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.
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.
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.