Out of Town and into the Dungeon
Twas a sodden, mud spattered quartet of wretches that emerged from out the castle sewer that first light of morn. Staggering from wounds held closed with clamped hands, from deprivation of blessed slumber, and worse still the shadowy premonitions of deeds and divinations upon the land such as young innocent minds do not easily fathom, these brave volunteers for Fate’s mercy shook their heads at the weary wonder of it all as they picked their way down the boulder strewn riverbank, seeking the path that would take them to town that lay upon the cliff above, Delver’s Dale.
The ever present mists parted then, to reveal two hooded figures standing in the waters so that their legs were submerged in the icy grey stream. One held a small five spoked wheel aloft, and a small cup which he used to pour ablutions upon the brow of the other, a simple woodsman by the look of him. This was the ritual “Washing Away of the Nights’ Terror’s”, a common sight. The woodsman looked up and noticing the three armed men accompanied by a feral grey wolf quickly ducked behind a large rock. The priest however, turned his benificent gaze upon stragglers. “Well met! Would you like blessings bestowed upon your morning bath?”
The small towheaded boy called the Finch turned towards his companions, his eyes blazing with feverish intensity, “You must all swear me this oath now, that we shall never speak of what befell this night—wait, where’s Stephan?”
“Oh old D’Annunzio caught a rope and climbed up to the castle directly,” said Twill Bell breezily.
The wolf called Dog growled and his Master Iorweth grabbed his crotch and spat.
“Indeed,” Twill called out to the priest. “I am in need of a bath just now as digging for crabs this morning was not the cleanest of work! Let us bathe, and then we will return to the Inn and take a much needed rest.”
And so the waters of the River Eamon washed the muck and blood from soiled clothing and skin. All Finch could do to stand it was to think of the roaring fire that would greet him at the Drunken Dwarf Inn.
The priest introduced himself as an Acolyte of the Goddess Demeter, called Dyffyd Kinewatcher, and when the woodsman could be coaxed out from his place of prudence he gave his name as Cedric (the lazy). They were all hungry and so they climbed the narrow goat path up the steep cliffside reaching the central square just ahead of a fishwife bringing her first catch of the day.
The taproom of the Drunken Dwarf was quietly empty at this early hour, although the massive hearth was ablaze and the kitchen was bustling with activity. Already the ring of hammers could be heard echoing down the Dale as the Dwarves of Clan Ironbeard began their daily toils.
The lads gathered around the fireplace and there they ate their morning bread and drank hot spiced wine and spoke in many directions at once, caution, even paranoia warring with youthful excitement. They were fugitives now, they were certain, it was just a matter of how long until their culpability was made public. The Finch worked quickly to secure witnesses, using his childlike charm to befriend the Kinewatcher, and striking a deal with Cedric the Woodsman to guide them through the wilderness. For it had become apparent that the absent Prince Caradoc’s Map of Delver’s Dale was the most fruitful (if confusing) clue they had found in the wizard’s study.
Finally it was decided that the Finch would stay out of sight in the apartments upstairs while Twill Bell and Iorweth sought an audience with their liege Sir Trousdale of Lorchester . For they were nothing if not loyal.
Arriving at the Castle Daha, Twill Bell became so excited at the prospect of performing for royalty that rather than ask after his master, he instead petitioned to the royal seneschal Steward Mordeln that he might play a song for Queen Vivian. “That,” Mordeln assured young Bell, “is impossible. For the Queen is awash in grief and cannot yet grant audience to itinerant minstrels.”
Despondant, Twill retired to the Commons Hall to experiment with the acoustics. There Iorweth curled up with Dog by the fire and fell asleep. Dyffyd Kinewatcher, who had walked to the castle with the bard and the druid, paced the circumference of the hall, swinging his censer about, splashing holy water on the rushes and castle dogs and whatever servants happened by, many of whom approached the acolyte for a blessing. Dyffyd was most pleased to oblige.
Soon enough prayers were answered as the very august personage of Sir Trousdale himself came striding through the door. And who walked behind him? Chin up and looking about at the rabble daring any to challenge his most pricklish pride? The great Stephan D’Annunzio, well groomed and seemingly unsullied by the sordid events of the previous night, events which occured not far from the very room in which they now stood.
Without breaking his stride or expression of haughty disdain, D’Annunzio approached Twill and Iorweth and spoke quickly in a low voice, “Look sharp now! For the honor of our Lord, we must not be seen about this place any longer! Our fate is tied to the Finch now, and we must see him to his destiny. I have spoken with Lorchester and this is his will. We go!
With sudden haste, the companions regrouped at the Drunken Dwarf and at the hour of noon they threaded their through the crowded midday market and, joined by Dyffyd Kinewatcher (who complained that the beautiful Ahleena took such good care of the church that he felt hardly needed there), led by the soft spoken Cedric to a side exit of the town, found themselves gathered on a bluff next to Steep Creek, across from the dwarven edifice that was called a Waterwheel, looking down upon the whole of Delver’s Dale, whose brightness glistened in the cold winter sun. A wind whipped up the valley.
The yoeman Cedric leaned on his longbow and cocked an eyebrow at the motley crew, “So my lords, where do you want to go?”
Twill Bell looked up from the tuning fork of his Myrdonic Harmonizer, “Let’s go to Old Skull Point!”
“Old Skull Point? Really? But that’s just an old abandoned watchtower. Nothing there but crumbling rocks and bird nests.” Cedric was confused.
“Bird’s nests, exactly” said Iorweth.
“Here, our map show’s a skull, and so we shall obviously journey there as the Prince would not draw a skull in such a place upon his map if it were other than to indicate sinister activities,” D’Annunzio spoke with grave determination.
Cedric just shrugged his shoulders and started off down the hill. “Old Skull Point it is then, but let’s hurry, we probably wont make it by nightfall and tis a bitter wind these winter evenings!”
And so the band of young would be heroes descended into the Dale, with naught upon their shoulders but their armaments and a vague sense of responsibility for the land, a feeling the their deeds could perhaps tip the scales of power, influence and righteousness in this imperilled land. Cedric was indeed in a hurry and so he led them directly to the Imperial Road where they maintained a brisk pace upon the frozen mud track. It was but a few short hours before the spire of Old Skull Point loomed above, but in those short days of winter already the sun had dipped behind distant crags and the temperature was dropping precipitously. Small snow flurries drifted about. Atop the mount, the ruins of the old tower could be seen in silhouette, like the broken teeth of some fallen giant.
D’Annunzio seemed to get more impatient with each passing moment. Dusk falling as the group approached the crumbling ruin. The old keep kept its back to the cliff of the bedrock spire rising behind it, and a wall of 20ft held intruders at bay. There was a crude timber gate in the center, looking curiously like a woven birds’ nest, and toward the left corner the wall had collapsed, creating a 5ft gap. D’Annunzio ignored this gap and hurled himself upon the gate, crashing into in with all his might. Unfortunately, his mighty strength was not enough to break through. Casting about, the heroes gathered wood from a nearby tree. They would burn the gate down! Why not? Darkness had fallen and the winter wind tore desperately at their meager cloaks.
Cedric approached a pair of crumbled wooden doors, the old gate. It looked like burnable wood. It was in fact the lair of a horrid monster, a tentacled land mollusk whose questing tentacles wrapped the happless ranger in a numbing embrace. Although Cedric was quickly rendered helpless, his new companions came to his rescue and slaughtered the creature, and its green ichor stained the ground.
Finally a fire was built, and before long the gate itself was burning. An arrow shot down from the wall above. D’Annunzio leaped to his feet and jumped through the fire. Again he put his shoulder to the gate, but this time, weakened by the fire, the barrier burst asunder. Frightened Kenkus scattered left and right. The battle was joined. After easily defeating the birdmen, the group forged ahead into the castle proper. The fighter led the way, kicking down doors in seemingly random fashion. A pair of over large beetles were discovered and destroyed.
The other’s searched for scraps of information and treasure until the Zingaran’s impatience got the best of him and he again barged ahead. It was a frontal assault without much subtlety. Before long a long abandoned dining room was discovered. Three skeletons sat slumped in great chairs around a table still set with what looked like golden place settings. There was not much time to investigate, for in an instant a hauntingly harsh melody drifted from out the fireplace, a hypnotic song that stopped the young heroes in their tracks. Only Twill Bell had the willpower and then the presence of mind to combat the perfidious song. Quickly Twill struck the Myrdonic Harmonizer and added his own voice to the tumult. Point for counterpoint, the siren song was demolished ‘neath the power of Twill’s mighty battle of bands. His elation did not last long, for no sooner had he begun to sing when two creatures of nightmare swooped from out the chimney flu in a cloud of ashy dust. They were a strange amalgamation of a witch and a dirty dirty bird. Tattered wings and vicious claws greeted their victims with menace and the display of the creatures’ wildly flopping dugs. Their song was ineffective, but still they attacked with a fury born of hate for Men. Stefan struck with power as did the others. One of the Harpies, for that is what they were, was slain, while the other, when she saw the doom of her sister took desperate flight past the Finch and Twill and out into the cold cold night.
Further investigations and battles ensued. It was a veritable blur of desperate combat and struggle. The lower dungeons of the old keep were dank and cold as ice. It would not do to let the body cool down. Only perhaps to ponder a strange log suspended above a solitary chest. More Kenkus were slain. A shrine was discovered, depicting no god known to Twill’s Bardic lore, nor to the traditions of Iorweth. The tapestries and statues described a man in his middle age, of darkly sartorial inclination, bedecked in jewels and bloodred robes, his long black beard curled into perfumed ringlets that shown in the light of golden lamps. One of the statues was a living crystal approximation of the man’s cruel visage, but his location was mysterious. Who was this stranger sorcerer who seemed to live like a god below the grond so very close to the lights and lives of Delver’s Dale?
The answer came too soon, merely the wrong door opened and the showdown was upon them. There, seated on a throne on the far side of an underground stream that bisected the vaulted room was what could only be the man himself. But who was he?
“I am Bargle the Magnificent,” said the warlock, stroking his luxurious beard. “You have invaded my inner sanctum and disturbed my investigations into the netherworld, and for that, you must all perish, to be squashed like all you ‘knights’ and ‘heroes’ who dare approach my ribald iniquity!” With that said, Bargle made a curt gesture and a veritable curtain of flame descended upon the flagstones on his side of the natural moat. The battle was joined in a flurry of fire and fang, spell and spear.
The wizard summoned a Gelatinous Cube of uncertain planar origin which proceeded to engulf those who opposed it. Others jumped the moat, braving the crackling Wall of Fire. Some telling blows were struck to the Magnificent Bargle as he floated above his throne but each time his image seemed to shimmer and shift and transpose and some began to wonder if he was really there at all. Eventually it seemed, the iniquitous summoner grew bored of the futile struggle, or perhaps his power waned. For with a diabolical laugh he flew up through a shaft in the ceiling and vanished into the gloom.
The Men of Trousdale breathed a sigh of relief.