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Husband, father, and writer working on a short story project and submitting my novel, The Windsmith, to agents.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Adventuring Party, part 2: The Wizard’s Tower

“Are you sure this map is legit?” the tall human in the heavy armor asked.

“Yeah, Del. I’m sure,” the gnome said with annoyance in his voice. He held the map in front of him, comparing it with his surroundings. The forest was thicker here than it was on the map. Maybe it was just an old map?

“Tell me again how you got it, Dash?” Del said.

Dash sighed. He had explained this to the human several times already.

“I told you, I got it from an old man in the tavern.”

“In black robes with his hood pulled over his head,” Del said.

“Yes,” the gnome replied.

“And he wants us to do what, again?” Del asked.

“Look, Del,” Dash said, turning to the human. “It’s pretty simple. He wants us to go to this abandoned wizard’s tower and retrieve the wizard’s spell book from it. He said the tower used to be his master’s tower one hundred years ago, but that it was destroyed by a magical experiment gone awry. He had been traveling and only just heard the news. He’s paying us four hundred gold to go and get this spell book, and any other loot down there, he says we get to keep.”

“And you trust this old man,” Del asked.

“Trust?” Dash said, throwing his arms up in exasperation. “Four hundred gold, Del! What in the nine hells does trust have to do with anything?”

“I just have a bad feeling about this,” the warrior said.

“You have a bad feeling about all our quests,” Dash replied. “Not that any of them have been very exciting. Finding lost library books and guarding caravans down a well traveled road for a few copper isn’t my idea of adventuring.”

Del started to open his mouth to protest, but Nor, the dwarf priestess, stepped between the two.

“Dash is correct, my friend,” she said, resting a hand on Del’s arm. “We have all craved more adventure than we’ve experienced so far. The rats when we first arrived in Oak Hollow were the most excitement we’ve seen so far, and the money we got from that is almost gone. Let your fears go for now, we can discuss them fully when we return to town.”

Del looked from Dash to Nor, and then over to Sharai, the only member of the party to not participate in the discussion. She only shrugged, neutral as always when these kinds of discussions came up. Del sighed, though. He knew that Sharai wanted to get into that wizard’s tower, too. Being a mage, there was no doubt all kinds of things she could find in there to aid in her studies. Finally, he nodded.

“You’re right,” he said to Nor. “I’m sorry, Dash, I won’t ask again. Let’s get to this tower and get that spell book.”

“Now you’re talking,” Dash said. He returned to the map, turning his head sideways and looking at the area around him again. Wasn’t there supposed to be a river here?

Del walked up behind him, looked at the map, looked around them, then turned the map ninety degrees sideways. He then pointed at an area of the map that showed a forested hill, and pointed to an actual forested hill to their right.

“Ah,” Dash said. “That would explain why there was no river here. Well, we’re still headed in the right direction. This way!”

****************************************************

A few hours later, they were stopping for lunch. They had been marching for the whole morning, and everyone was tired and hungry. Nor had a small fire going in a few moments, and Del returned with two rabbits. The two of them had the animals cooked quickly, and everyone ate their fill.

“Okay,” Dash said, looking over the map once more. “I think we’re close. It should be just over the next hill or two.”

“Really?” Sharai asked. “Shouldn’t we be able to see it by now then? I mean, it is a wizard’s tower.”

Dash looked up and then around, as if expecting to see a tower suddenly sticking up over the horizon.

“I don’t know,” he said at last. “Maybe when the guy who hired us said ‘destroyed’ he really meant it.”

“If that’s the case,” Nor said, “then exactly how are we going to explore the tower? If it’s gone, destroyed, then there’s nothing to explore.”

“Basement,” Del said around a mouthful of rabbit. Everyone stopped and looked at him. He stopped chewing and stared back. “What? Lots of castles have dungeons and below ground storage rooms. It seems to me that a wizard would be a fool not to as well. Besides, maybe magical experiments are safer underground, where they can’t destroy your tower.”

“That’s actually pretty insightful,” Sharai said. “You know, now that you mention it, my master had a secret lab he used. We always assumed it was in the upper parts of the tower, that we couldn’t’ get to. But now that you say it, we did have underground storage, and he did go down there a lot.”

Everyone nodded and agreed that this must be the case. Excited, lunch ended quickly and the party was once again on the move. As promised, the tower remains proved to be right over the next hill. There really wasn’t much left of it. Lots of stone and brick were scattered about the place, many of them black as if they had been burned. Almost the entire first floor remained intact, but there were only a few wall struts to indicate that the structure went up further than that. What was left of the first floor was accessible by a large hole.

“Okay, I’ll go in first,” Del said, drawing his sword and readying his shield. “Dash, behind me, Nor, you’re in the rear. Everyone be ready.”

With practiced ease, the group arranged themselves in a single file, and entered the structure. The wooden floor creaked as Del set his weight upon it, and he could swear that the walls groaned. He said a silent prayer that the remains were still sound enough to stay standing while they explored.

The first thing that Del noticed upon entering was that it was cold. Cold and damp. This disturbed him because it hasn’t rained for a month outside. This place should be bone dry.

“Lingering magical effect,” Sharai said as soon as she entered. “Ignore it, its just part of the damage that was done to this place.”

Del nodded and continued moving in. He went through what was once obviously a door, though now it was nothing more than splinters hanging off a single hinge. Something moved out of the corner of his eye, and he jerked his head trying to track it. He raised his sword arm up, and waved one finger off the hilt. This was a signal the party had worked out during training to indicate that they were not alone.

Slowly, Del made his way down the ruined hallway, towards where he saw the movement. There was enough damage to the surrounding walls that the interior was well light by the sun, making it easy for his human eyes to search the place. He saw the movement again, followed quickly by a flash of silver that flew by his head. A scream followed. He moved to trace the path of the silver flash, and saw a small, gray skinned humanoid with crooked, pointed ears, yellow eyes that were a third the size of the rest of his head, and a crooked mouth filled with sharp teeth. It was laying on the ground, tugging at a dagger that had landed in his shoulder.

“Goblin,” he said, lowering the point of his sword at the creature’s throat. This caused it to stop all motion. “You got him, Dash.”

“Excellent,” the gnome said coming up next to Dash to view the creature. “I’ll ask it what it knows.”

The gnome cleared his throat, and then uttered something guttural that made it sound as if he were trying to speak around a mouthful of rocks. The creatures large eyes moved from Dash to the sword at its throat and back again. It didn’t speak back, however. Dash growled a few more commands, but the creature refused to play along. Finally, Dash said something that seemed to catch its attention. It narrowed its eyes, and actually spit on the sword. Del started to move the sword, so as to break skin without killing the creature, but it moved first.

It was faster than Del had expected, swatting aside the sword with its thin but muscular arm, and then quickly scrambling to its feet. It yanked the dagger out of its shoulder and threw it straight at Del, who barely had time to raise his shield to block it. Dash let loose with another dagger, but the lithe creature was ready for it this time, and managed to doge it.

Thankfully, the two boys were not alone in this fight. And the girls had magic to aid them. Nor said a quick prayer to the Three Brothers and then pointed her hammer at the creature. A bolt of lightning arced from the hammer to the goblin, causing the creature to cry out in pain again. It quickly ducked around a corner, and Del saw that it drew the small blade that was at its side. Before he could go charging off after it, though, Sharai touched his sword with her finger, tracing a symbol on it. It glowed briefly, and she nodded at him.

He raced around the corner after the goblin, only to find it laying in wait. It stabbed him right in the leg, cleanly slicing through the tough leather that protected then and entering his thigh a few inches. Del cut back a cry of pain and jabbed his sword forward. He knew his wild stab was going to miss the dexterous monster, but the sword glowed again and he felt it pull his arm mid swing towards the goblin’s belly. It struck true, piercing the gray belly and felling the creature on the spot. It was good to have a wizard on your side.

Nor quickly came up to Del and yanked the jagged goblin sword from the warrior. This time, he did scream. The blood came out quickly, but Nor just ignored it. She said another prayer, and her hands glowed a light blue. Del felt warmth flow into his leg from her hands, and then watched as the wound closed, as if it had never been there. He’d been on the receiving end of Nor’s healing magic several times, but it sill never ceased to amaze him.

“There’ll be more of them,” Nor said when she had finished, jerking a thumb at the fallen goblin.

“How do you know?” Dash asked. “It could have just taken shelter in the ruins, to get out of the sun. Everyone knows that goblins hate the sunlight”

Nor nodded, then said, “Yes, but when was the last time you heard of anyone finding just one goblin.”

No one replied. Finally Del stood up, taking charge once more.

“Okay, so, more goblins,” he said. “Probably down in the storage basement. Its unlikely that they’ve discovered the hidden library, though. So, we continue to look for a way down, and be on the look out for gray figures hiding in the rubble.”

Everyone nodded, and the search through the tower continued. Eventually, it was Nor that found what they were looking for. A trap door in the floor. She had found it in what looked like the ruins of a kitchen by moving several rocks and a crushed kettle pot off of it. It didn’t look used, but Nor also pointed out that this was unlikely the only entrance to the basement. If it worked like other castles, there was an entrance outside as well, and the goblins could be using that one.

“In that case, we might have surprise on our side,” Del said. “If they’re guarding the entrance outside, that leaves this one ignored.”

“Do you think this one got off an alarm?” Dash asked. “It did scream a lot when it got stabbed.”

“Probably,” Del said. “But it won’t matter if we’re taking the back door.”

They all worked together to remove the remaining bits of debris off the door, the set about heaving it open. A blast of cold air caused them all to step back before peering into the room below. A wooden ladder could be seen, bolted to the floor from the other side. It stretched down about three feet before disappearing in darkness. Del turned to look at Sharai, but she was already whispering at her staff. A second later the tip ignited into a blue light. She held it over the door, allowing them to see the rest of the way down. It was about ten feet, and the room below looked to be a larder of some sort.

Dash climbed down the ladder first, to search for traps below. Nor and Sharai leaned over the door, ready to cast a spell at anything down there that might attack their friend. Dash made it down safely, then proceed to search the room. After a few moments, he declared it all clear. As everyone else climbed down, he went to the only door to listen. The room was as cold as that initial blast indicated.

“Another magical effect,” Sharai said, “probably designed for stored food.”

Del moved up behind Dash.

“Hear anything?” Del asked.

Dash simply waved him off and continued to listen. After a second more, he turned to the rest of the group.

“More goblins on the other side of this door,” he said. “from the sounds of it, there are for of them, and they’re playing dice. It seems our friend from upstairs didn’t get off any alarm.”

“Good,” Del said. “Let’s go kick some goblin ass.”

He boldly strode up to the wooden door, his sword and shield at the ready. He turned to the rest of the party, who all nodded that they were ready, then kicked in the door as hard as it could. The damage from upstairs apparently extended to below ground as well, for the door went flying off it’s hinges and across the room a good two feet, hitting a goblin and trapping the creature under it. Del took advantage of the surprise, and charged into the room, stabbing a second goblin through the heart.

The remaining two stood up quickly and drew their wicked short swords. Nor was in the room next, charging the closest goblin to her. She let out a fearsome dwarven battle cry, and swung her hammer at the monster. It blocked as best it could with its sword, but the blow was hard and forced him to take a step backwards. The fourth goblin charged Nor, trapping her between the two creatures, and stabbed her in the back.

Sharai then let loose with a magical bolt that struck the fourth goblin. It didn’t fell the monster, but it did cause him to move a step backwards, which was enough for Dash to move in. Back to back with Nor, Dash used his twin daggers to create a blur of steel in front of the goblin. It spent a lot of energy trying to dodge the whirling daggers that it never saw the actual attack come. Dash lunged here, feinted there, and finally, stabbed the monster in the thigh. Del came up behind it and stuck his sword through it’s back, finishing it.

Meanwhile, Nor had managed to get in a solid blow on the goblin she was fighting, crushing in it’s skull with a satisfying crunch sound. The four friends looked at each other and smiled in shared victory once they realized the fight was over. Nor was wounded, but it was a minor scratch, not even worth a healing spell.

“Let’s not get cocky,” Del said. “We had surprise on our side in that combat. If these goblins had been prepared, that fight would have been much harder.”

“Yes, teacher Del,” Dash said mockingly.

“I mean it, Dash,” Del said, though a smile crossed his face.

The four took stock of the room they were in. It was a large room, about forty feet on a side, and was obviously more storage, though it didn’t have the cold effect of the previous room. There were boxes and barrels, and a few held the remains of food or water, but there were also other supplies down here. Spices and herbs, ground bones, fine gold dust, liquid silver and all kinds of other odds and ends. Spell components, Sharai realized. These were used in recopies for creating new spells, or for complex ritual spells.

There two doors out of this room. One was at the top of a small flight of stairs, and most likely led outside. The other was a simple wooden door like the one they had come into. Even Sharai didn’t know why there could possibly be a third room down here. This time, it was Nor’s turn at the door. She walked up to it, put her hand on it, then slammed it open. It wasn’t as spectular as Del’s kick, but it did serve to startle the goblins on the other side of the door.

What was there, however, caused the whole party to hesitate. It was a group of about four goblins, but small and helpless looking. Babies. In front of them was a goblin woman, who turned at hissed at them, a dagger in her hand. From the look in her eyes, however, it was obvious she was terrified. Nor started to walk into the room, a viscious glint in her eyes.

“Nor!” Sharai cried, and the dwarf paused, though she never took her eyes off the goblin woman. “They’re babies, children. We can’t kill them.”

Nor growled, a low animal noise, that caused Sharai to gasp in surprise.

“These are goblins,” Nor said. “They are animals, who cannot be saved. They are a plague on the realm, and all must be destroyed.”

“But,” Sharai said, unable to let go of the situation. “Children?”

Nor turned back to glare at Sharai, and the elf saw such anger and pain in her friends eyes that she took a step backwards.

“Goblins destroyed my family home,” the dwarf said, “slaughtered my whole family. Women, children, sick, didn’t matter to them. They were animals. I only survived because my brother grabbed me and fled. These beasts deserve no mercy, and need to be eradicated off the face of this world.”

Del came up to Sharai then and turned her around. Silently, he walked her back to the cold storage room while Nor and Dash set about their grim work.

“Children, Del?” she said, a tear in her eye.

“Nor’s right, Sharai,” he said in return. “Goblins are evil, and unredeemable. There are legends among my people, of a noble paladin who once ran across a goblin babe. Like you, he took pitty on it and tried to raise it. He taught it nobility, purity, piety and all the things it needed to be a noble and good creature. When it was old enough to fend for it self, a few short years later, it betrayed the paladin. It stabbed him in the leg and fled into the wildnerness.”

Sharai nodded. “We have similar stories in my culture. I just… children, Del. I can’t do it.”

“No one is expecting you too, Sharai,” he said.

A few moments later, Nor and Dash came back. Nor was quiet, and refused to look Sharai in the eye. They all tried to pretend that the incident never happened, and went about searching the three rooms. The third room had the remains of a cot and footlocker, and was most likely a servants quarters. Other than these three rooms, however, there seemed to be nothing of any value or interest down here.

“A dead end?” Del asked. “Maybe the book wasn’t down here when the castle went ka-blooie. Maybe it was upstairs, and was destroyed with the rest of the tower.”

“Can’t be,” Dash said. “If it was, we don’t get paid.”

“Maybe we will get paid,” Sharai said, staring at a patch of wall in the large storage room.

“What is it, Sharai?” Dash asked, his hopes rising.

Sharai walked towards the wall, straight towards a bookshelf that held empty glass bottles and wax sealed jars.

“Notice how this bookcase has only empty bottles on it?” she said.

“Yeah,” Del said. “So? This room is full of ‘em.”

“No,” she replied. “its full of bottles that have, or once had, stuff in them. These bottles were always empty.”

“She’s right,” Dash said, looking at the bookshelf with her.

“Okay,” Del said. “But again I ask, so?”

Without warning, Sharai shoved the bookcase will all her might. It rolled backwards, into the wall, and continued to move further into the wall until at last, it was revealed that there was a bookcase sized door in the wall. The bookcase had moved backwards enough for a single person to moved around it and enter the room beyond.

Sharai walked into the room without waiting for the others, causing Del and Nor to follow her as quickly as possible. Dash came last, still marveling at the craftsmanship of the secret doorway. The room beyond was amazing. It was a large circle, with fine carpets on the floor that kept the ground warm. Above, in a vaulted ceiling, was a small, magically lit chandelier, which came on as soon as Sharai entered the room. Dominating the room, in the center of the side opposite the secret door, was a large wooden desk. A fancy, overstuffed chair sat behind the desk, and a fine quill and ink set at on top of the desk. To the right of the door was wooden table, this one covered in runes and tubes and bottles. Finally, all across the walls of the room were bookcases. Each of them were loaded down with books, scrolls and loose parchment.

“It’s amazing,” Dash said.

“It’s warm,” Del said. “Very comfortable.”

“Of course it is,” Sharai said. “This would be the master of the tower’s private study. His most important books, his private experiments, his quiet meditation time, all would take place down here.”

She was in complete awe. She had only hear stories of her master’s private study. She had never seen it, but she imagined it looked very much like this. She scanned the book shelves, and the books and scrolls upon them. Many were manuscripts she had seen before, but a few were titles she had never hear of. One in particular caught her attention. It appeared to be a spell book of a great southern wizard, from the desert states. She reached up to grab it, but as soon as she opened the tome up, the pages inside started to crumble.

“Oh, no,” she cried. “It’s all starting to fall apart.”

“Not starting,” Nor said, “continuing. These documents look to be thousands of years old, no hundreds.”

Sharai looked down at her dwarven friend.

“Nor,” she started, but the dwarf halted her with a raised hand.

“No need to apologize, elf,” she said. “I am the one that should apologize, for letting my anger get away from me.”

The two women nodded at each other, then Sharai knelt down and hugged Nor, who hugged back. Finally, Del cleared his throat.

“I’m glad we’re all making up,” he said, “but we still have a book to find. Can you explain what you were talking about, Nor? Thousands of years old?”

“Indeed,” she said. “The man that gave us this map, he said this tower was destroyed one hundred years ago. When we got here, I started to doubt that. The architure here was dwarven, clearly, but of an age long passed, thousands of years ago. But, this is a wizard’s tower we’re talking about, so I chalked it up to the wizard having had the tower built that long ago. But, now, looking at these parchments, I realize that if this place was only one hundred years old, most of these books would still be readable.”

“So,” Del said, “You’re saying that the guy at the tavern lied to us? Why? What difference would when the tower was built have made to us?”

“Simple,” Sharai said, “he couldn’t have been an apprentice here if the tower were destroyed thousands of years ago.”

“I still don’t see what difference that makes,” Dash said. “We’re still here. We find the book he wants, return it to him, and get paid. He never said it had to be in one piece.”

Everyone else shrugged at the mystery, then in silent agreement went about searching the room for whatever books they could find that were still intact. After hours of looking, they eventually had a small pile. Four books, two scrolls and one piece of parchment. Dash had also found a small chest under the desk that contained a fancy wand Sharai immediately took, a hundred gold pieces, and two diamonds worth another hundred gold on their own. As luck would have it, one of the four books was the tower master’s spell book. It made no sense to anyone but Sharai.

“There’s some pretty powerful stuff in here,” she said. “It would take me years of study just to understand some of this, never mind have the power to make it work.”

“Too bad you won’t have the chance,” Dash said, taking the book from her and placing it in his satchel. “But, you can have all the time in the world you want to look over those other books we found.”

Sharai smiled. The other books were equally fascinating. Magical theory, a beginners spell book that held spells she didn’t yet know, and some history books about wizards that lived thousands of years ago. And the wand. It was magical, that much was obvious, but she couldn’t figure out what, exactly, it did. She would experiment with it on the way home to try and find out.

“Well,” Del said, “not a bad haul.”

“Indeed,” Dash said, helping the human stuff their treasure into a large bag. “It’s too bad we can’t take these rugs with us. I’m sure they’d be a pretty copper to someone back in town.”

Everyone laughed, and then headed back outside to return home.

****************************************************

The return trip was as uneventful as the trip to the tower, baring a run in with a merchant that seemed interested in buying the books they had discovered. Sharai refused, though, much to Dash’s consternation. They arrived at the town of Oak Hollow by mid morning, and headed straight to the Laughing Tankard for real, cooked food and to wash in the bathhouse above the tavern. They were hoping that they had time before the mysterious stranger appeared, but that was not to be the case. In the middle of breakfast, the hooded figure was at their table. It was as if he appeared out of nowhere.

“You have found the book?” he asked in a horse whisper.

“Indeed we did,” Dash said. He pulled out the large tome from his satchel and placed it on the table. It was black, and bound using a sewing method. On the cover was a strange rune that none of the party recognized. Dash had said he expected the book the be warm, or pulse, or have an eye on it, or something. Sharai had laughed, explaining that a wizard’s spell book never had those kinds of enchantments on it. More likely, the rune on the cover was some kind of ward, but the magical energy power it had died out.

The stranger reached out an old, gnarled hand from the depths of his robes and stroked the book, almost reverently, as if it were a baby.

“Excellent,” he said. “Excellent.”

“Yeah,” Del said, “it is excellent.” Then, he snatched the book away. “And it’s all yours. Once we get our gold.”

“Of course,” the stranger said in that same horse whisper. “your money.”

He dropped a sack onto the table, which made a jingling noise as it landed. Even Sharai couldn’t help but look at the bag, realizing what must be inside. Del grabbed the sack and pulled it towards his end of the table, making sure to keep it in sight the whole time.

“Well, it was a pleasure doing business with you,” he said, obviously not meaning it. “Enjoy your reading.”

The old man laughed, which sounded more like to pieces of parchment being rubbed together than real laughter.

“Oh, the book is not for me to keep,” he whispered.

“What?” Dash said. “You’re not expecting us to bring it to someone else, are you? ‘Cause that will cost you extra.”

“No, no,” the stranger said. “Nothing so pedestrian. No, to book is yours, my dear friends. All yours.”

Everyone looked at each other, sharing a look of confusion.

“Do you accept?” the old man said, concern apparent in his tone.

“Well, we…” Del started.

“Yes,” Sharai said, interrupting Del. She stared straight at the stranger’s hood, where she hoped his eyes were. She reached out her hand and placed it on the book. “Yes, we accept the book.”

“Excellent,” the old man said, and laughed again. “Then it has begun.”

And with that cryptic statement, he walked away, the party simply staring after him.

“Well, that was interesting,” Dash said, bringing everyone out of the trance they seemed to be in. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bar tab that I need to attend to.”

With that, he grabbed a handful of gold out of the bag the stranger had left with them, and went to the bartender. Del and Nor then turned their attention to Sharai.

“Care to explain what that was all about?” Del asked.

“I’m not sure,” Sharai said. She looked down at the black book before her, stroking its cover. She now had the chance to study its secrets, and that excited her. “I think, though, we’ve just entered an adventure far larger than we initially expected.”

The End

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