Well it's taken two days of preparation but this morning we embark for Driftwind Cavern. Kringle selected it for us especially, a good starter dungeon he says. Also the only contract he was willing to risk for forty grains. The current gang of outlaws took it over three crests ago so they should be complacent. We hope. We'll see.
“There it is” said Karndal poking his head over the crest of the hill. Down in the valley below the entrance could be seen. Little more than a fissure in the rock but it was the right cavern.
“You see the way those skulls are arranged on the ground near the entrance, that's a mark of the Drift Raiders, kind of like a message in one giant rune” said Karndal “If I'm right it's a call for new recruits”.
“Nasty bunch then?” asked Greiip.
“No worse than anyone else who uses human skulls to communicate”.
They approached in a wide circle making sure there were no archers hiding above the entrance. When they were happy the coast was clear they dropped in unison from the ledge above the opening, one either side. They waited for a moment, breath held trying to detect any sounds from within. Greiip looked at Karndal. He gave the pre approved signal they had agreed on that meant 'sounds safe'. Ducking through the crack the two of them crouched back down instantly. As his eyes adjusted to the dark Greiip could make out a sloping path cut into the rock, tunnelling down for nearly a quarter hop. At the bottom a couple of wall mounted torches cast dancing shadows. It looked clear the whole way down. Before they moved off Karndal stopped Greiip gently and leant in close.
“This is as far as my knowledge of this goes” he whispered “beyond songs and stories what actually goes on inside a dungeon is a mystery. What I do know however is most people announce their challenge around this point. This is why the entrance is so unguarded”.
“Lets not do that” he whispered back.
They moved slowly towards the wall sconces at he bottom keeping an eager ear out for trouble. Greiip had brought the sword, just in case. It slapped gently on his thigh and he stopped and looked down.
“Damn” he hissed and pointed to the scabbard. Karndal looked down and nodded. Through a series of confusing gestures and occasional hissed curses the two managed to establish that although Greiip thought it was a bad idea, they should leave the weapon here. They continued one sword lighter. At the bottom the tunnel rounded to the right and opened into a low ceilinged cavern. Running water could be heard somewhere and far off to the back a huddle of torches illuminated a stack of crates. Greiip picked up a small pebble and punted it into the centre of the cavern. It bounced a couple of times and stopped. The two men gave it a full moment then began to cross slowly along the left hand wall. Greiip flashed a 'stop moving' signal to Karndal and crouched down. Footsteps could be heard echoing from the lighted area at the back. A figure materialised from the wall and stopped. Greiip blinked, magic? He looked again and realised there was another opening behind the crates the same colour as the cavern wall. The torches had been cleverly arranged so as to cast no permanent shadows but you could see it in their flicker if you looked for long enough. A tunnel hidden in plain sight. Greiip squinted. The shape appeared to be wearing armour made of leather and bits of iron. A heavy warhammer was strapped across his back and a shorter sword on his hip. He was also huge, beyond human. The helmet covered his whole face but Greiip wouldn't be surprised to find an Orc under there. Not that they existed he reassured himself. Stories to scare children. Another figure appeared from the hidden tunnel and said something to the first that Greiip couldn't hear.
“Tell Colyen he's hearing things, there's no one here” said the first one turning away. For a second Greiip swore he saw the eyes flash yellow through the slit in the helmet. The bandits departed and after a few more moments the two fledgling adventurers approached the crates. A cursory inspection showed they contained little of value. Some random vegetables that could have been there for Roork knows how long, a few beaten up goblets and part of a broken broom. They peered down the hidden tunnel. It receded into darkness but faint sounds of conversation trickled up from the depths. They pressed on. At the end of this tunnel was a sharp turn that revealed a warm glow. Not the flicker dance of wall torches but the constant orange of a well lit room. They could hear people eating nosily and talking loud inside. Greiip stole a look. The entrance had a protrusion of rock that allowed them both to slip behind a partition made from wooden panels. The partition walled off the crumbling slope of this side of the cavern's edge and allowed them both to circle around out of sight. Greiip was beginning to think this was suspiciously easy. Too easy. He sopped and signalled wait to Karndal. Probing forwards gently with his fingers he brushed something metal. His fingers ran around the edge and even in the dark the hinge and jagged teeth gave it away. A man trap. He pointed to it and stepped over carefully. Karndal nodded and stepped forward, his foot coming down right above the centre. Greiip shoved him hard before his companion could maim himself and with a scuffle they rolled to the floor. The conversation stopped.
“You hear that?” asked a voice
“Something over by the traps” said another.
The sound of chairs scraping and foot steps drawing near. Greiip decided to try to wing it. To be found cowering was a sure sign of wrong doing, he had to meet this head on. He stood up.
“Hi” he got halfway to waving before he was pulled back down sharply by Karndal. A volley of crossbows clanged loose their bolts. striking the cave wall behind where Greiip had just stood.
“Whoa there friends, we saw the message outside, we want to join up”.
Karndal looked at him and shook his head. Greiip winked back and smiled nervously.
“I only said I thought it said that” hissed Karndal.
“And what makes you think we'd want two puny humans?” said a deep, rumbling voice. The one who had been looking for them earlier.
“These two puny humans almost sneaked right past you lot. If it hadn't been for those bloody traps we'd have been able to properly surprise you. We thought a demonstration of our skill would be better than just showing up and telling you”
Karndal pinched between his eyes and shook his head.
“What?” hissed Greiip “at least I'm trying”
“We're warriors, we don't need no weak humans scuttling about when we tear our opponents limbs off.”
“No, but if we came here to harm you we could have shot at least four our you down with our magic before we even joined steel”.
“Where are you going with this” said Karndal almost breaking whisper. He looked desperate “do you actually have a spell?”
Greiip shrugged, “no”
“Magic, hah, if you were mages we wouldn't even be talking, we'd be cutting through a flock of summoned gravelings or some such. We've had mages, they don't like wearing armour, makes them easy to cut. Guhwwer go and grab these two humans, I haven't eaten a fresh one in months”.
Just then a wail came up from back towards the entrance. The sound became a roar and finally words.
“NGGUNDARK I CHALLENGE YOU”
Suddenly the room was full of commotion.
“Who the hell is that?” shouted someone back up the passage.
Greiip and Karndal poked their heads out carefully A figure in polished steel armour stepped into the room. His sword glimmered in the dim light and his shield seemed to have a blue ether stemming from somewhere behind it, his face hidden by a full helmet. The bandits were all on their feet now, some in half armour, others not ready at all.
“Rotaan, you dishonour us by attacking while we eat?”
“Don't talk to me of honour Gundark, you killed my Bannerman at the Silt Wash with black magic, no longer will you be able to rape the southlands”
“I grow tired of your talking Rotaan, every time we meet you insist on lecturing,” he was cut short however as the armoured figure tossed a small vial from beneath his shield. As it sailed through the air the knight crouched swiftly and brought his shield up over his face. There was a gentle tinkle as the vial broke on the floor. For a second nothing happened, everyone stood still then Gundark began to laugh.
“What was that supposed to,” he was cut short a second time by a load crackle followed by a burst of light. When Greiip regained his sight a blink later two of the bandits were dead and a third was looking at where his arm used to be in terror. Gundark came back in swinging the huge warhammer but Rotaan Dodged nimbly.
“You disappoint me Rotaan” said the bandit swinging again “you think you can defeat me with cheap parlour tricks?”
“No” shouted the one called Rotaan ducking under a high swing “I think I can defeat you with steel” His blade shot up and nicked a piece of Gundark's armour. The Bandit whirled around to deflect the blow but as he was regaining his footing Rotaan planted a swift kick in his opponents groin.
“Ha, that might work on humans but not on us” shouted Gundark as he lunged again.
“Remove your helmet Gundark, let me see what you truly are” replied the knight with another dodge.
That hammer would shatter anything thought Greiip, even the bones in an arm on the other side of a shield. He watched with amazement.
“You know what I am Rotaan, did you come here to talk or to die?”
The warhammer came in a low crescent swing at waist height but the knight jumped upwards swiftly and over. He landed but the weight of his armour brought him down a few fingers more than he had anticipated and suddenly he was crouching while the hammer came back, straight down from above. In a flash the shield was there and as the hammer connected a shrill scream could be briefly heard. The blue ether behind intensified and with a snapping sound the hammer was flung away, out of Gundark's hands.
“What black magic is this” said the bandit.
“The kind I swore I'd kill you with one day” said Rotaan as he stepped in and sliced Gundark from collarbone to stomach, the sword flaring with an orange glow where it cut. Black blood oozed out and the creature fell dead. The few others who still stood ran out towards the entrance. Rotaan watched them go but didn't pursue. Greiip ducked back down and looked at Karndal. He had been crying again. He rolled his eyes. They would have to work out a hand signal for 'grow up'. After all, the danger was gone. Once this fellow had taken what he wanted it would make their job a lot easier. Through a small gap in the wood Greiip saw Rotaan loom over his fallen opponent. Standing now in post battle contemplation he had every essence of the noble warrior. So this is what a real, true adventurer looked like. Greiip looked down at his flax cloth shirt and cotton trousers and felt rather out of place suddenly. Then, with a look from side to side the knight flung off his helmet, knelt down and began frantically searching Gundark. How his composure evaporated so suddenly in that moment was alarming. From a regal knight to a common looter.
“Where is it you bastard” said Rotaan pulling open flaps and pockets. He yanked a shiny pendant from around the bandits neck, looked at it briefly and flung it away.
“Come on, I know you wouldn't have sold it, not yet”
The knight continued his muttering, Greiip was suddenly more interested in the pendant. It had landed only a step or two away from his hiding spot and even from there the stone set into its centre could be seen clearly. A ruby the size of a Rorebas' testicle. He edged out gently but something stopped him. He looked back. Karndal had his waistband in a fist. He gave Greiip a shake of his head but Greiip was having none of it and pulled away sharply. He grabbed the pendant and scuttled back into hiding. The knight hadn't noticed, and had got more frantic in his searching. Suddenly, with a voice that sounded close to tears Rotaan began thumping the dead bandit on his chest.
“What have you done with it, you bastard what have you done”.
There was a light tinkle and something shiny rolled out of the bandits armour. Rotaan picked it up and turned it in the dim light. From the gap in the wood it looked like a small key. The knight smiled. He stopped smiling a second later. Greiip followed his gaze to the spot where the pendant had been thrown. The knight picked up his shield and held out his other hand. His eyes traced something written on the back of the shield and his mouth muttered an incantation. Pink cloud rose up from Rotaan's outstretched hand then began to spread around the cavern like thin smoke. A moment later it settled and vanished. Well, almost vanished. Greiip looked down and saw the pink mist had begun clinging to him, Karndal was the same.
“Okay, you can both come out now, that was a blood spell if you were wondering, if you're warm blooded I can see you even through a wall so unless you have a trained landshark or Cullutyin with you the games up”.
Greiip stood up, pulling Karndal by the arm as he rose.
“You understand of course I'm here on business, you can run away with the other cowards if you so wish. I wouldn't attack unarmed men unless they attacked me first”.
He was doing an excellent job of pretending he hadn't been almost crying a moment ago.
“You have us wrong noble warrior” said Greiip mustering his most authoritative vocabulary “we are adventurers like your good self, we paid fair gold for this contract, our papers are all in order”.
The knight laughed sharply “I've heard some good excuses in my time but that has to be the best. What, did you just forget to bring your armour and weapons?”
“Whatever our appearances may suggest good knight, I can assure you we are doing nothing illegal here”
“Who's your sponsor?”
“Name of Kringle, operating out of Dewing road back in Fawnwater” Greiip began to edge out from his hiding spot as he spoke.
“Well I've never heard of him” said Rotaan.
Greiip allowed his voice to go haughty for a moment.
“Well I'm sorry but whether or not you've heard of someone isn't the sole factor needed for them to exist” he dug the contract out from inside his cloak.
“Don't test me peasant” said Rotaan snatching the papers away. He unrolled them and scanned quickly.
“Kringle's fabulous Mist Realm touring treks and adventures incorporated? What a ridiculous name”
“Well who's your sponsor?” shot back Greiip
“Blackrock Warriors hired me for this one” said Rotaan.
Greiip caught Karndal's eye.
“Okay yes that is a better name” he muttered “but we have the papers, you're the one who's performing an illegal dungeoning”
“Actually no” Rotaan handed the papers back “your sponsor forgot to take it to the guild embassy and get it counter stamped, see, only one wax seal at the bottom here”.
He produced his own scroll and unrolled it.
“where as mine has both. The only thing these papers are good for would be wiping your ahhh”.
Rotaan turned away and handed back the redundant contract. He crossed over to the cave wall where a couple of what looked like thigh bones were hung in a cross and rubbed his hand over the rock behind. Retrieving the fallen bandits monolithic warhammer he walked back to the wall, giving Greiip and Karndal a look.
“X marks the spot right?” the hammer hit with full force against the bones. The wall shattered and with a grey cloud a small cubbyhole was revealed. Rotaan reached in and dragged out a heavy wooden crate. He produced the small key Gundark had been hiding and gently twisted the lock. The lid fell open and Rotaan reached inside, withdrawing a tiny stone figurine. At that moment the noble warrior was as defenceless as a child, the relief permeating his body rippled out in waves.
“At last” he whispered and touched the figurine to his lips. After a moment his composure returned and he stood up.
“So, you two can scarper any time you want, I can see your new to this so I wont report this little indiscretion but tell your sponsor to make sure his paperwork is in order in the future”.
Greiip made to move but Rotaan raised his sword suddenly.
“Of course, I'll be having that stone back”.
“Oh come on” said Greiip “you got run of this place now, you can take what you want. You were right, this is our first time, give us something to take back to the sponsor, please”.
Rotaan advanced a step “do you have any idea how expensive it is to maintain this sort of equipment? Any idea how much even a 12th level mage charges to enchant a shield? Souls don't just run around capturing themselves. Now, once I've finished you can take anything that's left but I get first pick, and if my contract isn't enough to persuade you of this, remember I have a sword”.
And so it was that the great and famous adventurer Rotaan Tagkit left Driftwind Cavern his arms full of gems, gold, rare potions and much else of value. And so it was that the cowardly little known adventurers Greiip and Karndal left carrying a couple of rusty iron swords, a broken crossbow and a handful of used bolts. To add insult the military arming sword had been taken from the entrance as well. Outside they looked at each other.
“Okay, so that wasn't brilliant but hey, were alive, we have some loot, so it wasn't an entirely wasted journey” said Greiip.
Karndal looked despondent.
“What, did you imagine we would uncover the armour of the gods on our first trip? So we need some practice, and maybe some weapons, and a better sponsor, and some skill at what were attempting to do, a couple of spells, maybe some potions. All these things can be obtained. Listen lad, I didn't tell you before but the last three people to travel with me all died, all because they couldn't run or hide as fast or well as me. You can, you're the first true coward I've worked with”.
Karndal brightened a little.
“I am good at walking quietly aren't I?”
“Lad, I might have to get you to start walking in front, half the time even I wasn't sure you were still there”.
Karndal stood up, “yeah, and maybe we can get a few grains for these swords”
“you know how the saying goes” said Greiip “it only takes a few grains to drink a few ales”.
“So it does, so it does. I could really do with an ale or three right now”.