You sway on the murky sea. Drifting to and fro. You stir and shift uncomfortably. At times it feels as if you are falling. Or is it flying? It’s hard to tell the difference. You open your eyes to see what has happened. Where you are.
The smoke billows into the coal night sky. You struggle with little avail to lift your splitting head. “My skull has been cleaved in two!” Is your first fleeting reaction as crippling agony roars through your swelled cranium. You return your face to the cold unforgiving icy forrest trail upon which you sprawl.
You lay there still. Time shambles along like a band of undead on a damned march to eternity. Finally you muster the remaining strength that you must harness. Lest you lie forever, or at least until the wolves (or something twice as horrible) smell your now curdled blood and decide to take a closer look. You push yourself onto all fours and remain there for a time. The smell of a dieing fire tickles your nostrils and you slowly glance around the immediate area.
To your left, and in the center of the hewn stone forrest path, lie the smouldering remains of a wooden merchant’s cart. Now no more than a skeletal pile of burnt rubble. There is a half charred banner that had somehow survived the onslaught. In the common speech the words “Elwood’s Traveling Emporium” shine silver and gold on the deep crimson cloth.
“Elwood’s Traveling Emporium”. The words resonate in your mind. You try desperately to recall this glamouros tapestry and how you have came to lie with it in it’s apparent final resting place.
“Elwood….hmm….is that me?” Even in your disconnected state this doesn’t click as true. No your not Elwood. But then who are you? To your horror the answer alludes you. You can’t remember. In fact short of waking up in a pool of dried blood you don’t seem to recall anything of your life on the other side of a knock on the head.
It seems aperant that you must have been traveling with this traveling snake oil cart, and it seems even a fool can see that there was some sort of raid or attack. Further then that all is shrouded in mystery. Any signs of the mysterious Elwood or the goods that he carried have apparently vanished without a trace. All but this burnt rubble of a cart. The horses that drew it here evaporated into the black night like the rest. You pull yourself heavily to your feet. Wincing as fresh bolts of pain rock your spinning head, and you teeter on your unstable legs. After a moment of intense pain and a go at emptying the remains of your aperant last meal, venison and peas so it looks, you gain enough balance and composure to stumble about. Searching for clues to this forgotten wagon or your misplaced identity.
The bench seat remains partially in tact. Sitting atop the scorched heap like the ruined throne of a burnt kingdom. You approach the bench and shove it with the toe of one heavy leather booted foot. The reminence easily topples over. It seems that whoever picked these bones made sure that they were clean.
Suddenly a fragment of a memory, or maybe just a dream, spikes you in the back of your head. A vauglely formilliar, yet incredibly hazy scene rolls in your minds eye.
There is a small bearded individual in a golden yellow cloak. He appears to be smaller than a dwarf yet more trim and slender then those of robust haffling stock. “A Gnome” you identify quickly enough. “Elwood. Elwood Mandrake.” The name seemingly illuminates itself with no effort or strained concentration.
In the memory you see the well dressed little fellow going about his preparations. Loading the wagon with countless mystery crates, bottles, and kegs. “Looks like it’s going to be a long journey.” you speculate silently. Then as the short thin creature climbs aboard the thoroughly stuffed wagon you witness something that grabs your attention. The road savy merchant takes from his pocket a small burlap sack, barely larger than a ladies coin purse. The Gnome then reaches under the thick padded slab of the bench seat and withdrew a thin removable slice of wood, revealing a false panel carved into the think piece of timber. Elwood places the small sack of unknown treasures and a ragged sheet of yellowed parchment into the hidden compartment and then slides the thin panel securly back into place. The secret space now invisible to all who doesn’t know it’s hidden tale.
You stare now at the smoke blackened bench in which you have just toppled. It’s one in the same. You kneel by the rubble and rub you hand across the bottom of the thick hearty slab of timber. As your fingers move gently along the grain you feel a piece slide slightly to one side. You’ve found Elwood’s stash. Luckily who or whatever had ambushed the small wagon had overlook this unknown horde.
You remove the contents of Elwood’s travel stash and peer inside the small bag. Gold, silver, and a handful of shining jewels that glowed even in the dark burlap sack hidden from any reflection of the moons rays. Beside the sack is the parchment. You carefully unfold the crisp document and look it over intently.
It’s a map. It has suffered a bit of damage and though the trail and destination are still clearly marked, the starting location seems to have been singed away as the wagon burned. You’re lucky to have salvaged this scrap in time. At least you know where you intended to wind up.
Greyhawk. The name holds little weight in your scrambled thoughts. You stare at the name scrawled on the charred parchment for a few moments, pocket the sack of goodies, and make your decision. Standing alone in the dark with dried blood cracking down your temple isn’t going to get you any answers. If there are any to be had, you surmise, Greyhawk is where you will find them.
So you begin to walk. Following the cobblestone trial into the frigid night. Praying silently to unknown gods that the answers you seek will be found along this lonely road in this unknown berg.
Just then a sharp warm aroma fills your nose. It smells of boiling tea leaves and must. A thick heavy air enters your lungs and your head spins. Again you are falling. Not falling asleep. Not falling down into a pit of dark nothingness. You are falling upward. Yanked like steel to a powerful magnet. You are falling back into the realm of the tangible. Pulled awake from a fevered slumber to close to death to be of any rest. All is green…all is warm….and it seems that you have survived….
To be continued…..