02

The Keep on the Borderlands

The Cast:

 

Graywalde, Dwarven Locksmith.

"...so rarely have I seen a creature of more determined greed or willingness to wield a battleaxe..."

Lueryth, Wandering Paladin.

"...counterpoint to Graywalde's temper, the paladin is slow to anger and steady with his crossbow..."

Elisavetta, Crusading Priest.

"...hot-blooded, never hesitates to speak her mind or act out against evil, regardless of consequence..."

Luscious, Gnome Illusionist.

"...singularly annoying fellow, able to see the humor in any situation, so long as no one else is enjoying himself..."

Eldorn, Ranger of the Eastlands.

"...come to us with a mission, to be his allies in a campaign against the creatures of the Eastlands..."

Cellie, Urnst Pickpocket.

"...anything to avoid a confrontation, but quick with her knives to pierce the back of a foe, not a soul to be taken lightly..."

 

Chapter Two, The Keep on the Borderlands:

From the Journal of Celindra Dovan of Urnst


April 21, 731

Last night we stayed at a small inn known as Daelzun's Rest. It was a quaint little spot on the road away from Specularum. I believe that the place will be remembered as the last comfortable bed to keep me warm before I reached the Beastlands. From this point forth it will be the hard earth and a stuffed bedroll for the night.


April 24, 731

We crossed the Sea Bridge today, the point where the Eastlands are believed to begin. No sooner did we cross the bridge, than Eldorn gravitated to the front of our party. Lueryth and Elisavetta seem to follow him instinctively now that we are beyond the accepted bounds of civilization.


April 26, 731

After fifteen days we have arrived at the Keep on the Borderlands. We arrived at the stroke of midnight, but men and women walked about. Eldorn says it is a mistake to sleep hereabouts...I suppose he meant ever. The people here are certainly more rugged than any I saw in Specularum or Urnst; even the trappers and thugs of those places seem relaxed compared to the wary eyes of the people of the Beastlands.

Our first order of business, after giving the gate guards our names and stating our business in the Keep, was to find a place to sleep. We walked past a smithy, a provisioner and a trader on our way to the inn, the famous Old Heart Inn. Adventurers of all walks of life come here to begin or continue their quests. In the taproom sat a number of adventurers, but we sought only a nip of ale and a place to rest.

Still, when a young female mage glanced at us hopefully and beckoned for us to join her, Lueryth and Eldorn led us to the table. With exhaustion in her eyes, the mage explained that she, too, had come from Specularum. She had come expecting to pick up a scroll from the Age of Glory. Her contact, however, went missing just before her arrival. She had no gold with which to pay us, but she did offer us anything we found on her contact's person, excepting only the scroll.

Elisavetta promised that we would keep our eyes open for the scroll, much to Graywalde's chagrin. I had to agree that charity work would not help us find the lost treasures of the ancient kingdoms. Muttering that he needed a drink, Graywalde led us away from the mage's table to an empty corner table.

The barmaid took our order with a cheerful smile, and she winked at Eldorn. She took the moment to warn us against entering into the swamp to the east of the Keep. A tribe of cunning, evil lizard men dwell there. After eating, we purchased a room key and retired for the evening.

 


April 27, 731

We awoke early in the morning. Lueryth and Elisavetta spent an hour or more in devotions, and Luscious studied his mystical grimoire. Returning to the common room, we saw most of the same faces we had seen last night. A bunch of tight-lipped adventurers glared at us as we passed by, a haughty-looking elf refused to look upon us, and a gruff barbarian saluted us with his tankard.

We spent the morning browsing through some of the shops. On our way down the snaking trail from the Keep's gates, Eldorn warned us that we were about to enter into the deadliest region of The Realm. Scores of battle-hardened warriors have vanished after traveling too far afield from the safety of the Keep's walls.

Determined to move carefully, we began our first expedition into the wilderness. That day we encountered a nest of large spiders who apparently had made their existence preying upon patrols and small bands of adventurers.

We also found ourselves in a strange sort of territory dispute. Orcs attacked us, but as the battle joined we found allies pouring out of the forests...goblins! Each of the creatures wore a strange blue arm badge, and the whole lot of them turned on us once the orcs were dispatched. With a bit of Elisavetta's healing, our wounds were recovered, and we were able to move deeper into the wilderness.

A bit to the south and east of the spider lair we came across a bear's den. The starving animal attacked us ravenously, forcing us to put it down. Moving further north, we ambushed a group of orcs and fought with another band of the blue-badged goblins. Then, as if by luck, we stumbled upon a cave mouth just north of a rarely followed trail. Led by Elisavetta and Graywalde, we stormed through the lair of the goblins until we found their leader, a gnoll warrior.

Among the gnoll's treasure we came across a set of stolen perfumes, which I placed carefully in a pouch with bits of bedding. Even at the Keep on the Borderlands, such novelties should garner a decent price. Eldorn suggested that we consider our first foray a great success and return to the Keep, and none of us could disagree.

Twice on our way back to the Keep we were attacked by kobolds, and the second time they attacked with a stunning ferocity. Both Graywalde and Luscious fell to the ground, knocked unconscious until Lueryth and Elisavetta could minister to their wounds. Upon awakening, Luscious could not resist remarking about Graywalde's weakness in battle with kobolds. The reminder of the dwarf's twin failure in Specularum earlier in the month nearly cost Luscious his life, but Eldorn and Elisavetta restrained them. When I urged them to hurry for the Keep before another band of humanoids came across us, the five of them consented.

Before we could return to our room, though, we found ourselves confronted by the elf from the corner. His arrogant demeanor was gone, and he beseeched us to help him. A dear friend of his had vanished into the deadly swamps east of the Keep, and he needed help to find the body. Again, Elisavetta agreed without consulting us, but she clearly had Lueryth and Eldorn supporting her. Only Graywalde seemed to realize that we were agreeing to help causes that could not reward us for our efforts.

 


April 28, 731

After another night at the Old Heart Inn, we were ready for our next expedition into the wilderness. We breakfasted with Ahlrath, the elf who would accompany us into the swamp. The smiling barmaid told us of a band of heroes who were betrayed by one of their own, sold into slavery to the Slave Lords to the east. She looked meaningfully at Graywalde before leaving us to dine.

We moved directly to the swamps, following the path due east away from the Keep. Unfortunately, we timed our expedition poorly and arrived in the wee hours of the morning. The nocturnal lizard men descended upon us just as the barmaid had warned, and their sudden attack nearly left Lueryth dead in the murky waters. Wave after wave of the lizard men attacked us, but they were not the only foes we faced. Stirges, giant lizards, and even the undead remains of fallen adventurers sought to drag us down. Graywalde nearly vanished into a quicksand bog.

A dinosaur scavenged over the remains in the feeding grounds of the lizard man tribe, but luckily we cut it down as it rushed us. A short distance to the southeast of the feeding grounds we found a nest of two more of the reptilian horrors, which nearly spelled the end of our group. Each of us sporting wounds, our healing abilities mostly expended, we limped away from the nest.

Not twenty yards west of the nest, though, we stumbled upon the lizard man lair. With the aid of Luscious' and Ahlrath's magic, we were able to defeat the tribal defenders. As Graywalde led the way into the mound, though, we found that the largest of the lizard man warriors had remained hidden during the battle. His sudden attack left the dwarf unconscious before we could raise our weapons, but I managed to duck behind him and end the fight shortly.

As we sorted through the eggs and rubbish for the stolen loot, Ahlrath found his friend. At that moment he sang the most mournful, heart-wrenching dirge...Enough to bring tears to the harshest warrior's eye. When the song finished, we departed for the Keep, carrying both Ahlrath's companion and Graywalde's incapacitated form.

More stirges attacked us, seeming to come in limitless waves, and an explosion of marsh gas left Lueryth unconscious. It was during a battle with stirges that I lost consciousness. I awoke some later on a high, dry piece of land. After several hours, the healers awoke and nursed the rest of us back to health. We slept and rested till well after dawn.

 


April 29, 731

Our exit from the swamp was uneventful after that point, but a band of kobolds accosted us once we were among drier surroundings. We dealt with them swiftly and continued to the Keep.

With the Keep in sight, Ahlrath thanked us and bid us a temporary farewell. Before carrying off the body for burial, he told us to meet him at his table, where we would regale our adventures together. I can't say I didn't feel for the elf, but at that point all I truly wanted was a hot bath, and we had found enough money in the lizard man barrow to pay for all the hot water a city girl could need.

After washing the swamp off my body, I returned to the taproom of the Old Heart. Eldorn awaited, and the others gradually filtered back. The barmaid stared at us in astonishment, remarking on our victory over the blue badge goblins. She was of the opinion that gnolls are the most powerful humanoids among the creatures of the Caves of Chaos.

We spent the rest of the day looking about the Keep, restocking our equipment and the like.

 


April 30, 731

Today we led a very short expedition into the borderlands. After discussion last night, we determined to continue our search of the trail that led to the lair of the blue-badge goblins. The trail led past the cave opening, and we believed we might find something further along the way.

The path did indeed lead to something interesting, though much more exciting for Lueryth and Elisavetta than for myself. A desiccated corpse lay in the leaves, an arrow piercing its chest. In its pouches remained thirteen pieces of gold and a scrolltube illuminated with the blazing sun, a perfect match to the description the mage had given us. Elisavetta took the scroll and blessed the body.

As we stepped away from the body, Graywalde stopped us. "Humanoids slew this man," he said, pointing to the arrow. "But something more powerful chased them away before they could loot the body. Otherwise, we never would have found the scroll here; keep an eye out."

Moving with caution, we followed the trail to its terminus, finding nothing but a single band of raiding kobolds. The kobolds seem to be everywhere now that the blue badges aren't around to keep them at bay. On our return, though, we encountered the chitinous creature responsible for chasing off the humanoids that murdered the mage's friend. We slew the creature, but the moment was very tense...It towered over even Leuryth and Eldorn, and its claws were as sharp as a razors.

With the scroll in hand, we returned to the Keep. The mage met us at her table, and accepted the scroll gratefully. Then, rather abruptly, she handed us a pouch of eightteen garnets, then ran outside to plan her return to the Heartlands. It seems I should have more faith in our religious leaders...

 


May 7, 731

A week passed by, and we spent the time training with the Keep's masters. Most of us seem to have impressed the troops here, and Luscious has done well with his illusionist's tricks. Still, his poor sense of humor did get us into a brawl at a local tavern, the Empty Cask. A seedier place I never even saw in Urnst, but the captain of the watch was there. He kindly helped us out, wielding a flaming longsword against our foes!

Today we returned to our expeditions into the wilderness. Ahlrath wished us luck. The barmaid, who I am certain is infatuated with Eldorn, told us a rumor of an old hermit who lives in the wilderness. He supposedly worships trees. Our hope was that, should we find this man, we could learn vital clues concerning the humanoids in the forest. My only hope was that he was not so maniacal in his faith that we would be forced to injure him; I seem to attract people willing to die for their faith these days.

Again we encountered a band of kobolds, but we pressed on, moving east of the lair of the blue-badge goblins. Eldorn warned us away from a trail that he said was frequented by giants.

Larger creature certainly move freely the further one travels from the Keep. East of the giants' trail we encountered orcs, hobgoblins, and more large spiders,

We came to a clearing and took the north route out of it. Just before nightfall we entered a creepy ruin, where old stone walls had crumbled with neglect over the years. A nest of giant centipedes had amassed a collection of shiny baubles, including a gold necklace, which I noticed Luscious pocketing. The more we moved about the place, though, the more I was certain we were being watched. When we finally left, it was to my great relief.

The path forked several times, and we continued to follow the northmost paths. Eldorn led the way, moving with sure steadiness, allowing none of us to worry that he would lose us in the trackless wilderness. And then the trail opened into one of the rare clearings in the forest. A man dressed in soiled green clothing emerged from within a great oak to speak with us, or, rather, to babble at us. He quickly became frustrated and called on a huge panther to attack us! The beast nearly mauled Luscious, who dropped his idiot's grin for the first time in quite a while. It was Elisavetta who came through this time, crushing first the panther's skull, and next the mad hermit's.

We soon realized how the old man had posed such a threat to the six of us. Not only did he wield a magical dagger, but he also wore a magical ring! We split the items, and the party decided that I should keep the dagger, due to my penchant for knives.

Still, that was not all of the old hermit's treasure. In a chest buried beneath his bedding he kept coins and a potion, a vial of inky black liquid. Later, we would find out that it contained a potion of invisibility.

We turned back for the Keep, content that our expedition had journeyed far and prospered well. Unfortunately, our steps led us directly into a hobgoblin ambush. They came at us with crossbows and blades, and we barely cut our way past them. Our trip to safety became much more harried, as we began to see more foes behind every tree. Numerous orcs and goblins--those not of the blue-badge tribe--emerged on several occasions. Eldorn fell, sorely injured, but we carried him. Luckily, we were close enough to find our way to the Keep without getting lost when the attack came.

 


May 8, 731

Graywalde was so proud of what he called a "glorious haul," from the old hermit that he bought us all a round of drinks in the morning. Lueryth, Elisavetta and Eldorn drank somberly, though, for their plan of speaking to the old man had gone seriously awry. Still, we had only fought in self defense, and I now had a magical blade to show for it.

Again, the barmaid gave us direction. This time she told us a legend of an old ranger who lives even farther east than the hermit, a man so tough and rugged that even the humanoids of the Caves of Chaos do not bother him. I harbored doubts that such a man existed, but it gave us an object to our search. We planned to spend several days recovering from our previous expedition, and then we would leave to find out whether this old ranger truly lived.

 


May 10, 731

We left in the early morning, planning to cut as far east of the old hermit's home as possible. We did not know what to expect, and the orcs and hobgoblins posed a serious threat. We moved quickly but cautiously past the kobolds, the goblins, the other humanoid bands. We followed the trails beaten by previous adventurers until they were overgrown and then non-existent. We marched as far east as the Caves of Chaos themselves, and there we found the cabin of the ranger Tellus. The man truly was real! Eldorn spoke to him and convinced him of our intentions, and Tellus reciprocated by offering us a place to rest and food to eat.

 


May 11, 731

Today we mounted our first expedition into the infamous Caves of Chaos. We bid Tellus farewell, but he offered his home to us again if we needed help against the evils of the caves. En route to the caves we encountered a band of gnoll archers, but we had the better of them within minutes. That first encounter really emboldened us for the rest of the day, and within two hours we were there, at the Caves of Chaos, where ravens perch and only thorns grow. Where the earth is littered with the bones of countless adventurers and humanoids...and other things the imagination shudders to comprehend.

The first cave we came to was trapped at the entrance. When it turned out to be kobolds that responded to the trap, though, Graywalde went mad. He led the charge into the lair, hacking down kobold guards with a fury. His war cries echoed in the cramped corridors. He led us charging into the clanhold of the tribe, where we found ourselved locked in melee with thrice our number in kobold males and females. Luscious, pierced by two arrows, fell into a corner for the duration of the battle, where he lay and shouted insults while laughing wildly.

With the tribal lair devoid of life, Graywalde muttered about finding the "cowards' chieftain," and he stalked off down a side passage. There, indeed, we did find the chieftain of the kobold tribe. He met us with archers and bodyguards and fought until we took both his life and the treasure he had stolen from dozens of innocent caravans.

It was nearly midnight by the time we completed our tour of the kobold cave, and so we had to retreat. Our healing magicks were depleted, and Luscious was once again unconscious. We determined to make a dash for Tellus' cabin, then return to the Keep for training.

 


May 12, 731

We left Tellus early in the morning, prepared for a dangerous trip back to the Keep. The path was plagued by giant ants and goblins, including one bunch who offered to let us pass for two hundred pieces of gold. When we refused, they shrank away from us, but Graywalde would not let them go without a fight.

Just in the shadow of the Keep, though, we encountered a camp of bandits. We smelled their campfire and heard their talking from the trail, and when we moved to investigate we quickly found ourselves in another fight for our lives. Peaceful conversation is as rare as platinum in the Beastlands, it seems.

The Old Heart still had a vacancy for us, and the barmaid spoke to us in awe when she heard that we had been to the Caves of Chaos themselves during this most recent expedition.

 


May 15, 731

Several days have gone by. Graywalde and Eldorn trained at the Keep's barracks, and I spent time at the local Guild house. Luscious continued his parlor tricks, as far as I know, and he has taken to wearing the necklace he took during the earlier expedition. He smiles oddly and pets it when he knows he is being watched. We plan to leave for the Caves of Chaos once more on the morrow. This time, we hope to find and eradicate at least one more tribe of evil creatures. Eldorn is excited with our progress, and he claims that even the castellan will notice soon if we continue in this vein. I wonder what sort of reward we would receive from the Castellan of the Keep on the Borderlands?

 


May 16, 731

On a balmy day, we left the Keep. Summer is now fully upon us, I believe. Goblins were the chief bother on our journey eastward. One bunch of the filthy things lurked in ambush along the path, and others struck in groups with either bows, swords or spears for weapons. We stopped at Tellus' cabin to rest a bit, but then sought to press on to the Caves.

Not even off the trail that leads to Tellus' cabin, though, we were ambushed by a bugbear and a force of goblins. Their vicious attack sent us limping back to Tellus for the night, so that he and Elisavetta could minister to our wounds.

 


May 17, 731

Gnolls met us with halberds, but they could not slow our approach to the Caves of Chaos today. We determined to stay with the caverns on the lowest tier of the ravine for now, since the barmaid back at the Old Heart had warned Eldorn that tougher monsters make their lairs in the caves higher up the slope. Moving past the kobold lair, we continued along the north wall until we came to the next cave.

We saw immediately that most of the humanoids avoided this cave, and the smell from within was awful. Yet Lueryth sensed an evil presence within, and Elisavetta led the way. Within we found a pool, and a careful search turned up a jeweled goblet on its shores. The goblet was protected, though, by amorphous predators that were difficult to see against the wet earth. Still, Lueryth was not satisfied, and so we continued our exploration of the cave.

The deeper into the cave we traveled, the more horrendous the smell became. Following the odor led to a heap of rotting corpses. Still deeper in the cave, the smell became worse, until we encountered some voracious creature. A search of the creature's lair turned up only one object of value: A scrolltube! We emerged from the cave a bit jostled but otherwise ready to move on to the next cave lair.

Creeping around to the south side of the bottom tier, we found the next cave, a deep, high-ceilinged abode concealed by thick bushes. Within laired an ogre. Though massive and mean-spirited, the brute was slow with his club, and we managed to dispatch with him without getting another bruise. We looked about in his lair and turned up a cache of magical items, including a half-dozen arrows, which Eldorn took. In the furthest corner we also located a concealed door.

Graywalde pushed open the door. On the far side was a goblin guard room. The sounds of our fight with the guards brought on more of the creatures, but after the second melee, all fell silent. Until Luscious snickered and strolled off down the corridor to our right.

We followed the gnome to a hastily evacuated clanhold. Not a single female or infant goblin remained to be seen, but the lair was far from empty. As we picked our way through the debris, a huge goblin chieftain attacked us with his personal guard! Luscious was quick to drop to the rear as the arrows and bolts began to fly about him. The goblins held out better than the ogre, and we took our share of nicks and cuts before the chief fell.

Retracing the goblin chief's steps, we found our way to his chamber, which was full of valuable loot from raided caravans. How long did these humanoids manage to live off traders with impunity? Their loss became our treasure, though, and we moved to explore the rest of the goblin lair.

We eventually passed by a cave mouth, which would have allowed us to exit the lair, but we were still feeling well enough to continue. We paused in the fresh air and ate some rations, or, rather, the warriors and Luscious ate some rations. The bloodletting left me with no appetitie.

Deeper into the goblin lair we found a cavern that led noticeably upward, to a door. We opened it slowly, carefully, only to find a room full of hobgoblins on the other side! They were shocked to see us, and fell easily.

Graywalde suspected that we had climbed far enough along the ramp to have reached a cave on the second tier of the ravine. Still, we hoped to take more of the hobgoblins by surprise. Not a hundred feet away from the guard chamber, though, we found a prison. The large, horrible guard and torturer died swiftly at our blades, and we found ourselves in the company of some six badly beaten, near-dead slaves of the hobgoblins. There were four humans, an orc and a gibbering, crazed gnoll.

We freed all six of the prisoners, though the orc slinked away, and the gnoll, maddened by its time in the dungeons, forced us to kill it. One of the men turned out to be a warrior, Brenton; he offered to accompany us for the remainder of our expeditions in the Caves region. The remaining three were not so able-bodied, though, and needed to be returned to the Keep immediately.

 


May 19, 731

It took two days, but we returned to the Keep without an encounter. The merchant and his wife, both of whom were taken by the hobgoblins during one of their routine raids, offered us to sleep in their fine home.

 


May 20, 731

We awoke to find the merchant and his wife preparing to leave the Borderlands for an extended vacation in the west. Before leaving, they rewarded us with a purse of one hundred pieces of gold and a dagger enchanted to be magical. This blade went to Luscious. We plan to spend another week in training now that we can afford it. It seems that the death of the goblin chieftain, as well as the ogre and--as I have recently learned it was called--the owlbear, have all brought us to the attention of the Keep's residents. Eldorn was right in his assumption, but we still have not seen a reward that didn't come from a dead humanoid...

 


May 23, 731

Luscious returned from the mage's guild tonight with a particularly troublesome glint in his eye. He evoked a few words of magic, and then I was looking at four of him...Four exact duplicates of Luscious. He shook with laughter at my expression, the sound amplified four times over by his extra mouths. I suspect I shall have nightmares of the sight when I next sleep.

 


May 27, 731

Training is complete for all of us, and we have prepared for our next journey into the Beastlands. We plan to explore the second tier of the Caves of Chaos during this next expedition, though Eldorn has come to suspect that we will need to move more quickly to the higher tiers if we want to survive against the more powerful creatures. Making a name for yourself among the forces of Chaos is a deadly proposition, and we need to cut the head from the snake as quickly as possible.

 


May 28, 731

Our expedition began on a sunny morning, though the temperature would be stifling by noon. As we breakfasted, Eldorn's barmaid stopped by to talk again. She passed on that she had heard another group of adventurers discussing a black altar somewhere in the Caves of Chaos. She had also heard that the place was particularly dangerous, and she warned us away.

No sooner was she returned to the kitchens than Elisavetta began laying plans on how we would find this black altar. I tried to remind them of the element of danger that had been mentioned in conjunction with that altar, but the cleric, the paladin, the ranger, even the dwarf would not listen! Luscious grinned at me and began humming a tune that can only be described as eerie.

Eldorn leaned across the table, and I could tell by the look in his eye that he was about to tell me that the most dangerous place in the Caves of Chaos was bound to hold the greatest treasure, but he was interrupted by the meek voice of one the Keep's acolytes. Elisavetta saw the woman to a seat and asked her what was the matter; at least for the moment, they had forgotten all about the black altar.

The acolyte nervously informed us that she believed her master, the priest of the Keep, to be an evil man. He conferred frequently with two of his acolytes in secrecy, and one of the three was always out late into the night. Elisavetta agreed that she had harbored similar suspicions, since the priest had always found an excuse to not make himself available when she visited the temple. He was certainly an odd creature, and we would be on the look out for proof that he was an agent of...of the black altar. Gods, some days I cannot seem to escape!

We journeyed through the morning and into the early afternoon before meeting with Tellus at his cabin. Again, the ranger welcomed us and cooked us a plate of venison while we rested. Several groups of goblins and a band of particularly nasty orcs awaited us, and Graywalde needed the night to lick his wounds.

 


May 29, 731

Today we traveled north to the second tier of the Caves of Chaos, though Eldorn warned us that we should be prepared to climb to a higher tier if the opportunity presented itself. If we have learned of the black altar, then its priests have certainly learned of us.

Staying to the north wall of the ravine, we climbed a slope just east of the empty kobold lair, and approached the first cave opening we encountered. Within, the cave rang with the sounds of humanoids moving about and talking. A grotesque array of severed heads lay along shelves before the opening, likely a warning to those who enter unbidden; the races were as diverse as the population of the Beastlands.

The cave was the lair of a tribe of orcs, and the lot of them fought furiously, male and female, to the death. We came across a bit of a surprise as we looked about the chieftain's quarters, though, for a secret panel in the southwest wall led to a meeting chamber of sorts. The chamber apparently connected this tribe of orcs to the lair of a neighboring tribe!

It did not take long for us to encounter the chief of this second tribe, who injured Luscious with a razor sharp throwing axe before we could close to melee with him. After that point we blundered about the lair in an attempt to escape the cave, but the exit eluded us until we had encountered two common chambers. Twice over this day we have owed our life to Luscious and his magic. During the second battle I fell unconscious, hit over the head by the butt of a female orc's spear. I awoke outside the cave lair to Elisavetta's dour expression.

"We are returning to Tellus as swiftly as possible," she told me. I saw that her field plate armor was dinged and cut, and blood had dried on her cheeks.

Eldorn led the way down the slopes of the second tier, and then guided us out of the ravine. The forces of Chaos seemed to be searching for us, as gnoll archers and a band of hobgoblin swordsmen both sprung out at us before we reached the cabin. We limped through the door, carrying Elisavetta and Brenton, only to find that the horror had only just begun.

Tellus lay dead on the floor of his cabin, surrounded by the bodies of a dozen gnolls. His cabin was ransacked, and we knew we would not be able to rest here. We would have to drag our friends to the safety of the Keep, and somehow manage to avoid the humanoids looking for us across all the terrain between.

It was dusk when we crept toward the path leading up to the Keep. Somehow, we had managed to make our way all that distance without a single encounter, but we were not safe yet. Between us and the Keep raged a battle of which we had heard plenty, but never before seen. Orcs were raiding a caravan, and the defenders would soon be slain. Graywalde mustered his courage with a harsh cry and rushed out, forcing the rest of us to follow suit. I left Brenton and Elisavetta concealed in the brush. As we joined the battle, a force of soldiers from the Keep arrived from the north--Likely the only reason I lived to pen this entry after my bath tonight.

Once the battle was over, though, our day was still not yet done. We climbed the hill to the Keep and entered through the gates, only to find the guards awaiting us!

"Graywalde!" cried the captain of the guard. "You will come with us."

A number of heavily armed soldiers escorted us through the Keep, towards the inner bailey, where even more armed men awaited in the company of a number of armed men and women in formal dress. There, while priests healed our wounds, an orator regaled us with our deeds and applauded our activities. A feast had been prepared in our honor!

During the feast we met briefly with the castellan, and then spent a considerable amount of time with his chief advisor, a man Eldorn says once commanded the watch at Guidio's Fort. The advisor told us to consider ourselves heroes, and then commissioned us with an even more dangerous quest--We have now been commissioned to seek out the black altar and the evil priest that maintains it! At the sound of the words, I could see Elisavetta, Lueryth and Eldorn bristling with pride; their chests puffed out and their chins raised a full inch. This was the sort of reward Eldorn expected to receive? I shall certainly have to talk to the man.

But, for now, I shall sleep. After all, we have a perilous journey in the morning.

 


May 30, 731

It seemed that everyone knew us the next morning, and everyone wanted to talk to us. When Graywalde bought us a round of drinks at the bar, the barkeep leaned across and told us directions to a bit of "easy gold," as he called it. Soon after, the barmaid told us of a powerful merchant who had been kidnapped and taken to the Caves of Chaos. I suppose it is possible that another one is up there; I'm sure Lueryth would home in on him, too.

After breakfast, we determined to make our path straight to the highest tier of the Caves of Chaos. As we had planned before, we would sever the head from the snake and then be ready as the body died. Now, with a commission, we stood in even more likely territory for a retaliation from the forces of Chaos. We needed to move fast.

As we left, the guards at the gate did not ask our names, but called them out with pride. As we left the Keep, they saluted us.

At first the journey went even better than we could have hoped. The only creatures we spotted were orcs and goblins...running away from us! But, then, we found ourselves in a pitched battle, and for the worst reason. The traitorous priest of the Keep on the Borderlands had been commanded by the black altar to reveal his presence, and with him came bugbears, hobgoblins, and even an ogre. Luscious found himself bounced between two hobgoblins until he fell, bloody, to the grass, and Elisavetta was forced to stand toe-to-toe with the ogre until, inevitably, she fell, as well. As the battle raged on, Graywalde--the focus of most of the humanoids' attacks--also fell, but we saw to it that not a single one of the creatures lived beyond this day. Eldorn cut down the priest and both of the acolytes who had accompanied him.

In the wake of the battle, Lueryth laid hands upon Elisavetta, bringing her back to consciousness and knitting her bones enough for her to walk. In turn, she prayed for healing on the rest of us, and we turned back for the Keep. With no other safe haven in the Beastlands, today's expedition certainly ended much less heroically than any of us aniticipated.

 


June 2, 731

With time spent recouperating, we left today for our next foray to the top of the ravine. The barmaid brought us a steaming breakfast and fawned over us as we ate, repeating herself endlessly that she could not believe that she was serving the "Heroes of the Borderlands." Not long ago, I would have thought that title a great achievement, but now I know a bit more of what it entails.

Today we walked all the way to the path leading to Tellus' cabin without seeing a single creature. Indeed, the forest had grown too quiet, and it was at that place that Chaos truly broke loose upon us. A horde of gnolls, too many to count, exploded from the wood. Wielding bows, swords, and axes, the things fought to the death! Their archers were their deadliest asset; we never would have survived if we hadn't rushed the bowmen at the onset of the battle.

Still, I slipped on a bloody patch of leaves, and a gnoll took the opportunity to blacken my eyes with the haft of his halberd. When I awoke, we were back at the Old Heart.

 


June 3, 731

A rough-clad band of adventurers was missing from their usual table this morning. I remembered them plotting darkly yesterday, and Eldorn agreed that we should be wary of them. Before leaving, Elisavetta prayed over our band, and Luscious remarked that this time would be different. This time we would reach the Caves of Chaos, and its highest tier. The look in his eye belied his unspoken addendum, and somehow made it all the more chilling...We would make it, or we would die in the attempt.

The trip to the mouth of the ravine was broken only by a foursome of hobgoblins who sought to ambush us, and the spectacle of six goblins, evacuating the area after we had broken their tribe. We arrived at the Caves of Chaos just after noon; it seemed that Luscious had been correct. As we left the forest behind, though, we found ourselves under attack. Not by humanoids, but by the band of mercenaries from the Old Heart! Their allies included a wemic, and their talents were nearly as diverse as our own. Still, the battle was short. They showed none of the skills we possess in working as a team, and they fell easily before us. I myself killed the halfling thug who seemed to be in charge of the band.

Wiping our blades clean, we turned our eyes skyward, to the highest tier of the ravine. The climb was tedious, and we moved past several other caves, but we paid them no mind. Fortunately, nothing came out of those lairs to accost us. The rocky slopes led to a place where the trees were practically lifeless, where no grass grew, and where even the very rock of the ravine wall appeard unhealthy. Here, we would seek out the black altar.

The only lair we could find was a small, inconspicuous cave mouth on the south side of the tier. Carefully, we investigated, and found ourselves in the lair of a gnoll tribe! We cut our way through the warriors of the tribe, allowing the females to flee during the battle. Then, during a search of the chieftain's chambers, we came across a secret door. Following the passage beyond, we found ourselves in a region of finished stonework, recessed within the ravine!

Moving through the strange new network of corridors, we moved through a storage area to encounter a shimmering, cube-like creature. When we slew it, the thing broken into a gelatinous puddle, the bones of its previous victims clattering to the floor. Among these bones, Luscious discovered a magical wand, which he carefully pocketed for later use. Further into the area we found an ancient burial chamber guarded by the undead. There were also a guest chamber, a torture chamber, and a prison. In the prison we very nearly ended our expedition early at the hands of a medusa.

A flight of steps led to a complex of rooms dedicated to the forces of chaos. There were shrines, chambers for adepts and acolytes of the dark faith, and, yes, even the black altar we had heard so much about. The dreadful thing was guarded by dozens of the undead, but we blasted through them by the combined strength of one of Luscious' scrolls (which summoned up a great ball of fire to tear through the undead) and Elisavetta's faith. Beyond lay the Priest of Chaos, the most evil man in the region of the Keep, wielding a wicked serpent staff. It took our combined might to get the better of him, but he, too, fell. Our party had succeeded, but now we needed to escape.

We exited through the main entrance, which turned out to be on the third tier of the ravine, and then made a dash for the Keep. The hour was growing late, and we were burdened with scores of injuries.

Only one small group of hobgoblins dared stand in the way of our return, but we were met at the gate by agents of the castellan. The battle-hardened warrior wore a grim countenance as he told us we may have succeeded a bit too well in our quest. Even now, a legion of humanoids led by priests of Chaos and kept in line by terrible monsters, was on its way to lay waste to the Keep. We had only a brief time to prepare ourselves for the attack!

 


June 4, 731

It was just before dawn that the enemy force arrived. Wave after wave of them broke across the fields before the Keep, and we fought valiantly with the Keep's defenders to stave off the invasion. The corporal's flaming sword flashed in the morning twilight, and Graywalde's battle cries rang more loudly than the most terrible creature's death knells. It was over within an hour; hundreds of lives had ended.

 


June 8, 731

Days passed, and we assisted in the clean-up after the battle. The bodies of the slain humanoids were burned in towering, stinking pyres. The Keep priestess has made herself available to heal all our wounds, and the training halls look to us as the great heroes of the battle. Now, with the clean-up finished and our wounds reduced to nagging bruises, we are turning to the old stories. In particular, we are interested in the innkeeper's "easy gold," west of the trail that Eldorn discovered was traveled by giants. Graywalde and I have convinced the others that we could use some extra spending money if we are to continue our careers in the Eastlands, or anywhere in The Realm.

Following the innkeeper's directions, we did find the gold, but we also encountered more than our share of trouble. Not quite "easy," this gold was a little too near to the lairs of some hill giants, and the lair of a large green dragon. Needless to say, we steered as clear of the dragon as possible--Nothing would be gained in doing battle with such a massive thing; even Elisavetta saw the reason in that. Perhaps we shall return in some ten years, better equipped to do battle with the titans of evil, but till then the green can roost on its gold.

 


June 10, 731

Today we left the Keep on the Borderlands, marching north along the east bank of the River Shrill. The castellan's chief advisor suggested that we seek adventure in Guidio's Fort, where the humanoids are just as prevalent as they were at the Keep before our arrival. Again, I close a chapter of this journal, though I am forced to wonder what remaining horrors we leave behind in the Caves of Chaos (Hobgoblins? Bugbears? What of the rumors of a minotaur's labyrinth?). I shall resume in one week, when we arrive at Guidio's Fort.

 

 

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All of the preceding modules and game worlds are trademarked property of TSR Inc, which is now the property of Wizards of the Coast, Inc. I take no credit for the stories or ideas presented here, save for the six characters created as a vehicle through the adventures, I merely converted them to a playable format for SSI's Unlimited Adventures game.