Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. Parts 1-19 (below) charted the first part of the campaign, now we begin the next phase, Tempora. For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects. Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one. Enjoy!
The decision had been made, the die cast…we would go north in search of the missing paladins of the Order of the Fang. I have to admit, the thought that our small party might somehow tread where the paladins failed was daunting, but there was no turning back at this point. The irony of our mission was not lost on me – I was doing something that would aid the church, a church that had hunted and slaughtered my druidkin.
We bedded down for a few days, using this opportunity to rest, mend our armor, and hone our skills. We were no longer the young men that wandered from White Rock months ago. We had battled Amber Elves and had been honored by the Minotaurs, ending their long-standing feud with the realm. The nipple ring I wore was a little hard to get used to, but a small price to pay for the honor it gave me.
The next day Sir Karrick, the acting First Shield, turned to Althalus and told him that had had been approached by one of guards that had come with us. “I was told that you used magic in your confrontation with the Minotaurs.” It was no light charge. The church had been hunting the killing non-cleric magic users for years. Althalus stood mute to the charge at first, then conceded. The lord-paladin was far more gracious than I anticipated. “Very well. You have provided us with a service in bringing these men here. You will not enter our sacred church or desecrate our grounds with your ungodly magic. Violate that, and you will face my justice.” The warlock knew his place and held his tongue.
A few days passed when we heard the alarm from the battlements. A rider was approaching. The guards were not taking any chances with their numbers so low. Crossbows were made taut and bolts put in place. A rider approached the gates and we heard the challenges to him.
“It is I, Brandon Windriver a local ranger. I have a message for the First Shield,” a voice rang up to the guards over the gate. We moved out into the courtyard. The Gash was not a place given the visitors.
The gate slowly creaked open and we saw this so-called messenger. He stood almost two elbows tall human, with short dark black hair. He had sapphire blue eyes, more given to a bard than a ranger. He looked safe enough…for the time being.
“What is all of this commotion?” Sir Karrick asked brusquely as the ranger entered the castle grounds.
“I bring a message to the First Shield from a village to the north west of here,” the ranger said, handing out a sealed scroll.
Sir Karrick broke the wax seal and read the message, growling through his graying beard as he did so. He tossed the message down on the ground in frustration. “Damn, damn, damn!” he cursed.
“More good news I see,” Althalus quipped. The First Shield ignored him, which we all thought was lucky on his part. I side-stepped away from the warlock, just in case it came to blows. His sniping words would be the death of us someday, I was sure of that.
The ranger, Brandon, picked up the note while Sir Karrick turned to the rest of us. “We cannot afford to wait for conformation and additional troops from Lord Sklaver. You and you party are to be ready to ride out tomorrow morn.”
“What does the message say stranger?” Arius asked.
Brandon cleared his throat, ignoring that the message was not for his eyes. “To the Acting First Shield, Order of the Fang
“I am sure that you can verify my hand on this letter “old friend.” I am aware of your plight. While some of it amuses me, even I recognize a threat that must be dealt with. The former first shield, Sir Theris Bentblade, refused to heed my warnings. As a result, your brothers and sisters have been captured in Tempora. The doddering old fool refused my offer of advice. As a result, your men are being sacrificed in an unholy manner.
“Viktor Barristen walks the land once more. He seeks to slaughter your men in order to escape purgatory and regain his life once more. It was he that forced the release of demonspawn at the Wail to lure your men into his trap. If he succeeds, there will be nothing to prevent him from releasing what remains in the Gash. I know he has walked the Blood of the Gods and resides deep in Tempora, where your men may yet live.
“I intercepted your message to Karn because the idiots of the Royal Guards would be nothing but fodder in the hands of an evil such as Barristen. This is a matter that only the bravest of souls can dare undertake.
“There is time to save them. For reasons that should be obvious, I did not come in person. You must rescue them or Sir Barristen will return to plunder the souls of mortals for a thousand years.
“Lexa Lyoncroft, Mother Superior and Wielder of Ubanthsblade the Reaver.” He stammered through the script on the page, but the mention of Lexa Lyoncroft made all of us look at each other. “We are finally getting answers to what has been happening,” Althalus said. I agreed.
I turned my attention to the ranger. “How did you come into possession of this letter fair sir?”
“A lady paid me 75 gold pieces to deliver it here.”
“When – where?” Arius pressed.
“My home village, Walden, north and west from here…some ten days ago. She was attractive – wore a green cape, big damned sword.” Brandon replied. I still could picture Lyoncroft. It had been her.
Sir Karrick interceded. “We cannot allow Vicktor Barristen to return. No matter how much Lexa is angered with me, and no matter how much I deserve it, I don’t think she would lie about him.”
“So you think she is telling the truth?” I asked. I wanted to press on who Barristen was, but now was not the time.
“Her version of the truth…yes. I have no doubt that she believes what she wrote. That is her handwriting, I know it well.”
“She came fairly close to here to send the message,” I added. Why risk herself if she was not serious?
“You will need to ride forth in the ‘morrow, try and find their trail to the White Vale. Somewhere beyond the Vale supposedly lay the entrance to Tempora.”
“It seems we are on the road to Tempora,” Arius added, almost musically. He then turned to Brandon Windriver, “What are your plans?”
“I have none. I was paid for my services…paid well I might add.”
“Well,” our paladin continued. “We are heading north to find these errant knights and try and save them…off to Tempora.”
“Interesting…” the ranger replied. “I would be willing to undertake this journey. Finding a lost city interests me.”
Althalus leaned in towards Sir Karrick. “What can you tell us about Tempora Sir Karrick?”
The graying knight grew grim as he spoke. “What is there to say about Tempora that has not been spoken about in taverns across the lands. It was a great dwarven city centuries ago, one of the first great cities. Carved along the walls of a hollow mountain, the city was protected because there were only four ways in – the great underground roads. One, the low road, led from the white vale. The other, well that was the high road in the pass of Kamon. That path has been lost for ages, buried in an avalanche.
“It has been said that its most striking features was the statue of King Effidies above the waterfall of the underground river Samath, just over the Tears of Tempora falls – or just the Tears of Tempora.
“Over two centuries ago something happened. It is said the dwarves dug too deep and awakened a demon that destroyed their city. Others say that evil found a way in, past the defenses on the roads, and corrupted those inside. What is known is that the dwarves fled Tempora amidst tales of death, war and destruction.
“Near the end of the last war, before the purges of the magic users of the world, it is said that a party of them and the church entered there and destroyed the evil that controlled the city. Their tale, the Journey of the Black Tears, is a recited poem, most of which is lost, but offers little more. They claim that the city was in ruins, a massive mound of rubble and death. They traveled deep under Tempora and captured what had led to its downfall – bringing it to the Great Gash and casting it down. There are records of that with the Legion of the Fang, though no details of what it was. Only that it was bound in iron bands and sackcloth covered with ruins of the church – powerful wards to keep the evil in check. Tossed from the Wail, it is said that its howls and moans can still be heard there.
“The only fragment of The Journey of the Black Tears that is often quoted:
“It was in the darkness we gathered to face our fears
A dousing walk, where none tread, ‘neath Samath’s tears
To the royal tombs and temples that rested in the dark and dank.
Where the spiders crawl and the rat nests stank.
Through the stairs to the resting place
Of Arron, King of Kings of the dwarven race.
Where now only the blackest of bats sing their seduction tune
In the barrow depths and the grottos dark swoon.
Into the depths below Tempora’s Tears we went…”
“Unfortunately none know how to reach the entrance, it has been long hidden to mortals. We only know the legend that it at the White Vale. I will see that your horses are provisioned and we can provide you with five days of rations.”
I had heard the poem before, but had never thought of it as possibly providing clues that might save our lives. That night I pondered the words. Everything was hinging on us being able to find the road to the Dwarven city; which seemed to be a stretch. I was happy we had a ranger with us – the trail we were searching for was destined to be old.
As we prepared the next morning, Althalus offered some words of guidance to our new traveling comrade. “I have one book, my grimoire. Don’t look at it, don’t touch it. That’s it – I’m not kidding here.” He had never mentioned the grimoire before, so I assumed he had made it in his spare time at the castle during our respite. That was the thing about our warlock, he did things that made us all a bit uneasy. I had used our rest time to master other spells that might be of use to us, all out of eyeshot of the paladins.
We headed north, Brandon checking for any signs of a road or trail that the wayward band of paladins may have taken. It took him a while, but he soon found a patchwork of old cobble stones marking what had been a road in ages past. To most of us it looked like stony ground at first, but once we stared at it, we could see the individual stones with weeds and grass sprouting between them.
We followed the old trail north. The ground was broken and slowly rose upwards to the hills and mountains in the north. Pines dotted the ground, along with Thornholly brushes and the occasional boulder. Clouds rolled in, deep purple, giving us a bit of a chill during our sleep that night. In the distance, the mountains loomed high. I wondered if we would have to climb them to find this lost city.
We shook off the night cold and set off north, following the old trail that snaked upward in the foothills. The day was uneventful but a few hours before sundown, Brandon noticed some stirring in the brush ahead off the side of the trail. He came back and gave us a word of warning. “There’s some activity up ahead. I’m going to go up and see if I can see what it is.” We agreed, after all, it was his hide at risk, not ours. Arius flanked to the right and Dimitrious followed Althalus.
Brandon came back. “There are two creatures up ahead, hiding. They are talking but I don’t understand what they are saying.”
“If they are up ahead, they are higher than us, the road slopes upwards,” Althalus said. “It gives them the high ground.”
“They are behind a Thornholly bush,” the ranger added. “I couldn’t get a good look at them.”
“Let’s see if we can figure out who they are,” I said firmly. And only kill them if necessary…
We got closer, moving in slowly, then we heard a whiny voice. “Halt…halt!” came back the small voice. “Drop your weapons.” It was far from intimidating.
Our warlock raised his empty hands, which was far more dangerous than any weapon he might hold. “Come on out. Perhaps we can talk. We don’t mean any harm.” That wasn’t quite true, I saw Arius hunker next to me and whisper, “Do you think I can set that holly bush on fire?” I shook my head, but appreciated his thinking.
“No talk – give us your money,” another voice said from the bush. I swear I heard the other one chuckle.
Arius frowned. “No, I don’t think so.” He was speaking more to me than them, but I was sure they could hear him at this range. The paladin rose and called to them. “If you try and take our money, we will have to hurt you.”
“This is our trail – get off of it!” spat back the first voice.
The other voice snickered slightly, this time leaving little doubt in my mind that they were mocking us. “Leave us your stuff and you can go free. Otherwise we will kill you.”
The first voice spoke again, deeper, adding, “We are very powerful!”
“Seriously?” Arius said. “I think they are laughing at us.” He pulled his sword out as if to emphasize his point.
“They sound cute,” Althalus added. “Can I keep one?”
Apparently they could hear us. A spear flew from behind the holly bush, hitting Brandon in the thigh, making the ranger reel in pain. A pair of goblins emerged, over-armored, as if they had recently looted some bodies. The armor was clearly several sizes larger than the goblins. “Stop mocking us, we have many spears and will hurt you!”
I laughed, if only for a moment. Goblins.
One of them spoke to other. “I told them we had many spears,” he whispered loud enough for us to hear. Both chortled for a moment. They then sidestepped back behind the bush.
“I really want one for a pet,” Althalus said.
I grew impatient and the thought of the warlock having a pet goblin was disturbing on many planes of thought. It was bad enough that the mute monk seemed devoted to him. I had mastered a new spell that seemed perfect for this occasion. I closed my eyes and focused on a spot of green light only I could see in my eyelids – the power of the soil and forest. There I saw the thornholly and I tapped it. Vines! I stretched them with my mind, outward from the green spot of light I focused on. Twisting and growing, churning and ensnaring. I opened my eyes and felt the wet palms of my hands reach out before me. The ground where the goblins hid erupted in a burst of vines, hoisting them upward, wrapping around them like snakes.
The goblins tried to move, and that was their undoing. The thorns cut them like a dozen little daggers. The more the struggled and tried to get free, the more oozing green blood splattered on the new growth. They squealed in agony as the vines grew. They died before throwing another spear.
I stopped concentrating on the mound of twisting thorns and it dissipated, dropping their armored bodies to the ground of clanking as their armor hit the stones.
“Well, that was easy,” Althalus said sarcastically.
We inspected the bodies, and saw that their armor was clearly not goblin-made. This was the armor that the paladins wore at the Great Gash. “They must have gotten it from the paladins that we were following.” I pinched my nose to protect it from their stink.
“We will never know,” I added. “Maybe they raided the paladins back at the Gash.”
“That armor is relatively new – no rust. I think this is an indication that we are on the right trail.” The older paladin always sounded so confident. “I think we need to move forward – follow the road north.”
There was a murmur of agreement, though it came through a veil of foreboding. I reminded myself that a legion of paladins had marched this way and disappeared. How could we fare better than a host of armored knights?
We were about to find out…
The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do.