Elianor

A Long Time Coming
Sessions 4 + 5

Well rested, and after much deliberation, Neirah was able to convince the group to let Ouinnie go, and return to her ‘home’ in the wild. With a heavy heart, and stifling tears, Bilth created a trail of food into the woods and yelled at her to leave.

“Go on! Get out of here!” he shouted, tossing a rock. “Go home now, girl. Go home!”

The rocks going seemingly unnoticed, Ouinnie stood and blinked while the adventurers continued down the path.

A week passed as they climbed down the mountain, the winter storm missing them, and they came upon a village with a pond to the North. The normal sounds of hustle and bustle could be heard nowhere, as it seemed nobody in town was at work. Entering the town’s alehouse, the Prancing Spirit Tavern, the group was greeted with the grizzled faces of the bulk of the town’s population – a group of dirty, musclebound men.

While treating Rusty and Bilth with the utmost level of disgust, the bartender revealed that the town’s mines, the main source of income, were shut down as a result of Degan the Devil letting monsters run loose. After the dwarves were kicked out of the bar for acting too friendly with miners, Nurak pretended to be a person intending on moving into the town to find the whereabouts of the town mayor/mine owner/banker, Mayor Fazen Penic.

Outside the bar, Rusty and Bilth proceeded to get well drunk off the barrel of ale (that went unpaid for) while telling Neirah stories they heard as children about monsters in the mines. Spooky creatures filled the stories, hiding in the dirt, ready to snatch children who disobeyed their parents out of their beds.

“Naught but wives tales,” Rusty said, handing Bilth another filled cup. “Hic. Ye won’t find any ‘monsters’ outside of rumor. Probably just a couple goblins.”

Nurak and Neirah went to pay Mayor Fazen a visit, while Rusty and Bilth took a trip to the lake for a dip and to fashion stilts. Mayor Fazen Penic was in his office, pretending to pore over the papers he had resting on his belly when the elves entered. Dropping his busy facade, Mayor Fazen was fooled by Nurak’s fake personality as John Sneh, a man interested in investing in the town’s longevity and clearing the mines. The two elves managed to haggle the price for their services down from the original demand of 50,000 gold down to the low price of 6 horses, and 100 gold to share.

They returned to the lake to collect the dwarves, only being able to convince one of the two guards to join the group and aid in the clearing of the mines.

“If the monsters in there don’t kill me, my wife will!” one exclaimed.

“I’ve a gambling problem, so I’m in,” said the other.

After an exchange of words about claiming gold ore in the mine, and a shoving contest with Rusty, that guard decided against entering the mines, and went home. They all rode their new (to them, at least) horses to the entrance of the mines: a palamino, dirty white, poo brown, and grey horses specifically. On the ride, Bilth and Nurak suggest they should take what gold they could from the mines, and let the village sort it all out later.

After tying up the horses and taking a half to one mile hike down the entrance tunnel, the group found themselves in what seemed to be the main staging area for the mining operation. Five tunnels led off in different directions, a pool of calm water was at one end of the room, and a cropping of stalagmites growing in a circle in the center of the room.

After looking at the pool of water and deeming it fresh, Neirah found two fungal myconids dwelling in the stalagmite circle. After attempting to communicate with the mushroom men, the group survived a rough encounter battling their spores, Bilth getting knocked out during combat.

While Bilth rested, Nurak stirred the calm fresh water with the end of his sword, causing it to roil and bubble. The group stood back as a water weird formed from the pool, glaring and snapping in their directions. It seemed to understand language as they took turns asking it questions and tossing rocks at it, but would not agree to vacate the mine. Fed up with the lack of actual communication, Nurak ice bolted the elemental creature and shattered it with his pickaxe. The group worked together to collect the pieces and load them into a minecart, Rusty putting a fist sized chunk of the ice in a jar in his bag.

After dumping the icy remains of the water weird into the town lake, Rusty and Bilth attempted to wear their crafted stilts in order to accompany Nurak and Neirah in waking up the mayor to obtain a map of the mine. The stilts broke, as they were crafted whilst intoxicated, and the mayor’s guards said no to the request, as it was the middle of the night.

Back at the mine, the group decided to begin the process of investigating each tunnel one by one. The first tunnel ended in a dead end, the group finding and quickly dispatching a nothic drinking from a pool. Neirah sunk her rapier deep into the nothic’s singular eye, and stirred it around.

The second tunnel contained a pit, that seemed to drop an estimated 200-250 feet. The main hall ended in a large chasm, also seemingly 200-250 feet by a very scientific rock throw and listening. The next hall, however, ended with a large pile of unprocessed gold ore, next to a small wooden table with a ledger. Investigating the ledger, Nurak found expense reports, tallying of gold amounts, and a map of the mines. After removing the map, he burned the ledger book.

“We should now take all this gold, and get out of here!” he exclaimed.

As the group watched the ledger book burn, Rusty left to look down the final tunnel. It led to a small makeshift graveyard for miners. Walking to the back of the room, a hand popped out of the ground and grabbed him by the ankle. As he shrieked, ten zombie miners rose from the ground and quickly overtook him as the rest of the group rushed in. They were dispatched slowly, nearly consuming Rusty completely had Nurak not blasted a web down the tunnel, keeping their snarling mouths inches from Rusty’s flesh.

The group pierced each of the zombies’ heads as they tunneled through the web to get to an unconscious Rusty. Along the way, Bilth became completely tangled in the webs, and required Neirah’s help to get him out.

Reaching Rusty first, and feeling unnoticed, Nurak reached down and cut Rusty’s beard off at chest height, throwing the large braid into his bag. Neirah, however, noticed the cutting happen. Once awake, Rusty noticed his lack of beard and demanded to know what happened to it, especially after being called “flatbottom” by Nurak. He attempted to tackle Nurak but wasn’t able to knock him over. Bilth attempted to pull Rusty off, but couldn’t remove him, so the group stood in grapple for a small while until Rusty muscled his way out of the group.

Nurak went into the next room and found a small spring of magical water, while Rusty demanded that he would not leave the room until he found the remains of his beard in the zombie stomachs. Nurak threw the beard into the water and fire bolted it until it was completely burned away, no magical effect happening as a result. Rusty then came into the room, and smelled burning hair. Although he couldn’t catch Nurak in an outright lie about the beard’s location itself, he could tell that something wasn’t being said.

Back in town to take a long rest, Rusty sat awake in his bed.

“That’s it!” he thought. “I’m looking in the bags!”

While his companions were asleep, he found an elven cookbook and single, long, dirty brown strand of thick beard hair in the bottom of Nurak’s bag. Freaking out and waking everyone up in a commotion of flipping tables, Neirah cast sleep on Rusty and turned to the group. Neirah eventually spilled the beans, that Nurak was the one to cut off Rusty’s beard, and together she and Bilth convinced Nurak that he would have to own up, and tell the truth. Nurak wrote a note in the cookbook, agreed to stop pranking Rusty ‘for a while’, and they all took a long rest.

The next morning Rusty woke in his underclothes alone in a room, his pack and weapons on the opposite wall. Bilth gave him the cookbook and told him it was from Nurak, and Rusty flipped through the pages after reading the inscription:

Dear Rusty,
I saved your life
+ pranked you once.
Take this cookbook
+ play nice. Your
cooking is the best.
Take this cookbook
+ let it rest.
Best, Nurak

“Where’s the elf?” Rusty demanded. “Where’s the elf?”

With Nurak in the room, Rusty demanded that he wanted to cut Nurak’s hair and weave it into his remaining beard, to gain back at least a little of what he lost. After agreeing, Nurak sat on a stool while Rusty stood on another behind him. Pushing his ear to one side and bringing a cooking knife to Nurak’s hair, Rusty sliced off the very tip of Nurak’s ear, and hopped back down to his bag, depositing his knife. Bilth did all he could to not puke, and although Rusty feinted once more from a chill touch, he and Nurak cheers’d to peace over a couple ales while Neirah and Bilth investigated screams coming from the nearby lake.

Outside, the water weird had gained considerable size and was terrorizing a group of local children who had taken to swimming in the lake. Despite their best efforts, the first child to go into the weird’s clutches stopped screaming and struggling, floating within the weird’s aqueous body.

Inside, Nurak fired fireballs into the tiny water weird Rusty had in his jar and it seemed to cause the larger one to roar in anger. After firing a rope into the water, Bilth and Neirah were able to pull one child to safety. Joining the group, Nurak distracted the water weird while Rusty swam out to the third child, swimming back as hard as he could with Neirah and Bilth pulling him on the rope. The child was drowned, and dead. They were able to save two of the three children, but the elves received all the thanks as Rusty and Bilth were seen as servants. The water weird was left, roiling in the lake.

The night ended as the group was invited to dinner at one of the saved children’s houses by their grateful family, an offer of hard bread ends and leftovers was given to the dwarves despite their social standing, and after eating the group returned to the opening of the mines.

View
From the Diary of Rusty Pinebelly
Session 3

A note on the text:
Occasionally Rusty writes letters home to an old friend, Una Granitepalm. He finds filling a journal with such letters a small comfort, although he understands they will never be delivered; as in Elianor the address is an unknown corner of the world.

My dearest Una,

Nights like tonight make me wonder whether Bilth and I should have ever left our home on the mountain. A hole in my heart grows every week we are away, and though I would never tell the group this, I often wonder whether or not a lifelong commitment is worth leaving everything we knew behind. The world for perfect flavor, I suppose.

We are camped in a hollow on an altogether different mountain than yours, worlds away from any Rubyknuckles or Granitepalms. The sky is clear, though a chill passes through every so often that reminds us a storm is approaching. I’m not entirely sure that storm isn’t the wizard’s doing. I know, I mention him often, but today I saw him unleash an almost unspeakable amount of power and I worry my mistrust of him almost wanes on the edge of fear – for my brother and myself especially.

After we found the satchel of marbles we intended on setting off to return each to their respective basins, but Ouinnie seemed in poor spirits. I’m not entirely sure she’s unhappy with us as companions specifically (go figure, turns out the bear is a girl), but instead missing acting as the wild beast she is inside. My younger brother, mad as always, decided to hold the monster by its head and commit to a ‘bonding session’, as he calls it. And the rest of us were ready for the thing to kill him, too, but they must see something in one another as the creature’s demeanor changed, and one might even venture to claim it ‘listens’ to him now, though I get ahead of myself.

The wizard got a ‘strong feeling’ we forgot to check a very specific drawer upstairs, so we made our way back to the servant quarters and he found himself a handful of magical candles. He claims they glow different colors, and that he can make them float.

I feel as though I spent most of the day jumping and swimming, though don’t get the idea that it’s been anything like jumping from the stone ledge near our swimming hole. I’ve fallen into a rushing river twice, saved each time by my younger brother and his bear. When trying to jump a pit to grab corn I’ve been drying for the group, the wizard plunked the wind marble in the basin and stopped me half way across, dropping me to the floor. He took to calling himself, ‘Nurak, the great windbag’, and I agree with part of the name. On my return jump he used the marble again, and caused Ouinnie’s face to look as if her gaping jaws were ready to catch me, roaring for a snack. I’m not sure if I’m grateful that wasn’t the case still, as I flew into the wall, and near broke my nose.

Deeper in the halls I had a chance to join in the jests myself – we came to a corner and heard a faint swish, swish, and suspected danger. Perhaps more wasps, or worse, another Ouinnie. Positively quivering in fear the group sent me forth, to sneak, and so I went. I poked my head around the corner and you wouldn’t believe it – the noise came from a broom, sweeping all on its own! Swish, swish, it continued, so I motioned to the group to stay still: don’t move! And I pounced around the corner to grapple with the broom, making noises of a scuffle. I smiled at the looks I expected on their faces when a broom pops around the corner, but little did I know! At the sound of the scuffle Bilth had knocked an arrow, and at the sight of movement, the loudening swish swish, he let loose and nailed the broom handle straight through my hand. Oh, the agony! I screamed like a child, my good chopping hand! How will I slice the same, I wonder. I’ve still the hole to prove it, and I’ll have to show you if I ever leave Elainor.

I struggle to find the words to explain the next chapter of our story. I beg you not to worry yourself too much, though it does involve a lot of risk by all. Once returning the marbles to their basin, the rushing river I had fallen into numerous times froze at its source, revealing stairs to a stone room with a bridge over water, basin, and a sealed door. The floor all around the basin was bloodied (Bilth had trouble not vomiting), and a faint glow came from the water’s bottom.

We decided I should swim to the bottom to see what we could find, as the wizard deemed the fish ring Neirah gave me to be one that could increase my swimming speed. As I reached the bottom, some hundred feet down, I heard a noise so terrifying and unexplainable I have yet to forget it. A deep, long rumble from the floor underneath me, as though some forlorn beast moaned in anger at my presence. As I had a floor under me I followed the passage I found cut in the stone, and saw I could swim up had I more air. In my fear, I had neglected my air for the return trip and had to be heaved back by my companions. I drowned, but regained consciousness with Nurak at knife point by Bilth, over some dispute that I must have been the center of.

I told the tale of the terrible sound and received smiles. I’m not sure if they simply didn’t believe me or if it had just been another jape, but having come that close to death and being laughed at for it, I trusted none but my brother. I told him of the pool where I could resurface and said I needed to swim back, in our home tongue. Neirah, bless her kind strings, played me a harrowing song that filled me with the dwarven pride of old, and I made the swim with little effort at all. But again, little did I know! I surfaced in a room opposite our own and saw a man shriveled in the corner. As he saw me he shouted and struggled to a knee, then fired a magic bolt directly into my face. I awoke once again surrounded by my companions. I had drowned a second time, this time much closer to true death as that man had hit me hard.

The others came to a consensus to empty our water skins to have an extra breath of air, to brave the swim and confront the weakened man on the other side of the door. I remained behind with Ouinnie, listening to hear if anything transpired on the other side. To regain some strength I placed a corn cob in the basin hoping it would boil, and a THUNDEROUS boom shook the walls around me. My heart sank thinking of the fate of the others, especially my brother, so I ripped the corn from the basin to eat it raw, regain what strength I could to make the swim and help – but the water hit the hole in my hand and the door dissolved. It was activated by blood!

I pulled Ouinnie to the entrance and looked inside – I hadn’t seen before the wall of brilliant purple crystals gleaming behind the man. Something had destroyed the bridge and left it floating in the water, where Bilth was treading and firing arrows at the man, now standing tall and no longer shriveled.

The wizard climbed the steps that once were the far end of the bridge and yelled at the man in Elvish, but the man did not stop his attacks. More shining magic screamed through the air, hitting walls around us, and Neirah dodged them until she herself was at the purple stones. Slashing them, she seemed to feel a burst of power and turned to the man.

“We don’t want to hurt you!” Nurak yelled from the steps, planting his sword as a sign of laying down arms, but Neirah stepped forth, eyes blazing, and whispered something at the man that caused him to recoil in fear. He turned to flee, but was knocked down by Bilth with another arrow. The man struggled to his feet and gazed at Bilth. He lifted his hands and-

I must stop to allow myself again to remember I am sitting next to a campfire, not in that terrible room. For a moment, again, I was back in that water, hiding in the flotsam, doing everything within my power just to hold onto my life and pray to not be seen.

Ouinnie, seeing the man come to his feet, rocketed across the gap left by the bridge and bore his teeth at the man, skittering to a stop on his extended claws and roaring louder than I’ve thought her capable – enraged at him for even attempting to hurt one of us, one of her own. I suppose Bilth’s ‘bonding’ actually worked, as Ouinnie had fury in her stance.

The man’s gaze left my brother and landed on Ouinnie, then with a shout the lightening of a hundred storms blasted from his hands into her side. And through the crackle and flash, the smell of burnt hair, worse of all, Nurak atop the steps spread his arms and commanded:

“I

SAID

STOP!"

The man slid to the floor, as coated in grease, then erupted into the brightest, hottest, tallest flame. We all felt the percussion of the ignition as flames licked the cieling of the cavern, ripples ran through the water, and the old man’s screams echoed and echoed and slowly left the room. Yet they still live, as they remain in my ears now. None was left but a small pile of ash and bones, and a lump of melted gold.

We have yet to speak of the torrent the wizard unleashed on the man. We all collected our things, chopped crystals to gain back our and Ouinnie’s strength, and set capt at the mountain’s entrance. I only hope to never see that type of power again.

The popped corn should nearly be done now, and I intend on sparing some salt for flavor. The group needs it.

Thinking of and missing the quiet mountain pines and mines,
Rusty

View
The Tale of Bilth and the Bear
Session 2

Ye this is the tale
of Bilth and the bear.
A dwarf in a green cloak,
monster with blue hair.

His companions held
the beast to the ground,
with strong ropes and pitons
the quaggoth was bound.

When the monster woke
he showed his teeth bare
his roars and his fury
rang out through the air.

But only a ranger
of great skill and knack
would risk his own neck to
climb on this beast’s back.

And on top he stayed
shouting out commands.
If the beast disobeyed,
Nurak would chill hand.

Rusty from in front
would challenge the brute
first enraged, then placid
hearing Neirah’s lute.

These trials went on
the quaggoth near death
rejuvenated just
before his last breath.

Then time did press on,
one hour then two
of bucking and yelling
and kicks from Bilth’s shoe.

The moment released
though slowly at first
the creature them stood up
and Bilth spat, then cursed,

“This quaggoth now broke,
his will to fight gone,
I name him, one of us,
Ouinny from now on.”

Under the mountain
the group did then search
down hallways, under rugs,
Bilth made Ouinny lurch.

Some hand written notes
were Nurak’s to find.
An immovable rod,
for use in a bind.

They came to a room
well suited for rest,
yet as they all sat down
Nurak thought it best

to explore a hall
without group consent.
Below him ground crumbled,
and then down he went.

No sooner did they
hear the noise he made
did two giant wasps float
stings long as a blade.

With doom buzzing forth
the choice was to Bilth
to put trust in Ouinny
or see their blood spilth.

Then Ouinny did stand
now free in the air
the wasps’ approach halted
in fear, floated there.

Bilth readied his bow
and took careful aim.
Neirah then drew her sword
intending to maim.

Atop the table
she launched her attack,
then flipped in the air, yet,
landed on her back.

An arrow from Bilth
found its target true
but not too much damage
did the arrow do.

The wasp then angered
turned his attention
to Bilth with his stinger
death his intention.

It sank through his chest,
the oversized sting,
and great pain then blackness
did it to Bilth bring.

Seeing his captor
then slump to the floor
did Ouinny in bloodlust
spread his claws and roar.

Bestial fury
and pain in his tone
he grabbed the nearest wasp
and smashed on the stone.

He opened his jaw
and bit through the bug
he fed on the creature
with teeth did he tug.

The other huge wasp
beholding the sight
did then attempt to flee
overcome by fright.

From ’neath the table
then Rusty did spring
and let loose an arrow
that removed its sting.

With both the wasps dead
the group then converged
on Bilth and with first aid
alive he emerged.

Then Rusty returned
with meat for the beast
as thanks for a good job
Ouinny had a feast.

And down the hallway
the group then explored
making a makeshift bridge
with tables as boards.

Bilth made Ouinny cross
though against his will
and on the other side
an armory, filled.

The items all trash,
save for a sliver,
a great holding power:
magical quiver.

And then a moment
of vanity came
when inspecting their cloaks,
Nurak played a game.

“Bilth’s cloak, the green one,
is of elven kind;
the better to hide one
from sight and from mind.

And my cloak, though nice,
and laden with red,
holds no special power
just nice cloth and thread.

Neirah has tatters,
yet powers unknown.
Looks may be deceiving,
yet it is her own.

But my dear Rusty,
how jealous am I!
As that navy blue cloak
has worth in the sky!"

“Your deception fails,”
the smallest dwarf said.
“I can tell that my cloak’s
naught more than a spread.”

Brothers attempted
to bust down a door
that was just an indent,
and showed nothing more.

Back and forth they went
Bilth first then brother
attempting to prove one
stronger than other.

And then down they went
the hole Nurak made,
the rod as a pulley
while Ouinny obeyed.

Books at the bottom,
the left and right halls.
From one side a squishing
and slurping noise calls.

In the slurping hall
the group found a bug
too wide for the hallway
too far it had dug.

So Bilth led Ouinny
to the bug’s large rear
and Ouinny did eat it
while it screamed in fear.

On seeing the blood
the fat bug did gush
from Bilth’s mouth a vomit
spout began to rush.

They crossed through the grick’s
wide carapace route
and Neirah collected
bones to make a flute.

A cavernous room
opened once across
the center a fountain
water drops from moss.

A beautiful elf
woman stood inside.
A still pool of water,
a statue stone dried.

A bag of marbles
hung from her hand
all gorgeous in color,
magic they command.

So then one by one
they tested the spheres,
Nurak dropped them each in
water without fear.

The green multiplied
to similar stones.
The white one produced ice,
with blue the wind blows.

The yellow caused light
and the group could see
another indent door,
this time with etchings.

The drawings were of
a child not old
but here our story ends,
the rest to be told.

View
The Smoking Mountain Pt. 1
Session 1

Rusty plucked another mushroom from the skillet and rolled it in his hand. Dirt, he thought. Where the hell could this have come from? He lifted the skillet from the small cooking fore, and turned to face his companions.
While Rusty was cooking, the other adventurers had been busy. Bilth, his brother, was fixing a feather fletching to his final arrow, the others laying in neat rows between his feet. Neirah played a soft tune, stopping every so often to check her fingers and replay a section. Upon being spotted, Nurak quickly shoved his hands in his pockets.
“What’s for breakfast, Rusty?” he asked, with a grin.
“It would have been herb roasted mushrooms,” Rusty said. “I don’t know how, but it looks like a handful of dirt fell into the skillet. Maybe from the trees?”
“Can’t you pick it out?” Nurak asked.
“Nope, any dirt is too much dirt,” Rusty said, dumping the mushrooms on the ground and crushing them with his boots. “It’s raw potatoes or nothing from me today.”
The group groaned.
“Don’t you have anything you can heat up fast? Maybe just cook some meat,” Neirah suggested.
“The venison’s turned by now,” Bilth said. “I killed that deer days ago.”
Rusty gathered his cooking supplies and brought them to the river to wash them. The group’s camp was at the base of a mountain, in the southwest of Elianor. A large, dark plume of smoke billowed from the peak, much like a volcano, but the group suspected otherwise.

Neirah smiled at the sound of small feet pattering the ground behind her. She turned slightly, and saw a small group of animals following well behind the group, attracted to her walking song. She heard Rusty tapping on his chest while he listened, but also noticed Bilth’s hands lingering over his ears a little longer each time he reached up to ‘itch’ his head.
She ended her song as they reached a clearing at the mountain top, and the animals scampered back into the woods. They could see rows of corn stalks growing next to a gaping pit, black smoke spilling into the sky.
Rusty and Bilth exchanged glances. Bilth drew his bow, scanning, while Rusty snuck over to the corn field, carefully cutting six ears from their stalks and placing them in his bag.
“Can you pop corn, Rusty?” Nurak said, startling the dwarf. “Woah, what’s with those stalks?”
The corn grew from holes in the ground, about ten inches wide. Nurak yanked a stalk from the ground, then waved his fingers and the group peered down, following the light he produced and the stalks to a man-made floor with a square hole in the back corner.
“Looks like we found a hideout,” Neirah said.
Before leaving for Elianor they were warned of places like this. People of magic ability but ill repute were known to inhabit the cave systems under Elianor’s boundary mountains, and they were to be exterminated on discovery.
After a little searching the group found a small alcove on the side of the mountain opposite the smoking chasm. A pit with a few rotting animal corpses, clearly a crude ‘trap’, separated the balcony from a moss and vine coated area cut into the mountain; a basin stood in the center of the clearing.
“I’d like to see that basin,” Rusty said. “Younger brother, grab hold of this rope.”
“Nonsense,” Nurak said. “The drop can’t be ten feet. I’ll lower you down with my arms.”
“You’ll be fine, little brother,” Bilth said, standing on his toes.
After a moment of hesitation, Rusty agreed. Holding each other by the forearm, Nurak lowered Rusty past the edge of the pit. A grin spread across Nurak as he loosened his grip ever so slightly.
“Uh-oh!” he called playfully, attempting to tighten his grip once again. Surprised at the sudden weight of the dwarf, Nurak felt Rusty slip from his grasp and watched him fall to the pit floor.
“Oomph, not funny!” Rusty called.
Bilth was lowered without incident. Crossing the pit, Bilth climbed onto Rusty’s shoulders and peered over the lip of the opposite edge. I’m going to be sick, he thought at the sight of a small trail of blood leaving the pit and running into the vine wall.
“What do you see?” Rusty asked.
“Bl-” Bilth started, interrupted by unavoidable vomiting. Tiny drops fell on Rusty. “Bleaugh!”
“Quit puking or pull yourself up!” he called from below, hitting Bilth’s legs.
All across the pit, Nurak and Neirah inspected the basin. They noted waving horizontal lines etched into it above the water line. Neirah tried to cup some of the water in her hands, but it would not rise from the basin, nor even cause a ripple. She pulled down moss from the wall and placed it in the water, pulling it out not any more wet than before it was dipped.
“Let me see,” Nurak said, dipping his face in the pool. Water went in his mouth and up his nose, but upon straightening back up it all remained in the pool. “I understand,” he said, pointing at the symbols. “If we find a special object and place it in the water, it would blow away the vines revealing the opening!”
“This opening?” Rusty asked, holding aside the vines at the end of the blood trail. He and Bilth had been inspecting the walls, to keep Bilth’s eyes off the blood.
“Exactly,” Nurak said.
“The corn,” Bilth said, snatching an ear from Rusty’s pack. He pried off the kernels and threw them all in the water, with no effect. “Erm, sorry,” he said, handing them back to Rusty.
“I’ll go first into the tunnels,” Neirah said. She led the group forward as Rusty stomped the corn into the stone with his boot.

She felt a slight breeze on her cheek when they reached an end to the hall. Left or right? She thought. Another small breeze came from the right. That might be a second opening, and I don’t want any surprises.
She led the group along the blood drip trail, passing grime crusted butcher blocks with pitted cleavers stuck in them. The passage ended in a circular room with holes high up in the walls with light barely peaking through, tables pushed against one side and two animal corpses at the end of the blood trail to their left. Another gentle breeze whispered through the holes.
“It’s a curing room!” Rusty said excitedly. He ran to the tables and began shoveling dried herbs into his pack. “I can’t believe it! Lavender! They have lavender!”
Bilth shook his head and began checking the walls for anything, switches, traps, and Nurak checked the corpses. Neirah stood watching down the hall, alert.
“Well I’ll be…” Rusty mumbled, reaching slowly into his bag for a jar. He approached the piles slowly, ceremoniously, as if coming upon two heaps of gold. At the far end of the room were two enormous, ten foot piles of salt. “It’s beautiful,” he said, scooping a jar full and turning it in his hands. “Perfectly clean, I can preserve so much with this.” He stood and faced his companions, salt jar in hand.
“Look what I found!” he called.
“Rusty…” Nurak said, eyes beginning to widen.
“I know!” Rusty replied, holding the jar above his head. “Salt!”
“Rusty!” Nurak yelled. He widened one hand and a blue light flashed over his body, he drew his sword, and leapt forward.
From beneath the salt pile a creature rose; seven feet tall a spider stood on crab claw-like legs, mandibles opening and closing in rage.
“Brother!” Bilth called, loosing an arrow in surprise, missing the beast. The spider bit down on Rusty’s shoulders and swung him violently, dropping him back on the ground. Shaken, Rusty stowed his salt in his bag and drew his sword, slashed at the spider’s face, and darted to the side.
Bilth knocked another arrow and took careful aim at the spider’s crab legs. He released a breath, focused, and let free an arrow seemingly full of his own hatred and anger for the creature that grabbed his brother. The tip screamed through the air, punching through a front leg at the top knee-joint then continuing to plunge into the leg behind it, rendering each useless.
Nurak charged from the opposite side, dragging his sword through the salt and arcing it from underneath, throwing crystals directly into the spider’s eight eyes. The sword itself barely missed the creature, as it jerked it’s head back and chirped furiously at the sudden pain and blindness.
Neirah seized this opportunity, darting and rolling under the spider’s hulking body making quick work of two of his remaining legs. Stopping her roll on her knees, she rose to her feet and flicked spider goo from her rapier. The monster swung wildly, blind and badly crippled, striking none in the group.
“Now!” she called.
Rusty jumped from the top of the salt pile and landed on the spider’s head, sinking his cooking knife through it’s exoskeletal skull. A small spurt of dank and moldy air wafted from the head with a sigh, and the creature fell to the floor, dead.
“All that for some salt, little brother?” Bilth huffed.
“Yes, younger brother, salt,” Rusty replied, to the group’s shaking heads.

After a short rest, the adventurers returned to the fork and continued into the darkness, Rusty followed by Bilth with a magically glowing head, then Nurak and Neirah. They came upon a ledge overhanging a one hundred foot chasm, a large fire burned producing large amounts of black smoke. A basin stood next to the fire, a red and orange ball sitting in the water with vertical lines engraved above the water line.
“Well, that’s the cause of the smoke,” Nurak said, looking into the basin. “Rusty, get your skillet.”
Nurak drew his sword and dipped it into the water. He pushed the ball out and it fell into the skillet, the fire dying immediately. He carefully plucked the ball from the skillet and inspected it, red and orange glow from within swirled around.
At the bottom of the chasm a river ran strong from one side to another, across which was a small plot of land and another basin. On one wall laid a giant, motionless slug.
“So that ball activates the basin?” Rusty asked.
“Yes,” Nurak said.
“Then you’re going to have to lower me. I want to try it down there,” Rusty said, pointing to the lower basin and tying rope around his waist.
The adventurers combined their rope and lowered the dwarf down slowly, softly touching him on the ground one hundred feet down. Under the ledge Rusty could see an opening, presumably where the path could have led had they followed it further into darkness. He approached the water and considered a way to cross, although the current was far too strong to swim, and jumping could risk pulling down his other companions.
“We’re going to swing you,” a voice whispered in his ear. Startled, Rusty looked around until he saw Nurak waving from the ledge. “We’re going to swing you and let you down on the other side, just let us know when you’re ready.”
Images of the ten foot pit drop ran through Rusty’s mind. He better not drop me, he thought.
“Don’t mess this up!” he called from the bottom.
With a loud squelch, the ten foot slug awoke and turned to Rusty. Slowly, but with determination it began to slide toward him.
“Pull me up! Pull me up!” Rusty called, waving his arms above his head.
Nurak and Bilth scrambled to start pulling on the rope, Rusty rising little by little from the ground. The slug reared its slimy head and opened its mouth, revealing rows and rows of sharp, greedy teeth. It was directly under him, reaching just two feet from Rusty’s boots.
“Wait, stop!” Neirah called. Nurak and Bilth, puzzled, stopped lifting to look at her, Rusty’s cries of, “Keep going! He’s going to eat me!” echoing off the walls. She poked her head over the ledge.
“Rusty, the salt!” she called.
He ripped his bag open and began furiously digging for the salt jar, keeping an eye on the slug as slimed teeth gnashed at him from two feet below. He felt a sudden drop as the rope gave two inches.
“Not funny!” he yelled. He drew the salt from his bag, and with a small tinge of regret upended the jar over the slug’s head. In a mess of hissing and slurps, the slug’s head liquified and melted, leaving a heap of goo and slug on the floor.

Bilth tested the strength of his knot once more, just to make sure. He stood at the edge of the chasm ready to make the same descent his brother had, this time sticking to the wall in an attempt to climb over the rushing river.
“Everyone ready?” he said, and upon receiving smiles and thumbs ups, he turned to the wall and stepped off the ledge into the air. He fell for a foot or two before the rope grew taught.
“Mind trying that one again?” Nurak grunted, pulling up on the rope.
“Maybe with a little more grabbing the wall,” Rusty said.
Bilth took his time making the climb over the river, trying not to think of how hard and fast the water would pull him away if he fell in. Barely past the water, he placed a boot on a patch of moss and slipped from his position, falling twenty feet. Slowed on account of the rope, his pride hurt a little more than anything else. He patted his pocket to make sure he hadn’t lost the glowing ball, and made his way over to the basin. In the basin were more engravings, this time a series of X’s on top of one another. He dropped the ball in and braced for a change, a burst of flame or perhaps a spout of water, but nothing happened.
“Hmm…” he said, as he dipped his hand in to retrieve the ball. Though not moving or steaming, the water had increased well past boiling temperatures. “Aah!” he yelled, yanking his hand back and looking at the already reddening skin.
“What’s wrong, younger brother?” Rusty called from the ledge.
Bilth wrapped his hand in a slip of cloth and drew two arrows from his quiver, using the tips to carefully scoop the ball from the water. He held a finger over the basin and carefully dipped it back in, already cold once again. He stowed the ball back in his pocket, and waved his arm in a circle to signal the group. “Pull me up.”
The group waited for him at the top.
“Brother, your hand,” Rusty said.
“It’s fine, I didn’t want to wake up any more slugs by yelling,” Bilth replied. “Also, the ball did nothing but turn the water hot.”
“I can fix that up,” Neirah said, and whispered a tune while untying the wraps. Bilth’s skin underneath was no longer red, nor painful. “Good as new.”

Nurak was already satisfied to consider his time with the two dwarves as ‘good fun’. He knew most of his tricks were harmless enough; fireballs tossed at the salt pile to ‘make sure’ Rusty didn’t get bit again wouldn’t hurt the salt (despite Rusty’s protestations and mutterings of “pure salt taste”), and he hadn’t truly meant to drop the little man into the pit. It had been a trial for him to keep from laughing at the looks of surprise when he made Bilth’s head glow rather than simply suspend a ball of light to continue down the dark tunnel.
“And it’s temporary, right?” Bilth asked again, touching his nose.
The hallway curved to the left, the right corner revealing a small hollow big enough for a table, a few piles of vegetables, and a book.
“A prep table!” Rusty gasped, and ran toward the vegetables. As suddenly as he had started running he slowed, grabbed his neck, and fell flat on his face.
Nurak had to bite his tongue, literally, to stop himself from bursting into laughter. Honestly? He thought. A rogue who can’t see traps, maybe he IS better off a chef. He leaned casually against the table and watched Neirah try to wake the little fella up. She shook him, slapped him, then slapped him harder, kneeling over his chest and getting a full arc swing in.
“It’ll be no use hitting him, lass,” Bilth said. He had been looking close at the needle that had fired into his brother’s neck. “The tips are dipped in snakeweed oil, he’ll be out for a couple hours, at least.”
“So should we pull him the rest of the way?” Nurak asked. “Or will we just wait for him to wake up?”
“Best we wait,” Neirah said, kneeling down next to Rusty.
And so they waited. Bilth took to setting off the trap over and over, collecting the darts and inspecting their tips for poison. Neirah kept watch for a while, then took a small nap when Bilth took over watch.
Nurak posted up once again at the table, glancing at the contents. A pile of potatoes, a stack of carrots, nothing to get too excited over and forget about checking for traps. His gaze fell on a book laying in the center of the table. He looked around to see if he was being watched, then cracked the cover to look inside.
The long flowing script was unmistakeable, it was ancient elvish handwriting. He didn’t necessarily understand every word on the pages he flipped past, but he did get the gist of it: this was a cookbook. He closed the cover silently and slid the book into his bag, without raising any notice. He folded his arms and leaned back onto the table. Rusty hadn’t so much as moved, they still had hours to wait. A smile spread across Nurak’s face as he turned to the potato pile.

Rusty sat up and rubbed his eyes, groggy from the dart’s poison, he struggled to his feet and stretched his arms. Blinking a few times, his eyes came to rest on a pile of potatoes sitting in a circle of ash.
“You’ve done it now, wizard,” Rusty said, gathering up his bag.
“Oh, you’re up!” Nurak said. He held out a plate with a steaming potato on it. “Hungry? I cooked us all some food.”
“Cooked it? You cooked it?” Rusty stammered. His eyes spun around the room, burnt spots on the stone left potato shaped scores. “You blasted them like a child with fireworks!”
“Oh, come on and try it,” Nurak said. Rusty took the plate, then without breaking eye contact dumped the potatoes on the floor and stamped them with his boot.
“I won’t eat this ruined trash. What a waste,” he said.
“Can you fix some of them for me?” Bilth said, holding out his plate.
No, Rusty thought. You can’t un-burn a perfectly innocent potato. He reached into his bag and pulled out a sprig of lavender, sprinkled it on top and stirred it around.
“That should at least give it some flavor,” he said. He sifted through his bag some more, and turned to Nurak. “Did you use my utensils?”
“No,” Nurak said. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Then what do you call this?” he asked, revealing a jar of lard with two deep finger scoops missing. A smile crept across Nurak’s lips, then vanished.
“I only borrowed it,” he insisted. Rusty’s eyes narrowed as he began to yell, but his brother interrupted.
“These are a little better, thanks, brother,” Bilth said, finishing his potatoes.
“So what else was in here? Just potatoes and carrots?” Rusty asked, sighing and lowering his hands. “I thought there was more here.”
“Nope, just food and the trap,” Nurak said. Rusty turned to the others.
“I didn’t see anything more,” Neirah said, and Bilth agreed.
“It must be the dart talking,” Rusty said, and packed his bag.
They continued down the hall and found a room with a stairwell, a pile of bread loaves in the corner. Nurak drew his sword, and began stabbing them.
“Stop!” Rusty called, just as one of the loaves screamed in agony and rolled onto its back. A mimic. Wide-eyed, Rusty flipped over the final loaf to verify its bakery, and placed it in his bag.
The room widened to reveal a private dining area, two plates set on a table across from one another separated by a candelabra. Rusty picked up a plate and ran a thumb across it, revealing an intricate design. A fireball blasted between his face and the plate, lighting the three candles on the candelabra.
Nurak collected the silverware and grabbed the stem, heading to the stairs. Upstairs the group found a wider living area, still yet abandoned but seemingly set for function rather than form. Torches lit around the room upon their entrance, tables and chairs littering the room and three doors on the walls leading to smaller living quarters. Nurak grabbed two ivory chalices and stuck them in his bag, lifting an ivory pitcher to match, and two jade dice.
“Now hold on a moment,” Rusty said, stepping up to the table. “I don’t want to start anything, but I don’t think I trust you holding all of our loot.”
Nurak rolled his eyes and said, “Oh, really now?”
“Well you dropped me in a pit, stole my lard, I’ve seen more flaws in character than I’d like. How do I know you’re not nicking it all?”
“I’d like it all to be in one place,” Bilth said.
“Well I wouldn’t,” Rusty continued. “I’d like to see the dice for starters, we didn’t even look at those before you stashed them away.”
Nurak handed the jade dice to Rusty, who rolled them on the table. Seven.
“Satisfied now?” Nurak asked, grabbing them again.
“I’ll hold them,” Neirah said, placing them in her bag.
“The dice aren’t the point,” Rusty continued, but he was interrupted by Bilth opening a door and slipping into a room. “Brother, wait.”

Bilth entered the dark room and noticed a dresser, walk in closet, and a hall off to the right. He slowly opened a drawer and found some red garnets and an emerald bracelet as the others came into the room.
“Does anyone mind me carrying these, or should we split them?” he quietly asked. Bilth recognized his brother’s pout as Rusty folded his arms, and leaned on the wall.
He continued to search the room, finding three cloaks in the closet. The adventurers’ eyes widened as they took in the sights of them: one a deep forest green, one black with intricate red trim, and one naught but brown tatters. The group donned them; Bilth in green for his love of the forest, Nurak in red for his fireball tendencies, and Neirah in tatters, because she liked the feel. They stood and admires one another, waiting to feel a magic change of any sort.
“Do you feel anything?” Bilth whispered.
“No,” the other two replied, exiting the closet.
Bilth stopped and raised a hand. He looked at the small hallway, drawing his bow and knocking an arrow. He peered around the corner to see the end, spying a hulking, blue creature hunched over something, too busy rummaging to have noticed the adventurers. His heart began to pound as he recognized the creature, the muscular, hunched back, the clawed feet and hands, the deep breaths and snorts it let out as it dug. This beast was a quaggoth.
Where the hell could this have come from? he thought. He turned back to the group and motioned to them.
“What is it?” Rusty asked, but Bilth’s hand closed over his mouth.
“Quaggoth,” Bilth said.
“In here? How?” Neirah whispered.
“I don’t know, but it’s big,” Bilth said. He turned to Rusty, fanning the poison darts between his fingers. “Are you thinking what I am, little brother?”
“Yes, younger brother,” Rusty said, laying down his pack.
Rusty took a deep breath before scattering the ball bearings. The party readied their weapons and watched in anticipation, the quaggoth scratching at its find. Rusty threw the bearings, and ducked back around the corner, feeling the floor shake as the quaggoth turned to face the noise. The beast roared as it began to run down the hall, but let out a growl of confusion as it slid on the tiny metal balls. It scrambled for a moment, then came crashing down on the three upturned darts.
Grunts subsided to shallow breaths, and Rusty let out a sigh of relief. The plan worked, the quaggoth was asleep.
Bilth sat at the quaggoth’s head, contemplating and watching it draw breath after breath. Its arms and legs were bound tight, the menacing claws safely held back by rope. Every moment or so a muscle would twitch, but Bilth knew it had enough poison to keep a man down for over two days then some. Hours, for the muscular creature. Nurak popped up from behind the hulking beast.
“Well, he had ten gold in a chamber pot,” Nurak said, holding up soiled coins with dirty hands.
“That’s disgusting,” Neirah said.
Rusty knelt down next to Bilth and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Can we eat it?” he asked.
“We could,” Bilth said. “But I’ve got other plans for this quaggoth.”
“Other plans?” Rusty asked.
Bilth sighed and dusted off his hands as he stood up. He tested the draw on his bow and slung it over his shoulder, then ran one hand over his bald head, drying sweat from his brow.
“I intend to ride it.”

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