The Span part 1 (Dungeons and Dragons fiction)

So, something a little different for this blog!

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I play Dungeons and Dragons (which is great for any writer wanting to get the imagination going!) and sometimes I’m Dungeon Master. That’s great for me, because I get to write a story that a group of my friends play along with! It’s great dreaming up encounters for them and frustrating when they come up with reactions to situations that I never expected!

Anyway, a while back, I wrote a short story which was based on those players and how they met as they embarked on the first adventure I wrote for them. I had lots of fun fleshing out their character descriptions and shared my work with them afterwards, which they enjoyed a lot! It was also my first attempt at writing fantasy – a genre I love, but had never written in before, so I’d welcome any comments regarding that!

Just for legal purposes, certain non-player characters and places named in the story are the property of Wizards of the Coast who make Dungeons and Dragons, but the character names are the creations of my players.

So here’s part one of the story…

1 Unfinished business

It seemed like an age since Kaldir had got the word out, hoping for enough of a response to get things moving. He knew enough about the various inns and taverns in and around Phandalin, and he’d even reached out to some of his less than savoury contacts down the High Road in Neverwinter, for maximum exposure. His contact had stressed that he needed trustworthy people for the job, but tough ones nonetheless. And where do adventurers go when looking for work? Picking up rumours in taverns was all part of the job and by the gods, there were enough of them in that city.

It was in such a place that he’d got talking to a fellow dwarf called Gundren Rockseeker. A while back, Gundren and his brothers had uncovered none other than the lost mine of Phandelver – something every dwarf knew the stories of. Located in Wave Echo Cave, tales told of not just boundless minerals to refine but none other than the Forge of Spells itself. The forge had entered into dwarven folklore around 500 years ago and had been searched for ever since. If it could be found, and restored to working order, then countless weapons could once more be imbued with magical properties – and the dwarfs who found it imbued with much wealth as a result. Rockseeker was eager to get the place up and running again, knowing that it would open the door to some much needed prosperity in the area. The thing was, it had become overrun with goblins and a network of bandits, all overseen by a shadowy figure known as The Black Spider.

This was more that the Rockseekers could deal with and clearly, they needed the help of some adventurers to find out what was going on. They enlisted the help of the Gauntlet, a seasoned band of adventurers who had happened upon Phandelver while travelling. True to their word, the Gauntlet flushed out the Black Spider and his followers on an adventure that took them far beyond Wave Echo Cave and into the Neverwinter Wood.

All this was being relayed to Kaldir at great length, and he had spent the last five minutes wondering when Gundren was going to get the point. However, he knew all too well how much his kind enjoyed a story, so he indulged the dwarf. Besides, he’d heard of The Gauntlet himself, so it was interesting to hear an account of their adventures from somebody who had actually spent time with them. As if reading Kaldir’s mind, Gundren slammed his tankard down on the roughly-hewn tavern table:

“So, that brings us up to date I think.”

“Go on,” Kaldir said.

“The Black Spider may be gone, but something’s still not right in that cave. There are no bandits or goblins, that’s for certain, but when I sent a party of my lads in to start investigating, they came out again pretty sharpish.”

Kaldir had to admit he was intrigued. He didn’t need to say anything and his fellow dwarf could see it in his expression, continuing unprompted:

“They saw ghouls in there, and zombies. Just for a fleeting moment, but even in torchlight, there’s no mistaking that pallid flesh…not to mention the stench.”

Gundren paused then, looking around him at the tavern’s other occupants to check that none were within earshot before lowering his voice to continue:

“There’s been tales of an ancient evil lurking in those caves, long before the Black Spider arrived on the scene. And I know even though they got rid of him, the Gauntlet didn’t explore every part of it. One of their party was fatally wounded in there after a particularly nasty encounter and once they’d set out to do what they came to do, they were eager to move on.”

Kaldir was even more intrigued but equally perplexed: “Ancient evil? But how did the Black Spider keep his network operating, take control of the caves and not find it?”

“Exactly the question I’ve been asking myself” replied Gundren. “That’s where you come in. I need you to assemble a new group of adventurers and find out what’s going on.”

“Seems straight forward enough, I’ll just do the rounds, spread the word, put up a few…” Gundren held up a hand, interrupting Kaldir. “There’s something else you should know, about this ancient evil I spoke of. Does the name ‘Mormesk’ mean anything to you?”

Kaldir’s heart seemed to skip a beat. “Yes I’ve heard the name … it’s been used to liven up campfire ghost stories and warn children away from places they shouldn’t be going for hundreds of years…surely he can’t still be around?”

Gundren held up a hand again. “Here’s what I know. Wizards once tended the Forge of Spells, working for an ancient race of dwarves to create all manner of weapons. Mormesk was the last wizard stationed there before the last great orc invasion. No doubt he had good intentions at the time, but who knows what’s happened since then? It may be nothing, but for me, well, it’s too much of a coincidence. That’s why we need to discover what’s going on, so we can finally get the mine working again, so all the Gauntlet’s hard work won’t be for nothing, and so we can get some damned money flowing into the region again. The gods know we need it.”

Gundren took a quaff of his ale, drained the tankard and wiped his moustache on his sleeve before continuing: “We need you to expand the Gauntlet’s span since they’ve moved on. Enlist some new recruits and find out what’s going on. You know the drill. We’ll need a well-balanced party with monster-slaying experience but I’d certainly make sure there’s a magicuser or two…”

The Rockseeker brother left the sentence unfinished, but it was clear to Kaldir what the inference was. He believed that Mormesk was still around. One thing was for sure, if it turned out to be true, the bards would have a few more verses to compose for their campfire tales when all this business was done with.

“OK Gundren, I’ll get to work. Before I do though, there’s a few things I need to get straight. In my experience, adventurers are only really interested if there’s any treasure to be found. The chances of me finding a band of eager paladins to do the job for nothing more than the wholesome joy of ridding the land of a bit more evil are slim to say the least.”

“Of course, Kaldir, of course. Very well then. Anything the party finds inside is theirs – once we can be sure that the mine is clear and we can get to work. Now, get the word out and inform anybody who is interested that they should meet at the Townmaster’s Hall in Phandalin. We’ll see you there.”

That was over a week ago and now, Kaldir sat anxiously in the Townmaster’s Hall. Even though he had no control over who, if anybody would hear the call, he nevertheless felt responsible, and glanced nervously around the old building, which so far was devoid of would-be adventurers. Currently the only other occupants – the Rockseeker brothers Gundren and Nundo – were sat to Kaldir’s right, and both were glancing over expectantly in his direction. One of the things that came with being a thief was the assumption that you knew things, got things done, had connections and made things happen. Kaldir had ensured that all the correct free-spirited underworld contacts with even freer tongues received word of the trouble in mines, and surely, anything with the potential for treasure was always guaranteed to capture the attention of adventurers, wasn’t it? Just as he was beginning to think he’d have to call in a few old favours to assemble a party himself, the hall door opened.

2 Brom

The sun rose slowly over the Sword Mountains, and Brom greeted its first rays with a grateful heart. By the end of this day, he would reach Phandalin, and hopefully be able to find out more about the mysterious goings on in the nearby cave. The possibility of treasure didn’t interest him at all, but treasure rarely came without its associated risks, and risks were something he needed to take if he was to complete the trial. It was a long time since Brom had left the relative safety of the Bearheart tribe in the forest to embark on the Trial of Awakening and he was a long way from home. The amount of time he spent away from the tribe and what he did in that time were decisions to made only by him, but so far, he’d encountered little that he felt tested, or even educated him. The trial was about exploring the world, discovering more about it and bringing this knowledge back, for the good of the tribe. If he did this, he would become a Den Ward, a title never before bestowed on any in his family. Family. The word immediately made him think of his mate Corla, and little Abrom. Having only just opened his eyes, he closed them once more. Just for a moment he was back within the safety of the tribe, lying next to her, the dying embers of the fire of the previous night still casting a warm glow on her pale skin, as Abrom began to stir, eager for his feed.

Brom shook his head and opened his eyes. It would be a long time before he would see them again and he would have to get used to it. He’d not seen nearly enough to consider himself ready, and wondered how he would know when he was. The tribe elders had assured him that it would be clear to him eventually, at some point on his adventures, he would awaken on a morning just like this one, and feel deep inside his heart that he was truly awakened and could return to the tribe.

His thoughts shifted to Phandalin. It was a town he knew, and towns meant people. Brom preferred warm bearskin and a canopy of stars to cold stone and rowdy gatherings but his dealings with the dwarves from Kraghammer had at least give him some introduction to the outside world. Brom and his tribe were leather workers and as the barbarian had soon learned, leather was something that was always in demand – good quality leather even more so. He could still remember the day, when as a young man, he’d accompanied some of the older tribesmen out of the woods to a trading post. A party of dwarves had arrived in search of supplies, and one had cast an experienced eye over a money pouch that he’d made – the first item of his own that he was allowed to bring. The dwarf nodded and added it to the items for trade. Since then, he’d had a number of dealings with dwarves, so felt that he was a little more prepared than he might otherwise be for meeting those who had reached out for help. Mining was the stock and trade of many a dwarf and though Brom could think of nothing worse than spending time deep underground, he knew that the adventure, whatever it would have in store for him, would contribute a great deal to his awakening. It was on one of these trading trips that he’d heard the dwarves talking about Wave Echo Cave, and the possibility of treasures lying within. Maybe this could prove to be the spark he needed to light the flame of his awakening, and begin his own journey?

With a sigh, Brom rose to his full height, drawing his bear skin about his broad shoulders. The touch of it between his fingers reminded him of his first ritual the Trial of Cub Warding – this was becoming a real morning for memories. As a younger man he had longed to be a Cub Ward but had heard of the dangers from older tribesmen. It wasn’t just the fight with the bear they said, though that was bad enough. It was finding someone who was willing to risk their own child, all for the sake of granting the candidate a chance to earn the title. He remembered the knot of anxiety in his stomach as he crouched next to Rantra by the fire, and asked her if he could take Rento into the woods. She looked at him for a time, then nodded once, solemnly. She’d lost her own mate to the trial, so it must have been even more difficult for her to agree. She must have seen something in Brom however, sensed his natural leadership qualities and trustworthiness. Try as they might, the elders couldn’t keep the looks of surprise off their faces when they learned that Rantra had agreed – surely she would be the last person in the tribe to say yes? So moved were they, that two of their number volunteered their own children for the trial – saving Brom the task of asking another two tribe members.

The whole philosophy of the Bearheart tribe was one of respect. They lived symbiotically with the bears of the forest, honoured the creatures’ strength, cunning and strong family bond. It was this respect that led to the stipulation that no weapons be used in the trial. The candidate must lead his ‘cubs’ – three of the tribe’s children – into the forest and wait for a bear to arrive. When it did, it would make for one of the children, whereby the candidate would engage the bear in unarmed combat and kill it. Only then would they earn the title of Cub Ward and have the right to wear the skin of the bear he killed that day. As well as adding to his already intimidating appearance, it served as a constant reminder of his trustworthiness – and it was exceptionally good at keeping the cold mountain air at bay. Breaking camp, Brom began his descent from the mountains and made for the small cluster of buildings in the distance far below.

3 Hilir

“Go on darlin’ sing us another one…I’m enjoying the view!”

The cheers that followed this latest drunken outburst sounded equally inebriated, but it wasn’t anything Hilir Dyernina hadn’t heard before. Jeering drunks washing away their worries with warm ale were a necessity of the job and it had always been that way. She’d been on the road and earning her own keep since she was young, finally persuading her father that she was old enough and responsible enough to leave home. He’d understandably been especially protective of her when she was a child, ever since the day when that creature…she was grateful she had no memory of her mother’s abduction. Her father had rarely spoken about it and when he did, it was usually only to express his regret that he hadn’t got to her sooner, and that he hadn’t been there to fight the creature off. Partially because she was frightened to hear the truth, but also because she feared upsetting him further, she’d never asked her father if he thought her mother could still be alive. He’d said she was “attacked and taken” never that she had been killed. Was it irrational to hope that her mother was alive? Most probably. But even the slightest prospect helped to give her a purpose in life.

In the intervening years, she’d built up quite a reputation for telling tales and weaving her words together with enchanting sounds from her viol. The more you travelled, she reflected, the more experiences you had to share, and so it went on. Nights like this were a hazard of the job. The rowdiness had quickly turned to violence, and she had to duck to avoid a tankard of ale which had been inaccurately flung by a young man still getting to grips with his ability to handle his ale. He hadn’t been throwing it it her, but at an older dwarf who was berating him for his lack of drinking ability. Hilir knew the innkeeper well, and a quick nod and a hand gesture to him as she ducked and scurried towards the entrance conveyed what the two needed to know: Everything was fine and she’s come by and collect her payment in the morning.

Wisely, she’d chosen her lodgings at a more sedate inn up the road on the outskirts of the town. She found it was easier to practice her playing and also to rest and well…contemplate her ‘power’. Hardly a power she thought, but then what else was it? From what little she’d learned from her father, magic was used on that fateful day when her mother was taken and somehow – perhaps because she was young and her mind eager to soak up the energy – some of it had leached into her. She’s never call herself a wizard, but the ability to cast a number of spells was something she’d started to develop alongside her musical trade. The roads were dangerous and though she teamed up with other musicians and players who often travelled together to keep each other safe, her abilities had got her out of a number of dangerous scrapes already. The sound of animated conversation up ahead brought her attention back to the present:

“Look Wilbor, you’re too old for any of that carry-on now, and so am I! Our adventuring days are over. Leave it for the young ‘uns.”

“But Jens, it’s perfect! Not to far away…probably lots of treasure…bet there’ll only be a goblin or three to see off…”

“Leave it Wilbor! You can go if you want, but I won’t be joining you.”

As Hilir got closer, she could see two middle-aged men totter tipsily away from the town’s notice board, their conversation trailing off as they walked further along, suddenly forgetting all about what had got them so animated. Alongside the usual requests for farmhands, advertisements for home-brewed ale and requests for general labourers, she saw what had caught the two old adventurers’ attention:

“Adventurers wanted. Those skilled in blade or magic may apply. All treasure can be kept. Interested parties meet at the Townmaster’s Hall in Phandalin on…”

The date was two days from now. Hilir was well-travelled and quickly worked out that she could reach Phandalin in time. She’s been there before but a long while ago, and not from this direction. Still it was workable. There was a gap in her schedule in which she’d planned to work on her spells anyway…maybe this could be the adventure she was looking for to really try them out?

4 Cronos

Cronos couldn’t fail to see the irony of the path his life had taken. The son of jeweller, who was himself the son of a jeweller (and so it went on), gems had been a part of his life since he was a young boy, over 150 years ago. He’d been curious since he first set eyes on a shimmering topaz that his father was crafting into a necklace to gift some visiting dignitary or other, and his fascination with gems had stuck with him ever since. The smithing, tinkering and smelting he could do without. Breaking away from the family business was virtually unheard of in tight-knit traditional gnome communities, and those who did were considered virtual outcasts as a result. So Cronos bided his time. In the intervening years he helped his father out as best he could but it was when the box arrived that the die was truly cast.

“I can’t get to those settings to replace the stones if I can’t get in the box.,” his father had said, after a fruitless hour tinkering with the Nackle family heirloom.

“Father, Tana already said she doesn’t care about what’s in the box, just that the gems…” “I know that son, but like I said I need to get inside…”

Just then, the bell jangled to indicate someone else had entered the workshop. His father left the workbench in the room at the rear, after which his fawning voice could be heard, attempting to pacify a representative from the Turen family who was asking how the wedding ring was coming along: “I assure you, it’ll be ready in time for the ceremony…I want it to look its best, as I’m sure you do as well.”

Their exchange continued as Cronos began to study the key hole on the box. Surely it couldn’t be that difficult could it? He’d tentatively reached for the needle-thin tweezers that his father used for delicate work, an idea forming in his mind. He could never really explain it. Somehow, he could develop a clear mental picture of each of the tumblers, willing them to move in his mind before he actually moved the tweezers. On this day, he would never know if it was pot luck or that the lock was a simple one. Either way, with a satisfying click, the box opened, as did the path of Cronos’ life. The family business expanded into locksmithing, and it wasn’t long before he was helping people get into chests and sometimes helping them get into their own houses, after they’d lost their keys following to much time spent in the tavern.

Then one evening in that very tavern, Cronos had been approached by a seemingly innocent-looking halfling, saying he was a member of a special guild, just for people like him, and would he like to join? It turned out there was a ‘test’ that anyone wishing to join had to take. He winced inwardly now, remembering how gullible he’d been. Was it the lure of the gem that he’d been asked to steal from the locked house? Perhaps. Boredom with his life? Maybe. Whatever the reason, he’d decided to leave everything behind and throw his lot in with guild. Whether what he was doing was right or wrong took second place to the thrill of adventure and the possibility to add to his ever-growing collection of gems.

Then one day, he’d seen an old woman sat on the low bench that surrounded the well of the square in the town where he was currently residing, awaiting the next job. She was sobbing, staring at her hand. As he drew closer, he could see the determination in her face, even through the sobs. It seemed like she was willing something to appear…then it clicked. The ring he’d stolen last night. Not from some rich dignitary who wouldn’t miss it, but from this poor woman, who looked for all the world like she’d lost all that she had left.

Whether it was an epiphany or a crisis of conscience, he didn’t know. All he did know was that he had to leave the guild. However, ‘leaving’ the guild wasn’t an option. Running away from it in the dead of night was. He knew he couldn’t return home, not just because he wouldn’t be welcome, but because he feared putting his family at risk from the vengeful guild. He’d instead taken to a life on the road, a travelling odd-job man who never stayed in one place too long. It was one of these mundane jobs that had led him to where he was today. The mayor of the town he was staying in had asked him to repair the notice board, which was in a terrible state. Embarrassed at himself by what he had become, he’d agreed to take a look at the creaking ruin in exchange for a night’s stay at the inn. It was on this board that he saw the notice. Nobody would come looking for him in Phandalin.

The story continues next time!

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