Written by Paddi Whisperleaf
…brought to light by Glen Sprigg
We arrived in Stallanford this morning. It's a cozy little village, nothing really special about it. Except for the King's Festival, of course. Now, there's no king around these parts, and there hasn't been for a while. So the Festival is for a king who lived (and died) a long time ago. His name was Halav, and from what I know of him he was one of those big, brawny, muscle-bound warriors that humans seem to admire so much. He probably kept his brains in his scabbard, where they wouldn't interfere with his manly mescle-flexing. But then it doesn't take much to impress humans, does it?
Well, Stallanford was in high gear for the festival tomorrow. We arrived late in the afternoon, and found a table at the local tavern, which had the stunningly original name of 'The Hungry Halfling.' I've known a lot of halflings in my day; Granitehome is as much a halfling community as it is a gnomish town. And to call one of them hungry was to say that a desert is dry. Don't they do anything but eat? Now, something like 'The Grim-faced and Snarling Halfling' would at least be original. It might not attract as many customers to the tavern, I suppose. Humans don't appreciate creativity as much as they appreciate muscle-flexing. And to think they rule most of the land. I'm amazed there's any land left.
When we went in, the proprietor came up to welcome us himself. And wouldn't you know it, he's a halfling. That would explain the name; he probably eats as much as his customers. He certainly looked as if he didn't skimp on the sampling of the food.
The dinner wasn't too bad; whatever you want to say about halflings, they definitely know how to cook. We paid for the meal and a couple of rooms for the night. Tomorrow we'll get to sample another festival, although I'm sure this one won't be as eventful as the one in Specularum. Thank the gods there is no Veiled Society in Stallanford.
I might have known. Wherever we go in the Realm, trouble follows. It's probably Edward's fault. Trouble and paladins go together like bread and butter. Not that he minds it at all; he's always happy to be a crusader for righteousness.
I woke up much earlier than I would have liked to; the sound of shouting in the streets and the flickering of flames through the window tends to get my attention. The first thing I did was make sure Alyssa wasn't casting spells in her sleep and burning the building down. You can never tell with mages. Then I woke her and Caelisar up and climbed up on the window sill to see what was happening.
The fire wasn't coming from
the inn; it was coming from the small temple! I rushed across the hall to the
room where the men were sleeping. As I opened the door, I realized that they
might not appreciate this sudden entrance. But it was already too late; there
was Branden sitting up on the bed, blinking the sleep out of his eyes, and
wearing nothing but the bedsheet. I felt my face turning beet-red, but I knew
he'd want to know about the temple. So I told him in a few short sentences, and
he almost stood upright, then realized the awkwardness of the situation he was
in. He turned even redder than I felt, and mumbled that he'd be out as soon as
possible. Edward and Warren were also awake, but they waited until I left
before getting out of bed. As I was leaving, I turned back to Branden and said,
"Nice legs, for a human." That actually got a chuckle out of
We all rushed outside within a few minutes, joining the milling crowd around the temple. There didn't seem to be much we could do, although both Edward and Branden were looking very angry. They tend to get upset when temples burn. Unless they are doing the burning, and the temple is evil. Then it's okay. I know; I asked them about it on the way to Stallanford.
That's when I noticed the old man approaching us. I didn't need to be a soothsayer to determine what he wanted. He begged us to help, since the fire had been caused by a band of raiding orcs. And to make things worse, they had kidnapped the village priest, a dignified old man named Aralic!
Well, you can well imagine how
Edward and Branden felt. And
My only concern was that the
men were ready to track down the orcs without even discussing proper
compensation for our efforts. No sense for business, I'm afraid. But before
they could go charging off into the woods, another old man named Janner showed
up and offered to lead us to where the orcs were believed to be hiding out. His
son had been killed by the raiders, so he had some personal stake in seeing
them properly chastised. Knowing
Alyssa asked if the villagers could offer us some supplies; we needed a few basic things, since we hadn't expected to be orc-hunting today. The local shop had been raided, and there wasn't much left, but we were given what we needed, and off we went.
Janner led the way. He was
following a pretty thin trail, but
After a couple of hours, we
could see some hills through the edge of the trees. Janner told us that we'd
find the orcs there, and returned to the village. I could tell he wanted to
come along, but he knew as well as we did that he'd just be in the way.
Orc-hunting is serious business. Especially for
We found the cave entrance without any problems. We got right up to the entrance without being spotted by any orcs. Of course, we didn't spot any orcs ourselves. Maybe they didn't expect such a quick response to their raid.
In we went, and found a guard
cave. Not that the guards were very alert; it looked like they were sleeping
off a celebration. Before they could even react to our sudden appearance,
Warren and Caelisar were on them like savage wolves. It wasn't pretty. Edward
chided them a bit for killing them in their sleep, but
While the two warriors were discussing combat etiquette, I went through what was left of the orcs and gathered up some coins. The orcs wouldn't need them anymore, and you never know when a few silver pieces will come in handy. Shortly, we decided to press on; there was no telling what the orcs planned to do with a kindly old priest. Nothing nice, I'm sure. So off we went.
We found a storage room with more disgusting orcish beer, but the hair on my neck stood up as we looked around. I could sense something nasty in here. Behind a keg of ale, I found it. A disgusting little kobold! Probably a scavenger that did tricks for the orcs in return for table scraps. He snarled as he saw me, and leapt at me, trying to bite my face. He had a knife; I have a shortsword. It didn't take long. Before the others could do anything, I was already feeling much better about the day. I wiped the blood off on his ragged shirt, then turned away.
I'm not going to include every
little detail of our explorations; we did a thorough job on these caverns, and
an even more thorough job on the orcs we found. Not to mention the bugbear and
the giant lizard. But we didn't find the priest. What we did find, however, was
a secret door. Or rather, Caelisar found it. She's got those elven eyes that
see everything, I suppose. So we weren't done yet. There were some more orcs to
kill, for which
Then we found the throne room.
Or at least, that's what the orcs seemed to consider it to be. It wasn't all
that impressive; there were a few guards, and one big, nasty orc chieftain with
a stench coming off him that would scare a troll.
I saw one of the orcs
muttering and waving his hands, and shouted a warning that the other side had a
wizard of their own. But Caelisar was ready for him, and put arrows in both his
eyes before he could do more than conjure up a puff of smoke. Edward and
Branden dealt with the guards (with my help) and Alyssa magicked them. That
left Warren and the chief, one with a big axe and the other with a huge sword.
The rest of us just watched. It wasn't artistic, not at all.
As we gathered our wits after the battle, we heard a soft cry from one of the doors in the north wall. Opening it, we found Alaric the priest, chained and beaten. It appears that the orcs wanted to force him to use his healing magic for their benefit. Now they'll need more healing than he can give them. Serves them right.
He also told us about an evil that the orcs had discovered further in the caves. He didn't know any details, but the orcs were certainly frightened. But there was no time for further exploring; we had Alaric, which was why we had come. But I could tell that Edward had every intention of coming back here after we returned Alaric safely to Stallanford.
We left the caverns and returned to the village, where we received the hero's welcome we were becoming accustomed to. This was definitely my favorite part of the adventure. We get free food, free lodgings, and we're treated like royalty. Not bad for a group of adventurers who only a few weeks ago had nothing but a few weapons and gear to survive with.
After dinner, we discussed our
plans. Alaric was going to ensure that the King's Festival went on as planned,
but he and the town elders wanted us to investigate the evil that Alaric had
mentioned. Branden and Edward were all for it. I could tell
In the morning Alaric met us at the inn, thanking us yet again for rescuing him. I know he was grateful, but priests shouldn't really fawn over us like that. Even Edward was feeling uncomfortable. Then Alaric told us again about the evil the orcs had been concealing, and that we might not get the same treasure we got from the orcs. That didn't stop Edward, though, and off we went to the caves.
It was the first time we had
actually returned to the scene of our pillaging. Or adventuring, if that sounds
better. The aftermath was even worse than I had imagined. Apparently there are
some things out there that will actually eat dead orc. Alyssa and Branden
didn't feel very comfortable, but
We retraced our steps to the
orc chieftain's throne room. Everything was pretty much the same as we had left
it, including the dead bodies. I saw
The tunnel was more of a staircase leading down. I wasn't about to take the lead; scouting is my specialty, but when I'm surrounded by elves and paladins I let them take the lead into dark places filled with evil. I'm quite happy to play rear guard and stay with Alyssa, who had recovered from her little spell.
We descended the stairs for a
few minutes and entered a rock-strewn cavern. Edward concentrated, seeking any
signs of evil. I hear paladins are good at sniffing out evil, like bloodhounds
on a scent. Of course, I didn't need Edward to tell me there was something
nasty in this cavern; the two huge worm-things bursting from the ground were a
good clue. Caelisar was the first to react, carving one into pieces before it
could put the bite on her. The other went down quickly as well, thanks to
We followed Edward's keen
senses, and found a burial chamber. Before we could explore it at all, a
hissing sound from behind me alerted the others, and we turned to see a huge
bug with tentacles around its mouth rising to attack us!
We searched the burial chamber, but the tombs were empty. I was not encouraged to see scratch marks inside the coffins, as if the occupants had gotten bored and tried to get out. I can certainly understand not wanting to stay in a tomb, but I'm not dead, and the people inside the coffins were. But apparently not. I wasn't looking forward to meeting them if they weren't.
We returned back to the cavern
we had first entered, and would you believe another worm came up through some
tunnels! This one appeared right in the middle of the group, bursting up and
chomping on Branden's arm! Fortunately
We continued on. What else could we do, really? Other than the worms and the bug, there was no real indication of the evil Alaric had mentioned. But we could tell it was here somewhere. So on we went, until we found a cavern that was occupied. And I REALLY didn't like seeing a half-dozen skeletons waving swords and charging at me. There's nothing so horrifying as listening to bones rattle around as they try to dismember you.
But then Branden stepped forward, holding his holy symbol high for them to see. He chanted a prayer to his god, and his amulet began to glow. The skeletons saw it, and whatever was holding them together didn't like what they were seeing, because they all turned and ran to the far corner of the cavern, as far as they could get from Branden. He's such a nice boy to have around, I think.
But we weren't done, because Alyssa's shout warned us that more were coming at us from behind. But before they could slice her to ribbons, Branden merely turned and commanded them to leave us alone. Which they did, thankfully. I made a note to make a donation at the temple in Branden's name. A small one, of course. I'm a working girl.
There were more empty coffins; even the pillows had been taken from them. I was started to get a clearer picture of what we were up against down here. Skeletons don't just get up on their own and walk around. Someone has to tell them to do that, and that meant either an evil priest or a very powerful wizard. I hoped it was the first one; I wasn't in the mood to face an evil wizard today. Or any other day, for that matter.
Pressing on, we started climbing over some rubble that had been strewn about the corridor; you'd think that whoever was controlling the skeletons would at least clean up once in a while. But what we didn't realize was that the rubble was actually a house. Living inside the pile were a couple
of snakes, and they weren't happy to see us.
We climbed over the rubble and found another cavern, this one without any skeletons or snakes. But there was a gigantic beetle that snapped its mandibles at us and tried to have Edward for a snack. Instead it got a taste of Everbright, which didn't go down well. Edward was pretty calm about the whole thing, or maybe he was distracted; he still hadn't gotten rid of the evil, and he was impatient to do some evil-beating. Paladins!
Continuing on, we found another inhabited cavern; at first we thought the occupant was a red goblin, but it was much nastier than that. I don't know exactly what it was, but it took a shot from Everbright and kept on coming, something no goblin could have done. It finally took Caelisar's super-elven strength to kill the thing, as she carved its belly neatly with her sword.
Well, we searched around and
found the thing's lair. Buried in its bed was a nice sack of treasure, which
put me in a much better mood. Now we just had to find the evil and get out
alive. But as we were leaving the cavern, I heard a growl coming from behind
me. It was impossible! The thing was dead! But instinct took over, and I
knocked Alyssa down as a red blur jumped through the spot she had been standing
in. It was somehow alive again, and just as eager to kill us all over.
Alyssa thanked me for saving her life, then suggested that we burn the remains. I asked her if that was a troll, but she shook her head. It could obviously regenerate like a troll, so perhaps burning it would have the same effect on it as it would on a troll's corpse. I wasn't going to argue with a mage, so I poured some oil on it and touched my torch to it even as it started to quiver again. It made a nice fire, and I wasn't sorry to see it writhe in the flames. I didn't want that thing coming up behind us later to attack from behind!
We had explored most of these lower caverns by now, but there was still more to do. We returned to the worm-cavern, but no more of the disgusting things came up from the tunnels. We entered another cavern, and inside this one we found ourselves under attack again, this time from a horrible-smelling, vaguely-human thing. It leapt at Caelisar, snarling and clawing, but she beat it back with her sword long enough for Branden to pull out his amulet once again. The creature didn't react to it any better than the skeletons had, and went to hide in a corner. Branden identified it as a ghoul, a flesh-eating undead thing. Not nice at all.
We searched the cavern, because it was the last place we could find. But there was no sign of any other evil besides the ghoul. Edward insisted that we hadn't yet found the true evil. I solved the problem by discovering the secret door in the ghoul's lair. Behind this door, the air was cold. I didn't need Edward to tell me that we were close to the source of the evil. But he told me anyway.
The door led to a passageway, which we followed very cautiously. Edward and Caelisar were in the lead. Branden and Warren followed them, while Alyssa and I made sure nothing snuck up behind us. We came to a room in which two men were standing. However, these men hadn't bathed in a long time. Centuries, by the smell of them. And they weren't very happy to see us. In fact, they were dead. Except they were walking toward us. We met their lumbering charge head-on, and chopped them into pieces. There's nothing as eerie as cutting off a man's arm and having him say absolutely nothing. Not even an 'ouch' out of them. Very unnerving.
Well, the door they were
guarding wasn't very interesting, but what was behind it was. There was a
warrior's corpse on a table, and standing over the corpse was a real ugly man
in chainmail and carrying a gleaming mace. Once again, Edward informed those of
us who weren't paying attention that we were face-to-face with an evil priest
of chaos. He started casting a spell, and Caelisar replied with a couple of
arrows. But they both missed, and he magicked her. All of a sudden, I couldn't
hear a thing. Not even my own heart beating, which I knew was pounding like a
rabbit. It didn't seem to phase Caelisar, though. She dropped her bow and went
straight after the priest, and no armor was going to withstand her magical
strength. She didn't do it alone, of course; Branden tried a spell of his own,
but it had no effect.
The magic spell died with the priest, and Caelisar stepped back, her eyes grim as she wiped her sword clean. We stripped the body; the mace was obviously magical, and Branden would ensure that it served a better cause than the evil priest had. And Alyssa found a note written to someone named Kavorquian. But there was no sign of any real treasure, which was very disappointing. Surely there must be something!
Once again I found the secret door. I just have the knack for it, I suppose. There was a short tunnel behind it, and it lead to a small room where the priest had stored the treasures he had been looting from the tombs. Finally, a reward for all our hard work! Naturally, as the person responsible for finding this treasure, I had first choice. At least, I thought so, and I wanted the jewel-encrusted golden tiara. Edward disagreed, and we gathered everything up together. We would donate some to the village; we had more than we could conveniently carry. But I still wanted the tiara.
We weren't looking forward to marching through the caverns again, and I really didn't want Edward stepping in anymore orc guts. Alyssa was already looking green just at the thought. So instead we found another hidden door. This time Caelisar took the credit. It led to a short staircase, which in turn led to the fresh air outside. Three hours later, we were back in Stallanford for a well-earned rest. We returned to the Hungry Halfling and went straight to bed; it was late enough in the day that we weren't concerned about doing anything else. Tomorrow we'll deal with the rest of the world.