Safe and Sound

It had been nearly a month since you had awoken battered and lost on that icy stretch of cobblestone.

Greyhawk had proven a harsh mistress. A city of vile patronage. A poor damn fool that couldn’t even remember their own name was an easy mark. Even for a fairly inexperienced con-man. For three and a half increasingly inhospitable weeks you fluttered about that den of sin. You attempted to mount a ill planned investigation, but no one that you questioned had any knowledge of a Gnome named Elwood, and you had seemingly not encountered anyone who had recognized you.

As the days passed your morale quickly faulterd and your taste for the drink flourished. The small leather coin pouch that you had scavenged from the ruins of the cart tagged “Elwood’s Emporium” grew increasingly lighter by the day. Gems were swapped for tankards of grog and coins flowed through your hands with the greatest of ease.

Then there were those damned dice. You found them in the little satchel shortly after you hit town. Mixed amongst the glimmer and shine jewels and precious metals were seven distinctly shaped objects. Each with a different number of sides and engraved with numbers ranging from one to twenty.

These had proven a powerful evil in which you could not seem to overcome. One evening whilst draining a pint you found yourself enthralled by the tiny onyx game pieces. Grasping the seven stones above the hardwood table that had been holding you upright for the better part of the evening, and then releasing your grip allowing the enchanting little bits to tumble this way and that. The golden shimmer of the numbers and sleek black hue sparkling like the first morning sun. As you sat examining the results of one of your meaningless drops, you glanced up from your Ale hazed wonder to meet the gaze of a kindly looking old fellow watching intently.

“Some fine workmanship on those.” the thin white haired man said with a glint of admiration in his deeply set bloodshot eyes. “Have you ever played for coin?” You then informed this fine looking old gentleman with the big friendly smile that not only had you never played for coin, you in fact have no idea how to play the game at all.

Well wouldn’t you know that this  saintly old soul in which you had been speaking happened to be somewhat of an expert on the subject, and out of the kindness of his gentle, completely unbiased, caring heart, he selflessly voluntered to teach you  to roll the dice. For coin of course. “After all a game of dice isn’t a game of dice without coin.”  He reassured you with a smile.

By the time you left Greyhawk on the night of the goblin attack, you had gambled, ate, or drank away everything but those cursed onyx  devils. Including the leather chest piece that you had been wearing when you first hit town. The gentle little fellow with the friendly smile had raked you hard over a bed of coals.

He taught you the art of the roll. You were a natural. Hand after hand, it seemed that you couldn’t lose, that fateful night in that stuffy little canteen. One by one,  roll after roll you watched as those sparkling gold bits began to stack higher and higher. It was incredible. As if some great wealth enchantment had been cast upon you. Greedily you cast the dice again and again.

Then your luck seemed to abandon you. The wonderful little stacks that had thrilled you in a deep hidden spot that only those with “the itch” can truly understand, were slowly depleting. Roll….you lose. Roll…another loss. Roll…winner. So on it went. Winning one in three if you were lucky. One in five or six more often then not. Soon the coins you had sat on the table were gone and you found yourself digging in your battered coin pouch for replacements.

As you rolled you drank. As you drank you lost. The more you lost, you guessed it, the more you drank.

Your not exactly sure when the kindly looking crooked man finished humiliating you, but you do know that when you awoke in the ally behind the tavern with some unknown grime smeared down your face and caked on your clothes, your coin pouch was nearly empty. The old con-man had allowed you to keep your complete set of dice, the sight of which made you immediately ill, and five small gems, all of differing color and shape. Perhaps the crooked little man was kindly after all. He swindled you out of your coin but he left you these bits to trade for food. At least for a few days.

They went quick, and when they were gone you traded what bit of gear you had remaining towards food and lodging. Once that was gone things had been less than accommodating. You stretched as far as you could. Then you broke. You had been unceremoniously removed from your room at the inn, and the tavern owner told you that if he caught you bumming a tankard of all off of his paying customers one more time he was going to have his bouncer, a large angry looking orc with one broken tusk and a large purple tinted scar zig-zagging down his left cheek, adjust the shape of your kneecaps.

No Greyhawk had not been a pleasant experience in any aspect. That’s why you left. That’s why you were in that gods forsaken forest when those little demons got you… Did they get you? Are you dead, torn to shreds by razorblade wood goblin teeth? There was something else. An explosion. The horrible smell. The blinding light.

Just then a scream begins to rise. Softly at first. Increasing more and more by the second until it pierces into your brain like a bolt from from a crossbow. You jerk suddenly awake from your foggy dreams of ventures lost and pasts forgotten.

You open your eyes and sit upright briskly. Pain rips through your calf and a spike of agony punches your brain like a stake driven by a mallet. You immediately fall back onto the cot in which you had sprung from.

“Easy there! You’re not ready to dance a jig yet wanderer.” A strange crackling voice blurted from the foot of the cot. “It’s only the tea kettle don’t strain yourself.”

“Gonna be a day or two till your feeling yourself again. Lucky you made it here when you did. Your little friends out there nearly made a fine meal outta you.”

You lie still and the splitting pain in your skull subsides a bit. You scan the room. It seems to be a small musty smelling hovel. The natural wood paneling that covered the walls began to turn green as the lichen from the outside world had found its way through the tight seams of the wall. Various plants hung from a string line stretched across across the room, drying to be used in some sort of herbal conjuration. Against the far wall was a table that housed a winding array of vial, beakers, burners, tubes, and lines.

“He’s an alchemist.” You deduce. On the left hand wall sat a desk with a  hodge podge mismatch of  objects, tools, and stacks of old, fat, ancient looking books.

You reel to the foot of the cot and spot the owner of the unknown voice. A stout Dwarven fellow stands proudly planted. He smiles a cracked, coffee stained smile as you catch his gaze. His long beard assuredly would have been a snowy white if not for the mossy green tint that much uncleanliness and a lifetime living amongst the mould and ivy of the deep forest had adorned it. He wore a tattered brown shirt and baggy green trousers. both stained with decades of unaccounted for spills and explosions.

“Mossbeard is what they call me theses days. That is the few that call. I don’t do much socializing. Time wasted socializing is time lost learning or discovering. Lucky for you as little as I think of socializing I think a damn spot less of watching goblins rip someone to shreds on my doorstep. It makes an awful mess and the stain lasts for years.” As he said this his lips, hidden beneath his evergreen moustache, curled slightly upward at each corner in a ribbing smile.

“So I saved your hide. Have you ever heard of “The Blinding Essence of Ezekiel”?” He eyed you, waiting for a response. “No.” You croak out realizing how difficult it is for you to speak.

“It’s an explosive potion. It’ll burn ye retinas out if you get a big eyeful at the peak of the blast. It does a bit more to the little green murderers of the forrest. Kinda hollows them out I guess you could say. Burns there eyes out and chars there bloody wicked brains. Scorches them good and crispy. I drug you in while they were still squalling and screeching. You was pretty rough. Busted your dome good on me door. Hell of a knot. They were making lunch of your leg there too. Looks like they got you three or four good times before I charred um. I doctored you up before the rot set in. Goblins are filthy beasts and an untended bite can be a death sentence even if you manage not to become the main course.”

“And here we are. You survived. I’m out a bomb potion and a healing tincture or two. But I suppose that’s alright. You can make it up to me in a few days when you get your legs back under you. I have a few chores and errands that an extra set of hands might just come in handy for.

“Now I may be an eccentric old kook that lives alone in a shack in the woods, but I know the path whence you came and I know the wicked deeds that transpire in Greyhawk. I also know that honest folk don’t generally run off into the woods in the dark of night. So I’ll tell you this once stranger and I suggest that you take it to heart. If you find yourself feeling a bit froggy and think maybe once you heal all strong and fit that you may do old Mossbeard dirty. Whether it be thievery or something a little more sinister, I give you fair warning you will curse the day you ever thought of pulling such a foul stunt. I will boil the hide from your bones before you have a chance to soil your underthings my good wanderer.” With this the smile returned to the dwarfs lips, but it was not the joking playful grin from before. His emerald eyes gazed into your own like he could read your soul like an open book. It was a reasurance that the green bearded fellow whole heartedly meant this warning and would not think twice to follow through with the penalty if it should come to that.

“Enough small talk.” He said as he turned and waddled to a wood stove with a large cast iron pot on top. “It’s nearly supper time and I’m off famished.” He pulled the lid from the top of the pot and produced a large wooden spoon with which he began to stir the glorious smelling contents inside.

“Boar’s haunch and brown beans!” He said with delight as he sampled the soup. “I made a lot. I was figuring you to be a hungry one. After all you’ve been down for two days with no more then the water I could get you to take without drowning you. I’m fairly low on ale, and that’s not a state I like to be in. Maybe once you get a bit of strength back you can help me remedy that. But that’s for another day. Tonight we eat and get aquatinted. After all you fell into my door for a reason. All things have a reason. The universe doesn’t make mistakes, and accidents are never an accident. We just need to find out where we fall in to each other’s story. Sit up if you can and I will make you a bowl…

To be continued……..

Welcome Traveler…

Down the winding path you stumble on. The night so thick that it strangles the light from the moon. Encasing it in a fog of gray cloudy plumes that drift slowly across the blackness of the starless midnight sky. Thick as the smoke of a dieing funeral pire.

You hold your lantern out to greet the darkness. The subtle glow of it’s blue flame beckoning you further down the beaten trail. Tall looming pines and unforgiving patches of razor sharp thorny brush mar your vision on either side.

Then it grabs your eye. Directly ahead a tiny pinpoint of light caresses your iris. Just a miniscule speck at first. Smaller than a firefly but more pronounced. Not a flicker, just a solid glowing ember. Sometimes orange and welcoming. Occasionally flashing green, red, or purple as if tiny explosions were erupting to life only to die away in a fevered flash.

You stop as you stare into the tiny speck of light. So alien in the  thick darkness that surrounds you in this entangled fortress of natural terror. Slowly you steal a glance to the rear. The place where you’ve been. The bustle of the markets and merchants. The blood and shit lining the gutters. The cloaked figures in the filthy back allies and side street pubs. Calmly awaiting the perfect moment to follow an unsuspecting fool with a belly full of ale and a head full of dreams into the still night to help alleviate them of the burden that a full coin sack can bring. Sometimes the unfortunate souls would awake in a puddle of blood with a splitting head. Sometimes they would not.

Far too much time have you wasted in this wicked den of greed and Chaos, and even now Greyhawks’s foul stench infests your nostrils. Even here alone in this desolate forest the cries of dieing men and beasts echo in your mind’s ear.

That’s in the past now. You’ve made your choice. By this time next week Greyhawk will be a distant memory. No longer can you dissern the lantern’s glow from that dark pit.

But what of this new flicker set in your path. Could it simply be a trick of his weary mind? A menevoleant spirit beckoning to the solitary wanderer. Calling your name in a wicked chorus of  “come hither” flashes and sparks.

Suddenly, you are torn away from the light emitting from this far off anomaly that you must undoubtedly confront if you intend to distance yourself from the Hawk’s bitter reek. To your left the underbrush burst to life with snapping twig and rustling bush. From the still silence comes a battalion scuttling mystery. First on one side then the other. Now seemingly all around you Traveler. The tall looming pines shake with a violent pulse. As if this ancient wood had just received a adrenaline shot in the heart. Bursting to life and looming with death.

Shrill screams fill your ears sending your head spinning. You real around in a partial circle staring into the blackness and you curse that damn Bard who relieved you of your weapon and most of your gear back at the Hollowed Horn Tavern. Most of all you curse your foolish weakness for the dice that allowed him to do it.

That was a moot point here and now though as you stand unarmed in the night like a damned fool, terror fully taking hold. As the trees rattle like a drum and the screeching hiss of the unseen murauders swirl around. Louder and louder by the millisecond you spot two new specks illuminating  the darkness. A burning green as full of natural essence as the emerald chloroplast in the leaves of a new spring sapling, but burning with a rage and malice that could only intend wickedness and suffering to any one unfortunate enough to fall into thier carnivores gaze.

Wood Goblins, without question. One of the road such as yourself was no stranger to thier threat. A horde could desomate an unsuspecting caravan. The filthy stinking little beasts can seemingly materialize from out of nowhere and swarm like giant razor mouthed hornets before a party even knows what hit them. Looting, plundering, and maiming. Picking clean the bones of both unlucky merchants, and thier precious cargo.

In the black booming terror one set of eyes becomes two. Two becomes four. Four becomes how many? A hundred? A thousand? You have no way to know and no time to debate the matter.

This is the moment when your courage fails you. You may be a fool that gambles away your gear, but let no one say that you are fool enough to stand ideally by and be a midnight snack for a band of wood Goblins.

So you do what must be done. You run. You run faster than your feet have ever carried you. Troding down the narrow path. Starring directly into the tiny flashing light that had captured your inturege and wonder only seconds before. It doesn’t matter now what this mystery ahead may hold. The approaching doom that surrounds you at this moment takes precident over whatever may be creating these colorful fireworks in the road.

As your heart pounds hard in the pit of your chest, you can feel the greasy clawed mitts grasping at your sweat soiled tunic. Ripping and tearing at the batterd worn cloth. You smell the sour breath of the horde and feel it’s steamy heat.

As on you run the light ahead begins to take form. It slowly becomes distinguishable. A small hut. Overgrown with lifetimes of neglect. If not for the illumination from the small dirty window of the tiny landmark, it would appear to any onlooker to be a lost remnant of times forgotten. Abandoned for eternity. But this is clearly not the case.

You puff in the cool night air and release tufts of horrified exhaustion. The horde of little green killing machines hot on your heels. As you approach the hut a fleeting thought occurs to you “What if what’s inside this forgotten shack is a worse fate than being torn to shreds by goblins?” ‘Is that possible?” Of course it is, but with the screaming demons inches away from clamping into your flesh you suppose that is a chance that you must take.

You burst through the decrepit remnants of what was once a sturdy wooden gate. Now laying here and there in bits and tatters. An ancient cobblestone walk lay half buried, half protruding from the lichen covered forest floor. The door is nearly within reach. You stretch your arms out wildly gripping for a solid handle in which to gain admittance.

That’s when you slipped. Your right foot planting firmly on a large jagged moss covered stone and sliding straight out in front of you causing you to do a nearly full split. The tendons in both legs stretching to thier limits. A rip of pain tearing your groin like an overtaxed rubber band.

Before you hit the ground the disgusting creatures are upon you. A white hot flash of agony grips your left calf as one of the beasts sinks it’s jagged fangs in deep. As you touch down your right temple finds a home in the bottom corner of the large oaken door you have fought to reach and the world goes red. Blood pools from the resulting gash and you kick, punch, bite, and scratch madly at the small ripping teeth and claws that swarm you. You know this is the end. Consciousness begins to allude you.

Just then, as you prepare to accept your horrible fate. The oaken door burst open. A huge flash explodes into the thick night like a cannon. Rocking the world around you. As you slip into the dark recess hidden behind the lids of your blood filled eyes the shrill pain filled cries of dieing goblins pound your eardrums like a spike in your brain. You smell the pungent aroma of charred flesh and singed hair. Then all is still. Quiet. The ground gives way beneath you, and you feel as if you are soaring. Weightless in a dark abyss. Time and space no longer exist as far as you can descern. Nothing matters now. You simply are. In that moment you are lost yet you are found. The black starless night claims you as its own and you slip away…