Cadwell and Sister Tia, the trio decided to confront Lisa for a final confirmation of Cristobal’s testimony. Surprisingly, the town gossip had not connected her with last night’s duel, and so Rââm, Lau and Rowan had only the word of the accused to link her with the event. They found her at the Toliath estate, where she and another maid were busy playing a game of “baseball” with the children of the Toliath family. After Rââm had smashed the children’s ball – much to the awe of the kids (and gone to buy a replacement) – Lisa reluctantly confirmed the story, adding that she had seen Mug get up and stagger towards Little Square, when suddenly his screams had penetrated the night. Afterwards all had been silent, and she had rushed home in panic, leaving the dead-drunk Cristobal in a doorway to be found early next morning. Although her public testimony would obviously save her suitor from the gallows, Lisa begged the party to keep their silence, as it would surely cost her the job. She had no family of her own in town and only two families in Longdale could afford servants, the Toliaths and the Emmerinths, and neither of these bitter rivals would ever employ a servant, who had worked for the “other side”. It was even prohibited for the young people to spend time together, as she, her best friend Jean (who worked for the Emmerinths) and a group of other young girls had done at the inn that night.

Having questioned Lisa there could no longer be any doubt that the true murderer was still at large. Moreover, time was running out for Cristobal Valencia, who within days would stand trial before the Council of Elders. And so in a desperate attempt to catch the murderer, who somehow had to be linked to the little girl living across the square, Rââm, Lau and Rowan took up positions in an empty house close to the well to watch the square through the night. As the last lights died out, a cloaked figure suddenly appeared from within the well and started moving towards the girl’s house. Lau and Rowan tried to sneak up on him, when an old plank gave way under Rââm’s foot and gave him away. At the well Rââm just had time to see the yellow-eyed creature for what it was: a goblin carrying a large, crude blade. Before vanishing in a cloud of smoke, the goblin spoke to him saying these words: “you die soon, big humie”. Then a loud splash was heard from within the well.

Chapter 4. Goblins!!

Next morning Lau left early to help out in the temple, leaving Rowan and Rââm behind to discuss the events of the night over breakfast. During the conversation they almost missed the presence of a small person, less than a meter tall, sitting at a nearby table and listening intently. Having been discovered the gnome - for that was what he was – readily accepted Rowan’s invitation to join them, and soon the three of them were eagerly discussing the murder and the expedition to the Skullhill. The silver-tongued gnome’s name was Ludo, and he seemed genuinely interested in both capers, concluding that the potential for profits in this town looked promising! The three decided to meet again later in the day to discuss matters further, while in the mean time Ludo would check out things on his own, whereas Rowan went to check on Anazi’s condition and to take further council with father Cadwell.

It was eventide when Ludo returned to the Inn of the Gnarled Club. All day the gnome had tried gathering information amongst the villagers, but he had not really learnt anything new. Consequently, he was very interested in talking to Christobal Valencia himself, and the two others agreed. While Rowan once again visited the Constable, recollecting the tale of the yellow-eyed goblin and asking for permission to enter the well and hunt this suspected murderer, Ludo climbed Rââm’s back to talk to Valencia through the barred outer window of the prison cell. It turned out, however, that Ludo really wanted to bargain with the captive for the price of freedom. This attempt failed miserably, though, and instead enraged Valencia greatly, something which did not go about unheard. And so before getting caught red-handed by the town guards, Rââm and Ludo retreated to the anonymity of the inn.

Later that night the trio scaled the inside of the well to find a tunnel at its bottom some 20 feet below ground. At the end of the tunnel was a room, its floor half covered by rotting planks that were able to support a gnome or a goblin but not a human! Ludo thus easily crossed the room to reach the exit on the other side, where he trigged a spear trap and fell lifeless to the ground. Rushing to his aid, Rowan attempted the same and not surprisingly the rotting wood gave way, sending the druid into the 10-foot pit below. Meanwhile four red-eyed goblins appeared on the far side. Climbing out of the pit, Rowan and Rââm slew one and mortally wounded another goblin, prompting their partners to take flight. After Rowan had brought Ludo back to his feet, the gnome (who was able to speak the goblin tongue) questioned the helpless goblin, who agreed to tell where to find their boss, Godmaz, and the yellow-eyed goblin! After Rowan had healed and bound the goblin’s wounds, it was left behind in the pit to be let loose, after the boss had been dispatched of. Following its instructions, Rââm, Ludo and Rowan quickly found their way through the tunnels, where they did battle with the goblin boss, his three well-equipped hobgoblin bodyguards, and with the yellow-eyed goblin, who was taken prisoner. During the fights Rââm took some heavy hits and had it not been for the two scrolls, which Rowan had received as a parting gift from his mentor, they would surely all have perished. Severely injured they returned up the well carrying a few interesting items. Fortunately they did not encounter any more enemies on the way out or they would have been done for. Of the remaining goblins and of their previous captive there was simply no sight. As for the spoils of the adventure they included a letter naming the town speaker, Jonas Emmerinth, as the goblins’ target. The town speaker was marked for death!

Chapter 5. The trial

After their difficult retreat Rââm, Ludo and Rowan tiredly handed over their captive, the yellow-eyed goblin named Brallo, to the Constabulary, before returning to their quarters at the Gnarled Club, where they all immediately fell into a deep slumber. It was thus not until well into the next morning that Rââm and Rowan returned to give a full report of their exploits to the Constable. In conclusion they presented Constable Nadine with the letter suggesting that a goblin assault on Longdale might be forthcoming and that the town speaker would be the first target. The letter, which was written in the Goblin Tongue, was addressed to the goblin leader Godmaz (who had escaped last night by feinting death), and was signed “Mom”.

After being dismissed, Rââm and Rowan sought out the town black smith, Aaron, to see about refitting a finely wrought banded armor, which had been retrieved from the goblins. The two then went to see father Cadwell, who listened intently as they recollected their nightly venture once more. Finally, the half-giant and the druid returned to the inn, where Ludo was having brunch, to divide the remaining spoils of their recent venture: four flasks (containing King’s bane poison), 37 gold pieces, a Dwarven grenade, 2 tanglefoot bags and two blood stones. Since neither of them had any idea about the true value of the stones, it was decided to pay visits to Oleg’s Fine Imports Shop and to Linmann’s Warehouse, however, neither of these shops were interested in purchasing the gems (although the shop assistant in Oleg’s did suggest that they might receive them as payment – but only if Oleg himself, who was only present in the mornings, would give his approval). Instead, and only after a bit of persuasion, Rowan managed to learn the name of a man called Hox Yesterday, who might take the blood stones off their hands. After spending a few hours trying to track him down, Ludo discovered that Hox Yesterday was a renowned smuggler, who supposedly lived in one of the abandoned houses, and who had a reputation of being able to get and sell “a bit of everything”. His network apparently spread all the way to the coast, and rumor had it that he did not like people asking about his name. The same evening Ludo with the two others standing guard tried to contact Hox, but alas their first meeting was unsuccessful and the smuggler simply disappeared into the shadows.

Another day and night passed, which Rowan spent in deep prayer at the small wooden temple overlooking the town. As the young druid finally reemerged, he was following by a large Blackmoorian black hound, which Rowan called “Fang”. The darkgrey hound, he explained, was an animal spirit sent to him by the Oaken Father.

The trial of Cristobal Valencia took place at noon. Having been specially invited before the Council of Elders to bear witness Rowan, Ludo and Rââm presented their evidence while under a zone of truth. As they finished their tales the accused, i.e. Cristobal and the goblin Brallo, were then called to defend themselves. Just as the Council was about to withdraw to decide upon their ruling, one last surprise witness showed up: it was Lisa, who in the last moment had decided to come forth too. In the end Cristobal Valencia was freed of all guilt, while the goblin was sentenced to hanging, a ruling that was to be carried out the same evening. Immediately after the trial Ludo, Rââm and Rowan was approached by the Constable, who thanked them for their efforts in rescuing the life of an innocent man. Moreover, father Cadwell offered Rowan to take him as an apprentice. Lastly, at the day was in passing, the trio was sought out by Valencia, who handed them a purse filled with 400 gold pieces.