Chapter 2: Wulf Goes Shopping   Leave a comment

Looking for a horny helmet in a Dwarf weapon shop.

Wulf, Perry, and Mensa left the Grinning Goblin behind them and set out for the Armorer’s Quarter in the great open air market on the eastern side of Khazan. None of them knew exactly where it was, and the market itself was so huge that one could wander in it all day and never see the half of it. Thousands of merchants selling literally everything a person could need crowded the huge open area. A few of them had permanent booths and buildings, but most got by with just a cart, a tent, or sometimes a blanket on the ground. The city watch patrolled the area heavily, and the more prosperous merchants hired their own guards. In some parts of the market there were actual streets with booths lining both sides of the road. In other places it was just a hodgepodge of carts, blankets, small tables and strolling merchants with bulging backpacks.

The crowd was also strongly mixed, about half of it being humans. The second largest contingent was uruks; the third was dwarves. The occasional ogre or troll muscled their way through the masses. Elves and goblins flitted through the crowd. Vendors were mostly humans and dwarves–other kindreds didn’t seem to have the knack or the patience for it.

“Stay close to me,” said Wulf. “We only have about 2 hours until sunset, and I want to be back at the Grinning Goblin before it gets dark.” (The hour in Khazan is reckoned at 1/10 of a day. Thus the party had about 5 earthly hours to get the info that Wulf wanted.)

As he quartered back and forth through the market, Wulf finally heard the sound he had been listening for–the ringing of hammers on metal. That would be the sound of a working blacksmith, and where there were smithies, there would be weapon shops. Guiding his steps by the distant clanging, he led his charges to the Armorer’s Quarter. He knew they had arrived when the crowd became mostly warriors, some of them carrying and admiring what were obviously new weapons.

The first shop he came to was called THE TIN TRADER, and the sign showed a bearded kobold with a knife held out flatly in the palm of each hand. Little lightning symbols indicated that the knives might be enchanted. Across the lane was a closed up building with a real door and a sign that showed a bear wielding a hammer against an anvil. And there were more, many more on both sides of the street ahead of them.

Mensa wanted to strike up a conversation with the dwarves he saw, but was a bit too shy – and besides, they were in a hurry. When Wulf stopped them at the TIN TRADER area, Mensa stepped across the lane to the door with the sign of the bear at the anvil. He wanted to see a bear blacksmith! He put his hand on the door to see if he felt heat from a blacksmith’s fire inside.

Perry kept an eye on Mensa just in case he got sucked into something unfortunate. He asked Wulf if this place was going to supply him with what he wanted.

Wulf said: “This looks like a good enough place to start. Let’s go in and start asking questions. Watch out for people who crowd you or bump into you!
“Did you put your purses in the safe places like I showed you? Yell for me if someone threatens or bothers you in any way!” Wulf entered and began taking stock of the shop. He looked for Dwarf type helmets, and kept an eye out for a Kris, something he has longed to own since he was nearly killed by an Uruk shaman some time in the past.

‘Thanks, Wulf,’ Perry grinned. ‘I’ll keep a look out for a kris. Hey! Where’s Mensa? I’ll look next door.’ Perry kept his hands in his pockets and looked into the ‘Bear Blacksmith’. ‘Hey! Mensa!’ he called. ‘We’re over here, Come look what Wulf’s found.’ He beckoned Mensa to follow him back inside the Tin Trader, keeping his eyes open for anyone taking a close interest in any of them.

Mensa walked over to Perry. “Bear in there,” he said, pointing at the Bear Blacksmith. “Didn’t get a good smell, but him in there.”
Roy Cram replied 2 weeks ago…
Wulf was looking in the merchandise for a horned helm for Mensa. He looked about to be sure the Dwarf and Wizard were still there.

A brawny and very hairy man stepped up and spoke to Perry and Mensa. “Garr,” he growled. “I’m the bear. Can I help you gentlemen find anything. I make fine weapons.”

Wulf looked around the Tin Trader’s shop. What a collection of junk! He saw daggers that really were made out of tin. He saw a helmet that was made out of leaves–leaves that seemed to be sewn together. He saw a big bowl of grapes and three fairies sitting on the edge of it each trying to eat a purple grape as big as its head.

A kobold stepped out of the shadows in the back of the room. “What can I sell you, Wolfman?” he asked. “You don’t look like the kind of warrior to use cheap magic in battle.”

Mensa said to the bear “Friend Wulf want a kiss knife.”
((Wulf is confused- Is the Bearman in the Tin Trader place or outside of the Bear place.)) When Wulf hears the growl he comes quickly over to join his friends.
“Greetings,” said Wulf. “I am looking for a helmet for Mensa here and am interested in finding a Kris. I also would like to know if you know what a Ghargh is, and what weapons are most effective against such creatures. It is possible we may have to deal with some of these creatures soon, and I hate surprises!”
Wulf looked around, said a bad word in Urukish, and then; “I am sorry, but my friends have disappeared. I must find them and quickly!” He hurried out all his wolf senses alert to the task, seeking by scent, sight, and hearing any evidence of his companions.
Mensa (to himself): “Kiss, kris, kirs …. Man-tongue has too many words that sound the same. Rest of world should learn good Kah-zahd like Mensa.”
Perry gave a half-bow to the Bear. ‘We are looking for a knife, a kris in fact, for our friend, Wulf.Do you have one for sale? He’s just across the street in the Tin Trader.’ Perry looked round briefly to see if Wulf was still across the street then turned back to the Bear. ‘I think my friend, Mensa, likes Bears, don’t you Mensa?’ Perry smiled at Mensa and said ‘Good Bear helps Wulf and Perry. You like Bear!’

Wulf, got more frantic with every passing moment as the watchdog part of his personality beat him with a big guilt stick. He decided to look in on the Bear place as it was closest.

‘Hey, Wulf!’ Perry cried. ‘Come check this place out – you never know what you might find and I think Mensa likes the Bear!’

“Thank Omvar!” said Wulf. “For a moment there I thought I had lost you both! I need to pay more attention to what I’m doing. Hey there Big Fellow (to the Bear guy); do you have any helms that might fit my Dwarf friend here? Methinks he needs a hat. He would like one with horns.”

Wulf rejoined his companions. As he looked around he thought that the Bear’s place looked a lot more like an armorer’s should look.
“You want a horned helmet for a Dwarf and a kris for yourself, eh, wolf-brother?” growled the hairy man. “To get Dwarf equipment, you’re going to have to go to a Dwarf smith. Gah-Narrld, two doors down is as good as any and a friend of mine. The trouble with equipment for Dwarves is that they aren’t built the same way men are. Their heads are too large in proportion–their chests usually too thick. And krisses are rare and expensive. They usually have to come to us from Gull, and you know how far away that is. I could get you a kris, but it would take a day or two and cost you 200 gold.”
Wulf replied, “I had a feeling that the Kris would be beyond my present means. Thank you for the advice on finding a helm for Mensa. My friends and I plan an expedition to do battle with the enemies of your fair city, the evil blood drinkers who slay the wizards and others here. Your advice would be greatly appreciated. Do you know what a Ghargh is, and what kind of weapons would be most effective against such a foe? If such creature can fly my combat experience suggests that missile weapons would be the most useful, or polearms. I have a spear and Morningstar, and plan to take sharpened hardwood stakes, I also am skilled with a slling. What price for a set of good sharp spears? Any other information or advice you could give us would be of great assistance.”
Wulf kept an eye on the wandering Dwarf and Wizard determined they would not elude him again.
Mensa held his coin pouch out to Wulf. “Will this help Wulf get k – krees?”
Wulf smiled at Mensa: ” I think I will have to wait for my Kris, my friend. As soon as we are done here I will take you to the shop of Gah-Narrld to get you a proper Dwarf helmet. If the good Bear smith here can answer my questions, I would also like to have our friend Perry look at the Stuff in the Tin Trader next door. I don’t know hraka (a fecal expletive) about magic, but perhaps the Half-Elf can find something there that might serve us against our enemies. I am told that Kobolds are skilled in making magic things.”

Perry was touched by Mensa’s offer – he had been about to do the same thing. ‘I’d like to see a Kobold, Wulf,’ he replied to his big friend. ‘This time we’ll wait for you, won’t we Mensa? I’m not sure I know hraka either but I could learn in my spare time. Anyway, maybe I can contribute on the magic side.’ Then he turned to the Bear. ‘Do you know any Bears who’d like to help us get in and out of Castle Greybat?’ His hand flew to his mouth which he’d opened too wide too quickly again. His cheeks went crimson and he lowered his eyes and kept his fingers crossed.

Mensa, who rarely kept his opinions to himself, told Wulf, “Magic? Magic has its own smell. Good magic smell good. Bad magic smell bad. Stupid magic smell –” He struggled for the word in Man-Tongue, but couldn’t find it. “Stupid magic just stupid, that all.”

Wulf spoke again:
“How do you like to be called, sir? I am called Wulf Wayfarer, a soldier of fortune. I and my friends here are helping a lady merchant in her efforts to recover some stolen merchandise. And, as much as I would love to fight alongside any of the Bearfolk, I cannot with a good conscience, expect them to take such risks for a stranger, as welcome as that help would be. But alas, our time is limited. Have you had time to think on any of the questions I have asked you? We have many preparations to make yet.”

Perry reached into his pack and pulled out an ermintrude cake his mother had baked for him. Although there were no artificial preservatives, Perry’s mother had received baking secrets handed down from generation to generation in the ancient forests. As he broke the cake into four pieces, a delicate yet appetising aroma wafted upwards and out. It somehow managed to tickle the tastebuds of just about any kindred who smelled its promise, even trolls. Perry broke it into four and offered it round to Mensa, Wulf and the Bear.
Bear looked oddly at Wulf. “Are your senses as keen as mine?” he asked. “Do you know the secret I really don’t try to keep? It doesn’t matter. I am simply a merchant here. I am not going off on any expeditions in search of gold, or even of vengeance.”

Bear pointedly ignored the bite of cake that Perry offered him. “Spears are not my specialty either. I like to make warhammers and swords. It would be easier to answer your questions, wolf-brother, if they didn’t come so fast and furious. Are you always in such a hurry?”

Wulf started to turn away, convinced he wouldn’t get much help here.

“I can tell you one thing,” said Bear. “Ghargh is short for gargoyle, so called because the creatures look something like the monstrous ornaments carved on some of the older temples. They are a kind of flying ape with rock-like flesh. They are more common far to the east, but there have been rumors of some seen in Khazan in the last year or so.. Spears might not be your best weapon against one. A good strong crossbow would, in my opinion, be better. I happen to have one for sale, only 500 gold pieces, and that includes a bolt of quarrels–carved from ironwood and tipped with silver. Very effective against night creatures.”

Perry whispered to Wulf ‘Might get one cheaper somewhere else but thank him and let’s go.’ He put away the last piece of cake.

“I thank you, sir, for your information. Alas, we indeed are in a great hurry. We are preparing an expedition, and need to leave in haste. I am sorry I do not have the time or money to spend more time here with you. If we survive this hazardous venture I will recommend your shop to my friend Gronk who loves big axes.”
“Come Mensa. Come Perry. Let us visit the Dwarf shop and find a Helm for Mensa.”
Wulf, Perry, and Mensa stepped out of the Bear’s shop. They were surprised by how expensive things were in the big city. A few minutes of walking took them up the street to Gah Narld’s shop. It seemed a popular place. There were half a dozen Dwarves, including one totally unlike any Dwarf they had ever seen before because he was black-skinned and thin as a post.
As they entered “the dwarf shop,” Mensa stopped for a moment with a strange look on his face.

The armorer looked like the oldest Dwarf Mensa had ever seen. He had wrinkles, and hair sprouting from odd places on his body like the ends of his ears and the tip of his nose. When he spoke one could see that he had lost at least half his teeth.
Gah Narld took a purse full of coins from a really burly Dwarf who walked out proudly carrying an axe that was taller than he was and almost as heavy. Then he rushed over to see his new customers. He sized up Wulf and Perry quickly enough. “I don’t have anything for you men,” he told them, but I might be able to help the youngster here. What are you looking for, young un”?”
Wulf, in his usual take charge way, spoke first:
“Venerable one: I brought my new friend Mensa here to see if we could find him a helmet, preferably with horns, to protect his head. We go into a hazardous place soon, and I would like to see his head well guarded.
“The Bear Smith two doors down spoke highly of you. Can you assist my friend here?” Wulf hoped that the old Dwarf would see that Mensa was a “simple one” and wearing Silvertongue’s special bracelet. He thought it would be considered rude and condescending to mention it.

Perry turned to the thin, black dwarf. ;Excuse me, sir. I am writing a letter to my mother about this wondrous city and it’s people. I have never seen a dwarf such as you before. Would you be so kind as to tell me a little of your history and of your family? I am Perry Stroika, a half elf from the Heart Forest. I seek my father, who I learned from Madame Zolgah is held within Castle Greybat. I am here with my friends, Wulf and Mensa.’ The half bow was given respectfully as Perry addressed the dwarf.

Mensa held back until all were finished speaking, and then spoke to the skinny one, in kzhd: “These Big Folk sure talk a lot, don’t they?”

The Black Dwarf had been absorbed in his study of a circular shield with a big sharp spike of steel emerging from the center. He was surprised when the human addressed him. In halting Common, he tried to answer Perry’s question. “This one be from Far. No time for talk with strangers. Must return to Eagle soon and want good weapons. May you not die in disgrace, stranger.” Then the Black Dwarf indicated that he wanted to try on the shield. Gah Narld saw that and rushed back to him.

When Mensa spoke to the stranger in khzd, he only looked puzzled. A fat blonde dwarf came over and grabbed Mensa’s beard, giving it a slight tug, not enough to hurt, but certainly enough to get his attention. The blonde spoke in Common. “We never speak in that language out here among the Bigguns,” he said in a friendly manner. “Speak Common or keep yer hairy mouth shut, do you understand?” Although the tone was light, almost friendly, the other dwarf’s demeanor seemed very serious indeed.

Mensa grumbled a bit, but kept his mouth shut. Didn’t see why had to use Man-Talk, which was already tough to remember. He began looking through the various tools, armour pieces, and weapons. He stopped at one which seemed so – seemed so….

“Familiar,” he said out loud, not realizing he had spoken aloud at first. “What this be called?” he asked, pointing towards it.

Wulf said, “We must be patient here with these good folk and honor their customs. Mensa, ask the clerk if they have a helmet that would fit you, preferably with horns. Perry, I don’t think they want to talk to ‘Bigguns’. We should stay back and watch. I will try to see that they don’t cheat Mensa.”

So much of this seemed familiar, but Mensa couldn’t quite place it. Mensa spoke to the blond dwarf: “If must talk in Man-Tongue, tell me your name. Pleasse. “ He spoke with a hissing accent not normal for dwarves in this part of the contnent.
“And what be this curvy knife?” he asked, pointing at what looked like a short sword with a wavy blade.
Perry watched Mensa, sensing that his new friend had a purpose he had not yet gleaned. Either that or he was just tiring of the charms of the shop.

Wulf looked to see what had gotten Mensa’a attention: A knife with a curvy blade…OHMIGAWD!…Could that be the highly desired KRIS!! Was it magnetic? “Master Perry”, whispered the Wulf man,”Check out the curvy blade? Do you think it could be a Kris?”

Perry smiled happily – a chance to be useful! He went to touch the kris with the intention of trying the sparkle spell – would it work? ‘Sure, Wulf,’ he said eagerly. ‘Just let me put a finger on the hilt and I’ll see if it stops me from making a bright little light show for you!’

“Magic,” thought Mensa. “Complicated.” He spied a group of helmets hanging on the wall, and saw one which reminded him of the minotaur – except one of the horns was broken. Handling it, he pricked his thumb on the broken horn – and found it extremely sharp. He smiled. This would be fun to head-butt a biggun!
The blonde dwarf looked at Mensa, and seemed to be trying to size him up. Reluctantly, he answered, “You can call me Goldylox. Everyone else does. Say can you buy a brother a drink? ”

Perry reached in with his finger and cast a Sparkle spell on the wavy-bladed knife. The knife lit up and began to twinkle with alternating red and green flashes.

Everyone in the shop turned to look. “Hey, what are you doing to my weapon?” shouted Gah Narld, as he rounded on the half-elf.
Mensa found some helmets hanging on a side wall. Two caught his attention. One was a horned helm, but one of the horns had been broken off near the metal. The other was more of a miner’s helm with a candle mounted in a special holder built right into the metal. ‘How weird!’ thought Mensa. “Could walk around with fire on head. He thought long and hard about it, then took down both helmets and looked for Gah Narld.
The odd lights caught Mensa’s attention. “Hmph! Magic!” He turned to the blonde dwarf. “Sure. Watch out that men don’t give you pee to drink. We go, Goldylox.” He looked at his hands, filled with helmets. “Mm. Should pay.” But Gah Narld seemed to be arguing with elf-man.

“HEY!” he bellowed. “Elf-man friend!” Stumbling with these Common words, he hoped Goldylox would tell him why he couldn’t talk good kzhd. And maybe if there was a Gristlegrim priest in town. Mensa was only now becoming aware that he should know things that he could only vaguely remember….such as, Why did the name “Gristlegrim” pop into his head and what was a “priest?”

“Venerable Gah Narld” said Wulf, quickly. ” Pray do not be alarmed. We mean no harm or mischief. We are on a mission to destroy the evil Count of Castle Greybat who slays the citizens of your fair city and sends his evil Gharghs to do his vile work. I saw the dagger and thought it might be a Kris which I desire to protect me from the vampire’s magic when I face him. My friend was testing to see if it was indeed the fabled Kris dagger. Have you any kind of special weapons or protections that might serve us against such fiends? Not even the mighty Dwarf folk would be safe if the Count grows strong enough to come here in force some day.”
And Goldylox, pray deal kindly with Mensa, who wears Silvertongue’s special bracelet. And we also would like to know if there is a temple to the great Lord Gristlegrim in this town. Perhaps there is some aid we could there obtain as well.”
Perry spread his hands wide to show that he meant no harm. ‘Thanks, Wulf,’ he said softly. ‘Ask him if he knows any vampire hunters…’
Mensa looked at Wulf with wide eyes. Was THAT what we were going to do? It sounded dangerous – but important. And Gronk had said there would be lots of gobbles to hit onna head.
“Let’s get drink, Goldy. Hey Wulf, I gonna get Goldylox a drink!”
Goldylox the Dwarf looked flummoxed. “Oh, Gris, no,” he muttered. “This guy is an idiot. I wonder if someone let him out of the Sculptorium 100 years too early.” He put both hands abruptly on Mensa’s shoulders and pressed down so strongly that Mensa suddenly sat down.
“No time for drinks, Shorty,” the blonde dwarf almost snarled. “I have an urgent appointment back in Thrindol.” He abruptly left the shop.
Gah Narld looked at Wulf and Perry curiously. “You want to know something about my wepons, just ask me. You want a kruss, right?” He pronounced “kris” with a very thick accent. “That is the most expensive weapon in this shop. Sky iron is very hard to obtain. And since their counter magical nature was discovered, the demand for them has risen. A hundred years ago, one could buy them for about 120 pieces of gold, but these days they cost from 300 to 1000 pieces, depending upon condition and who the original smith was. I just happen to have one in the back room–I don’t leave it out here in public, but it would cost your 500 pieces of gold. You don’t look like you have that kind of money, but go ahead and prove me wrong.” He glared at them challengingly.

At the mere mention of vampires, the other customers in the shop began edging away from Wulf and Perry, and by the time Gah Narld had finished explaining the cost of the kriss, the shop had emptied except for the three friends. The proprietor’s face took on a surly look.
“Look what you’ve done with your careless talk,” he grumbled. “Don’t you know better than to ask about such matters in public? And you’re wrong. Vampires rarely attack Dwarves. I wouldn’t say never, but it’s very rare. For one thing, we are under the protection of Gristlegrim himself, and few dare to mess with that god-wizard. For another thing, we don’t taste good. If you want a weapon that can hew through steel or stone, I can provide that to you for a price, but if you want to fight the undead, you should be talking to wizards, not dwarves.”
“Now are you going to buy anything or not? Did you want a helm for your simple friend?” He jerked his thumb rudely at Mensa who was just standing up and starting to wonder why his friend Goldylox had knocked him down. “You could have the miner’s helmet for 20 gold, or the broken one for 10. If you promise to leave and quit ruining my business, I’ll sell you both for 25.”

Mensa scratched his head, stunned by Goldy’s behavior. Wasn’t he thirsty any more? What had Mensa done to make him angry?

Now Gah seemed angry too. He wanted 500 gold for the krussthing, did he? Mensa didn’t know how much 500 was, and he wasn’t that sure whether he meant coins or chunks of gold. Mostly what he had in his pouch was the stuff that Dad had him dig in caves. So he dumped the pouch out on the floor and roared, “NO YELL AT WULF! TAKE THIS AND SHUT UP!”

Wulf sighed “Oh Gah Nalld, i apologize for the trouble we have caused you. Please take the 25 gold for Mensa’s helmets, and return the rest to him. I could not take his money to buy the Kris at that price.” (A wolfish growl rumbled in his throat.) “I and my friends will just have to take our chances. Pray tell us though, if there is a temple to Gristlegrim nearby where I might make a small offering for the Wizard Lord to watch over my Friend here?”

Perry simply watched and waited, folding his arms and whistling softly. It was clear to him that they needed advice on vampires and he told Wulf that in a low voice. ‘Gristlegrim first and then advice unless the great dwarven deity deigns to dignify us with discourse on deathly dentures.’ Perry had got alliteratively carried away, a weakness that afflicted him from time to time. Now was one of those times.
Wulf, Perry, and Mensa left with helmets in hand, and most of Mensa’s gold still intact. Outside they noticed that the sun had sunk below the western edge of the city and the sky showed the first traces of twilight.

They had hardly regained the street when an enormous gong sounded nearby–the deep chime overwhelmed all the street noise for a moment. Gah Narld popped out and hung a CLOSED sign on his front door, and it locked behind him when he went back into his shop with an audible click.

Mensa started toward the shop across the street, but a big green hand reached around the edge of the door and hung a CLOSED sign on it, too. All up and down the street of armorers, people were emerging from shops and heading off about their business at a good speed. The crowd grew thick and began to jostle the three companions.

“We can’t just stand here,” said Perry.
Wulf curses sulfurously in Urukish and says: ” Back to Grinning Goblin with all possible haste. Keep weapons and spells ready. Stay alert!’ He set off. herding his companions in the direction of the Inn. All his human and wolf enhanced senses were in high gear. He held the morningstar ready for action if needed.

Perry readied himself for the first level conjuring spells he had studied and practiced so hard during his teenage years in the green forests. He knew that he was still green just like his home and so he stuck close to Wulf and kept an eye out for Mensa, whilst scouring the streets and roof tops for any sign of danger. ‘Stay close to us, Mensa!’ he called and added to Wulf ‘If we meet anything bad, I’ll try to immobilise it or send it running so you can either smash it or stop it from getting to me!’

Screeching to a sudden stop, Mensa wondered what C-L-O-S-E-D meant. And now Wulf was coaxing him somewhere, shouting “all possible haste. Keep weapons and spells ready.”

Well, Mensa shoved the candle helmet on his head, hooked the horned helmet in his belt, and pulled out his war shovel. (He was very grateful to Wulf for helping to put his shovel at the ready.) And now he was toddling as fast as he could after his companions, looking side to side and, occasionally, behind him. Where were they running?

Wulf would not let either of his companions out of his sight now, and encouraged the Dwarf to go in the right direction with haste, and Perry to stay near the small guy. The morning star swung evilly in his expert hand and the spike on his shield glittered with sharpness! Wulf recalled that vampires heads were the preferred target, and vowed to scramble the brains of any that dared attack him or his companions!

Erbvin had spotted the half elf earlier–just the kind of soft youngster as the Torture Pits would pay well for. And the barbarian might last a few rounds as a pit fighter. The trick would be capturing them. Still, this end of day chaos was the perfect time. The barbarian would probably fall for the old purse-snatiching trick, and the elf would follow a pretty face. Glim the girl goblin would distract the elf while Thorgg would try the snatch and grab at the barbarian. Such people were always unreasonably attached to their weapons. He signalled for his two main stooges to get ready and for the rest of his gang to stand by. Deal with the barbarian first.

(This storyline will continue in the Trouble in the Streets topic.)

Chapter 2: Down by the River   Leave a comment

What Phinqq’s Phawlee might look like. A tight fit for a party of ten or more, with one of them a minotaur.

Weslyn, Edurin, and Algris reached the river docks by midafternoon. First they stopped at a Messengers Guild office where for 10 gold they guaranteed that Weslynn’s family would get her message. Edurin paid it. There were many small boats tied up along the docks but only a couple large enough to carry 9 passengers at once. One boat was called Phinqq’s Phawlee; the other was called Nainevver.

Before Weslynn sent the message to her family, she appended the names and a brief description of those who had chosen to aid her to her existing parchment note, so that there will be a record,

In the Messengers Guild Office, Edurin nodded his approval. “You are kind to think of the others.”

At the river docks, Edurin took a deep breath. Not quite the same as the ocean, not as fresh. “Let’s start with the cleanest boat. A well-run boat will be well-cared for.” He headed to the best looking boat large enough to carry the the group. He called out to one of the nearby rivermen, “Greetings fellow sailor, that boat looks large and reliable. What’s her captain like?”

Wulf had mentioned that he thought the boat they should take was called Phinqq’s Phawlee, but Weslynn had forgotten it. Of course the boat that Edurin picked was the other one, the Nainevver. The sailor’s question got a short answer from the riverman. “He’s like a Dwarf.” The riverman clammed up immediately. They had their own culture on the river, and they didn’t talk much to outsiders, and certainly not to anyone who just walked up and started asking questions.

After ten long minutes of confusion, Weslynn suggested  that they try the other boat, perhaps they had made a mistake.

Edurin looked around for an establishment captains might meet at. He turned to Weslynn, “On the ocean, captains come together to trade information. Usually at a tea shop. Would you know where river captains might come together? That would be a good place to learn more.”

While they talked, Edurin continued toward the Nainevver to evaluate the vessel.

Edurin noted that the Nainevver was a good-sized boat, at least 30 feet long with a square-built cabin in the center. A steering post at the rear of the boat controlled the rudder, and it was raised on a high poop deck that would allow the steersman to see over the cabin in the center of the boat, It would take a very powerful man to control the oversized steering post.

A single boatman was sitting near the bow, calmly fishing in the river. “You want something?” said the boatman? “Captain isn’t here right now.”

Meanwhile Weslynn and Algris had wandered over to look at Phinqq’s Phawlee. It was built like a scaled-down galley and seemed to have no hold at all. Benches lined both sides of the boat, and at each bench was a long, wide-paddled oar fitted into an oarlock. At the rear of the boat was a rudder, not very different from the one that the Nainevver showed, but not as large or heavy. In the center of the boat, and roped off from the rowing benches was a long narrow pit covered by a piece of canvas that was lashed in place. Obviously cargo rode in that area. The front of the boat had a figurehead–an amazing centaur figure that showed only the forequarters of the equine. A single boatman also manned that boat, and he was a great fat tub of a man who was sleeping under a canvas sunbreak.

“Look, tell you what, you talk to that boat there, and I’ll talk to this one, and we’ll see which is which quickly, Edurin.”
Weslynn approached the Phinqq’s Phawlee. “Ho, boatmen! I needs speak with your captain!”

“I was admiring your vessel. The Nainevver looks to be the best of my options. I represent a sizable group looking for passage upriver to Castle Greybat.” Edurin nodded approvingly. “Can you help me?”

Weslynn noted the silence from the boat she was hailing, and decided to take Edurin’s advice to heart. “Say, I am looking for a fine boat that a friend of mine had arranged to take me and my companions upriver in pursuit of thieves of my wine. I needs speak with your captain, if this is the boat, good sir.”

The sailor aboard the Nainevver turned to speak to Edurin again. “I’m glad you like the boat, but I’m just a crew member. If you want to book passage, you’ll need to speak to the Captain. He went into town for the night, said he was gonna sleep in a real bed. Probly went to his favorite tavern–a place called The Grinning Goblin. Now leave me alone, please. You’re scaring the fish.”

“I’m Captain Phinqq, and a big barbarian spoke to me this morning about a voyage upriver. I told him I’d be happy to take him up to Castle Greybat, but he’d have to give me 20 gold pieces and help with the rowing. It’s not easy to go up river, you know. The propulsion wizards charge a fortune.”

“Greetings Captain, greetings! I am Weslynn Janourn, vintner and subject of a woeful theft. I believe you have heard somewhat of my tale already, yes?”

Edurin nodded to the sailor, and went over to Weslynn. He politely listened while surveying the surroundings.

Phinqq looked at the two of them. “You’re one of them ocean sailors, ain’t you?” he said to Edurin. “Want to learn the inland waters, do you? What’s the matter? Do you get seasick? You won’t find river running any easier on the stomach.” He snickered in an infuriating manner, then turned his attention back to Weslynn.

“Your friend had some wild tale about chasing a stolen cargo upriver to Castle Greybat. I don’t normally go that far. It ain’t healthy. But cross my palm with enough gold, and I’ll take the risk.”

Edurin smiled nicely and pointedly ignored the jibe. He was beginning to understand why Samurai Kighe stuck to the seas, “Perhaps the Nainevver would offer a better price. I don’t see any risk to you travelling up river along your normal route. Going a little farther up river seems trivial enough.”

“My cargo of wine was stolen, the guard told me the thief said he was bound for Castle Greybat, upriver. I, and my companions who have gathered to me, are in pursuit. That tale is true enough.” Weslynn drew herself to her full height, and stared at the captain, trying with all her abilities to impress him with her seriousness.

“Pay me, or don’t,” replied Phinqq. I leave at sunrise tomorrow. “If you accept my terms, be here and ready to board. If you don’t, I’ll leave without you. Payment in cash, and you need to bring your own food for at least 2 days travel on the river.”

Captain Phinqq glared at them. He wanted it clearly understood that he was doing them a service, not the other way around. Privately he doubted that anything taken into Castle Greybat would ever be recovered, but he didn’t say anything. Still, there was a chance that the boat with the stolen wine had met some mishap on the river. Once one got more than a day’s travel beyond the city, the river grew dangerous in places. Bandits, bloodmoths, rebel elves, river trolls–he could always use more fighters and wizards in the crew.

“Agreed, we will leave at sunrise tomorrow. How many crew do you carry on your good ship? I’ll make sure my companions know to bring their own food, Captain. How dangerous is this trip of the river journey? I’ve made river journeys before but my business to and from Khazen is overland, so I have never traveled here in this way.

“Come on, we have shopping to do before tomorrow,” Edurin walked off heading back to the Grinning Goblin.

Phinqq looked at the backs of his new passengers. He had a bad feeling about those two, and their scarred barbarian friend. The woman looked a bit crazed. Didn’t she know that nobody ever got anything out of Castle Greybat? Her best hope was that the thief had stopped to sell his stolen cargo at one of the upriver towns–what did vampires need with wine anyway, although it would be a good treat for their human cattle. Still, his last couple of trips hadn’t made much profit, and he could use their cash along with the muscle. Perhaps he could offload them to Schnarg the Slaver in BuzHer’s Landing. Now that they were gone, it was time for him to recruit a few cronies who would be personally loyal to him. The Vangg brothers would be a good start.

(to be continued)

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.”

Posted May 28, 2012 by atroll in Uncategorized

Chapter 1: Entering Khazan, Part 12   Leave a comment

Perry wasn’t sure who Mensa was referring to but thought Wulf would be a good choice to accompany. He spoke up – ‘I’m happy to have some friends to travel with. It’s a sound strategy and I’d like to see the Wizards Guild. Do I smell pretty enough for you, good dwarf? Perhaps it’s the silverwood – it is an aromatic little vintage. Shall we hit the road while the going’s good?

Edurin walked into the Grinning Goblin. The place looked crowded. He called out to the room, “Hey check it out! Some guy got a dragon to appear in the street.” That should drive out the curious.

He scanned the place and saw the band. Looked like the same crowd as the watch house. Then he also spied Perry. He exclaimed, “Friend! Lost you back there. Glad to see you found the right crowd.” He walked over to the bar, placed a gold coin on the bar, “Two beers and a platter of … errr… easy-to-eat-human-foods for the big table.” The differences in his dialect and Khazan’s Common Tongue sometimes troubled him. He couldn’t exactly order fish and rice rolls this far from home.

Edurin approached Weslynn and greeted those assembled, “I am Edurin.” He bowed to Weslyn. In a much lower voice he added, “We have business to discuss concerning passage up river.”

Mensa looked puzzled. How could wood be silver? Rock be silver. Hair be silver. Beard be silver. Wood be silver?

“No – him,” pointing at Wulf. “He smell pretty. You smell medicine of.” For Zweet’s sake, this Common language was hard to remember. He muttered a nursery rhyme in Dwarven, to calm himself.

Zhann set down his mug. “Hmmm. Well, I have a contact in Wizards Guild, and as you say, he should be willing to part with some information in the hope of getting more. Perry, you are welcome to come along with me; I will make what introductions I can. And Gronk, you are welcome to come along, though I suspect that they will stop you at the door. The question then becomes, Where do we meet up again? Also, when it comes to it: I vote for the river route, though five gold for a working passage seems steep.”

Perry jumped to his feet when he saw Edurin. ‘Hail and well met, fellow! We seem to be on the verge of a great adventure! Come, take my seat.’ He then bowed to Mensa and turned to Zhanh and thanked him for his offer. ‘I should love to be on a river – to float along born by the currents, how splendid!’ He clapped his hands and capered a little. ‘I would gladly pay that price for you too if you think it unfair. Oh think! The Wizards Guild and a river boat on the same day!’ His mother had warned him about how silly drink made him but he had forgotten in his excitement,

Zhanh smiled warily at Perry; he found the half-elf’s exuberance a bit disturbing, but suspected that he would get used to it. “In the meantime,” he said, “I have this excellent cider to finish. Well met, Edurin; have a seat! We all seem to be going up the river, if not positively up the proverbial creek.”

Weslynn waved Edurin over to her, and moved to the corner of the room, once he introduced himself and made it clear that he wished to speak to her alone.

“What do you wish to speak to me about, then? Passage upriver you said?”

Mensa sized up Perry. Pointy-Ears might smell like medicine, but he was funny. And Mensa might get chance to hit bad gobbles on the heads.
Wulf spoke quietly to Mensa: “Do not worry about Gronk. He thinks only the Bullmen are handsome. He means no real insult or offense. You look as good to me as any other dwarf I’ve ever met. You have a natty beard. Your folk are tougher than a 2 copper steak. Do you use that shovel as a weapon? Let me help you put it in a place where you can get to it more quickly if need arises. A warrior’s weapon should always be quickly at hand if trouble comes.”

Then, to Weslynn, whom he felt was the current leader of the group:
“I am ready, Lady Weslynn, to go on my fact gathering sorty, if you agree with my suggestions.” He finishes his beer.
“Go ahead and try the beer Mensa. It is not pee (Though I have had some that suffered by the comparison). It will certainly do you less harm than the water in this big town. If the waiter ever brings some food we will have a quick meal before we set out.” This last said loudly in earshot of the barkeep.

Weslynn looked around again for the barkeep who has been avoiding her for some reason. “Splitting off into groups this afternoon sounds like a good plan, Wulf Shall we agree to meet up back tonight here? While you and the wizards head on your tasks, I’ll head to the merchants square to seek aid and a courier.”
“I have been around many capable soldiers in our guards all my life, Wulf and never have I felt such. It is most strange, but no matter, I am trusting you to help me. As I am trusting you all.”

Wulf replied:

As soon as I grab some cheese and biscuits to assuage the beast in my belly, Mensa, Perry, and I will be off. We will gather here again before nightfall. Gronk, see that no one harms anyone in the group you are with. Edurin: You seem like a good fighting man. Perhaps you could shepherd a third party in our fact finding sortees? Maybe the sailors at the docks might know more about the grey castle and its master.

Bart the bartender came over to the table pushing a heavily-laden cart. It had two beers on it, and two large platters full of fried chicken wings and drumsticks. (At least it looked like chicken–some of the wings and drumsticks were of unusual sizes.) He pushed the cart over to Edurin and said, “Here is your order, Sir. I hope the meat is satisfactory.” There were over 100 pieces of meat available.

“Hey, barkeep! What’s on your menu?” Weslynn called, trying again to get the man’s attention.

Perry’s head spun – he wanted to go with everyone! He was clearly no leader yet nor did he wish to be. ‘Friends all,’ he said, rising to his feet, ‘I will do as I am bidden and go with Wulf or Zhann. I am so pleased that we will be attempting this heroic foray together. I feel the pen of history dipping into the inkwell of destiny!’ He checked to see that it would be permitted then took a handful from the tray Bart had produced, bowing in thanks to Edurin.

Mensa’s sense of smell was almost overpowered by the odors of the meats… He tried one of the legs, and wondered. “Not cow. Not chicken. Not harpy. Not bat,” he muttered in Kha-zahd. It was OK, but it was no MLS (Moss & Lichen Stew). He gulped the beer, and it was bitter. But better to not offend his new friends, he gulped the rest in one swallow. “Got rock water?” he asked, as he adjusted his shovel in the manner Wulf showed him.

‘Oh, you mean me>’ asked Perry. ‘I’m an elf’ he told Mensa, articulating the word slowly and repeating it, not bothering to confuse the issue with halves. He pointed at Mensa and smiled. ‘You dwarf.’ Then he pointed to himself. ‘Me elf, me Perry. Perry likes Mensa, Perry likes dwarves. We hit many bad gobbles together, yes?’

Wulf quickly ate some of the food, then put on his chain, and helm, and took up the big spike shield again.
“Come, Mensa. Will you come, Master Perry? Let us go find some old warriors to drink with and speak with. And maybe we can find some armor and a buckler for our new Dwarf friend.”

“PAIR-ee. Elf.” Mensa scratched his head. Seems someone had told him something about elfs or elves or something. Hmph! Didn’t matter. Chance to hit bad gobbles on the head – always a good idea.
“You betchum!” exuberated Mensa.

Weslynn gave up on being subtle, got up, went over to the barkeep, and asked, quietly, for an extremely rare steak, if they have such for less than a gold, along with their cheapest grog.

“As you will, Perry,” Zhanh said. “If you don’t come with me today, there will be other opportunities. Mensa… The thing is, beer ALWAYS tastes bad, but there are a million different ways for it to taste bad, and wars have been fought over the distinctions.” He took another swallow of his cider. “So who is coming with me to the Guild? Gronk? Anyone else? I don’t really LOOK like a wizard, and I don’t think I NEED an escort, but I am always glad of company.”

Bart left the cart and walked over to talk to Weslynn. “Isn’t the meat on the cart enough for you? Did you want vegetables or bread or cheese? I tried to bring the best when Edurin spent liberally for food.”

Weslynn pulled his ear down to her mouth. That close to the tender’s clean-shaven neck, the tendency to just bite him almost overwhelmed here. “That stuff is too well-cooked for me. I need a beefsteak, very rare, barely singed, and oozing with blood. And I need it soon,” she said.

“Yes, my lady, I’ll bring it to you in less than 2 turns of the glass.” He set a small sandclock on the table.

The party grew louder as people decided which way they would go next. In less than 5 minutes Bart returned with a covered platter. The delicious aroma of barely singed beef mixed with the smells of fried fouls.

The aroma made Weslynn a bit nauseous.

Weslynn upon getting a good whiff of her meal went a faint shade of green, and excused herself for the jakes.

Gronk scratched his head, gulped more beer, and belched again.

“Yes, Wulf, Gronk protect. Gronk go with Zhanh.”

He hoisted his pitcher of beer in toast to the elf, then swallowed the remainder of its contents.

Although quiet, Edurin was pleased to see such a good mix of people in the group. To Perry he said, “If a deal is struck, then we’ll talk more on the river.”

He grabbed his two beers took them over to an isolated table. Coming back, Eduring picked through the best smelling meats and said to Lumlas, “Please join me as well to talk with Weslynn. You have courage and brains. Good qualities for our discussion.” He took two pieces over to his table. He was a little disappointed watching Weslynn rush off.

When she returned he asked, “Will you be healthy enough to travel?” Genuinely concerned, he did not want to start this trek off on the wrong foot.

Wulf left with Perry and Mensa in tow to go to the Armor and Weapons street of the city. He was already thinking hard about what questions he would ask. He tipped the bartender a silver piece on the way out.

Algris enters the tavern, still trying to remember just what was exchanged with the Dragon. From the encounter he did understand that while Khazan trafficked in many things, the rumor business was especially dangerous. But he was here on other business, and went to join those he’d seen at the watch. He saw the noblewoman he’d met come back to the table.

He joined them: “Hello, for those whom I haven’t met, I am Algris Slog. I have information and want to help.”

Zhanh saw Edurin trying to lead the females off to another table and scowled; the group was fragmenting before it even really existed. He looked at the minotaur and said, “I will be grateful of your company, Gronk; we will be leaving as soon as I have had a word with this new fellow. In the meantime, do have some food to keep your beer company.” He turned and rose enough to offer his hand to the newcomer. “Greetings, Algris. I am Zhanh. Information, or perhaps the lack of it, seems to be the order of the day. What news do you bring?”

Edurin raised his beer in greeting, “Welcome Algris! Have some food!” He gestured to the wings and drumsticks by the big table. Concern flashed on his face thinking he ordered too much food. Apparently he arrived a bit too late. He bit into a drumstick and chewed thoughtfully.

Weslynn sat at the table upon her return, returning to the conversation, trying to ignore the plate in front of her, with an slightly uncomfortable expression. “Where were we?”

At Edurin’s invitation Lumlas joined him and Weslynn at the table. Her new friend’s discomfiture worried her and she looked questioningly to Edurin while she was absent and then to Weslynn herself on her return.

“I am fine, just a little nervous stomach. Stress of the day. Let’s carry on with our planning.” Weslynn did her best to distract her friends from her condition.

Lumlas caught Edurin’s eye and inclined her head slightly without Weslynn seeing to ask him to meet in a quiet corner out of her new young friend’s hearing. When they had both made their excuses and met up again she asked, “Do you think this individual that stole Weslynn’s wine did a little more than ensorcell her for a time? She’s not eating or drinking and she was desperate for a very rare steak but didn’t touch it. Could these vampires we may be up against have done something to her and started to change her into one of their kind?”

“Pardon me a moment,” replied Edurin. He stood and removed his meal from the private table. He could always eat later. Returning, he cleansed his pallet with beer before speaking more. “Thank you Weslynn for donating a moment of your time,” he smiled warmly at Lumlas as well. He leaned forward elbows on the table and fingers steepled, “If you’ll indulge me a little longer, tell me about the quality of your wine.”

Ah, it is quite fine. Our vineyard is in a very sheltered mountain valley, rich with springs, so even when the weather is dry, we can irrigate the roots, so we are fortunate in that respect. The soil is the richest I’ve ever seen, and it brings forth grapes of a brilliant green shade unlike any other. Once they ripen, it is as though a royal court has come to visit, for the hills shine with a gorgeous deep purple. We have more generations invested in this land than I can easily recount. Our family lorebooks tell every recipe, every experiment, with success, and failure alike, going back 10 generations, all of these things our wine makers draw upon, so it is, I believe, unparalleled in bouquet and flavor. It brings forth flavors of blackberries and clove, honey, and roses.” Weslynn perks up, she loves her family business, it is clear.

“Ah, I understand,” he said thoughtfully. “A strong passion must make for a fine wine indeed.” He paused and then added, “I have a proposal. I have access to sufficient funds to buy all of us a trip up river. For additional security, those cabable of working on the boat should. I will work on the river-boat. You should fully expect to retrieve your wines, and my funds are payment for a portion of your shipment.” He let the comment sink in. In the silence, he took a drink from his beer. He looked at Lumlas as well to see what the tall beauty thought. Studying her face he notes her fine elven facial structure. He thought back to the morning at the gate to Khazan. He grinned, and then focused again on Weslynn.

Weslynn smiled at the man before her with his offer. “How much of my wine do you wish, in return for your funding?”

“Gronk ready when Zhanh ready. Gronk like chicken.” He grabbed a half dozen drumsticks and devoured them in moments. After yet another hearty belch, he grabbed a half dozen more.

Zhanh finished his cider, and said, “One moment, Gronk, and then I think we can be off.”Zhanh lugged his sea bag to the bar and asked the barman, “Can you keep my bag secure until I return for it? I expect to be back before sundown, but let us say until noon tomorrow to be safe.” As he spoke, Zhanh pulled out his money pouch and jingled it a bit to make it clear that he did not expect this service for free.

Gronk stood, his mighty axe in one hand, a chicken leg in the other.
Just before he left with Wulf and Mensa, Perry caught Zhann at the bar. “No time to discuss it now but there’s something amiss with Weslynn and her not drinking and her reaction to the food. Keep your eyes open and see what you can discern. Stay well, friend.’ Perry didn’t like going behind anyone’s back but his concern overcame his scruples.
“I expect one barrel for every three recovered.” Edurin spoke with his hands as much as his voice. “Admittedly, sight unseen. There is a lot of risk for me in this venture.” He glaced over at the big table and watched with satisfaction Gronk eating. Edurin was happier. He hated waste.

Zhanh nodded at Perry’s words, and said quietly, “I have noticed that as well. I will keep my eyes open.”

The bartender got caught in a sudden rush, so Zhanh shrugged, shouldered his bag, and went back to the table. “All right, Gronk,” he said. “We’re off to see the wizard.”

“I cannot give you a third of my wares, Edurin. I can go as high as one-quarter, or one barrel in four.” Weslynn countered.

Edurin leaned back deep in thought. “Well, I will need to recover the initial investment. I can accept a fourth of the shipmen only if I also return with equal funds to my expenses.” His voice dropped low and he leaded in close to Weslynn, “Can you accept this band perhaps behaving more like raiders?”

Not his favorite option, Edurin’s displeasure showed as he drank his beer. “And I will have to control the funds. Everyone but you, Weslynn and Zhahn, will have to work. Are you familiar enough with Khazan to join me to make our travel arrangements?” He looked at his empty mug, and picked up the second beer.

“I have been to Khazen many times, though I know the merchant square and inns the best. I have made trips on rivers, though none actually actually to or from Khazan. The shortest reasonable route from here to the vineyard is overland.”

She thinks about the matter. “I agree I do not want to find myself forming a group of bandits, I have woes enough already. I can go to one barrel in three, but I must also cover my losses, which stretch beyond coin into blood and humiliation. To go to one barrel in three I would have to insist on my choosing my share of the barrels first, no questions asked.”

Surprised, he replied, “I presumed your shipment was uniform. Pardon my ignorance. I can accept a fourth with a guarantee of one high quality barrel no matter what happens and a nice mix of additional barrels. I’ll still control the funds.” Edurin brightened conciderably.maybe he won’t swim home afterall.

Zhanh stopped at the table where Edurin and Weslynn were arguing about wine. Lumlas already looked a little bored by it, and was eyeing the other wizard in the group, Algris. Algris was a little upset by being thrust out of the way to eat chicken scraps while the sailor monopolized the wine merchant.
“Lumlas, I think you should come with me to the Wizard’s Guild. There is not much point in me going back by myself with a Minotaur in tow, even though he should make a good bodyguard. You should check in with the guild. You know Weslynn’s problem better than I do, and might have better questions to ask than I can think of.”
The elf-woman threw a questioning look at Weslynn, for whom she was beginning to worry, but Weslynn seemed oblivious to her at the moment. “Yes, I’ll go with you.” she told him, “but we need to be back before sunset.”
The three set out, leaving Weslynn, Edurin, and Algris in the Goblin.

Bart turned to the elf who dressed like an uruk. “You want me to watch your stuff for you? This is a busy place.” Bart gestured at the motley throng around him. “You see that one-eyed elven rogue over there–his name K’neevl. He’s a thief and a cutthroat. You see that skeleton talking to him. That’s Lightfingers Lorrk, said to be one of the best pickpockets in the city. I can’t guarantee the safety of anything you leave here.”

A barmaid sidled up to Bart and plucked at his sleeve. “The kitchen’s on fire!” she yelled at him.

Bart turned to her angrily. “What do you mean the kitchen is on fire? Put it out!” He stomped off to deal with the emergency.

Algris felt that the information he had obtained, at no little risk to himself, was important to this group, but they seemed to be ignoring him. He thought back to the moment when the dragon had materialized and grabbed him. He had to think quickly and speak well then. He remembered what he had said to get the dragon to take him inside and listen to him . . .

“I can agree to this, Edurin. No my shipment was not uniform, also, I doubt the thief is skilled in the proper way to transport wines, so I have little hope of recovering everything intact. Even if we catch up to him before he disposes of it, I expect much of it will be in poor shape indeed.”

“And there lies the risk.” Edurin sighed, “So you understand my risk, I fail to retrieve your wines in ten days, I won’t be going home. We have a deal. Please pardon me, but I do need to eat a little more before I head down to the river.” Edurin stood and returned to the big table. “Algris, com, sit down, and tell me about your new friend the dragon.” Edurin helped himself to another drumstick and ate hurriedly using his beer to assist in swallowing half chewed meat.
“It may be that we will end up raiding the castle. If the wines are lost we may be able to recover some of our losses that way, at least. Assuming we do launch an assault, survive, and can find goods enough to cover my losses so far, and your investment.”
Algris knew the limits of his luck, and the limits of his ability to lie. “Apologies,” he said, “we are far away from plague, or the famine that often precedes one. However, one more harvest like the last one–for my family and those all around us, and lean times will be approaching. It is not blight, nor weather, nor ignorance–my family has been tilling the soil for generations and know when to let land lie fallow. My brother came to Khazan to see what he could learn and did not return. A dolt at times, but still my brother and a wizard. I felt he was dead, and now that I hear of wizard killings…I am certain.

“The dragon teleported into his office in Herome Palace, taking Algris with him none too gently. “What have you heard of the wizard killings?” he hissed. “Do you know anything about them? Have you heard that many wizards are simply missing, and the ones we have found have been drained of blood?”

“There was surprise that a wizard would dare enter Khazan–or at least one not shrouded in protective magics and a suggestion I seek blades and muscle to accompany me if I did not wish to join the others in death. But there was no mention of bloodletting…”
“Now please tell me, how were they drained? Cuts in the legs, bled like cattle? In the neck? Where the heads removed and sewn back on? Did someone examine the bodies in detail? Did the hearts, livers remain?”

“I understand Weslyn, and apologize for being rude. Let me finish this last bite and I will rejoin you.” He hurried, half his beer gone pretty fast. “Algris eat what you want and then let invite the bar to finishe off the left overs. The three of us will head down to the riverfront once you’re ready.”

Weslynn stops speaking to Edurin, and turns to stare at Algris, her mouth agape, as he mentioned “wizards drained of blood.”
“What!?” tell me more of this. “As Edurin asks, how were they drained of blood? When? Where? Am I swimming in vampires now?  Eldurin, once Algris has told his tale, please accompany me to the merchant square and the docks, so that we may make arrangements for our passage, and send word to my family.”Algris took advantage of their sudden interest to tell them what had happened at Herome Palace.”

“The Dragon Man–not really one or the other–was unused to being questioned so sharply. He shook me like a doll before setting me on my feet. “What have you heard?’ he asked me again.””I told him ‘nothing. I just want to find my brother.'””The dragon reached up to a shelf and pulled down a large block of crystal which he set on the oversized desk. ‘Let us scry for your brother. Put your hand on the crystal and think of him.’ I obeyed. The crystal clouded up and then an image began to form. My brother’s face, pale, too pale. We live on a farm and are all tanned. His eyes were rolled back in his head. He looked dead. Then his eyes opened and he laughed. Laughed at me and his eyeteeth were like the fangs of a wolf.”The dragon put his hand on the crystal and scene changed. A dark night. A man walking in a dark street. A woman beckoning him. They clench. They kiss. Her face changes and she rips out his throat. His head flies back. It is my brother. She drinks his gushing blood greedily. She bathes in it. My brother stands up. HIs throat heals with unbelievable swiftness. He links arms with the woman and they disappear in shadow.

“Your brother is one of them now,’ said the dragon. ‘To answer your question. More than a dozen wizards have died in the last two weeks. Some, like your brother, have been turned. Others seemed to have fought. They were brutally slain, limbs ripped off in some cases. Some were crushed, struck by blocks of stone that fell from the sky.”

“The dragon turned to me. ‘Go home, human wizard,’ he ordered me. The last few years have been dry–it is a natural thing. Your brother is a vampire now, dead but not dead. There is nothing you can do for him.”

“I was stunned. I thought I would find him dead, but turned into a vampire?! That I could not have predicted. I staggered out of there and came here.”

“Poor man, you have my em-er-sympathy. What shall you do about this?”

“Dragon said go home. If he meant it, he could have sent me there just like he pulled me into his office. Either that or I wasn’t worth the effort…no matter. No answers, no brother–not even a few magic beans–there’s no way I can go home, or to what’s left of it. Right now I am in need of…too many things. But I have my wits, and a strong back for a mage. It’s best that we not be alone–room for one more?”

Weslynn looked this man in the eyes, and nodded to what she saw there. “Room enough for those who seek a leveling of the scales against a vampire, I think. I hope our purposes will align, and we can be comrades through our trials to come. Welcome to the group.”

She then looked around the room and at her remaining companions. “Edurin, it is getting to be time to leave and make arrangements for our passage and for me to send a missive home to my family business. Let us go arrange passage, and then I must send word to my family. Then we can spend the remaining time looking at supplies I think and t

“Yes.” Edurin stood, shouldered his pack, and called out to the patrons of the bar, “The food is really quite good. Help yourself!” He gestured to the food on the big table. “Come on, Algris and Weslynn, let’s go find a boat. Algris be prepared. We may still find your brother, although you may wish not to know him now.”

He headed out of the Grinning Goblin, and in the direction of the river. Time to find a boat heading upriver.

Chapter 1: Entering Khazan, Part 11   Leave a comment

Strange partnerships spring up in Khazan. Gronk the Minotaur meets Mensa the mental Dwarf.

“Well, then. I am Zhanh olt Grezhakh. I an elf by blood, but I was raised by goblins, and educated by an uruk. My master was a graduate of the Guild Academy here in Khazan, and he sent me here to continue my studies. I have been tasked to accompany Weslyn and scout Castle Greybat for the Guild, by way of initiation.” He smiled at Perry. “I know nothing of forests, Perry. I spent the first half of my life in a cave, and the second half on a ship. I suspect you and I will have stories to trade.”

Wulf and Gronk entered the tavern, and came quickly to the table. Wulf introduced himself and Gronk to the newcomers and then related what he had learned at the docks and the stables.
Wulf heard about a boatman named Phinnq that might be willing to take a party upriver. He went and spoke to him and learned Phinnq would be heading east with a cargo of “metal items” for two villages upriver. He could take passengers for 5 gold pieces a day if they also worked and helped “row the boat”, 10 g.p. per day if they just came as a passenger. Wulf and Gronk were willing to work their passage. Phinnq’s Phawlee (the boat) would stop nights in the two villages. He didn’t ordinarily go as far as Castle Greybat unless he had a cargo for the castle, and that was rare, but he had been there once or twice. It was not a place he had ever wanted to stay overnight.

At the stable, he learned that Kloppity was a chain, and had other stables all over the Dragon continent and had branches in one of the villages upriver. Horses were 10 gold pieces a day. Lizards were faster but cost more–20 gold pieces a day. There was also a security deposit required for renting a mount, and no mount would be able to carry Gronk. None wanted to carry Wulf–very skittish around him. Wulf said that horses and mules were often put off by his scent, but he was not sure why.

Wulf was glad to put down his pack and shield and slip off his chain mail. He and Gronk ordered some beer.

On his way back to the Grinning Goblin, Mensa spotted them in the crowd and followed at a distance. Mensa definitelhy followed them into the Grinning Goblin.

Wulf wanted a seat with as few people behind him as possible. He is most comfortable with his back to the wall. While the others debated he kept quiet except to answer questions. He watched the little tavern’s clients with an experienced eye alert for anyone acting suspicious. He was a little surprised and curious to see Mensa again.

“A minotaur! I have heard tales of their strength and stamina. Is your friend going to accompany us as well, Wulf?”  Weslynn’s exclamation made everyone turn and look at her.

Mensa wandered to the table where Wulf and the minotaur sat, though the minotaur sat awkwardly with his knees bent strangely. The dwarfs he’d met earlier had read the street sign for him, and he was surprised to find that the street was named after this human Wulf! And this minotaur fascinated him – he walked up to the minotaur, poked him with a finger, and asked “Are you REAL?” Boy, he was big – and he looked strong!

Wesylnn, when she saw the minotaur being poked by a strange little dwarf, could not help but smile slightly.

“Greetings, again, …er..Mensa, is it?” said Wulf. “Gronk is indeed very real. We fought together in many battles, and he was a real problem to the foe! He is not hard to get along with if you treat him with respect. He will not hesitate to whack or to chop anyone who dares insult or offend him. Buy him a beer, and he will love you!” Wulf laughed at this small joke. Weslynn noticed that the Wulf man can smile and it softened the hard lines of his scarred face showing he might actually have a softer side after all.

Perry sat back, absorbed by his new companions. He sipped his glass of silverwood gris contemplatively. ‘Does anyone know how to deal with vampires? If my father has been turned into one, do you think he could be turned back to normal again?’ He looked about the group, optimistic as ever that things would go well…

Mensa pulled out a pouch and produced three gold coins. “Will this buy him a beer? — Uh — what’s a beer?”

Weslynn sighed. “I know far less of useful vampire lore than I find myself needing, suddenly. Perhaps this afternoon one of our number could approach the wizard’s guild and consult their lore, while I visit the market square. If they wish to spy on the trip to the castle, sharing information so their spy has a better chance to survive, is in their interests, no?”
Looking at Wulf distracted her slightly, she smiled oddly, and raised her hand, as to pet him, and then visibly recovered herself. “Wulf, why do you fascinate me so? You seem as comfortable and reliable a servant, tool, and companion as the old hound I never had.”

Lumlas leaned back and continued to observe her new friend and the band of adventurers gathering to her aid. She sipped her drink and listened intently to the conversations going on around her. She would speak up when she had something useful to add. For now she was content to stay quiet.

Gronk gave a slight sneer at Weslynn’s smirk. He turned to thump the dwarf poking him in the ribs, but stopped when Wulf mentioned more beer.

“Ugly dwarf buy Gronk beer?” he lifted Mensa up so he could look him in the eyes. “Gronk like beer. Gronk like ugly little dwarf. Dwarf buy Gronk beer, and dwarf stop poking Gronk, Gronk happy.”

The minotaur set the dwarf down, roughly, and waited for his beer.

Mensa held out the three coins to whoever was serving, and bellowed “BIG beer for BIG friend here!” Mensa liked the cow-headed man – “Gronk,” he said his name was, didn’t he? He WAS strong, having hefted Mensa without a grunt, and his voice was a deep thunder, like people sounded in a cave or mine. But what was this “beer” — a good moss stew or some kind of rock water? The only thing Mensa had to judge by, was the empty mug in front of the minotaur and the one which Wulf was emptying.

It was good to be around people. Mensa decided people were much more fun than chopping into stone or watching a cow.

Wulf intervened and intercepted Mensa’s 3 gold pieces. He smiled his business smile at the bartender, gave him one gold piece, and said, “A pitcher of Beer for The Minotaur and a flagon of Beer for our new friend Mensa. Make good on his change- I worked in a tavern and will know if you short us. Gronk: please be gentle with your new buddy. He is tough, but you sometimes do not know your own strength. Mensa: I am glad to make your acquaintance. Gronk and I will see that no scoundrel takes advantage of you here.”
Then, to Weslynn, serious again: ” I am in strong agreement with you about vampires. We need all the information your magical allies can give us, both how to fight them physically and magically. Also, same regarding the Ghargs. It would also be useful if any info about the castle could be found. It is very hard to plan an attack if you know nothing about your enemies or their camp.”
As for my being a good “tool” or “servant”, I have been a soldier since I was sixteen years old, both in the lines and leading men into battle. I feel compelled to get things done in the most efficient and effective way. I hope that my compulsions in the direction of “duty’ won’t put the rest of you off. Please tell me if I am being a pain in the ..er..neck.”
Wulf gave Weslynn and the others a friendly (for him) smile. Then he quietly worried that he had talked too much, and sipped his beer as he watched the bar clientele with a practiced eye.

Mensa looked at the flagon and sniffed at it. “This looks like an unhealthy color – it actually looks like pee.”


Gronk gulped deep from the pitcher of beer, then let fly a boisterous belch.

“Vampires bad,” he snorted and bared his teeth. “Spell-throwers must be strong. Wulf need thick wood spears, Wulf impale, Gronk chop head. Gronk not know what are Ghargs.”


Mensa looked up from his flagon of urine and asked, “Vampires bad? Then we chop them up. What is vampires? What is Ghargs? Mensa chop gobbles when they try steal rocks. Hit gobbles on head with digger.”


Gronk patted (slapped) the dwarf on the back.

“Ugly little dwarf like to chop and smash, like Gronk? Gronk like little dwarf more. Gronk and Wulf and ugly dwarf spike and chop bloodsuckers.”

“Bloodsuckers??” Mensa looked puzzled. Ghargs and vampires were giant ticks or leeches? Didn’t know. But if they were bad, they should be chopped. Or hit on head. “We chop and smash, yes” he said to his newfound friend. “And I not ugly. Dad say I’m a dimwit.”

He paused.

“Least, I don’t THINK I be ugly…”


Wulf thought quietly while his friends drank and got acquainted. He made a mental note to check out Mensa’s War Shovel. Then he said:
“Ladies and comrades: I propose that we divide our company into groups of two or three persons. The wizard groups should seek such sources of information as they are privy to in order to learn more on how to fight our foes. I will go to such places as old and young soldiers like myself hang out, and buy some drinks and pick their brains to see what I can garner from them. It is important that we do not wander the streets of Khazan alone, especially the ladies, and the wizards. Gronk can go with one group, and I will take a wizard and Mensa with me. Someone in this town has a bad attitude towards spell casters, so I urge all to be very careful. Let us go and meet back here before sunset. I don’t like the thought of any of us being out on these hard streets after dark, even in a group. What say you all?”

“Gronk go where Gronk needed. Gronk chop what needs chopping.”


Mensa spoke up before he thought, since he couldn’t: “Mensa go with man who smell pretty.”


Perry wasn’t sure who Mensa was referring to but thought Wulf would be a good choice to accompany. He spoke up – ‘I’m happy to have some friends to travel with. It’s a sound strategy and I’d like to see the Wizards Guild. Do I smell pretty enough for you, good dwarf? Perhaps it’s the silverwood – it is an aromatic little vintage. Shall we hit the road while the going’s good?

Chapter 1: Entering Khazan, Part 10   Leave a comment

Wulf and Gronk were on a mission.  They had just arrived in town.  Now they had to find out how to get out of town.  This took the form of investigating the river docks on the eastern side of town.

Wulf heard about a boatman named Phinnq that might be willing to take a party upriver.  He went and spoke to him and learned Phinnq would be heading east with a cargo of “metal items” for two villages upriver.  He could take passengers for 5 gold pieces a day if they also worked and helped “row the boat”, 10 g.p. per day if they just came as a passenger.  Phinnq’s Phawlee (the boat) would stop nights in the two villages.  He didn’t ordinarily go as far as Castle Greybat unless he had a cargo for the castle, and that was rare, but he had been there once or twice.  It was not a place he had ever wanted to stay overnight.

At the stable, he learned that Kloppity was a chain, and had other stables all over the Dragon continent and had branches in one of the villages upriver.  Horses were 10 gold pieces a day.  Lizards were faster but cost more–20 gold pieces a day.  There was also a security deposit required for renting a mount, and no mount would be able to carry Gronk.  None wanted to carry Wulf–very skittish around him.
On his way back to the Grinning Goblin, Mensa spotted them in the crowd and followed at a distance.  Mensa definitelhy followed them into the Grinning Goblin.
Meanwhile in another part of Khazan, Algris pursued his mission at the Herome Palace.  All he found there were long lines of people waiting to get inside, and no obvious way for him to make his inquiries.  Noticing the large crowd, Algris pulled out one of the apples, began cutting runes into it while muttering in Cetacean. He then ate it and wrapped a piece of parchment around his face like a mask. To those who asked, he spoke of plague and the need for protection. In fact, that’s what he was here to see the Dragon about and they best rethink their priorities.

Back at the sea docks, Edurin stifled his excitement long enough to say, “I won’t let you down.” But only ten days. Not much time for getting more than physically close to his goal. Plenty of time for adventure.Edurin tucked the purse of gold into the inside pocket of his leather jerkin. Strangely enough, he felt comforted having the silver anchor charm.Business concluded, Edurin headed out to meet up with Weslynn at the tavern. Along the way he picked up nuts, hard cheeses, and unleavened bread for the journey no more than nine days worth of provisions or as far as his personal stash of coins takes him. As always, he kept an eye open for trouble. He learned well his early lesson of hospitality (hostility) of Khazan.
As he walked briskly back across town he was stopped by a half-elf with a bruised face who asked him if he knew a good place to eat.  He told Perry that he was headed for a tavern called the Grinning Goblin, and he was welcome to come along if he wished to.  On their way they passed through the center of town and saw Algris Srog trying some mumbo-jumbo with an apple and a handkerchief.
When Edurin spied Algris he said to Perry, “We may be in luck.That fellow has family in Khazan, and may have need for a couple of body guards.” Edurin called out a greeting to Algris, “Hello, fellow traveler! I saw you in the watch house just this morning. May we have a minute of your time to talk?”
And inside the Grinning Goblin where Weslynn had gone after having no luck with her fellow wine merchans, all this was happening.
Lumlas spoke to the bartender, who was human, not goblin, and arranged to have the largest table in the place for the group. A bunch of gamblers had it at the moment, but it looked like the game would be breaking up soon. She got herself a seat and a drink and waited for Weslynn to join her, which didn’t take long.
In response to Weslyn’s question, Zhanh smiled and did a simple bow.. “Zhanh olt Grezhakh, Journeyman Wizard. at your service,” he said. “My commission is vague; I am to accompany you to Castle Greybat, and report back. I assume that that would include doing my best to make sure your expedition succeeds; that is certainly my plan. To that end, I have my magic, and I have lived much of my life on ships. I am an accomplished waterman; that should help with a river trip, I would think.”
Weslynn nodded to the journeyman wizard Zhan. “I see, did they say how they knew of this event? I am curious how the guild of wizards knew I was in need before I had gotten any further than the watch house. But no matter, I am in no circumstance to frown on aid. You are welcome to my little group here. Your magic and knowledge of waterwork should come in quite useful.”
Zhanh seated himself at Weslyn’s table and shrugged. “How does the Guild known anything? They are the Wizard’s Guild of Khazan; they know everything within the borders of Khazan that they want to know. If they want more information on Castle Greybat, the place must have substantial defenses against scrying.”
“True,” Weslynn replied, “which I think explains why you are here. If it is too heavily protected for the guild to scry, then they send a spy. Perfectly reasonable caution, if there truely is a vampire running the place.”
Bart, the bartender walked over to the table. “Do you folks want some food, some drinks? You can’t just sit around yakking at my biggest table, you know. I don’t see that the three of you really need that much room.”
“We have more coming most likely, barkeep. What do you have to eat for lunch today, if anything? And what’s your cheapest beer?”
“Petzil’s is the cheapest.  Shall I bring a pitcher or three over to the table?”
“Check back in a few minutes.”
Perry, a young half elf, walked in to the Grinning Goblin – he assumed his new friends were following him. He hadn’t learnt how to find things out discretely yet and called out in his youthful naievete and exuberance “Anyone here going to Castle Greyb

Zhanh ordered another cider (he had one with his lunch, a few tables away), then asked Weslyn, “Is Captain Subtle over there with you?”

“I assume so, or at least he wishes to speak with us.” Weslynn waves to the half-elf and calls out, “I am she who seeks that place, what of it?”
Perry swung round, flushing. It occurred to him rather belatedly that not everyone liked their business made public. He gave his customary half-bow and crossed to the woman’s table. ‘Pardon me if I have caused offence. I meant none I assure you. I seek my father whom I fear may be a captive or worse at a foul place – Castle Greybat by name. I seek others going hither that I may join a company, stout and true. I am ready to pledge my loyalty to companions who will do likewise. I am young and at the first step of the ladder to wisdom but I know spells which may be of value in such a grim fortress.’ Perry drew breath and held the woman’s eyes as he waited for her reply.
“Held captive? What brings you to suspect this, nameless wizard” said Weslynn, thinking it was strange how many wizards seemed to want to join in, or at least spy on, her group.New!

Zhanh muttered, “He came thence, and hither, and together we went hence, and thither,” quietly, and shook his head. More loudly, he said, “Wizards are an irritation in the order of the cosmos; we never fit in, and usually stand out.”

“I wonder if there’s a pile o wizards discount,” she murmured to herself, before turning her full attention back to the group, and the nameless half-elf supposed wizard before her.

Perry grinned. ‘You’re funny!’ he said. ‘Not funny peculiar but funny in a good way. I’m Perrry and I didn’t choose to be a wizard – my mother made be one.’ He grinned again, this time sheepishly.
‘I visited Madame Zolgah and shattered her crystal ball – that was when she was finding my father and we saw the coffins in the castle. All I can hope is they’ve locked him in there and he hasn’t been there too long. I guess I’m in a hurry!’
He motioned to the barman to get drinks for the group and sat down. ‘Tell me your names please and where you come from. I”ve led a sheltered life in the forest and I’m eager to find out about strange new worlds and peoples and boldly get to know them.’

“I am Weslynn Janourn, I am pleased to meet you, Perry. I am by trade a winemaker and merchant. My last shipment to Khazen was stolen three days ago, at a nearby roadside inn, and I have discoverd that the thief took the shipment through Khazen, and is supposed to have travelled upriver yesterday to Castle Greybat. Given the insult to my family buisiness as well as myself, I am in pursuit, as best I can. I have been fortunately to run into others who have offered their aid, which is why we are here in this tavern, to discuss the problem, I plan later to seek funding from friends who might be in the Merchant Square. If not, then we will most likely seek work. I hope your father is still safe, if his has been scryed in this Castle Greybat. I have never been there myself on my missions trading, but I am informed it is ruled by a vampire, with gargoyles for guards. I have been repeatedly warned it is a fearsome place and not to go there. It sounds like you have less choice in this matter than I do, unfortunately.”

“Well, then. I am Zhanh olt Grezhakh. I an elf by blood, but I was raised by goblins, and educated by an uruk. My master was a graduate of the Guild Academy here in Khazan, and he sent me here to continue my studies. I have been tasked to accompany Weslyn and scout Castle Greybat for the Guild, by way of initiation.” He smiled at Perry. “I know nothing of forests, Perry. I spent the first half of my life in a cave, and the second half on a ship. I suspect you and I will have stories to trade.”

(and I’m going to cut it off there.  It looks like almost everyone has signed in to the Planning session.  I still intend to do these blogs, but the real game action will take place on the Trollhalla forums._)
end

Posted May 15, 2012 by atroll in Uncategorized

Khazangame Character Appearances   2 comments

To help our players and readers visualize the characters in this story/game I’m going to devote this game just to character descriptions.  I’ll collect stuff all day, and put it in this blog for the benefit of all. Artists, if any of this material inspires you to do a character portrait, we would love to see it, have it, and put it in this blog. Weslynn Janoum, age 34 She’s wearing, as of right now, high hard boots, fine cloak, a kilt, and a silken shirt that are of good quality, but at least a couple years old, under a full set of unscarred leather armor that looks to be newly made. Her defensive options are increased by the equally new buckler she bears. She is 5’6″ tall, and about 170lbs or so.  Her eyes are a deep green, that seem to have an intelligent depth.  Her brunette hair, bound in a single ponytail, with a leather strip, is long enough to reach the middle of her back.  She has a backpack, and a set of pouches and the like hanging from her belt, along with wearing a hatchet should she find herself at need. Her bearing is mostly calm, when she is not thinking about the problems facing her.  She acts respectful, but not obsequious, to those she speaks to, as befits a successful merchant who does not wish ill to befall her coin cannot fix. Lumlas Lumlas is tall (6′, 150lbs) and fair of skin and hair. Her eyes are grey. She is reserved in social interaction with kin other than her own but is not bigoted in any way towards other races. She is quick to laugh.

Wulf

Wulf is a 6 ft tall 210 pound fellow. He has brown hair (braided to give extra protection to his scalp), a short brown beard and mustache. Wears well used, but fully functional chain mail. Has a buckler and an open face steel helm.  Doesn’t smile much, he is a serious fellow, but is not surly or mean. Not really chatty. Thinks before he talks.
Every inch a soldier. Has a Kukri, a morningstar, a spear, and a concealed dagger in his boot. He is in good shape. Reacts poorly to insults. Talent for Brawling and weapons.
Good judge of people; worked as a bouncer in a rough tavern for over a year.
Algris Srog
The most noticeable thing about Algris is that he doesn’t look like a wizard. This human’s big, a little soft but certainly not fat. Were it not for his sharp eyes one might think he would be at home in front of or behind a plow–and not just because of his leather clothing. He’s a farm boy looking who’s more than metaphorically seeking a handful of magic beans. Blights, bad weather–it’s been a bad string of seasons for many of the farms surrounding Khazan and if Algris can’t find the cause–or at least one he can do something about–he hopes to find a means to help his family get through this.
Zhanh olt Grezakh
Zhanh olt Grezakh is a fairly normal elf, except that he knows absolutely nothing about being an elf. He has  auburn/mahogany hair (worn in a braid that falls to between his shoulder blades) and very dark green eyes. His clothes are mostly canvas (sail cloth, actually). He speaks Common with a slight Goblin accent. He wears a floppy brimmed hat made of red leather. He doesn’t carry a staff, but wears a woven leather thumb ring on each hand. He wears leather armor with a vambrace on his left forearm and a sax on his right hip.Characters who know anything about the Uruk language will know that the “olt” in the name “Zhanh olt Grezhakh” means “trusted by”, as in, “this person is not my blood kin, but I think highly enough of him to let him use my name.”Gronk

Gronk’s bullish hindquarters are thick and stocky with slate gray fur. His head, neck and shoulders are covered in the same colored fur, and his hooves and horns are a deep ebony tapering to gray then white at the tips. His eyes are a dull orange-yellow, and his right one is crossed by a scar that extends down to his chin. His left nostril is pierced with an iron ring, and his left ear is pierced with a half dozen smaller rings. His human-like torso is extremely muscular, and the dark gray skin of his arms is etched with black and deep blue bands of intricately traced tribal tattoos. He wears a loincloth in addition to his cuirass. He carries a huge double-bladed broad axe, and has a sax tucked into the band of his loincloth.
Edurin
Tall athletic build with shoulder length black hair combed back  and held with a long leather band.  A stylish blue eye is painted in the middle of the band.  Edurin thinks the blue eye gives him a mystical look and contrasts nicely with his dark brown eyes.  Sailor’s tan, rough hands, and loose tied clothing mark him a working man.  He is thoroughly unable to grow a beard.
Lumlas, Elfin Wizardess
Lumlas is tall (6′.  150 lbs) and fair of skin and hair.  Her eyes are grey.  She is reserved in social interaction with kin other than her own, but is not bigoted in any way towards other races.  She is quick to laugh.
Gronk the Minotaur
Gronk’s shaggy fur is a slate gray, and his horns a deep ebony.  His human-like torso is extremely muscular, and his bullish hindquarters are thick and hairy.  He speaks a halting and choppy version of Common..  Gronk is bloodthirsty in combat, but he is actually a good friend to all who treat him with respect and kindness.  He wears a loincloth in addition to his cuirass.  He has a ring in one side of his nostrils and several on his left ear..

Posted May 13, 2012 by atroll in Uncategorized