If you’ve stumbled on this post because a conveniently-placed keyword, make sure you read part one first!
To everyone else, let’s see how this pans out…
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.
“But son, that’s not the life for us and you know it isn’t. I know you want to go off and explore like your friends have done, but well, not everyone is born to be an adventurer.” It was strange, considering he couldn’t remember a lot of the other things, that this fateful missive from his father was etched on his memory. The old man thought he was some kind of sage, a wise old scholar who others turned to for advice. In truth, Hamlin now realised with a bitterness that had come with age, that his father was nothing more than a failed wizard. Hamlin could see it all now he’d decided to step away from it and strike out on his own. His father simply couldn’t come to terms with the fact that his son had a passion to do something that he’d never been able to do – live a life through his magic. Oh sure, he’d cultivated a reputation for himself that he’d ‘been around’ and ‘seen things’ but in reality, most of that was vicarious living – transcribing spell scrolls for aged wizards and researching potions for shopkeepers. Hamlin’s mother had been more supportive. At least that’s the impression he’d got. The poor woman wasn’t allowed to have an opinion of her own most of the time.
As a young adult, Hamlin could now look back on those occasions with new eyes, when his mother had attempted to offer her thoughts and observations, only to be overridden by her husband’s assumed sagely knowledge. Poor woman. She was trapped and she knew it. You didn’t walk out on a marriage in the village, it just wasn’t the done thing. Still, its traditionalist structure had one thing going for it. It encouraged young men to go out and explore and find a trade. Unbeknown to his father, Hamlin had been studying magic too. He’d grown up with a house full of books, scrolls and potions and decided quite early on that he wanted to get involved on a practical, rather than scholarly level. Of course, he’d had to display some of his knowledge to his family, to show that he was studious, but as far as he was aware, they expected him to settle into a scholarly life and eventually take his father’s place. He’d turned it over in his mind for weeks, then finally decided that there was never going to be a good time to tell them, so he came out with it. That’s when his father has said what he did. His mother had sat quietly in the background, only once catching his
eye. That glance told him everything: “Go. Because I never will.”
So that’s what he had done, and here he was. Out in the real world. Whatever that meant. So far, it looked pretty much the same. Sure, he’d been paid handsomely by a farmer to frighten away a pack of wolves that were preying on his livestock (there were few substitutes for a good old fire spell) and got the odd conjuring gig at a tavern or two, but surely, there was more out there? He’d heard about Phandalin from a drunken old halfling who had been very appreciative of his performance in a tavern. In truth he hated lowering his skills to such a base level, but it was a necessity. It kept food in his belly and put a roof over his head, and importantly, taverns were a great place to pick up information. Apparently, Phandalin had a couple of good taverns and the rumour was that something “big” had happened nearby. As well as offering Hamlin some more opportunities to earn money, maybe this place could offer a little more? Maybe here would find the adventure he was looking for.
“Sabbatical? But what for? Surely you live a fulfilling enough life here?” Abbot Aluisus was incredulous.
Riley Pyrescream attempted to answer: “It’s not that, it’s just…”
“Your scholarly applications have been invaluable to us…and what’s more, you seem to have a real affinity for the garden and what can be gained from it. We face enough criticism for not getting involved – we always have – and well, since you completed your initial studies, you’ve managed to transform that garden from an old cluster of shrubs and forgotten flower beds to something we can use, and prove our worth.
“yes abbot but…”
“And of course, we’ve come to rely on you to keep us safe. Brother Aldred tells me there’s really nothing else he can teach you when it comes to the unsavoury but necessary art of self defence. And he should know!”
Aldred had been a soldier before he hung up his halbard, battle weary and tired of death. His calling, he’d told Riley once, had simply been a desire to get away from battle and all the talk that comes with it. Retiring wasn’t enough. There was always someone who would call on your experience. Even here, that proved true. Riley imagined though, that seeing off the odd wolf or wandering goblin was a small price to pay for the relative solitude the monastery offered. Then, there was the inevitable request that your knowledge needed to be passed on. As the youngest and most able-bodied brother, Riley had been encouraged to be the recipient of Brother Aldred’s knowledge. This involved some monthly training along with his regular studies, which at first the old soldier seemed reluctant to give, but it soon became clear to Riley that sharing his skills gave him a lot of satisfaction. And, Riley suspected, that wasn’t just because he’d finally found someone to pass the role on to.
Whatever Aldred’s motivations, Riley enjoyed the training and coupled with his limitless thirst for knowledge, it had given him the seed for an idea. The brothers were expected to take a sabbatical much further along on their monastic journey, so it was no surprise that the old Abbot was so taken aback.
Nevertheless, Riley gathered himself: “Abbot. I’ll be much more use to everyone once I’ve given my studies a degree of practical application. And just think of the knowledge I could bring back here? This monastery needs to stick its head out and explore once in a while if it wants to actually understand what’s going on and continue to be of use to people. I’m young enough to be the person to do that, and I’m more than capable of looking after myself.”
Whether it was because he was impressed by the younger man’s speech or had simply grown tired of the argument, Abbot Aluisus had relented, and here Riley was, in Phandalin. He’d overheard a group of travellers at a roadside inn, something to do with ancient magic and a cave, and that Phandalin was the nearest town. This was timely to say the least. He’d been on the road for a month or two already in search of adventure but when it came down to it, he didn’t know where to start. On his travels he’d seen passing parties of adventurers looking much more weathered and experienced than himself and had begun to have doubts. He’d been considering the prospect of returning to the monastery with his tail between his legs when he overheard the conversation. Riley had made his mind up there and then.
“Well, you know what? That’s it! I’ve had enough of you both telling me what to do, and enough of this place!”
Kalistie hurriedly gathered up her pack, which had been waiting in a semi-ready state for some months now, waiting for the day that her parents finally gave her enough grief to tip her over the edge.
“Kalistie, please. Just listen.”
Her father fixed her with his most earnest look, delivered from beneath arched brows that
showcased more of the elven side of his heritage than the human one:
“It’s going to take us some time to settle here. The people of Saltmarsh haven’t had many dealings with our kind. We’re not traditional seafarers. But what I have learned is that a lot of trade goes on here. The market’s a lively place, and you really need to start helping out now the business is growing. People pass through quite often and well, you know, adventurers are always in need of weapons. And there’s no finer weapon than…”
Sensing another of her father’s pride-filled monologues about the elegance of Elven longbows, Kalisti made for the door of their small stone dwelling, opening it only to be assailed by the now familiar – and increasingly resented – stench of fish guts, the result of this morning’s catch. Though she’d taken to her heels as soon as she got outside, she could hear her father at the door, shouting after her:
“One day daughter, you’ll realise that life is something you can’t run away from!”
She told herself not to look back. She didn’t want to give him any indication of doubt. She wasn’t becoming a downtrodden footnote to this place’s history, subservient to her father’s dreams, just like her mother had been. There was nothing for her here. A dead-end place where life kept going round in the same circle. To keep herself from going completely mad, she’d escaped into music; shutting herself away in her tiny room, constructing songs of escape and adventure. What she really wanted though, was some real adventures to sing about. Sure, she’d overheard people talking about what had gone one at that decrepit old house just along the coast from the town – something about an old wizard – but that was as exciting as it got around here.
The one positive thing she’d got out of this wretched place was the chance to catch a song or two from some of the travelling bards who occasionally performed in the Snapping Line. It was a lifestyle that intrigued her. Passing from one town or village to the next, earning enough to keep going, picking up tales, gaining experience and…well, seeing the world. That was something she yearned for, but as long as her mother and father had anything to do with it, something she’d never have the opportunity to do. Much as she resented them, she grudgingly admitted that the skills her father had taught her could come in useful, because she surmised, life on the road could be dangerous and it always paid to be able to look after yourself. Even her mothers obsession with boring needlework and crafts might help her clothes stand up to the rigours of the outdoors a little longer. She supposed on some level that she’d miss them, but as for this stinking place? No chance. She was never coming back.
8 The Cave
Most of what Gundren relayed to the adventurers was as he had told it to Kaldir, though the wily thief could spot the emphasis the Rockseeker brother place on his words, and how he deliberately locked eyes on certain members of the party when he mentioned treasure, the magical forge and weapons.
“So what about these wizards you mentioned?” asked the youngest male of the party.
Just as he had asked Kaldir when they first met, he now asked the would-be adventurers:
“Does the name Mormesk mean anything to you?”
Gundren looked around the party expectantly. This time, there was no recognition registering in their faces. The barbarian type seemed especially perplexed, glancing nervously around and appearing more troubled by the walls than by the prospect of encountering any magic. The female however, seemed to show more interest at this point than when the prospect of treasure was first mentioned.
“Well, as you may have already noticed, I’m a dwarf. Myself and my brother Nundo here knows all about what that cave once was. Like I explained just now, wizards used to work there with the dwarfs and Mormesk, well, he was the last wizard stationed there. The forge, the spells, and the weapons, everything was put to good use to try and give the dwarves the edge over the invading orcs but after the invading forces finally broke through, it was lost, along with Mormesk.”
“So if he died, what’s the problem?” asked the woman.
“Dying in battle leaves a soul restless, and when that soul once resided in one of the most powerful mages in the land, not even death can keep it from wandering.”
It was then that Nundo spoke then for the first time.
“It’s my belief that Mormesk’s spirit is the cause of all this. He’s down there in the mine somewhere and you need to find him.”
At this point, the younger Rockseeker brother rummaged in his pack, eventually pulling out a couple of parchments.
“I’ve drawn up a map of how to find Wave Echo, though that part is fairly simple. The other parchment shows a map of what we know about the cave. I’ve been in there myself several times, and because I spoke to The Gauntlet before they departed, I’ve got a good idea of the area they didn’t explore. It’s a pretty safe bet that’s where you’ll find Mormesk.” Nundo placed both rolls down on the heavy oak table that lay between the would-be adventurers and the dwarves, then looked expectantly at each of them in turn. Perhaps surprisingly, it was the barbarian who reached for the maps, glancing at each of his newfound companions as he did:
“I entered this town after crossing these very mountains, not by following the Triboar Trail that the rest of you spoke of. I descended into the foothills not far from the peak that the cave is shown to lie beneath, so I will lead the way.”
Whether it was that none of the party thought it wise to argue with a barbarian, or they were simply glad not to have to make a decision, they consented. Gundren seemed pleased that they had agreed to the adventure, and Kaldir felt relieved that his reputation remained intact. It was always a talking point in the dwarven community when one of their number chose a vocation that didn’t involve digging tunnels, mining for ore or smashing up boulders, especially when that
vocation was one such as his.
“Excellent. Then may I suggest that you spend the rest of the day exploring Phandalin and stocking up on any supplies you need? I’ve made arrangements at the Stonehill Inn, so you can get a good meal and bed down for the night when you’re done.”
The journey to the cave entrance in itself was uneventful, with just the odd travelling tradesman or two casting a cursory glance at the eclectic party of adventurers. Brom cut a solitary figure as he strode ahead in the stoic manner of someone who completely at home in the outdoors. The party travelled in awkward silence for a while until Cronos, not addressing anyone in particular, spoke up, inclining his head towards Brom:
“Strong and silent there won’t want to lead the way once we get into that cave, I grant you. But me? Well, let’s just say I’m used to skulking around in the dark. I’ll be glad of a little cover. We’re
way too exposed around here.”
After they rounded a particularly large rocky outcrop, they could see the barbarian hadstopped in his tracks to point at an opening about 20 feet in front of him:
“It is as the dwarf said. The entrance lies here.”
With that, the barbarian held out the parchments, signalling all at once that his part wasdone, and that he had no desire to navigate his way through the caves. The adventurers looked at each other, before Cronos took them from him, glancing over to where the narrow entrance was:
“Alright then. Let’s go.”