A Happy Ending
By Billy Clark
From the personal library of Frederick, (former) Guildmaster of the Free Men of Tel Zohar
Taryn was holding the door with everything she could muster. I could barely hear her cries for help over the cacophony of the undead trying to break it down from the other side. I rushed to the door, slamming my hands into the sturdy wooden frame with such force that pain shot up my arms. Luckily for all of us, my Orcish heritage came with the benefit of mass, and strength. I saw her muscles loosen with the relief of a much-needed break.
“How much longer?!” I called to the group, hope trailing behind it.
Behind me our trapsman had been arming explosives on a support column that would bring this nightmare to an end. Its collapse would bring down the floors above us, destroying the armies of the dead that were out for our blood. More importantly it would disrupt a Magical Binding ritual happening a floor beneath us. This would also send us to an Earth Circle in a rather unpleasant fashion. It was our only choice, as it would take us days to dig through the rubble that led to the stairs off of this level.
“You can’t rush genius. This has to be done just right” Jingle fired back.
I needed not remind him that we were on a time-table. I had received a magical Whispering Wind warning me the ritual had started almost immediately after we entered this fetid stronghold. We knew this had to be done in an hour, and the last grains of sand were slipping through the dial now.
Six of us left on this quest earlier today, yet only four of us remain. Duthras and Taryn were the first to step forward; Elven twins who set out for adventuring when they found trouble at home. We lost Duthras to the undead on the last floor. Without him, we wouldn’t have made it here; His sacrifice bought us time to drink our last potions and rush downstairs. Duke, a human swordsman of reputable skill came forward next. His magical blade would come in handy; If only he hadn’t fallen into a trap taking his life and belongings to the depths. Arim, a reclusive mage with some weapon skill joined the group without saying a word. He came along as an expert in the magics being cast below, and I was asked to guard him. Jingle was a strange sort. He’s the stealthiest person I’ve met in the Tel, and I know this because he wears bells all over his body, yet I’ve never heard one make a noise. He always tells me it’s his ‘Continued Training’ at play. Me, the reward was too good to pass up. I could take my earnings, the Lordship, and some land granted to me to finally have a home that I could maintain without fear. I would have been the first Orc Lord in all of Tel Yarin.
Well, I would have, if this story actually had a happy ending.
Arim managed to drag over a massive axe which he dropped at my feet with a startling crash. Taryn allowed me to hold the door while she used it to bar the door. A simple nod from her told me it was securely in place. I let my hands off the door slowly, testing the strength of the bar, before turning towards the column. Jingle had placed the traps carefully along the central column, and had already started arming them.
Arim was a man of few words, but when he spoke we all listened. “We have mere moments remaining. I can feel the magics coming to a close beneath us.”
Jingle began working feverishly to arm each trap. I could tell that he intended on blowing them all at once. ‘Go big!’ he would always say, which I found funny for such a short guy. I loved watching his tiny hands work. He found a way to be delicate and forceful at the same time. He was sweating, and muttering under his breath. He often spoke to himself when working so he couldn’t get distracted by other conversation. Before long we were all focusing on his little hands going to work.
The door grew silent. Had the undead given up their assault? I moved back towards the door, and placed my ear against the thick wood. This could easily be a ruse, or maybe the undead knew another way to get to us? Taryn joined me at the door and shushed Jingle’s mutterings so she could listen clearly.
“Taryn? Open the door.” We both jumped at the familiar voice on the other side. It was Duthras, and he sounded weak.
Taryn reached for the makeshift bar, but I blocked her knob. “There’s no way he fought through all of those undead, and survived, without us hearing a fight at the door. That’s not your brother.”
She pulled her hand from me, and reached for it again. Arim stopped her this time. She argued with him, yet he was steadfast that the door should not be opened.
“Taryn? Open the door.” the voice said again.
Taryn put her sword to Arim’s neck, yelling at him.
“When the bombs go off, he’s just as dead as we are.” Arim said in the calmest voice that’s ever floated to my ears. A single tear escaped Taryn’s cheek. I remember watching it as it fell to the floor, quenching the dusty cobbled floor of a thirst it couldn’t comprehend.
We shouldn’t have argued. We shouldn’t have turned our attention away from Jingle. We should have paid attention to what was going on around us. For these failures I am truly sorry. I have spent my life trying to correct these wrongs, trying to find some hope and peace in the world.
None of us saw the dead body in the corner of the room. We were too familiar with the site of undeath by the time we got here, and the adrenaline wasn’t helping matters. None of us saw the body stand up or the dark energies floating around the room. None of us paid mind to it’s eyes lighting up with the forces of chaotic energies used to create the Death Knight. We only saw after Jingle’s limp body hit the ground. Taryn was the first to see, and her sadness was ripped from her mind and replaced with rage. That dead body in the corner was Duke. The pit trap let out through a hole in the corner of this room.
A Death Knight is no laughing matter. They’re just as skilled as the person they once were. Fully intelligent, very powerful, with some abilities that living people cannot easily replicate. They’re also impossible to defeat without a magical weapon, or a very powerful mage nearby. Duke had just used his magical sword to fell Jingle, and Arim couldn’t take him alone.
Taryn rushed with impossible speed, her blade bouncing off the creature with each blow. This did not deter her from pressing the attack. Arim dove for the traps. He had watched Jingle do it several times, and was trying to arm the last traps from memory. I planned to give him as much time as I could. I rushed our friend turned foe, blocked his attack, and tried to tackle him to the ground. I never knew how strong those things were until I tried to knock this one over. It barely noticed me.
Duke knew he had the only sword in the group that could kill him, so he started toying with us. Not attacking to kill us, but attacking to maim us. His masters had obviously commanded him to slow us down, but it was like he wanted to end us slowly. There is no reasoning with a controlled undead. They will do as they see fit. They cannot be tricked easily, and you couldn’t sway their mind.
In the corner of my eye, Arim shifted his position. Had he armed a trap? That would leave only one more. Could we blow this column and end it? I could hold off the death knight while Taryn and Arim worked out the explosions. I called out my plan, and they agreed.
Taryn ducked away from the fight, but this seemed to anger Duke. He reached out with his clawed hand, grazing her shoulder, forcing life out of her body. She felt no pain. She never saw it coming . It was merciful compared to Jingle.
Arim saw this in an entirely different light . With one quick movement he stood up, rushed the creature, and threw a rabbit punch to its ribs.
Punching a greater undead in the ribs doesn’t seem like a viable option given that only magical weapons could affect them. Arim made it work, though. He followed it up with another swing; Wild, barely grazing the creature. Duke raised his sword, but Arim wasn’t there anymore. He had moved around to his back, punching him directly in the spine. That’s when I saw it. Arim’s eyes were wild with rage, but his lips were moving. He was incanting with each blow. Arim WAS a magical weapon. His power has limits, though, and it’s not hard to reach those limits when you’re casting so furiously.
Duke spun around, quickly slashing his claws at Arim’s throat. A flash of light erupted around Arim. A protective spell, his Magic armor was gone. Maybe his Shield Magic? I don’t know for sure. Arim pushed Duke hard against a wall. Of such strength I didn’t think he was capable. Arim rushed in after him again, jumping on the creature’s back, holding his arms back.
“DO IT!” Arim yelled.
Duke had dropped his sword when he hit the wall. I grabbed it, but could see no way to kill the undead without hurting Arim. Hesitation isn’t something that usually happens to me in combat. Had I subconsciously made a friend? I really only have Jingle, and that friendship was hard enough. No, decidedly not. I cannot keep up with two friends at once.
I pierced the sword through the creature’s torso with all the strength I could muster.
Turns out when you kill those things, they just kinda disintegrate. You don’t need a lot of force. My blow did find some resistance as it pierced through Arim’s heart as well. Arim made no noise as he fell to the floor and died.
Wasting no time I stomped on the traps until one of them exploded. It took a few hard kicks, but I clearly remember the explosion, the gut-wrenching moment of pain, and then I woke up at the guild hall. Taryn had done the honors of assisting in my resurrection.
Duke (Undead Duke, I mean) had accomplished his task. He had stalled us long enough that the ritual ended long before I triggered the explosion. We had not only lost the day, but people as well. Duthras failed to resurrect. Arim and Duke’s spirits never entered the Earth circle. Maybe they went somewhere else? Jingle wasn’t the same afterwards. He never wore bells after that. I guess being the sneakiest guy in town and having someone sneak up on you is demoralizing.
We held a short service for those we lost that night, before reporting back to the local Lord to explain what happened. We didn’t get any payment, which is usually expected when you have a catastrophic failure such as ours. His mages told us the ritual ended a cycle of magic for the area. Tel Yarin was over. I always thought it was just the name of the place, but apparently this has happened before, and each time the name changes. According to the finger-wagglers, this place is called Tel Zohar now.
One week later the lords left, or stepped down from their titles. The entire kingdom got up and walked away for some unknown reason. The Kingdom was completely disbanded overnight. We had no true leaders, no Lord or Lady. Everyone has seemed really okay with that, though. Does it not bother them that an entire ruling body just stopped ruling without anyone else taking over? I mean, I’m not looking for a job or anything, but how does that not strike everyone as odd? Arim would probably be able to explain it better.
Taryn and I looked after Jingle from that day forward. He had become fragile after our loss. He told me once that he didn’t go straight to the circle, instead finding himself inside the ritual for a moment. I told him that wasn’t possible. Dead is dead. The three of us have been inseparable since then, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m still hoping we find out the fate of Duke and Arim. If they’re alive maybe one of them can tell us what this all means. That’s our new quest. That’s all that has kept us going.
The Lost City of Gideon
From the Tel Zohar Player’s Guide
There is a ruin of an ancient city that was once called Gideon, which lies Northwest of the crossroads. This is a place of scorched earth an glass, where only cacti and thistle trees are now standing as silent sentinels. Gideon was once the center of great trade, a mining city where golden spires rose high into the sky, schools of knowledge flourished here and wealth overflowed onto the streets. Legend has it that this is where the six Gems of the Desert came to rest in the great halls of King Nephgrim. These Gems had a hold over men, and when viewed by those weak of will, enraged the greed within them. Gathering the Gems into the vaults of Gideon took many long years, and the lives of several brave collectors.
As legend would have it the Wildmen of the North (accompanied by Thardun Gul) came in force to claim the Gems of the Desert. Empowered by the greed in their hearts, no single man in the invading force has any desire other than his own. However the city of Gideon was well defended. While her armies outmatched the Wildman of the North three to one, victory was never guaranteed. Amongst Gideon’s armies were Trolls of the desert, Lizardmen from the eastern caves, Elven outcasts from the local tribes, and Humans. It is said that King Nephgrim boasted to the citizens of Gideon that his armies would be victorious against these dimwitted Wildmen and Dwarven invaders. Little did he know that the Northerners had great beasts and new magicks to accompany them in the slaughter. When the tide of northern army smashed into the walls of Gideon, it sounded as if a massive thunderclap ripped across the sky.
The trolls of Gideon showed no mercy to the invaders. They could hurl large boulders more rapidly, and accurately than any catapult, and could fell more men than any ballista. It is said that the Lizardmen had a natural ability to create fire, burning those who managed to reach the top of the wall and climb over the parapets. But to no avail, once the beasts came the defenders of Gideon began to crumble. The battle waged on for six months before Gideon was nothing but ruins drenched with blood. No one knows what happened to the six Gems of the Desert, some say they were sold, some say they were scattered to the four winds, survivors claimed that the gems were never there. After 6000 years. Who can say?
~Twig Wellwind, Scribe to the Executor of the Conclave of Den
How Redwater was born
By David J. Morand
Redwater is a fort a little ways south of the Nimbus Oasis. More fortified than other towns of its ilk, Redwater is a place well-guarded. Nary is the traveler that ventures to Redwater without scrutiny. The guard there are alert and duty sworn, but this is also its appeal. A place in the world where those within the fort can rest assured in their mutual protection from the outside elements. However, it is not that Redwater has not seen its share of conflicts. The very name of the town refers to the bloodied waters that marked this location’s founding.
I, but a scholar had little interest in the affair happening around me at the time of Redwater’s founding but was inexplicably drawn in regardless. The day was some time ago and I neglected to record the date, but suffice to say I have seen at least twenty-some winters and summers since. Oh, I would not pretend to know the desires or the true motivation for the town’s founding, but I was in the area at the time.
Picking through a sleeping drunkard’s pack and pocketing the few silvers he had upon his being I waded through the rough, and very fresh, road to this sad outpost. The river to the east of this road called Queen’s Watch is where Redwater would eventually be. I should also state that now, in my twilight years, I am not proud of the braggart and rogue I had once been. I had always been cursed with a wanderlust that defied reason, but I digress.
Making my way to this new frontier as it was referred I found the town of what is now known as Redwater. I happened upon the town at an hour or two before dusk, at least it seemed an hour or two, I couldn’t honestly say. The ramshackle defenses were manned by shaggy youths not so different from myself at the time. With foreboding warnings of Goblin raids, I was admitted to this small town. I do not recall what they called it at the time, especially since dusk it would earn a new name entirely.
I might have previously mentioned my distaste for any kind of involvement in the affair of Redwater, at the time I was seeking a honeyed ale and the comfort of the maiden at the local tavern with the silver I’d taken from the drunkard on the Queen’s Watch Road. Peering, okay likely more a leer, over the lip of my raised flagon I saw the ragged and deadly arrows descend upon the tavern.
I uttered a number of curses I cannot even remember inventing that moment as I saw the patrons and proprietors of the tavern fall to this deadly onslaught. Leaping up from my precarious position from behind the table as arrows descended was not what I had in mind for a relaxing evening. Road-weary, but still having the presence of mind to topple the table, I quite uncourageously hid behind the now-upended table and prayed to whatever gods might take pity on me.
Rather than standing, I peeked my head from behind my makeshift cover to stare into the greedy and blood-lust-filled eyes of the town’s assailants. Simply put, I stared into the green and mottled face of a goblin. The creature opened its mouth to display a row of sharpened teeth in a devious grin. He babbled something in his goblin tongue.
I believe I’ve had cause to mention my distaste for my roguish sort of self at that time, but this was one instance where it served me well enough. I poked the goblin in the eye with my thumb and grabbed at the knife at his belt. I don’t remember slitting his throat, but there he lay at my feet as his fellows entered the tavern. I will be quite honest, I do not remember the heroics I am accredited, but it would seem that twelve of the goblins that lay dead in the tavern came at my hand.
I am also told that the slaughter of so many goblins along with the fallen tankards in the tavern made a sort of red river all its own in that place. It is, of course, pure aggrandization that I was heralded as a hero of the Red Water. More so since I recall so little of it, save for when the folks came upon me I was a babbling fool muttering about red water. Incidentally, if I am so inclined to recall, is the name of a fine wine I had wished to be drinking at the time, but the folk of this ragged little outpost deemed it a fitting name.
So, there, that is the meager recollection of my adventure that led to the founding of Redwater before it was a fort of such prominence.
~From the Memoirs of Vandlack Tor the Hero of Redwater