From Winterwall to the Charred Inn

Kankad’s story:

Well, I had made my way from the sea coast over the great mountains and into Winterwall. Supposed to be the great frontier and all that. Really isn’t any different from half a hundred little seaports at the end of a trade route. Crazy desperate people hoping to strike it rich, or make enough to head somewhere worthwhile, which means pretty much anywhere else. Still the last caravan’s boss had paid me well for “guarding” his pack mules mainly by looking fierce & being able to stay awake in the dark. I think he liked that I tied good knots better than any appreciation for how I waved my axe about. Anyway, Winterwall was where I teamed up with the others, it’s the kinda place where you might need someone to watch your back & you’re not going to make a hefty strike and carry your gold home alone, no then you‘ll really need someone to watch your back. I’ve seen captains agonize over choosing a crew only to wind up with a foul ship and late ports of call, while another captain press gangs drunks and escapees from the night watch makes record time & earns bonuses for fast delivery. I figured trust in Aon, and take my erstwhile crewmates as I found them.

Winterwall has this message board right up at the well near the gate, I figured so the bandits could read the wanted signs and make themselves scarce so what passed for the watch could focus on swilling beer rather than risking their hides, but it also had the usual slew of desperate people looking for even more desperate types to “fix” their little problems. I’ld seen the post about some snob from back across the mountains looking for bruisers to toddle on down through the “Fallows Fields” to “the Charred Inn” and pick up some inheritance improvidently lost nigh on to 50 years before, in case you’ve never translated yokel before “Fallow” & “Charred” were undoubtedly bitter understatements of the facts on the ground but one doesn’t usually obtain sack-fulls of gold in savory places. I was interested, but I didn’t want to be the first fool in line, second or third would suit me fine. One thing about Aon, God of Chance & Storms, he’ll always provide as long as you aren’t particular about “what” he provides.

Right on schedule, a tall bloke in vaguely clerical robes, but with more practical ring mail & a heavy mace peeking out, walks up and starts poring over the broadsheet like it’s a sign from his very own godling. Clerics is useful, faster & more reliable than doctors or hedge witches when you’re busted up, though at the price of a hefty sum of gold and long winded lectures about truth, justice, and timely tithing. Just the sort to front a reckless endeavor here on the wrong side of the mountains. These guys always have that earnest if threadbare respectability employers love. Showing I was really in luck, the stout dwarf veritably bristling with weapons whom had been lurking indecisively making furtive glances from his coin pouch to the ale-house and back to his coin pouch barged up and offers to team up at even shares. This one looked more useful in an actual fight, and eager for cash, he had a lot of scars which if nothing else proved he was hard to kill and crazy enough to keep risking his hide when a saner person would head for port. Not safe to be around, but not the worst sort for this kind of venture.

That’s when I decided to cast my net on the waters & learned the cleric wais Tavum and the dwarf was Garven. Hardly do I get myself introduced & this oily bloke slithers up from the shadows. A mage, useful, but they have all the faults of clerics and none of the virtues. Well, no worse than they should be, rooting after arcane lore amid the corpses of ancient civilizations or more likely the corpses of some competing mage & his apprentices. Still as long as he keeps focused on being “our” mage, why the seventeen hells not? Yes, by now I was not only thirsty, but ready for an extra stiff drink. Thank Aon they had wishkey even west of the mountains.

The employer was off at the Underfall Inn, not far but a long way to be toting our own supplies, and the dwarf in particular was eager for hiring someone to shift for him, and can you blame one of the short folk? So we retired to the public house, the Weary Ox to be exact, & set about putting up our own little notices and sending out the town crier for the reckless & the avaricious in need of unsteady but unlikely gold. Considering the rather meager supply and the fact too many locals knew better than to sign on for this sort of folly we actually got four to toddle up and preen for us.

The dwarf was nominally the only one actually hiring but us other three lounged about to see the fun. Garven dismissed the One-Armed fellow right off, but admiring his pluck I bought One Arm a drink while Garven sized up the one named Oxnard and who lived up to that name to the fullest degree even then, and passed on him as well. Garven went for the fellow with some armor, even if it was just jack & trews of leather. Not a bad choice, after all, the fellow clearly wanted to stay alive and knew he’ld be needing every trick he could afford, no fool this bloke Goslyn, even if his name sounds like those damn birds that follow a ship eating trash. I got to thinking I’d loaded enough pack mules for others and a one armed fellow would have too much sense to disobey orders or risk himself foolishly, but would need whatever pay I could lay hands on. So I signed old Tom up for the standard rate of pay, but with a much clearer deal on duties. Carry the torch, tote some supplies, lend a hand if he was able, but stay out of the fray. I didn’t mention that maybe if I was kind to him he’ld see me properly buried should I get chopped into ungainly pieces, no sense putting him off his feed before fate forced it.

The wizardly type was apparently named Melphius, but with those guys it was bound to be an alias, they’ve better sense than to let on what relatives sponsored their delving into unholy knowledge before booting them out into an unready world in hopes they would go mad somewhere else. Naturally he latched onto the bruiser Oxnard and laid it on thick, while slyly silently judging just how many arrows the ox might soak up before the wizard would be forced to let loose some spell. Well, I’ld thought draft oxen aren’t for sport in the bull ring, but even if Melphius “the Magnificent” wanted my advice (which he surely didn’t), he’ld probably never heard of the bull fights off in Zinjal across the seas, and would begin some cross interrogating of what the heck I was talking about. So I focused on setting Tom up with a pack suited to his one armed condition, getting the leather worker to put on an extra chest strap & shift the ties so as to be better untied one handed and then filling said ruck sack with six days of dried foods to sustain the two of us, and perhaps some of the others if they proved as improvident as they looked. Trust land lubbers to take supplies for granted. Tavum naturally didn’t hire anyone, wouldn’t look good for one of Loass’ own to be hiring flunkies, besides those clerics are tight with their coin usually & Tavum could always lecture the rest of us into helping him out on the promise of healing for future wounds, an effective inducement to be sure.

So there we was, all ready to march off to profit and what passes for adventure when you’re safely back at the tavern bragging to some dodgy wench. Tom proved to appreciate a drink, but not it seemed to be one to indulge heavily before a day of heavy marching, a good sign and thank heavens he seemed a cheerful type. Someday I meant to find out exactly how he’ld lost the other arm, but it seemed bad luck to ask now, better to wait until thing were really bad & I needed some perspective on how much worse they could get. Anyway, off to the Three Falls we trudged in the gray dawn.

The Underfalls Inn was a snobbish and aloof as the last time I passed through, and too dloody damp for decent folk, I‘ve been on ships that leaked less, but they didn’t bar us from the taproom and the employer was easy to spot, a well polished type with just a hint of sneering, watched over by a hulking brute with a look of low cunning and a body count several cuts higher than any of us appeared to have managed. Ang Marshawn and his lackey and debt collector Brommel. Mister fancy pants clearly liked his hide to much to venture even one step farther into these dangerous lands west of the mountains and Brommel was like a well trained hound, eager to hunt something down & gnaw on it, but bored by quests for lost heirlooms. In my mind they were already “the firm of Shifty and Brute” but it never does any good observing your boss and his minion are unsavory, especially when they claim to have plenty of coin if we return successfully. I’ld have my doubts but I figured I could probably get Tom to tail them if they stiffed us so Garven and I could jump them when they thought we’ld been properly weaseled and bludgeoned out of whatever we did retrieve, but then Aon doesn’t exactly breed trusting disciples like that Loass of Tavum’s. And hey, they might even pay us fairly for whatever hard work and missing fingers we turned up with and without. The threat to hunt us down if we didn’t return in five days seemed to place the odds on the pair being both tight-fisted and mean, in every sense. Well, time enough to worry about that when we had something in hand. In this case we were looking for beer recipes and magic hops. At least items I could morally support expending life and limb for, no lawyers’ deeds, no heaps of gold he wished us to leave solely for him, no dangerous scrolls of demon summoning, surely some old geezer‘s brewing manual and hoegrown brand of hops would be safer than the usual dodgy target, right? Yeah, well, I wasn’t all that optimistic either, but why show it? If Aon’s got you pegged for a dirt nap, whining about it will just make him vindictive too. Of course Mr. Fancy Pants has no better lead on said items to be acquired except that they might be hidden in cellar or in the spring house. Makes one envious of those blokes with cheesy treasure maps marked with a big “x” to dig at, even if they are useless.

So we crossed under the falls without delay, and passed up the path back to civilization and headed south into what the rustic types mildly called the “Fallow Fields” as if they hadn’t been driven off by orcs and demons and what not some fifty years afore. Trust farmers to soft sell the area, probably sitting on a deed or two which they hoped to sell to the next sucker from fresh over the mountains. At first we was wending our course through the hills, the Riverill shifting into and out of sight, while my land lubber companions gushed about it’s power and might. Hah! Sure it bubbled and crashed like a teapot pouring out, but that’s not real water. To the 8th Hell with Loass but I do miss the sea sometimes.

Anyway, after heading more westerly for a few hours we saw the biggest hill yet, tween us and the river, and Tavum thinks he spots something up top. Well, it’s always good to know the lay of things round about where you’re traveling so if nothing else we’ld get a good view so we all decided to scramble up to the top. Sure enough the place had a bloody circle of stones around an altar at the top, well not “bloody” — that was just me getting a bit spooked — it was more like stained with offerings of grain and berries, but still not exactly the sort of thing sensible people mess with unless they know what’s what and exactly which godling, demon, or ghost is worshiped or imprisoned at said standing stones. Naturally Tavum & Melphius are not sensible people and make a great show messing about. Melphius goes so far as to offer some spare food to whatever deity is at hand & fairly shivered with religious zeal. Not quite the thing for the arcane types, but Tavum was not “blessed” with any clerical revelation so perhaps it was just the arcane fellow one upping the clerical fellow. As for me & Tom, we had a nice lunch and kept watch on the road, which thankful had no legions of horror marching up or down it. I might also note that across the Riverill there seemed to be some sort of ruined tower, something to look into one day perhaps. More importantly we could see the path south would lead us into a forested area. While it’s nice to stay in open country with views stretching into the distance, it’s also bad to leave the road even if it’s more of a trail, so we elected to head into the woods despite that they seemed like the best ambush place so far.

Fortunately for us, it was mutual surprise rather than ambush that awaited us. Turning a bed we came upon fallen trees blocking the road & sitting atop one a great bear seated upright, licking wounds. I think he was as surprised as we. In any case, the bear reacted first standing on hind legs (incidentally revealing it wore a belt with pouches around it’s waist) and sniffed at us for a moment before giving a warning roar, as I my self might when confronted by a gaggle of heavily armed strangers if I were wounded. Sadly Garven felt compelled to engage in a competition for dominance, and promptly charged forth brandishing his axe. I thought it was remarkable calm for being a wounded bear, and that the pouch belt indicted the bear was not among the ordinary & average class of bears captured and forced to dance at dockside for the entertainment of the vulgar, but I never got the chance to voice caution, as Garven smote the bear mightily and clove it’s skull in twain. Rest in peace, valiant bear. I wasn’t too comfortable skinning such a proud beast & roughly chopping it up for breakfast bacon, but then dwarves appear to have prodigious hankering for fresh meat so what could one do? In any case, I could only hope Aon or whatever deity watched over bears would inflict any retribution solely on the dwarf responsible. The rest of us did point out that someone, or something, had been making offerings at the stone circle, and that the bear’s pouches of wild grains & berries might indicate the creature was some forest guardian not to be slain so lightly, but Garven seemed disappointed in our martial ardor toward any who might cross our path.

So, we headed south once more, soon exiting the Woods of the Brave Bear. Here we were in the Fallow Fields proper and the name lived up to my worst expectation. The ruins of farms destroyed in the calamity fifty years before was foreseen, that they should appear to have been ravaged perhaps only months before rather than years was something no one, not even the cleric and the mage, wished to speculate on. We took note of various wrecked farms as we went on, for though the Charred Inn seemed likely to be nearby, we thought it better to camp somewhere else for the night & approach our goal with the dawn. We spotted on good place for camping, but with a few hours of light left decided to tour the area a bit & make sure no nasty surprises lurked to jump us in the night. And a wise move that turned out to be!

Approaching one shell of a burnt out farmhouse we saw figures ambling about, and drawing close they revealed themselves as foul undead creatures, skeletal but not entirely free of gore. In this case all of us were one with Garven’s instinct to charge into battle. The cleric tried to call Loass’ aid to drive the foul beast off, but clearly Loass felt it was our job to destroy the monsters, not inflict them on some other party of travelers. Garven and I took the forefront, but I must admit his skill exceeded mine and he accounted for most of the skeletons, but at least I kept them busy so Garven could take them one by one. Melphius to his credit potted one or two with thrown stones, while his man Oxnard essayed to lay about with his club, and Tavum snuck in a few blows too, but Garven was the master of this field of combat.

The monsters dealt with, the spot now deserved some exploration, or as we used to call it at sea “looting.” Melphius & his brute Oxnard descended into a sort of root cellar and were rewarded with some coin, prompting no small bit of enthusiasm among the rest of us. I was lucky enough to find a trap door in the remains of the house and poking about found another cache of coins as well as a vial of blue liquid, a small stature of some god, and a keg of beer. We divied up the coin among us adventurers but the vial I put in Tom’s hands saying it should be used for the good of all (being optimistic it was a healing potion and not some vile poison), while the crude statue was clearly the proper province of the cleric Tavum. The barn while not intact retained a hayloft and we decided to rest up there while taking watched in turn (Tom exempted, as portage is his main duty for which he needs his rest). Tom Garven and I had a cautious but tasty and soothing sample of beer before taking our ease for the night, or trying to. True to form Oxnard went for the keg upon his turn at watch & equally true to form Melphius was watchful and ready to castigate the simple brute for doing what came naturally. Tom might have the wisdom to ration his pleasures, especially early on in an endeavor, but a young bull cannot be held except with stronger bonds than one gold piece a day. Still I got some sleep and nothing untoward disturbed us during the night.

Upon the dawn we roused ourselves and did the usual sort of rudimentary foraging of wood and feeble attempts at cookery that one is forced to without a good ship’s cook. I though little of Tavum & Garven trotting off to a copse of trees to gather some wood, but I was starkly astounded to find the two of them returning with what proved to be (or at least appear to be) a baby girl. Their story went that the girl-thing was laying naked & abandoned on a tuft of heather, naturally Garven felt it must be some strange human custom and so none of our business while Tavum extolled upon Loass’ mercy, Loass’ charity, Loass protector of the poor & destitute. Bah, had neither of these two grandmothers to tell them horrifying tales of the devious tricks and perplexing games of demons and faeries? While I’m as susceptible as the next hard weathered seaman to pitiful squalling baby girls, even the ship’s dunce could tell no good would come of this. Score one for the dreadful warning examples of childhood faery tales when the type upon feeding began to grow at an almost visible rate. Within a matter of hours the babe was nigh upon the size of an eight year old child and still squalling inarticulately for more food. Finally even a lunk head like Tavum became fearful of where this might lead. The innocent (Tavum I mean, certainly not the monster-child) was surprised when the girl-child set herself to following us, bawling piteously for more food. Thus more debate ensued, resulting in the neither heroic nor chivalrous plan of luring the monster-child back to the trap door cellar and latching her in, with a small amount of food & water totally out of proportion to her appetite. While I admit the plan let us scamper off before the tyke began to understand the deceitfulness of adults, I did not share Tavum & Garven’s self-delusion that we could simply show up in a day to too and check on the tyke’s gustatory progress either in the cellar or the wider area if the creature escaped our crude trap. I for one promised myself I would not approach the cellar but at best poke at the trap door with Goslyn’s ten foot pole for fear some giant fifty foot girl would pop out and consume the first handy object or person.

That thought left me well nigh eager to face whatever lurked at the Inn formerly known as the “Pipe and Hearth” but now all too accurately named the “Charred Inn.” Coming upon a small rise we spotted what was surely the place we sought, along the road, backed up against a hillside, with courtyard walls in disrepair and burnt remnants of buildings rising above the walls. Unfortunately what was also rising was smoke as if from a campfire. What lurked here? Guardians of beer recipes and aged hops? More undead? Bandits? Or heaven forfend! That worst of horrors, competing adventurers after the same prize!!!

Melphius, Oxnard and Goslyn being the lightest armored and more or less the quieter of us elected to scout things out a bit, leaving the trail & following a stream that seem to originate behind the hind near where the smoke was coming from. Soon they reported sneaking through tall grass to see a pond behind the Inn with several shifty looking men dressing a recently killed stag hanging from a tree while two more fellows in such rough leathers a bandits or ruffians wear were using the ruins of a fireplace to prepare for a venison roast. Moreover our scouts reported sounds of more men moving & muttering amid the ruined walls of the Inn. Not knowing how many they were, or what their nature or purposes were, but noting that they were but men going about ordinary tasks anyone might when traveling in the wilderness, we elected to approach openly without stealth and see how they reacted.

Naturally, they sounded an alarm bell and began to shout “To arms!” repeatedly. Much simpler to interpret than bear growls I must say. Once again Garven and I took the lead in an impromptu charge, even as more of the bandits, as they now appeared to be, began popping up from behind walls and atop the remaining roofs. Garven and I met the two deer skinners at a low wall, which proved to be no protection at all as we each killed our opposite with single fearsome blows. Tavum was game for a fight but went down almost instantly to a savage arrow smiting him squarely in the chest, instantly coughing up blood — a sure sign of doom. Fortunately even with One-Arm my man Tom has a sound head & saw this was the moment to test the strange vial of blue liquid. Either it would heal the good cleric or it could do him no further harm than he was already in! Tavum owed more to Aon this day than to Loass as he coughed and spluttered yanking the arrow shaft out even as his innards healed at a magical rate.

While Tom was showing his good sense and courage under stress, I tossed a dart at the archer who had done for Tavum and waited trying to gain more protection from the small wall than the bandits had received, while ever impetuous Garven leap over the wall and charged the two cook-bandits, killing them one — two, just so, but earning an arrow from the bastard archer on the roof. Melphius and Oxnard took on another archer on the roof while trying to outflank the bandits, as Tavum came up to the wall with me. Just in time too as two more bandits came out of the remains of the Inn followed by a large gnoll, a great greasy hairy beastie seemingly the leader of the bandits. Tavum & I finished off the archer behind the wall, while Garven stood valiantly before the Gnoll and his two minions. Garven killed one of the men but was severely wounded, inevitable really considering his bloodthirsty approach to direct combat. I don’t know about Tavum but I was most fearful of taking on even one bandit alongside that Gnoll, but Melphius having dealt with one rooftop archer now essayed to show his arcane might and dropped the two enemies into a sudden slumber, which I quickly used to kill the Gnoll with the simple expedient of slitting its throat. We captured and bound one bandit, hoping to interrogate him later as to just who they all were & why they were following the lead of a gnoll & why they objected to visitors, but alas another bandit perhaps more escaped into the wood. Hopefully the terror of seeing some six of their companions and the gnoll dead would give us some time before they came back.

Tavum did what he could for Garven, but the fearsome dwarf was by no means at top condition. Now it was time again for loot and some cursory exploration of the ruins. The courtyard seemed to have a large pit, perhaps a collapsed cellar but improved with spikes and spears planted in the floor and pointing upwards, now bent and covered in blood as if some great brave beast had been lured in but fought his way out despite many wounds with his claws. Three shallow graves nearby proved upon my exhumation to show that at least three bandits had been killed in this prior affray. A quick search turned up some more gold which we divided evenly among us four with the excess portion being given to Tom in praise of his timely application of the blue vial, I believe Tavum also made some reward & protestation of thanks to Tom in private. With no recipes or hops in evidence and suspecting the bandits had thoroughly examined the Inn, we ranged about for other options and found what might be the “spring house” — a cave holding a spring which was the source for the pond and stream we had seen earlier, a cave moreover with the unique improvement of a portcullis gate installed, but locked from the outside and thus no great obstacle to open. We left Goslyn and Tom guarding the prisoner and the rest of us gathered about the cave’s gate.

I volunteered to be first in, with Oxnard holding a lantern for me. Inside I saw another pool of water covering a large portion of the cave and another large wounded bear lying fitfully in a corner. Now when one has met a belt wearing bear the day before one is apt to take a less hasty approach than simply charging and hoping to kill such a beast in a few short blows. I call out and waited to see what this bear would do. Unfortunately the spirit of the brave bear did not aid me in this case (and who can blame him after his sudden end?) and the bear roused itself in an instant as if it had been waiting for a chance to kill men and charged. That gutless turnip eating pig Oxnard dropped the lantern and fled bawling like some press ganged landlubber confronted with his first sea-storm, leaving me to defend myself in uncertain like from the thankfully still lit lantern now on the floor.

The bear had me hard pressed, but ever doughty Garven plunged in to my aid. I could hear Melphius berating Oxnard to enter and join the fight like a man or forfeit his pay for the day, but the cowardly bastard would have none of it. By now Tavum was laying about with his mace and even Melphius set on the bear with his staff, but in the end it was my blow that took down this fuzzy angry bear, but not before Garven was nigh unto death again. Once more Tavum did his best to aid Garven and tend his wounds while the rest of us quickly determined that the cave seemed only to hold the pool and the now dead bear. The thought occurred to me the bandits might be in the employ of some circus, sent out to the wilderness to capture live bears to bring back to some city for bear-baiting or worse to enslave as dancing bears, but my companions seemed in no mood for such grim speculation and so I kept my thought to myself. Getting back to more pressing practical concerns, like earning our money from the firm of Shifty and Brute, I borrowed Goslyn’s ten foot pole and probed the waters, that I found no nasty bitey things was a good sign, but still not promising for out quest either. Still the pole did not reach quite all the poll, so I chose to take a more direct search, despite the several claw cuts the bear had left me with. At least the water would rinse my wounds without leaving me in agony that salt-water would have. While the water was cold it was nothing compared to a winter sea, so I was quickly able to find a sunken tunnel leading somewhere into the hillside. Being the cautious type I surfaced and consulted with my comrades.

Melphius decided that this was the perfect way for Oxnard to redeem himself. He commanded that Oxnard plunge into the depths and explore the flooded tunnel. Oxnard asked if Melphius was insane, a foolish question since wizards are by definition insane, but not only is Oxnard a coward but a bit stupid as well. There was a grand row between Melphius and Oxnard who had the sheer cowardly gall to renounce his employment and decamp on foot for his home. I silently commented to Aon that this was the prefect person to release some of his Chaos on, once Oxnard was safely some distance away from us. As the dusk approached we considered our options. Garven was in a bad state and I was feeling rather the worse for wear if still functional. The flooded tunnel was clearly worth more examination and even the ruins might have more hidden we had not yet found. Sleeping in the bandits former camp seemed fraught with danger since we were a smaller party than they and so even less able to guard and keep watch than the bandits had been. While something of a trap, the cave was quite defensible with the portcullis and the flooded tunnel might lead to another exit. Since more bandits might return or some other wandering monsters show up all on their own. And so we seemed likely to camp in the cave as night fell and continue our explorations cautiously on the morrow.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Ah, spiced pork and fried potatoes are no substitute for anchovies and capers over pasta, but what can one expect here west of the great mountains. At least the wine is sweet and dry not bitter and resinous like that stuff in Kharbajal down south. So, back to the unvarnished truth of an adventuring life that you gents was wanting. Now where was I?

Ah, yes. So there we was holed up in the cave with pool and the portcullis blocking the only dry way out. Time for a bit of roll call and status report:

Tavum Jhall, Priest of Loass, and self styled leader? mostly ok
Melphius the Magnificant “our” wizard and short one retainer, ok
Kankad, fighting sailor and though a bit scratched mostly ok
Garvan the Clanless, a fierce dwarven warrior, rather banged about though still on his feet
Goslyn, armsman and porter in service of Garven, mostly ok
One-Armed Tom, finest minion 50 miles and porter, ok

So the party of adventurers is ok but not ideal and we’re definitely still short on loot, at least in comparison to the efforts we’ve been set to. Now the downside.
We’re in this “Springhouse” an ‘improved’ cave roughly square with a pool of water filling maybe half the space and trailing out the entrance into a small creek, currently closed off with a portcullis we’ve jammed shut though it locks from the outside. And speaking of outside, we drove off some bandits or gnoll minions or whatever, but we had no guarantee they’ld stay driven and they seemed to number in the dozens from their camp and cooking gear.

Yeah, we put ourselves in a trap, but at least we had hope that there was a watery exit and no sign the bandits/whatevers knew about said watery exit so perhaps we were better off than if we had been camping in the ruins of the Inn that they knew better, or somewhere in the woods which they doubtless knew bettter too.

In any case we rested, taking watched in turn. And as you might guess we all did fine . . . except for Tavum, who falls asleep on watch. You’ld think preayers or piety or good sensible fear would have kept him awake. Did me on my turn at watch. But I guess he really did have Loass watching over him or something cause we managed not to get jumped in our sleep. No, we were groggily waking up with the dawn when those that weren’t already stirring heard noises outside. Obviously the missing bandits were back. Thankfully they never expected those responsible for gutting their buddies to toddle into their own little bear cage and wait for discovering and didn’t bother to look for us in there.

What’d you say? Charge out like the heroes of the Epics? Are you daft? You asked for the life of an adventurer not a hero, neither Tavum nor Melphius were dumb enough to charge out like the Punks from Pammukalle and try our hands at downing two score men (or monsters, they did have a gnoll last time) each. No, we cowered as silently as we could and prepared either to defend ourselves or try the underwater exit.

Not only did we hear men muttering and griping about the bloodstains and missing men we’ld dumped in their own spear pits, we heard what sounded and smelled like wolves keeping all too close company with said presumed banditos. Not a good sign, men consorting with wolves and gnolls. Finally they started talking about some bloke, thing, what have you called “Targon.” “What will Targon say?” “Targon will know what to do!” Now, we’ld killed the undead, bandits, bears, even a gnoll but something about this portentious name spooked us, laugh if you like but wait til you’re roughed up, short on loot and trapped in a hole and you may spook easier that you think you would here in a cosy warm tavern. Anyway, it didn’t take more than a couple whispers to agree it was excellent time to try swimming out the tunnel at the bottom back of the pool and try our luck there. It did take a bit longer to fix up are gear and Tom with ropes so that when I made it to the other end of the tunnel they could be brought through. Tom’s done many a daring thing since, but swimming one-armed in a watery tunnel not knowing where it leads to rates pretty high with me.

Anyway, sure enough it was a short dozen or so feet ’til I hit air and came into a roundish natural cave with air and a fair bit of dry space. The water looked to well out of the ground, perhaps at the bottom of the tunnel we passed through, so hopefllly we were done with being soggy. Once we got our torches relit (trust a sailor to get things going after a soaking) we find a couple interesting things about our little cave.

First, it was clear from dust and what not that no one had been here for a long time, so mostly if the bandits figured out we had been in the bear cage they had no idea the cage had a back exit. Second the back wall wasn’t all natural, somebody had sometime walled a bit up with good solid old-fashioned brick. Finally there was a brass bound chest in the corner. Hah! We made short work of the chest, finding inside platinum gold and silver coins, as well as what appeared to be the beer recipes that had brought us here! Thanks be to Aon, heck I even gave a grudging tip of the helmet to Loass, weasly slug that he is, credit where it’s due Tavum had come through with the healing maghic and all. So here we were all victorious and successful and trapped in a cave again. Such is the life of an adventurer, but like true adventurers we didn’t give up — what can be bricked up can be unbricked by a man and a dwarf with axes.

So, we got a decent rest, ate our damp rations and prepared to see what it was that had to be bricked away a long time ago, desperately hoping it would lead to a way out less dangerous than a bandit camp angry at the gruesome deaths of a half dozen of their best buddies and top gnoll.

For all the bricking it was clear we came into a lowly store room. Old boxes and pots of rotted rice, bits of cookware too metallic to simply toss but no longer useable. Clearly, once upon a time the cave had been a water supply and this a kitchen store room. Had the Inn gone up by accident or was the watery tunnel also an emergency excape route? No clue yet. So we sauntered up a bit of stairs & towards a four way inter-section.

And I promptly fell into a pit trap. Aon must have had me in his good books cause I clean missed the spikes and only bruised and banged myself, nothing worse than being tossed from the yard arm to the deck in a storm, but it did caution us up a bit. Store-room we might have entered by whoever lived here wasn’t keen on unannounced guests, even after being gone for some time by every sign we could find. Goslyn fished me out with his ten foot pole, though if pressed I could have used my rope and grapnel. Just beyong the pit-trap, at the intersection was a mosaic in the floor with the illustration of some fetching lass with the sole flaw of snakes for hair peering at you side ways so she had only one eye — an eye made of a shiny green jewel. A bit trap skittish after the pit thing (though to be honest it wasn’t that well hidden and clearly not as deadly as it ought to be) the gang was all for dithering, except Melphius who apparwently was overcome with jewel-lust or saw some magical significance to the whole deal. Anyway, while the rest of us were gassing about whetehr to mess with the mosaic or open one of the 3 doors presented to us by the intersection, Melphius gets on his knees and uses his dagger to pry loose the jewel, activating a spring powered spike of impressive size that that skewered poor ol’Melpius straight through one greedy eye-ball. Dirt nap for the wizard of the party.

Now, Melphius may not have been as Magnificent as he claimed, but we all know wizards gotta put on a show and advertize, and when he did deploy a sleep spell he did it at the right moment, and he was pretty keen tossing rocks and whacking beasties with his staff, so he was ok in my book, as wizards go. If Aon went for that sort of thing I’ld put in a good word for the poor bloody bastard, but remember where we were! We had the dingus we’ve been hired to get, the path home we already knew was blocked by bandits, wolves, maybe gnolls, and probably worse and here we were looking to get out of this mess by heading deeper into some ancient ruin that even unihabited for perhaps centuries had just killed one of us. Not the tiem for sentimentality. Besides, Melphius wasn’t a pal, we’ld only met him less than a week ago. Garven and I we’ld shed blood side by side, bonded like warriors do, Tom was loyal and Goslyn was at least rational but not cowardly. Even Tavum was ok if he wasn’t in the mood to sermoize about Low-Ass. Truth is we were just cold and callous about Melphius, poor bastard.

We, split up what supplies of his looked useful, though to our credit or common sense we didn’t dig to deep in his pockets — never know when it’s gonna turn out the wizard has some tentacle thing jammed up his sleeve for parties and laughs like — and we artfully tossed his body in the pit so it wasn’t obvious at first glance there was a corpse in the hallway. Hey, if we could buried him nice and proper we would’a but knowing Melphius we’d consecrate him to the wrong gods or screw it up some other way. Fact is he was an adventurer and we all take foolish risks, his just turned out pretty damn bad. If he’d loosened up in the Weary Ox and told us about a beloved sister or granny being his next of kin we might have even passed on a share if we ever got out, but he didn’t so — we dumped him and figured on splitting 3 ways and bonuses for minions of valor and good sense, instead of splitting 4 ways etc.

Anyway, we moved on a hell of a lot quicker than it took to say all that. We picked at random and went through the door straight ahead and found a big room with lots of big barrels and boxes and suchlike. Mostly it was old rancid supllies, maybe olive oil gone stinky maybe something completely different. We did find a bunch of bolts of fine purple cloth, though we didn’t take any — saving our space and strenght for stuff like gold. Still I might head back some day, centuries old by the looks but still ok, that kind of cloth might be worth something, still we weren’t ready to burden ourselves down like rug merchants just yet.

So we head out a door on the far side of the room and come into a kitchen, complete with big large scale cooking hearth cook tables pots pans you name it. Also we finded gnawed on bones, not so homey. Off to the right there’s some doors and we find this “Great Hall” kinda place with like eating tables and a dais at the far end complete with another snkae haired woman in bas-relief this time with 4 posed skeletons around a sort of altars thing. Thanks the 17 hells the things didn’t animate as we searched the room to little avail or loot. Tavum got all erudite and declared the snake bitch was Ssanathra, but me I was just as happy not knowing the thing’s name, Aon’s creepy enough for me.

So we examined the other end of the kitchen finding more rotted supplies and barrels and two more opposite passages. One lead off to an undergound stream with some barrels that had only water and not ale, much to my and garven’s disappointment, were these blasted snake-lady worshipped tea-totallers? Blasphemy!
The opposite passage, going back in the general direction of our bear cage and mosaic intersection, lead nicely enough back to the mosaic intersection, and some bedrooms, of the cook? of priests? Didn’t look opulent enough for snake-ladies but again not much loot and long vacant. So we headed across the intersection, the kitchen off to our left and the pool and bear cage etc off to our right and explored the part of the intersection we hadn’t been down yet.

Here we got more bedrooms or whatever, and maybe were getting a bit complacent. Thats when the giant rats came after us. If that didn’t explain the gnawd bones in the kitchen I didn’t want to know what would explain them. We had a bit of a confused melee, all I can say is that I took down one giant rat myself and it was a hefty job too. Seriously, they were like yeaaaaay big. And mean bitey bastards even for rats of unusual size. Still we got past them in ok shape.

Eventually we ran out of barracks/bedroom type stuff and came to the foot of some stairs blocked by rubble and boulders with a set of doors to one said of the landing. Said doors openned into a libary complete with festering tomes and rotten book cases threatening to collapse at the wrong moment. So we start poking about, noticing to no great surprised gnawed books . . . more rat work right? Hah!

No, here we were set upon by ghouls, and right off I got paralyzed, fortunately Tavum showed Loass has his uses and “Turned” the blighters, even paralyzed it was a grand sight to see him wave his little Icon and see them monsters scurry like he just announced an special tithe on rotted flesh. It awhile before I snapped out of it so it was mostly Garven Goslyn and Tavum chasing down and killing the ghouls in manageable small groups while Tom kept an on on me til I unfroze like and joined to do my bit versus a couple. Bit of macabre humor for you, just to show you what adventurers crack up senseless in laughter at: we found one ghoul munching on poor Melphius, and after we got potted the ghoul in the pit, well we needed a bit of tension relief. Hope Melphius worshiped a god that liked laughter at wakes and not tears. Anyway, after things seemed safe ghoul-wise we sat down near the libary to chow down and consider our situation.

Garven and Goslyn got voted to work at clearing the rubble on the grand stair, since we figured something that big and ornate must lead somewhere, somewhere outside even if we were lucky, certainly somewhere better than taking watery path A to the bandit camp or watery path B to gods know where. The rest of us went to thoroughly search the library.

I’ve a feeling Melphius would have loved the place, but Netherillian sciprt and ancient history texts do little for me or Tom. Tavum was keen but horrified cause every book screamed “EVUL” at him, well not literally, but you could tell Tavum wasn’t praying to Loass for fun under his breath. Ssanathra may have been hot if you got past the snakey bits, but she was definitely class “A” trouble and either you was cultist or you were dead meat. Wayyy creepy. So Tavum finds this secret door and the creepy-est book yet, and this time it was like glowy “i feel woozy” creepy and if it didn’t scream evil it was because the book was too busy making you want to claw at your brain in an extra bad way. Fortunately Tavum had more sense than I ever expected of a cleric type and immediately set fire to the damned thing. Feeling all weirded out Tavum Tom and I rushed back to Garven and Goslyn just in time to get attacked by another wave of ghouls. This time Aon or somebody was with us and we cut them into nice safe small pieces. After that we all pitched in on clearing the stairway with what you might call inspiration or sheer desperation or manly hard work as Garven liked to put it. And eventually after several hours we could squeeze out onto a stairway again leading up.

After another short rest and rounds of snacks and drinks to keep our spirits up we tackled the stairs at a steady maybe even incautious pace. Hell, we wanted OUT. After awhiel we came on a big hall, but we gave it only a quick glance and kept on marching. and finally came out onto the mountain side where the stair continue up and back into the mountain it looked like, but best of all off to the side was a jumble and a bit off woods hiding the ruins from view a bit but showing us a clear view out on to the Fallow Fields and the way back to Winterwall and what passed for civilization. You’ve never see five guys high tail it so fast and so sneaky and so cautious. We gave the Charred Inn a wide berth, we did not check on the incredible amazing growing girl, we did not dally in the Woods of the Brave Bear, we got the fuck out, Alive and With Loot !!!

We did slow down a bit before the Three Falls Inn and hide our gold and silver and other treasure. When we went in and met up with Shifty and Brute we looked like the worn and bedraggled adventurers we were, one dead and one minion missing, but proudly presenting the wad of brewer’s scrawled notes we had signed on to get. We laid it on thick about bandits occupying the Inn and finding the recipes for beer in the spring house and wonder of wondersShifty took us at face value and never asked about Winding Stairs and dungeons filled with ghouls and temples to Snake-Ladies, much less the substantial amount of platinum, gold, and silver we had laid hands on. We meekly took our pay and grimly sauntered off towards Winterwall loudly promising ourselves a moderate debauch to celebrate out hard earned pay. Heh. Shifty and Brute toddled back over the Mountains to brew beer just as meekly. Maybe it was magical beer & they’re living like Beer-Kings off in Tsamra but I like to think they’re struggling to sell some dodgy brew that was over-sold 50 years ago on brewer’s lies and huckster’s hype, and tastes like horse piss compared to the latest dark beer from Bornholm.
Us? Well, Garven Goslyn Tom and I did a rather epic debauch at least by the standards of Winterwall. Tavum scurried off to report in to some temple about Snake-Lady Temple Ruins, but I haven’t seen him or more of Loass’ boys since so maybe they’re happy to leave well enough alone. Goslyn? I heard he was marrying his sweet heart and buying farm the good way, while still alive whole and with spare cash left over. Garven said he might be back with some dwarven buddies, but with a name like “Clanless” and his taste for fighting anything dumb enough not to run at first sight of him, I figure he wandered off into trouble long before he got anywhere he planned to go. Though if I do see him again I’ll be happy to stand shoulder to shoulder for equal shares, as long as the chance of loot seems good. Oxnard never did turn up, not sure wich way it went but Oxnrad was bad luck for Melphius or Melphius was bad luck for Oxnard, probably worked both ways. Sadly they weren’ missed much, but at least Tom and I raise a cup once in a while and remember they wasn’t all bad except in the ends they met.

As for me and Tom, well, despite the risks he came home with more gold than he’d ever seen in his life. And I even had a good stake though not really enough to buy me a ship or set me up in style even round here. But we’ld seen things, fought monsters, and lived to brag to wenches and win free rounds for our tales from seedy bar-goers. We’re hooked me and Tom. I’ll probably get poleaxed by something half-human or poisoned by some trap, and Tom will be lucky to haul my corpse out of whatever hell-hole does me in, if he doesn’t cop it too — but we’re game, Aon be praised. You head out to the sign board by the gate and I’ve got my own fancy wooden sign up permanent like:

Kankad of the Eastern Seas, Adventurer and Consultant on Dungeon Delving, to be found evenings at the Weary Ox when not on contract, assisted in local knowledge by One-Arm Tom esteemed scout and folk-lore expert, reasonable rates for reasonable risks, unreasonable rates for unreasonable risks, no refunds and you make your own ransom and burials, discount for guiding groups!

Not a bad life, but if you’re sane you’ll keep to farming and merchanting like a sensible fellows and leave adventures to wizards, clerics, or professionals like me and Tom ! And thanks for the dinner & drinks, mateys.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

From Winterwall to the Charred Inn

Winterwall modenstein