Three Keys

Something's Fishy

Start the adventure with the Prologue

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Adventure Log 8 : …and something stinks

With the book safely stowed away in Harrison’s pack, and following David’s penchant for “always left”, they continued deeper into the complex. They were in a long hallway that stretched into the dark distance, no doors or other halls split off, when the torch began to sputter. David dropped his pack and began to prep another torch when Harrison spoke up.

“Wait,” he said. “I have a better idea.” He held his quarter staff aloft and spoke a word, the end began to glow softly, then brighter until it cast a clear while light. While they couldn’t see much farther than they had with the torch, they were at least saving material. Harrison moved to the front and began leading them down the hallway, the others following close behind.

They could see that the hallway ahead opened into a wide space ahead, beyond which the light didn’t reach. Yanew stopped and whispered, “Hold up, there’s something in the space ahead.”

“What is it?” asked David from his position at the rear.

“I can’t tell,” said Yanew, “but it’s hissing.” Harrison dimmed the light on the end of his staff and they moved slowly forward, both Yanew and Janko now able to see a little farther than the rest with their darkvision.

As they moved into the open space, they could see the remains of a smithy strewn in the open space. A large furnace of sorts was on their right, coal scattered over the floor and in piles strewn about. In the far left corner, Yanew made out two sets of glowing eyes, about the same height as the humans. They could all hear the gentle hissing coming from that general direction. The smell hit them like a wall, stinking like dead fish and low tide. As they stopped in their tracks, the hissing stopped and the two sets of eyes looked at them.

Janko and Yanew could see two humanoid creatures standing in the far corner, just in front of a round opening in the floor, a well of deeper darkness. Both were armed with long javelins, the tips sharps steel, and a sword dangling from a belt around their waists. With free hands, David drew both swords. One creature hissed loudly, and hefting his spear, he threw it toward David, who had rushed toward them. It went wide and clattered against the wall behind the group.

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Yanew quickly slunk through the dark to his left and hid behind a large pile of coal, making sure that he had a clear line of sight to the lizard men. He could hear Harrison’s sling whirring, the glowing bullet making a wide circle over his head before he hurled it at the creature that was moving quickly to confront David. It streaked like lightening through the air and hit the beast squarely in the chest, followed almost immediately by an arrow from Janko. Two solid hits that seemed to barely slow it down!

David swung both weapons at the creature, it was able to dodge the first but the second caught it on the arm and opened a bloody gash, which caused it to howl in pain. Yanew hurled a dagger through the air toward the second creature, which was too focused on David to see it coming, and it sunk deep into the meaty thigh.

Janko had another arrow notched, but just as he released the creature at the rear, seemingly unaffected by the Yanew’s dagger, let fly its javelin at him. It narrowly missed him to his right, and hit the wall behind him. Sparks and ricocheted bits of stone hit him and he jerked, causing his shot to veer well off the mark. David let out a sharp cry as the arrow hit him solidly in the ass.

“What the fuck are ye doing?!” he yelled. “Yer not helping!”

Yanew quickly launched another dagger at the creature facing David, hoping to distract it enough that it wouldn’t take advantage of Janko’s monumental error. It sank deep into the creature’s side. David followed with two quick attacks, but the arrow protruding from his rear evidently caused him enough pain that both were easily dodged.

Janko cringed at his mistake and scrambled for another arrow, Harrison already had another missile in his sling and launched it at the creature at the rear, which took the stone right in the nose. As it cringed, Yanew took advantage of the distraction and slipped out from behind the coal and was able to get behind the rearmost lizard. He jumped on its back and was able to draw his last dagger neatly across its throat, which spewed dark blood in a tall arc, hitting the ceiling above. Yanew leapt clear as the creature collapsed, a bubbling gurgle escaping as its lifeblood poured out of it as it fell into the deep hole.

The other lizard
man quickly turned and saw his companion slain. David saw the quick realization in its eyes that it no longer held an advantage of any sort, and before he could attack, it jumped back and disappeared down the deep well, One of Yanew’s daggers still lodged in its side.

David immediately turned to Janko and stared at him. Janko looked sheepish as Harrison’s staff glowed again with light. Yanew stood at the side of the well, staring down after his daggers. Harrison moved to David’s side and began extricating the arrow.

“You’ll be fine,” Harrison said as he gripped the shaft. “On three. One…” and he yanked.

“By the Gods that stings!” David exclaimed.

“Hold on a second and we’ll get you fixed up.” Harrison put a hand down David’s trousers and cupped his cheek, mumbling healing words. Yanew giggled.

David shot him a look and said, “One more word from you and you’ll get the backside of my hand up against that thick skull.”

A minute later they had collected themselves and stood over the dark hole in the floor. David lit a torch and dropped it in, they watched as it fell a good 30 feet onto the floor of the cavern below. They could see the dead creature at the bottom in a heap, its head at an odd angle, blood pooling beneath. On the wall beside them, an iron ring dangled from a fitting. David grabbed it and gave it a few hard shakes, it moved loosely.

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“We’d be lucky if it held long enough for us to climb down,” he said. “Perhaps we can find another way.”

Yanew sighed loudly. “Let’s hope so, I’ve only got one dagger left!”

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The Biggest Battle

Start the adventure with the Prologue

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Adventure Log 7 : …and the Biggest Prize

As they exited the secret chambers, the hallway they were in ended at two ornate wooden doors. They stood out in contrast to every other door they’d seen so far in the complex, being gilded with gold instead of iron, albeit only a small amount. They would have been ordinary for any chaple in the outside, but down here they looked like wealth. As they did on all other occasions when coming to a closed door, Yanew put his ear to it. Without having to strain, he could hear soft clicking on the other side.

“Something’s just on the other side of this door.”

“Any idea what?” asked David as he drew his weapon.

“Odd,” Yanew said. “Sounds like clicking, or snapping maybe? Something sharp and small on the stone floor.”

“Right,” said David. “Encounter positions, everyone.” David stood ready to throw the doors open and thrust the torch inside while wielding his short sword in his other hand. Janko readied his bow from the rear, Harrison and Yanew on either side ready to pounce. David burst the door and tossed the flaming torch inside, and into the face of a giant insect.

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Its thick body was about 6 feet long, hundreds of legs ending with sharp bone held It aloft. Bulbous eyes and razor pincers completed the hideous creature as it turned to face David, rearing up. The torch to the face had caught it unawares and gave David enough time to stab at it, but only managing to hack off one of its many legs. The creature screeched and lunged at him, David just able to avoid the snapping fangs. He felt the wind of Janko’s arrow as it passed close by his ear and into the belly of the creature. Yanew tumbled behind David and took a flanking position, hoping to block the beast from entering the room. At least if they could keep it in the doorway they could limit its reach. Harrison’s sling whirred and launched a sharp stone, but not wanting to hit David, his shot went wide and ricocheted off the door casing. David was able to draw his second weapon and launched a vicious attack on the beast, hacking off more legs and slicing a deep gash in the creatures midsection. It screeched louder with pain and flailed at Yanew and David.

As Janko notched another arrow and prepared to let it fly over Yanew’s head, he heard a loud roar from behind him. He turned just in time to duck to one side as a huge falchion sliced the air where his head had been a split second before. A massive Orc took up the entire hallway, its muscles bulging as it held the sword aloft and readied another swing at the now cowering Janko. He reached for his melee weapon, but too late; the sword crashed down on him. Luckily, the weapon had caught on the roof as the creature swung it over his head, which turned the blade and caught Janko with the flat. The power of the blow almost knocked him senseless, and he counted himself lucky, as had it hit him square it may have cut him down immediately. As it was, he was at a decided disadvantage against this beast, and let out a warning cry.

Yanew and Harrison had turned at the beast’s attacking roar and watched as Janko was bashed to the ground with another massive blow, crumpling into unconsciousness.

“David!” Harrison yelled, “Behind!”

“I’m a little busy right now!” David said, as he ducked a stinging thrust and launched into a new attack.

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The Orc raised his sword, aiming a deadly blow at Janko’s defenseless form, when an Orcish voice echoed from behind the creature. Harrison blanched at the thought of another powerful beast joining the fight, but the Orc stopped and turned to look behind it, peering into the darkness. In that moment, Yanew sprang forward and slashed at the creature’s leg. A neat, wide gash opened along the calf, and the Orc howled in pain. Harrison, realizing Yanew’s quick thinking and vocal abilities had bought them precious seconds, moved quickly and dragged Janko back, out of the immediate range of the massive sword. The Orc roared and looked down at his feet, the blood from the wound on his leg already pooling at his feet. Standing in the blood was the defiant Yanew, who barely came up to the beast’s thigh, brandishing a wicked dagger.

“What’s up, ya big bastard?” he asked.

The beast howled and took a wide arc’ed swing at the diminutive Yanew, who easily rolled to the side to avoid the clumsy blow. Just as the Orc raised his sword for another swing, a vicious blow smashed into the creature’s midsection, quickly followed by another into it’s face. David had joined the battle, the insect lay dead behind him. The beast, stung and hurt by the wounds to its face, swung his sword blindly. Yanew’s dagger bit sharply into the Orc’s other leg, and a David’s sword plunged into the creature’s heart. It collapsed in the hallway with a heavy thud.

After the noise of battle, the panting breath of the adventurers was all too quiet to their ears. Janko sat up on the floor, his daze clearing slowly as Harrison laid on hands and mumbled healing words. By the time they’d searched the remains of the centipede and Orc and spiked the doors closed, Janko was aware and bandaging his own quickly fading wounds.

“Back to the statue,” said David. “I want a breather before we go any further.”

After a quick rest, they were back at the ornate double doors. Yanew spent more than a minute with his ear to the wood, but reported that it was all clear on the other side. David removed the spikes from the door and they swung them in slowly. On the other side, all that remained of the insect was a viscous liquid stain on the stone, and drag marks off into the darkness of the hallway to the left. In front of them was another set of double doors, these looking more solid and even more ornate. They were ajar.

On the other side was the remains of a small but well-stocked library. Shelves lined all the walls, and the mildewed and dusty remains of their contents lay scattered about the broken tables and benches. They took some time to look about and see if any were of value, but most were beyond use, and those that could still be read were about mundane subjects. However, on a bookcase in the back, among the tattered remnants of what was once a collection of innocuous ledgers, one stood out whole and seemingly undamaged. Where the other ledgers had fallen apart or were lying about the floor in tatters, this one sat upright, only dusty and slightly faded with age. Yanew looked closely at it, then around it.

“Aha!” he said, and pulled it toward him. A distinct click echoed behind the wall, and the bookcase opened out an inch from the wall. Yanew pulled it open to reveal a small alcove in the wall, barren but for an old lectern with a large volume opened on it. Yanew started to move inside when Harrison grabbed his arm.

“Be careful,” he said. “I’m sensing some powerful magic.”

“Got it,” said Yanew, and moved to the lectern to look at the tome. It sat open to the middle, and the pages were blank. A quick look through the rest of the book showed that all the pages were the same, fresh and unblemished. “Powerful magic, huh?”

“Yes,” said Harrison.

Yanew climbed down and began crawling on the floor at the base of the stand, and in seconds he found what he was looking for. Another quiet click, and the lectern slid to the side, exposing a small space underneath. Inside was one item, a very large book.

He took it out and the others crowded around to get a better look. It was bound in thick leather and iron bands, and a large lock held it closed.

“Perhaps we should be wary,” said David. “We should wait until…” click

Before David could finish, Yanew’s nimble fingers had snapped the lock on the tome, and he’d opened up the cover. The page underneath had a large, ornate letter “Z” on it.

“Fer fuck’s sake, man!” said David. “Do you know what you’re doing?”

“Calm yourself. It’s just a book!” Yanew thumbed through a few pages, looking at the odd symbols and letters. “Any of you able to read any of this?” he asked. Each shook their heads.

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“Perhaps I should hold on to this,” Harrison said, closing the book and taking it from Yanew. “I think someone with some familiarity with magic would be a safer bearer than one so…” he paused, “…adventurous.”

Yanew shrugged. “Suit yourself. Nerd.”

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A Secret

Start the adventure with the Prologue

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Adventure Log 6 : …and a skeleton

They wound their way through the dank corridors, past the dead adventurers and the doors to the kitchens and dining halls, and deeper into the complex. David’s torch hissed and sputtered on front of them, while Janko continued to bring up the read, keeping a keen ear and eye behind them. Harrison continued to almost stroll, being as unconcerned with his surroundings as he would be in a garden. Yanew found Harrison’s lack of concern both comforting and disconcerting.

They found the rear entrance to the kitchens in a wide hallway, and as they started to move further in, Janko stopped.

“Wait,” he said, “there’s something here.” He pointed to a section of the wall on their right. “Can you hear that? Something doesn’t sound right. I think there’s a space on the backside of this wall.”

Yanew couldn’t hear anything odd, but ran his fingers over the stonework on the wall, his fingers gently brushing a hidden catch. It wasn’t very well hidden, but could have been easily bypassed if you weren’t looking for it. He then saw where the door was, blended into the stonework, and flicked the catch. There was a quiet click as the release mechanism disengaged and the door opened inward a few inches, a dark space beyond.

“I’m liking this place more and more,” said Yanew. “Lots of secrets means lots of goodies to find.”

David moved forward and pressed the door open, it’s hinges creaking quietly, and moved the torch forward into the room. The space was dominated by a table in the center, topped by a large black slab of stone, and shelves on each of the four walls were filled with books, vials, and dusty glasswork. They moved inside slowly, Janko sliding an old book into the doorway so it wouldn’t close.

It appeared to be a workshop of some kind. The floor was littered with tattered books and broken glass, the shelves contained a slew of vials and jars of various sizes, most of their contents dried and unrecognizable, all covered with a fine layer of cobwebs and dust. Apparently the rats had not found a way into this space, or were uninterested. On the left was another door.

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“Hey, check this out!” Yanew was heaving a large container out from under the heavy table and sliding it onto a chair. The sealed glass jar was filled with liquid, and inside the smoky fluid floated a black cat. After a quick search, that seemed to be the only interesting thing in the room, everything else either broken beyond repair or completely unidentifiable. What books didn’t crumble when opened were regarding local plants and animals and of no interest to anyone.

Yanew studied the only other door in the room, and after a few moments declared it unlocked and probably safe to open. David had the honors, and the door opened easily enough into a room of equal size, this one filled with larger equipment and far fewer shelves. Another table with a slabbed top was off to one side, and in the far corner a large cage hung from the ceiling, a skeleton locked inside. David looked back at Harrison.

“You stay out here and watch the door while we have a look,” he said, and moved inside. On one wall was a stretched leather skin with strange writing on it, a firepit in the center. Yanew took a flimsy chair and moved over to examine the skeleton while Janko stared at the symbols on the hide. He contemplated cutting the ties and taking it with him, but decided that it was too heavy to lug around.

Yanew let out a yelp and fell off the chair with a crash.

“Did you see that? I swear that damn thing moved,” he said, pointing at the skeleton. Janko helped Yanew up off the floor and peered into the case. It looked dead and dusty, nothing more, but as he turned away he thought he caught something out of the corner of his eye. He looked back, staring intently, but it seemed just as inanimate as it did before.

“Must be some trick,” he said. “Meant to scare people.”

Then Harrison came into the room.

The skeleton clambered up from the bottom of the cage, it’s jaw snapping open and closed with vicious clicks, and it’s arms reached through the bars of the cage towards Harrison. Janko and Yanew leapt back from the extended bones of the fingers, already well out of the way but talking no chances. Harrison stared at the creature as it clawed at the bars, trying to get to him. The bones scraped on the rusted metal.

“Fascinating,” he murmured, and walked over until he was just out of reach of the monster, and stood there looking intently at it from every angle. “Animated to attack the Holy, perhaps? This is no undead creature, I detect nothing evil in its intent.”

“There’s nothing in here we need,” said David. “Let’s leave this poor soul to his fate and move on.”

As they filtered out of the rooms and back into the hall, Harrison followed reluctantly, mumbling under his breath, “I told you it was not undead. It has no soul, poor or otherwise.” Behind him, the skeleton collapsed back to the bottom of its prison.

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The Garden

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Adventure Log 5 : …and the Goddess

The L-shaped room was massive, and was probably a beautiful indoor garden in its prime. Now, however, it was overgrown and wild. Grasses, flowering plants, and giant mushrooms covered every inch of space so one couldn’t see how far back the room extended. A few trees were pressing against the ceiling above them, their roots pulling at the stone floor. Two large rectangular pools on the right glowed green, and the plants seemed to take that light and throw it over the rest of the space.

The party moved in through the door and stood, staring, at the abundance of life in the dead complex.

“The water must have some magical properties to keep these plants alive in the absence of sunlight and soil,” said Harrison. He fingered a thick leaf next to him as the others started to wander slowly about. The ground was thick with moss and fallen leaves, making them take careful note of where they placed their feet.

Janko moved off to the left toward the corner where he could just make out a basin mounted to the wall. Above it was a face very similar to the one that had shouted at them in the entry hall and disappeared, only this one was smaller, and a stream of green-tinged water fell from the open mouth into the basin beneath it. The liquid overflowed onto the ground in a steady splash, the grass and moss thick beneath it.

“Harrison,” he called, “can you tell me anything about this?” Harrison picked his way through the growth and stood beside Janko, each step sending up small mists of spore.

“Only that it radiates powerful magic, but I can’t tell for good or evil.”

“Well,” said Janko, “how about we save some for later. It might come in useful.” He pulled a flask from his backpack and filled it halfway, stoppered it and put it back in his pack.

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Yanew had moved through the growth towards one of the green pools, having a harder time of it due to his short stature. He clambered up and sat on the bench surrounding it, and peered down into the clear liquid. The pool was only a meter thick, and was clear enough that he could see the bottom easily. Roots snaked their way over the edge and touched the surface of the water, but none extended fully into the depth.

David was still standing next to the door with the now unnecessary torch, growing disconcerted at the increasing cloud of spore in the air. Yanew called their attention to the giant mushrooms that were growing on the other side of the pool, and seemed to be the source of the thickening air. David called the rest back, saying they should probably take their flask and leave before the air became unbreathable, and they all agreed. On their way back out into the hallway, David asked Yanew if he’d seen anything else over by the pool.

“Only the huge mushrooms, and I think there was another doorway in the far back, I couldn’t quite see,” he said.

“Noted,” said David. “If we come at the garden from the other side, we’ll know a quick way to the exit through here.

The hallway outside was a dead end, so they moved back to the intersection with the skeletal remains and went straight through, this hallway doing the same as the last, taking a right and moving back down the other side of the main hallway. They had a look down and saw only that the hallway continued for a far distance, so they moved back to the bodies and surprised three huge rats trying to gnaw on the ancient bones. They’d probably come to investigate the noise from the magical warning system. While their bite was probably rife with disease, they were quickly dispatched, only David suffering from a bite on his shin. Harrison took a quick look and declared that no poison had seeped in, and David’s wound was bandaged.

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The doors on their left opened into a narrow kitchen, rusty pots and bent utensils scattered over the floor. Cupboards had been thrown open and their contents strewn about, the fires unlit for a very long time. The door across the hall opened into a larger space, probably a dining hall judging from the tables and benches, all broken or rotting through. David was able to salvage a number of furniture legs to serve as torches; they only had one or two apiece and no one knew how long it would be before they found the exit and saw daylight again.

At the back was another doorway which opened into a small space with benches along the wall, a headless female statue dominating the center of the room. Yanew took it upon himself to search over the statue for any hidden secrets, to the others it only looked like an excuse to paw at the statue’s stone breasts. Janko swore he thought something was odd about one of the walls, but was unable to find anything out of the ordinary. They took advantage of the safety offered by a single entrance and sat their packs down and had a short rest.

Yanew lay on one of the benches and looked at the marble woman. “Who do you think she was?”

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“I’ve never seen her form before,” said Harrison. “A local deity perhaps? The head’s been removed, so someone was upset.”

“Perhaps it simply broke when someone was trying to move it or steal it,” said Janko. “That marble would probably fetch a few hundred gold in any decent sized market.”

David sat up and shifted his pack on his back. “In any case, this space is safer than any we’ve found so far, we should keep that in mind if we need someplace to rest and lick our wounds. Let’s keep moving.”

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In The Dark

Start the tale with the Prologue

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Adventure Log 4: …in more ways than one

The flickering torch illuminated a long dark hallway, cobwebs in the corners, a think layer of dust on the floor. The was no discernible movement in the air, and it smelled stale and musty, like an old barn that hadn’t stabled a horse in many years. The darkness was claustrophobic and heavy, the weak torch doing little to keep it at bay. The cave-in behind them still settled, and small stones and pebbles clicked and snapped down the slope, an odd rumble from deep inside made them uneasy and they all moved a few more feet down the hall and away.

“Would you agree to putting that torch out?” Yanew asked. “It messes with my eyes. I can’t see nearly as far in this darkness with that thing flickering.” Janko nodded his head in silent agreement.

“You know I can’t,” said David, “Harrison and I would be completely blind. You’ll just have to make do.” He adjusted his pack and pulled out one of his two short swords. Holding the torch high out in front of him, he said, “OK, I’ll go first. Yanew and Harrison behind me, Janko at the rear. Everyone ready?” He started down the hallway at a slow pace.

“Ever onward,” said Harrison, and moved slowly down the hall behind David, the others following behind. Janko had his bow at the ready, Yanew a small dagger, while the priest used his staff as a walking stick, almost casual in his demeanor.

A dozen yards along, they came to an area where the hallway opened on the left and right into alcoves with slotted openings in the recesses. They were in the center of the wall facing the hallway, and were about a meter tall but only an inch or two wide.

“Arrow loops,” David said, and peered through. “Can’t see much, but there’s definitely a space on the other side. Be wary.”

They passed two other alcoves with the same loops, before seeing a small rise ahead, three steps up, and as they neared, they could see forms in the darkness at the intersection beyond. They slowed.

WHO DARES ENTER THIS PLACE AND INTRUDE UPON THE SANCTUARY OF ITS INHABITANTS?!”

A shockingly loud voice echoed through the halls, almost deafening. Hands quickly shot up to cover ears stung with pain, eyes wide with shock.

“What the hell?” yelled Janko over the echoing din, his hands still on the sides of his head. Before anyone could answer the voice came again, the same phrase booming through the darkness.

WHO DARE ENTER THIS PLACE AND INTRUDE UPON THE SANCTUARY OF ITS INHABITANTS?!” Janko couldn’t tell if it was just the pain and surprise, but he swore it was louder this time. David stood a little taller and called out.

“We are adventurers, looking f…!”

ONLY A GROUP OF FOOLHARDY EXPLORERS,” another voice interrupted, “doomed to certain death.” The last phrase groaning deeper and quieter until it was a whisper at the end. The effect was chilling.

After a few seconds, Harrison peered at the wall in the alcove, and chuckled quietly. “Very effective, these,” and pointed. On the walls of the alcoves, facing the hallway and each other, were two stone faces with open mouths.

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“Must be triggered by anything that enters this spot in the hallway. Hey, look…” As David held the torch closer, the face began to fade away, until there was nothing but the same stone as in the rest of the hall. “Fascinating,” he said.

“Well,” said Janko, “if there’s anyone home, they know we’re here. Let’s see what on the floor up ahead.”

At the top of the three steps, the hallway branched off to the left and the right, fading away to darkness, and in front there were doors on either side, and more hallways. Five skeletal forms lay about them in disarray, obviously the result of a deadly battle of some kind. All still had the remains of clothes and weapons about them, but they had obviously been here for some time. Two appeared to be guards, splayed out on the floor with broken limbs, while another was leaning against the wall, a rusty sword embedded in its chest. A cloaked figure was impaled on the wall by a sword protruding from the back. David marveled at the strength of the arm that could impale a man in a stone wall.

A few steps down the hall on the left, a shorter figure lay, the thick bones and armor signaling this man was a dwarf. The helm had a deep dent in the side, the skull beneath it crushed. The hammer that had probably caused the blow lay beside him.

“This looks like a hell of a party,” David said. He nudged one of the swords on the floor with his foot, seeing that it was pitted and worthless. He whistled softly as he looked at the impaled robed figure. “That took some strength. I doubt either of these two,” he nodded towards the guards, “could do that.”

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“Or this,” Yanew quietly agreed as he prodded at the fallen Dwarf with his dagger. “This man’s skull is powder, and I think they used his own weapon on him. See?” Be pointed at the hammer on the floor next to the body. “Blow was enough to break the shaft. Whatever killed these men was damn strong.”

“Well,” said Janko, “which way now?” The doors were simple wood, no banding or thickening, just a latch. “Through here or down one of the hallways?”

“Let’s have a look down these hallways before we go poking through doors,” said Yanew. “Anyone care which way first?”

“Left,” said David. “Always left.”

The passage to the left didn’t go far before taking another left and heading back in the direction of the entryway. David assumed this hallway would give them access to at least one side of the arrow loops they’d come across in the entry hall, and they quickly came across the first. As they moved further down the hallway, the saw a slight glow ahead of them coming through a doorway on the right. David looked back at the others to see if they had seen it, they all nodded.

When they came to the door, they could see a green glow from the room beyond illuminating the roots and vines spilling out into the hallway. The torchlight showed them to be healthy and green, not dead and dried like the bodies behind them. David had stopped and was looking at the vines as Harrison moved around him and peered into the room beyond.

“Oh my,” he gasped.

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An Open Doorway

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Adventure Log 3 : …but not for long

Yanew led the party up the path, on the lookout for anything suspicious. He wound his way up through the gentle slope and through the rocky outcroppings that became more numerous until finally the trail was all hard scrabble, and remnants of a stone path lined the sides. In a few places they had to divert from the ancient walkway due to slides, but the way was mostly clear. After a surprisingly short time out of camp, they came upon an opening in the side of the hill, partially hidden behind a large outcropping of rock that hid it from the slopes below. It looked like a natural cave, at least for the first few feet, but in the shadow they saw that a door had been mounted in a stone casement, the door was partially open. The door was thick, taller than a man, and banded with iron. The hinges appeared to be rusted solid.

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“Well,” said Yanew, “this looks promising!”

“How so?” asked David. “An open door means any number of creatures could have made this their home!”

“Yes, but it also means it’s probably uninhabited by anything smarter than a bear. We could handle a bear between all of us, no?” Yanew grinned. He started to look more closely at the door and the surroundings, looking for any obvious signs of traps or creatures. David dropped his pack on the ground and rooted through it for his lamp, bringing it out and prepping it. Harrison sat on a stone and was drinking from his waterskin.

“Uh, guys…” Janko was looking down toward their camp at the base of the hill a half mile away. Two men with swords were poking through the remains of their fire while four others on horses stood nearby. “Who the hell are these guys?” Yanew jumped on a rock to get a better view, David squinted to see. They appeared to be soldiers, or at least well-outfitted mercenaries. They all had well-fitting armor and swords, at least five of them did. The sixth wore only dark robes and black gloves. He sat atop one of the horses, a full head taller than the rest, and was scanning the area.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be…” David started, but then the cloaked man on the horse pointed up at them and shouted to the rest. The two men on the ground jumped to their mounts, and the men started up the slope as fast as their horses would carry them. “This does not look promising. Perhaps we should move inside to a more defensible position?” David said. Janko and Harrison both voiced their agreement, and they looked down for Yanew, who was now nowhere to be seen. They quickly started to gather their gear as the horsemen reached the edge of the gentle slope and dismounted to start scrambling up the path.

Janko said, “I don’t know who these guys are, but they don’t seem the friendly type!” He notched an arrow to cover the rear while Harrison ducked through the doorway. “It has to be that goddamn thief’s fault.”

“I beg to differ!” said a voice from behind a rock. Yanew scrambled out and looked up at Janko. “I didn’t do anything to these idiots,” and scooted towards the door.

“YANEW!” came a loud yell from below. Janko turned back to see the man in the black cloak standing on top of a boulder about 50 feet away. “Surrender yourself and we may let you and your friends live!” David and Janko exchanged a glance just as Yanew’s voice, quite loud considering his size, shouted from behind them.

“FUCK YOU!!!”

David and Janko leapt for the open door just as a giant ball of fire screamed past them and exploded just above them. They had made it past the casement, but the blast threw them inside the dark passageway as tons of rock came crashing down, collapsing the hill into the opening.


In the blackness, David felt around for his lamp so he could see if anyone else survived and just how bad things were. He found his lamp next to his hand, broken beyond repair. He reached into his pack and pulled out his only torch and lit it from the flint and steel in his belt pouch. The dim light showed everyone to be alive with only minor bruises. The doorway was gone, a pile of rubble in its place.

Behind them they could hear the men scrambling to clear the entrance, but considering the size of the boulders that blocked the passage, it was doubtful they’d make much progress. “Well," said Harrison, “there’s supposed to be a back exit to this place, albeit a well-hidden one.”

“What the hell, Yanew? Who were those guys?” asked David.

“I’ve no idea,” Yanew said. “Never seen them before.”

“Well, they seem to know you quite well. Better than most, in fact.”

Janko piped in, “Maybe they’ve come for something you stole? Say, a map?”

Yanew chuckled. “Well, if they did, they’re kinda fucked aren’t they?”

David stared down the dark passage. “I think we’re all kinda fucked.”

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In front of them, the passage was of finished stonework. The walls were painted a drab color, just enough to make it different from natural stone, and they could see empty torch sconces just beyond the meager light thrown by their own. The floor was covered with a fine layer of dust, not all of which was from the collapsed doorway behind them. No footprints marred the smooth layer. They all looked down the passage, it ran straight as an arrow to the north and into deep black. The torch sputtered.

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Pre-Dawn

Start the tale with the Prologue

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Adventure Log 2 : Lessons Learned

It was second watch when everything went pear-shaped.

Janko was wandering the camp in the pre-dawn, he’d volunteered for the second watch and so far it had been uneventful. The sun would be up in an hour, maybe less, and the darkness was just starting to recede when Janko got that odd feeling that he was being watched.

He stopped his round and peered into the darkness. Nothing seemed to be out of order at first, then he noticed that the crickets had stopped chirping, and even the gentle breeze seemed to have stopped rustling the grass. He stared intently into the scrub brush just outside the gentle glow of the fire, moving his eyes slowly across the camp. Then he saw them. Two embers of eyes beneath a brush, looking intently at him. He stopped and watched, the eyes looking at him. He slowly raised his bow so as not to spook the creature, and held his breath. One shot between the eyes would do it, and might even get them fresh meat for breakfast. All he had to do was take careful aim and not rush…

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The creature leaped out of the brush with a roar and moved right to the sleeping David Richardson. Janko couldn’t believe how quickly the animal had moved! Before he had the chance to loose the arrow, it had raked a giant claw over David in his bedroll. The snarl of the creature immediately woke the rest of the party, who leapt to their feet and grabbed at weapons. Janko tried to reach out with his mind and calm the animal, to perhaps convince it to move on and leave them alone, but the beast was a blank wall. He felt nothing from the cat, no intent, no hunger or anger. What the hell? he thought.

While the huge cat had run it’s claws through the bedroll, it had succeeded only in tangling David in it, making it difficult for him to extricate himself. Janko loosed the arrow and caught the creature in the shoulder, it cried out in pain and made another swipe at David, who had finally gotten himself out of the shredded bedroll and had axe in hand. He made a half-hearted swing at the creature, but his sleep-addled brain was not yet fully aware and he swung wide. Harrison harried the animal with a sling shot to the side, but it did little more than annoy the cat, and Yanew’s thrown dagger went wide as well. Janko tried again to reach out to the beast, but was met with the same blank wall as before. This is no ordinary animal, Janko thought, that’s the only explanation!

The cat the rose on its hind legs up to an intimidating height, clawing at its own head. The skin peeled off and the creature let out a piercing scream through the exposed sinew, teeth, and eyes! The party had to cover their ears from the skull-splitting noise, and David, the animal’s horrifying visage only feet away, panicked badly, dropped both axes and ran as fast as his feet would carry him. The cat raked its claws across David’s back as he fled, shredding cloth and skin!

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The others had finally gained their feet and their minds were clear. As David ran past him screaming in fear, Yanew’s thrown dagger pierced the creatures hide, followed swiftly by an arrow from Janko, and the creature fell dead before it could take another step. In the silence that followed, there was only the panting from exertion and the distant yells from David as he continued to run, although they were quieting as he slowly came to his senses.

He wandered sheepishly back into camp a few moments later as Yanew was cutting open the cat to see if it had inadvertently swallowed any treasure. The ranger retrieved the arrow from the beast’s shoulder and wiped the blood on the grass. While the priest sewed up David’s torn back David sewed up his torn bedroll, he looked up and stared at Janko, whose face had turned a bright blue.

“What?” Said Janko.

“Your face,” said David, “it’s… blue?”

Janko looked at his hands, but they were fine, but a quick nod from Harrison confirmed that Janko’s face was, indeed, a bright blue. “Do you think it was the animal blood or something?!”

“Yeah, probably,” said Yanew, up to his elbows in the large cat’s blood. He was poking at the skin on the dead cat’s face with his dagger. “Huh. Looks like the skin is still attached, just not by much. Weird.”

“But you’re…,” Janko started, before he stopped and looked at the Gnome, a slow realization crossing his mind. “You’re a dick,” he said to Yanew as the color faded and his face returned to normal.

“Next time you see something,” Yanew scolded, “raise the fucking alarm. Now, pack up. Let’s see what’s up there.”

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Prologue

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Adventure Log 1 : The Map

Three men and a stranger sit around a campfire in the evening after a long day’s hard travel through unfamiliar territory. They’d arrived at their destination late in the evening, and decided a few hours of sleep would serve them best for the dangerous adventure ahead. The item may not even exist, but if it did, they would need every ounce of strength to come out alive. You see, Yanew had a map…

Yanew was a Gnome of uncommonly short stature, and as such was probably the most promising thief for many leagues. Dismissed by elders and peers as worthless and witless due to poor breeding, he was treated badly when he wasn’t being ignored. He was smarter than most of his kind, but he did nothing to dismiss the notion that he was simple. People tended to let their guard down around the simpleminded, and he used it to his advantage. He found joy in innocent jokes and tricks, but was often caught and scolded. As he got better, he got caught less, but his reputation was set among the clan members, and he was eventually accused of anything that went wrong in the village. He finally found his way out after he was blamed for a stillbirth, and people began to murmur about vile magics. Yanew knew when his welcome was worn.

He’d recently been hired by a man of odd habit who wanted an item stolen from a rival. The job was difficult, as the item was in a well-staffed and well-protected estate, with rumored anti-theft magic. Yanew took the job and retrieved the item from the estate safe without terrible difficulty. The man’s valet took the item and gave Yanew the gold. What Yanew kept to himself was what else he’d stolen from the safe; a hefty sum of gold, easily thrice what he was paid for the initial job, and a map. He’d taken it for the scroll case itself, as it was made of ivory, inlaid gold, and gems and would fetch a great sum if he could get through the lock. An unlocked scroll case was worth much more than a locked one, as you never knew if a locked scroll case had a pissed off demon inside (demon capturing required a strong and expensive reliquary, and this scroll case fit the bill perfectly), so open and empty was best. Then you could sell it to someone who wanted to put a demon in it, and rob their estate after they were eaten by the demon they’d conjured. Yanew had pulled off similar jobs twice already.

All the case contained was a map; old, mildewed, partially burnt, and falling apart. No bigger than a handkerchief, Yanew recognized one or two locations but the names were incorrect, and probably ancient. Most were entirely unfamiliar, and some located where they simply couldn’t be. Where the map showed a large marked chapel in a swamp, there was nothing but a deep gash in rolling farmland, and this map showed a huge lake which simply didn’t exist. It may be worth something to a collector, but nothing more, he thought. Then he saw something that made him start, a mark on the map that reminded him of something he had seen, but he couldn’t quite make it clear. After a few minutes, he had it.

The hill was in a clearing in the center of a crudely drawn forest. The top portion of the hill showed barren rock, and a mark “Z & R”, just above the line where the rocky slope started. Z and R. Yanew knew the tales. Hell, just about everyone knew the tales.

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Z was a powerful wizard, R was his equally powerful friend, a pit fighter turned savior who fought with powerful weapons. Legend has them friends since early life, banding together to fend off a barbarian invasion from the north. Brave and fierce in battle, Z and R defeated the invaders, and drove them back to their women and fire pits. Not satisfied the threat had been completely vanquished, they mounted an invasion of their own into the ice to finish off the tribes. They left with hundreds, and never returned. Rumor had them preparing themselves and training their men at a complex said to be large and filled with treasure, but no one knew where it was. So an ancient map with a location marked “Z and R”, well, that set off Yanew’s spider senses.

Yanew told his drinking mates at the inn a short time later. Three other men, cast aside by fate or family. He’d only been in this village a short time, living well off the profit from the jeweled scroll case, but staying at inns as much for personal comfort among simple folk as needing to lay low after the theft of the map many miles and weeks ago. He’d met three others and they spent time drinking and telling stories, all apparently on their way somewhere or nowhere. They formed a bond more out of boredom than interest. He presented the map along with the suggestion that they go have a look at the site, and see if it was genuine.

David Richardson, their nominal “elder-statesman”, was a tall man with a soft spot for underdogs and strays. He was older than most of them, although not quite middle age in his early 20’s. He’d arrived a few days earlier with little money or prospects, and was quickly running out of both. He’d not spoken much about his past, but one could see from his form that he had probably spent time in an army, or maybe a local garrison. He was the hardest to talk into going, but only a little. He’d heard that the place was filled with the remnants of the Orcs that Z and R had used for slave labor and test subjects, and not only that, but any of the treasure was worthless because Z had placed a curse on everything before they left. But as he was down to his last few coppers and probably didn’t have enough left to pay for the ale he was currently drinking, he saw the slight chance to get some gold, but a greater chance to fight and forget, either monsters or his own demons, whichever offered itself more readily.

Janko was a Half-Elf that looked like his genes favored his elfin side. Janko had a fine eye both with a bow and with women. He was an excellent shot and a better drinker, good enough that he would often pay for an evening’s drink with winnings from a bar bet. Good-natured and dependable, but prone to distraction whenever a woman was near, he was tiring of the same scene over the past few nights of three companions, getting drunk each night and listening to David Richardson get more morose in his tales. They all had troubled pasts, and nothing is so unappealing as to be drunkenly reminded of that each evening. Janko practically jumped at the prospect of getting out of town and into trouble. He offered that he’d heard that R the Magnificent had a huge gem that he left behind, a gem that would make them all mind-numbingly wealthy, and what were they waiting for?

Rafn listened to Yanew’s pitch quietly while he ate a whole chicken. Everyone was familiar with the archers and fighters that wandered the countryside, but no one had seen anything quite like Rafn. He spoke common, but had an accent no one had ever heard, at least no one from these regions. Some people thought he may carry the gene of the feared Northmen, and would whisper behind his large back. Rafn’s stature spoke of brutality and anger, but his demeanor was surprisingly open and friendly. He never shied away from a fight, surely, and would defend himself with crazed glee, but avoided conflict as often as he instigated it. Sometimes he enjoyed nothing more than watching a man get beaten, others he jumped wholeheartedly to the man’s defense. Rafn had no idea who R and Z were, but was very amenable to going on a hunt for gold and glory. Rafn had something he must do, however, and would join them at the site in a few days. Yanew was loathe the wait any longer, and Janko was anxious to get that gem, now that the complex’s location had been found. Rafn could not be dissuaded, simply saying he knew some of the unfamiliar names on the map, and could make the journey easily. They all decried his absence, as Rafn’s weapon would be greatly missed, but he only pointed to a cloaked man in the corner and said, “Take that man, he said he’s looking for something to do, and I’ll swear for him!” He finished his ale, belching loudly.

That man turned out to be a priest named Harrison, returning home from a battle he didn’t name to a woman he didn’t love. The youngest son of a distant noble, he’d been given to the Kord priesthood at an early age and trained in battle lore. He was on his Kordquest, where he must prove his worth to his god, who would then bless him and make him a Master, or see him slain and made a servant. He was returning from just such a foray, but stated that it was not a success, and was his third failure so far. When asked if he wanted to join a party headed out on a dangerous quest with little hope of success or return, he never asked what the quest was, he simply asked, “When do we leave?”

They all left the following day after spending the last of their coin on supplies. Yanew had balanced daggers that he kept in sheaths on his sides, the daggers looking more like short swords against a man of his stature. Janko bought the barest minimum, preferring to keep travel light, and saying he could “feast on the bounty of the land”. David was a bit more than practical, and seemed to have a knack for packing light but still having one of everything. He even went so far as to bring three caltrops, which Yankew hadn’t seen used ever, for anything, and teased him for hours about.
Rafn was up before any of them and gone, leaving a note with the innkeeper saying that he would be along in a few days, and to leave him some opponents.

The trip took an uneventful six days, the last day being the longest, but not by much. They were up before dawn and didn’t stop until almost midnight, making camp at the base of the hill on the map. They camped in a clearing just as the land started to climb the side of the tor, and a longbow’s distance from the edge of the forest behind them. Yanew made a quick foray into the dark to check for safety, his excellent night vision helping him make out two possible paths up into the rocks. Tomorrow they would start early, heading up the most promising trail. He saw no sign or disturbance, and came back into camp just as David had a fire going and a good supply of wood carried from the far trees. They ate an all-too-familiar meal of hardtack and jerked beef, and settled sleepily into bedrolls, or in Janko’s case, a soft depression in the ground he’d lined with grass. David asked if they should set a guard, it was closer to dawn than dusk, and probably only two watches would be needed. Yanew said he saw no sign and rolled over, almost immediately snoring quietly. Janko, already curled up in his hole, mumbled that he would take the second watch and dozed off. Harrison never spoke, he was already asleep in his bed roll.

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David put a few more sticks on the fire, and settled for a short watch. The others were quickly asleep after a hard days travel on foot, being merely the last of many days of the same. The fire crackled and the crickets chirped, giving a peaceful air about camp. A wolf howled mournfully in the distance. Whether a call to the man in the moon, or a call to brothers and blood, David didn’t know, but prayed for the former.

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