Written by Paddi Whisperleaf
…brought to light by Glen Sprigg
I really don’t like
winter. In fact, I really, really, REALLY hate it. There’s something about
trying to push through four-foot snowdrifts when you’re just under four feet
tall. So in Stallanford the next morning, we got rid of a lot of excess gear,
then headed back up to Lord Penhaligon’s home. Fortunately, Baron Sherlane had
left for home, and we had a quick lunch before Edward led us into the
Two days have gone by, and
we’re still trekking through these mountains.
This morning, though, the snow
FINALLY stopped falling. The clouds were still hanging there, and
We entered a valley near the
castle (at least we hoped it was near), and followed a non-existent trail. The
wind was fairly strong, and we heard the howling of wolves from somewhere in
the distance. Then
Caelisar dropped one of them with
two quick arrows, and
We took shelter in a nearby
cave and ate a cold meal, but we didn’t have time to stay; the snow would be
Shortly afterwards, while
trudging through yet more snow, we hear another roar. Looking up, I saw a mountain
lion leaping down in front of us, baring its nasty-looking fangs. Caelisar and
Edward had their weapons drawn, but
The lion looked at
The lion left, and
After a few more minutes of trudging (and riding on Edward’s shoulders), we caught sight of the castle, with guards on the walls and all the trimmings. Edward suggested that we find a safe place to hole up between raids first, which sounded like a good idea. So we headed back, hoping to find a quiet cave that didn’t have orc droppings in it.
What we found instead was a
goblin warband. We tried to avoid them, but the scout spotted us. So much for
stealth. Into the fray we leapt, and soon there were six dead goblins to match
the four dead orcs. Maybe
We continued our search, and
eventually came to an interesting sight: a patrol band of gnolls and orcs. What
was interesting about them was that we hadn’t killed them; something else had
In itself, this was creepy enough. But that’s when things got really crazy. Suddenly a fog showe up out of nowhere, shooting tiny little lightning bolts around us and on the dead bodies. Then the fog became solid, and took on a human-like shape! Worse, the orcs started to get up and shamble toward us! I hate winter, but I hate zombies even more!
I felt a very cold shiver
running down my spine, and I saw the others feeling the same thing. There was
some unpleasant magic coming from whatever that thing was. Caelisar fired an
arrow, but it passed right through the creature with no effect.
Caelisar dropped her bow and drew her sword, but it was just as ineffective against the fog-beast as her arrows were. Alyssa screamed that it was magical, and only magic could destroy it. Edward responded with Everbright, and the creature howled as his magical blade cut deeply. The fog dissipated a bit, but it was still howling like the wind. Meanwhile, the rest of us tried to fend off the dead zombie-orcs, giving Edward and Branden a chance to fight the fog-beast with their magical weapons.
As Everbright and Branden’s
mace thrust into the creature, it howled in a final fury and dissipated. With
its destruction, the zombie orcs wavered and fell, collapsing back to the snowy
ground as the magic that animated them vanished into the cold air.
The guards weren’t completely blind, naturally, and we didn’t even get past the gatehouse before the alarm was sounded. We disposed of the human guards in a hurry, but we weren’t able to get away from the horde of hobgoblins. They had us surrounded, and it was only thanks to Alyssa’s magic that I wasn’t skewered by a jagged sword. If we survive this, I’m going to buy her something nice. Maybe her birthday is coming up.
Then, as if that wasn’t bad
enough, we found ourselves under further assault by an army of orcs and
goblins. At that point I knew that we weren’t done fighting; nothign short of
an earthquake was going to keep
They came at us in waves, with wolves and orcs and goblins all charging us. I felt Alyssa’s magic roll over us, and I remember feeling very charged and fast on my feet. Then I felt myself falling, as two crossbow bolts hit me before I could avoid them.
The next thing I knew, we were back in the cave, with Branden standing over me and casting a healing spell. Apparently we did win the battle, and the one immediately afterwards when the rest of the army showed up, this time with human soldiers and gnolls. Branden and Alyssa had also fallen in that battle, but thank the gods none of us were killed. Especially me. After Edward had slain the human leader (not a woman, so Ilyana must still be there somewhere), the army had run away in chaos, and the three of us still walking dragged us out of the keep and back to the cave. We’re going to stay here tonight and head back to the keep tomorrow; we’ll see if they’re expecting us to return. I hope not; that was too close to dying for my taste.
We spent the day in the keep, looking for any sign of troops. Except for the goblins on the battlements, we found no one. We had to stay indoors as much as possible, though, since they kept poking their snouts over the battlements and shooting arrows at us. So we played a running game of ‘dodge-arrow’ for most of the day. I definitely don’t recommend it to anyone.
We found a few bits of treasure, and some nice weapons, but since we couldn’t get at the guards on the battlements, we couldn’t fight them. We did find a trap door leading into a dungeon below the keep. Why do these places have dungeons, anyway? We haven’t seen Ilyana yet, so she must be sitting down there waiting for us. With her army mostly dead or fled, she can’t be having happy thought right now. I’m not sure I want to go back there, anyway; those goblins had lots and lots of arrows.
But of course, Edward is determined to complete our mission. Considering we’ve already wiped out most of her army, I don’t see why we should be worried about Ilyana anyway. It’s not like she can take over the land by herself.
But then Alyssa chimed in with her theory that there is something more to this than a humanoid recruitment drive. Those monsters seemed pretty fanatic, especially the goblins and hobgoblins. Not one of them surrendered or fled the entire time. So what’s behind it?
I’ll leave the theories to the others; right now I’m going to get some sleep.
Well, I’m still not sure I agree with Alyssa, but at least we can head back to Stallanford with a few trophies. We returned to the keep this morning after a hearty breakfast, and after a break-neck run through the courtyards, we ran into the chamber with the trap door to the basement. Edward led us down, Everbright lighting his way. At the bottom of the stairs we fonud a great deal of nothing. It was either a good sign, or the beginnings of a trap that would kill us all.
We came to an empty chamber, with the only notable feature being the streak of blood leading to the door on the left. So naturally we investigated, and opened the door to reveal a hideously ugly creature with the body of a bear and the head of an owl! And I thought the platypus was a confused creature! With it was a huge brute of a man, an ogre if I ever saw one. Warren and Edward charged the ogre, while Caelisar and Branden helped me fight off that ugly owl-bear. Of course, the ogre managed to shout for the guards before we killed it.
We stayed where we were for a moment, waiting for the guards to rush us. But after five minutes, I was tired of waiting around for someone to show up, and I started looking around. If there were any guards, they didn’t seem to be too concerned about the ogre’s well-being. How nice of them.
After some more exploring, we ran into a trio of mercenaries, who weren’t very happy to see us. Maybe they were the guards the ogre was referring to. The sounds of our (brief) battle seemed to arouse as much interest in the denizens of this place as our battle with the ogre and his pet. Perhaps there’s been some sort of miscommunication between these people. That should make things a bit easier for us.
We continued walking along, when Caelisar’s sharp eyes spotted a hidden door in the corridor wall. Entering it, we were confronted by a man in plate mail and a huge lizard! They charged us, but Alyssa’s magic put them down before they could hurt us. The mage is quicker than the sword, I suppose.
There were some nice furnishings in the place, as well as a locked cage. Branden took the keys from the dead warrior, and in he went. At first the cage appeared empty, but it turned out there was a young girl in there, dressed in rags. She thought we were mercenaries, but Branden explained why we were here. She insisted that she be given a chance to avenge herself on the woman who had given her as a pet to the keep’s commander, that being the dead man on the floor. She was so determined that Edward agreed to let her come with us, as long as she stayed out of harm’s way. Somehow I didn’t think she’ll be doing that. She had a mean look in her eye.
We followed the corridor to a set of double doors, and I listened carefully. I heard muffled voices behind it, and warned the others. But before we could do anything, the girl, Sarala, shoved open the doors and charged in, growling an animal-like snarl.
Inside was the bandit queen herself, along with more of those stinking zombies! Does every evil warlord in the world keep these things? Are they available at ‘Overlords’R’Us’ for wholesale prices? She also had some war dogs, and a pet priest to keep the zombies in line. Sarala had ignored her little knife, and I thought she was going to get herself killed by charging in like that. But to our total surprise, she changed as she ran, her body taking on a fierce feline form, with claws and fangs and black stripes on orange fur. She’s a weretigress! She leapt at Ilyana’s throat, and the two of them locked in a ferocious melee; Ilyana’s glowing crimson sword kept the worst of Sarala’s fangs off her, but that tigress was a strong one. While the rest of us charged in, Sarala was thrown aside momentarily.
The priest cast a spell on
Soon Ilyana was alone, but she hung on defiantly, her crimson sword keeping Edward and Caelisar at bay. But Sarala leapt back into the fray, and Ilyana was too distracted by the rest of us to stop her. Sarala’s claws cut deep, and the bandit queen screamed once before Sarala’s jaws closed on her throat. It didn’t take long after that.
After it was over, Sarala turned back into the sweet-looking young girl she had been. Edward and Caelisar kept their swords ready, but she simply turned away and said, "Now I have my revenge." I’ll say she did.
Now our attention turned to the still-glowing sword. Edward could sense its evil power, and Alyssa suggested that the sword was the true evil in the keep, having controlled Ilyana and turned her to chaos. Whatever. Alyssa would probably try to reform a red dragon. She’s got a naïve streak
in her a mile wide.
The priest’s chambers didn’t have much of interest, although there was more than enough to make up for that in Ilyana’s treasure chamber. Alyssa picked up another scroll, which made her happy. The rest of us were laid down with gold and gems, which was very nice. It’s always nice to pick up treasure. At least we know the trip was worth it.
We left the dungeons and returned to the snowy outdoors. As we were walking, another group of goblins shot some arrows at us. But before they could do us much harm, Caelisar held up Ilyana’s crimson sword. The goblins screamed in terror and fled, leaping off the battlements and running for the nearest rat-hole to hide in. I thought I caught a dangerous gleam in Caelisar’s eyes, but it vanished as she replaced the sword in her pack.
We returned to the cave to rest. Tomorrow we’re heading back to the Penhaligon estate, where we’ll turn that sword over to someone with more ability to deal with it. I certainly don’t want to see it ever again.
Snow, snow, and more snow. No monsters attacked us today, but I’m starting to get a funny feeling about Caelisar. I woke up while she was on watch, and I saw her holding that crimson sword. It seemed like she was talking to it under her breath. I hope she was pronouncing an elven curse on it, but somehow I doubt it. I mentioned it to Edward tonight, and he agreed that Caelisar shouldn’t be on watch tonight. Unfortunately, that means I have to take a turn. I hate evil magic swords.
Last night during my watch, Caelisar woke up. Or at least I thought she did. Her hand kept fumbling around, as if she was trying to grab that sword. Edward had moved it to the other side of the cavern and covered it with three blankets while she was asleep, but she became more restless as the night wore on.
In the morning, Edward
suggested that he should carry the sword instead. Caelisar suggested that since
he already had Everbright, he shouldn’t be concerning himself with ‘her’
weapon. That doesn’t sound good. I hope that she’s not going to be cursed by
this thing. We’ll be in Penhaligon tomorrow, so hopefully this will be over
soon. But I’m worried about her. With those magical gauntlets of hers, she’s
even stronger than
After a long trek back through the snow and fog, we returned to Penhaligon just in time for lunch today. Just in time for Baron Sherlane to get that sword away from Caelisar, too. She actually snarled at him and tried to draw it, but he cast a quick prayer at her and she froze, her hand almost wrapped around the crimson hilt. She stood there, helpless, as he pulled the sword from her scabbard and kept it away from her. The sword flared in his hands, but he cast a powerful spell on it. It seemed to be twisting and writhing in Sherlane’s hands, but his grip was like iron. Alyssa gasped, and we saw a line of dull red light emanating from the sword and attached to Caelisar’s heart. But Sherlane spoke some powerful words, and the light vanished. Caelisar screamed, and fainted.
As we tended to our fallen friend, Sherlane explained that the sword could corrupt the soul of the wielder and make them do its bidding. Perhaps that was why Ilyana had turned to evil. I think she was just mad because she couldn’t have a noble title for herself. Some people are like that, I’ve noticed. That’s why I like being a gnome; we don’t worry about things like that.
After Caelisar recovered, he
and Kaerin invited us to the city of
We arrived in Penhaligon today, and the celebration began. Lady Arteris, Kaerin’s cousin and the ruler of the land, rewarded us for our efforts, which is always nice. The festival preparations got underway, and if we missed the King’s Festival, at least we’ll have some fun here instead.
Three days of solid
parties and entertainment, and I’m exhausted. But now we’re stuck here in
Penhaligon for the winter, since the snows have hit the trails and completely
buried them. Even
Alyssa’s hopes for a significant encounter with Lord Kaerin have gone down drastically, since he introduced us to his betrothed, Lady Arelene. She was wearing the tiara we recovered Kavorquian’s basement, and Alyssa’s face fell like a brick. But she’ll get over him, I’m sure. After all, he’s a man, and there are a lot of them around. She’ll find one she likes eventually. Humans worry about that too much, I think. In the meantime, I met a local gnome craftsman with some interesting talents, as well as a handsome nose. His name is Thurbil, and he certainly knows how to treat a lady who happens to be a hero. We’re going to a theatre play tonight, and he’s invited me to his home to show me some of his other talents.
I think this is going to be a pleasant winter.