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!
We heard and felt the crash of the Bone Dragon against the heavy stone doors, then nothing. I remember letting out a sigh of relief, only to realize that we were on the underground road to Tempora, with our backs turned to the long darkness. Only the light of Dimitrious’ flickering torch gave us good light.
Turning around I could see that it was essentially a long tunnel, slightly sloping downward into the cliff face and the mountain beyond. It was wide, at least 50 heads across with a high arched ceiling nearly 25 heads high. The dwarves had done their job well. This road was wide enough for several wagons to pass each other coming and going to city. I could even make out the wheel ruts on the worn stone – indicating that the road had been used for centuries. The flutter of distant bat wings, or so I hoped that’s what we heard, was up ahead. Who knows how long this roadway would lead us into the mountain?
The floor was covered with a film of dust. There were piles every so often, most looked like either bones, rotting cloth, or bits of armor. Through the dust we could make out a disturbance, as if a large party had marched through recently. No doubt the mission paladins that we were looking for. Cobwebs, some thick, some thin, filled the open space. The air was musty, dusty, and dank. What had we gotten ourselves into?
I turned and saw Brandon checking his pack. “What are you doing?” I asked.
I picked up one of those skeleton skulls when we went through the Vale. I wanted to make sure it was okay.”
“Why would you do that?”
“All of your talk about that demon skull you said you had once made me think it might be worth something.”
The mention of the demon skull and its loss to Lexa Lyoncroft was still a sore subject with me, one I intended to rectify at some point in the future. I shot Theren an icy stare since he was the one that had given it up to Lexa in his negotiations.
Theren ignored my glance and looked around. “We have the door to our back here. I think we might be best served camping here for the night. It is better than somewhere further in. At least we have one direction we cannot be attacked from.” We were all quick to agree. The fighting and navigation through the White Vale had left us weary.
Dimitrious set up his bed roll next to me. We didn’t light a fire, there was no point in attracting any unwanted attention. We had no idea what was down this tunnel-road or even how long it went.
“You know,” Arius said as he unrolled his blanket. “It just dawned on me that we left our horses at the edge of the White Vale tied up.”
I grinned. “That’s okay, I hadn’t developed any sort of emotional bond with mine.” We all knew it, those horses were as good as dead.
We split into three watches for the night. It was not like sleeping outdoors. There were strange sounds that echoed in the vast tunnel. Even small sounds, like mice or bats, seemed to be much louder. Part of it was our imagination, but the rest was the reality that we did not know what it was we might face.
As I started my watch, I noticed on the wall near the door we had entered, a strange carving. Dimitrious and I went over to it and saw that it was a three-head wide relief map, apparently of the White Vale. At the doorway in the canyon on the map was a hole with a crystal of some sort slid into the hole. At the end of the crystal that jutted out there was a small gold chain that was artfully mounted to the wall. The crystal fit perfectly in the hole, so it was clearly made to rest there. To me, it looked like a large piece of quartz, but it might have some magic properties, to have been chained up that way.
I looked at it carefully. There were no cobwebs hanging off of it, so it must have been moved recently. Dimitrious looked at it and shrugged. It could wait until everyone had gotten a good night’s rest.
“I found a thing,” I said.
“And it appears to have been manipulated recently.”
What I got back was puzzled expressions. “What is it pray tell?” Arius finally asked. I led my friends over to the strange carved map.
“Stand back. I have a spell that may help. It detects magic,” Theren said standing in front of the relief. He closed his eyes and waved his hands and seemed to be concentrating fairly intently on the map.
“Hmm…” he finally said.
“Well?” I asked.
“I’m picking up a magical aura around the map and crystal – and it matches the same aura I see on the other side of the door. It is like it is connected to the Vale in some manner.”
“So does it open the door?”
The druid seemed unsure. “We opened the door without the crystal. This seems more linked to the White Vale itself. You know, I’m going to pull it out.”
It seemed to me to be a rushed decision, so I backed up. The others could deal with anything horrible that might emerge as a result. Theren grabbed the crystal and slid it out of the matching hole. Nothing happened.
“That’s weird,” he said holding the three inch long crystal on the chain. “The aura on the map and crystal and the aura outside has diminished…it is almost gone. It is some sort of lever of some sort I think. I am willing the gamble that it has something to do with those skeletons.” He let the crystal hang limp on the chain.
It made sense to me. This was the entrance to a major Dwarven city at one time. The Vale could have been part of the defense of the city. This could be the way of turning that on or off. This could be important when we eventually leave this place. Besides, if its magic is of value, I can steal it on the way out.
If we ever left this place.
Brandon spoke up. “I think we should cut the crystal off and take it.”
Theren got a twisted grin. “If you want to do that, go ahead.” It was a challenge. In other words, ‘If you do that, you are on your own.’ “I would leave it. You never know, we might have to flee – and I don’t want to run back out in the Vale and face Bone Dragons again.”
The ranger seemed to get the message. “Naa, I’ll leave it.”
We turned our attention to the long underground roadway. I was not a fan of strolling down there without some sort of illumination out in front of our party. “I have the ability to summon orbs of light. We can put those out in front of us. If nothing else, it is can give us some warning of anything coming towards us. They follow me.” I received nods of agreement. Bor took the point for our party and as he stepped down the road, his warhammer, Skullringer, started to glow a light blue, lighting him up. It made sense…it was of Dwarven make. Perhaps it was forged in Tempora? The glow only made that weapon look more menacing.
Slowly we started down the gently sloping roadway. We passed small piles of bones, covered in dust. Some were those of men or Dwarves, others were animal. I could make out bits of rust, either blades or armor, even an occasional helmet. Green rotting leather straps remained in some places.
Brandon checked out the trail of disturbed dust that preceded us. “These are human boot prints – a few days or weeks old – hard to tell here. From the looks of it, there were a lot of people walking through this area.”
“The missing paladins,” Arius said, echoing what we all thought.
“You mean the dead paladins,” Theren offered. Even I cast him a suspicious eye. “Hey, it is a safe assumption they are dead by now. Whoever took them prisoner wouldn’t keep them alive unless there was a reason for it.” The love-loss between the druids and the church had reared its ugly head. It was one I understood all too well. The church had killed hundreds of magic users of all kind in their inquisitions. It was that common enemy that made Theren and I nearly brothers.
We continued on and a short distance in, we saw a massive iron portcullis/gate that had been dropped from above, blocking off the roadway. It had a film of rust, but given the thickness of the bars, it was easily still an obstacle except for the hole in it – at floor level, opening to three feet. The bars there sagged, as if melted, and puddles of rusted iron were covered with a film of dust near the spot. Something hot, very hot, had burned their way through these defenses of the roadway. Then I noticed, the splatters of melted gate were on our side of the gate. This had been dropped to keep something in the city.
The trial of footprints led through the hole. Cobwebs sagged in the one-head-square, iron lattice of the portcullis. Even with Bor’s strength, there was no way for us to lift it – and there was only one way through.
“Whatever happened here, happened a long time ago,” I offered.
Bor went first, and noticed on either side of the tunnel was a recessed area, probably part of the defenses of the tunnel. I followed him cautiously as he pointed them out. Theren came in right behind us. I had my eyes on them when I heard a fluttered noise all around us. At first, I assumed they were a swarm of bats. Then I caught to glimpse of one in front of my face. They had a long probing snout on the front. These were not bats! More than a dozen and a half of them swirled around those of us that had made it through the gate, some darting through the grating towards the rest of our small band.
Arius advanced towards the approaching swarm at the portcullis. Bor swung Skullringer and connected with one of the creatures, splattering the one to the far wall. The glowing blue warhammer was a blur of white-blue light against the darkness.
“Drop flat!” Theren yelled. Bor and I did not need to be told twice, we dove for the dust covered floor. Theren muttered some word and a thunderclap erupted in the air. There was a concussion of magical power in the air above us, splattering half of the creatures into a misty spray that painted the walls and the massive iron gate.
Three of the surviving creatures dove on Arius, found a gap in his armor, sticking its snout in, penetrating flesh at his neckline. The paladin wailed in pain and stepped back, but the creatures hung on him by their beaks.
Brandon killed one and his frantic swinging of his blade kept one at bay, flapping its leathery wings all about his head. Dimitrious was a blur of action, but the creatures seemed to be only attracted more to him. They dove on him, hitting the sleeves of his robes but failing to pierce his skin.
I missed the two coming at me – one hit my elbow joint in my armor. It felt like an arrow hitting me…my arm throbbed. My spell, however, made it burst into flames – but remained attached to me. For a moment, I rejoiced, then I realized I had a flaming creature attached to my arm. I swung it around wildly attempting to shake it off.
I tried to uses my eldritch blasts to attack another one of the creatures but my flaming arm threw off my aim. My emerald blast of magic power hit the far wall, making the rock there glow. Arius cleaved one of his assailants in half, hitting me with part of the body of the creature.
Theren was rushing back towards me as Brandon swung at one that hovered and darted in the air in front of him, missing.
Dimitrious struck one of his creatures with a flurry of rapid punches, killing it. Theren swung his staff, hitting the one near Brandon, splattering him in oozing blackish blood. Arius killed another one of the creatures. The air was filled with swords, staffs and fists, making the dust swirl in the air around us, let up by the flaming creature attached to my arm.
Bor’s glowing warhammer was a blue arc in the air, destroying one of the creatures. Arius was hit from behind by one of the creatures that planted its snout into him. “Again?” he cursed, turning hard but unable to grasp it. The flames on my arm hurt as the paladin spun. “Someone get this thing off of me!” Brandon missed it entirely, though Dimitrious ripped it off of our holy knight. I finally grabbed the one on my arm and jerked its now crispy body off of me.
Arius killed the last of the creatures with his sword.
We stood there, winded from the fight, sweat stinging in the cool air. “What were those things?” Arius asked.
“I think they were stirges. Vile creatures. Blood drinkers,” I said, rubbing my aching elbow and checking the charred bit of my armor. “I have never seen one before, but I recall reading about them.” I turned to Theren. “Good move with that Thunderwave spell.”
As we bantered, our ranger Brandon wandered off towards one of the tunnel walls. He was poking around the piles of bones and rusted armor that littered the floor. The indentations were the stirges came from were fairly shallow, only five feet deep, just enough for a pair of archers on either side of the tunnel. Clearly those archers had long ago left their posts, but the creatures must have taken to the positions to make their nest.
“Should we check them out?” I had visions of stirge guano that made me cringe. Please say no.
“Naa,” Theren said, clearly thinking the same way I did on the matter.
“I’ll do it,” Brandon said walking over to the furthest indentation. He peered in.
“Well?” I called.
“There’s a leather pouch here.” The ranger brought it back to us. We opened it carefully and found some gold, silver and copper coins – all very old minting. My comrades saw a handful of coins. What I saw was another clue that something had happened here, many ages past, that was still a possible threat. Tempora fell…and whatever made it fall may yet be here.
“Perhaps we should have one member of our party carry what we find,” Theren said, eyeing Bor. “Someone strong.” The hint hung in the air for a few seconds.
The burley fighter rolled his eyes. “Fine. I’ll do it.” We put the pouch of coins in his pack. I could tell he wasn’t thrilled with being turned into our mule, but went along with it.
Arius went to the other cubby hole and found a long-dead dwarven skeleton clad in armor. He picked out an ornate silver-edged dagger. “This is all that was here,” he said sheathing the new artifact in his belt.
We trudged on down the long tunnel. It was only a few minutes later that we saw something in the distance, piles of some sort. I sensed that something was amiss, especially as we got closer and saw that these were not merely piles of bones – but ashes and puddles of long-melted metal. I started to wonder – what kind of heat could melt metal as such other than a forge? Were these people that had somehow been killed in place, or the victims of dragon fire? These piles were scattered – no pattern other than they ended in forty or fifty heads distance.
Bor moved forward to the first pile. “It is ash and bone – their armor was melted in place.”
“Do you see anything else?” Theren asked from a distance.
“The stone slabs on the roadway here have some scorch marks along their edges,” Bor replied. The big fighter was nervous, I could see that. Theren moved to join Bor. There was a low grinding noise for a moment as the floor lowered in the middle of the tunnel, with our two party members on it. Flames roared down, white hot tinged in blue. Only the far walls of the tunnel were not affected by the lowering. The air became searing hot in an instant.
Bor reacted quickly, leaping to the side. Theren collapsed with a shriek of agony. Brandon reached in to get Theren, and his scale mail seared into his skin as it superheated in the azure blast-flames. The air we breathed was so hot it made my lungs ache. The skin on my cheeks was hot just facing the flames from above. Arius reached in and grabbed Theren and pulled him out. He was on fire, unconscious, blistered and scars crusted black from the flames. We patted out the flames of his clothing.
The moment he came off the floor section that had dropped, the floor rose back and the flames from above. Arius laid hands on him, enough to get his eyes to open. He was in pain, but still with us. The paladin looked angry and frustrated. “We are smarter than this.”
“Apparently not,” I said with a wry grin. He snapped his head around and looked at me with fury in his face, clearly not amused by my comment. Looking over to the side wall he spied a small rock that seemed to jut out from the otherwise smooth wall. He went over to it and pulled the rock down with an audible click. “We need to be wiser in the future if we are going to survive. This was not even a creature…but part of the defense of Tempora.”
He was right of course. But I would not give him the satisfaction of telling him that.
The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do.