Travis McBattle-axe tapped the bar with a scroll case while he smoothed his luscious blond beard.
“This is it lads,” he rumbled. “Oh and lady of course!” he added swiftly, remembering the sorceress just before she zapped him.
“What have you got this time?” moaned Dwayne the Shadow, unconvinced that anything the dwarf found exciting would be of interest to him.
Sarah smiled, giving the feisty warrior a boost in confidence. He thought she looked great in her crimson gown.
Popping the top Travis thumped the bottom of the scroll case firmly and what was hidden within unfurled across the bar.
“A treasure map I managed to score from the Sapient Staff inn… Only cost us four hundred gold!” McBattle-axe announced proudly. Awkwardly he flourished his hands to draw the party’s eyes to the scrawl on the ancient looking parchment. “Ta da!!” he finally added weakly.
Under his dark cowl Dwayne slapped his forehead.
“You spent a hundred gold pieces of my money on some lousy bit of parchment?” he whined.
“Probably a fake,” agreed Sarah. Travis noted her smile had vanished.
Jochen Rightwing, self-appointed party leader closely examined a signature located in the bottom corner of the map and then some of the clearly drawn landmarks.
“This name here seems familiar… Havenstien…” Rightwing murmured. “These mountains and this area of hills were near the Cathedral where I trained to become a Paladin.”
“So you think it could be legit?” said the Shadow, suddenly interested.
“What about this area here?” asked the sorceress. She pointed to a large space on the map that was clearly blank.
“Goblin and Orc fortress that the Church dealt with years ago,” explained Rightwing.
“Surely the Paladins or the Orc hoard would have ransacked this site?” Dwayne suggested.
“Thief, as I have explained so many times previous the Church of Palidius treasures the souls we have saved high above any other riches,” gently explained Rightwing to the figure under the dark cowl.
“More riches for us then,” suggested Sarah with a shrug that made her robe shimmer.
“I don’t believe you,” murmured the thief from within his cloak.
The Paladin shrugged, he had heard such comments before from both the thief and the spell caster.
“So are we doing this?” Travis asked eagerly.
“I’m in,” said Sarah while giving the dwarf a wink.
“Guess so,” Dwayne said, peeling back his hood so he could look each of the other party members in the eye. Half wild-elf and half dark-elf the reveal of the thief’s mostly ebony colored skin caused the others in the tavern to gasp.
“Hey! Churchy! We don’t serve his kind here!” announced the bearish figure behind the bar.
There was a distinct, almost emphasized sound of weapons being drawn.
“Of course, sir,” replied Jochen carefully. “We shall be on our way.”
“I guess we’re going adventuring then,” mumbled Travis as he rolled up the parchment and swiftly stashed it.
Sarah muttered some words of arcana, waggled her slender fingers and suddenly the party was gone far quicker than the eye.
A week later and Travis was still consulting the piece of parchment by the light of a crackling campfire.
“It has to be around here somewhere,” the dwarf grumbled, obviously frustrated.
Sarah had another map out, cross referencing the lower hills that had already been searched.
“It is this blank section that is most important, the final piece of this puzzle…” considered Sarah.
“Well you take another look then…” the dwarf grumbled. Frustrated he thrust the parchment toward the sorceress.
“Wait! Hold it there!” cried the caster. The moon’s light was passing through the empty segment and her Gnomish night vision picked up the faintest imagery. “Jochen, quill and ink quickly, please.”
The spell caster scratched across the ancient map, filling in a small forest and what looked like a volcano.
“Rightwing does this area look familiar to you?” the dwarf and the gnome asked the Paladin together.
Eagerly Jochen again left his place by the fire to look over the updated parchment.
“Hmmmm,” the Paladin murmured as he closed his eyes and cast his mind back to a decade ago. “I cannot say I have personally visited that site.”
“But some of the older students boasted they did, got as far as some stone gates which they claim could not be opened,” Rightwing continued, ignoring the thief.
“You take us there,” promised Sarah. “I will get us in.”
Jochen led the party another four days northward before the first signs of a forest was unveiled.
“We’re getting closer!” said Travis, but by that time he was the only one still excited.
“We will camp here for the night and tackle the forest in the daylight,” ordered Rightwing, his stormy grey eyes examining the horizon. The sun was about three quarts traversed and Jochen knew it would not pay to be traveling amongst the pines during night.
“What are you afraid of?” asked Sarah.
“Yeah… Anything that’s out there will feel my axe…” added Travis.
“Speak for yourself dwarf,” moaned Dwayne. “I too vote we stay put.”
“Memories,” replied the Paladin.
The others waited, be Jochen offered nothing further.
Travis took first watch that night. He liked to sleep through once settled so took that watch as oft as he could. The early hours of the night as the others drifted off was generally so peaceful. That night was an exception though as the broody Rightwing remained awake.
“There is something not quite right, Travis,” grumbled the Paladin while he poked and played with the campfire.
“Nah lad, everything seems to me to be pointing to THIS being our moment,” replied the dwarf.
“You may be right McBattle-axe,” Rightwing sighed. “You turn in with the rest tonight as I’ll take your watch too.”
“Can’t sleep?” the dwarf asked kindly.
“Afraid of what I’ll see if I do,” Jochen replied darkly.
Travis left the brooding Paladin and snuck away to promised slumber.
The party awoke to the sweet smells of boar on the spit. A very tired looking Jochen hovered over the forest delicacy.
“Enjoy everyone!” announced the party’s leader. His dagger pulled out fresh baked rolls for all buried from within the hot coals.
“Where did he..?” asked Dwayne in utter awe.
“I don’t care,” added Sarah, cracking open one of the little loaves and stuffing it with the fatty pig meat.
Travis watched as the Sorceress and thief feasted. There was plenty of satisfactory crunch, juices dribbled down Dwayne and Sarah’s chins. The dwarf though only had eyes for the Paladin.
“Not hungry?” asked Jochen, offering a hot roll stuffed to bursting with boar and crackling.
Travis’s rotund stomach wobbled as it emanated a vocal rumble.
“Not tired?” asked Travis as a rebuttal.
Jochen tried to stifle a yawn but it slipped out, obvious to everyone.
“Eat up dwarf, we’ve a big day ahead,” the Paladin ordered.
A few hundred yards down an undergrown tunnel Sarah sweated as she frantically examined some arcane symbols chiseled in a set of humungous stone doors. Dwayne the Shadow simultaneously fiddled with the number and dial puzzle that sat embedded in the floor just before the door. The puzzle began randomly twisting and turning immediately after Travis had trodden upon the wrong stone.
“I’m sorry!” the dwarf wailed, begging Jochen and the others to forgive him.
“Forget it dwarf! Start working on that exit!” Rightwing barked.
The giant oak that had been the gateway to the tunnel had collapsed in an explosion of dust as Travis’ clumsiness had triggered the trap. Now a spiked ceiling was speedily descending. Humanoid skulls of varying sizes and shapes could be clearly seen clinging to almost every one of the steel spears.
Like a creature possessed Travis launched himself at the wall of dirt. His axe hacked manically, plumes of dust filling the air. The soil broke away with each blow, slowly cracking and breaking apart. At the other end of the passage Dwayne cried out in glee.
“Got it!” the thief announced. “Always knew I would.
As the half-elf removed his lock picks and twisted dagger from the puzzle he locked eyes with Rightwing. The Paladin was shaking his head, but he was smiling. With the puzzle solved the spears above began to resend. Sarah leaned over and kissed the thief lightly upon the shoulder.
“Thanks for biding us some time,” the sorceress murmured. “Now get over here and give me a hand.”
The wall of soil collapsed under Travis’ onslaught just as Sarah figured out the arcane lock. The great doors opened with an ominous creek. Igniting his holy sword the Paladin took the lead and began a cautious venture into the darkness beyond.
“I cannot believe you got us in here,” Rightwing whispered to the rest of the party.
“What is this place?” enquired Dwayne as he looked about in awe.
Gigantic statues of dragons and other mystical beasts were carved into the cavern rock. Some of the figures were over twenty feet while others, more intricate would have measures six to eight feet.
“It was rumored that here was a dwarf city built centuries before the Church arrived. A great spirit was summoned by their enemy and the ancient ones were driven from their home…” explained Jochen.
Travis paused in his steady march.
“My ancient relatives lived here?” he asked.
“Indeed, dwarf,” the paladin replied.
“If we take anything then they can’t call it stealing,” suggested the Shadow. “Can they?”
“Thief, regardless of who previously owned any treasures found here if we take what we find it is certainly thievery.”
“Anything I find here I’ll split with you,” Dwayne mumbled as he passed Travis, hoping only the dwarf would hear.
As Sarah swayed by the warrior she patted him gently on the back.
“Welcome home,” the caster purred.
“Yeah, I’m home,” sighed Travis before he began marching again.
“What did I tell you? This is the jackpot!” hollered Travis.
The party had overcome a dozen or so traps, puzzles and an iron warrior or two and had finally arrived at the treasure trove. As they burst into the cavern Sarah skidded across the gold coins littered on the floor.
“Take nothing and mark this site,” ordered Rightwing. “I claim this treasure in the name of Palidius.”
“Never!” growled another voice, the threat echoing throughout the stone chamber.
All four turned to discover the bearlike barkeep. A dozen ruffians were at his back, armed to the teeth.
“Thank you for leading us straight to the treasure,” announced one of the dozen, stepping forward.
It was a dwarf, a very regal looking dwarf.
“Who are you?” demanded Rightwing haughtily.
“Simon of Theringtun,” replied the dwarf, just as pompous. “I am the Great, Great, Great, Grandson of Prince Theorus Thering, the final ruler of this fortress.”
“We believe you not,” announced the representative of Palidius.
“Believe this, Churchy!” growled the taverner as he brought forth a hammer and took one threatening step forward.
Weapons appeared from secret sheathes. Sarah began to chant.
Suddenly Dwayne appeared travelling at full tilt. None had noticed the thief’s absence. The Shadow made sure all knew he had reappeared.
“Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunnnnnnn!!” Dwayne hollered. “Drrrrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagggggggggggoooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnn!!!” he added, explaining his haste.
To emphasis the thief’s warning mounds of treasure abruptly exploded revealing an ancient lizard covered in shiny dark scales. Steam drifted from its nostrils and it did not look pleased.
“Your fortress, your problem,” laughed Jochen. “Sarah, if you could please…”
Far from fortress and fear the four friends shared ales as they discussed the epic failure of their quest.
“I lament we came away with naught for your memories, Travis,” purred Sarah, patting the dwarf endearingly upon his broad shoulders.
“Well I did get this,” muttered the dwarf showing the sorceress a single gold coin.
“And I managed to smuggle out this,” added Dwayne the Shadow as he pulled a helm sized gem from within his cloak. “A treasure acquired in the name of Palidius, of course.”
Jochen nodded, satisfied.
All four admired the jewel until, like the egg that it was, it began to crack.