FOUR STRANGERS, LUSTY FOR GOLD AND EXPERIENCE, DID WANDER INTO GLORY THAT DAY: Artem Willenhelm, a paladin sworn by Gate’s Decree to defend against evil sorcery; Ursa, a druid of Moonridge, gifted with the ability to befriend creatures great and small; Kelleneved Storm Born, an elf with a hawk’s eye, a mage’s cunning, and a shadowed past; and Emilia Mancatcher, a warrior-priestess of Gate with a special talent for embracing the unwilling within the cold iron jaws of her namesake.
The dusty, weary foursome knew not what to expect when they shuffled into Gloryhole – the shanty town of prospectors, gamblers, drunkards and flesh-peddlers that had sprung up beneath the venerable Fort Glory with the coming of the latest gold rush – but least of all were they expecting to be accosted by a lion-haired man in a black bear cloak and his posse of crude, cudgel-wielding thugs. “This here’s a gold rush town, and as such, it’s got a gold rush price. It’ll be… 50 gold pieces for the each of you to pass into Glory,” claimed the man called Rain Bannister.
THE PARTY WAS UNWILLING TO ACCEPT SUCH UNJUST EXTORTION AT THE HANDS OF SUCH A VILLAIN. With a word from Kelleneved’s lips, half the thugs tumbled into magical slumber; Rain Bannister and Artem crossed swords in a bloody melee; and Ursa and Emilia smote their enemies with scimitar and mancatcher. The fight was theirs, but before Bannister could be definitively slain, Sergeant Whistler and a dozen of the Sheriff’s men arrived on horseback, spears a-pointin’, to end the scuffle.
“One of them’s a mage!” Bannister raged – referring to the Republican prohibition on wizardy – but Whistler ignored him, puffing out his mustaches and pointing a finger at the newcomers.
“You’ll come with me,” said the sergeant. “We don’t like trouble in Glory. The Sheriff will want to take account of you.”
“Zyklon Murmidion will hear about this, Whistler!” Bannister fumed, but the sergeant ignored him again and instead kicked his horse off at a trot, to lead the party through the seedy streets of Gloryhole and up the broken red hill to where the proud keep stood watch over the borderlands.
Once within, Artem, Ursa, Kelleneved and Emilia met Sheriff Thomasina Cahill and Father Paradoxocles, resident cleric of the local Church of Gate. “They had some problems with Rain Bannister,” Whistler explained. “Doesn’t everybody?” mused the Sheriff.
BUT INSTEAD OF PUNISHING THEM, THE SHERIFF OFFERED THEM A QUEST. Prospectors had been disappearing on the western path to the goldfields, and rumour said it was a band of goblins haunting an old, abandoned imperial fort called the Bonewatch (for the desiccated travelers its garrison had once watched perish in the burning country). “I’ll pay you a 100 gold pieces – each – to clean it out,” the Sheriff offered. The gang figured it was a better deal than the one Bannister had offered, so Kelleneved and the Sheriff spat and shook on it. After a night of rest at The Overflowing Cup – all expenses charged to the Sheriff’s office – the newcomers were off down the road again, with Whistler in front showing them the way to the fabled fort.
ONCE ARRIVED, THE SERGEANT BLEW OUT HIS MUSTACHES AND HASTILY DEPARTED. The adventurers climbed the hill and examined the fort, which was composed of two barrel towers – one of them sitting on a great pillar of rock on the far side of a chasm, and accessible only by passing through the first tower. Beneath the outer tower’s crumbling walls, four skeletons were being squabbled over by vultures. Ursa of Moonridge carefully approached the birds, who were suspicious but too curious to resist the druid’s charm. “Who lives here?” Ursa asked, to which the vultures squawked: “The green men!” When questioned further, the birds revealed that the green men fed them with bloated bodies, and that they came out at night.
THIS TACTICAL ADVICE WAS DELICIOUS. However, the green men were not all waiting for nightfall. As Ursa questioned the birds, two goblins, perched atop the gatehouse, opened fire with spears and a wriggling bag – stuffed with a giant centipede. Kelleneved drew his bow and Emilia her sling, and the vile humanoids and their pet were soon felled with missiles. Rushing to take up positions in the gatehouse, the party found a formation of goblin spearmen had already locked down the far side, jabbering in their broken tongue and taunting the adventurers with craven gestures.
KELLENEVED SMILED KNOWINGLY and whispered arcane words once again, and goblins tumbled unconscious beneath the aegis of his sleep spell. Artem charged, swinging his greatsword, but managed only to bring it full force into the earth and crack it in half. Ursa and Emilia followed with attacks of their own, and the goblins were soon fleeing. The sole survivor made it all the way to one of the barracks inside the curtain wall, but was felled by Kelleneved’s arrow as he stood at the door. The goblin collapsed inside, making a small bell ring as his corpse shoved the door open – and causing a certain dread to rise up in the hearts of the party.
Emilia quickly searched the corpses while Ursa summoned the life-giving forces of wood and dale to repair Artem’s flesh, as he had taken some small wounds in the fighting. But before they could do much more, a horrible bellow caught their attention and a seven foot-tall beast smashed through the doorway of the distant barracks. An ogre with orange skin and purple hair snarled at them and grabbed a fallen piece of masonry, heaving it through the air with inhuman strength.
A BATTLE FELL AND TERRIBLE DID THUS ENSUE. Ursa was knocked clean unconscious by a ferocious swipe from the ogre, who had snatched up a length of fallen rafter as it rushed to attack. Kelleneved shot arrow after arrow into the creature’s chest, but it only snarled more viciously through the blood bubbling on its wicked lips. Artem, swordless, swung instead with his flail, cursing the luck that cost had fifty gold pieces worth of equipment. Emilia called forth a mighty prayer to her god that brought a blessing upon her club, focusing divine power into the wood to transmute it into a magical shillelagh. Then, with Gate’s wrath upon her, Emilia swung the magic weapon at the ogre and exploded its heart. Moaning, the ogre crashed to the ground, dead.
Bloodied and tired, and with one of their number fallen and grievously injured, the party quickly searched the grounds, looking through both barracks and a rubbish pile to make sure no enemies remained. Beyond the wall and across the chasm stood the inner tower, its drawbridge pulled tight and its arrow slits dark. With night coming, the party barricaded themselves inside the barracks that was in better repair, set a watch, cast spells of divine healing on their comrade Ursa, and prayed for dawn…
BUT IT WAS NOT TO BE. At the witching hour, a great grinding sound poured forth from the inner tower, and the drawbridge began to lower. Ursa, who stood on watch, rushed to wake the others, and at a moment’s notice the party had taken up fighting positions, with Kelleneved crouched on the roof, Emilia hiding around the corner of the barracks, and Artem and Ursa waiting in the shadow of the barracks. With his elvish infravision, Kelleneved watched as a group of tall, thick figures crossed the bridge, shouting out in a guttural tongue – and then as they paused, muttered, and quickly began to retreat. WHAT HAD THEY NOTICED? The drawbridge was soon pulled up again.
The party had little time to investigate the scene before the drawbridge was lowered again, and enemies once more crossed the bridge – but this time, with reinforcements. Kelleneved charmed some of the interlopers to sleep as they crossed into the courtyard, but he was quickly taken out of the fight by an arrow to the knee. The rest of the party rushed into melee: Ursa severed the head of a figure in dark robes, and Artem shoved his dagger into the throat of a huge bear of a man in plate mail. Vicious fighting followed, but soon the enemies had all been put down. The drawbridge groaned as someone within the tower raised it again, and the party fell back to tend to their wounds, pausing only to loot the corpses. AND A MOMENTOUS TOKEN THEY FOUND: some of the bodies were adorned with the Triple Circle – gold, iron, and glass – of Hood, the God of Death. Another wore a strange symbol, a small obsidian sword with bones for a crossguard and a skull for a pommel. Artem cursed their vile gods and insisted the party return to Glory in the morning, to tell the Sheriff of what they had seen.
The foursome rested in the gatehouse this time, but no enemies approached. In the morning, the divine blessings of Emilia and Ursa gave succour to the wounded, and the party set off at first light to return to Glory.
Cahill and Paradoxocles were both worried by the tales the party told, and the priest even bid the party remain and not return to the Bonewatch, so fearful was the aged father for the lives of the adventurers; but, at the behest of Artem, they insisted upon completing their quest, and, once healed and outfitted in new equipment – Artem, in particular, wearing the plate mail of the man he had slain – headed back to the Bonewatch.
AND THIS TIME, THEY WENT WITH FRIENDS. In Glory, Ursa had charmed a small dust snake she called Lune into becoming her follower, and the reptile gladly scouted ahead of them as they approached the Bonewatch. The serpent helped them find a sewer grate in the rear of the second tower. The party conspired to sneak inside and see what remained of their enemies.
THE CLIMB WAS MOST UNPLEASANT, as the sewer was caked with the waste matter of bygone ages; but soon they had arrived in a latrine on the second floor, and Kelleneved began to scout the area. He discovered a man sleeping in a bedroom adjacent to the latrine, and tricked him into thinking he was a friend. When the man realized he had been fooled, Kelleneved tried to stab him through the heart but only got him in the kidney, and the man, stark naked and leaking blood, rushed across the hall, into a library – where he seemingly disappeared.
As the party scratched their heads in the library, trying to decide where the bleeding, naked man had got to, another force rose to oppose them: a horde of undead skeletal rats, with biting teeth and scratching claws. The four adventurers, unable to do little more than smash a single rat skeleton at a time, fled, but back in the hallway, something else was stirring: glowing red eyes at the top of the stairwell curling down.
ARTEM HOWLED AGAINST THE DEMONS OF THE NIGHT and pursued the glowing eyes down the stairs, and the party rushed after him. They soon found themselves at the bottom of the stairs battling a pack of slavering ghouls. Emilia attempted to turn the creatures back in the name of Gate, but failed, and Artem and Emilia soon fell to the paralytic touch of the beasts from beyond the grave. Ursa and Kelleneved managed to kill those that remained, but they had scarcely regrouped when noise from above announced another foe: a pair of evil clerics with a host of living skeletons! THE HORROR WAS PALPABLE, AND SWEAT FLEW FROM THE ADVENTURERS BROWS AS THOUGH FROM THE MOUTH OF A WATER PUMP.
IT WAS AS THOUGH THE WORLD HAD BEEN DESIGNED TO OPPOSE THEM AT EVERY TURN.
BUT GATE WAS GOOD. Emilia – who had risen from her paralyzed torpor – turned the skeletons away. The clerics fled, a horror of their own in their breasts – that their god MIGHT NOT BE THE ONLY ONE! The party took the blessings of their priestfolk again to seal the wounds caused by the unholy horrors lurking in the Bonewatch, and Kelleneved swept the room with a spell of magical scrying. He discovered a sword oozing sorcery, and snapped it up into his hands, crying “I TAKE IT!” And take it didst he.
When they returned to the library, the party found it quiet, and pilfered some books from the shelves (including such gentle tomes as Gardening with Desert Plants by Bimbik Nlrolbil and Considerations in Courtliness by Sir Greg of Gregory) before attempting to rip the shelves from the wall in search of secret passages. Then they noticed something strange: three strange artifacts sat against one wall: a skull, a horn, and a set of twirling circlets and balls representing the orbits of the heavens. After much deliberation, they discovered that if they bopped the skull, twisted the horn, and flicked the circlets, one of the bookcases would swing open to reveal a passage leading upward.
MORE DELIBERATION FOLLOWED. Would they take the path of bravery, and rush up to great glory and possible death? Or would they leave this vile place and rest again under the protection of the Sheriff?
VALOR WON THE DAY. They rushed up the steps, and, with Artem sensing a deep and troubling evil beyond one of the two doors they encountered above, they smashed through and into…
THE VERITABLE CRUCIBLE OF CHAOS. Skeletons lay everywhere atop tables, some of them painted gold and black. Red braziers glowed, and great tapestries hung from the walls proclaiming the prayers of Hood. Three acolytes stood about the room, and at the very back was a priestess in chain mail wielding a massive scythe. Battle exploded, and stepping from behind pillars came three nefarious zombies – one of them the very ogre the party had only just slain the other day! Ursa, Kelleneved, Artem and Emilia leapt into action, and their swift attacks cut the acolytes to ribbons: heads flew and ribcages were shattered. Blood and gore leapt upon the walls, while the priestess stood in a magical circle of darkness, casting vile spells.
But the undead remained, and their relentless, moaning assault soon pulverized all the party but Emilia. She fought valiantly with her magical shillelagh, and finally stove in the zombie ogre’s skull.
With a shriek from the altar, the evil priestess leapt from her shroud of darkness and attacked Emilia – only to be caught up in the MANCATCHER. Howling, the priestess of Hood was thrown from side to side by the priestess of Gate, who had mastered the art of the exotic weapon when she was raised by a clan of reclusive female amazons who captured men for breeding purposes. At last, the evil priestess’s lifeforce bubbled out in blood – and Emilia was left alone in a room full of the dead, dying, and dead undead…
UNCERTAIN OF WHAT MIGHT NEXT OCCUR!