Written by Paddi Whisperleaf
…brought to light by Glen Sprigg
Today was the last day of the King's Festival, and naturally I was looking forward to at least enjoying one day of fun and frolic among the people of Stallanford. But Edward spoiled that before breakfast by reading that stupid note. After reading it he brought it to Alyssa. She read it aloud to the rest of us; it mentioned an evil queen who was determined to bring a harvest of death upon the land. I immediately announced that I didn't care about any queens; I wanted to enjoy the festival. My opinion was duly noted and ignored by Edward.
We visited the temple and spoke to Alaric, who told us that Kavorquian was a wizard who lived a day's ride north of Stallanford, near the Bloodstone mines. Naturally, Edward agreed with the priest that we should take the note to Kavorquian at once. So much for the festival.
We left town before and rode north. It was snowing, and there wasn’t much company on the road. Obviously, other people had better things to do than tramp through snowdrifts. Like enjoy the last day of the King’s Festival.
This Kavorquian didn’t live all that far, but the weather slowed us down so that it was early evening by the time we got to the bottom of the path that led to his home. I was very ready for supper at this point. We walked up to the very impressive manor house, surrounded by an iron gate that had lots of interesting designs on it, which Alyssa identified as magical wards. So at least we hadn’t gotten lost.
Just as we got to the front door, a manservant stepped outside and started lighting the lamps on the lintel. He didn’t appear to be expecting visitors. Can’t imagine why not; doesn’t everybody show up on doorsteps in the freezing snow? Edward gave him the letter, and he informed us that Kavorquian would not be able to read the letter, since he was currently dead.
At that, I was ready to shrug it off and return to Stallanford, but the servant spoiled that by saying he’d get someone to speak to us. Then he went back inside, leaving us standing out in the snow! A minute or so later, the door opened again, and this time the butler greeted us. Showing a great deal more sense than the lamp-lighter, he invited us in to the warm hall, and escorted us to a lounge after we’d brushed and stamped the snow off.
He gave us some wine, which was the least he could do after we’d been stuck outside in the rotten weather. Then he asked our names, and went to fetch the manor’s new lord. A few minutes later, I was enjoying my second glass of wine when another door opened, and a young man stepped in. Ordinarily I would have said he had a handsome face, but I was more interested in his arm. I was interested in it because it was the only one he had. The butler introduced him as Lord Kaerin Penhaligon, adopted son of the wizard Kavorquian.
He was tall, dark and handsome; I could tell Alyssa liked him. For myself, I prefer my men short, bearded, and having a full set of limbs. But maybe I’m just being picky. He thought we were old friends of Kavorquian, but Alyssa straightened him out on that score and told him about the letter. Kaerin read the letter, and didn’t like what he read at all. So he told us he’d discuss it with a cleric friend of his who was coming to visit, and asked us to stay for dinner. Needless to say, it was the least he could do. So I didn’t say it.
We told him about the problems at the King’s Festival in Stallanford, and regaled him with the tale of our adventure in the orc caverns. His eyebrowd perked up when we told him about the evil cleric and the undead that had been roaming about down there. I was hoping that he’d tell us the dramatic tale of how Kavorquian had died fighting off a dragon or something, but apparently he had simply died in his sleep. How boring.
After the meal (and some excellent brandy), Kaerin asked us if we’d be interested in doing him a favor. Having just moved in, he wasn’t totally familiar with the house, although he liked it quite a bit. Except for the basement, which was where the wizard Kavorquian had done his magical stuff. Alyssa was very interested in poking around down there, but I know better than to mess around with a mage’s laboratory. Some things you just don’t do.
Then he told us he wanted two
things from that basement: a tiara and a sword. Any other treasure we found
down there, we could keep. I started looking for the door immediately, but
Since Kaerin was currently arm-less, he couldn’t go down and get the things himself. So instead, he wanted us to get them for him. In addition to the treasure, he’d pay us each two hundred and fifty gold. The catch? We had to be back in two days time.
It was a tough decision to make; risk our lives in a mage’s basement, with no guarantee that there actually would be any treasure, or leave and find our fortunes elsewhere. I waited an instant too long to speak up, because Edward pledged our service. That boy really needs to start thinking before opening his mouth.
The butler escorted us to a nice suite of rooms for the night; whoever Kavorquian may have been, he was certainly rich. I could get comfortable in a place like this. But I’m not looking forward to what’s going to happen tomorrow.
After a reasonably tasty breakfast, Kaerin met us at the steps to the basement and wished us luck. He also reminded us that there was a time limit. So down we went, into the bowels of a wizard’s home. I should have listened to my mother. She told me, "Never fool around with wizards’ homes. Sensible gnomes stay away from those places."
A quiet chamber awaited us at the bottom of those dark, nasty, dusty stairs. The place looked like no one had been here in a long, long time. We proceeded with some caution, but the time limit kept us from taking all the precautions we should have. Maybe then we wouldn’t have had to go through what we did.
We walked along a dusty, cobwebbed hallway, and suddenly this voice appears out of nowhere, asking us for a password. It would have been nice to have been given that small piece of information, but it was too late now. Edward started to say something, but apparently we’d waited too long, and there was a loud rumbling behind us.
Before we could turn to look and see what was happening, a pit opened up beneath Edward. He dropped about ten feet and landed hard, twisting his ankle. Warren and Caelisar pulled him up. Then things really started to happen. A bell tolled in the distance (always an ominous sound), and suddenly a man appeared from a doorway ahead of us.
At first I thought I had solved the problem of Kaerin’s missing arm, since this man had a really, really long arm. He stretched it out and attacked us. Before we could react, a little golden ball floated through the wall behind me, with a sharp, pointy end sticking out toward me.
Fortunately for us, they were more frightening to look at than to fight. Branden got stung by the pointy ball, but that was all the other side could do to us. Edward dispatched the long-armed man, then smashed the ball to bits with Everbright. He really likes that sword.
We explored a few rooms until we came to the dining room. There was a portrait of Kavorquian there. An imposing, wizard-type, certainly. Not at all like the new lord of the manor. But Kaerin’s alive, which gives him a bonus. In the kitchen, we found the cooks were still working, even though they were dead. They didn’t seem to appreciate our presence, and attacked us. But we took care of them quickly enough, and continued on our way.
We found a staircase leading down to a locked door. It didn’t take me long to divine its secrets, and it popped open. It lead to a garbage dump, which wasn’t pleasant. Particularly the rats that attacked us. Rude little critters. They didn’t last too long against us, though.
At the top of the stairs, we
found another locked door, this one with a subtle warning about the terribly
dangerous guardian beyond it. Naturally, we went in. The lock was almost as
stubborn as the last one, but I didn’t have much trouble opening this one,
either. Inside were weapon racks, filled with nasty-looking weapons, almost as
nasty as the guardian beast itself. It looked like one of those stone gargoyles
that sit on church rooftops, except this one was much uglier and nastier,
especially since it was attacking us.
Looking around the room, we
found several swords, including the one that obviously belonged to his
lordship. It was huge, a two-handed sword even for
Edward suggested that we return to the house to give the sword to Kaerin, which sounded good. We could use a bit of a rest anyway after the fighting we’d done. So back we went. There was one problem: stone walls had slid across the hallway to the stairs. We were stuck down here, unless we could find another way out. Or unless we dug a way to the surface. That might make meeting the deadline difficult.
So we continued to explore the place. We entered what used to be a bathhouse, but was now coated in greenish, slimy stuff. As soon as I mentioned how disgusting the slime looked, Alyssa grabbed me by the collar and yanked me out of the room just as a blob of slime fell from the ceiling, right where I had been standing.
I thanked Alyssa for pulling me back, even if she was rather rude about it. Getting that slime on me would have been disgusting, and a pain to get out. Then Alyssa told me that if it had landed on me, it would have eaten through my clothes and turned my flesh into slime, which would have killed me. Now that sounded like a really disgusting way to die. Shuddering, I walked away from that door very quickly.
The room across the hall was much nicer, being a bedroom. Much better. No slimy ceilings to give an honest gnome nightmares. We found a very nice tapestry of elves frolicking in the woods, which would be a suitable addition to our collection, and part of the reward from Kaerin. Caelisar informed us that elves never frolicked that way; obviously the artist had taken liberties. But it still looked pretty, and more importantly, valuable. So was the small ring with the aquamarine inset that I found in the bed. But the others don’t need to know about that.
Before we could open the next door, two of those gold balls with needles came out of the walls at us. It’s really unnerving to see solid objects float through walls. But they weren’t that dangerous to us, and we dealt with them in a hurry. Too bad they shattered into dust when we destroyed them; they might have been valuable.
Behind the door they had been guarding was a study. Desks and benches, books and shelves adorned the place. Alyssa went straight for the desk, but I stopped her. She knew about slime, but I’m the expert on locked drawers. But first, I checked the drawer for any nasty surprises, and there it was. A needle-gas trap of some sort, and I wasn’t eager to find out what it would do. So I disarmed it, then fought with the lock for five minutes before it finally gave in to my superior lock-picking abilities. Considering how well it was protected, I was eager to find out what was inside. I wasn’t disappointed, as there was a small sack of coins waiting for us. Not a king’s ransom, but certainly enough to compensate my efforts.
The bottom drawer of the desk was locked, but I didn’t have any trouble with it. So I was surprised when we found the gemstones and the two potion bottles. Someone wasn’t thinking too clearly when he planted this stuff. Not that I’m complaining, of course. But, really, if you’re going to hide the valuable stuff in a separate drawer from the coins, you should at least have the intelligence to put the trap on the valuable drawer. Sometimes mages just don’t think clearly. Not that I’d say that to Alyssa.
The rest of the study was of interest only to Alyssa, with lots and lots of books on various subjects. But there was no tiara, not yet. Unfortunately, we’d already looked everywhere. So now we had to look everywhere again. The question was, where to look.
Caelisar was the one who suggested looking in the rat-infested garbage dump. What a disgusting place to put a secret chamber. But she was right, and I looked it over carefully before we tried opening it. This one had a gas-bag just like the desk drawer had, and I got rid of it easily. Then I tried to unlock it. Twice. Unfortunately, it appeared that Kavorquian had finally found a lock that even I couldn’t pick. So Caelisar bashed it down instead. Sometimes the direct approach is the best.
So we entered a narrow corridor in an unfinished part of the mansion. It wasn’t long before we found out we weren’t alone. Two pretty women were poking around in a corridor. When they noticed us, they got weapons ready, and acted as if they owned the place. However, since Kaerin had specifically stated there shouldn’t be anyone else here, Edward asserted his paladin-like authority and started questioning them. The blonde claimed she was Kavorquian’s niece, which was a pretty obvious lie. But they wouldn’t say anything else.
So Edward, like the honest paladin he is, told them what we were doing here. When they realized that Kaerin himself had sent us, the blonde got rather nervous. Then she suggested we work together to explore the dungeon. Edward wasn’t too impressed, but I suggested that they would indeed be helpful. Besides, with them among us, we could keep an eye on them. Certainly, I’d know what to look for; as I’ve said before, it takes a thief to know a thief, and these two were obviously thieves.
The corridor was a dead end, but Sarrah, the blonde showed us the secret door they had entered through. So on we went, seeking out the missing tiara. I was keeping one eye on Serrah, the other on her friend, who had been introduced to us as Erren. So I didn’t notice when we entered the room with the four zombie guards. They were almost on top of me when Edward and Branden shouted a warning. They were silent and deadly, and they smelled like a charnel house, but they were no match for us. Serrah was a goot shot with her crossbow, although crossbows don’t do much good against people who are already dead. Warren and Edward demonstrated how to dismember the zombies, and were very effective. Gruesomely so, in fact.
Our explorations took us to a laboratory, where we encountered a nasty crystal statue that attacked us as soon as we entered. Fortunately, itwasn’t all that difficult to beat. Unfortunately, there’s not much of a market for broken crystal. So much for that treasure. Still, there were lots of goodies to be found in this place, and Alyssa was drooling. So were Erren and Serrah, but Edward and Warren kept a very close eye on them. I’m sure they were just making sure they weren’t planning on stealing anything. Men!
While Alyssa looked around, the rest of us decided to call it a day’s work, and we set up a crude camp in the laboratory. Time enough to explore the rest tomorrow; right now I need sleep. The only problem is, how do I watch the two thieves and sleep at the same time?
Well, another day goes by, and once again we were up to our necks in crazy dangers. But as usual, we survived, thanks largely to my indispensible efforts. I’m sure the others would dispute that claim. I’ve noticed that humans tend to take us gnomes too lightly.
After a somewhat restful night, during which the men took turns staring at the two newcomers instead of watching for dangers, we headed out of the laboratory and continued to explore. There’s no telling how much more of this place we’ll have to get through before we find our way out, but I’m sure it won’t be easy regardless. Wizards never make things easy for gnomes. You’d think they didn’t trust us or something.
We entered a room that stank of death and rotting flesh, but at least this time it wasn’t zombies. There were some dead creatures lying around. A carrion crawler, a giant lizard…they weren’t doing anything except quietly rotting in the remains of their cages. But one creature was still alive, and it was the most revolting thing imaginable. It had a strange set of feelers all over its rust-colored body. Alyssa shouted that it was a rust monster, and that it could destroy any metal it touched in an instant! Where does she get this sort of knowledge? Mages read too much, I think. Never any time for more practical things.
Well, Caelisar and Warren
pulled out their bows, and Sarrah used a crossbow on that thing. The bolts and
arrows weren’t too effective, since the metal heads melted away when they hit
the creature. But Edward stood strong with Everbright as the thing charged, and
with a powerful swing he cut the thing’s body really badly. Alyssa thought that
the sword would be destroyed, but Edward never hesitated, and the sword seemed
We soon came to a doorway, and
I didn’t need my sharp gnomish ears to hear the sounds of battle from the other
side. It couldn’t have been Kaerin, since there was more than one voice, and
none of them sounded like him. The sounds of fighting stopped suddenly, and
there was a crash of metal. I whispered to Edward what I had heard, and he
One was a mean-looking dwarf
with an axe to rival
The dwarf and the warrior were muttering about some sort of iron golem, when the dwarf caught sight of Caelisar. With a roar of ‘Stinking elf!" he charged at her, his eyes blazing with berserk rage. I took an experimental sniff, but as far as I could tell, Caelisar had indeed bathed recently, although she wasn’t a spring flower by this time. But she certainly was a rose compared to the smelly dwarf that was running at her.
Caelisar fired an arrow at him, but it deflected off his shield. I ducked aside, hoping to sneak around to the rear of the battle, but that nasty mage magicked me with something that hurt, a lot! The next thing I knew, I was on the floor, my head spinning. I heard the sounds of battle around me, then I heard Alyssa chanting in the language of magic. Soon enough, the sounds of battle stopped. Alyssa had put three of them to sleep, and Erren had chased down the mage and finished him off before he could magick anyone else. Not much of a climactic battle, but I won’t complain. At least I wasn’t dead, which to me is an important part of any battle.
We collected their weapons and armor and other assorted goodies; whoever they were, they didn’t appear to be here by Kaerin’s request. So we brought them along for Kaerin to deal with as well. The next mage that casts a spell with his hands tied and mouth gagged will be the first, as far as I know. The others were roped together and gagged to keep them out of trouble.
Alyssa took the mage’s scroll without even checking with Edward. Shocking impropriety for the mage, but that’s typical of the breed. The scroll apparently had some magical spells to open doors with. This proved useful, as the door in the far corner was magically sealed. Alyssa used the spells to punch through the seals, and in we went. I was hoping to find the way out, but it turned out to be even better; there was treasure to be found!
Now, I’m not one to turn my back on heaping sacks of gold and platinum coins; that’s just not the gnomish thing to do. But no gnome in history will condemn me for it at that moment, because my eyes locked on Lord Penhaligon’s tiara. This was the most exquisite piece of jewelry I ever laid eyes on. The harpy queen’s tiara was a piece of tin compared to this masterpiece. And the worst thing about it was that I knew there was no way at all I was going to be able to steal- I mean, keep it safe.
Unfortunately for me, Edward also saw the tiara, and plucked it from my outstretched hands. How rude! Especially for a paladin! But there was nothing else for me to do but watch him wrap that beautiful thing and put it in his pack for safekeeping. Now how will I get it?
But there was more. I opened the second chest and found some books. One of them was particularly interesting, as it discussed this ‘bandit queen’ who we had mentioned to Kaerin. Apparently she is the illegitimate child of Arturus Penhaligon, the former lord of the area and Kaerin’s uncle by adoption. If that’s true, she could very well make a claim to be the rightful ruler of the region, which would pose some interesting problems for Kaerin.
With the tiara and sword in hand, we left the treasure room with a sigh of relief. After a bit of searching, we found a trap door in the ceiling that led to a secret entrance to the butler’s pantry in the mansion above. And there, waiting for us, was Lord Penhaligon himself, accompanied by several warriors and an older man he identified as Baron Sherlane. Now there’s a name I recognized! Fortunately, he didn’t recognize me, and I wasn’t about to reacquaint us. Some things are just better left alone.
Being the observant gnome I am, I noticed something quite different about Lord Penhaligon. He had a new arm! Or at least, his old one had regrown, or been re-attached, or something of the sort. Regardless, he now had a full set of limbs, which I’m sure pleased Alyssa greatly.
But almost as interesting as the restored arm was the blood on the floor, and the coffin being carried out by two soldiers. Apparently the bandits we had fought and brought back upstairs were responsible for the deaths of three of Kaerin’s servants, and the butler was missing. The soldiers took the bandits into custody, and at Kaerin’s request, took Erren and Serrah with them as well. Too bad for them! I wasn’t too sorry to see them go; I never trusted them. But Warren and Branden seemed a bit disappointed. I can’t imagine why. Maybe Branden wanted to save their souls at the expense of his own.
We handed over the tiara and sword, and Baron Sherlane took an interest in the journal we had found discussing the bandit queen. He also took a bit of an interest in me, but Lord Kaerin distracted him enough for me to avoid any further attentions. You’d think I still had his wife’s necklace around my neck. Afterwards, we were led to a bedroom suite and given fine rooms to spend the night. All in all, quite an interesting day!
After a hearty breakfast (not to mention a warm bath), we met with Lord Penhaligon and Baron Sherlane in the study. Penhaligon seemed pleased about something, although he became quite serious when we entered the room.
Baron Sherlane did most of the talking, explaining how Kaerin was Kavorquian’s adopted son, and how Lady Arteris Penhaligon, daughter of Arturus, was the local ruler. This much I knew, but I thought it best to keep my knowledge of local affairs to myself. No need to give the baron any ideas that I’m from the area. To keep Sherlane’s ramblings short, the ‘bandit queen’ is Ilyana, the illegitimate daughter of Arturus. Apparently, she’s raising a force of orcs and goblins to attack Penhaligon itself, and assert her own claim to the ancestral seat.
To make things more interesting, we wouldn’t be safe in this place for long, since the bandits we fought had friends, including an agent in Penhaligon’s house (the butler). So, by Baron Sherlane’s logic, the safest place for us to go would be to Ilyana’s castle and fight her whole army, since they’d never expect it. I’m now sure that he recognized me; why else would he suggest a suicide mission? I was about ready to head for the hills, but then Sherlane said that stopping Ilyana before she could make good on her threats to take over the land would make the Duke very happy, and keep the lands peaceful. I groaned at that one, and I mouthed Edward’s words along with him: "We’ll be happy to provide this service for the Duke. Show us the way, my Lord." Sometimes that boy really disappoints me.
I could tell
So it’s back to Stallanford for supplies, then off to the keep to fight abandit queen and her hordes of humanoids. Six against an army…that should be interesting.