The Lost Lands

The Lost Lands...
Zelkor's Ferry

Bristleback Inn
“Welcome to Zelkor’s Ferry. I hope the captain didn’t question you too hard at the gate. You may be a person bent on finding an adventure, but you don’t look like a troublemaker to me.” The woman’s blue eyes seem to twinkle as she smiles at you. Her light brown hair is beginning to show some grey, but her arms look strong where she has pushed up the sleeves of her brown dress. “If it’s adventure you want, let me tell you, you’ve come to the right place. Although we hold our own here, this area can by no means be considered safe and there’s plenty for a brave soul to find and do.
“I’m Amelia, and my husband and I are the proprietors of Bristleback Inn. It’s been in my husband’s family for several generations.” She leads you into the building’s common room and continues. “A room with your board is one gold piece a night… Thank you very much. The stable is just next door and stabling for a horse or mule is one silver piece. Anything more exotic than that and you’ll have to ask Bristleback; we own the stable, too. The two fellows out there, Vort and Igor, are both decent folk and will take good care of any of your animals.”
Amelia turns to survey the room, and you take a look around also. The inn’s low-ceilinged common room is really nothing special, but out here so far from civilization it seems to have all the comforts of home. The tables are well-worn, but also well-scrubbed. In fact, a teen-aged girl with hair the color of honey is engaged in scrubbing one right now. “Don’t forget the sides, Ysbel,” Amelia says to her. The slender girl looks up at the comment, flashes a shy smile when she sees you looking at her, and then goes back to her work.
The shutters are open to let in some fresh air, and at the far end of the room a small fire burns in the fireplace as an old man snoozes in a chair nearby. Lamps are set into brackets high on the walls, to provide the most light in the evenings and also keep them out of the way of clumsy patrons. The bar is on the other side of you, before the stairs; it is supplied with a couple of kegs, and a row of pottery mugs hung on pegs on the wall. The treads on the stairs are worn in the centers, and you can see that anyone of much height will need to duck on the way up to avoid an inconvenient beam.
A door opens between the bar and the stairs, and another woman enters carrying two sealed bottles. The woman has skin the golden-brown color of good ale; her eyes are deeper brown, and she wears her black hair pulled up into a loose knot at the back of her head. “Amelia, the cook brought these up from the cellar and told me we’ll be needin’ them in here.”
Amelia nods. “I heard Bristleback tell Gumbel last night to get some more bottles up here today. Just put them in the rack under the counter, Tallie.” The woman does as instructed, than straightens to look at you. Amelia introduces her. “This is Tallie, one of our serving women. She and Ysbel stay plenty busy around here, but feel free to ask them if you need something and I’m not around.”
Suddenly from behind the door you hear a man’s voice, rather muffled, calling “Tallie!”
“That Gumbel!” she exclaims, and rolls her eyes. “I’m coming! Keep yer britches on,” she calls, then disappears again behind the door.
Amelia gives one last satisfied look at the room, then turns to you. “I need to get out back and weed the vegetables or pretty soon we aren’t going to be able to find the food for the weeds. The privies are around back to the left; the kitchen garden is to the right. If you end up around that way by mistake, watch your step because I don’t want anyone trampling on my garden. You ought to take a look around and chat with some of the people here; I’m sure several of them have things to tell you about their own experiences in this area, things that might help keep you alive when you head out looking for your destiny.” With that parting remark, Amelia also disappears through the door to the kitchen and leaves you alone.
You’re not quite alone, though, as you realize when a soft voice interrupts your thoughts. “Pardon me.” It’s the young maid; Ysbel, that was her name. She’s now working on a table nearer you, and lays down her small scrubbing brush when you turn.
“I couldn’t help but hear what Amelia said about people having things to tell you. I know someone who tells amazing stories! Some of them may even be true.” She gestures to the old man sitting in the corner by the fireplace and continues. “That’s old Russ. He’s Amelia’s grandpappy, and to hear him tell it, he may have tamed this whole area single-handedly when he was young. There’s no doubt his stories are interesting, though they might not be helpful to you. Let me just get his attention.”

The Legend of Rappan Ahtuk
Don't Go Down the Well

Many hundreds of years ago, the forces of good allied to destroy the main Temple of Orcus in the ancient city of Tsar. With their temple in ruins, the surviving high priests of this accursed demon god fled the city with an army of enemies on their trail—an army of heroic fighters, clerics and paladins—led by Zelkor, a powerful wizard. The exact fate of these evil priests was then unknown, for not only did the remnants of the followers of Orcus disappear from all human reckoning, but so did the army of light that followed after them disappear as well. Some said that in the eternal scales the loss of so many good men was a fair price to pay to rid the world of so much evil.

The evil cult, however, had not been destroyed. The surviving priests and their followers instead settled on a hill near the Forest of Hope, a sylvan woodland near the Coast Road. There they found a vast underground complex of caverns and mazes, carving out a volcanic intrusion beneath the hill. There, the priests of Orcus found the perfect lair to continue their vile rituals. For many years, they carried on in secret, hidden from the light and from the knowledge of men.

Many years later, their underground delving completed, the evil priests erected a hideous mausoleum and a sunken graveyard atop the hill. It is believed that these graves are in fact the final resting place of the pursuing army of heroes that had been destroyed to a man. Soon after the mausoleum was erected the peaceful creatures of the wood began to disappear. Though many rangers and druids investigated these happenings, the cause of the creatures’ disappearance was not immediately determined. Some years later a powerful group of adventurers, led by Bofred, a high priest of Tyr, investigated the evil happenings and found the sunken graveyard leading to a labyrinthine complex. Bofred and his companions found great hordes of evil creatures in the complex. Though some of his companions returned from their expedition, telling tales of fantastic treasure and ferocious monsters, Bofred was never seen again—lost in the catacombs beneath the cursed mausoleum. For the last one hundred years, ranks of adventurers have ventured to the newfound dungeon. Many fell prey to bandits and monsters in the surrounding wilderness. Rumors suggest that of those who survived to reach the mausoleum and sunken graveyard, most were slain by guardians of green stone or perished on the very first level. Those rare few who return from deeper treks speak of horrible undead and creatures that cannot be slain. All who have explored Rappan Athuk offer this one universal piece of advice: “Don’t go
down the Well.”

Pappy's Story
The Bristleback Inn

Pappy’s Story
Ysbel steps to the fireplace and touches the old man on the shoulder, then raises her voice a little. “Pappy! Here’s someone who wants to hear all about how you cleared out that dungeon when you were young.”
The old man starts out of his snooze and looks up at the girl, then squints at you. He uses his arms to straighten himself in his seat and squirms back and forth a little bit to get more comfortable. When you step closer, you see a pair of crutches lying next to him and note that he has a peg on his

right leg. At a second glance, though, you realize that his other leg isn’t folded underneath him; it’s missing completely, cut off at mid-thigh. A small lute lies along the left side of his chair, and one of the pottery mugs stands close by on his right, placed on the broad hearth surrounding the fireplace.
“So yer interested in an adventure, eh?” Pappy begins. “I can tell ye about some adventures. I’m a bit dry though; bring me a beer, if ye’d be so kind, girlie.” He passes his mug to Ysbel, who shakes her head at him, smiling.
“Pappy, it’s way too early in the day for you to start on the beer. I’ll get you a mug of water from the rainbarrel, though; it’ll be cool.” Ysbel starts off on her errand and Pappy smacks his mouth a few times experimentally, then turns to you.
“Did ye know that we’ve a dungeon practically in sight of our watchtowers? The Mouth of Doom, they call it, out in the middle of the forest to the south of us. Oh, my friends and I found it right enough, nigh onto fifty years ago now. I suppose it was a nice enough little dungeon, and it gave us a thrill or two, but it was nothing compared to the granddaddy of all dungeons!”
Pappy’s voice is raised, and he shakes his fist in the air. “Rappan Athuk – now that was a dungeon! My friends and I were well known at one time, though not the stuff of bards’ tales. We were powerful, and we made our presence felt. We fought malicious specters down there, and nasty creatures with big mouths that lived in heaps of trash. We battled an undead king to a standstill, though there were no winners that day and both sides crept away to lick our wounds. In fact, we got further below that dungeon than anyone else I’ve ever known. You wouldn’t know it to look at me now but I was a powerful wizard once, back before I lost my legs – and half my mind.”
Ysbel returns just then with the mug of water. Pappy takes a small sip, then downs a larger swallow with a grimace and sets the mug carefully on the hearth. Ysbel takes up her scrubbing again at the other end of the room but appears to be listening in to Pappy’s story as well.
“We weren’t about to just waltz in the front door, so we found ourselves a different entrance. It wasn’t easy going, but we got right down into the thick of things without those fiends being aware. Once down we had some trouble finding our way around; there was a confusion of low tunnels, and the darkness was so thick our lights barely allowed us to see. We followed a winding river through several caverns; one was filled with spiders, undead creatures, and nasty trolls, which was where we lost Sister Gabriola. Another cavern had a purple worm the size of a small village. To this day I think we could have just walked away quietly from the creature, but ye might know that our rogue Renfrew couldn’t leave well enough alone! He was the first one poisoned, and by the time we could pull away and tend to him, he was already dead,” Pappy says as he shakes his head.
“The levels of the dungeon proper may be made of worked stone, but down deep, where we were, it was all natural caverns. There was one especially huge one, where the ceiling was lost high above us and our lights made little bubbles of brightness in the great dark. In that situation, ye know there are always beings watching you, usually to yer hurt.
“While we were there we fought the most vile creature I have ever seen.” Pappy’s eyes narrow, as if envisioning his opponent of years past. “Out of the darkness floated this giant mass, as large as I was tall and covered in eyeballs and mouths. It turned out those eyes shot out beams of magic like those from wands! We fought like demons ourselves, I can tell ye. Our knight got up close to try to stab it with his greatsword, and discovered all those mouths were full of sharp teeth. I tried several of my specialties on it, only to realize it was more than a match for me; ye may imagine my shock when it took some of my own spells from me! We had to get cunning, especially when it tried to run away after we injured it. We finally defeated it, though, and found the treasures it had taken from other hapless victims. I recall the battle fondly now, as one of the last times I was able to use my most powerful spells and keen intelligence before something in that vile place diminished them forever.
“Many of us were injured at that point and ye can be certain it was hard to find a safe place to rest and heal. We thought we had found a place, isolated at one side of the cavern, but we were wrong. That quiet corner turned out to be guarded by huge metal statues of bulls which came alive when we got close. They put out a gas that turned my companions to stone, some temporarily but some permanently. I myself was affected for a time. The stone effect wore off but before I could recover myself one of the bulls trampled me, breaking both my legs. Sir Marlett and the elf Daresiel had both been turned to stone and the bulls trampled them also, breaking up their bodies so we had no hope of recovering them.” Pappy shakes his head again. “My remaining two companions got meself and our badly wounded dwarf out of there, and patched me up well enough that I could use my emergency scroll to take us out of that foul pit completely. We ended up back at our camp in the forest, though, and without our two healers the others managed to save my life, but not my legs. At that I suppose I’m better off than Gulim, who died of his wounds.
“One thing we never did locate was the evil temple everyone claims is there. I think somehow we passed it by and went straight to the caverns that lie below it. I don’t remember everything that happened to us beneath that twisted temple, though parts of it still give me nightmares. The worst was that even after we left, the reek of its evil continued to work on my mind and body and gradually stole my strength, my health, and most of all my intellect. I eventually learned to mend shoes, and other things I could do without need of my legs, but these days I just play a few tunes on my little lute and dream about striding through the forest in days gone by, wishing I had never heard of that accursed place.”
Pappy stops to stretch out his leg, and begins to absently rub his left thigh. “If ye be wanting to explore that foul dungeon, allow me to offer ye some pieces of advice. There’s no doubt that the most important part of any adventuring party wanting to take on Rappan Athuk is the wizard. Ye
need one who is powerful, with plenty of offensive ability. He also needs good magic items; it’s worth a bit of sacrifice by the fighters or the rogues to see a magic-wielder well equipped. A good selection of fire spells would be helpful; they’re always good against the undead and there’s a powerful lot of those waiting there in the dark.
“Now, any group wanting to explore the depths of Rappan Athuk is going to need rope, and lots of it. Ye don’t find easy stairs leading from one area to another; no, it’s down sheer drops and over rocky cliffs – and then of course it’s all to do again in reverse if ye ever want to get out. I know what yer thinking,” Pappy’s voice changes, becoming higher and slightly whiny. “What about that wizard? Can’t he just fly us all down?” He clears his throat and resumes his normal tone. “Well, to be sure he can, if ye want him to use up all his spells and have nothing left to use in a fight when ye get to the bottom. It’s better to use mundane means wherever possible and save the magicks for when ye need them most. We used our rope skills several times in difficult situations. Once we had to climb down a cliff as rats were trying to gnaw our lines!
“Another thing ye need of course is lots of light sources. Torches won’t make it, either, though it might be okay to have a few if yer in a pinch. No, ye need some source that lets ye keep both hands free! It’s no good trying to climb down that rope I mentioned a bit ago with a torch in hand – that’s a good way to take a long fall. ’Twon’t do to just carry it in yer teeth, either, as the rogue Renfrew once tried. He thought he was so clever, and so much more nimble than the rest of us – until he caught his hair on fire.” Pappy’s speech slows slightly as he reminisces. “We called him Renfrew the Red after that; I don’t think his hair would ever have grown back, even if he had lived.”
Pappy reaches for his mug and takes another drink, then sets it back down. “I’m afraid I’m worn out with all this talkin’. Though it’s nice to have an audience, I don’t usually talk this much in a week. Thank ye for listening to my adventures, but I’m in need of a little rest now.” The old man settles himself in his chair, then leans his head on one hand and his eyes drift closed. You start to turn away when you hear him mumble softly, “And whatever ye do, don’t go down the well.” You raise your eyebrows at this one last piece of advice and then walk out into the fresh air.

The Stable
Zelkor's Ferry

The Stable
Next to the inn stands a stable, as you had been told. A fenced paddock beyond it holds three horses. The stable’s big double doors are open to the light and you can hear men’s voices from inside. When your eyes adjust to the shadow, you see two husky men, likely the stablehands Amelia mentioned earlier, talking with a slender woman. Both men look like they are probably from this area, but the woman’s deeply tanned skin and thick dark brown hair suggest she may once have come from the southern desert. She is dressed in a simple shirt with a leather vest and pants while a scarf is held around her neck by a sliding fastener and a sword hangs at her right side. She gestures animatedly as she talks, and you realize that she is missing her right hand. It also occurs to you that you cannot hear her speaking, even though you can see her mouth moving. Both the men look at you as you approach, and the woman also turns your way. One of the men steps forward.
“I’m Vort. Can I help you with something? We offer stabling for horses and mules for just one silver piece per night.” Vort is tall and broad shouldered, with hair the color of ripe wheat. He wears sturdy pants and a snug sleeveless brown tunic whose laces are open at the collar. The other stablehand, in contrast, is stocky and not as tall. He sports a distinctly bulbous nose and hair that is, frankly, the color of a rather vile mud. His clothes fit him loosely and make him look somewhat unkempt.
The shorter man steps forward and peers at you earnestly. “Did you bring lots of horses with you? I hope so, because we don’t have very many here right now and it’s getting kind of lonely. When Fenice leaves we’ll only have two left! This is Fenice; she brings us horses sometimes so I like her. Horses like her, too, because she whispers to them. I try whispering to them, but they don’t pay much attention to me.”
The slender woman – evidently Fenice – smiles at the man. “Thank you, Igor,” she whispers. “I’m sorry the horses don’t listen to your whispering.” The woman then turns to you. “Fenice Melior,” she continues very softly, “occasional trader in horses.”
“Fenice whispers to horses because she doesn’t have any voice,” Igor interjects. “She whispers to everybody else, too. I tried whispering to everybody one time, but it made my throat sore.”
“Fenice lost her voice when she was part of an expedition to Rappan Athuk,” Vort puts in. “Amelia stopped by and told us that you’re interested in hearing stories about the area. We thought maybe Fenice here could tell you some of her adventures. You have to listen closely, though, because she can’t speak up.”
“Sharing information is always good,” Fenice adds softly, “So you won’t make the same mistakes!”
Fenice moves to sit on a low stool. A wooden box of tools nearby suggests this is a spot where the men often groom the feet of the animals under their care. The stable as a whole is relatively neat and smells of fresh straw. Above is a large loft with an open area down the middle, with a ladder on the wall leading up from the ground. At the far end some space is closed off with walls and set with a door on each side. That might be storage, or perhaps personal space for the stablehands. Sun shines in through two windows, illuminating the slow fall of dust in the air.
Igor throws himself down in a pile of straw near Fenice and wiggles back and forth a few times to get comfortable, while Vort leans against one of the stalls. Fenice takes a drink from her waterskin and begins to speak, so softly that you have to lean in close to hear.

Fenice's Story
Zelkor's Ferry

Fenice’s Story
“I and several other people joined a group of three adventurers who had been into the great dungeon before, several months previously. It was led by Lord Pirulen of Avenir and the sorceress Candara. There was a sneak-thief in the group – I really can’t call him anything else – and he opened the entry door with a key. I don’t know where he stole the key or what he did with it after, but it wasn’t on him when we checked over his dead body a few days later.
“We fought a lot of wights, and there were some wraiths, but that was later on in a hall full of pillars,” Fenice’s soft voice continues. “For a couple days we wandered through a huge maze, and I swear the walls moved when we weren’t looking. I think it was more luck than anything else that we managed to get out of that one. We encountered some goblins there, little realizing what was to come. Lord Pirulen, Candara, and their sneaky pal Cerigo had explored the area some before and been stymied at a spot that required traveling underwater. This time they had come prepared, and our whole group was supplied with items or spells necessary to breath and travel underwater. It turns out there are huge areas of that labyrinth that can be accessed only by some of those water-filled passageways.
“One thing we had not expected was to come out of the water only to encounter a fire-breathing three-headed dog. In the heat of the battle I lost my favorite sword to it – and my hand. Lord Pirulen even laid his hands on my arm and healed the wound in the middle of the fight, but that didn’t replace my hand. We finally managed to trick it and block it behind a magic wall for a few seconds, and then run for our lives.”
Igor suddenly jumps to his feet, making the rest of you jump also, so intent were you on that soft voice and its narration. “This is too scary! I don’t want to listen to this anymore. I’m going out to talk to the horses.” He hurries out into the sunlight, and you hear him call to the horses.
Vort shrugs and looks at Fenice. “You know he doesn’t mean to be rude. I don’t think he’d heard you talk about that part before.”
“I know,” Fenice replies in her whispery voice. “Believe me, it was certainly scary at the time! We ran, with Brother Arno just happening to end up in front. He yanked open the first door we came to in that broad hallway and we piled through. Lord Pirulen and I were last, and we watched each comrade simply blink out of sight as he or she ran through the door, moving too fast to stop. We looked at each other and then the paladin just shrugged. He took my arm with his left hand and we stepped through together. Happily, it was just a teleporter and everyone had arrived in the same place – that time – so we were able to carry on. Any chance of knowing where we were had been lost, of course!
“Eventually we found another waterway, and passed through it to a cavern full of long, pointed rock formations on both floor and ceiling. Some of them must have been enchanted guardians, because they came to life and attacked us with long tentacles. It was not much later that Gamira Darkwood, an elven ranger with us, located a secret door that led to a
Rappan Athuk Player’s guide
gate which none of us could find a way to open.” Fenice’s voice, though still very soft, becomes more intense with excitement. “Candara used her magic to get us to the other side, and we found ourselves on the doorstep of a goblin kingdom!
“There is an entire goblin kingdom hidden in the depths under that dungeon, and of course we managed to stumble on it.” The whisper falls back into its previous cadence, and you lean closer again, so as not to miss anything. “We saw only a small part of their main city, but that was more than enough for me! At first things went fairly well. We let Candara do the talking, and she convinced the goblins we met that we had come from the Underdark and were looking to replenish our supplies.
“I think our time there would have gone better had we not had a paladin with us. The rest of us – even Brother Arno – could have turned a blind eye to the slavery; it was only some kobolds, and who cares if one type of menace decides to enslave another? But Lord Pirulen was already upset by it when he discovered that there were other humans in the city: prisoners who were to be used as sacrifices. That was beyond what he could stand, and he insisted that we immediately attack to free them.” Fenice’s whisper becomes intense again, and she leans forward on her stool, gesturing for emphasis. “We were more than ready to leave by that time, but didn’t all share his passion for this crusade. When some of us were insufficiently zealous, he removed the decision by freeing three prisoners and then joining the group with the news that two patrols of goblins were behind him and we needed to hurry!” Now she stands, and begins to pace back and forth as her whispered story continues.
“We had already decided to go back the way we came and were able make it back to where Candara had used her magic on the wall. The goblins stopped their pursuit as we got toward the end of the corridor, which we didn’t understand at all. They definitely seemed afraid of something having to do with the great gate. We found we could open the gate from the goblin side, though it took several of us to do it, and then of course we could not secure it from the other side. Candara put some type of magic on it, but she was exhausted by that time and had few spells left.
“It was definitely time to rest, so we picked the best place we could and set out guards. I’m afraid we were overconfident, though, and we definitely underestimated the goblins. Somehow a small group managed to surprise our guards on the city side, and get to where most of us were sleeping without raising an alarm. In that city they have a saying, ‘A running goblin can slit a thousand throats in a single night.’ Happily for me that running goblin was in too much of a hurry and didn’t stop to check his work.” Fenice loosens the slide holding her neckscarf and folds it away, revealing an ugly red scar across the front of her neck. “Candara and I survived, though just barely. Gamira was on watch with Turbayne (one of the former prisoners) in the direction of the dungeon rather than the city, and when she finally heard something they came in the nick of time.”
Sliding the fastener back up, Fenice settles the scarf around her neck again and her voice becomes grave. “We lost both Brother Arno of Larchmont and Lord Pirulen to those little scum, as well as two of the prisoners we had rescued, and Rosson Gildersleeve, a gnome who had valiantly acted as our scout through some tight spots. Gamira used up the last of our healing potions on Candara. She tried reading a spell from a scroll to heal me, but botched it somehow and it didn’t help. I wasn’t actually dying by that time – Gamira was surprisingly useful with linen bandages and unguents – but I would really have preferred not to be reminded of that episode for the rest of my life.
“With only three of us left of the eight who started out together, even with the addition of Turbayne all we could do was move ahead with great caution and hope blindly that we could find a way out of the dungeon before we were all killed. We made it back to the area with the randomly teleporting rooms and stumbled across something that saved us all – a place that teleported us right out of the dungeon.”
Finally Fenice pauses in her agitated pacing. “Come on!” she says in a harsh whisper. “I need to get outside into the sun, too. Let’s see how Igor’s doing with those horses.”
Outside, Igor seems to be enjoying himself with the animals. He speaks quietly to a tall gray horse while he brushes its coat, and a glossy brown seems to have already gotten the same treatment. The remaining horse, a smaller one with a white star on its black face, stays somewhat aloof from the other group. Fenice gives a sprightly whistle – the loudest sound you have heard her make – and the black horse trots over to the fence. The slender woman absently pets it while she continues her quiet speech.
“The most important thing when going into Rappan Athuk is for each member of the group to have as many magic items as possible. There are so many different areas down there, so many different side branches, that you never know what you’re going to come up against next. It’s impossible to plan. The best idea is just to have magic items that will cover as many contingencies as possible, and then you’ll always have something you can use.
“Of course there’s your basic armor and weapons; considering how dangerous the inhabitants are, and how difficult many of them are to defeat, there should not even be a question about needing those. It’s the specialized items, though, that can really make or break a group. For instance, you should have items that provide light – not just enough light for humans to see, but ones that use light as a weapon. Those are the most effective against many different types of undead creatures, which is mostly what is in that evil place. It‘s also good to have something that produces fire; the more ‘normal’ creatures down there are used to dark damp places and are frightened of fire. A nice fireball, or wall of fire, or even spurting fire from your fingertips left and right, will earn their respect and convince them to leave you alone.”
Rappan Athuk Player’s guide
You notice that Fenice has started to rub the stump of her right arm, and you suspect she is unaware of her action. “Fire resistance is also critical. This is the lair of demons, and they have more than one location that opens into the depths of Hell itself. Of course, standard fire resistance barely helps against hellfire; you need something a bit stronger and you need it to be ongoing, not something that’s going to wear off every few minutes. Another thing that’s very useful is an item that allows you to fly. There are some deep cracks that are difficult to cross, high places to climb, and so on. We also made good use of water-breathing magic, but that was because of the specific places Candara, Cerigo, and Lord Pirulen wanted to explore.”
The black horse butts Fenice’s shoulder, and she reaches up to smooth its nose as she continues. “Something else you might not expect is that you need to be able to crawl. Not every denizen of the great dungeon is as tall as you or I; though some are considerably larger, there are also smaller ones. It can be a great advantage to be able to move through the tunnels you find; it can lead to some goodly treasure, and it is also an outstanding way to get away from some of those larger creatures. Magical bags and backpacks gave us places to stow away armor or other bulky things when we needed to crawl, or swim; I can’t imagine going some of the places we went with our fighters having to drag their armor along behind them.” She looks away from you to the stablehand. “Vort, could you get my saddle and bags, please?”
“The last thing you need to remember, of course, is that no matter how prepared you are, you are still not prepared enough.” Fenice climbs the rail of the fence and jumps down next to the horse. Vort appears with her gear, which she takes with a nod and then saddles her mount. You notice that even without a hand, she is able to use her right arm to hold or brace things, while her left hand of course does the finer tasks. Finally Vort passes Fenice a set of filled saddlebags. She looks directly at you, her face serious and her whispery voice harsh. “Whatever you think you will be able to do in Rappan Athuk, something is going to be there to deny you complete success. You’ll end up with amazing stories to tell, but only at the expense of friends left behind in the making of those tales. Maybe before you go, you should ask yourself if a venture into that dungeon of graves is worth the rest of your life.”
She puts her left foot into the stirrup, braces herself with her right elbow, and smoothly swings her leg over while Vort opens the gate of the paddock for her. She gives another whistle and Igor looks up. “Good-bye, Fenice!” he calls, waving to her vigorously. Her left hand busy with the reins, Fenice lifts her right arm in acknowledgement and then turns her horse away, through the gate of the settlement and out. Vort drops his own hand and closes the gate, then gives you a brief nod and walks back into the stable.

Trading Post
Zelkor's Ferry

Rasmus Pye’s Trading Post
Walking on through the settlement, you come next to a two-story wooden building. Above the door is fastened a rectangular sign bearing the words “Trading Post.” The first floor has no windows, but the second floor has three, with the shutters open. You hear a snatch of song in a woman’s voice before it fades again, and then you push open the door.
You are greeting by a ringing sound as a bell chimes above the door. The room is full of so many things that it’s hard at first to pick out any individual items. Then the odor of the place hits your nostrils: a combination of musty furs, drying herbs, oiled weapons, and other more exotic scents. A ruddy, red-haired man looks up from where he is working at a long wooden counter.
“Greetings! Welcome to Rasmus Pye’s Trading Post!” He puts down an oiled rag he was using to wipe a sword and rubs his hands with a cleaner cloth. Coming around the counter, he extends his hand to you for a friendly clasp. “Rasmus Pye I am, purveyor of the common and the fine. Whatever you’re heart’s desire, I know where to get it for you – within reason, of course,” he adds hastily.
As you look around, you are able to take in more of what fills Pye’s establishment. Two bundles of furs are stacked near the door. Wooden barrels line the floor along the wall, some with their tops open showing things like smoked fish and jerked meat. Shelves are lined with pottery jars whose contents are not immediately obvious; wooden boxes holding herbs and spices in sealed packets; large pieces of soft leather waiting to be crafted into clothing or other items; and one or two of any number of other things, most already used to some degree. Herbs hang from the high ceiling as do several lanterns; the fellow can’t need this many to light his shop, so they must be for sale as well.
To the left of the door in the back wall stands a tall rack with a variety of weapons, held upright by bits of cord tied to nails in the wooden wall behind them. In the back right corner is the beginning of a narrow stair, going up toward the front of the building. Glancing up where the stair passes through the floor, you can see a door that would close the opening from above and you think you hear a voice singing softly. Pye moves back to his place at the counter and finishes wiping down the sword, talking the whole time. “So you’ve just come in, eh? No doubt in the area seeking for adventure. Well, when you need some supplies, you just be coming to Rasmus Pye and I’ll provide them to you at a fair price, yes indeed. Folks wonder how I can get so many things away out here, and it’s because I believe in doing right by people, and so they in turn do right by me.
“Take those furs, for example. The pelt of a bear or a wolf is useful out here, and not too hard to come by. In a great city, though, those pelts are few and far between and will fetch a goodly price. On the other hand, things quite common in the city are rare this close to the wilderness. I’ve traveled up and down and know people hither and yon, and we do business together so that we all benefit.” Pye gives the sword one last swipe before placing it in the weapons rack, looping a cord around the hilt and guard, and tying it to its own nail. It occurs to you that, besides holding the weapons for display, the ties would severely hamper anyone inclined to suddenly snatch up a weapon and threaten the proprietor. Evidently Rasmus Pye is shrewd as well as affable.
“Nor is it just great traders who benefit – no indeed,” Pye continues, gesturing to his stock. “You see before you the collections of dozens of travelers who somewhere acquired extra gear or unusual items and sold them to me rather than carry them any further. They got a bit of coin for the purse and you, perchance, will be able to find just the right thing for your needs when you venture out yourself. If I’m not here – because sometimes I do travel out, to do what traders do – you can always deal with my excellent assistant.”
Pye moves to the stairs and calls up. “My merry love, could I interrupt you for just a moment?” The reply is indistinguishable where you are, but Pye is evidently satisfied for he moves back to his counter and begins the polishing process on a dagger that matches the previous sword. A few moments later you hear footsteps upstairs and someone wearing a green skirt starts down the steps.
“I’m that sorry, my dearest Pye, but I had my mouth full of pins. I started right in to work on my newest order of shirts while the light is good. I heard the bell; have we customers?” The woman who descends wears a white blouse with her skirt, and has golden-brown, curly hair pulled back with a light green kerchief.
“This is my esteemed wife, Meregan,” Rasmus Pye says, introducing her with a flourishing gesture. “Not only does she know where everything is in this wonder of a shop, and put my own poor self to rights, she is outstanding with a needle and makes clothing to special order for many of our customers.”
Meregan looks amused as Pye’s flowery description and gives you a bit of a mocking curtsy, then says, “If you won’t be needing me right now, Pye, I ought to get back to my shirts. You know that I like the light to be just right when I’m sewing so much black, and putting on all those extra pockets takes longer than usual.” Turning to you, she continues, “I suppose you’re taking in the whole village. Do be sure to step around to see Kalgor; he can be a bit of a grump but just ignore that, because it’s the good work he does that’s most important. I hope you’ll be safe in your journeys, so that we’ll see you again many a time!” Meregan gathers her skirts and heads back up the stairs, and you catch Pye admiring his wife’s neat ankles when you turn your attention back to him.
The trader gives you a wink, and says, “She’s quite right, you know; you truly ought to be meeting Kalgor while you’re here. Just go right around the building and his place is at the back. Ulman Dark, also; he has the house off by itself on the other side of the commons and could be supplying you with a bit of healing or two, should you be in need. You’d best be taking care, now, as we’d like to see you back often.”

Garamond's Story
Zelkor's Ferry

Garamond’s story
“My companions and I set out from Zelkor’s Ferry and traveled to the cesspit of evil they call the Mouth of Doom,” Garamond begins. “The entrance is designed to be frightening, and it is successful; several in our group had to nerve themselves a few moments before they could bear to step in. Once inside, our exploration progressed well. We were not as careful as we could have been – if you go there, watch your step; you can’t afford to assume things are as they seem.
“We found access down to the second level, which turned out to be more confusing. Several rooms were similar and we made errors in scribing our map. It was a maze of doors, with one room leading directly into another and then sudden dead ends. We eventually found our way out and to the third level down, but that was even more confusing.” Garamond shakes his head, and brushes his hair out of his eyes again. “I swear there was some type of magic interfering with our ability to keep track of where we were.
“We went down, and down again, and there at the bottom of the dungeon we found a pathway to Rappan Athuk, the great dungeon. It was wide enough to drive a wagon in it, or march an army through. There were a few foul creatures of the dark traveling it; we managed to avoid some and kill the others quietly.
“Following the path was straightforward, but not easy.” Garamond rocks back and forth a little as he speaks, and his eyes seem to be looking at something far away. “We traveled for days in the dark, until the echoes of our own movements nearly drove us crazy. Once Bregenz (the bard in our group) tried a brave song to stir us on but the walls threw back dissonance, distorting his voice so that it sounded as if a horde was shouting, rushing down the tunnel toward us. We hushed him after only a few lines but I swear it took an hour for the echoes to fade.
“Our eyes played tricks on us, seeing things at the corners of our vision. Janda, an elf, lost a score of arrows, loosing them at things he thought he saw, so that we refused to let him fill his quiver again. Huge caverns threatened to make us lose our way until the others were frantic at the thought we might never find a way out. When we finally reached the cursed dungeon itself, where the foes were deadly but things we could face with weapon or spell, battle-hardened men nearly wept for joy.” The man stares into the distance for another moment, then coughs and turns his gaze back to you.
“We had a few good fights after we were finally into the great dungeon. One incredible battle was when the ten of us fought a gigantic armored worm the color of a ripe plum. It actually swallowed Sir Albertus De Vinne whole, but thanks to the protection from his magic armor, and that incredible magical sword of his, he was able to cut his way out from the inside as we finished it off from the outside. There were also the usual giant rats and skeletons, but they were just an annoyance.
“We discovered a river running through the dungeon and were very curious to see where it led.” Garamond gives a half-smile. “The wizardess Euphemia of Rieven had a magical boat in her equipment but it would not hold everyone so we decided against that. When we came across the river again later, though, and found a boat someone had hidden nearby, we agreed we would try it. On the river the current was fast, the ceiling low, and we had a difficult time keeping the boats from crashing into the walls and into each other. It seemed that it was going to go on forever, but at last we came to a shore. Euphemia (who is a gnome) and Dark Nakki, a dwarf, agreed that we were deep beneath the surface, much deeper than we had been previously.
“We fought some powerful creatures in the cavern where we beached our boats, but after that it seemed the foes we discovered offered little challenge. Several of our people grew uneasy, and Sir Albertus was almost ill from his intense feeling of foreboding evil. It was not long before we discovered the source of that evil: we crept down a long, wide hallway and discovered the high temple of the degenerate being whose worshippers built the complex in the first place.
“Somehow the priests had discerned that we were approaching, and they were ready.” The man’s husky voice is tense. “They hurled magic at us, and summoned demons to attack. We had not been searching for a temple and so we were wretchedly unprepared. Before we could disengage, many of us were wounded by spell or by claw. Rather than a gradual retreat, we simply turned and ran. The gnomes couldn’t keep up with the taller ones, so Father Baris carried Euphemia, and I myself picked up the other cleric, Vianta of Briem. Both the gallant ladies were able to shoot magic over our shoulders, forcing the pursuing demons to fall back a bit.
Garamond shakes his head, and pushes his hair out of his eyes again. “Some of the rest of this I learned later; at the time there was only confusion. Janda of High Tower was our scout and he was in front as we ran. He came to a room of doors and the first one he opened contained a narrow staircase spiraling down. Thinking the demons might not be able to fit in the stairway he started down, the others right behind him. Sir Albertus stayed at the door until the last of us arrived, then he and I held it as the others hurried down. Cerin D’Avola also backed us up with her twin crossbows; small bows had seemed useless to me but they were excellent in such close quarters. Finally the demons ceased their attack. The three of us took the opportunity to flee, and their mocking laughter followed us
Rappan Athuk Player’s guide
down the narrow stair.
“As we reached the bottom we could feel the heat, and by the time we joined the others Sir Albertus and I were sweating in our armor. Janda was scouting ahead, as was Decanus Ovalico who could move very quietly for someone who appeared so clumsy. Decanus reported back a room with burned bones – the remains of unholy sacrifices, no doubt. Janda gave us the choice of going back up the stairs or trying one or another long corridor. Not wishing to return the way we had just come, we opted to search for another exit. We moved as quickly as we could, for the metal of our armor was quickly becoming hot to the touch.
“After a few twists and turns, we discovered why the demons had been laughing at us: in our flight from the evil temple, we had run to a rift that opened up to Hell itself.” Garamond shudders. “Ahead of us demonic lizardmen frolicked in a lake of liquid hellfire, as if in clear water. The heat was incredible and I could hardly breathe; my lungs felt as if they were on fire. I saw Euphemia faint, and Dark Nakki swore as his beard began to smoke. The demons attacked immediately, with flaming spears and their own fiery hands. Somehow I was closest to the lake of fire, and one grabbed me and tried to drag me in. He nearly made it; my right foot slipped in and began to burn and the pain was incredible, worse than anything I had ever experienced before. Sir Albertus grabbed me at that exact moment or I would have been gone. As it was I could not help myself; I heard later than he hoisted me over his shoulder and carried me as we fled again.
“They told me that the next passage they tried came to a dead end and the group was about to despair when Janda discovered a hidden room that was magically cold – a protection against the fire and demons of that awful place. By that time, though, I was dead from the hellfire, as was Euphemia and the beautiful Cerin D’Avola. My understanding is that one of those remaining – Decanus, or perhaps Bregenz the bard – found a scroll in Euphemia’s things and was able to puzzle out a spell or two to get the group out of the dungeon.
“Ulman Dark was able to restore my life, to a degree.” The man’s shoulders slump. “Sometimes I’ve wished my companions hadn’t been quite so loyal after all; they got me out, but of course couldn’t help my leg. I was such a bad case that when he got done, both Ulman Dark and I were laid up for a month and I’ve never really gotten my strength back. Some days it even hurts to breathe.
“If you’re truly thinking of heading down into that detestable tomb, let me give you a few words of advice.
“One piece of equipment lots of groups neglect is a boat; it was only by chance that we had one. There is a river in that dungeon that winds back and forth from one area to another and could take you to many places you might want to go – but also some that you don’t. A magic boat would be best of course, to make it easier to transport, but I suppose there must be ways to get normal ones down there. Do be certain there’s room for everyone, though; sending only one part of a group off in a boat would be a good way to get both parts killed.
“Iron spikes are very important. They’re key to being able to retreat from any dungeon, but especially Rappan Athuk. You can spike a door open, particularly if you had trouble finding it the first time and you need to know for certain that it will be open still when you’re ready to leave. You can also spike a door shut – very useful when you’re trying to leave and someone’s getting close, trying to prevent you. Of course, even iron spikes aren’t the solution to everything,” he adds sternly. “For one thing, spiking a door is noisy – very noisy. Tends to attract attention. For another thing, you can’t ever forget that everything that lives in that dungeon knows its way around better than you do. While you’re busy spiking doors over in one direction, something that wants to eat you is circling around another way and you’re going to get a nasty surprise.
“Don’t forget your distance weapons, either. Most folks think of a dungeon as being small rooms and a few corridors. The great dungeon has many large room and huge caverns, and sometimes you really need to be able to attack something without needing to get too close!
“It’s incredibly important to have a scout or two, make use of them to gather information, and then act on it instead of just blundering ahead. More scouting, and not getting cocky about our abilities, would both have made things better for us. There are two thoughts that really haunt me,” Garamond continues. “In my nightmares about that flaming lake I also see a great golden bridge, gleaming in the flickering light of the fires of hell. I don’t know if it is only part of my dream, or if it was something real that at the time I barely saw. The other is the thought of that long underground passageway. Since the time I traveled it, I’ve wondered when an army of the dark will use it to come marching out of the Dungeon of Graves.
“Well, I need to get one more bale of furs from Pye and have it ready before the boat arrives. The captain likes to make only a brief stop, and I need to be sure all these goods get aboard. A pack animal is about all I’m good for anymore.” The bronze-skinned man stretches slightly as he straightens, then moves off again in his lumbering gait.

The Ferry
Zelkor's Ferry

The Ferry
Coming out of Kalgor’s establishment, you find yourself facing a small house of stone, the only one you’ve seen here in Zelkor’s Ferry. A pair of wooden chairs and a small table sit in front of it and the door stands open, as do the bright blue wooden shutters. To your left is the way back to the settlement; to your right are the river and a long wooden dock, where a tanned sailor in a wide-brimmed hat is preparing to cast off a boat. On the dock itself, a husky dark-haired man is arranging crates and barrels. You hear a door open across from you and notice a small shack just past the left end of the house. A tall woman walks out, her pants and shirt covered with a big canvas apron. She removes a cloth she had tied over her hair and the blonde braids wound around her head glint in the sun.
“Ho!” she calls out to you in a hearty voice. “Are you looking for the ferry? I can ring the chime for Gutmark, and catch him before he leaves. He’s just taking the boat out fishing, but running the ferry is more important.” She relaxes when you assure her you have no need of the ferry at the moment, and introduces herself. “I am Adebrin. Gutmark brings in the fish, when he’s not needed for the ferry, and I take care of them from there. I smoke them, and other meats, too, when we have them.” As she draws closer you smell the faint scent of woodsmoke on her; that shack must be the smokehouse.
Adebrin removes her big apron and hangs it on a peg inside the open door of the house. A glimpse through the opening shows that the interior is tidy but crowded. “So have you just arrived here? Yes, and I suppose you are looking for excitement nearby.” She shakes her head. “So many people come with such high hopes, and so many of them leave here disappointed or worse. No doubt at some point you will have need of the ferry; it is the straightest way to leave here if you travel to the Coast Road. If you wish to go by water, which may be slower but more sure, you can be a passenger on one of the keelboats that plies the river. The Yellow Oak is fast, but not very large. The Lucky Oak is not quite so fast but is a little bigger. Then there is the Brawler. It is a big, slow ship, captained appropriately by one they nickname “the Whale.” There are a few others that come and go from time to time, but you are mostly likely to see one of those three.
“I noticed you earlier wandering around the village,” Adebrin says, “But I think you have not yet met our residents on the north side? The soldiers in the barracks are like soldiers everywhere. The smith is a good man, but tight with his words. His wife does not care to be friends with any of the women in the village, though,” her voice turns mocking. “I can tell by her expression that she thinks she’s better than someone who has to deal with smelly fish. And the trader’s wife thinks she’s better yet, doing nothing but sitting in her house all day sewing fine clothes of linen. Would she be so smug if she knew what that Pye does on those ‘trading’ trips of his? I saw him once or twice elsewhere, before I married Gutmark. She’d best keep an eye on his sharp dealings, or one day she’ll find he’s traded her away!” Adebrin emphasis her point with a firm nod, and continues.
“Did Pye give you his best friendly approach? He tried that on me when Gutmark brought me here last year.” She leans forward, and drops her voice confidentially. “He wasn’t smiling so much, though, when I showed him I knew the true value of a barrel of smoked bear meat – a great delicacy in the city. And why did he send his own son away, to be apprenticed to the smith? It’s because he couldn’t handle the boy, young as he is. Big Morgan, now, that’s a real man and he knows how to handle a feisty lad.
“Enough of me talking gossip!” Adebrin says, throwing up her hands. “I know adventuresome folk like you aren’t interested in the doings of our little community. Instead of listening to me natter on, you’d do better to go have speech with Garamond, who is working out on the dock. He’s been in the dungeon of graves, so they say, and lived to tell the tale!” She motions you away with her hands, then goes into the stone house and closes the door.

The Dock
Zelkor's Ferry

The Dock
You stroll over to the dock, which like the rest of the settlement seems weathered but still serviceable. It has space for only one boat on each side; if the captains were very careful it might be possible to moor a third right out at the end, but the river current makes that seem chancy. About halfway along the wooden surface stands a row of barrels and a stack of crates, now much more efficiently organized than when you first saw them a few minutes ago.
The figure you saw from a distance turns out to be a burly, bronzed fellow who has obviously spent most of his life out of doors. He hoists the last out-of-place barrel onto his shoulder, and the bunching muscles in his arms remind you of knots in a branch of wood as they flex under his tanned skin. He starts to make his way around from behind the remaining kegs and you notice that he seems to limp; when his legs come into view, you can see that his right leg is missing from the knee down and has been replaced by a wooden stump. He sets the barrel neatly in its place and gives you just a glance before making his slow way up to the trading post,

returning with one of the large bundles of fur you saw at the building earlier. After placing it carefully atop some crates, he rests on a nearby barrel and strikes up a conversation with you.
“You’re new here, eh? Just passing through?” His voice is deep and somewhat rough, as if his throat is sore. “You can call me Garamond. I’m passing through also, but I’ve been here many a time. ’Twas right here in Zelkor’s Ferry that Ulman Dark himself brought me back to life after an unfortunate incident in a great underground dungeon not too far from here.” The man needs only a little encouragement to get him to keep talking; he brushes his thick dark hair out of his eyes and continues.

Ulman Dark
Zelkor's Ferry

You wander back past the ferryman’s house and look north across the small peninsula which holds the settlement. From here you can see the remains of a stone wall along the far side of the spit of land, giving some small amount of protection to any attack that might come from the river on the north. It is at least head high in most places, and taller and in better shape where it meets the guard tower at the gate. The wall is only a few tumbled stones along the east side of the peninsula, though, and nothing is left of it in the area of the dock.
Built almost up against the wall on the north side, as far away from the rest of the settlement as it is possible to get, is a large wooden house: the home of Ulman Dark. It seems a bit odd that it stands so far from the other buildings, when some of the ones to the south are built literally on top of one another. You head north across the common space and realize it is grassy on this end, though it is mostly dirt near the inn and stables. The house ahead must be at least two stories tall; it is as tall as any other building in the village. There is a stone stoop, and two stone steps up to the front door. The main floor has no windows but the upper level has some, or at least you see two at the front.
Just as you near the house the door opens and a woman pauses in the doorway. She is dressed in dark leather and holding a black crossbow, with long auburn hair held out of her face by a woven band. A quiver hangs at her side, its strap around her neck and lying between her breasts. Her brown eyes survey you coolly, and then she smiles.
“So, have you come to see the necromancer in his lair? Come to hire the services of the great Ulman Dark?” Her voice seems slightly mocking, but that may be your own misperception. “You don’t look injured yet, so perhaps this is just a preventive measure? Always a wise choice, acquiring a healing draught before you need it. Just don’t use very many at a time – not even Ulman is always quite sure what’s in them, and too much of a good thing could kill you.” The woman turns gracefully, poised on the doorstep, and calls back into the house. “Ulman! Someone here to see you.” She leans her shoulder against the door frame for a few moments, the crossbow negligently dangling from her left hand.
A man dressed in black appears in the doorway behind her and speaks in a deep voice. “Kanndra? I thought you had gone out to shoot that nasty crossbow of yours.”
“How many times do I have to tell you? It isn’t the weapon that’s nasty; it’s the woman who wields it.” The woman – Kanndra – gives the necromancer a smile and a significant glance, then steps lightly down the stairs and walks around the west side of the house. By moving that way slightly yourself, you can see a large barrel sitting against the north wall, a target painted on it. The outer white and middle yellow rings are nearly untouched; you see some marks in the inner red ring but if there are any hits in the center black circle, they are not visible from where you are.
“Welcome to the abode of Ulman Dark.” intones the man now alone in the doorway, and you give your attention back to him. He is tall and slender with pale skin, as if he spends very little time out of doors. His black hair brushes his shoulder and falls into his eyes and his dark eyes are shadowed, as if he never gets enough sleep. “Please, step inside and let me tell you about my services.” He ushers you in, and then closes the door behind you.
It seems very dark inside, and your eyes try to adjust. Suddenly the room is flooded with more light; two hooded lanterns on the wall which were mostly closed have been opened to their fullest. You squint briefly against the bright light and see Ulman Dark seat himself on a tall, high-backed chair in front of the lanterns. His face is in shadow as he begins to speak in his smooth voice.

“I have studied extensively in many cities, and in the wilderness where few others have ever set foot. The knowledge of the stars is mine, and the animals of the night, and the plants that bloom in darkness, and things that grow in dark places. I have studied the persons of humans, elves, dwarves, and many other races; I know what makes them live, and I know what makes them die. I understand what herbs and substances are necessary for a body to heal itself, and I combine these rare ingredients painstakingly into a healthful draught than can help alleviate an injury or wound. In addition, there is more I can do!” Dark’s voice increases in volume slightly with his excitement. You also become aware of a rhythmic thumping outside, every several seconds, which seems to underscore what Dark is saying.
“My great knowledge of the body allows me to recognize many diseases both terrible and common. Through the use of such practices as leeching, and purging, and the application of plasters and the imbibing of nostrums, it is possible that I may help the afflicted to cheat death, and live, though the most deadly disease try to say me nay.”
He grips the arms of his chair and leans forward. “Yet more amazing is the possibility of removing deadly poisons from the body. I have studied poisons extensively indeed and know that few have a certain cure. But many may have a cure! The procedure is complicated and difficult, requiring precision and concentration, and the application of certain very rare ingredients. It can only be effective at all if begun within hours, lest the poison have too tight of a grip to shake.
“Any of these services is available to anyone, for a most reasonable fee. There is no need to appease a particular deity, or appeal to the good nature of someone who may disapprove of you. I ask only for payment in advance, for my best effort will be expended and my stores depleted, whether or not I am able to battle back the ravages that may come upon a body. I am able to make no guarantees, for I am not a god nor aspire to be one, that I should promise to cure all the ills of men. I can but do my best, but my best is very fine indeed.” His voice softens and becomes intense. As he leans forward his face is somewhat illuminated, and his eyes look very dark. His deep voice continues, persuading you of his abilities.
“The most amazing of my services, though, I have yet to mention. My studies, which some deplore as ‘black magic,’ have granted me a measure of power over life and death. The temples of the gods keep their secrets well hidden, but I have found that it is possible even to restore life to a body, after life has fled.” The sounds outside have stopped and it is suddenly very quiet here, as if everything is holding its breath in the face of this incredible claim. Dark continues in a hushed voice. “I cannot go into more details, for this procedure is my own secret, one thing that only I know, one gift that only I can give the world. However, it is costly, and horrendously difficult, to the point that I myself may be physically devastated by the procedure. Here again I can make no guarantees, but many an unfortunate adventurer has been brought to my door lifeless and cold, only to be restored to his or her comrades with joy after my own humble efforts.” He has drawn your attention with his recitation, made you feel the tension and triumph he describes, and so you are startled with Dark suddenly rises to his feet, silhouetted against the lamps.
“Now go!” he says, gesturing toward the door. He turns and with a gesture closes the lanterns, plunging the room into darkness. You hear his steps and then he flings open the door, giving enough light for you to make your way out. As you are stepping out, he urges you again. “Go on into your adventures and come back when you must, and from my knowledge and skills I will endeavor to provide you with what you need.”
Just then Kanndra Dark comes around the corner of the house, her crossbow held carelessly over her shoulder and her quiver empty. She is panting slightly, and sweating from her exertion. Her graceful movements make every step look as if she is dancing. “The bolts are stuck again, Ulman, but the guards say they will get them out for me.” She stands close to him and looks up at him with a smile. “Have you concluded your conversation? Do you then have some time for me, before I have to go?”
Dark gives you another intent look, then turns his gaze back to his wife. “Come, my dear, let us make the best use of our short time before you leave,” and turning his back on you he firmly closes the door.
Raised voices around the corner catch your attention, and you walk around the house to find three men arguing over a clutch of crossbow bolts stuck into the target barrel. All three are dressed in leather pants, plain shirts, and brown tunics with short sleeves, on one of which is embroidered a simple pattern of a river and a boat.
“One thing I don’t want is Kanndra Dark unhappy with me again,” the first one says with a shudder. “That tongue of hers could flay a bear alive and make him beg her to just stab him rather than haranguing him more.”
“Let’s see if we can get the bolts out without breaking them,” the second one suggests more calmly. “She wasn’t very happy with our results yesterday.”
“I am never doing anything to get a price on my head,” the third man says, digging at the bolts with his dagger, “if there’s a chance in hell that Kanndra Dark might be the one to come after me. I heard, before I came here, that she poisons her crossbow bolts with something exotic. That way not only is her target injured, he’s confused, or weak, or forced to cooperate, depending on who’s telling you. I didn’t credit it at the time, but now seeing who her husband is, I can believe it.”
“It’s true she’s a mite sharp-spoken,” the second man begins, and the first one snorts at the understatement, “but watching her fire that crossbow is a thing of grace and beauty. I’d be happy to watch all day, but we’d need to get her more than one target so she doesn’t feel a need to put all the bolts into one bull’s-eye.”
The two who are not engaged in digging bolts out of the target notice you watching, and motion you over. “Come take a look at this target!” one calls. “It’s some amazing shooting.” You stroll over and see that what you thought was the dark center of the bull’s-eye is instead the fletched ends of closely packed crossbow bolts. Evidently the shooter had put the bolts through the center of the target, directly next to each other. Up close you can also see differences among the three men. The one who spoke to you has light brown hair, closely cropped, and is a bit more heavy-set than the others. The second man is a bit younger and taller than the others, with dark blond hair, while the fellow attempting to remove the crossbow bolts has brown hair liberally sprinkled with gray and is slender but appears strong.
“That Kanndra Dark,” the younger man says. “The first day she was here, she had us set up a target for her. After a few shots she got us to weight it with a log. Her bolts really tore up the barrel that day since she kept hitting in the center or close to it. Yesterday she shot the center right out, but wasn’t this precise.”
“Yes,” agrees the brown-haired man, “And asked us to get her bolts out, and then gave us a tongue-lashing when we broke half a dozen of them.”
“Today I think she hit more than just the exact center,” continues the blond, “but it’s hard to tell with the middle of the target completely gone. I’m Tancred Malgun, by the way, one of the guards of Zelkor’s Ferry. You just arrived this morning, didn’t you? I saw Captain Skorma talking to you earlier. This fellow here is Corbel Grambien, and our friend who is so handy with a dagger is Bernhard Caxton.” Bernhard gives a nod over his shoulder and keeps working.
“Kanndra Dark always causes a bit of a stir when she’s here,” Corbel remarks. “She’s married to Ulman Dark right enough, but she’s a bounty hunter and so she’s away a good portion of the time. She’s here for a few days every couple of months, maybe, though I understand she’s been gone as long as six months at once when she had to chase some fellow right out into the desert down south.”
“I’ve heard she’s cruel,” Tancred says in a hushed voice, looking over his shoulder at the house behind him. “When a person gives her a lot of trouble she tortures him before she turns him in, or kills him slowly if the reward is for him dead. I dearly admire that red hair of hers and she moves like a dancer when she has a sword in her hands, but a poisonous snake is graceful too and probably a lot less dangerous.”
Bernhard straightens slowly, a dozen bolts in his hand, and motions for Corbel to take over the task. “You two wouldn’t remember this,” he says quietly, “because it was before Bristleback hired you, but one time we all saw what Kanndra Dark can do.” He glances at you, to be sure you are listening as well. “You know Ulman does healings for people, though he uses his own strange methods. Well, one time a healing went awry and it laid him out so that he was terribly weak. The folks he was trying the healing for weren’t happy with the results; not only did they refuse to pay him for his effort, they stole a goodly amount of money from him and some other stuff. They just rode out of town, and the rest of us didn’t know what had happened until the next day. Then we found Ulman and took care of him but there was nothing we could do about the theft – until Kanndra arrived that night.

“When she heard what had happened, she became like a scorching flame. Just her look would have started straw on fire! You think her tongue was rough yesterday? That was nothing compared to what she had to say about those thieves. She looked everywhere in and around the house. She questioned Igor and Vort, and searched the stables, then rode out of here like a streak of dark lightning.
“Evidently that group hadn’t gotten far enough away. Of course, there had not been anyone to warn them that Kanndra would be coming after them.” Bernhard narrows his eyes and gives you a thin smile. “Not that a warning would have done them any good. By the time Ulman Dark was back on his feet Kanndra returned with not only his missing things, and some other useful magical items, but also a present: six nicely-tanned human skins. Someone told me later that he used them to bind a set of new books for his notes. He just wasn’t able to make the books very large because he had to work around holes in the skins in several places.”
Corbel and Tancred just stare at Bernhard, their eyes a bit wide at this announcement. Corbel clears his throat.
“Here are the rest of the bolts; why don’t you,” and he passes them to Bernhard, “leave them on her doorstep? I’m sure she’ll find them there. I’ll be sitting on the other side of the barracks.” He turns to you. “You’re welcome to come, too. It just seems safer over there all of a sudden.”


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