Chapter 2: Back to the Wizards Guild   Leave a comment

Zhanh, Lumlas, and Gronk left the Grinning Goblin about the same time that Wulf’s party departed. Weslynn, Edurin, and Algris remained at the Grinning Goblin. Zhanh knew exactly where to go in order to get back to the Guild office that he had visited in the morning. Gronk still had a fistful of drumsticks that he was cramming into his mouth and lustily chewing up, bones and all.

While the two elves could have slipped quickly enough through the crowd, Gronk was greatly impeded by the flow of human traffic around him. Minotaurs were not unknown, but were relatively uncommon on the streets of Khazan, and many folk stopped to gawk at the mighty bullman.
Zhanh did his best to keep his eye on Gronk and Lumlas while leading the way back to the Wizard’s Guild, and maintaining his usual “strange city” wariness. He was glad that Lumlas had chosen to come along on this errand; he seldom encountered “proper” elves, and looked forward to speaking to her. It didn’t hurt that she was easy on the eyes.

Gronk started getting angry at the humans staring at him. He was getting angry enough to want to chop them. But Wulf would tell him that was a bad thing. He must keep his attention on the elves, He must keep them safe. He bared his teeth and growled, trying to intimidate the humans out of his way.

Zhanh noticed that Gronk was getting edgy. He decided to try talking to the minotaur to calm him down. “The thing about this city, Gronk, is that the are ALWAYS more people. You could chop at them until you were too tied to lift your axe, and there would STILL be more of them. Better to just clench your teeth and get out of the crowd as soon as you can. And we don’t have too much further to go.”

He gritted his teeth and snorted.  “Not worry, Zhanh. Gronk not chop stupid humans. Gronk protect elf-friends.”

Lumlas moved closer to her large bovine companion and gave him a beaming smile. “Thank you Gronk – elves are not necessarily very popular here in Khazan. Your presence alone will probably keep us safe.”

Lumlas spoke quietly to his companions. “Don’t look up but something is following us, flapping from roof to roof trying to keep out of sight. It’s on the upper level of that ruin ahead and off to the right of the street.
I wonder if we could entice the creature down and capture it or climb up and at least see what it is? Any bright ideas Zhanh or you Gronk?”

Zhanh flicked his eyes upward to seen what Lumlas was talking about, and said, “If Gronk and either Lumlas and I were to find something fictitious to concentrate on at the foot of the ruin, the other could probably sneak up for a better look. But that would risk having to go one on one with a complete unknown, and THAT sounds like a recipe for disaster.”

Addressing Zahn in quiet tones, Lumlas said “What if you two try to do as you’ve suggested. I’ll hang back and get as close as I can to this creature that’s trailing us. I’ll have a ‘Hold That Pose’ ready to cast to try to stop it in its tracks and then we may be able to charge it and take it prisoner.”

Gronk made a face. “Gronk notice strange smell on breeze. Not human. We go look at base of ruined building. What if buzzard drop something on us?” But Zhanh had already started walking toward the building and was in range when something dark and winged reared up and heaved a block of stone at him. (Lumlas and Gronk make a L2SR on SPD. Zhanh try for another L2SR on LK).
Gronk roared.

“Zhanh! Death from the sky!”

Death from the sky!

Zhanh ran TOWARD the building, in the hope that the rock would then fall behind him.
Lumlas was looking in the right place and saw something apelike and winged come into view at the top of the building. She pointed her finger and yelled something in Elvish (Hold that pose!–or literally, be still, be one with the emptiness)

The gharg froze in the very act of hurling the boulder. Instead of an aimed throw, the stone slipped from its fingers and bounced down the side of the building.

Zhanh heard Gronk’s warning bellow and lunged toward the wall, hoping to be protected by the overhang, but actually moving right into the falling stone’s path. He caught his foot on a piece of debris, stumbled and went down to one knee.

Gronk saw the falling stone and jumped forward, his hands raised to catch the tumbling rock.

Gronk tried to catch the falling stone. He almost made it, but the irregular lump broke one of his fingers and his hand failed to hold it. (3 points of damage to Gronk’s CON.) The stone came out of the bullman’s hand and fell onto Zhanh’s outstretched leg, striking the calf just below the knee, on the back of the leg where the leather armor didn’t give much protection. Everyone heard a sickening snap as the Elf’s leg bone cracked.

A series of chattering grunts came from the rooftop above them. “uurrr, urrahh, uggghh, urrrnnn,

Gronk roared with a combination of anger and pain.

“Gronk crush vulture beast! Aarrgghhh!!!!!”

He started towards the entrance of the ruins, axe in hand.

Zhanh bellowed at the impact, then gritted his teeth, rolled onto his back, and started looking at the rooftops for a target for a TTYF. Once he got his breathing under control, he said, “Lumlas, do you by any chance know the Poor Baby spell? I think I could use one…”

Too late! Discovered and thwarted in its attempt to kill another wizard, the creature has fled through the sky, and not in any line of sight. If Zhanh had waited and heard Algris say that some victims had been struck down from above, he would now know what the human wizard was talking about. Lumlas found herself with two wounded companions–the minotaur with a broken finger and the elf with a broken leg.

to her damaged companions, “That was presumably a Gharg and the cause of the wizard killings we’ve all heard about. At least we’ve scared it off for the time being.
Now, let’s see what I can do to patch you together.”

Lumlas concentrated and worked her magic on her injured companions. She seemed good at it. The pain washed away in a brief burning sensation and then the broken body parts of both elf and bullman visibly moved, realigned themselves, and regenerated on the spot. There was a moment of what felt like intense heat for Zhanh and Gronk and then they felt wonderful. The pain was completely gone. Zhanh stood up and tested his leg–it seemed strong as ever. Gronk looked at his no-longer mangled hand in wonder.

They continued their journey to the Wizards Guild. Though they watched the skies carefully, they saw no more of the gharg. Soon they arrived at the same Guild office that Zhanh had visited in the morning.

“What? back so soon?” asked the apprentice who was minding the store. “The Master is gone for the day. Why did you return?”

Zhanh bowed to the door warden. “I have made contact with the expedition as instructed, and have learned that completing my task will likely bring me into contact with vampires and ghargs; in fact, we were just attacked by a gharg. We have come in the hope of learning more about these creatures, so that we have a better chance of surviving the encounter.”

The desk clerk in the guild pointed to a door off in a far corner. “Go through there and talk to the librarian. He can help you find the answers you want. But he’s crotchety and doesn’t like to be rushed. He also has a rule. He will answer 3 questions for free. After that he charges for his time and effort. So to ask a 4th question would cost you a gold piece. A 5h question costs 2 gold pieces and so forth. He also only answers questions, and he answers exactly the question you ask. So if you say tell me about ghargs, you won’;t get much because that isn’t a question.

The clerk turned his attention from Zhanh to Lumlas. “Hellooo, tall, fair and gorgeous,” he said. “Is that your cow?” he pointed at Gronk with an ink-stained thumb.

Gronk released a low, rumbling growl.

“Gronk not cow, Gronk bull,” he glared at the clerk. “Nobody own Gronk, Gronk free bull!”

Lumlas turned to Gronk and raised a calming hand. “Ignore his comments my friend. We have bigger things to attend to. We need to talk to this librarian fellow and find out how to deal with ghargs and vampires. I was hoping we might be able to persuade someone here to teach us some higher level magics or provide us with magical artifacts that could help us out. Come on let’s go into the library.”

Zhanh led the way to the library, and greeted the librarian. “May you have a good day, sir. My friends and I are here for information regarding vampires and ghargs. We have been told that you have strict rules regarding the questions you will answer, and I hope you understand that such rules invite hostility and exploitation, and that we would much rather have a simple discourse. However, having said that…” He took a deep breath.

“Given that my companions and I are bound irrevocably to encounter and confront vampires and ghargs at and around Castle Greybat, what information would you want us to have if you were a garrulous and helpful person who was not bound by limiting rules, had your current knowledge, and actually wanted us to succeed and survive in our current endeavor?”

The library proved to be very small. It only had 3 books in it, but there was the most overwhelming sense of magic in the room.
The librarian, a distinguished old elf with white sideburns that hung down to his waist, and ears and nose both as long as his arms, gave Zhanh a hostile look, but answered.
“Young fellow, I don’t have all week to tell you about vampires and Castle Greybat, but take a look in this book, and feel free to read as long as you wish. The library does close at midnight, but re-opens at noon if you wish to return tomorrow.

Zhanh and Lumlas went over to take a closer look at the book.

The librarian said, “I’m afraid I can’t allow your bovine friend to remain here with you. He then said something that sounded like this: “Muurrrr, Gronk, mjoon mfreeens nuuuwwww.” (which was Bovine for “Gronk, would you like to join your other friends now?)

Zhanh took a closer looks at the book that the librarian had shown him. It was huge, and rested on a polished ebony lectern. The title was “Things You Want to Know.”
“Try not to let your mind wander as you read,” warned the librarian.

Zhanh opened the heavy leatherbound cover. Inside the title page said: “The Vampires of Castle Greybat” by Various Hands. Wizards Press.
An animated icon showed a turning page. Zhanh turned the page.

Chapter One: The Vampires of Trollworld

The Vampires of Trollworld are one of the strongest vampire races in all of the multiverse. These blood-drinking creatures are not harmed by sunlight or articles of faith. They have the power to regenerate almost instantly from any wound that does not damage their brain. Apparently they must think about regenerating in order to do so, which makes them vulnerable to head wounds. Fire can also destroy them, as burnt flesh is unable to regenerate.

Rumor has it that some vampires are able to shift shapes, but this is a confusion of the legend. True vampires are limited to the shape of their original kindred. Thus, a vampire elf will always appear to be an elf. A vampire dog will always appear to be a dog. However, if a creature was originally a shapeshifter of some kind, the vampire will retain the shapeshifting power, and that has caused the legend that vampires can turn into bats or serpents or wolves or mist.

Many silly rumors have grown up around vampires, such as the one that states they have no reflection. That’s just impossible. When light hits something material it bounces off it, and carries the image that was illuminated. If that light then hits a mirror and rebounds again, the viewer can see the original image in the mirror. Equally false is the idea that vampires cannot cross running water, or that they can be slain by driving a wooden stake through the heart. And forget about herbs. No known stench can deter a really hungry vampire.

These things, however, are true about vampires. They must drink blood in order to survive–preferably blood from their own kindred, as other types of blood provide little nourishment for them. They have very strong magical abilities. Although the Wizards Guild will not willingly sell or teach spells to vampires, wizards who are turned into vampires retain their knowledge and magical abilities. New vampires are made by an act of will on the part of the Sire or Dame that first bites and then drinks the blood of a victim. Usually vampires do not bother to turn everyone they slay–such actions could easily lead to a world full of vampires and then a food shortage that could bring their rule to an end. Only a favored few are turned into undead blood drinkers. Vampires do have considerable powers of persuasion–often people find themselves agreeing to the vampire’s plans or desires even when it makes no sense to do so.

Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Zhanh and Lumlas looked apprehensively at each other. “Is there anything you want to know, Lumlas?”
Lumlas idly turned the page. The first thing she saw was a title: Castle Greybat.

Gronk resisted the notion of leaving his elf-friends, and insisted on waiting outside the library for them. He maintained that he must escort them back after they were through with their business at the library.

Lumlas thought about the subjects of Castle Greybat and its infamous owner as she turned the next page.

There was a picture of a three-towered castle perched on a hill overlooking a swift-flowing river. It seemed to be made of basalt–all the walls were dark gray fading into black. Bats fluttered around the towers. Lumlas could actually see them moving around in a neverending gyre. An arrow pointed behind the hill and the word cave was shown.

Lumlas started reading: Castle Greybat was build by Count Anakul around 830 A.K. The count came out of the south with a force of black-clad soldiers who quickly subordinated the villages for fifty leages up and down the river. Anakul claimed that he named the castle after the giant gray bats that occupied the huge cavern system in the base of the hill. Although the rock in this part of the river valley is primarily limestone, Anakul imported immense quantities of basalt from the volcanic mountains to the northeast in order to build his fortress.

There is still a Count Anakul ruling in Greybat. The Wizards Guild believes it is still the same person who built the castle almost 500 years ago, but cannot prove it. Count Anakul has never come to Khazan, nor has he ever allowed wizards from Khazan to enter his fortress. Scrying the castle works very poorly and the Guild has been warned that the Greybat magicians will punish any invasion of their privacy.

In 977 A.K. the Goddess sent a Death Horde commanded by Vanatung Drokk to capture the castle, but the operation failed when the Horde was ambushed by flying creatures never previously seen in this part of the world. These strange warriors have the form of fierce apes, but the wings of gigantic bats. They seem to be intensely magical creatures, but are not wizards, as their attacks are exclusively physical. They have been named gargoyles, or Ghargs in the common parlance. It is not known how many Ghargs inhabit the Greybat area, but there may be several hundred of them. One Gharg is generally reckoned as the equal to two or three human warriors.

In 978 A.K. the Goddess summoned Count Anakul to Khazan, but he refused to come. She then went with 100,000 troops to the Castle. Once there she was invited to parley with Count Anakul. No one knows what was said, but the Goddess returned to Khazan the following day, and she has never bothered the Lord of Greybat again. However, tribute arrives from the Castle once every 5 years–a single flawless diamond.

Blah, blah, blah.

Lumlas looked away from the book. The pages went blank.

Having absorbed more discouraging news about their opponents, Lumlas turned to Zahn and with her brow creased, started to speak.

“So, to sum up our situation we are up against vampires led by someone who the Death Goddess herself didn’t take on with 100,000 troops at her back. And they’re difficult to kill. Plus, there is an army of these Ghargs; flying apemen, at the Count’s beck and call.

I think we need your friends in the Guild to lend us some pretty powerful magics to give us any chance against Anakul and his minions. A staff that throws fireballs, Hellbomb Burst grenades, a troop of high level combat mages but we require something or our mission will be suicide.”

Zhanh worried a bit about Gronk, but trusted that the minotaur would be able to fend for himself a while longer, and continued to stare at the book. Anakul was tributary to the Death Goddess, but on a five year period that left a lot of room for wiggle room; the Wizard’s Guild had been chased away from Greybat, and yet they were sending him on a more or less forbidden mission (he suspected that, since he was not yet a member of the Guild that they would happily disavow him if things went badly). It seemed that the creatures of Castle Greybat were waging some sort of covert war against the wizards of Khazan city. Zhanh sensed some sort of ugly politics at play, and hoped that his thoughts were focused enough to summon some sort of response from the book.

Zhanh continued to stare at the book and said quietly, “FRIENDS is a bit strong, Lumlas. I think that our session with this book is as much as my connections will get us. I am merely an applicant for Guild membership, and while they would like me to bring them useful information, they really do not care if I live or die.”

Continuing to stare at the book, Zhanh muttered, “The caves. The caves under the castle still exist, and the book seems to imply that there is still an external entrance. We don’t have to do a frontal assault; we can approach the place by stealth. If we can find Weslyn’s barrels, and can throw them into the river, we might be able to FLOAT home. If we are very, very lucky, this might be survivable.” He looked up from the book and flashed a quick grin at Lumlas. “I hope everyone can swim…”

Gronk shifted his weight back and forth, growing impatient waiting for the elf-wizards. He watched the humans of Khazan walk by and tried to ignore their stares and pointing. He would let out a low, rumbling growl when one of them would start to approach too closely.

“Gronk need beer and meat,” he mumbled absent-mindedly to himself. He watched a particularly beautiful peasant maid walk past, and her sheepish glances caused a stirring within him. “Gronk need pretty woman, too. Gronk getting bored.”

Lumlas listened to Zahn and having pondered them briefly said,”You may be correct my young friend. Come. Let us take Gronk back to the tavern. Perhaps the others will have had greater luck than us and with what we have learned, maybe a potentially successful plan can be drawn up.”

Zhanh nodded. “I think we have the information we came for; let’s check on Gronk. Unaccompanied minotaurs in cities tend to attract trouble.”

Gronk spent more than an hour waiting for his friends at the Wizards Guild. The magician on duty provided him with a mystery meat sandwich and a flat rock on which pictures of pretty Minotaur maids would appear and disappear by magic.

Then Zhanh and Lumlas emerged from the Library. They had learned all they could from the book. A master wizard was waiting to speak to them. It wasn’t the same one that Zhanh had seen before. This was an old Trolf named Khayd’haik.

“I understand that you would like more help from the Wizards Guild. We cannot do that much for you, but I can, if you like, teach you a few spells and provide you with kremm batteries containing enough stored essence to cast them. I cannot teach you anything beyond your capability to learn. I will grant you each two spells.”

“While you are thinking about what you’d like to learn, let me tell you a bit about the political situation in Khazan. We are keeping this information from the public, but the Empress has vanished. We cannot find her by scrying, but we know she is still alive. At the same time, the city has been infiltrated by an unknown number of vampires and ghargs. We believe they have come from Castle Greybat. More than two dozen wizards have been slain and converted into vampires. They grow stronger while we grow weaker. We need more knowledge, but we have scant means of obtaining it. Go to Castle Greybat, learn what you can.” He handed talismans to Zhanh and Lumlas. The jewelry seemed to be a featureless head with eyes, ears, and mouth. “While you touch this and say “Khazan”, even silently, we will see what you see, hear what you hear. Break the touch or the chant and we will be cut off again.”

“But what keeps you from scrying them for yourselves?” asked Lumlas. “I always heard that the Wizards Guild was unmatched in power and wisdom.”

“Ask your companion, the half-elf Perry, what happened when Madame Zolgah scryed into their domain by accident.”

“And now you should return to the Grinning Goblin. It is getting dark, and you do not want to be on the streets after dark.”

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Posted May 28, 2012 by atroll in Uncategorized

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