“We are only a few hours outside of town,” Tira Duskmeadow announced to her companions, “I think it is time for us to decide which way we want to proceed.”
The party halted their eastward trek along the old worn wide path that was used as a road. “Read the letters again,” a gruff voice barked.
“Yes, Barrick,” Z’alden Silverflame reached into an inner pocket of his black and silver tunic, the familiar outfit that clearly marked him as a cleric of Bahamut. Glancing at the letter in his hand he summarized what had been read by each member of the party several times before, “Marla warned us that Winterhaven may have fallen under the influence of an evil cult, possibly ruled by someone named Kalarel. She has asked us to help rid the town of this scourge, and suggested we ask Valthrun for more information once we reach the area.”
Skamos Redmoon pulled back his hood, exposing his two large twisted horns jutting from the forehead of his burnt red face. His traveling companions had long become accustomed to his visage and did not blink nor cower at what some humans would describe as the devil incarnate. The tall muscular tiefling, also robed in the way of those commonly associated with magic, pulled out a piece of parchment with nimble fingers that seemed almost too soft and caring to belong to a creature with deep red eyes and pointed teeth. Skamos’ tail flicked impatiently as he also went over the contents of his letter, “Our friend Douven Staul reported that he has found the bones of the dragon of which he seeks. Knowing our proclivity for dragons he asks that we join him in the caves but a day’s trek south of where we now stand.”
Tira turned to face southward, her blond hair flying out as she moved. “Either way would suit me, but given a choice I would opt for a night in an inn, with food other than these travel rations, before spending a few days crawling around in the cold dark underground.”
“Turning soft on us Tira?” Barrick laughed heartily. “What I wouldn’t give to spend some time exploring the proper side, the inside, of a mountain again.” Tira smiled down at Barrick; she was aware that the dwarf missed being underground, carving and working the stone in ways most other races could hardly imagine.
A shadow crossed over Tira, blotting out the afternoon sun. Looking up she saw the face of a dragon leering over her, the sharp teeth exposed as the scaly being opened his mouth. “I agree with Tira,” Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem announced in a deep rumbling voice, “Whilst I would love to spend some time with my kin, I could use some real meat to eat before doing so.” Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem suffered the most during the long journeys between towns; being dragonborn he was easily the largest of the group, and thus needed the most sustenance to keep fit and battle ready. The constant meals of dried trail rations were starting to get on Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem’s nerves.
Z’alden Silverflame spoke as he folded his letter, “I agree with these two, let’s go to town first.”
Skamos simply nodded and, seeing that he was outnumbered, Barrick shrugged and said, “Well we are not going to get there just standing here. And,” he added with a wink, “It has been a days since I have had the pleasure of a tall glass of ale. All this water is turning me into a sea nymph.”
The five adventures laughed and then resumed walking.
“Hold!” Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem whispered loudly. Without question the four others stopped and waited. “I saw something dart across the road just up ahead, behind that rock cluster there.”
“What was it,” Z’alden Silverflame asked.
“I am not sure,” Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem answered, “But it was larger than a dog and I think it was reptilian.”
“Well, you should know reptilian,” joked Tira.
Warned, the party drew weapons from their gear, the tall dragonborn unsheathing a shining longsword while Barrick unclipped his maul and hefted it with both hands. Tira and Skamos pulled wands out, Z’alden Silverflame reached for his sacred object, as they began steeling their minds, ready to unleash hidden powers.
As the team cautiously approached the rock pile, behind which the mysterious being lurked, Barrick heard some guttural sounds emanating from behind a separate large rock just a few feet beyond the first. Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem, familiar with most dragon-related languages understood the sounds to be an attack order and quickly warned his friends, lifting his sword above his head as he cried, “They come!”
Five short humanoid creatures burst forth from the rocks, some on each side of the road, flanking the party. The green scaly creatures held spears and slings, but gave no indication of having more firepower than what was displayed.
“Kobolds,” Skamos spat, “I hate kobolds.”
“All the better,” Tira grinned, “Let’s have at it!”
Having lost the element of surprise the kobolds found themselves facing, not unarmed travelers, but a party of armed, unafraid adventures, some already smiling in anticipation of the ensuing battle.
Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem and Barrick quickly strode forward in opposite directions, reaching some of the kobolds in a few large steps. Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem’s sword descended, leaving a long red oozing gash down the left side of the little creature just as Barrick whipped his maul out. But the enemy Barrick faced was quick and managed to duck under the heavy hammer before darting in and jabbing Barrick in the side, just below his mail shirt. Barrick swore, but stepped back, ignoring the small cut.
Simultaneously three bursts of energy flew from the wands of the three magic users. Z’alden Silverflame ’s lance of faith, empowered by the god Bahamut, struck a kobold square in the chest, and the monster fell back, instantly lifeless. Unable to quickly decide which target to attack, and thus mentally unfocused, the dark lightning sizzled from Tira’s wand, dissipating into nothingness. Skamos fired a shiny white magic missile, but his aim wavered and his missile only grazed the shoulder of a charging kobold.
One kobold, larger than the rest, jumped up onto a large rock and began shouting orders at his minions. Seeing Tira as the closest enemy, his sling swung circles then released. Tira easily sidestepped the small orb that was aimed toward her head, but was surprised when the orb burst into flame on the ground behind her. Tira turned her gaze back on the kobold that had dared to attack her, steeled her vision, and marked the creature with her warlock’s curse.
The battle only lasted a few minutes. Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem was having trouble with one little kobold that kept darting beneath his strikes, stabbing into his scales, and then darting away behind the rocks. The kobolds did their best, darting in, trying to rend damage, and then trying to dart away without taking hits. Barrick soon connected with his massive maul and the kobold’s spine shattered from the blow.
Magic spells flew, lightning crackled, the sword and maul were in constant motion, and a silver dragon of Bahamut appeared once, summoned from Z’alden Silverflame , to mend a nasty slice Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem had endured. Soon only one kobold remained standing, the troublesome creature dealing with Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem. In addition to the sword strikes, Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem had thrown two javelins at the monster, but had so far been unable to defeat it. Having no other opponents, Tira moved to unleash her powers and strike at the remaining kobold.
“No!” Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem shouted, “I want this kill!”
Tira had a bloodlust equal to or possibly greater than anyone else she knew; she loved dealing the killing blow in battle. Ignoring Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem’s request she pointed her wand, unleashed her mental ability, and black lightning again flew from the tip of her wand, this time unerringly striking the wounded kobold, knocking it backwards three feet, where it shuddered once then lay still.
Everyone looked around, all senses trying to detect the presence of any other dangers nearby. Satisfied that they were again alone on the road, the party took ten minutes to congratulate each other and exaggerate the story of each of their best hits of the battle. Minor wounds were quickly healed, Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem retrieved his ill-thrown javelins, and the bodies were looted. Tira collected the sling, and one small clay pot, determined to be the exploding orb she had avoided. Only 34 silver pieces were found, Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem wanted his share immediately, Tira passed over 6 silvers, and pocketed the rest of the coins in her belt pouch, carrying the meager treasure for the rest of the group.
Adrenaline from the battle still coursed through the veins of the party. Turning eastward, Tira looked at the rest of the group and asked, “Now what?”
Barrick laughed out loud, “My friends, the sky is blue and the road unrolls beneath our feet. No mangy kobold should dare to test our mettle in another fray, but how I wish they would; my maul is now restless. We have not to fear from man or beast. Therefore to Winterhaven! There we feast!”
“Aye!” chorused the remaining party members, each holding their respective weapon up high. Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem clapped Skamos on the shoulder with enough force to that Skamos had to stop himself from falling forward. Laughing Skamos punched Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem in the gut, a blow he knew was not enough to hurt his hulking friend, and said with a grin, “Enough you overgrown salamander!”
Their laughter echoed through the trees as the party moved away from the bodies of the kobolds that had dared to attempt an ambush.
A few hours later, as the sun was approaching the horizon, the party crested a hill and saw the town of Winterhaven. A small burg, Winterhaven was surrounded by an earthen wall, a large double gate serving as the only entrance into the town. A few guards were visible marching on the wall as well as standing in front of the open gate. As the group approached the guards noted the party and watched their approach. With approximately 100 yards remaining between the hungry adventurers and the gate, the two standing guards suddenly ran inside and the great gate was pulled shut with a loud bang. Skamos wondered if his demonic appearance could the cause of the fright and pulled his hood up over his horns.
Barrick and Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem glanced briefly at the others, then shrugged and continued forward. As they approached the gates they could see a small group of people gathering on top of the wall. Suddenly a helmet dropped between Tira and Z’alden Silverflame . Barrick started to pull out his maul but Tira put an arm on his shoulder, “Whoa there my stout friend. The old man up there admonished that guard upside the back of his head.” Understanding, Barrick released his grip and chuckled.
“Ho there friends!” The elderly man on the wall called out. “Ignore the behaviour of these simple folk, they know now what they see. Come in! Come in!” The elderly man disappeared down behind the wall; thirty seconds later the right gate squeaked and opened back up. The old man emerged with his arms spread wide, “Welcome friends! Please forgive these people, most of them have never seen a dragonborn before, and thought you must have been some sort of giant kobold. Come in! Let’s have a drink and talk. To Wrafton’s, the best inn and ale house around.”
“Of course I know him; he is probably at Wrafton’s as we speak. Come in!”
“Eilian. How foolish of me not to introduce myself. Come in.”
Tira still did not trust this man; he seemed overly excited to see them, especially considering that the town might be under the control of some evil consortium. She decided to see if Wrafton’s was really the best place in town. Tira was fully aware most human and elf males, as well as many from other races considered her attractive; she was not ashamed in the least to use her given charms to gain what she wanted. Sidling up to one of the guards she tilted her head and, using her appeal, asked, “Excuse me, my protective gentleman, we have traveled long and are in need of drink and food, and,” she added leaning closer, “maybe someone with whom to talk.”
The guard stammered, “Wrafton’s is the best inn in town. My shift ends at midnight; perchance you could visit the barracks then?”
“Possibly,” Tira replied. She had learned what she wanted and had no more use of this simpleton; however not wanting to burn any bridges she held his gaze a little longer than would be considered normal as she turned to follow Eilian into town. Winterhaven consisted mostly of single story simple buildings. The one exception was the tower in the middle of town, extending four stories above the rest of the dwellings. Eilian steered them to a long flat-faced building with stables attached to the right side. “Ah, here we are. Come, let’s drink and talk.”
Skamos whispered to his compatriots, “I do not trust this place; I am going to stay here by the door for a bit.” Barrick nodded approval of Skamos’ plan and stepped off to the side. Z’alden Silverflame and Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem noted Skamos and Barrick then followed Eilian into the bar. Tira hesitated for a second, unsure which path to follow, then turned and entered the bar.
Eilian led the three to the bar and introduced them to the lady tending the casks, “Friends, this is Salvana, the owner of this fine establishment. Salvana, a round of ale if you will.”
Tira did not drink, but did not say anything as Salvana turned to grab some mugs. With her figure and looks she frequently needed her entire mental facilities when in an alehouse; she knew she could fight her way past a dozen drunken guys, she had done so numerous times in the past, but she preferred to use her words against tipsy, but otherwise good, men. The crowd in the bar hushed as soon as Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem entered the room, but after seeing that he was with Eilian then slowly, but quietly, returned to their conversations.
Eilian nodded toward the corner, “Over there, sitting with that elf girl.”
Z’alden Silverflame took a long pull from his mug of ale and, sensing it to be untainted, signaled to Barrick and Skamos. Eager for something stronger than water Barrick quickly strode up to the bar and ordered the largest mug in the house. The party went over to Valthrun’s table, “Greetings good sir,” Z’alden Silverflame said, “Might we have a word with you? Marla told us to contact you when we reached Winterhaven.”
Skamos spoke up, “She said there is a cult of evil in this town.” Tira tried to kick Skamos in the leg, but did not reach him before he blurted out his statement. Horrified, she looked around the room, but there did not seem to be any reaction from the crowd.
Valthrun stared at them for a minute, “I will speak with you, but will do so tomorrow. Come by my place, the tower, tomorrow morning.” He turned back to his drink, obviously dismissing the party.
The party returned to Eilian and joined him at an open table. “Who is the elfess?” Skamos asked of Eilian. “Ah, you mean Ninaran,” Eilian said with a half smile, “She has been here for several months. She works for Valthrun when she is here, but doing what I no not.”
“Not much,” he replied with a shrug, “There are rumours of some bones in a cave down south, but no one has found anything. Now that you mention it there was a guy passing through here a few months ago. He said he was going to find them. Hmm, I cannot remember his name.”
“Yeah, that’s the guy. Kind of an odd fellow.”
Salvana approached the table, “Another round of ale, or can I tempt you in a meal?”
Suddenly remembering their stomachs, the entire party said yes to the food. Barrick just asked for another mug of ale. Tira opened her belt pouch to pull out some coins to pay for things. She stopped, her eyes first widened, then narrowed as she found that her pouch was empty. Lowering her voice she spoke to her friends, “I’ve been pilfered. I have no coins left. Somewhere in the room is a thief. Keep a close guard on your supplies.”
Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem smiled, “Not to worry, I’ve got five golds, I can cover our tab tonight.”
Realizing there was not much more they could do that evening, the conversation turned to more jovial topics and the group ate and drank their fill. After the sun had set, and the candles were burning low, they inquired about rooms for the night. Double rooms were two silvers apiece. Barrick paid for two rooms.
“Don’t you need a room,” Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem asked the dwarf.
“Nope,” Barrick said grinning as he wiped foam off his beard, “I have found some might good ale; I will stay here and probably sleep under the table tonight.”
True to his word, when the four adventures entered the common area the next morning Barrick was snoring loudly under one of the side tables, a wall of empty mugs surrounding his head. Skamos kicked Barrick in the ribs, “Wake up, cur! We’ve got an appointment to keep.”
Barrick stirred and opened one eye, “Oh, it’s only you. Make use of that tail of yours and fetch me another mead.”
Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem chuckled, then bent over and picked up the entire table. He set it down off to the side, then reached down, grabbed the dwarf by the beard and pulled him upright.
“Thanks,” said Skamos to the dragonborn. Then, turning to his sturdy friend, “Comb those bones out of your beard and let’s get moving.”
Barrick grumbled, but soon met his companions outside, blinking at the sunlight.
The party walked to the tower and knocked on the only visible door. Hearing no answer or internal movement they knocked again. This time they were rewarded with noise. The sounds of shuffling feet were followed by the sounds of multiple locks being undone. The door opened and a haggard looking Valthrun poked his head out. “Is it morning already?” Squinting into the sunlight he continued, “Oh so it is. Come in then.”
Entering the tower the party could see rows and rows and stacks and stacks of books. The tower apparently also was the local library, whether accessible to the common folk or not was yet to be determined. “What do you want?” he asked bluntly. Z’alden Silverflame pulled out the letter from Marla and handed it to Valthrun. Valthrun read the letter, making odd noises as he did. Returning the letter he looked each of them in the eye before speaking. “The truth is that there has been some strange going on’s around here lately. The kobolds have taking to attacking travelers in broad daylight, something that used to be unheard of. And the old keep, up north, people have been saying things are moving up there again. Kalarel has been spotted up there, and he has never been one of high moral character. I could believe that that is the source of this evil cult that Marla mentions. If you want to go to the keep, you should visit Lord Padraig; he knows more about it than I do. I had a book on the keep and the lore surrounding it, but it seems to have gone missing. I really should ask Ninaran about it.”
“She works for me some times. Mostly sorting books for me and keeping things in order. If I cannot find a book she usually knows where it is.”
A look passed between the adventures but no one voiced the opinion that Ninaran might be the book thief, as well as the local pickpocket.
“Tell him I sent you,” Valthrun said, already turning away and moving on to other things, “He’ll let you in if he knows you come from me.”
The party let themselves out of the tower and, following the directions given to them from Valthrun, soon was standing at the entrance to the only manor estate in the town.
“I hope that guy is on the level,” Barrick grunted as they waited for the guard at the door to return.
The guard returned and showed the five into an antechamber. Lord Padraig was waiting for them and greeted them warmly. “What can I do for you,” he asked.
“We are on somewhat of a mission, to rout out some evil that might be occurring in the area.” Z’alden Silverflame did the talking. “Valthrun said you had information about the keep, where we suspect things may be headquartered.”
“I know the keep well; I can describe it for you. I am not sure about any evil cult or what not in the area, but I wish someone could get rid of the horrid kobolds. I do so miss my daily rides through the countryside.”
Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem stood and spoke for the group, “We would be happy to wipe out the kobold menace for you, sir.”
Tira quickly added, “For the appropriate price, of course.”
Barrick laughed, “Fifty? I think it should be more like 200.”
Lord Padraig tried to look wounded, “Despite my plush home, I am not so wealthy as one might surmise. I can go no higher than 100.”
Tira tried to use a little diplomacy, with a little charm thrown in, “Oh noble sir, we would not dream of trying to swindle one so esteemed as yourself; however we are but five poor travelers on foot. One hundred, plus horses and two weeks rations for each of us.”
“Done.” Lord Padraig agreed, “You can get all the supplies you need from my head master. Oh, and one more thing before you go, there have been rumours of disturbances in the graveyard outside of town. Some have even reported ghosts and skeletons walking around.”
The group each thanked Lord Padraig for his hospitality and then made their way to the stables. Less than an hour later the group rode out through the gates of the town and re-entered the plains outside.
“Should we check out the cemetery?” Z’alden Silverflame asked the group.
“I don’t know,” answered Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem, “Walking skeletons sound like magic, and could be difficult, but crushing some kobolds sounds like a good day’s work.”
“I hate magic,” Barrick muttered under his breath.
“True,” Tira chimed in, “But the cemetery is close, let’s at least just swing through on our way to the keep. If nothing is showing this bright and sunny morning, then we ride on.”
No one could come up with a reason not to, so they turned their horses and rode south half a league until they reached the gates of the cemetery.
The sky was a bright blue, a few wispy white clouds floated lazily by and the sun was shining brightly. “Ghosts never come out in weather like this,” commented Tira, “We shouldn’t have any issues. Let’s just check for odd footprints, then head on.” The cemetery did not appear to have been used for burial in quite a while. A few small footprints showed up here and there in the dirt but there were no flowers on any of the graves. A wrought iron fenced enclosed the small graveyard. Two small crypts rose up between the headstones, whilst in the back of the graveyard a large mausoleum was visible. Barrick, standing on the right side of the party, noticed an odd circle on the ground just beyond the second crypt. Pausing he then heard, or possibly felt, a thumping coming from the other side of the far crypt. Cautiously everyone drew weapons and quietly walked up to the first wall of the crypt. Silently Tira and Skamos peered around the corner of the crypt. The circle on the ground appeared to be made of flat paving stones, it was 15 feet in diameter and carved throughout the surface was a series of intricate runic designs.
Standing in the center of the circle, a short being, all features obscured under a crimson robe, stood, holding a staff. The creature was muttering, not in the rhythmic chant that spells normally take, but more like curses. The thumping Barrick had reported was coming from the staff; the creature was pounding in on the ground, in the center of the inscribed circle, as if knocking.
Relaying the information back to the rest of the party, Skamos quietly surmised, “I think he might be trying to open something, maybe a magic rift.”
“I hate rifts,” Barrick muttered under his breath.
The creature turned, its face was hidden but they could tell it had reptilian features. Before anyone could react the creature pointed his staff directly at the pair and muttered a strange saying. A green light burst from the tip of the staff and enveloped both Tira and Skamos. Both yelled as the feeling of acid burned the exposed skin on their arms and legs. “Attack!” Tira yelled as she leapt up onto the steps of the mausoleum, firing her wand in return. Her attack missed and the creature adeptly dogged the magic missile that flew from Skamos’ wand.
Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem, Barrick and Z’alden Silverflame rushed from behind the crypt, just as four kobolds emerged from the mausoleum. Barrick rushed one kobold and tried to knock the legs out from under the creature with a spinning sweep; the kobold deftly jumped the weapon’s arc, stabbed back, and then quickly shifted back out of reach.
Tira saw a projectile out of the corner of her eye and just barely moved in time to see a clay orb whiz past her head, to explode in the grass. Turning, she concentrated and her eyes began to turn red. She projected all her mental energy forward and the kobold began to quiver. Sparks began to erupt from the kobolds eyes and mouth, and then the head exploded. Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem rushed forward and used a radiant strike; his blade gleamed with light as it struck the kobold. The kobold lurched, blood spouting from a gash on its chest, but falter it did not and it quickly tried to return a strike with its spear. But as the kobold’s arm drew back for the attack, Z’alden Silverflame yelled, “By the power of Bahamut!” and the head of a silver dragon appeared to move through Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem and struck the kobold. The kobold reeled, but still did not fall. Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem felt the spirit of the dragon’s head move through him, and the feeling invigorated him, he knew his next strike would be more powerful than before.
Knowing the battle depending on defeating the hooded creature, Skamos turned to focus his energy on that creature, even though it was not the closest foe. Conjuring a force orb, Skamos hurled his power toward the being. A ball of pure will hurtled through the air and exploded near the creature with the staff. The creature fell back as shard of energy penetrated its body, it shook, and then suddenly it moved rapidly 25 feet away hiding behind the side of the mausoleum. The battle raged back and forth in front of the mausoleum, unlike the first encounter on the road, these kobolds seemed to be heartier and better fighters. Soon every being, both friend and foe was injured, some more than others.
“Z’alden Silverflame , help me,” cried Tira as another spear penetrated her leather armour. Z’alden Silverflame called upon his healing word and another dragon spirit materialized, this one a purple colour. The tail of the dragon wrapped itself gently around Tira and she could feel healing power surge through her body, staunching the flow of blood from her most serious wounds.
Just as Barrick brought his maul down on the head of a kobold, rendered too weary to move anymore, snapping his neck, Z’alden Silverflame saw the hooded figure raise its wand and gesture. A horizontal blast of energy emitted from the rod, traveling quickly toward the melee. Bracing himself for the worst Z’alden Silverflame watched as the energy passed through most of the fighters. Surprised, he felt nothing, but then looking around he noticed that the two remaining kobolds looked fresher, more vigilant, and he understood. “He is healing the kobolds, we must kill him,” Z’alden Silverflame shouted.
As Tira tried to move into position to attack the hooded being, Skamos shouted to her, “Let’s flank this guy and finish him off!” Heeding Skamos’ need, she turned, stepped up behind the kobold and blasted him with her dark lightning. It was enough to confound the kobold; one more blast from Skamos and the kobold fell.
Skamos and Tira ran to get in position to attack the hooded creature from a distance. Spell after spell they cast; finally the being quivered, then crumpled into a heap. Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem and Barrick quickly dispatched the remaining kobold and the battle ended.
The weary group paused to rest before exploring the remainder of the graveyard. In the mausoleum they found a pile of bones, grisly evidence that the kobolds had been living there for quite some time. Wrapped in the cloak of the kobold magician Skamos found a necklace, with an image of a dragon. Sure it had some significance in the happenings of the area, he carefully stowed it away.
The group then gathered around the carved stone circle. They could feel some sort of power emanating from it. Felsmon of Dragest Igetnem and Skamos bent down and tried to pry up one of the stones comprising the circle. Grunting and straining they finally lifted the block, and as they did all five members felt something akin to a breeze, but a wind of power blowing away, and the stone circle suddenly felt only as a stone circle.
“What do we do now?” Tira asked the group.
Barrick spoke first, “I say we go back into town and collect our reward for killing that kobold master, take the gold and drink for a week.”
Z’alden Silverflame spoke next, “We really should explore the town a bit more, there may be other useful shops, Tira, don’t you need some lock picking tools at some point?” Tira nodded, a guild would be good to find, she wondered why she did not think of that last night.
Skamos then spoke, “Or we can continue with our first plan and ride on toward the keep.”
With options aplenty, Tira asked again, “What do we do now?”