(NPC’s: Chao Xing, Mariah, Borodin, Karalyn, Elenya, Jonas)
[We left off with the party exhausted by the events of the night, and it was an eventful night indeed. Stories were told, drinks were quaffed, and then a battle, which was quick but intense. If anyone were watching, your strategy and teamwork gave you the semblance of an effective fighting force. If they didn’t know any better, they would have assumed you had done this before. Your ability to work together won the night.
However, not everyone came out on top. The driver suffered a horrible fate, and the undead who attacked you had appeared to suffer a similar end about a ten-day ago. For your efforts, you kept your lives and gained only a small handful of silver, documents, and a tool set. Archaeologist tools, a journal, and a scroll case containing two maps were your prize. After the labors of combat, burning the bodies, and examining the documents, sleep would be your greatest reward of the night.]
The deed was done. The party sat near the wagon, occasionally glancing at the smoldering remains of the now pyred zombies. Tapping into the innate sense of time one gains when on the road, they all came to an agreement there was less than seven hours until dawn, and there was a schedule to keep and a wagon to move. With the mood of celebration now behind them, and the price paid by one who did not incur the fee, duty had returned. The companions set up a watch duty schedule for the remaining darkness. Most slept while the one ensured the safety of the others and the wagon. To great relief, the remaining night proved uneventful.
Dawn arrived. Breakfast was had, meditations were completed, and gear was packed. After a brief round of eye glances it was agreed as to who would drive the wagon in place of Halden. They tied Durian’s horse to the back and the halfling climbed up to the perilously high driver seat. He settled in and saw Halden’s bag behind the drivers seat. Quickly rummaging through it he found only clothes, a bag containing 17 gold, and what appeared to be a dog’s tooth attached to the end of a worthless bead necklace. Telling the others of his find they all agreed to return the belongings to Halden’s wife, Mariah (who’s name they were now able to remember). And with that they were off.
Almost as quickly as they were underway, they began to discuss the strange circumstances of the undead assault, trying to recall everything they knew about the macabre lore. How they were created, what their behaviors were, and why the zombies were seemingly drawn to the wagon. For hours they spoke of the assault and began thinking ideas aloud, as if to fit unknown puzzle pieces to an unseen final picture. As the companions conversed casually on the subject, Ferrik was the first to point out the most obvious of truth of their situation. The wagon which they were transporting originated from Thay, and was filled with Thayan goods. Although the guards were aware of this fact, it was now dangling so plainly in front of their faces they had dismissed it entirely, until now. Glancing to each other in epiphany Ferrik quickly pulled the wagon off the road and into a secluded spot.
Ferrik and others guided the wagon off the main road and behind a tree. Glancing down both ways, no caravans or travelers were seen.
“We must be carrying some foul magical item from Thay!” said Ferrik to the rest.
Wasting no time, he pulled out his trusty crowbar, pulled the wagon hatch down in the back, and leaped up onto its deck with Roneth following right behind him. Before they began, Roneth and Ferrik agreed they would blame the upcoming cargo damage on the zombie attack and claim the undead were after the wagon’s contents. Deciding where to start the companions began sifting through the goods. Durian sat in the driver’s seat and, once again, watched in silent awe the marvel of human behavior. He was curious if Ferrik’s assumption was correct so he made no attempt to hinder their efforts. Ignacio was also resigned not to assist with the impending damage but watched in earnest interest of the outcome.
Finally settling on a parcel to open, Roneth eyed a large white grain satchel dubiously. Untying the cord binding, he then plunged his hands dramatically into the grain and pulled them out just as quickly, as if to say ‘Ah HAH!’, but only retrieved a cupped handful of grain. Not to be outdone by Thayan trickery, he delved into the sack a second time, down to the bottom this time, but once again he only exhumed more grain.
Ferrik watched Roneth’s efforts and immediately knew that increased measures must be taken to reveal the location of the arcane item. Gripping his trusty crowbar, Ferrik picked a large wooden crate near the back of the wagon, and pried it open. Freeing the lid he peered inside. To his dismay, there seemed to be nothing but fine purple and red linen spools. For the first few moments he glanced at the others in silence, but then quickly he began pulling out the fabrics until the bottom of the crate could be seen. Despite their efforts, nothing peculiar was revealing itself from these two endeavors. Deciding not to open any more cargo they closed up the containers as best as they could and began working out the details of the story they would tell their boss.
After some discussion, a consensus of events was reached and here is their summation of events and efforts. While the guards were protecting the caravan from wave after wave of zombies, Halden fell in battle to the zombies. Overrun by the animated corpses, a few zombies were able to break their defensive line around the wagon, climb it, tear open a crate, and rummage through a sack of grain before being stopped by the guards. It sounded like a believable story. To add to it’s authenticity, Roneth ripped the wagon’s cover to make it appear as it was torn by careless hands climbing up the side, which became the truth as Roneth carelessly climbed the side, ripping the wagon cover. The party then secured the back of the wagon and headed, once again to Ethvale.
That night and the next night, they posted a rotating watch but all was quiet and allowed them a deserved rest.
On the road for 12 days now, their destination was obviously closer as the signs of nearby civilization increased. Midmorning and about two miles from Ethvale, in both the east and west direction, stands a shrine to Shaundakul. This is how the companions knew their journey was nearly complete. Stopping at the shrine to pay their respects, it was clear many others had done so before them. On the shrine were little trinkets, as well as copper and silver coins, from those who were grateful of trips completed safely and those who were wishing to gain blessings for upcoming trips. All of the companions placed a small offering except for Ignacio.
When the others gave him a puzzled glance about his decision he simply shrugged and said, “Mehh”.
In these cases, on the road, some mortals decide to leave certain chances to fate while others certainly meet their fate by chance. This is the way of all things, and mortals do not have as much a say in this game as they would like. This truth is certain even though ones destiny may not be. Thus, it never hurts to be in the shadow of a deities good humor. But in this instance, Ignacio disagrees.
Moving on from the shrine and a little ways down the road, they finally viewed the welcoming arches of Ethvale’s east gate. However, the double style doors stood firmly as a mere ornamentation because, like all other towns in Thesk, none were walled. The wishes of the people were to be as close to the town centers as possible. Walls served as a restriction for the always growing population of a town and were not necessary to Thesk’s needs. The buildings in Ethvale, like all towns in Thesk, are made of wood. This is do to only a few mining locations in the region where stone may steadily be obtained. After obtaining the stone the task of transporting it in enough quantities for mass use is simply cost prohibitive. Thesk still has many old and impassable forests, perilous slopes, and rolling fields which prove difficult to traverse. Although not made of sturdy stone the wooden buildings are in fine condition. A simple but well made rectangular architecture style is repeated from structure-to-structure with most buildings at least two or three stories in height. Despite the sometimes crowded condition, Ethvale is a very clean place as most cities in Thesk are.
The party rode into town. Festival tapestries hung from the gates and from the windows of most buildings. Depictions of an orange moon set into a blue background was one of the traditional symbols of the harvest and such symbols adorned most everything. The party rode onto the warehouse district with a steady pace. Except for the occasional guard the streets were thinly populated, most probably in the town square. Finally, at about noon, they arrived at their destination.
A smaller sized warehouse the two story building is non-distinct from the surrounding structures, save for the sign above their heads depicting a golden panther lurking across a meadow. “The Golden Panther Trading Company” is lettered in a darker gold coloring above the proud cat’s head. They drove the wagon around to the back of the building and two men came out to meet them. They dismounted from their horses, gathered their things, and one of the men proceeded to take the horses to the stables. The other man hopped in the wagon and began backing it into the warehouse to start the unloading process.
Standing in a circle they all glanced at each other one last time and then proceeded to the second floor to make their report. At the top of the stairs they viewed the commons area to their right and the office of their boss, Chao Xing, to their left. Much like the first floor, the second floor had sections for doorless stalls, but many had been removed except for a few which had been turned into makeshift office spaces. Moving forward they all stood in front of Chao Xing’s office. Hung from the ceiling and draped across the stall threshold were glass beads which obscured the small man sitting in a chair behind them. The party stood in silence until the obscured man loudly spoke the words, “Come in!”. Pulling back the beads they saw their boss. A middle aged Shou man who had lost most of his hair long ago. A bald man who spoke very loudly most of the time, the group could see that once again he was wearing the exact same clothes he always wore. They were a plain type of work clothes a man would wear when lifting boxes and doing other menial tasks, but the clothes Chao Xing wore never showed a sign of actual work. They always remained new looking and always remained clean.
Pulling back the beads, they entered the makeshift office and proudly announced the wagon had arrived, but they regret to inform that Halden the driver was dead and there was some damage to the wagon. Chao Xing turned his attention away from the papers he was reading and focused all his attention on the party after hearing of the damage to the wagon. He asked for a full recollection of the events. Roneth took the initiative of storyteller and relayed to Chao Xing the story the group had agreed upon. Sitting and listening quietly, Chao Xing took in the words of Roneth.
He was told of how they guarded the caravan in soberness, which he readily believed. He was informed of how dear Halden had died, due to the multitudes of zombies assaulting the caravan, which was possible but less likely. Roneth regaled Chao Xing with the storming of the wagon by ravenous zombies bent on climbing up its side. Of how the undead accidentally set the wagon on fire in their effort to open the contents of the vehicle, but they only managed to bust up a crate and sack of grain before they were pushed back into the wild night by the guards…which, to Chao Xing, was a less believable series of events. In conclusion, they answered all his questions about where Halden’s body was and how the rest of the evening went. Nodding at the conclusion of their story and confirming with the party this is exactly what happened, Chao Xing proceeded downstairs to inspect the wagon for himself.
The party took a moment to glance at each other, and then proceeded behind him. Chao Xing began examining the wagon for the damage he had been informed of. He walked around the wagon as the workers unpacked the wagon and moved the cargo into an empty section of the warehouse. Chao Xing circled the wagon, scratched his chin and looked at Roneth.
”So … you were guarding the caravan?” asked Chao Xing.
“Yes.” replied Roneth."
“And then a whole bunch of zombies came out of nowhere…”
“Then they killed Halden…”
“And then climbed up the side of the wagon past you…”
“Past all of you…”
“Set the wagon on fire…”
“Opened a wooden crate, rummaged through it, and rummaged through a grain sack…”
“While all of you were circled around the wagon, and protecting it?” asked Chao Xing in finality.
“That’s right!” Roneth finally said but in a more aggressive tone.
The barbarian was now standing up straight and crossing his arms, towering over the smaller Shou man. Chao Xing nodded slowly and proceeded back upstairs, as the group followed.
He went to his office, wrote some numbers on a slip of paper, and tried to hand it to Roneth, who avoided taking it. Ferrik reached out and grabbed the paper. Chao Xing told them to take this to the pay area and, minus the small deduction for the cargo and wagon damage, they can collect their 11 gold each. Upon hearing this, the groups spirits picked up. Chao Xing let them know they could come back in a week to see if there was more work. Lately things had been a bit slow and nothing was slated until a week from now. The group inquired about Halden’s personal things and were informed the company would deliver his final pay to his family. They asked Chao Xing if they could bring Halden’s final pay to his wife, and he repeated that the company would handle it. They asked where Halden lived and Chao Xing pointed to his wall, where a decently drawn map of the town hung. He explained what the front of the house looked like and turned his attention back to his desk. Nodding in understanding, and picking up that perhaps he did not trust the group with the task of delivering Halden’s pay, the party went to collect their money.
At the cage, Ferrik gave the man sitting behind it their pay slip. The man looked at the slip, checked some other paperwork nearby, and asked them if they wanted to withdraw the money they had in their saving account. The parties spirits lifted even higher as they were reminded of the few dozen gold pieces each of them had in their accounts. The money the GPTC (Golden Panther Trading Company) was safely holding for them. It was not an uncommon practice that many caravan companies served as banks for their workers. Due to being on the road much of the time and not wanting to carry their entire life savings on them, merchant companies and guilds often offered savings accounts simply to make the lives of their members easier, and their schedules looser. Emptying the accounts and with spirits the highest they had been in weeks, they left the warehouse in search of some rest and relaxation.
Standing on the street all agreed they should first go the Halden’s home, return his things, pay their respects to his wife and child, and then drink heavily. Being responsible for Halden’s death, the least they could do was face her and give her as much closure as possible. Walking towards the section of town from the map, they arrived in the general area Chao Xing had pointed to. Seeing a building which matched the description he gave they knocked at the front door. A woman opened the door and smiled. She was an average looking human female but had very beautiful and piercing eyes.
The party respectfully introduced themselves and asked is she was the wife of Halden Greensdale, which she did confirm. They went on to tell her they were his guards for the last wagon run, and Halden had died in the line of duty, that they had failed to protect him. At this she began sobbing and a small boy came up to from inside and began hugging her, asking her why she was crying. They gave her his possessions from the wagon, the gold in his pack, and each gave her several pieces of of their own gold, in what would surely be trying times for a single mother. Ferrik gave 7, Roneth gave 4, Durian gave 6 and Ignacio gave 3. It was a gesture of kindness which she would not soon forget, one that was worthy of the purehearted. She stared blankly, obviously distraught. She thanks them, nodding slowly, and closed the door. The party began to leave but the front door swung open suddenly and she sobbed saying, “Please tell me what happened, I need to know where my husband’s body is and how he died.”
The companions gave her the location of the final resting spot of his ashes. They then gave her the short version of how he met his end and how the reasons came about for burning his body. Satisfied with their story and once again thanking them for coming to see her, she closed the door. With a somber countenance, the companions drudged back into the streets. A little ways down the road, they looked around and the Feast of the Moon decorations reminded of two things which brought them back to a cheerful mood. First, they had the next ten days off. Second, they all had previously agreed to party extra hard that night in order to make up for the last two days of partying they had lost due to working. Taking a moment to decide, they agreed they would go to the warehouse district inn, The Gnarled Cane, and they headed back to the warehouse district.
Near the GPTC, the Gnarled Cane stands a midsized inn which is notably remembered for its opaque stained glass window which looks out into the street. Above its door hangs a wooden sign depicting two gnarled looking canes, crossing each other with the words ‘The Gnarled Cane’ neatly painted right above the picture. Even though there are two canes being depicted, the letter ‘s’ has faded away in what should be the word ‘Canes’. The sign now reads ‘The Gnarled Cane’ and so it is incorrectly called by all who visit the establishment.
After the walk back from across town, the party entered the inn. Candles were lit and set in various parts of the room while the festive orange moon tapestries were hung about. They sat at a table near the bar and yelled to the inn keeper for drinks. Ferrik ordered Ale, Ignacio wine, Durian wanted a sober head about him so he ordered a non-alcoholic brew, and Roneth asked for the finest mead, which he stated would surely be below his standards of ‘fine’, but it would do. The innkeeper Borodin nodded in compliance. A middle aged man of slight girth, one would notice, upon speaking with him, that he is missing one eyebrow. Not that it is shaved off, it is as if he went bald in that one spot. Despite his seemingly stoic lack of humor he is known as a very warm person with a good heart. As the barmaid came back into the room from the kitchen Borodin asked her to bring them the drinks they had ordered. Ferrik and Roneth established they would be staying the night and showed them their Golden Panther Trading Company emblem. Borodin nodded and extended the house special for discounted drinks, a room, and food promised to all employees of nearby businesses.
The party was laughing and smiling and talking as Karalyn, the barmaid, brought over the drinks. She got to the table and all were eager to get a better look at the good looking barmaid now at their table.
“Here ya go boys.” she kindly said as she put their respective drinks in front of them. The smiles on their faces froze, and waned slightly, as they could now plainly see she was cross eyed. Not only that, her eyes seemed to trade places on which one was lazier and more crossed.
“Anything else for ya?” she asked in a sweet tone. “I’ll be out with yer meals in a jiff.”
They all tried their best to not stare. Roneth slowly nodded, his mouth slightly open. Ferrik stared into his drink and sighed heavily, Durian had taken a sudden interest in the architecture of the ceiling supports, while Ignacio maintained eye contact and tried his best to hold a genuine smile. After she left, they all leaned in close and griped about the lack of available women at this inn. Many rounds later they had forgotten all about their troubles and found the temporary cure to their rough 12 days on the road.
They had started drinking in the late afternoon and now, just after 10 in the evening, they were still drinking. Ferrik could be found dancing on their table with one of the local woman, as he tried to learn a local dance. Ignacio watched in earnest trying to learn it as well, but being drunk as hell did not help. Roneth was at the bar arguing with Borodin about the various types of ale, mead and wine throughout the region. Roneth respectfully insisted that Borodin had not tasted the finest drinks and that the drinks at his inn were of poor quality. Borodin, always keeping a cool head, disagreed and that while his drinks were not the best, they were of notable and good quality. Roneth and Borodin began arguing about the purity of the firewine each had sampled through the region while Durian sat at the table, as sober as a cleric would be before leading a prayer, sipping his drink…watching…thinking…about his life and his companions.
Out of nowhere Ferrik yelled out, “Oh yeah I forgot, thanks Ignacio! HEY! Does anyone know of a Gal-lerd?! A Pro-fess-her Gol-lard?!” and began asking everyone in the bar, one-by-one.
Borodin stopped his conversation with Roneth on hearing that name and went over to Ferrik.
In a hushed voice he said,”I know Professor Gallord. What did you want of him.”
Ferrik drunkenly explained he was trying to find the house of someone named Elenya. They had important news for Elenya. Taking a moment to think, and to judge the characters of Ferrik and the rest of his group, Borodin decided to tell them where Elenya lived as he saw no harm coming from it. Borodin told them they should go to the very northwest section of town and look for the two story house with a red awning. Thanking the innkeeper kindly, Ferrik and the rest drank for a few more hours, eventually going up to their bedrooms, and collapsed from exhaustion, content to sleep in a real bed and safe from harm.
Waking up a little after 8am, the party washed up and went downstairs for breakfast. The inn was now quiet, fairly empty, and no longer the crowded and rowdy party it had been the night before. All but Durian sat at the table hung over. Borodin came over and asked them what they would have to eat. Ignacio inquired as to what would be easiest for them to be served, and the answer from Borodin was dryly delivered as “boiled eggs”. Ignacio pondered this for a moment and decided this was fine. He then asked that they also be brought a heaping share of cheese and bread! Borodin complied and brought them much cheese and bread. After eating, the party settled up their tab from the previous evening and prepared to head out into the town.
Outside the inn they made their way through the deserted morning streets, heading northwest. They arrived in the town square, the center of the festivities. All the shops were closed and the stands sat empty. Cutting directly across the large town square, they would occasionally see a citizen dozing in a corner with a sack over their head, or halfway in a barrel, trying to block out the morning sun. The town guards normally don’t put up with this type of thing but this one time of year they were under orders to let all that slide…just a little. The merchant council agreed it was good for business, in the long run.
Finally arriving in the general area Borodin had instructed Ferrik about, the companions were now faced with a new dilemma. There were two houses with red awnings. Staring for a minute and trying to remember any more specific instructions from Borodin, the group decided they didn’t know which one it was, the right or the left one. Guessing to simply just try one at random, they chose the house on the right.
Knocking on the door, an older woman answered. Inquiring about Elenya, she identified herself as Elenya’s landlady and were told to go to the side stairs, go up the stairs around the side of the house, and to knock on the second floor door. Following her instructions they knocked on the second floor door.
The door slowly opens and a young woman stood at the threshold as the companions regarded her silently. Physically, she was a strikingly beautiful Sun Elf. With smooth bronze skin, blond hair and green eyes she stood at the doorway equally regarding the group of men on her porch. Her hair was tied up in a loose bun, held together with a thin strip of leather, most would recognize to normally hold books closed in bunches. She wore a simply tailored red ocher dress, appropriately colored for the season of the year. On most women, especially the loveliest of human women, that dress would have seemed very plain, but on Elenya, an elegant gown. The common features of her garment were a contrast to the complex beauty of an elf. Most people understand the concept of an ordinary looking woman wearing a stunning dress. But to the companions, seeing her as she was now, it was as if the dress… was wearing the woman.
“May I help you?” she asked with a polite and intelligent tone.
“Are you Elenya?” Roneth and Ferrik asked almost at the same time.
“Why yes I am… do I know you from somewhere?” she asked.
“We found Professor Gallord” Roneth said.
“Oh my!”she smiled, ”Is he here with you? Where is he?”
The party went on from their to explain what had happened to them, as they had done a few times now, but in this version they explained the details of the older man riding the mule, the journal, the zombies with him. They described Gallord exactly and had detailed information which was correct. She listened and then asked them to come inside, away from prying ears and eyes.
Entering the house, the party could see stacks and stacks of books and papers, with unlit candles placed at strategically dark spots. On entering Ignacio noticed a stack of paper with a title written in common. It read, “A 23 Page Essay on the Phrase ‘I Don’t Know’”. Thinking this odd and blinking a few times he looked above the desk. There he saw a picture frame containing a yellowed paper, with a beautiful calligraphied phrase which read ‘It is not what you know, but if you understand it.’ Blinking a few more times, he shot Elenya a sideways glance, suspicious as ever of this woman and the situation at hand.
Elenya, now pacing back and forth, began arguing with herself about what to do, speaking aloud questions of how Gallord’s fate came to be. She looked at the party and decided she believed their story.
She sat down and gently spoke, “I suppose I can trust you with this much…what else is there to lose…let me now tell YOU a story…”
“We hail originally from Waterdeep. Gallord was a teacher and researcher and I was his pupil. We directed history based classes at Sandrew University, a place which spreads knowledge to the young and old of Waterdeep. The University is supported by the Church of Oghma, and even though we are not of the clergy our mission is the same as theirs, teach those who want to learn.
We began assisting the Church of Oghma with collections and materials for the Great Library, back in 1368DR. The library was completed some 5 years later, but we have been assisting with the stacks in one way or another since then… well, after completion we took a survey of the materials, books, and scrolls available on the eastern lands…the lore, the history, the first hand accounts… it was clear we needed to add to the shelf space on this topic. To put it plainly, the section was quite thin compared to the accumulated knowledge of the surrounding regions. It became even clearer there was field research to be done. So, Professor Gallord and I, volunteered for the task and set out after preparations were complete. We traveled to the city of Westgate, then across the Sea of Fallen stars, porting at Telflamm of Thesk. We packed our necessities and began our long journey via caravan, as was the easiest way to travel to Thesk without magic.
We traveled relatively light so we could stop at the major cities and enjoy their libraries, instead of going directly to Westgate. This was a way for us to observe the change in tones, from author to author. It was also to observe the anthropomorphic details of context, not just facts. For you see, it was as we thought. The closer to Thesk we came, the more we could gather source material and observe its transformation. The transition in people, culture, and landscapes also helped us adjust to the daily culture. We could not very well stay locked up reading ALL the time. We needed to blend in with the area, and we have. We have met some dear new friends in the three years we have been here, those we trust.“
She paused in thought after speaking those last few words.
She continued,”There are many factions in this region that may raise an eyebrow if they knew of our task. Those who are more interested in the monetary value of something, not it’s historical worth.
We were planning to take any materials we could, antiques, lost and rare books, scrolls…from here back to the Library. Not steal them, just rescue them… this work is sanctioned by Oghma himself and the church’s blessing, of course. But now I am afraid Professor Gallord won’t be coming back home to see the fruits of our labors.
You see…we were supposed to leave in the early spring. By caravan we were to transport ourselves and what we have procured back to Westgate, and from there teleport back to Waterdeep via a waiting wizard. But Gallord could not contain himself from searching for a more recent discovery we had made. As you know, this time of year the grass and trees begin to brown. It is still warm and winters chill is still at least a month away. Gallord and I decoded the location of a place thought not to exist. He did not want to miss the last opportunity we had to hit a potential paydirt of rare tomes and knowledge.”
Stopping her story she went to a nearby desk. Picking up a book, she began quickly leafing through the pages with her thumb and index finger. The strange thing about what the party saw was that the number of pages between her fingers did not run out. The pages kept running as if they were replenishing themselves out of nowhere. No one in the group was able to determine what they had just seen. She finally stopped flipping through the book and settled at a desired page. She sat down and staring at the floor she then began to speak again.
“There is a graveyard in the Gap of Tannath, one that has been regarded as a myth and forgotten. It was a place where the scholarly were interred. The Cloister of Marcus, founded by the Star Elf Marcus Ethvaloraine. Built in 890DR, but abandoned in 1194DR, perhaps because of the Red Wizards incursion into the Gap to attack Aglarond… we don’t know. It was a bastion of research for the knowledgeable and those who eagerly would seek it. Sages and students of every race were welcome to live among the like-minded. One could always find a comfortable chair, a quill, and the flickering march of a candle army, illuminating the halls and reading rooms. The cloister was one of the intellectual jewels of eastern Faerun.
When a Truthseeker, that’s what they called themselves, passed on from this world and into the next they were honored by being buried in a secluded cemetery, somewhere in the woods… perhaps taken there to mimic how they lived their lives. They would prefer their lives filled with quiet and secluded study, and so their final mortal resting place would be in a quiet, darkened, and hidden away place where they could be relatively alone… with their favorite book,” and at these words spoken, she paused to smile a genuine smile.
Roneth interrupted her abruptly at this point saying, “Madam, such places are better left alone, and buried, undisturbed, the evil within them!”
She nodded in agreement but countered,” This is no demon infested Narfell dungeon, as in Rashemen. I do not doubt the evils your people in the north have had to contend with, and I agree that such places should be left alone and forgotten. But this is a quiet and peaceful place. Gallord thought so and so did I. This is why he went… it was surely to be simple task once there. Besides, he was no fool, he had brought many men to guard and assist him”
She turned a few pages of her book, pointed at some text, and continued on with her story.
“Now look, most people think the references to the cemetery were just a metaphor for life at the cloister, and that there was not actually a secret crypt. There is a small graveyard on the cloister grounds, you see, so historically that was thought to be the resting place of those who naturally passed on. However, we are sure we discovered how find the actual graveyard. A place and not an idea. Let me see those maps you found.”
She took the map with symbols and no clear starting point and showed them what she was talking about.
“Shall knew we would be leaving in the spring and he believed he found the location of the cemetery in the Tannath Gap. He hired ten men to help with the trips supplies, as well as five adventurers. The adventurers were promised a very hefty share of any non-antique riches they would discover…weapons, trinkets, armor and the like. They assured us they could handle anything which might pose a threat…but that was 23 days ago. I met them before they left. They seemed capable but we were very much low on options with such short notice.”
She put her hands on her hips and looked at the companions. “To be honest, you all seem to be more capable than they were.”
She continued, “I trusted them, as much as I got to know them in that one day…I remember there was a dwarf. The rest kept calling him “The Hammer” but he carried an axe… so I didn’t understand the name…why they called him that.” She had a confused look on her face thinking about that paradox of names.
“There was also Jolan their lock picker, Mondal their wizard, a priest named Landon, and a weapons specialist named Gregor.”
She turned back to the map.
“Gallord made a map… this one here.” She was pointing at the symbols. ”The cloister is not impossible to find, and the ruins still exist if you happen upon them or know the location. The difficult part is finding the cemetery. By going through the texts, we discovered the symbols needed to find it. The correct symbols must be etched into a special compass, at the correct marker, and the direction must be followed closely. A new symbol put upon the compass when the new marker is reached.”
Elenya took out a strange looking compass and showed it to the companions. “We would always double up on our efforts. This is the second one we made.”
“I must ask you at this point. There are so many unanswered questions which I need answers to and time is running out, so I have no choice. If I extend to you the same offer Gallord gave to the others would you take on this task? You can keep trinkets and weapons, but please bring back to me books, tomes, scroll, and any antiquity you can carry. I do not want his death to be in vain, our efforts to be in vain, so I may return to Waterdeep with great success. What say you?”
Ignacio looked at her and asked suspiciously,”Why didn’t you go with him?”
She began shaking her head and said,”Who would watch all the materials here? And as it turns out it was good that I not go, or else all our research would be lost.” She looked about her, the large dwelling filled with books and scrolls.
She continued,” And besides, I am just a researcher and have no desire to adventure. I wouldn’t be of any extra use. Gallord was a competent expert in such things and did not need me.”
The party asked for a few minutes to speak it over and Elenya excused herself into the next room and closed the door. Coming back into the room after five minutes the party looked at her and agreed because of their present circumstances. They had no pressing caravan work ahead of them, they had plenty of time off due to the slowness of the season, and besides, this could be the opportunity of a lifetime.
“Excellent!” Elenya exclaimed, ”I cannot thank you enough. Let us start planning this trip. Now this compass will do all the work with the proper instructions. The first symbol, as shown on your map, will take you directly to the monastery once you are within 10 miles of it.”
She pulled out a map of Thesk and continued, ”I suggest you follow the streams through the woods as it is good as any trail and you will not lose your way.” She showed them the main artery of the Eth River and where it turned into the stream they wanted.
”This stream, right here, will eventually lead you deep into the woods and turn south to a waterfall. Keep heading south from the waterfall and eventually the compass will begin guiding your way. When at the ruins, find the stone markers and put the correct symbols, in the order which the map depicts, and the compass will guide you along a secret path to the graveyard, some miles away.“
Pulling out the second map, the party wondered what it had to do with the first. She went on to explain that this map actually is not related to the first, which is why they both seemed so different. The map of to the monastery graveyard was made last month my Professor Gallord and this other map was perhaps 40 years old. She explained how Catherine, a friend of herself and Professor Gallord who lived in Telflamm, had ended up giving them that map.
Elenya explained that on the deathbed of Catherine’s husband, he confessed to his wife, and only her, how he had built the family empire. He had acquired their families wealth not by way of the legitimate trading company he had started, but by way of being one of the most notorious cat burglars in the region. He would tell everyone he was going out to conduct trade agreements and other business, which he would do. However, while on these “business trips” he would rob museums, estates, and any poorly guarded treasure, eventually laundering the goods through his business.
This map was made by him and showed the location of a long concealed stash he was in possession of. Elenya explained that he passed on before he could fully explain the reasons he had hidden the items and why they were stashed. Catherine was fearful of telling anyone about the stash or her husband. With the three competing factions of the Red Wizards, The Nine Golden Swords, and the Shadowmasters of Telflamm, any or all could take revenge on her family for misdeeds cause by her now dead husband. Or even worse, they could claim rights to the stash and revenge due to what might be found. Catherine was one of the few people who knew the real reason Gallord and Elenya were in Thesk. Catherine also knew that they did not have ties or allegiance to anyone in the region. Catherine gave them the map, explained to them it should be kept secret, and hoped they would find something in the stash useful in their research.
Elenya finished this new tale by explaining that Gallord had meant to find this treasure since it was relatively nearby, but in the Dragonjaw Mountains.
“You see,”she started,”I could not stop Gallord when this second map came to light. He simply could not resist two birds with one stone. He always wanted to be an adventurer. He always had that streak but never the chance to live the dream. Even though he is now gone, at least he was able to finally have his adventure.”
Roneth asked,”How do we know these adventurers didn’t kill everyone and take both treasures?”
Elenya answered back,”Well, the circumstances of how you found Gallord, with both maps, leads me to believe that did not happen. I can’t even guess what happened at this point. No no no, we need more answers, gentlemen.”
Roneth had to give her that. Facts were still unknown.
She stood up straight and regarded the party and asked, “What supplies do you need? I regret I do not have money on hand to give you right now.” And with that, the entire party gave an audible groan.
”However,” she continued,” I will give you more than we could give the adventurers last time because I want you to succeed, with all my being. I have a way of…”she seemed momentarily distracted in thought, but quickly continued, ”of coming up with some provisions. I will have them for you by tomorrow.”
The morning passed with talk of everything she knew, the dangers in the woods, cups of tea, and preparation. The sun continued to drop in the afternoon sky as they planned for the trip ahead. The sky began growing orange with the coming of night when she kicked the companions out, telling them to meet her once again, at her home, at 10am sharp.
Heading back into the bustle of town the companions purchased most of the goods they had decided on, while at Elenya’s house. Heading to their rooms they turned in early for the night, as they may not have a roof over their heads for the next week or two.
Arriving at Elenya’s house in the morning, the party had their mules, their supplies, their backpacks, and their wits about them, ready for the upcoming journey. Tying their mounts, they knocked on the door at 10am sharp. Elenya opened the door and invited them inside.
Standing inside was a man, bearing the symbols of Tymora on his garments. Elenya let the companions inside, closed the door and went to stand next to the man.
“Gentlemen, this is Jonas. He is a cleric at the local temple of Tymora. I have brought him here to say a blessing for you.”
On seeing Durian, Jonas smiled, greeted him heartily and then gave him a warm embrace. Durian was very confused and not able to figure out why Jonas had hugged him as such, so he chalked it up to a custom he was not aware of.
“Gentlemen,” Elenya’s softly said,”here are some essential items so you may return safely. Gifts from the Church. A torch which gives no heat, never burns out and will keep a magical flame at all times to light your way. Also, here are five basic cure potions which will restore your life, should you become hurt.” Observing Elenya and Jonas standing near each other, Ignacio was the only one to notice body language and posturing between Elenya and Jonas which he believed to hint at a more than professional relationship between the two. Not knowing enough and deciding it was perhaps not his business, he did not bring it up to the others.
All took a moment of silence. Jonas prayed to Tymora to bring the brave souls, who were now venturing forth, fortune and victory. He prayed for her smile upon them and to bring them back safely so that they my once again set forth into the unknown and find adventure.
Saying their goodbye’s Elenya handed the party the pack of supplies, a map of the region and the compass.
The group headed out and before leaving, Roneth looked at Elenya one last time and asked her, “Is there anything else we should know about the crypt?”
She look at him earnestly and said, ”I have told you all I know. It was supposed to be a secret place. It was supposed to safe.” Her eyed gazed off into the distance, thinking of her now dead teacher and how she would miss his always wise words.
Roneth nodded. Uncertain of this path before him, he followed behind his comrades. There is one thing he did know. No ruin, demon infested or not, would get the best of this Rashemen.
Heading back the way they came, the festival was starting to get back into full swing. It had now been three days and, from the sounds of it, the townsfolk had not lost their enthusiasm. Passing by a small stage in the square, the party heard some exceptional acapella singing. Momentarily stopping, the companions saw four men on the stage, wearing glittered and different colored wizards robes, singing their hearts out.
Those who could read, which was all but Roneth, saw a sign to the left of the stage that read, “Introducing: Tenser’s Harm-on-i-za-tion”.
Those in the party with an understanding of arcane things gave a disgusted glare at the four singers. Roneth, not being able to read the sign, thought nothing of it. And with that, the party made their way to the eastern gate and left the town of Ethvale, once more.
They traveled east and veered south to meet with the Eth River. The plan was to follow the river southeast until the treeline, and then try to locate the right watery vein eastward into the forest. While traveling along the river, they had been exposed to various fields of crops, some harvested and other in the process. A few farmers would stop to watch the travelers go by. Some even waved . They were still in established farmlands and would not have to brave the more wild country until a few miles into the Gap of Tannath. The party traveled until the early evening and it was now an hour until the sun would be down for the day. The companions stopped at what looked to be a good spot. On their right was the river and its bank, and on their left an unharvested field of corn.
While preparing camp, Roneth thought he heard what sounded like stalks being moved from the field, as if someone were pushing through them. He moved closer to the field. The way the stalks were laid out he could not detect anyone in the field within his immediate view. He softly warned the party something was drawing closer. At this news, the rest of the group stopped their camp preparations, faced the field and listened. While listening, they moved into tactical positions. On listening again Roneth, perhaps channeling an animal spirit deep within him, distinctly and clearly heard, as loud as if they were moving right next to him, the barely audible soft steps of five or six creatures coming towards them, but about 30 feet away.
He readied his weapon and looked to his friends and said, “They are coming.”
Just after he said those words, loud yipping and the sound of corn stalks being thrashed apart filled the air. Four goblins came out of the field wearing backpacks filled with corn, swords drawn. They rushed the party. For now it seemed like an even match. The party crossed weapons with them at the edge of the field. Suddenly two more yelling goblins ran out of the field and moved into position behind Ignacio and Ferrik. At first the match seemed even but the goblins were quickly outclassed by the seasoned guards. Roneth moved into the corn field fighting two of the goblins. The veins in Roneth’s neck began to bulge and his face became beet red as he went into a fit of rage. He swung his scythe, slicing into the goblins while simultaneously scything corn like a farmer gone mad from the summer sun.
Ignacio and Ferrik took on three goblins, all of them trying to get the best of one another through flanks. Durian held his own against the final goblin. The creature, all the while swinging it’s sword at him while Durian held his ground by throwing daggers and stabbing at the oncoming goblin.
A few moments passed and the goblins were being sorely outclassed by the companions. Roneth unleashing the fury of a raging barbarian, cut one down. He swung his scythe and cut into the collarbone of a goblin, also cutting through one strap of the worn backpack, filled to the top with what the group guessed was stolen corn. The strap broke free causing the backpack to swing free, spinning around the stunned goblin as corn fell from the unbalanced pack and the creatures neck sprayed blood all over the nearby stalks. Focusing his attention on another, Roneth moved to engage it. The party continued to trade blows with the goblins.
Another one was dropped by Roneth, his scythe cutting lose the strap of another goblin. Corn spilled out as blood sprang forth. One goblin, seeing his comrade die, screamed out horribly and loudly.
He screamed, “Droooooogggaaaaaa NOOOOOOOO!”
The goblin clearly lost his mind after seeing his companions killed and spinning to such a macabre end [author’s notes: This is a fine example of Corn on the Macabre]. He began foaming at the mouth as if in some goblin rage and began violently attacking Roneth, but his hits did not land. Ignacio and Ferrik outmatched their opponents with finesse instead of brute force and eventually dropped two of the nearby goblins, making them able to assist Durian. Roneth killed the maddened one near him, swinging his scythe for all it’s worth, which left one alive.
The party looked at the final goblin as he took a step back towards the lake. He was badly shaken at the grim sight before him, his comrades dead. Not giving the goblin a chance to collect his wits, the party quickly finished him, with the weight of his corn filled backpack making him fall dead, at odd and strange angles.
Viewing the area of the fight, a good fifteen-by-fifteen foot section of once normal standing corn stalks lay oddly cut down, drenched in blood, and trampled by the bodies of massacred goblins. Standing back to take in the sight one thing was clear, when the farmer who owns this land comes to gather his crop, he is in for an unpleasant surprise.