Voices of Mystara:
This issue, Tome of Mystara is pleased to bring you the first installment in a semi-regular feature, Voices of Mystara. Intended as a showcase for the works of newer Mystaran writers, Voices is a window into the world of the Mystaran player, rather than the developer.
The first writer to be featured in this forum is Scott Hertzberg. This Mystaran - better known in some circles as "Meltheim" - here presents an episode from his current campaign. We hope that you enjoy.
Pit of Darkness
by Meltheim the Shadowstalker (aka Scott Hertzberg)
...A new party, barely acquainted with one another, we trekked through the rugged countryside, toward the center of the evil which had spread like tentacles toward fair Kelvin: the Mud Pit, lair of the foul servants of Set.
The road was frought with dangers, from bandits to goblinoid raiders. On the second night, we were ambushed by a lackey of the evil priests; a roiling ball of flame rolled from the underbrush, blazing its path through our center with a deadly roar. When we picked ourselves up from the concussive shockwave which followed in the fireball's wake, two members of our party, the Callarii elves Dalron and Loromyr, lay dead. Their assassin had fled.
I sighed, and said a silent prayer to Mealiden Starwatcher for the young elves' souls. Then, the bodies properly blessed, we removed their singed gear: light, elven chain on one, leather on the other. And a pair of fine-wrought blades. Ah, well - these will do no good on a dead man, I told myself without guilt, as we built a quick funeral pyre.
We traveled quickly and quietly, hushed by the pall of death that already hung over us. Late that afternoon, we came upon a small farm - a vineyard, in fact. From speaking to the farm workers, we learned that the farmer might be a wielder of powerful magics: he terrified his workers by proclaiming that he wielded "the Book," a leather-bound tome which he waved menacingly at them when he grew angry at their performance. Strange things happened around the farm regularly. Plus, just a few days prior, a fence on the property had exploded outward, seemingly by fell magic (perhaps this farmer was a follower of the evil we sought to eliminate?). As the vineyard was so close to our already beleaguered city, we felt that we had a duty to investigate that book.
We lay in wait, ready to discover the culprit, "knowing" that the mad farmer was up to no good, perhaps preying upon his own workers. That evening, as dusk fell, we stalked the rows of vines; finally, we found our quarry...
Leprechauns! They were sneaky little pranksters, wreaking havoc on the farm and its keepers. This band was led by a faerie-dragon who called himself Tummbut...though I quickly discovered (thanks to a few sharp stares) that no one could see him but me!
The book was still a mystery. As Dmitri bargained with the leprechauns over how they could help us procure the book, I lay down to think and promptly drifted off to sleep.
The night was thankfully uneventful, and I awakened more rested than on any other night since joining this party. As I stirred and stretched, ready to feel the cumbersome weight of armor on my shoulders yet again, I realized that that heaviness was gone, replaced by the light jingle of the fine elven chain I had taken from the dead Callarii. Pleased, I rose and stretched again, taking in my surroundings: Dragomir stood nearby, fastening his newfound leathers; Dmitri looked haggard from lack of sleep, although it appeared that he had finally gotten the leprechauns to strike a deal for the book. We could not, after all, leave without seeing it.
I spoke to the mage at the edge of our encampment; indeed, he had reached an agreement with the creatures. They would procure the book from the farmer's house, and we would ensure that the leprechauns (and Tummbut, I thought) got a freshly baked cake once a week, delivered to them by the farmer's wife. I tried not to laugh.
True to their word, the diminuitive creatures soon appeared with the book in question. After all the fuss to get it, we no doubt anticipated that it would be of great help to us. Perhaps a great spellbook? Hints to great riches? We were, in fact, disappointed; a brief perusal, including some magical detection, convinced us that the tome was not of value to us. Indeed, it was nothing but a Darokinian treatise on how to properly tend a vineyard!
As we pondered what was next for our party, we heard an enraged cry. The farmer had awakened to find his book missing! He stood outside, still in his nightshirt, bellowing at the top of his lungs. Wincing, Dmitri cast a quick Sleep spell at the old codger, to "put him in his place."
Eager to be done with this absurd episode, we then made our way to the farmhouse to talk to the farmer's wife (unfortunately, a deal is a deal). At a glance, I took in the matron's collection of garlic strings, "magic" candles, and Traladaran charms; playing it up some, I told the amazed woman that spirits had talked to us during the night and told us that if she were to bring a cake once a week to a certain place in the fields, that everything would remain well and she would get the book back. Awed (or frightened), she had the first cake ready within the hour. With the help of Tummbut, she found a floating book out in the fields at twilight.
Tummbut, my new faerie-dragon friend, had by this time overheard us planning our journey to the treacherous Mud Pit. Apparently he had decided that he would "help" us on said journey, as he followed us as we traveled to town for supplies. Seeming pleased with himself, he flitted through the air close behind, unseen by all but me.
Upon reaching the town, we sought out Vitaris, a friend of friends - we asked the powerful mage if he could identify some of our newly-acquired equipment: a sword, given to Dmitri by a mysterious stranger; and a strange pair of blades, which I had taken from the dead elf - when I had gripped the hilt of one, light flared from the cold metal, and runes flared white-hot along its length. I was quite interested in the swords' origins.
Being that it would take all day for the mage to do his research, we grew quickly bored, and went poking around the tiny hamlet to see what items or events of interest we could find. The town, as it turned out, really was as dull as it had seemed; all we found of interest was a miller's house (read: with a miller's daughter), where the man of the house quickly chased us off. Further wanderings revealed a narrow path just outside of the town proper. Following it through tall grass and endless burrs, we found what appeared to be the sanctuary of a druid. Or, rather, what had been. The druid's cabin had been looted and vandalized, though fortunately there was no sign of a body. We searched aimlessly through the remainder of the cabin's contents: sorted and labelled herbs, dried flowers, even some natural dyes - items of some value, though unfortunately not to us.
The sun waned on the horizon; we trudged back to town, frustrated at the wasted day. Vitaris had, at least, found some information for us. As it turned out, Dmitri's sword was an heirloom of a prominent family of the Callarii clan, and had inscribed on it, in tiny-etched runes, all the heroic deeds of the family's past. In addition to being very special to that family, the sword apparently had some magical powers; legends hinted that it bore special powers against dogs or wolves.
The two swords that I found on the deceased Callarii, it seemed, were even more special than that, as they were not of this world, nor even of this Plane! Apparently, the wizard had managed to gather clues (no doubt from his extensive - and temptingly visible - library) leading him to believe that the swords were from Arcadia, a realm far from the Prime Material Plane, and home to a race called the Akalians. The swords were magical in nature (I could have told him that much!), but especially magical when wielded by Akalian hands. In that case, the weapons radiate light and the runes glow with arcane fire, though the blades remain cold.
I refrained from asking why, then, the blades glowed in my own hands. Perhaps the wizard was mistaken about the blades and their origin. Other eccentricites in his abode suggested that the many years of near-solitude might have gone to the mage's head.
After paying the mad old wizard, we headed back to the Sleeping Serpent Inn for (hopefully) a good night's rest. After setting the usual Alarm spell on my door, I offered up a prayer to Mealiden Starwatcher, in hopes of a quiet evening...and a successful morrow.
We set off as the first glimpse of dawn peeked over the mountains, accompanied by six additional contracted guards who finally arrived from Kelvin the previous night. After all the diversions of the last few days, we were finally making our way toward the evil of the Mud Pit. Dmitri was in the lead, as the only one of our party who knew the way. (I didn't, I admit, have much respect for the mage, who seemed to be wasting his abilities on useless spells rather than fire magics, for which he obviously had a talent.) Tummbut still followed us, though I caught only occasional glimpses of him. The six guards appeared to be formidable enough allies; I hoped that with their aid, we could stand against the creature of the Pit, which both Modi and Dmitri called a "Nahguh." While its name sounded harmless, I was assured that was far from the truth.
Hours later, we caught our first glimpse of the entrance to the Pit. It was guarded by two sentries: tall, lizard-like creatures with crests running from head to spine. "Troglodytes," hissed Dragomir, reaching for his weapon. I shook my head, motioning for silence. We sneaked as close as we dared; the troglodytes fell in a flash of spellfire.
As we rushed the now-unguarded entrance, I noticed that Dmitri looked pale and shaken - far more than one would expect from the common spells he had cast. Upon enquiry, the mage finally revealed his dilemma: he was afraid - irrationally so - of entering the Pit. We were losing time; I ordered him to stay behind, guarding the entrance and the captive troglodytes. He gave me a few spell-scrolls for the battle ahead.
The entrance shaft of the Pit fell straight down through the solid bedrock, and into darkness. Dragomir drove a sturdy spear deep into the side of the ledge; we tied a rope onto it and repelled down the slick walls to a frightening depth.
We had no sooner landed, rubbing our rope burns, that the damp cavern at the bottom filled with what looked like an entire clan of goblin warriors! Modi swiftly pulled a flask from his pouch, launching it at the menacing goblins; white-hot flames (which he has since told me is called "Milenian fire") erupted, engulfing most of the warriors, and driving the others back into the depths of the Pit.
Toeing a charred body, I determined that everyone was all right. We proceeded; I took the lead, gripping the haft of one of my newly-acquired swords to light the way. We had not traveled but a few hundred more yards when the roar of an attack once again filled our ears. Whether the goblin and troglodyte guards were drawn by our previous battle or by the light of my sword I do not know; nonetheless, we met our opponents with sword and spell, and once again prevailed.
The rest of the journey remains, in my mind, a haze of blood and battle cries, of darkness and air thick with the taste of thick mud and rancid water. At one point, I was forced to flay a large snake which landed on me. Further one, a large creature, shrouded in darkness, barred our passage. With every swing of sword or axe tearing at our exhausted muscles, we fought it to a standstill; yet it would not fall. Finally, the battle-rage filling me with energy anew, I raised my sword and brought it down in one last, deadly stroke, and the creature was no more.
Afterward, I sat catching my breath, chuckling: were Dmitri here, he would surely have fireballed the creature. Suddenly I smelled something odd, a strange aroma of flesh which, while it didn't alarm me, made me instantly agitated. Preparing myself for the worst, I spun around the corner, sword upraised.
"Don't kill me, sir!"
It was some sort of ugly dwarf! Granted, all dwarves are ugly, but this one was particularly thin and rosy cheeked, as if he had been out of the mines too long. He walked along the wall of the passage, a strange worm in his hand, as though he had merely stumbled into this Pit from another cavern, by mistake. The ugly creature nonetheless seemed friendly enough, but something about him told me that I should be wary of his actions; all thieves can detect another thief, and although I had never heard of a dwarven thief (they have too much honor), he still appeared to fit the bill.
The strange little man introduced himself as Grunesh, and promptly began to babble about "glow worms" and shiny objects. Listening with one ear, I began to suspect that this was not a dwarf at all, but rather a specimen of creature with which the elven elders used to associate, called a "Gnome." Whatever he was, we were certainly grateful for help in our battle with the evil monster ahead.
We proceeded, and son came to a stagnant, underground lake. With my infravision, I could just make out the dim outline of an island on the lake's horizon; evil emanated from it in dark, sickly psychic waves. It could be none other than the lair of the creature we sought. I filled in the gnome as we searched for a way to cross; he corrected me as to the creature's name: "Naga."
A small wooden boat rested father along the laksehore. A few small animals (though not so small of tooth) had settled in it, and were none too happy at their displacement. But we were soon on our way.
We crept onto the murky island, careful to keep silent. A slight breeze stirred off the lake, and the stench of rotting flesh filled our noses and mouths, thick and choking. I heard someone behind me suppress a gag. A low-lying mist sheathed the island's interior. My sword cut through it like a white-hot knife, and I tried to peer ahead. Suddenly, out of the cloak of mist, a long, slender shape rose out of the darkness!
Sleek and stealthy, and ringed in black and red, the Naga wavered before us in the pale darkness like a giant snake. Fangs glowed in its grotesque humanoid head. Closest to the monster, I felt a near-irresistible urge to look into its slitted eyes. Look at me, it whispered silently, pulling my attention toward it as easily as one pulls a child by the hand...
"No!" I shouted, wrenching my gaze from the creature's. It hissed in anger as I raised my arm, bringing the sword down upon its length. I felt its leathery flesh part, heard it scream in pain and rage.
My attack seemed to snap everyone from the power of the Naga's gaze before it did any harm. While the others did combat with the creature, dodging its quick-striking teeth as they hacked at it relentlessly, I quickly unrolled one of Dmitri's scrolls and began to read. I hoped that this spell, unlike the last (which I had cast earlier, and which did nothing but boost my energies), would do harm to our foe. I was not mistaken; as soon as I completed the incantation, a cluster of missiles shot forth in a glowing trail, and impacted on the creature's already-wounded torso.
The Naga, calling on its foul deity, began to chant a spell. As the words of power fell from its lips, the evil atmosphere of the island grew even more oppressive - it felt as though the powers of Darkness were coalescing right there, upon us.
Suddenly, Grunesh threw one of his little worms right at the Naga's face. The creature, startled, broke off its spellcasting. Everything, then, seemed to happen at at once: A bright flash of light exploded in the Naga's face, blinding it. Simultaneously, Modi struck out at the monster with his double swords, and managed to hit with one of the pair. He fell back, waiting for another opening. The Naga shook off the blindness with a roaring hiss; it opened its eyes to see an ugly little gnome, sticking out his tongue and taunting it! Enraged, the Naga struck wildly out at Grunesh, who dodged the attack.
But the creature's rage diverted its attention from Modi, who was ready for the opening. With a yell, he raised his sword and brought it down in a great blow that severed the neck of the beast and sent it back from whence it came.
Exhausted as we were, we felt the pall of evil lift from the island as the Naga's body twitched its last. Exhilarated, we searched the creature's lair for any treasure.
Although I am not normally one for trinkets and treasure, a pair of boots - soft and supple - caught my eye. I pulled them on and was surprised to see that not only did they fit perfectly, but they also made my steps seem nearly silent, even as I stepped over the bones and treasure littering the lair. I admired my boots as we sifted through the remainder: a few rings, what appeared to be a Bag of Holding, and two scroll cases (one of which completely entranced the gnome).
The lair sufficiently plundered, we breathed easier knowing that the Naga had been defeated; would its defeat be enough to drive the hold of Darkness from Kelvin? We trudged back toward the entrance of the Pit, eager to be home.
But such a quick solution was not to be; as we approached the entrance, I heard voices ahead. Lurking behind the muck and damp rock, we witnessed with sinking hearts the arrival of more dark-robed servants of Set. We could not take them now, weakened as we were from our battles. We could only hope that Dmitri had escaped in time. Grunesh led us to an alternate exit with great haste, and we climbed to safety. Luckily, we found Dmitri alive, hiding from the servants of Darkness who had nearly captured him near the mouth of the Pit.
Quiet both from the exhaustion of our small victory and from pondering the long battle ahead, we returned that night to the little town of Orlane, there to plot our next assault. It is from my room at the inn that I now write this. We have many trials before us, to wipe this great evil from the land. But first I must sleep...
Copyright 2000, Scott Hertzberg with Jennifer Favia Guerra; based on "Meltheim's Log," copyright 1999, Scott Hertzberg. All rights reserved. Used by permission. "Voices of Mystara" is copyright 2000, Tome of Mystara. All rights reserved.