Journey to the Rock


Written by Paddi Whisperleaf

…brought to light by Glen Sprigg


Day 1

Well, finally! After weeks of wandering around with absolutely nothing to do, I've actually got a reason to start writing in this journal. I never knew how utterly boring the wilderness could be! Those people who tell you that it's full of excitement and danger should spend some time in the Westlands like we did. They'd change their tunes in a hurry, you can wager on that! The only reason I hadn't actually died of boredom is because I've been in the company of a decent group of people these past few weeks, a group with one common bond: they want to make a lot of money and be famous. I don't see anything wrong with that idea, myself. I could stand being famous, and being rich never hurts. But there haven't been many opportunities to gain either riches or fame recently.

My companions are a group of interesting people. Edward is the group's unofficial leader, being a nobleman. The reason I say unofficial leader is because no one actually appointed him to the position. He just took it upon himself. I can't really blame him, I suppose. He had just received his investiture as a paladin before I met him, and as everyone knows, paladins are the type who will automatically lead unless they're ordered not to. Not that I object to him leading; if anything goes wrong, we can blame him. If we survive. He's pretty somber and serious, but that could be his paladin-ness. Or paladinhood. Or whatever you call it. When he's not standing around looking serious and important, he can be fun.

Warren Greenbow isn't a nobleman. He is a man, that much I know. And that's about all I know, except that he carries a green bow and he's very good with it. He didn't have any problem wandering around in the forest, believe me. He talks to animals a lot. That in itself doesn't worry me much. It's the fact that he thinks they're talking back to him that makes me wonder if he's all there. But in a fight, he's a good man. Not much of a conversationalist, unless you're a squirrel or a dog. And he doesn't have much of a sense of humor. He didn't appreciate the effort it took to save up the juice of seventeen lemons to put in his waterskin. Don't humans value hard work anymore?

Caelisar is an elf, and a lot of fun to be with. She's about as good with her bow as Warren, and much more talkative. I like to talk myself, and I like having someone else to talk with. She's also really comfortable in the forest, which is understandable. She is an elf, after all. She and I get along really well. Usually she's laughing with me, and sometimes she even played a joke on me, which is a good thing. Someone had to liven up the group during those absolutely boring weeks. I can't always be the one doing all the work.

Alyssa Thaene is our mage. She doesn't talk much, although she talks more than Warren does. She likes to stay in the back and watch people. She's young, but Edward knows she's smarter than everyone else in the group (except me, of course). So when she does say something, he pays attention. She also spends a lot of time reading. She could ruin her eyes if she doesn't get her nose out of those books. But no matter how engrossed she is in a book, she always knows when someone asks a question or says anything important. Or when someone checks to see if she's mixed up any valuable items with her spell components. Note to myself: in future, don't putter with Alyssa's spell components, especially after she learns the polymorph spells. Being turned into a kobold is not something to look forward to.

Then there's Branden. He and Edward are second cousins or something, I think. He's even more religious than Edward, being a priest of some human god or another. I can never keep track of them, really. Humans have so many gods. Far more than they need, I think. We gnomes are much more sensible. We have six gods, and they take care of all the important things. The little things they leave to us. Still, Branden's a good person, very caring and compassionate. Although he swings a mean mace, too. Not very useful when we needed firewood; trees don't seem to mind being hit with a mace. Then again, I'm not a tree, so I can't really speak for them.

And then there's me. Well, I'm Paddi. I suppose you could call me the gnome-of-all-trades in the group. Whenever there's sneaking to be done, I do it. Whenever they need a door or chest unlocked, they call me. Whenever they're missing their money pouches, they turn and glare at me as if I took them. But they're humans; rudeness is to be expected. Since I'm such a wonderful person to be with, they never stay mad with me, and I'm a very forgiving gnome.

Anyway, the reason I said that things might be getting interesting was that today, as we were sitting in an inn so obscure that even I don't remember it's name, debating how to spend the last few coins we had, some fancy rich-looking man walks in. I looked him over, noting the plumed hat and the silk cape. Obviously someone with money. Already I liked him. Not that I was going to steal from him; that would be rude. I was just curious to see if he carried a full purse.

Then, to our surprise (especially mine), he looks around and says, in a loud voice, "Peace be upon you all! I, Hakeem the merchant, seek Paddi and worthy friends!"

No one was more surprised than I. I didn't realize I was so well known in this little village. This would make it more difficult to discover if he was really as rich as he looked. Edward looked at me, then called him over. Hakeem sat down with us, ignoring the rather messy condition of the table, and told us about a local wizard, one Lidrium Arkayz by name, who wanted to hire us for a quest of some kind. Well, considering where we were and what our prospects looked like, we weren't going to turn down this opportunity. Who would? Unless the mage wanted us to become sacrifices to some sort of nasty demon lord. I'd just as soon pass on that opportunity, myself. But Hakeem handed us a scroll, said it was from the wizard's servant, Jenlar Temlin, then left.

Now, I hadn't heard of the wizard, but the name Jenlar Temlin rung a bell. He's a pretty well-known warrior in these parts, and he has a reputation for being an honorable and trustworthy type. We read the scroll, which basically said that Arkayz wanted to hire us to investigate a really big rock. Why a wizard wants six poor adventurers to look at a rock is beyond me. But this rock was special, supposedly holding a great secret.

Having absolutely nothing better to do, we decided to meet Lidrium Arkayz in the morning. Branden made arrangements for a room, and we're going to sleep in warm beds for the first time in weeks. Tomorrow brings hope, as it always does. This time, though, hope might bring money along with it. I won't complain.



Day 2

Following the map that came with the scroll, we made our way to the manor. The walk was enjoyable; winter hadn't come yet, and I've always liked the oranges and reds of autumn leaves. Of course, the fact that we were going on a quest (and getting paid for it) made the day that much brighter. I still wondered about the demon lord, though. You never can tell with wizards. No offense to Alyssa, of course. Well, the manor house was in a clearing not too far from town, and it was quite impressive. Statues and frescoes gave the place a feeling of adventure. We could almost taste the excitement. Well, I was also hearing the clink of gold coins. I can't speak for the others on that; I didn't really ask them. Let them have their own dreams.

We walked up to the door, but before we could even knock, it opened on its own. Wizards love doing that, I think. I think it's rather tacky myself. But this time there were actually people at the door: a couple of warriors, guards by the look of them. They escorted us in, and we got to meet Jenlar Temlin himself. He was a burly-looking man with red hair and green eyes.He was wearing red robes, which I thought was pretty strange. At first, I even thought he was a wizard himself. But wizards don't get that big, do they? At least I've never seen one that size before. Not that I've seen every wizard in the world; I'm sure there must be some out there who aren't exactly normal-size. For a wizard, that is.

After the pleasantries were done with, Temlin got down to the important part. 400 pieces of gold apiece! That's a huge amount of money! And, we get to keep whatever we find along the way! I didn't care what Edward decided, I was ready to go.

Before we left, Temlin read us a warning, penned by the mighty Arkayz himself. It was pretty standard wizard stuff, that is to say, cryptic and incomprehensible. I noticed Alyssa nodding to herself as Temlin read it. Well, she's a mage herself, so she's not normal like the rest of us. I didn't expect her to explain anything to us, and she didn't shatter my expectations. I decided to let her worry about warnings, and I'd worry about the money. That's very important in an adventuring group: share the worries. And the treasure. It doesn't have to be evenly shared, of course.

We left and headed for the trail that was marked out on the map. Warren found it, and we started west. It wasn't long before we met someone along the trail, a goblin hunting party! Well, it was quite the battle, but they were no match for us. Not much, anyway. Edward got a scratch, but other than that we were fine. Afterwards, we reasoned that they wouldn't be needing their weapons or shields anymore, so we took them. If nothing else, we could always sell them for some money later on.

We traveled for the rest of the day without any incidents, and camped out in the wilderness...again. Still, there's a difference in the camp tonight. After all, two nights ago we weren't on a wizard's payroll. There's always a bright side, that's what I always say. Even if Branden thinks I've never said it. He's certainly not with me every minute of the day, so how would he know what I say when he's not around? Priests think they know everything.



Day 3

Well, the day started off fine, at least until we hear the singing. Up until then, we were happily on our way to this Rock, planning how to spend the money we were earning. The animals were up and about, and Warren seemed happy to see them. I couldn't tell if they returned the sentiment, but he obviously thought so. Not that he told us; he didn't say anything all morning. Maybe he's saving his words for a special occasion; he certainly doesn't waste them on us. Anyway, the singing. After the trail became something of a clearing, we heard some beautiful singing. Now, I'm not the most musical gnome in the world, but I can tell a pretty voice when I hear one. We thought about going to look for this angelic choir when we found out just who was doing the singing: harpies, and real ugly ones at that! One of them called herself a harpy queen and said she was going to kill us; I suppose that's harpy-speak for "Hello, how are you doing today?" Very anti-social, they are.

Well, Edward took a nasty beating from those bird-women, and after it was over Branden had to heal him back to consciousness. He's still pretty hurt, though he won't admit it. Paladins are like that, I hear. But at least we're all alive, which is more than I can say for the queen of the harpies.

Well, we continued on. What else could we do, really? We weren't going to turn back because of a couple of vultures. But we hadn't got far when we found ourselves in another battle! This time, we were facing another band of goblins. We handled them pretty easily, although Caelisar and myself both got hurt. Those goblins were certainly lacking in the chivalric virtues! That's certainly no way to treat a couple of ladies like ourselves. But we showed them. Caelisar skewered one with her arrows, and I stuck another one in the gut with my sword.

After the fight, Warren caught one of the goblins trying to sneak off. In an effort to save its miserable life, it offered to tell us about a trap. Edward thought about it for a moment, then agreed to spare it. Inside, I was shaking my head. Now he'd make the rest of us leave it alone. Still, killing goblins in battle is one thing; I don't know if I'd like to just slit its throat while it was sitting there cringing. Goblins are very good at cringing. They could give lessons.

Well, the goblin told us about this deer trap and how to recognize it. Warren nodded; he'd recognize the signs blindfolded, I suppose. Let him worry about that, then. I'll continue thinking about the treasure. And of course, Edward let the pitiful thing go. I just hope we don't get attacked by a hundred goblins tonight. If I get killed, I'll never speak to that paladin again.

A while later, we came to a branching of the paths. Caelisar impressed us with her knowledge of the forests we could pass through. I'm sure Warren knew what they were, but he didn't even grunt. After Caelisar was finished with her recital, we looked around for a campsite. Warren actually spoke, as he announced he'd take the middle watch. I asked him to warn us next time before he said anything; my gnomish heart isn't strong enough to takeshock like that. Tomorrow we'll have to decide which path we'll be taking. I'm sure it will be an interesting trip, regardless of which way we tell Edward to choose.



Day 4

We got off to an early start this morning. We discussed which path to take, and Edward decided we should go south. I was all for taking the most direct route, but Alyssa disagreed. She pointed out that the most direct route would likely be the most dangerous. I didn't see why it should be any more dangerous than the other routes, but Edward always listens to Alyssa. So south we went. Maybe she liked the color of the trees in that direction.

The weather was beautiful, and we walked on through the southern forest. It was pretty peaceful, at least until we heard the heavy breathing up ahead. We stopped, watching the trail as an old man came into view. He wasn't paying any attention to us, he was just watching the road. Finally he noticed us, and screamed, "Stop!"

Well, we weren't actually moving, so he assumed we were obeying him. He started to rant about desolation and truth. Apparently he'd done some suffering and pondering. I was going to suggest he ponder a little more quietly, but he didn't seem to be paying attention to me. He went on about some leviathan that was going to do some evil-smiting. I'm sure Edward approved, but the stuff about sweeping away the boundaries of the elements made me shiver a bit. I really don't like crazy old men, especially ones that look like wizards. Wizards are dangerous as it is. One who was foaming at the mouth and raving would not be a pleasant person to run into.

Well, he finally stopped for air, and I was ready to move along past him, but Alyssa just HAD to know more. So the old man gets this look of infinite wisdom on his face, and I resigned myself to infinite boredom. Sure enough, he droned on about having spent a week in the desert, and seeing Leviathan...and apparently, we were chosen to spread the word of his coming. I couldn't wait.

The old man finally wandered off, still babbling about his vision. I suppose he's still walking. I know I won't miss him. We kept on walking, until we came to an area known as the Barrens. It wasn't a very inviting area; no trees, not much brush. Just a lot of sand. Up above, the storm clouds were gathering. They weren't very inviting. Warren shocked us again with his second speech in two days, a new record. He said that the sandstorm was going to be a nasty one. We decided to find some shelter, and fast. When Warren actually feels the need to speak, we listen.

Warren found a cave entrance where we could wait out the storm. At least he didn't ask us if we wanted to go in. Another sentence from him might have stopped my heart. We went in, and we didn't have to wait long for the sands to start blowing.

We stayed there for what seemed like a year, covering ourselves as best we could. The cave kept the worst of the storm off us, but breathing sand has never been high on my list of 'things I'd like to do before I die.' I shudder to think how much worse it would have been if Warren hadn't found the cave. They might never have found us.

Well, after the storm blew itself out, we continued on our way. And wouldn't you know it, we heard some more singing. After our last encounter with the musically-inclined, we had our weapons and spells ready. But this singing wasn't the seductive call of a pack of vicious harpies. It sounded more like a chant used by people hard at work. Pretty soon we saw something coming toward us.

Now, I admit I haven't seen everything the world has to offer yet. But if you had told me this morning that I'd be standing among a range of sand dunes watching a sailing ship being rolled through the sand on a bunch of logs, I'd have been asking Branden to pray for your sanity. Now I was asking him to pray for mine. He wasn't listening to me, though; he was busy thinking of himself and his own mind. And I thought priests were supposed to help others before themselves. Even Edward wasn't sure what to make of this apparition.

Well, we approached the boat, and saw a gnome standing in the prow of the ship, yelling into a bull's horn at the struggling workers who were dragging the boat along. Naturally, I had to find out what one of my people was doing sailing a boat through a desert, so I quickened my pace a bit. Then this sailing master shouts at us, saying, "Out o' the way, ye lubbers!"

Now, I've heard some strange ones before, but a gnome standing on a ship ordering us to move out of the way so he could push this boat through the desert ranks up there with the best of them. Before I could ask him what he was doing, half his crew of workers collapsed in exhaustion. Magnanimously, the gnome in the prow told them to take a break for supper. Nice of him, I reflected.

Then, the ship's captain actually asked me where the nearest ocean was!! "How am I supposed to know?" I shouted back. "We just came from a forest! There isn't even a decent stream around here!"

He squinted down at me. "Ah, I see a lass after me own heart below. Come up here and we'll talk a spell. Bosun! Pipe 'em aboard!"

Well, he certainly seemed charming enough. Rather round in the belly, but that's alright. Mother always said that a man who appreciates good food will always remain faithful to the woman who feeds him. And a ship's captain must surely have money. Even if he is sailing in a desert. So we went aboard.

The captain introduced himself as Robern, giving me a deep bow. His eyes twinkled brightly as he looked at me. The he explained he was looking for the ocean. "Wouldn't it have been better to build the boat AFTER you found the ocean?" I asked as tactfully as I could. His nose was quite handsome, after all.

Then he told us about a merchant who had sold him a book on shipbuilding and navigation. On a bet, he built the ship and went looking for the ocean to sail it on. At this point I came to the regretful conclusion that, regardless of his appetite and his wonderful nose, Robern wasn't going to be good husband material. I prefer a man with something other than bean curd for brains. So I'm picky; I've learned to live with it.

Branden told Robern that the ocean was to the east. He also pointed out that there were mountains and swamps between here and there, but Robern wasn't deterred in the least. He was so happy that he gave us several sacks of food from his stores. He invited me to come along with he and his clanmates, but I managed to turn him down without hurting his feelings. It

wasn't too difficult to refuse, considering his limited brainpower, although the twinkle in his eye made me think about it for a few moments. Not seriously, though.

We left shortly thereafter, and Robern's clanmates continued their journey. I wonder if they'll make it to the ocean. But we'll probably never know.

We kept on walking through the barrens, until we came to a river. Robern hadn't mentioned this river to us, but I wondered how he could have possibly missed it. It was too wide for us to cross, but there was an old stone bridge going over it. There were runes on the bridge, and Alyssa stepped forward to try deciphering them. But she couldn't do it. Neither could I, nor Branden. Alyssa's best guess was that they were a warning about the dangers in crossing the bridge. Not knowing any better, I couldn't disagree. I was all ready to turn around and head back to the fork in the trail. There'd be another path. But Edward decided to cross anyway. Without waiting for the rest of us, he stepped onto the bridge. And nothing happened. We crossed the bridge, ending up near a stand oftrees. We continued on a little while longer, then found a campsite as night fell. The storm clouds have passed, and I find myself thinking about Robern and his silly quest to find the ocean. I wonder if our quest will be as fruitless as his seems to be. This worries me, partly because I don't like failing. But more importantly, we haven't been paid yet.



Day 5

Well, we were out of the barrens and into some rocky terrain. We could see some mountains in the distance as we walked through the trees near a cliffside. But then we realized that the mountains weren't that far away;there were five huge rock-creatures blocking our path!

Then one of them informed us that they were the Rock-Men of the Barkel mountains. He also said that he and his friends WERE the Barkel monutains, which I thought was quite believeable. Then they had the nerve to tell us we had to pay a toll to get past them!

Well, Edward actually started to discuss paying them! Fortunately, Istepped forward in time to contain the damage he was doing. Using my expert negotiating skills, I pointed out that we didn't have any money. Edward nearly corrected me, but I stomped on his foot before he could reveal we had the harpy queen's tiara.

Well, the rock-men agreed to let us go past, as long as we promised to come back when we were done and pay the toll we owed. Of course, I agreed, but then so did Edward, which was not a good thing. He ruined a perfectly good evasion with his knightly honor. Now we'll actually have to come back after we get to the Rock and pay them! Paladins!

Well, we went on our merry way, and I discussed comparative morality with Edward for a while. The discussion was quite spirited for a while, until Warren held up a hand to quiet us. Thinking he was actually going to say something, Edward and I were both quiet. But instead of Warren speaking, we heard a strange wailing sound coming from the left. Then, we heard a similar sound from the right. Now, it doesn't take a brilliant mind like mine to realize that it wasn't a natural sound. We all loosened our weapons in our sheaths and got ready for whatever was planning on ambushing us.

We didn't have to wait long - about twenty goblins jumped out at us, screaming war cries and swinging stone weapons! They were also swinging strange whistles through the air, made of leather and small animal skulls. Rather gruesome, I thought to myself even as I yanked my shortsword out. Then their leader started demanding money from us. Since we didn't have any, we were stuck. If we didn't give the tiara to a group of walking mountains, we certainly weren't going to give them to a pack of stinking goblins!

Realizing the odds against us, I was ready to do my impression of a jackrabbit, but Alyssa had other ideas. Before I could remind her that twenty to six weren't the best odds, she pulled out some spell components. The goblins froze, watching her with widening eyes. Then Alyssa cast a quick spell, and created a small flash and a puff of smoke. It wasn't very impressive; she wouldn't have lit a torch with that little display, but it sent the goblins into a panic! They immediately decided that we weren't worth the effort, and they lit off for the hills, screaming something about a mighty sorceress. I turned to Alyssa with a suspicious glare, and she answered with that really irritating smug smile she does so well. So much for the goblins.

We finally approached the Rock as evening fell. We camped within sight of it, still mystified as to what the great secret was all about. Let's just hope that tomorrow we get the answers we've come all this way for. Not to mention the treasure. Until then, though, I'm going to get a good night's sleep.



Day 6

This has been a most extraordinary day. I don't think I'll ever forget even a moment of what happened today. But just to be sure, I'm writing everything down.

Right after breakfast, we headed straight for the Rock. It looked like a mountain with the top cut off by an axe. I've seen some interesting mountains before, but this was quite an odd one. It was by itself, standing in the middle of a plain without even a hill nearby. And it was rectangular, which certainly seems odd for a mountain. It almost looked as if it had been carved out of the earth.

As we approached, we realized that there was someone near the Rock. This unknown person shouted at us to flee from a terrible danger. Considering what we had already been through on this journey, we weren't exactly shivering in our boots.

Then we got to the base of the Rock itself. There we saw a very pretty young woman chained to the Rock. She also had a tiara on, which seemed odd considering the rest of her was pretty tattered and grimy. I was about to ease her suffering by taking that weighty thing off her brow when she started talking to us again. She had been imprisoned by an evil hag who hated beauty, to be left until she died of old age.

Now, I'm not the world's greatest expert on evil, but it seemed to me that this was a pretty strange punishment to dole out. If someone's too pretty for some old hag, just give her a poisoned apple or something and be done with it. There's no need to put someone through this kind of torment, especially since she'd have to be fed constantly. Is it worth the trouble? And I didn't notice any unusual stains on her clothes. So the hag was chaining her to a rock in the middle of nowhere, feeding her, AND providing her with a chamberpot. My ears were tingling a bit here.

Not so for Edward and Warren, or Branden. The three of them were oh-so solicitous of the poor maiden's plight. They were practically fighting over who would get to free her. Men!

But their discussion was put on hold when the wolves showed up. Maybe the crone was tired of feeding her, and wanted to get the whole thing over with. Caelisar was the first to notice them, and shouted a warning. She and Warren had their bows ready in an instant, and the rest of us prepared for a battle.

Although Caelisar and Warren struck the first blows, it was Alyssa who was the heroine of the battle. She put three of the puppies to sleep with her magic, leaving one left for us to defeat. It didn't take long, and we turned back to the helpless girl.

Then we found ourselves under attack again, this time from a set of floating knives! Where these came from I had no idea, and there was no time to think about it. Have you ever tried to hit a dagger? It's not easy, believe me! But we managed to knock them out of the sky without

suffering serious damage to ourselves. That has got to be the strangest battle I've ever heard of, let alone been involved in.

Once again we turned back to the girl. My suspicions were growing; knives just don't appear out of thin air, nor do they stay in the air after they've appeared. So I was the only one who wasn't surprised when the really beautiful girl, the one that the men were ready to fight over, suddenly became much less attractive as she changed into the very hag she had been speaking of. She hadn't described herself in very flattering terms, had she? Accurate terms, but hardly flattering. She made those rock-men look attractive. A goblin would have looked at her and said, "Now that's ugly!"

She was also hissing and attacking us, which also didn't surprise me. A lot of people had been doing this lately, and I wasn't enjoying it. Give me a nice, friendly city with fat merchants and dull-witted guards.

Well, the battle didn't last long. After the initial shock of what we had seen, we demonstrated that six brave adventurers with weapons can beat up an ugly old woman any day of the week, even if she does have claws and a hump on her back. She didn't look much better after Edward stuck his sword through her chest, but she could hardly have looked worse than she did when she was alive.

Three battles in such a short space of time had left me more than tired, but except for Alyssa, everyone was excited about having reached the Rock! They seemed certain that this old crone was the last guardian we had to face. Alyssa wasn't so certain. I was too tired to care.

We pressed on up the trail that wound around the Rock, and we came across an unusual sight: a sword stuck in the ground. Not something you run across every day. When Edward grasped the hilt and pulled it out, I half expected to hear a heavenly choir anoint him the right-born king of all the realm. But nothing as exciting as that happened. The sword did have some writing etched into the blade, though, and Edward presented it for Alyssa's examination.

Alyssa read the words aloud. "Broad and wide the path to nowhere; thin and narrow the way to true riches. Unravel the riddle the riches to win." That sounded promising, at least the part about the riches.

Now the only question was, how do we get inside? We wandered around, trying to figure out a way inside. Then Branden had an idea. We went back to where we had taken the sword. Then Branden pushed on the stone, and his hand disappeared! The solid-looking stone was nothing more than an illusion! He explained that the niche where we had found the sword was narrow and thin; this was the answer to the clue on the sword.

This caused some discussion as Alyssa pointed out that it could in fact be a trap. Caelisar sided with Branden, while I had to agree with Alyssa. Never argue with a mage, that's what mother always said. Unless the mage is telling you to jump into a flaming pit, in which case it's perfectly alright to argue. Since there was no flaming pit to be seen, I didn't have a problem going with Alyssa's interpretation. To no one's surprise, Warren didn't say anything.

That left it up to our intrepid leader, and this was one of those times when I was glad we had him to make these decisions. If we got into major trouble, we could blame him for it. If we survived, of course. After thinking about it for a while, Edward led the way through the illusion, and we entered what we hoped was the Rock.

Since we didn't immediately die, I became even more convinced that we were being led into a deadly trap. We would see the vast riches, and go running after them, then fall into a bottomless pit and die of starvation before we hit the ground. Or something equally unpleasant. But of course, I didn't mention this to anyone. I decided to be extra-careful instead.

We found ourselves in a gigantic hall, hundreds of feet wide, and as brightly lit as a summer noon. This hall looked as big as the entire world! The walls went up, and up, and up...Alyssa said it was over three hundred feet high. She didn't explain how she knew that, and I didn't really care to ask. At the (very) far end of the hall, we could just make out four raised platforms and, more importantly, seven locked chests. At last, we had found the treasure of the Rock!

I tore my eyes from the chests to look around a bit. The walls were marble with gold inlaid, with beautiful frescoes everywhere. It was like looking at a painting of the gods. To carve this all would have taken an army of dwarves a lifetime to accomplish. And to think, it had been

undisturbed for so long. We were the first living beings to set foot inside here in untold centuries. And everything looked so...clean. Dust hadn't collected on the floor. I didn't need Alyssa to tell me that this place reeked with magic.

Even the floor was decorated, with silver and gold letters that read: HUBRELIS TUMASSEN. Alyssa translated them as 'The Great Pride of Tuma.' A bit of experimental chiseling told me that this wasn't the treasure we wanted. It would take too long to dig the metal out of the floor. But at least there were the chests.

Then I noticed something odd about the hall. The right side was beautiful, as fresh as a spring flower. The left side, on the other hand, looked like it had been dragged through a city street on a leash. We started walking toward the platforms (and the chests), keeping a careful watch for anything that might attack us. After a minute of this tension I realized that considering the size of this hall, anything that might attack us would have to run at us from far enough away that we could have dinner before it got to us. So we relaxed a bit, and made a beeline for the treasure.

As we got there, we noticed that the chests varied in their appearance; some were quite fancy, others much less so. I heard a voice thundering throughout the hall, telling me to grasp the glory that was Tuma. The voice spoke of foolish choices and other sensible advice. When the voice told me that I deserved the best, I couldn't argue with it. After all, we had worked hard to get this far. So now it was time to claim the reward. I took one step toward the nearest chest and found myself in the air.

I hadn't discovered the secret of flying; Warren was holding me up by the scruff of my neck. "What are you doing?" he asked in his rumbling voice.

"Getting what we came for, silly! Didn't you hear what the voice said?"

The others looked at me strangely. It then occurred to me that I was the only one who had heard the voice. I was the only one who had been given this magical blessing! And now they were trying to keep me from what was rightfully mine!

Then I heard the voice again, and the looks on the faces of my companions told me that they were hearing this voice as well. This time the voice told us that only one of the chests held the secret of the Rock, and we could only choose one chest. I tried to get down, since it was obvious to me which chest to pick. But Warren has a very strong grip; he could probably squeeze juice from a rock if he wanted to. And he wasn't letting me down.

Then, Edward stepped forward and stood before the chests. He looked at them all, obviously not having a clue which one he should choose. I tried to point it out to him, but he ignored me. Then, to my horror, he chose the wrong chest!

I cringed, knowing we had failed. But then I saw that the chest wasn't empty. In fact, it was filled almost to overflowing with coins! That wonderful paladin knew what he was doing all along! And there we were, swimming in the treasure of Tuma. We found some other goodies as well, including a strange talisman. I was about to pocket it when Branden thanked me for finding it. Then he took it himself, the thief! Some people have all the nerve in the world! It just goes to show that you can't really trust a priest.

The voice came back as we were busy putting away the treasure. It congratulated us, and told us the secret of the Rock. I don't need to write it down here; the words will always be in my heart. After the voice was finished, everything faded away (except the treasure) and we found ourselves back outside at the base of the Rock. It was time to return to Arkayz's home and relate our tale.

I was all for choosing another route home, but Edward remembered the rock-men we had promised to pay the toll to. So we started back the way we came.

And of course, the rock-men hadn't forgiven us. Edward paid them their toll, which was pretty steep in my opinion. But we didn't have much choice; we weren't going to be able to argue with five walking mountains. At least that's what Caelisar told me. I still think we should have talked our way out of it. Five hundred gold pieces! It was outrageous!

We continued on our way, and came again to the river. Alyssa made another attempt to read the runes, but she had no more success than the previous time. We entered the barrens, and got caught in a short sandstorm. The wind was hot, and the sand blew around us. Suddenly, Warren snatched his battle axe from his back and swung at something. We heard the axe crunch into a living being, and saw a monstrous sand spider! I have no clue how Warren knew it was there. But he undoubtedly saved our lives.

After the storm was over, we came across a chest that had been uncovered by the storm! Well, finally an opportunity for me to exercise my special talents! The lock was simple, and I had it open in moments. Inside we found a lot of ancient copper coins, as well as some daggers and a curious-looking shield. It wasn't much, but we took it anyway. Why not? After having gone so long with so little, money was just falling into our hands now.

Finally we stopped for the night. We had come quite a bit further from the Rock than expected today. I think it had to do with the fact that there was still much more money waiting for us back at Lidrium Arkayz's house. I know I was eager to get that money. Not that I'm greedy, but I think we earned it. Tomorrow we should be there to collect it. I hope he thinks the secret was worth the effort. Actually, I know he will. We certainly do.



Day 7

It's funny; for weeks we wandered around with no money and not one monster attacked us. This morning we broke camp, but before we could even leave the campsite we found ourselves under attack by a couple of gruesome bugbears! Now that we had some money in our pockets, every greedy monster in the Westlands wanted a piece of us. Greed is such an ugly emotion.

We fought them off, and we discovered something very interesting: the sword that Edward had drawn from the niche in the rock glowed with a golden light during the battle; it is a magical blade! The bugbears were no match for us, especially Edward's blade. After he dispatched the second bugbear by slicing its head right off, Edward knelt down and asked Branden to bless the sword for him. I suppose a blessing doesn't hurt, but I thought it was customary for a priest to bless the warrior BEFORE he goes into battle. Still, paladins and priests have strange rituals. Humans are so weird.

After the blessing was completed, Edward christened the blade with a name, Everbright. Not a bad name, I suppose. I've noticed that warriors like to name their weapons. I have no idea why. I didn't think the sword was all that bright; it was a pretty dim light. But he seemed happy, so I didn't comment on it.

We continued on, and arrived at the point where the trail branched off in three directions. Caelisar noticed that the trees seemed a bit odd. Then I saw that the grass was bending against the wind. There was something very wrong here. We tensed up, ready for anything...

...except for what happened. One moment we were grabbing our weapons, the next we found ourselves standing in front of Lidrium Arkayz's manor house.

Well, it did save us a day's travel, so I wasn't about to complain. We entered the house, and the guards escorted us to Jenlar Temlin. He was waiting for us in a parlor, and he was eager to hear about our journey to the Rock. Caelisar told him the tale, including the secret of the Rock. Temlin nodded, but said there was more. I don't know how he knew, but he obviously was expecting us to have something else. Branden handed him the talisman, and Temlin nodded, very pleased. I was just as pleased when he handed us six pouches of money. At last, fortune smiled upon us! And I smiled right back at it.

Temlin was kind enough to offer us rooms for the night. We stayed the rest of the day, talking about the wonders we had seen on our way to the Rock and back. It was definitely an exciting journey. We shared a laugh over the plight of the desert-sailing gnomish ship, and I found myself wondering about Robern and his crew. I hope they find their ocean.



Day 8

In the morning, Temlin saw us off. He suggested we should travel to Specularum, where a great festival was to be held within a few days. After all this time in the wilderness, I'm more than ready for a trip to the city. We left the manor of Lidrium Arkayz, and headed for the road to Specularum. Who knows what adventure will await us there? Whatever it is, I'm certain it won't be boring.



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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.