Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. Parts 1-19 charted the first part of the campaign, part 20 began the next phase of the saga: 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!
When I got my first look at the White Vale it was intimidating. A plateau rose in the distance but the sheer rock faces leading up to it formed a canyon of sorts that narrowed on both sides to a point in the center. The stone faces were draped with thick vines, centuries old, many long dead but still clinging to the rocks. The canyon walls were vertical climbs of over 200 heads height. My experience was that such vines were dangerous to climb. Rot often led to a plunge to death. Thoughts of working our way north of the vale and lowering into it were dashed.
For many stone-throws of distance the vale opened up, littered with bleached bones, some streaked with rust from armor. There were several large mounds of bones out there, no doubt from massive creatures that had died there. What had killed them?
The floor of the vale was covered with a cobblestone as far as the eye could see. Most were light gray, but some stood out, a dark pink granite, almost red in color. Weeds poked up between the gaps in the stones and snaked through the twisted array of bones. This was a place of death. It lacked the aroma of death, but it was clear from the carnage that this place was where countless lives had been lost; dwarven and other.
I glanced over at the paladin Arius and he crossed himself at the sight of the vale. My new companion, the warlock Althalus, muttered something that only his ears and his patrons could hear. He was a quirky fellow, always brooding. He surveyed the long open field of bones and stones as if he were more curious than afraid. For me, the words of Ichabod still rang in my ears.
The others tied their horses and we moved down cautiously to the edge of the vale. I could not discern any trail through the shattered marrow. As we lined up along the very edge of the vale, it was Arius that said, “We should enter – all of us.” If we were to face danger, better to do it together.
We took a cautious step in. Nothing happened. Perhaps, this is not going to be so bad after all. I remember thinking that – for a few moments. I used my ability to check for the presence of undead. If there was ever a place where this could be useful, it is before an endless field of bones. “Wait, let me check for the presence of the undead.”
“You probably should have done that before we stepped in,” the paladin said under his breath, just loud enough for me to hear.
I followed the procedures correctly, but I could not see any one undead. Instead it was as if the entire vale lit up in my mind as being undead. That was impossible…wasn’t it?
“Well?” Althalus asked.
“Everything is undead,” I said. “The whole vale.”
“Well, I feel suddenly calm,” the warlock replied with one of his twisted grins that made me wonder if he was joking, or deadly serious.
“And we have no idea where we are going,” Arius said. “Those red stones weave a trail in to the middle of this canyon. I guess that is where we should head.” It was as good as an idea as any the rest of us had.
We moved carefully into the vale, every now and then you hear the crack of bone shards under our boots. We weren’t stepping on the red stones, but following their general path. At around forty heads in Theren held up his hand. “There’s a shuffling of the bones over there,” he pointed to his right. He was right, we could see them twitching, moving on their own.
We paused, staring at theme for a long moment, wondering what was making them twitch. Suddenly the bones seemed to move, rising up in skeletal form. Bits of armor buried on the vale floor snapped to them, clinging as if they belonged there. Skeleton fighters! Both of the skeletal warriors held rusted swords in their hands. One, missing a jawbone, seemed to survey our party slowly, right to left.
Then they broke into a charge.
While focused on these undead abominations, we heard more clatter of bones shuffling behind us. Theren fired his bow but missed the skeletons entirely. Althalus spun to see the threat behind us. “More are forming to our rear!” Three more skeletons formed from the debris of the vale floor.
Arius the paladin held out his hands and uttered a chant at the ones approaching from our rear. One of the new attackers stopped dead in his tracks, but the others seemed to smile a toothless grin and charge at Arius.
Althalus held out his hand and an emerald beam of magic burst forward, but missed the charging skeletal warriors. He hit a number of bones on the ground, sending them flailing about the cobblestones. Where those bones landed in the distance, and they seemed almost magnetic, as if they were attracting more bones to them. We didn’t have time to focus on them though, we were under assault.
Bor, the burley fighter, swung his hammer Skullringer at one of those that closed on Theren, shattering it into hundreds of bits and pieces. Parts flew some 50 head distance. The skull rolled right to the edge of the vale.
I pulled my staff and swung it at the closest one to me but caught the air, not the bones. I almost lost my balance from the swing. Dimitrious moved to protect Athalus, putting himself between the warlock and the skeletons.
I swung again and this time hit the rib cage of one of the creatures, shattering ribs and bits of scale armor that clung to the bones. It turned on me and plowed its rusty sword into my shoulder, digging deep.
One skeletons swung at Arius but did nothing more than shatter the tip of his rust-splotched sword on the paladin’s armor with a high pitched, “ting,” sound ringing in the air.
The monk caught the blade of one of the attackers, downing him instantly. A spray of blood hit the warlock he was protecting. “No! Dimitrious!” wailed Athalus. He unleashed a blast of his magic on the attacker, shattering the skeleton into bits and pieces. The monk regained his feet, his blue robe showing a wet crimson smear from the sword cut.
Arius swung his sword into the skeleton that had tried to kill him, his blade cutting through its right arm and rib cage, turning it from an attacker to a flying pile of bones and armor.
Theren swung his staff into one of the skeletons hitting it, but only shattering its shoulder blade.
The bones in the distance seemed to draw from one of the larger piles, slowly it was growing in size and shape. Closer to us, the skeleton that Arius has frozen into place, seemed to shake free from the paladin’s spell, and charged at him.
I swung my staff at him and missed, the air whistling as my weapon passed through it. Arius swung at him and caught only air as well as the skeleton seemed almost charmed to our assault. Theren caught him with his staff, catching him on the skull and shatter it. The bones collapsed like a puppet whose strings were severed.
Athalus turned to the large pile of assembling bones and cast a spell on it. The air shimmered yellow and a boiling smoke cloud formed, filled with swinging daggers of energy. Then the cloud seemed to flicker, then dissipated. Athalus stood with his mouth agape for a moment. “That can’t be good.” Theren moved his hands, clearly casting some sort of spell, though I could not see what it was.
It formed before us – a massive creature, ancient and evil. Its skull alone was massive, reformed from bits of bones. Torn gray leather wings hinged on bones emerged and seemed to spread. A dragon! Not just any dragon, but a Bone Dragon – skeletal and malevolent as if it were alive. Bits of dragon scale clung to its ribs, while others were missing and left huge gaps. Two massive horns rose from its massive skull. It loomed large as the final bones re-assembled it before us. Its teeth gleamed like two dozen daggers, any one of which could rip one of us apart. Ichabod was right. The White Vale was filled with death…maybe our own.
The last skeleton warrior drove its sword deep into Arius, finding a gap in his armor. The paladin moaned in agony from the hit. An invisible force, no doubt from Theren’s magical machinations, shattered the last skeletal warrior, raining bits on the injured paladin. I had been raised to be wary of magic users, but here, in battle, I found myself shedding that belief.
“I don’t like it,” Athalus said, looking at the Bone Dragon. The beast’s bones rattled as its tail swept behind it. “This is going to be bad,” he added flatly.
Bor didn’t hesitate – he charged straight at it first, Skullringer reeled back for what should have been a devastating blow. The ancient warhammer came down completely missing the dragon, clanging hard on the cobblestones.
Althalus backed up nearly thirty heads and fired his magic energy bolts at the creature, shooting upward into the gray sky. Theren shifted and waved his hands before him. Around the creature a snarl of spikes on vines appeared. If it were to move at all the massive thorns would rip at it, tearing at its bones and wings. Such a move had killed the goblins before, I was hopeful that it would do the same with this creature.
It batted its massive wings, kicking up a cloud of dust, bones, and debris from the floor of the White Vale. As it rose and moved forward, the vines did their work, but were simply no match for the massive creature. It opened its massive maw of a mouth and seemed to glare at us with its dark holes where its eyes were. I told myself it was just a skeleton of a dragon, its days of breathing fire or whatever had long passed. It was dead after all.
I was wrong.
From the massive mouth came a stream of bone shards, each like a deadly dagger, sprayed out at us in a cone of death and destruction. Dimitrious, and Theren sprang into action, lessoning the amount of spray that ripped into them where Bor had been spared the attack completely. I felt my legs and chest feel as if they had been doused in burning oil from the hits and looking down I saw bits of bones sticking out of my left thigh. I pulled them free, then my vision tunneled. I dropped to my knees and everything went black. It was dying…I knew it. Is this how my life was to end…on some forgotten field of bones?
I suddenly felt better. I opened my eyes and saw the sky above me, but somehow I had been saved somehow from almost certain death. I didn’t question it..
I wasn’t sure if it was a dream until I heard, “I don’t like this,” from Althalus. I saw him as I got my footing and he looked as if he were soaked in his own blood.
Dimitrious seemed to shake off the damage as well, getting back to his feet as I did. Whatever had saved my death had done the same to the monk. No doubt magic from our paladin. We had been badly injured, but were alive. Bor switched to a throwing axe and chucked it high above him into the dragon, embedding it into one of the massive shins of the skeletal dragon, but doing no real damage.
Emerald green energy shot from the outstretched arms of our warlock into the creature – but only hit him for a little damage, pushing the creature back a few feet, enough for the thorny vines to injure him again.
The Bone Dragon moved forward in flight, then landing with a thud that shook the ground we stood up. Bor was now behind it and I saw him smile – thinking he had gotten the upper hand on the creature. That smile fell as the creature’s massive tail swung at him, hitting him hard. Bor grabbed his other axe and buried it hard into his leg, clearly hurting the beast.
I was only ten heads away from the beast and it loomed over me, towering three times my height. This was the wrong place to be…that much was for sure.
I toyed with the thought of mounting the creature, but common sense took hold of me. Instead I fell back, shifting to my longbow. My arrow hit one of the ribs of the creature and snapped from the force of the impact – doing no damage to the massive skeleton.
Bor chucked his axe and went back to Skullringer as his weapon of choice. He swung with every bit of his strength, but missed the Bone Dragon entirely. We had all been hoping that the mighty warhammer might shatter the creature, but he had missed entirely.
As I side-stepped for a better angle, I saw Theren start to become, well, blurry, as if he were changing. He dropped to all fours and hair sprung out, his size grew. A heartbeat later I saw where the druid had once been stood a large direwolf. I had seen them during my ranges in the forest, always at a safe distance. This one was massive, ominous, and ferocious. It reminded me just how little I knew about my new comrades in arms.
The direwolf lunged at the Bone Dragon, tearing its forearm, gouging the bones with its teeth. If the dragon felt pain, we didn’t see it. Instead it swiped its tail at Bor again, hitting him hard, sending him flying back. I swear I heard his ribs break under the impact. Blood oozed from the corners of his mouth as he drifted to momentary unconsciousness. Arius gestured towards him, possibly summoning the spirit of God to help our fallen fighter. Whatever he did, Bor stirred awake, shaking his head, wiping the blood on his sleeve, and making his way to his feet.
The Bone Dragon pressed on against the direwolf with one of its massive claws, tearing into the flesh of the wolf. Theren-wolf winced from the savaging, but squatted on its haunches and looked even angrier.
Althalus looked as if he were casting a spell, but if he did, its effects were unknown to us. The Bone Dragon unleashed an agonizing wail that made my skin crawl. It should have been impossible, it had no body, so the wail came from the netherworld that had spawned it.
I fired my longbow again, missing the massive creature. Our silent monk friend shifted to its rear, swinging but doing no damage. The Bone Dragon swept his massive table. Bor ducked it but it hit Arius hard, leaving his limp form unconscious.
The druid-direwolf bit deep into the left leg of the beast, once more ripping into the bone. I could see the bits of marrow in the froth around its mouth. The skeletal beast responded with a sweep of its claw, tearing a nasty wound across Theren’s hide.
Althalus fired his magical burst – hitting the creature in its midriff region and searing some of the bones of the massive rib cage. I saw that the paladin was growing pale, so I sprinted to his aide, putting pressure on his wounds. Blood oozed between my fingers as I tried to keep him alive.
The warlock unleashed another eldritch blast – the bright green energy hitting the right leg of the Bone Dragon and burning through in one spot. The massive skeleton reeled under the assault, showing a rare moment of injury to us. Me…I was focused on that tail whipping near my head and trying to stop Arius’s horrible blood loss. Bor joined me and was able to wrap a bandage on the paladin’s arm wound enough to hold him somewhat stable.
The tail whip-snapped in the air above me, nearly knocking my hat off – hitting Bor and sending him flying unconscious into the field of bones. Before any of us could react, the claw of the Bone Dragon swiped at the direwolf-druid and knocked hard, rolling in the bone shards. His form flickered for a moment and we saw Therein the human take shape.
The druid did what he could for Bor as the monk sprung into action, hitting the right leg of the creature so hard I saw fragments of bone fly from the hit. I tried to strike the creature with an arrow but it had no visible effect. What could stop this beast?
The tail snapped like a whip, hitting Bor again, knocking him senseless and limp, rolling in the bones of the vale. I wondered if we were going to survive this as my heart pounded in my ears. Ichabod’s warnings to us about the vale haunted me at this moment. Theren muttered a word of healing, enough for Arius to climb to his knees, then his feet. The druid then struck with his staff. The sound of the crack was deafening.
For a moment the Bone Dragon wavered. Then it was as if everything that held the bones together suddenly disappeared. It collapsed down onto itself, forming a massive pile of parts and shards. Some of the bones twitched, as a creature might that had been just killed. For a long moment we stared at the pile, unsure what had just happened. Did we really defeat it? Then we all cheered, all in unison. Yes! Victory was ours!
An eerie silence smothered the White Vale. I set my eyes on the dragon’s skull, still oddly intact amidst the pile of bones and dragon scale. I had heard Althalus talking about some skull he had at one point that was worth a fortune. I knew that many magic users would pay a hefty price for any part of a dragon. The skull had to be worth a lot. I walked over to it and realized that it was massive, too big for me to carry alone. “I want the skull.”
“Too big,” the warlock said. “Trust me. If you want a souvenir pick something smaller.”
I took out a dagger and pried loose one of big teeth and stuck it in my pocket. That had to be worth something. The story alone that went with it would get me drinks in any tavern. It gave me a lot of satisfaction.
The silence was shattered when some of the bones started twitching and Arius suggested a rapid departure from the vale to get our second wind and try and wrap our wounds. We scampered out of the field. Looking back it dawned on me that we had barely entered the vale and had nearly died…and there were other large piles of bones out there that could be just as deadly as the Bone Dragon, or worse. Worse than that, we had only gotten into the field some 50 heads distance…a long ways from the far end where we suspected the entrance to Tempora to be.
It took an hour or so for us to recoup and even then, we were weary from the fight. “So what do we do now?” I asked as all eyes drifted back to the White Vale.
“We are going back to the bones,” Althalus replied. “Maybe we should consider doing something a little different than the last time.” There were a few nods of agreement.
Theren studied the vale carefully. “Let’s think this over. We should sleep on this, keep watch, maybe we can find some alternate approach. We set up a small campfire, though our sleep was fitful that night. This was not the kind of place one found solace near.
A light rain moved in during the early morning, a cold penetrating rain. The vale was just a daunting in the morning. “I think we need to work our way to the far canyon wall where it seems to come to a point.”
Arius stepped forward. “I am going to try and ask God for help. His divine sense may provide me with some sort of path through these bones.” He held out his arm and closed his eyes for a moment. When they opened his eyes, he winced. “There are over 150 skeletons of some sort out there.” That made us all cringe. “There is a pattern of the red stones though. I can barely make it out. It is like a spiderweb of paths, but one does lead to that far wall at the apex.”
“I don’t think there’s a good choice here,” Althalus said.
“There are a lot of gaps between those stones – I mean we would have to jump some pretty far distances,” the paladin said.
“We just jump. It’s not a big deal, right?” the warlock offered.
“You do remember the Bone Dragon, right?” I responded.
“That poem did mention the Blood of the Gods or something like that. It has to be those reddish stones.” Theren said. “I’ll go first. If something goes wrong, I have spells that can help me get out.”
“We’ll watch you and see what happens to you then,” I said.
His pattern was to walk or hop to a stone, pause, look around, make sure that he was not causing any skeletons to rise, then move on with the next steps. At one point he lost his balance and fumbled, but there were no skeletons rising up against him. He used his quarterstaff to steady himself.
“That looks easy, I’ll follow him.” I did pretty well until I was near Theren, then I stumbled, missing the red granite stone. I landed on a bone and dropped. The bones near me suddenly stirred and rose, forming a skeletal warrior looming over me, sword at the ready. I got to my knees to rise and suddenly there was a brilliant blast of magical energy from Althalus at the edge of the vale. The beams severed the skeleton in half, sending the bones flying, some landing on me. I was so startled I lost my footing and stumbled once more. Between Theren and me another skeleton warrior, this one armed with a rusted morning star, assembled and took shape.
The druid swung his quarterstaff, hitting it hard, breaking its spine, sending the upper torso one way, the lower portion the other. I took my time getting up, getting next to Theren.
Bor joined us. The rest of the party followed the same path we had followed. Arius fell, but no skeletons came up as a result. Dimitrious made his leaps perfectly as did Althalus. We formed up now, some sixty feet in the middle of the White Vale. It felt lonely out there, surrounded by a sea of bones…but my new comrades seemed to have my back.
“Do we go to the center, the left or the right?” Althalus asked. We did a quick show of hands and opted for the center.
Our next move was 100 heads distance. I stumbled and the skeleton rose up next to the warlock. He responded with a devastating blow, shattering the remains of the warrior, its sword flailing into the bones and stones. And so it continued on. Sometimes we missed a stone, and a skeleton would assemble itself almost instantly, but they were easily dispatched. My eyes were on the larger piles of bones. That was where a Bone Dragon or some other bone creature might appear. Our attention was focused on them.
It was a slow go as our line of leaping and jumping party made their way across the White Vale. I was confident that we were going to make it when I fell hard. Suddenly, there were a stirring with one of the large bone piles, just as we had seen before.
“Damn,” I cursed.
“We need to get to the wall!” Theren yelled. “I can cast a fog bank spell I have that can give us cover.”
“You might want to lead with that next time,” Arius said flatly.
The fog rolled in a wall some 20 heads high blocking the Bone Dragon’s view of us. Another skeleton warrior appeared in front of Bor and was destroyed by the warlock. Its skull landed in my lap, and I immediately dropped it. From behind the wall of fog, we could hear the bones shuffle more loudly. Looking over at the fog bank, we could see the outline of the tattered wings of the beast stretch out, creaking as they did. A chilling bellow filled the air, piercing the magical fog.
Theren cast another fog bank as the sounds of the dragon stomping on the bones drew closer. Our party made its way to the canyon wall. It was covered with a thick blanket of vines, some thick, many of them long dead. It dawned on me that we were trapped here, with nowhere else to go. If the door to Tempora was not here, we were doomed.
Dimitrious pulled out a torch and his flint and steel, nodding at the wall. “That makes way too much sense,” Althalus said, holding the torch as the monk lit it. Those old vines would burn pretty easily. The warlock was struck by another skeleton that formed up next to him. He pivoted and hit it, not enough to stop the creature, but sending some of its rusted chainmail flying.
The Bone Dragon flapped its wings and the wall of fog billowed out towards us along with a fine dust of bones and debris from the floor of the vale. “Flamous sphereoius,” yelled Theren, and a sphere of flames formed around the dragon. While its wings were singed by the flames of the massive ball of compressed fire.
The monk with the torch lit the vines on fire while we kept our attention on the immediate threat. Bor hacked at the vines, looking for some sign of a door or escape. I felt along the stone face of the wall, trying to find anything that might help us.
Theren moved the flaming sphere to stay on the dragon as it advanced towards us then spun, reaching through the vines. “I found it – I found a door! The door’s here! I found the edge of a hinge or something.”
It was huge, it went up nearly 20 heads height. The vines obscured it and it was thick stone. “Find the edges!” the druid yelled. Arius joined in for the search but his fingers found Bor’s butt rather than the door. “What are you doing?” the burly fighter said glaring at the paladin.
“I missed the wall,” he said embarrassed, turning to the wall and continuing his search. Dimitrious set fire to more of the vines above our heads. Chaos reigned as we were trapped.
The skeletal Bone Dragon lumbered forward within 50 heads of us and opened its toothy maw and breathed. The air filled with bone shards and fragments, unleashed in a torrent, each a potential lethal white dagger. The bone-shard breath shredded armor and flesh that it hit. Althalus managed to cast a spell of some sort, putting an end the spray of bones as the massive beast took damage. My own armor was torn apart, and there were at least a half- dozen bones stabbed into my torso and arms. The sight of all of that blood – my own blood, made me light-headed. I collapsed on the floor of the vale, blood flowing into my right eye. I was sure that I was going to die in that moment. Everything went dark.
My memories of what happened after that were a blur. I heard voices. Something about the door. It felt as if someone tossed my body, like I was rolling, but I can’t be sure. Suddenly I saw light – the torch, laying on the floor next to me. The cold stone made my cheek ache as I came to and pushed my body to a sitting position.
All around me it was dark and the air was stale. “Where are we? What happened?”
Theren leaned in close to my face, pulling one of the bone shards out of my chest and tossing it aside. “We made it inside. We’re in Tempora,” he said in a low voice.
“What about the Bone Dragon?” I said pulling out some of the larger shards. Some hurt more, some less as I did the deed.
“It hit the door and shattered,” Althalus said wearily. He too was pulling fragments of bone out of his left side.
We were in the lost dwarven city. We had made it!
The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do.