When a mad-eyed dwarf and his filthy companions first bade me sit at their table in the public house, I pretended not to notice them. Dark traces of blood skulked on their weapons, and they shared a certain hardness in their faces, as of a small band of warriors facing a dark and endless horde.
But they knew me to be a scrivener’s son looking for work, and would not have me demur. Besides, they paid more handsomely than even my esteemed father, once scribe to royalty, could have expected. At least, they said they did. Many of the coins and artifacts with which they presented me were, and remain, unknown to me and everyone else in this town.
They wanted me, they said, to transpose their diaries, listen to their stories, and compile the lot for the sake of posterity. Fair enough, but what I got to work with were scribblings, drunken ramblings, and tales of such outlandishness that I feared for my reputation if I reported them as factual. The ragged band is gone now, supposedly off on another adventure, and I do not expect to see them again. I swore to bind their preposterous stories and publish them, and so I have. I did not swear to tell them in my own voice. Sometimes I have done so; other times I have written down their words, and sometimes I have simply included original written texts I received from them, transposed in my hand.
If even a small part of what is related here is true, our world is stranger, more troubled, and much more deadly than we think, who walk in daylight and nestle in the warm bosom of our homes.
1) The Road to Thunderspire
Based on interviews with the survivors.
According to what I heard during several sessions with my employers around an ale-drenched wooden table, the Thunderspire epic began with introductions. Two of the five adventurers were new to the others, who had been together for some time, having fought in the company of two other since-departed wariors to seal off a “Rift”, as they termed it, that would have allowed the most monstrous creatures imaginable to enter our world. As if those sitting across the table from me were not monstrous enough.
I immediately saw this claim to be stuff and nonsense, “Rift” being simply the name of one of the newcomers, a female Eladrin Wizard with more intelligence than the rest combined, but as little impulse control, according to the dwarf, as a “seasick goblin”. The other newcomer, Erik, was a stealthy Ranger type, maybe a little too proud of his ability to wield two weapons at once. Along with the Dwarf, who claimed to have been fighting for a hundred years, but seemed instead to have been drinking that long, there were also a half-elf Cleric with a strong grip and a gift for erudition, as well as a strapping Paladin Dragonborn who, the others insisted, had already died in battle. He didn’t look dead to me.
After a couple days’ journey east along the King’s Road, the fast-moving group turned up the cobbled path towards the mountain. Spirits were high. They had been training, studying, and equipping since their last battles, and all reported progress and a feeling of confidence, save the dwarf, who was troubled by his feeling that magic was beginning to encroach upon his hitherto all-natural fighting style.
They entered a long passage into the mountain, wide and lined with torches.
2) BloodReavers’ Blood
Based on an interview with the dwarf Barrick
“We passed many dark passages to the left and right, not much scent, and finally saw light coming from under a door. We listened, and it seemed like an innocent halfling was being held against his will. Truth be told, we had little enough reason to think so, but we smelled goblin or worse, and anyway we never pass up the chance for a fight.”
“Felsmon thought to scare the occupants out of defending themselves – if anyone could do it, he could. Smashing in the doors, our pal made a din – Hah! He’s a Pal-a-din, get it! Anyway, he shrieked at the 5 creatures inside to lay down their weapons upon pain of death, while we all grunted and clanged our steel, but they just laughed, and 4 of them came right at us.”
“Both our additions, Erik and Rift, were quick off their marks, wanting to prove their mettle to us, I make no doubt. Now, I don’t mean to make excuses, but I hadn’t gotten a decent night’s sleep since my battleaxe turned out to have a hex on it. The others said I should be glad to have it, since I used it to slay Kalarel (May Bahamut infest his remains with poisoned maggots). But I hate magic – except when it’s healing me, of course – and the cursed axe lay there by my side, every night, making me feel cursed, too. Come to think of it, almost like a dwarven wife. Anyway, now, in the first real fight since the fall of Kalarel (May Bahamut slay his descendants in their baths), I was slow to use the thing, and when I finally did, I missed, and missed again.”
“Luckily, the others were on their best feet. Erik often got in two blows for every one he received. Rift conjured a blast that burned all five of the baddies, and topped that by hitting their leader with some kind of ice spell – the old hot-and-cold routine. The steadfast Cleric Z’alden was up to his usual stunts, slamming the poor Weavers [sic] with magic jolts left and right while boosting the fortunes of the rest of us, as is his wont. And our pal Felsmon made a din– oh, used that already, did I? – anyway Felsmon moved in close, ducking a blow on the way, then softened up three of the beasts with his breath alone, though you mightn’t believe it if you hadn’t smelled it, and then gave a shocking thump to the breast of one of them. That must have boosted the youngster’s confidence.”
“Watching my comrades with my jaw hanging open, I got hit hard in the gut, which doubled me over. Good thing, because their leader just then sent some magic blast, which hit everyone but me. It knocked all 4 of my friends off their feet, and even killed one of our enemies for us! Still bent in half, I watched helplessly as another attacker swung a mighty stroke at Felsmon as the lad lay prone – but Dragonborn are agile for their size, you know, and the swing only bounced off the stone floor.
“It looked bad for us just then, but Rift, still on the floor, had an idea to cause chaos to our attackers by spilling ale from a set of casks lining one wall, using a creepy floating hand spell. Sounds crazy, and maybe it was – that Rift can be a loose hammerhead sometimes.”
“Funny thing though, as soon as the smell of that ale hit the air, our luck started to turn. Erik had been badly hurt, but healed by Z’alden, and with the scent of brew in the air, he strode up and killed their leader with a double blow, as calm as a halfling weeding a garden! Then I perked up, the pungent goblin ale stench flowing in through my nostrils and pushing the bad magic out of my head. I leapt up on top of the nearest casket, feeling the strength flowing up to me on the odor, and gave a huge strike down on the head of the nearest Weaver [sic] (May Bahamut rain fire on his village). Even that didn’‘t kill him, though.”
“Rift came out with another ice shock – don’t remember Skamos, who was a Wizard too, using that one very often – and both our remaining targets fell, one breaking his neck on the way. Erik dispatched the last one soon enough, after Felsmon had slipped on the ice. And so it was over.”
“Afterwards I sat on an emptying barrel of ale, holding my axe, which was a stranger to me now, as the battlejoy flowed slowly out of me to join the ale in a puddle on the floor. I wondered how much the cursed axe was to blame for my poor showing, only one good hit in an even 5-on-5 fight. Was I becoming useless, as the others threw more and more magic around? Erik flashes two weapons around like lightning, and here I could barely control one? Felsmon, at twice my size, moves around the room on his young legs faster than I?”
“So, I did what I always do when I think too much – I started to drink.”
3) A Halfling’s Tale
The half-elf cleric Z’alden spoke with such earnestness that I thought, at first, he was trying to convert me to Bahamut. Then, I realized, the breathlessness arose from his mental struggles, as he tried to recall what had occurred after the fight Barrick had described. Here is what he relayed to me. Believe what you will.
“Barrick’s morose feelings are betrayed by his excellence in battle. His bravery and skill are legendary. Even still, his strong arm was weak compared to the strong mouth plastered on the face of the most ungrateful rescued halfling you have ever met. Indeed, we had just saved the little Rendil Halfmoon from becoming Rendil Half-a-head, and he lips off here and there to us. I was astonished. It was preposterous! Still, he knew much about the BloodReavers, their comings and goings through secret tunnels in this mountain.”
“Even more incredibly, he told us the directions to find their lair. And, finally showing some gratitude, offered to lead us to a wonderous underground city and host us in the finest rooms at his family’s inn.”
Z’alden described an incredible city, the Seven-Pillared Hall, carved deep within Thunderspire Mountain. I nearly spit out my ale when the half-elf exclaimed, “Minotaurs! It was built by Minotaurs, who destroyed each other in a civil war over what god they should worship. Religious wars can be difficult if one is too fervent. Never get too fervent. Have faith and act to destroy evil. Uphold justice and help the weak. Smash undead whenever possible. That makes for a good day. Simple.”
Finishing his little homily, the cleric completed his story. The halfling led the group to the city’s watchman, “Brug”, supposedly a Ogre over 12 feet tall. Likely not. The group had to pledge to tell no outsiders of the city. And, yet, here I am writing down their very notes and tales. Some pledge. Still, the wonders of three mage rulers cloaked in black hoods who could teleport in and out of an underground tower and stop any and all conflict among the disparate races who lived in the city deserves mention if only for the level of fantasy that the half-elf clearly believed from the halfing’s story of the city.
The Bahamut cleric described the Halfmoon Inn of Rendil’s as a fair place, far more comely and pleasant than the one we find ourselves in now. In gratitude, Rendil’s mother, Effra, did give 3 rooms to the group to house them and offered the rooms for as long as they were not taken.
Incredibly, Z’alden seemed to recall little else of this halfing, other than still smiling when he thought of the map that Rendil had provided, directing them to the hiding place of the BloodReavers. Something about a goblin who had been unable to make a map and wanting to track down the greasy beast and teach him map-making in his own blood.
4) Hall of the Seven Pillars
I tried to divine from the group the description of the so called Seven-Pillared hall. As not one of the party reported counting seven pillars I wonder as to the accuracy of their ramblings. They gave me a map of the hall although the lines appear to be too straight to be sketched in the dark of a cave. If one can believe the tales of a fully functional city, hidden underneath the cold, drenched Thunderspire peak, then here it is.
The city is controlled either by a self-inflated ogre named Brug or Brugg, or was it Grub, or controlled by invisible mages each of which can single-handedly quell all drunken brawls.
This city apparently is inhabited not only by humans, elves and halflings, but also by drow, orcs and duergar, and possibly worse. A dwarf selling gemstones, now that I can believe, but a half-orc running the local taproom? Now I ask you friend, have you ever seen orcs and drow working side by side? Neither have I. Ah well, maybe I can sell this rabble as a story for the little ones; no one else could possibly believe such pap.
Not only did they tell me of a bar and a inn deep inside the mountain, but a wainwright, a fully stocked merchant and even a happy little curio shop run by a grumpy drow named Gendar. The waterfall and bubbling brook flowing under quaint stone bridges sounds like something from a fairytale, not a hardened trading location for the Underdark. It almost brings images of a goblin and her secret bugbear romancer skipping hand in hand over the stones.
The temple in this fabled city worships Erathis, the god of great invention and civilization. Hardly the proper choice for a cramped hidden group of ruffians living in old crumbling damp stone buildings.
The inn is run by a pair of halflings, Rendil, desribed elsewhere in my writings, and his mother Erra. I wonder if the ale there is any good, now I could see good ale being the cause of unfriendly creatures sharing a table. Peradventure my old legs might carry me to this place some year for such a mug.
Oh, and one cannot forget the mage’s tower, accesible only by dancing in front of a statue of a minotaur. What a party this dark place must be.
No, not one piece of this tale makes any sense. But if I do not honour my word to put this down on parchment then I am nothing.
5) The Chamber of Eyes
As the scrivener turns to Felsmon, the paladin grunts and lightning flashes between his teeth. The scrivener then turns to the rest of the party “Does anyone else want to describe this part of the adventure?” he says shakely.
6) Battle of the BugBear
The conversation then turned to the encounter with the bugbear. For this I became better acquainted with Erik, the young human ranger who had just recently joined the adventuring troop. He and Rift shared some kind of bond but it was tough to discern the exact nature of their connection. So I asked Erik, “Tell me about Rift”, and his response was quick, “She’s an elf.” With that illuminating answer, I knew that many a glass of ale would be finished before this tale was told. Erik then let out a loud “Ow!” as his head bopped forward as if someone had slapped his head from behind. Rift shouted from another table, “High-elf!”.
I then began to tease the tale of the bugbear out of Erik. Fortunately his tongue flowed faster and looser as additional quantities of ale were applied.
“From the entry room of the Chamber of Eyes, we crept along the balcony toward a door to the east. We’d soon set ourselves upon the enemy into glorious battle. I was in the lead as I have the most quiet manner. Around a corner I could see a room with a couple of goblins – easy pickings. I then signaled for the group to advance. When we did, we were shocked to see a giant, goblinoid creature in a part of the room that I hadn’t been able to see. More for the glory of my twin blades!”
“All hell broke lose in that small room. Beds and tables obstructed our movement and I found myself on the far side of the room, going toe-to-toe with the terrible beast. [Later determined to be a bugbear.] It stood somewheres over seven feet tall, wild with matted hair. My companions remained on the other side of the room hampered by the obstructions, none the least of which were the two goblins.”
“While I battled the bugbear, two more goblins appear from another entrance to the room. Curses. Luckily there was a fire pit between me and them, but unfortunately one of them kept pelting me with a crossbow. I had to stand and take the bolts, being too busy getting licks in on the bugbear. Brave Felsmon did what he could to help me, leaving his back undefended to face the goblins. With mighty strength the Dragonborn pushed the bugbear into the fire pit. A foul stench of burnt bugbear hair filled the room. Arcane magic sprung from Rift, freezing the just recently singed monster. At least I wouldn’t die with foul burnt bugbear fresh in my nostrils. Seeing me seriously injured, Z’adlen channeled the power of Bahumut whereupon a divine glow enveloped me, giving me enhanced vigor to fight on. I then let loose a furious twin-blade attack on the bugbear. It staggered back only to fall dead on the cold, stony floor.”
“Eager to escape the goblin’s crossbow, I leapt across the table and deftly struck at the two remaining goblins in the room. Each sword simultaneously plunged deeply into its target, slaying them both.”
With this little part of the tale, Erik squirmed as if his trousers were in a bunch. “I was the one who instructed you to simultaneously attack the two goblins because their backs were to you as they fought us!”, shouted Rift, still sitting at the other table but now observing with a contemptuous look on her face. She then joined Erik and I at the table, choosing to sit quite close to me that made me feel both awkward and gladdened. With the insouciance that only Rift could so masterfully deliver, the story was finished for Erik…
“The remaining two goblins fled. They were later easily dispatched by my fiery sphere.”
Given Erik’s wounds from the bugbear and goblin crossbow, surely Z’alden’s immense healing powers had been used, aided by a powerful item they had found. Some kind of “Belt of Sacrifice.” And so the tail of the Chamber of Eyes continued, with a drunken Rift still sitting at my side…
7) Mystery Room
Scrivener’s note: I was unable to make enough sense of a scrap of parchment handed to me by the barely-literate dwarf, as usual in a drunken stupor. It seemed to be an attempt at recording part of their adventure. What part, he never told me. Some sort of contest of strength perhaps? I have transcribed it here.
Half-wall: shape of “L”
Mermaid carving: serpent from waist down
- doodle of stocky mermaid with very large bust -
Zalden: Pushd hard
Barrick: Pushd very hard
Felsmon: Pushd very very hard.
Lookd at walls
All: Pushd very very very hard.
I Hate Fishes
All: Pushd very very very very hard.
Go kill Bloody Weavers.
8) Duergar Battle
Based on an interview with the beautiful, but troubled, eladrin wizard, calling herself Rift.
When asked what her last name was, she started shouting oaths in a strange primordial tongue. After being restrained by her less-hasty comrade Erik, she started her tale, amid much muttering and cursing… Note to self – Give this one a wide berth in the future…
“As I was saying, my name is Rift. I have no last name. I am an eladrin, although I prefer the term ‘high-elf’. As a wizard, I try to control the battlefield through my arcane mastery of fire and ice. This gives my brave companions the opportunity to sink their swords and axes into the weak hearts of our cowardly enemies, or into meddlesome scribes who ask impertinent questions!”
“Anyhow, our brave companions and I had decided that a frontal assault on the double doors was not a wise plan. It seemed wise to me, but I have been accused of having the brains of a mindflayer and the wisdom of a scurvy-plagued goblin. Fine. No frontal assault.”
Here, the wizard broke off again with much muttering, and could only be brought back to her tale with my promise of fine wine.
“Well, as I was saying, we snuck down a narrow, disused passage until we came to a door. Now, being brave, we decided to burst open the door and charge. Unfortunately, the room turned out to be quite small, with a huge fireplace, roaring like a thousand dwarves who are out of ale. The room was also, unfortunately, occupied by two of those vile duergar. Unlike their more peaceful and happy-go-lucky brethren (like our good friend Barrick), these duergar had the audacity to attack us with their toy warhammers.”
“Then, to make matters worse, these foul creatures began pulling out quills from their smelly beards and throwing them. Our poor friend Erik, nimble as he is, was not quick enough to dodge one of these poisonous missiles. Well, we decided it was time to give these wretches a good close shave.”
“I played what modest part I could, conjuring up a sheet of frigid ice to cool their tempers, and knocking them senseless to the floor. Felsmon, Barrick, and Erik quickly took advantage of this, surrounding the hapless imitation dwarves, and furiously raining blows down upon them. Z’alden, good soul that he is, channeled the power of Bahamut to aid us and to blast these cursed freaks of dwarven nature.”
“Summoning up my reserves, I conjured a living ball of fire, a sphere of doom, a radiant burst of flickering dea…”
Here the wizard choked on her wine, spraying it across the table and extinguishing the candle. After the undead dragonborn had thumped her on the back, and she had re-lit the candle with a wave of her shapely hand, she continued.
“Like I was saying, the sphere of flame appeared across the room, striking out at one of the terrified duergar, scorching his ugly backside. With the smell of burning duergar in their nostrils, my comrades became emboldened, striking even more fiercely. The pesky goblins were the first to fall, the heat of the flames and the mighty sword and axe strokes were too much to bear.”
“It was at this moment that a dreaded hobgoblin warcaster appeared. But, it was to no avail. Hemmed in by my brave comrades, with their backs to the flames, our foolish enemies could do little. Alas, a little was enough. The warcaster, seeing his mongrel friends being ground into dust, became enraged and weaved a spell. The waves of pure energy surged across the room, picked up our poor comrade Z’alden, and sent him skittering into the fireplace like a burnt offering to his mighty god.”
“But Z’alden is made of sterner stuff. Shaking off the glowing embers, he emerged from the flames completely unscathed, except for the stinging smoke in his eyes. A miracle? No, we wizards do not believe in such. It was simply luck.”
“Z’alden, insisting that his scaly god had saved him, became ever more wrathful, urging our companions to strike down our foes. Dutifully, we complied. Down went the warcaster, still muttering an unfinished spell in an unholy tongue. The last to fall was one of the duergar. He stumbled out the door and down the stairs like a drunken dwarf, the ball of fire trailing behind him. Just as he reached the handle of the double doors and freedom, a tongue of flame leaped out and incinerated him. Unfortunately, his charred corpse had enough momentum to swing open the door, making his pathetic demise visible to all those in the chamber beyond.”
Her black eyes flashing, elven ears pointed jauntily, Rift thumped me on my back, causing my quill to splatter ink across the page.
“Well, that is enough for now, eh, scribe? How about more of that fine wine that you promised?”
‘Tis passing strange, but when I checked my purse to order more wine, my gold had mysteriously disappeared. I do not understand what happened to it… Ah well, no matter. The eladrin, Rift, has generously agreed to pay for all our expenses. She is really quite fetching in that green robe.