Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Form In The Smoke

Author's note: I almost forgot about this today... been a little distracted. Must do better.

Arbiddance sat at the table and contemplated ripping the seal off of the bottle. Of course, he was schooled to avoid such rash decisions; sigils must be translated and weighed against his admittedly scarce knowledge of otherworldly beings such as the one he suspected was inside.

So he sat, with his head resting on one fist, and turned the bottle slowly... allowing the engravings to soak in. Qova sat at the other end of the table and patiently watched him.

Hern was busy transforming the campfire into a round fireplace in the center of the room. He had recently brought in a hearty supply of Mistwood... long on heat but short on smoke... to replace the oak they had been using. Now he cemented stones together to form a large circular fireplace that would serve their purposes.

He stopped and gazed at his companions... one entranced by a piece of art and the other fixated on the observer. After placing a stone, he stood up, dusted his hands, and approached the table.

"So, when will you open it?" he asked the wizard.

"Patience, my friend," Arbiddance paused to push back a lock of his long hair. "Whatever's inside, we can't rush into this." He straightened up in the chair. "I strongly suspect this is a Brareq ha-Abadani."

"A what?" Qova spoke up.

"It's Ak'Kori... roughly translated, it means 'Abode of the Cunning' and that should be enough to give you pause. It does for me," Arbiddance turned the bottle upside down for the fourth time. "If it is, then it contains a powerful and dangerous tool... an ef'fretah. Know anything about them?"

"No," Hern replied.

"Sounds like an exotic dish," Qova retorted.

"It's a being from another place of existence," Arbiddance went on. "A powerful servant bound to the possessor of this bottle... the ef'fretah serves its master to the letter, but constantly seeks a method of escaping its servitude.

"On the other hand," he sighed, "supposedly these things are egotistical as hell... play them right, and you've a strong ally. In any case, the servitude lasts only a year and a day... so you sort of want to be nice to something that will escape one day and remember how it was treated."

"So, best to keep it in there until we really need it, right?" Qova asked. "It sounds much too dangerous to let loose, in my opinion."

"That's a good idea, except that it could do us some great good in here. For instance, looking forward to lugging that lumber around and building the house? This creature could do it in minutes... if I'm right," Arbiddance scratched his face and looked at her. "If I'm right."

"Have you read the sigils?" Hern asked. "Around the seal... what do they say?"

" 'I AM THE GREAT SERVANT K'ALI AQA' it says," the wizard replied. "Guessing that's the name of the occupant." He rose. "What the hell, ready to try it?"

"Now?!" Qova shouted. "Five minutes ago you were preaching patience. Why now?"

"Five minutes ago, I was five minutes younger," he smiled. "Don't question my ways."

"Okay, fine," Hern said. "Where will we do this and how?"

"Right here and very diplomatically," Arbiddance said, and took the bottle to the far end of the room. He sat it down on the floor, drew his dagger, and cut open the seal.

Nothing happened. He turned at looked at his comrades, and then removed the stopper.

Nothing was still happening... at first... and then a thin stream of smoke began to issue from its depths, growing larger and darker until it became a cloud with a vague humanoid form. It's "head" looked to each side until it settled on Arbiddance.

Who summons K'ali Aqa? A voice like hurricane winds ripping through trees vibrated in their ears. Who dares to disturb his sleep?

"I dare, gret Ka'ali Aga," the wizard replied. "I am Arbiddance of Ydric, and it is I who unsealed your prison. By the plutonian names of Qeshic, Aqasha and Vien-Roor, I command you now to take a form that is pleasing to my eyes."

The form in the smoke quivered with each eldritch name spoken, and slowly coalesced into the gigantic form of a dusky skinned girl. Is this form more to your liking, great Arbiddance of Ydric? The voice changed to that a female even as it spoke.

"It is," Arbiddance replied. "Now, I ask of you, great K'ali Aqa, to tell me how you came to be in that bottle, and I ask you to tell me truthfully whether or not you are ef'fretah."

I am ef'fretah, the form replied. I was the guardian to the gates of the fifth tower of Melek-Taus until that tower was toppled.

Oh, shit, Arbiddance thought, but tried not to let his shock show in his face.

I was bound to the bottle by the greatest wizard of that conquering army and cast among his belongings until he forgot about me. Since then I have languished in this bottle. A spark of... madness?... flashed for a second in her deep eyes.

"K'ali Aqa," Arbiddance replied, "I have opened the door to your prison and, by the ancient laws, you must serve me for a year and a day. After that time, I will destroy your bottle and allow you to go free. I swear this by the twelve faces of Abaoth the Merciful."

I know of Abaoth, and I know that you would be a fool to swear to his name falsely, wizard, the form replied, thus I trust you to keep your agreement with me.

"Then return to your abode, K'ali Aqa," Arbiddance tried to hide the relief from his voice, "I will replace the stopper, but I will not seal it. Know that I will call on you again for your daily task in the morning."

The form returned to smoke and descended into the bottle. Arbiddance gingerly replaced the stopper and picked the bottle up, turned to his friends, and smiled.

"Tomorrow, we build a house," he said.

"Is that thing really safe?" Qova asked.

"Those were the biggest breasts I've ever seen," Hern laughed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


It was agreed. A bribe of only 25 gold pieces per season was enough to buy the silence of the militia boys. Arbiddance had made it abundantly clear, after money had changed hands, what the penalty for double-crossing him would be, and there was no argument.

The land in question belonged to Falang, the local baron, who often used it to graze his cattle and for occasional pheasant hunting. His place of residence was not far away.

"You can tell a lot about a person based on his choice in art," Qova said as she stared at the tapestry. The art in question depicted peasants being hanged while their families looked on in sorrow. An odd little chubby person occupied the lower right corner of the tapestry and looked at the viewer with a grin of sadistic glee. "This piece, for example, suggests that there's a reasonable chance we may have to fight our way out of the house if the Baron is in a foul mood today."

"Now, be nice," Arbiddance chuckled from his comfortable chair. "His art may speak volumes, but the state of things in this manor suggests that the Baron may be slightly strapped for cash. That's a good thing."

Hern gazed out the window across the fields and said nothing while he watched the cattle grazing. Having the best hearing, he heard the footsteps coming down the hall before the others did, and turned to face the doorway as it opened.

Arwick, the 7th Baron Falang, quietly slipped through the doorway and closed the door behind him. He was a slight man with the manners of a rabbit, and men such as that made Hern uneasy. The Baron stepped foward to Hern with his hand out.

"I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting," the noble said. Introductions were made, and he added "I understand there's a question of some property you wish to purchase." He spoke with the quiet voice of the lectern, as if speaking to human anatomy students with morning hangovers. Or a gravedigger, Hern thought.

Arbiddance was slightly shocked that the nub of the matter was reached so quickly... perhaps his suspicions were correct. "Yes, M'Lord. This small area here surrounding the Breakharrow Hill." He produced a map he had drawn complete with measurements. "We simply love the place and want to build a house there."

Qova stifled a giggle at that line, but remained silent.

"I see, I see," the Baron murmured. He poured over the map from several angles, as if the decision would affect the outcome of future generations. "Well, the land itself is used for cattle and game... nothing major there... except for the underground entrance, of course."

The three adventurers froze for a second. Arbiddance broke the silence with a clearing of his voice. "You know of that?"

The Baron looked at the wizard with a frustrated expression. "Please. I grew up here. So, if you want that particular area, it will cost you."

"If M'Lord knew of the place, why has he not sacked it," Hern asked.

"One of my ancestors was slaughtered down there," the Baron quietly replied. " Body never found.We've made a point of avoiding the place... sleeping dogs and all that. Who do you think had bushes planted over the entrance. Besides, it's an open secret."

He sat down in a chair and smiled. "Let me guess: you thought to buy the land, build a house there with a secret entrance, and sack the place as you please. Am I right?"

The three looked around. Qova nodded her head.

"And not a bad plan it is. Except that I own it, and whatever comes out of it belongs to me," he leaned back in the chair and crossed his legs.

"Ahhh... begging the Baron's pardon," Arbiddance interjected. "That's technically not true. Technically, whatever is under there belongs to the Duke... your liege lord. If it's an open secret, as you say, then why is the place not guarded by soldiers of the Naej? Every entrance to Doomwatch is jealously guarded."

"Well, technically, no one's sure if it leads to Doomwatch," the Baron countered. "And technically, the Duke knows nothing of it. The locals know that who ever talks will be turned out to fend for themselves. I run a nice little barony here... no problems and no attention from Talos other than the usual patrols."

"Perhaps," Hern broke in. "we can strike a bargain here that's good for everyone involved." The Baron shifted in his chair to better hear the fighter. "Go on."

"Here's a proposal: suppose you allow me to build a house there on that spot. I swear allegiance to you and help serve in defense of your barony. My friends do the same. We quietly go about our business, and guarantee to pay you a seasonal tax of... say... 250 gold. That's guaranteed, or you boot us off the land legally. That's an income for you of one thousand gold per year, off the books, and incentive for us to delve to our hearts' desire. And occasionally, we throw you a bone."

"In any case," Qova spoke up, "we've brought a couple of pieces we found in our last expedition... as gifts for M'Lord," she lifted a bag and produced two art pieces from the hall of gargoyles. "We're sure the Baron knows more about art and who would want it more than we would know."

The Baron stood and walked over to the window. He pondered Hern's offer for a few minutes, turned, and simply said "done."

With a fresh charter in hand, the three left the manor and mounted their horses. Arbiddance muttered "like taking candy from a baby" as they started back toward Breakharrow Hill.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Playing House

With the ministrations of Qova, Hern was much better the next morning. With his return to the table, the three began to put their plans into motion.

A thorough search of this section revealed only one obvious way in: the original door. Hern set to work securing it with a bar on the inside. As they would leave, Arbiddance would Wizard Lock it so that no one else could force their way in, even if they did know the locking mechanism in the arch.

The secret door in the hall of gargoyles unnerved them. Even with a hard search, none of them could find the mechanism that opened it. Finally, Arbiddance concluded that it probably could only be opened from the other side.

"Which puts us at the mercy of whatever's on the other side, if anything," he mused. "At best, we can pile up the rubble from the pillars in front of it; if it opens into the hallway, then it's blocked... if it opens the other way... then we'll at least slow down whatever comes through it." They would leave the door into this hallway open and count on the draft of smoke from their campfire to alert them to any changes in air pressure due to opened doors.

The bodies of the goblins, gargoyles and worgs had been dragged and dumped into the room with the collapsed floor. Hern had tied off the door to a spike in the opposite wall... easy to unhitch from their side, but next to impossible to force from the other side.

This left the inventory of the goblin treasure room. They concluded, due to the age of some of the items, that in all probablity the goblins had found this room and its contents and simply added to it. After an hour or so of carefully pouring through the stuff, Arbiddance had this list:

-4,330 gold coins... at least half of it minted during the reign of King Gorthis the Halfhauser.
-2,900 silver coins... with the same age category.
-20 bolts of cloth in various stages of worth and condition. Most was usable.
-12 shortbows (unstrung) and 200 arrows.
-an entire suit of plate mail armor.
-an oil portrait of someone's really ugly female relative.
-a large iron pot that would serve amazingly well as a gong.
-a motley collection of male and female clothing of various sizes and conditions.
-a bundle of 50 torches

Then there was the question of the locked chest. Since none of the dead goblins had a key on their persons, and since the chances of the one single goblin that escaped having that key were slim, the trio concluded that it had predated the past occupants. Hern smashed the lock, and Arbiddance slowly lifted the lid.

The three looked down, and saw within a small brass bottle, covered with arcane sigils, stoppered and wax sealed. Arbiddance smiled at the sight.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Goblin Treasure

The gripping adventures in real estate will have to wait until another time, as our three heroes have elected to return to Breakharrow and investigate further what lies beneath...

"Should we close it?" Qova asked as the comrades stood in the small room and pondered the three doors. The right door still stood open after it was opened by Qova a couple of days ago. The left door leading to the goblin den was spiked shut by Hern before they had left, and the central door had no visible means of entrance.

"We can always open it again," Arbiddance replied, "so best to close it now while we go back in here."

Hern stepped forward and pulled the door shut; an odd click echoed.

"Okay," he said. "Let's search out the rest of those rooms."

They entered the goblin den and were greeted by the stench of the dead creatures piled in the corner. Qova pointed and said "that will have to go before I live in here."

"We can throw them in the room with the collapsed floor," Hern replied. "Which reminds me: we'll have to seal that door due to the well in there. Don't know where it leads, but anything could come up that way."

The room in which they stood had six doors: the entrance, the door leading to the hall of gargoyles, two doors on the left which Hern had investigated before with no results (one was empty and the other served as a trash room/latrine for the goblins), and two to the right. The opted for the left of those remaining two.

Hern checked that his friends were ready and pushed open the door.

A large L-shaped room was beyond. Goblin tracks cut through the dust. Hern stepped forward and looked around the bend. "Nothing," he said with a slight disappointed tone. "No doors, so nice and secure."

"No doors that you see," Arbiddance countered. "All of these rooms will have to be thoroughly searched for secret doors. We need to know about things like that."

They retired to try the other door. Beyond was a small, oddly shaped room... empty except for goblin tracks in the dust which seemed to lead to the opposite wall and stopped. The three looked at each other in amusement and examined the wall.

After a few minutes, Arbiddance exclaimed "Oh my goodness! There's a secret door here! Who would have ever imagined one of those in here!" He pressed a small loose stone, and a section of the wall hinged back on itself to reveal a room beyond.

Qova went to the door and shined her light inside. "Never underestimate the stupidity of a goblin," she smirked, and was quickly attacked.

The large creature struck from the darkness and easily bowled over the slight woman. Qova screamed and struggled to keep large jaws from reaching her throat, but it was obvious she wouldn't last long.

Hern, momentarily stunned, brought his sword down on the spine of the creature with little effect. The wolflike beast paid little attention as it tried to bite Qova's face off. It's bloody foul breath made her gag as she tried to squirm out from under her attacker.

Hern repositioned himself for a thrust into the side of the beast when he saw another emerge from the shadows. He followed through on his thrust and was satisfied with the creature's howl of pain. The wounded beast crawled off of Qova and staggered toward the fighter.

Arbiddance also saw the second beast emerge through the doorway. He drew his wand and began to point it toward the new target as the creature bolted forward. The wizard had just enough time to step aside and miss the attack. The second creature quickly turned to try again.

Qova rolled onto her knees, chanted a few words and pointed toward the beast. A brilliant sphere of light appeared over its face, and the beast staggered as it tried to adjust.

Hern warded off his opponent at swordpoint; he slowly backed up, hoping the creature would give him a good opening. It shivered and stalked toward the fighter, and Hern could see the life slowly draining out of its eyes.

Suddenly, it lunged foward in one final attack, its jaws sinking into Hern's abdomen despite the man's attempt at a parry. He held each end of his sword and brought it down on the creature's neck in one hard chop. A satisfying snap echoed as the beast's neck broke, and it fell limp to the floor.

The second creature thrashed its head from side to side, trying to free itself from the light that now blinded it. It also attempted to sniff out its prety, but was thwarted as Qova and Arbiddance spread out from their opponent at oblique angles. Arbiddance pointed his wand, mumbled "Gezzlethin" and watched the cone of ice leap out and envelope the beast. It writhed in the extreme cold unleashed on its hide, and as it stumbled, Qova snapped its neck with a strong blow from her mace.

Both turned to look at Hern, who was seated next to the wall and propped on his sword with one hand clutching his torn-open stomach. The fighter looked up at them, and quietly laughed.

Arbiddance eased into the secret room with light amulet in one hand and wand in the other. As he scanned the room and its contents, he grinned and moved further in to take stock.

Either the goblins had an extended range for their raids, or someone hasn't reported a lot of stuff stolen, he thought to himself. He looked around and counted no less than ten large boxes, perhaps half a dozen chests, a score of bolts of fine fabrics, and a small chest with a padlock on it. He felt Qova quietly come in behind him.

"That's... a lot of stuff," she said quietly.

"Yes it is."

"Do you have any more healing potions?" she whispered. "I used my last one on Hern, plus all the healing magic I have, and he's still not well. That worg came within a hair of killing him."

Arbiddance turned to face her. "Yeah, one more." He pulled it out of his side pouch and handed it over. "A lot of blood?"

"Right now, until he gets a little better, we don't dare move him too far... not even out on the road. One good sword thrust could take him out and... well, with patrols out..." she didn't finish the thought.

"Okay," the wizard replied. "The outside room here is defensible. Let's bring him in and let's just camp out here until things look up a little."

They assisted the fighter in moving into the interior room and put him on a comfortable bed made from the cloth found in the secret chamber. Hern joked that it was the finest bed he had ever slept on, and promptly went to sleep. Qova counted the hours until her morning prayers and closed the door on the dead worgs.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Interim Glossary

Several terms have been used over the last few episodes which need explanation and will enrich the reader's experience.

Alpine Throne: the ruling seat of the Northern Kingdom. Presently kept warm by Rathof IV (until someone more inspiring to the clans comes along).

Anayari: pertaining to the culture of Anayar, the kingdom of the grey nobles who once ruled the area surrounding the Sea of Tombs and beyond. The Anayari display considerable talents in the areas of art and music, but alas, not war. Their kingdom was shattered by the clans who came from the north and carved their own territories around the Sea.

Balesire: the 5th Duke of Talons. Ruler of The Naej.

Black Sun: the dreaded astronomical phenomenon seen on a complicated schedule. The Black Sun rises from the south and travels north over Shiaar during its time (which is slightly less than one full day). Under its influence, wizards will find their magic at its highest peak, and other events both baleful and strange occur during this time.

Kalmyr: the great ice-locked city to the north. Hern hails from here.

Marchtongue: the commonly spoken dialect used in the March area. A mixture of many tongues with Anayari in dominance.

Naej, The: one of the duchies on the western banks of the Sea of Tombs. Ruled by the Duke of Talons.

Nerve Weaver: the otherworldly ruler of Veronic in the Onrothy.

Onrothy, The: the eastern most duchy around the Sea of Tombs. Basically a bandit realm with a few walled cities.

Overking: the ruler of the Northern Kingdom and the occupant of the Alpine Throne.

Raban: the largest city in the Onrothy.

Sea of Tombs: the large body of eerie water in the Raven March. Hundreds of ancient tombs lie beneath the water line and quite a few above it. A popular resort with adventurers and pirates.

Talos: the capitol city of the Naej and the ruling seat for Balesire, the Duke of Talons.

Veronic: the great walled city in the south of the Onrothy. The greatest and most dangerous magicians in the March are to be found here, and... if you dabble in magic... this is the place to be during the Black Sun.

West Forest: the great forest west of Talos. The site of Doomwatch; other that, not a dangerous place since it is heavily patrolled by the soldiers of the Naej.

Ydric, Duchy of: the decadant duchy to the northwest of the Sea of Tombs.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Collusion

If we could get high enough to look through the second story windows of the Lost Swan, we would find our three adventurers sitting around the hearth of one room... Arbiddance's room... surveying the loot taken the previous day. All three were still splattered with the mud created from last night's rain and their cautious trek back to the little inn. The wizard seemed absorbed in the ornate dagger.

The rain still spattered against the window glass as the three silently sat and contemplated...

"How are we going to unload all of this?" Hern asked the magic question. "There's no way we'll get the real value of these items from any traveling merchant in this area. I don't fancy dragging it all the way back to Talos... where the only decent antiques dealers are in the whole Duchy... and trying to get this load past the gate guards."

"What are the guards going to do? Grab an item each, take it home and put it on the shelf next to all of their other precious antiques?" Qova smirked. "Or hock it for tavern money? No dog on those gates could begin to guess the real worth of any of these items."

"I have a suggestion," Arbiddance mumbled.

"Sometimes, finding stuff like this is more trouble than it's worth," Hern interjected. "I'd rather find coins or gems... stuff you can easily unload... or even useful items like weapons. Or magic. I grew up in a house full of antiques, and I was never comfortable around them. They sit there on the shelves, looking at you, as if thinking 'I'm better than you.' "

Arbiddance cleared his throat and spoke up. "I have a suggestion." The other two turned to him. Qova raised her eyebrows to urge him on.

"Let's take them back."

Hern wasn't sure he heard the comment correctly. "Say again?"

"Take them back. Look, obviously we'll be here for a long time, if we take the right approach to all this, and even if we don't, we need a base around here. This inn is fine, but if we keep dragging bags of stuff back here, someone's going to start talking, and talking leads to the Duke's men coming by for a visit. Can't have that."

"Ok, so... what?" Qova asked.

"Here's what we should do," Arbiddance lounged further into the large chair he occupied. "Let's take one or two good items and sell them to the next merchant, right? Get some seed money, and let's buy some supplies... and let's occupy the ruins for ourselves."

Hern twisted in his chair, his attention glued on the wizard.

"We'll take steps to make the entrance a little harder to find," Arbiddance continued. "Clear it out some more to our satisfaction, and then secure an area... I know how... and leave all important items we find there. In the meantime, we'll buy the land from who ever owns it, build a nice little house right in front of the hill, right over the entrance, and explore it at our leisure."

"A house built into the side of a hill is not uncommon in this area," Hern mused. "It wouldn't stand out too much."

"Exactly," Arbiddance. "Hide in plain sight."

"What about the boys who found the entrance," Qova asked. "Build a house right there, and they'll put two and two together."

"We could pay them off," Arbiddance suggested.

"Bribes sometimes get out of control," countered Hern.

"No, we can pay them off, and well," Arbiddance said. "But we'd have to make it clear that they'll have to keep it shut from now on, or I just might shape change the offending party into a dog, and he can spend the rest of his life licking his own balls." Arbiddance never took his eyes off the dagger in his fingertips while he spoke.

"Okay, so Joe the woodcutter suddenly has a lot of money, and can't tell anyone where it came from... see the problem there?" Qova waved into the air.

"I see his problem," Hern grinned. "He doesn't make it ours or woof-woof."

"So, it's agreed then?" Arbiddance looked up at his companions. Both said yes and began to repack the precious items into the bag. Arbiddance smoothly slid the dagger underneath his robe, and neither Qova nor Hern bothered to ask him why.

"Now," Arbiddance rose and walked toward the door. "Let's find out... very casually... who owns that property."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Hall of Gargoyles

By the time Qova had healed Arbiddance and Hern of their wounds, the goblin had regained mobility and found itself securely bound and gagged. It's beady eyes drilled holes into her and Qova stood and patiently surveyed her defeated opponent.

Hern had begun opening doors in this room, and had surveyed two when Arbiddance stopped him. "There's no telling what's beyond any of them; let's not release anything on top of us just this yet, yes?" The fighter reluctantly agreed and took his place behind the captive.

"Ready?" he asked Qova. She nodded, and Hern pulled his boot dagger out to cut the gag. The creature spit out the taste of rag and slowly looked around.

Do you understand me? Qova growled, hissed and gargled. The goblin squirmed at the harsh question and looked off to the left. Hern thrust the dagger under the goblin's chin and led the head back into position.

Do you understand me? Qova repeated. The goblin nodded.

Good, Qova replied. I want to make certain you understand my every word lest my friend behind you be forced to pick flowers.

The goblin looked at her quizzically and replied I bargain for my life.

"Now we understand each other," she murmured in the Marchtongue. "What should we ask first?"

Arbiddance said "Ask it how far into this rooms the goblins have explored." Qova snapped her fingers and smilingly pointed to the wizard.

How much of this place have your kind kindled and trod? The goblin started to smirk, but realized it was in no position to play games.

Just these rooms and doors. There is nothing here for you to take.

"Bull," Hern replied when Qova translated. "These little bastards have been raiding through here for quite a while. Ask it where their treasure is hidden."

Qova relayed the question. The goblin shrugged and replied, not much to take. Gains are slim here. What we have is beyond that door. It nodded toward the sole door on one wall. Beyond is hallway. On the end of hallway is a door and past that is all we have. I offer this bargain for my pitiful life.

"There'd better be something good in there," Hern replied after the translation.

"All we have," the goblin suddenly babbled in Marchtongue. "Take it and let this one go."

"Oh no," Qova replied, hefting the goblin onto its feet and thrusting it toward the door. "You're coming with us first and then we'll see."

The trio and their prisoner moved toward the door. Hern carefully opened it (it was one he had not opened before) and stepped back to see what was beyond.

What was beyond was a hallway, perhaps twenty feet wide and extending perpendicular to the room they were now in. Hern took the lead, with Qova and the goblin following, and Arbiddance taking the rear. They came into the middle of the hallway, with it extending roughly forty feet to their left and their right. At intervals on each side stood a large stone column about an inch or so from the wall. Each column was intricately carved with leering faces and forms so that it appeared as a mass of figures twisted and stacked upwards like thick ivy. Each was topped with a grotesque head. To their left, at the end of the hall, there was a door across the way. The goblin pointed to it, and they moved.

Not far into the hallway, Hern stumbled across the remains of what might have been a goblin. Now only a few bones and a stripped torso, it smelled to heaven. Qova wrinkled her nose and stepped around it as they continued on.

Arbiddance studied the columns, counted ten, and wondered where he had seen something like this before. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

As he began to speak, the top of each column erupted and changed shape into a terrible winged creature; the trio found themselves surrounded and under attack as the creatures descended with mouth open and talons extended.

"Gargoyles!" shouted Hern. Qova froze in terror and Arbiddance reached under his robes for something.

The goblin saw its chance and, being the smallest thing in this room, ducked under the attacks and made a break for the way back out. It almost made it before a gargoyle swooped down and began to rend it apart. The little creature's death screams echoed down the hallway and then ceased.

Hern's majestic sword began swinging and slashing at the gargoyles in a savage rhythm. At least three were on him, with others waiting for their turn. Arbiddance bellowed "Door! Door! Door!"

Qova ducked under clawed attacks and attempted to shoulder her way through the door. Her slight frame bounced off the thick oak structure, and she rolled down on the floor swinging her mace over her. A lucky swing connected with a gargoyle and sent it spinning back through the air.

Arbiddance stepped over and forced the door. Creaking through ages of non-use, it opened just enough to allow him to drag his comrade through. "Hern!" he shouted as he disappeared, and he hoped like hell something even worse wasn't behind him in the unknown chamber.

The fighter battled his way through the door, and slammed it shut behind him. Through the wood, all three could hear the insane cadence of harden claws raking and scratching plus the screeches of predators denied their meal.

Arbiddance stepped forward with a long rod of wood, motioned to Hern to crack open the door, and thrust the wand out into the hallway. He murmured "Gezzlethin!" and jerked as the wand released its power into the area beyond. Suddenly all became quiet except for a series of thuds and a strange cracking noise. Hern closed the door.

Qova lay on the floor with a bloody nose from her encounter with the door. Amazingly, she and Arbiddance had no serious wounds. Hern's shoulders were a chewed mess even through his armor, but he seemed unfazed. He looked around the empty room.

"I'm going to remember that goblin the next time I see it," he smirked as he wiped his blade, and the floor suddenly collapsed beneath them.

Rock and dust flying around them, the three fell a good distance before striking another floor hard. All three instinctively covered their heads and loose chunks of rock and mortar rained down around them.

"Don't move," Qova choked out through the dust. "Just stay there and try to see what hurts."

"My arm," said Arbiddance.

"My ass," said Hern.

"I think I have a sprained ankle," Qova said. She rose to her feet, and collapsed. "Two sprained ankles."

"Ok, no one panic," Hern said. "Nothing's after us here... yet. So let's take this moment to gather ourselves." He stood up and surveyed the room and the distance they fell. "Fourty feet if it's an inch," he said in a disgusted tone. "How tidy of me to close the door before we fell."

The three huddled together in the light of their amulets. Qova began popping her ankles... slowly at first and then faster until no sound was heard from them. Arbiddance's arm was slashed down the bicep and bloody; he took a healing potion from his pouch and quaffed it down.

As Hern, who didn't admit to being hurt even though Qova healed his shoulders, stalked around the room, he discovered a large hole in an opposite corner from them. Shining his amulet down into it revealed a depth of maybe 100 feet of more and what appeared to be another room below.

"Up or down?" he smiled.

"Up," Arbiddance quickly spoke.

"Oh?" Qova replied. "Didn't get enough up there?"

"Those were gargoyles," he shot back. "Gargoyles are used to guard things. I want to know what they were guarding. Besides, they're no problem now."

"I agree," Hern said. "Now let's figure out how to get back up to that door."

After perhaps half an hour of debate, they stacked as much rubble as they could move under the door. Hern climbed on it, found it reasonably stable, and motioned for Arbiddance to join him. The wizard climbed up Hern and perched on the fighter's shoulders. He motioned for Qova to join them.

Qova, with a coil of rope on her shoulder and Hern's dagger in her belt, shook her head slightly and then climbed onto the rubble. As the other two leaned into the wall to get support, the slight women climbed their backs and sat with her knees on the shoulders of Arbiddance. The wizard wilted slightly under the strain, but spoke. "You're going to have to stand up."

Scraping on the wall for support, she managed to stand up. Their arrangement began to sway slightly, and he noticed she was almost one foot from the door. "Not enough," she called down.

Hern, taking a deep breath, grabbed the wizard's legs and hoisted both of them up as much as he could. Qova reached the door, shoved the dagger into the cracks between the boards, and with a glance down to warn her comrades, jerked as hard as she could.

The door swung open easily with no floor to drag on, and the other two found themselves tumbling backwards off the rubble pile, with Qova swinging on the door and holding on to the dagger for dear life.

"Swing!" Hern shouted, and Qova arched her body to force the door back toward its original position. As it did so, she caught the door frame and hauled herself back into the hallway. A split second of hesitation made her freeze as she remembered the gargoyles. She looked around and saw them all on the floor dead with a thin coat of frost rapidly evaporating.

Tying the rope around the nearest column, she dropped the rest of it to her companions.

"What's so important here that it needed ten gargoyles?" Arbiddance mused aloud. Hern was happy to retrieve his favorite dagger, and Qova was coiling the rope.

The wizard stalked up and down the hallway, examining each square foot. At last he stopped at a section next to the doorway from which they just emerged. He traced on the wall with his finger, and grinned.

"A secret door here," he said to the others. "Damned if I can see how to trigger it though."

"Perhaps one of the columns?" Qova asked. She casually looked the nearest one over. She rapped it with her mace and her eyebrows raised. "It's hollow."

Arbiddance frowned at her and came over. "No kidding," she said. "It's hollow."

Hern rapped on another column. "This one too." They checked the other eight columns and found the same thing.

Hern took Qova's mace and hefted it. "Get ready," he grimaced, and swung hard into a column. The structure collapsed after four blows, and the rubble covered a large leather pouch. Qova grabbed up the pouch, opened it, and pulled out an ornate chalice of remarkable workmanship.

Arbiddance softly whistled, and looked at the other columns.

Hern went to work on the other pillars, thankful they didn't support the ceiling here. After almost an hour of hard bashing, the trio had collected fifteen pieces of ornate treasures of different kinds: chalices, statues, and other objects including a ceremonial dagger that was so delicate it couldn't possibly be used in battle. All told, Qova filled a large sack with their discoveries.

"I think it's time we found a warm hearth, and counted blessings," Arbiddance smiled.

Monday, July 20, 2009

We Interrupt This Program...

I'm sorry nothing was posted today; I've been VERY busy. The story of the Breakharrow expedition will continue sometime tomorrow. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Where Our Heroes Meet The Breakharrow Boys

Hern wasted no time nor words, but charged into the room. Halfway across this area were at least eight goblins with swords at the ready. Arbiddance stepped in and quickly assessed his targets.

Qovakrisstia stepped in the room to the right of Hern and saw what the other two did not: a goblin shaman in the beginnings of a spell. She raised her staff into the air as if drawing applause from above and brought it down on the floor in a sharp crack while uttering something which sounded as if she were coughing up a really large hairball. The shaman stumbled for a minute and then froze.

Hern bulled up to the goblins, his sword already in full swing and he neatly severed one creature while bashing another with his shield. Bloody with the remains of his first victim, he reversed his arm to strike at another.

Arbiddance stopped well away from sword range, muttered an incantation and pointed toward the goblins while three blazing missiles streaked out of his fingers. One goblin fell with his face smashed in and on fire; another took a blow directly to the chest and dropped, and a third was struck but remained standing. The wizard grinned with satisfaction at his work, and then grunted as an arrow slammed into his back.

Hern whirled in place and brought his sword up with such force into a moving goblin that the little creature flew upwards and into the far wall only to slide down and crumple to the floor. The two remaining goblins sliced into him; the sword of one did not penetrate his armor, while the other cut a serious gash into the fighter's left leg. Hern stopped, swiveled his arm in his shield strap, and brought the shield crashing down on the head of the goblin who had drawn his blood. The creature's spine shattered from the blow and flew out of its body.

Qova turned around, saw Arbiddance, and guessed he doing either a really complicated spell or trying to scratch his back with both hands. She then saw the arrow as he finally turned around, and... as he moved to one side, she saw the goblin archer drawing down on her. She twisted to avoid the incoming missile, and it slashed through the left side of her neck from behind. She fell to her hands and knees and prayed for the pain to stop.

Arbiddance finally found the arrow, which had thankfully missed a kidney, and dropped to one knee as he tried to pull it out. His other hand went up to ward off the goblin as it dropped its bow, pulled its sword and advanced.

Hern looked around for his remaining foe and saw it dashing out the open door. The fighter turned toward the last goblin, then rushed to protect his fallen comrade.

“You son of a bitch!” the goblin heard screamed at him, and he paused long enough to see Qova on her feet, unstrap her mace and hurl it at him. He easily ducked the haphazard throw, but looked around just in time to see Hern's sword slashing down at him.

“Kill it,” Qova pointed toward the frozen shaman and spoke to Hern.

“No! Don't kill it,” Arbiddance countered while Qova was removing the arrow from his back. He noticed her neck wound was already beginning to heal and would probably be well within an hour or so. He made a cutting motion toward the fighter. “Maybe we can question it and learn more about this area.”

Hern kicked the door closed and threw the hasp that secured it. Only then did he look around and notice that there were five other doors in this room. “By the frogs of Haja's fountains... we could have been swarmed from all sides if there were more in here” he spoke grimly.

Qova's quiet prayer and soothing motions of the hand covered over the arrow wound, and the wizard felt much better. He took a drink from his waterskin and looked up at Qova. “I didn't know you spoke goblin.”

She stopped and gazed back at him. “Doesn't everyone?”

What They Saw At The Archway

Hern hefted his shield, drew his sword and took the lead down the passage with Arbiddance following behind and Qova bringing up the rear. The passage gently... then sharply... sloped downward perhaps 100 feet before the trio were faced with an archway.

Hern knew better than to step through immediately. Instead, he slung his shield over the shoulder and held his amulet up toward the keystone of the arch for a better look. Arbiddance and Qova stood to either side of him and added their own light.

The keystone was carved with the visage of a smiling young woman. Her left eye shed a tear, while the pupil of her right eye was replaced with a five-pointed star set slightly askew to the left.

“Well, that's the same thing carved over the Mother Gate,” Qova said. “Except a lot smaller.”

“Probably whatever is beyond here is connected to what's under the Mother Gate, that's my guess,” mused Arbiddance.

“Ever been through that gate?” Hern asked him.

“No. Though I've heard stories. Very little actually gets written down because some adventurers tend to get a little territorial. I'm going to be an exception when I get a chance,” the gentle man replied. He stopped and looked at the quizzical expression on Qova's face. “What? What is it?”

She was staring at the keystone with a slight frown. “Hern, lift me up,” she asked the fighter.

Hern sheathed his sword and easily lifted the slight woman up by her legs. She leaned closer to the stone and gently felt over it. “Guess what?” she grinned down. “The 'tear' is actually a small gemstone... probably moonstone I think... and the star is separate from the rest. You just can't see it very well from down there.”

“Press the tear and see what happens,” Arbiddance told her. She rubbed it slightly and then firmly pressed down. From beyond the arch they heard a loud click and the grind of an metal door opening.

She grinned down at Arbiddance and motioned to be let down. Hern gently let her slide down, and as she hit the ground, a swift object darted through her hair and into Hern's shoulder.

“Gods poleaxe me! Damn it!” Hern shouted, and they all heard a door slam hard.

Qova had instinctively ducked when she felt the object go through her hair; three seconds slower, and whatever it was would have been buried in her abdomen instead of the fighter's shoulder. She turned and saw a rude arrow sticking out of her friend's chain hauberk. Arbiddance ducked to one side, reached over and pulled her and then the fighter with him.

“Did I do that?” She screamed.

“No! I don't think so. No, you didn't. Hern?”
“I'm good, gods bugger a rock,” Hern dropped his shield,reached over and pulled the arrow out of his right shoulder with a yell. With blood still flowing, he grabbed his shield again, charged past the two and through the arch with sword drawn.

Arbiddance didn't think that was a good idea, since arches tended to be dangerous in places like this, but it seemed one of Qova's gods woke up and decided to watch. Another ten feet or so of passageway led into a small room with three doors. Qova and Arbiddance rushed after the fighter. A quick look showed the door on the right open, while the center and left doors were closed. Hern moved toward the open door.

“No!” Arbiddance hissed. “Think of the angle the arrow came from. It came from that side when she slid down and you stepped to the right.” He pointed to the left door. “A door slammed afterwards. I'll bet it all it was this one.”

Hern rushed to it, tried it and wasn't surprised to find it somehow secured. Taking a step back, he then bull-rushed the door with his good shoulder. Not surprisingly, the door didn't budge.

“Step back,” Arbiddance moved to the side, mumbled a few words, slide his hand up and down where the door catch should be, and then sharply knocked. The door flew open, and Hern could see into another room occupied by some very surprised goblins.

An Interruption

Allow me a moment, Gareth, to explain Qova's quizzical statement concerning the night of her birth. Qovakrisstia Darkhair, according to her private conversations with me, was born on the night of the fourth New Moon during the 18th year of the reign of Kana the Great over The Onrothy. This would make her roughly 26 years of age. She had previously mentioned five gods afoot in Raban before, and I later gathered that her parents were greatly relieved she came into the world so easily and had not tarried until after midnight; the following day belonged to the Black Sun. I suspect the proximity of her birth to that event colored her both physically and emotionally. Nonetheless, she is consecrated to those five gods and not the Black Sun (to her fortune). Those five gods would be, for your reference: Daen, Kaenorr, Vaekainen, Kae'Aboth, and Stygius. Why these five descended on the city of Raban in one night is another tale.

Also for your reference, I serve Abaoth, and your brother, as you know, was consecrated to the Ice Raven.

Friday, July 17, 2009

How They Found Where The Goblin Fled.

“There were five gods afoot in Raban the night I was born,” Qovakrisstia Darkhair bitched as they walked down the country lane. “Five! Not one has seen fit to bless me today. If it can go wrong, it has!”

Arbiddance licked at the strands of his mustache to keep from saying something he would probably regret later. He paused, counted to five, and spoke, “finding this place is enough. Once there, we'll make our own luck for awhile. If any of your gods want to smile on us, then I'll gladly take what they hand down. Otherwise...”

He froze as he saw the lanky fighting man ahead stop in his tracks. Hern was not massive, but tall and deceptively strong for his lean frame, and he was frozen like a cat. The swordsman glanced up the road as if trying to focus in on an old friend. He then swiftly turned and mouthed “patrol.”

The word was enough to send the three diving into the thick brush alongside the road and burrowing into the moss. Within a minute, the sound of hoof beats became apparent, and within five minutes a mounted patrol of soldiers casually rode by. The crest of Balisire's three talons raking downward very visible on their helmets. With the passage of another five minutes, Hern scooted forward to make sure the soldiers were out of sight.

“This is why we didn't ride horses,” he hissed at Qova.

Within another two hours, the three stood at the base of Breakharrow Hill. Arbiddance wondered exactly where on the hill's face the legendary sorcerer Breeh had been accidentally impaled by the local simpleton with a pitchfork.

“So...” Qova murmured.

“So. The story is that the local militia cut down some goblins about one hundred yards from here down the road. One goblin escaped, and a few of the lads chased him to this point where he disappeared,” Hern removed his helmet and scratched his head. “Not to be thrown off, they beat the bushes here along the base and found a cave entrance that wasn't exactly a cave entrance. One of those things you could walk by and never notice with a few decades of growth in front of it.

“Well, no one had a torch, but they made one out of a branch and took a look...”

“How did they light the torch?” Qova interrupted.

Hern didn't look at her, but Arbiddance got the impression the warrior was suddenly judging the height of the sheer face on the hill's south side.

“Magic,” he replied. “They used magic. Or a tinderbox, more likely. I guess. I don't know. I don't care. These strapping examples of fine country life saw that a shaft descended down into the hill for much further than their light source allowed. They went down a piece until the shaft emptied into a small room... a room with three iron doors. No goblin, but plenty of tracks. The boys tried one door, couldn't get it open and decided they were in over their heads. So they left.”

Hern looked up and down the road. “So the obviously smarter of the bunch goes to the local tavern where the boasting begins about how many goblins they killed. He lets lose with the story of the shaft here in the hill. Of course, no one believed him since he was a known blow hard, but this one guy in the corner took it all in and later found me.”

“The Grinning Prince?” Arbiddance asked.

“Well, he prefers his own name, but yeah,” Hern smirked.

“I hope you didn't pay a lot for this information,” Qova scowled. “Or at least we can recoup the costs of coming here and sleeping in that fleatrap inn.”

All three stood there gazing at the hill for a few seconds. Hern added “did I mention the arch?”

“No, you didn't mention that detail, Hern,” Arbiddance quickly replied. “Do so now.”

“A large arch right before the room... a grinning female face, with a tear in one eye and a star in the other, was carved into the keystone,” Hern said.

“The Mother Gate,” Qova said. “This is Doomwatch.”

“It's a long way from Doomwatch or the Mother Gate,” Arbiddance said quietly. “Probably more like a satellite construction. It may not even lead to main thing at all.”

Hern turned and looked the older man in the eye and pointed at him. “Every single ruined complex in this countryside ultimately leads to Doomwatch,” Hern answered. “This one will too.”

The three climbed closer to the hillside and searched the brush.  Within ten minutes, Hern found where the militia boys had trampled down some weeds and followed the trail to a large clump of brush covering over a square hole in the side of the hill.  All three gazed down into the slanting shaft, looked at each other, and uncovered their amulets of light.

To be continued...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Arbiddance Breaks The Bad News

To Gareth the butcher, of Kalmyr:

May you be blessed in the name of Abaoth the Merciful.

I am writing this sad epistle, friend Gareth, so that you may know in detail the events which led to your brother's death deep within the murky confines of that foul place. There were none braver than Hern; on numerous occasions he saved my life and I only wish that I could have been in a better position to save his soul. His body I send packed in salt so that it may be interred through the customs of your faith.

To relate the events of his demise in a more clear light, I must detail the ruins in which we delved for some two weeks before Hern met his untimely yet heroic end. The place is called Doomwatch and it stands deep in the West Forest, some twelve leagues from Talos where Balesire, the grim Duke of Talons holds court. The largest swath of the west coast of the Sea of Tombs is under his domination now thanks in part to his spiritual alliance with our gracious Overking. The other nobles, especially the foppish Duke of Ydric, guard their borders jealously, but all know that should Balesire desire to expand his borders at their expense, no fair judgement or aid will come from the Alpine Throne. Sadly, the other nobles spend too much time at the throats of each another to form an alliance and put an end to his ambitions. The soldiers of The Naej under the Taloned Banner will march on until Fate intervenes, I'm afraid. Only the frightening Nerve Weaver of Veronic seems unafraid of the future.

Back to Doomwatch: the biggest known part of that place serves as a prison for those condemned by the Duke of Talons. Many hundreds have passed through the Great Gates into its depths with perhaps a score or so finding escape. The Duke is not without mercy, for he has decreed that any prisoner able to escape that hole is worthy of his freedom.

Likewise, many adventuresome individuals, such as myself and Hern and the winsome Qovakrisstia Darkhair, have paid the toll to enter the depths of Doomwatch and seek out its fabled secrets and riches. We passed through the Great Gates once, but found almost everything within a day's search from that point to be stripped clean or infested with insane prisoners seeking our blood to quench their thirst.

A bit of Doomwatch history is in order: first, no one is sure who built this complex or when. Best guesses by sages estimate the upper works... which are mainly the Great Gate and a few fallen towers... to be over three millenia old and possibly date to before the rise of Sredna's kingdom. The scrollwork on the outside definitely shows some evidence of Anayari culture.

As to entrances: the Great Gate is the main method for reaching the first of many levels to this damned place. It is heavily guarded by the soldiers of The Naej and has the seal of the Duke himself. That gate lies as I described earlier. The smaller gate (and more recently built it seems), known locally as the Mother Gate, sits over three thousand yards to the north (which should begin to give you some idea of the expansive size of this place). There are twelve other known entrances to Doomwatch, and all are likewise guarded with no entrance allowed (though prisoners are permitted by law to exit there should they prove capable). These smaller entrances were discovered over time, used by delving adventurers, and ultimately came under the sanction of the Duke. It is rumored that a handful of other entrances lie scattered throughout the countryside. It is one of those entrances that Hern, myself and our ravenesque associate found and used.

To be continued...