The Horse and the Stone
Meet the Meat
A few months had passed as we find the Wolverines! sitting in The Serpent’s Snare in Shouren. The town had grown considerably over the past few months and has become quite the trading town. Many people travel to this town, some of them just to benefit from this town’s opportunities, and others to utilize the quickness of the trade route running through it to get to Crou, the nation’s capital city.
Over the past few months the Wolverines! had picked up a few adventuring jobs, but nothing too noteworthy. As they sat in the tavern one day searching for new clients, a band of merchants walked into the smoky building. This is not too unusual but one of the merchants caught Dante’s eye. Being trained in the art of reading people he was able to see something was wrong with this Halfling.
The Halfling stayed away from the rest of the ranks and his eyes shifted into dark corners, as if he were expecting to see something there. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead and he tried to quickly wipe them away. Eventually his quick glance fell on the party and he gave a violent start. He calmed himself down, and recognized that they were adventures.
Clumsily, he made his way to their table. Taking a deep, steadying breath he spoke to them in a small quivering voice,
“H-h-hello. A-a-are you adventures?”
The party answered all at once that they were, indeed, adventurers.
“Oh g-good,” the Halfling said, relived. “Perhaps you m-m-might be a-a-able to help m-me with a problem. I a-a-assure you that if you help m-me I will p-p-pay you well.”
“Tell us your problem, good sir,” Hokima said in his gruff dwarven voice.
“L-let m-me start from the beginning. M-my name is Brinker, I am a m-m-merchant from the city of Crou. Lately I have b-b-been under a b-black cloud. Y-you see, a group of ruffians w-want m-me dead. They have sent m-me death threats repeatedly, asking for m-money that I do n-not owe. T-these m-men will stop-p at n-nothing to have my head. I have hear a few n-notes that they have sent m-me. All I know a-about them is that they c-call themselves the Darkriders. I-is there an-nything you can-n do for me, A-Adventurers?”
The group huddled around the table and conversed in whispers about what they could do to help. After a few moments, they pulled away and Budda turned his big, scaly, dragon like head towards Brinker.
“There is a room upstairs that you can make a safe haven in, Brinker,” said he. “We can hire a guard to keep watch to make sure no one tries anything to harm you.”
Brinker’s eyes lit up and he stuttered his thanks before handing his notes to the group and making his way to his room.
The notes all had a basic theme to them, they all said something about money and death if the first theme never appeared. At the end of every note instead of a signature there was a stamp, an insignia all most, of a black horse rearing on its back legs, the horse always had one red eye. Dante slipped outside to ask around town about these mysterious Darkriders.
When he returned, he had much information to give to his comrades.
“From what I gather,” he told them, “the Darkriders come through town every once in a while, sometimes stirring up some trouble as they rumble through. They go up and down this kingdom periodically. Word on the street is, is that the Darkriders are in town now or have just recently left. What do you all want to do?”
“The market place is always a good place to go looking for people,” Berrian said. The Wolverines! gathered themselves and walked to the market. The market was bustling with people. All races mingled and called out their wares to the passing shoppers. Various vendors sold weapons and potions, others sold strange smelling articles of clothing. Fruit vendors were not uncommon among the ranks of stalls. Behind one particular fruit vender stood a bald Half-elf.
The Half-elf wore a dark red bandana around his head, on the bandana was the same insignia as was on the letters from Brinker. Dante sauntered up to the stall, his green cloak flowing in the wind that began to pick up.
“Hello,” said the Half-elf good naturedly. “What can I help you with?”
“I’m purchasing information,” Dante answered. The Half-elf looked down the crowded street, to see if anyone was listening to their conversation.
“What would you like to know?” he asked when satisfied that no one was listening.
“What do you know about the Darkriders?”
The Half-elf’s hand started to go to his forehead but he stopped it and brought it back across his chest.
“Not much, why do you want to know.”
“We meet a person who might be in some trouble with them. Anyway 15 gold could jog your memory?”
“How about 20?” Dante offered, holding a small bag in front of the Half-elf. After a moments hesitation the Half-elf took the gold and pocketed it.
“They’re in the Courier’s Stop. Tell the landlady Mane sent you.” He leaned back from the stall and called to a passing stranger to see if he wanted to buy some fruit. Dante took his leave and melted easily back in with the crowd.
The party left the market place and made their way to the Courier’s Stop, which was an inn that was adjacent to the Serpent’s Snare. When they arrived they talked to the landlady, who led them to a closed off, back room. Gathering themselves together, the party walked into the room.
The room was fairly large, with a crackling fire in a fire place along the left wall of the room. Around the fireplace were several chairs and sofas, in these sat eight figures, all of whom seemed to be a different race.
The figure closest to them jumped out of her chair and pressed a knife against Budda’s throat.
“What are you doing here,” asked the figure, in a sinister female voice. Berrian, who was behind Budda, noticed that she was an elf. Before the group could answer a gruff voice from further within the room said,
“Put it down, Serthra. These men haven’t come to harm us.” Serthra looked disappointed as she lowered the knife and sat back into a chair. The voice, the party concluded, came from a Dwarf who was sitting on a sofa, flanked by a Dragonborn and a Tiefling. The dwarf had a think, unkept, black beard. Over one of his eyes was a red eye patch with a similar insignia to the letters and the Half-elf in the market. Stanislav noticed that all of them had this insignia somewhere visible on their bodies.
The dwarf noticed Hokima.
“Ah,” he said, with a tone of jocularity in his voice, “a fellow Dwarf. ‘ow tastes the ale?”
“The ale tastes good,” answered Hokima. “Hail Moridan!” The other Dwarf nodded in response.
“We’re ‘ere,” Hokima said, taking the initiative in the conversation, “because we met a friend of yours a while back. ‘is name is Brinker, says you’ve been giving ‘im trouble.”
“Brinker? That sniveling worm? The thief owes me money. Normally I wouldn’t trouble meself over something so trivial, but it was a large sum o’ money he stole.”
“He stole it?”
“Might as well of. He borrowed a loan from us, 100,000 gold, and the filthy bastard cut town and ran without paying. No one crosses us and gets away with it.”
“That does sound bad,” agreed Hokima. “But still, is there anything I may be able to do to stop ye from chasing this guy down? Any odd jobs ye need done ‘round ‘ere?”
“Now that ye mention it there is something that I need fetching. If ye bring it to me might forget this little…misunderstanding.”
“Great, what is it?”
“Now before I tell ye anything ‘bout it, I’m gonna need your word that ye’ll do it.”
“Well, I’m not really sure what we’re dealing with ‘ere. I need to know this thing is attainable.”
“I see ye’re point. ‘Tis a small stone. Black, with a glowing red center. If ye bring it to me, I’ll pay ye what its worth is to me.”
“Where might we find this?”
The dwarf put a finger to his nose, “Can’t tell ye, till I ‘ave your word.”
The Wolverines! stepped out of the room and put their heads together to talk about what they would do next. After several minutes of discussion, the party entered into the Darkrider’s room.
“We’ll do it,” Hokima told them.
“Great! Ye can find me stone in a cave in the Elkrich forest, just west of ‘ere. Serthra, would you be so kind to led these gentlemen to Elkrich.”
The elf nodded and walked to the door. As the Wolverines! turned to follow her, the dwarf spoke up again, “When ye come back with me stone, ask for Red Eye ‘ere. ‘ave fun, and good luck.
Into the Cave
Serthra led the party to the edge of the vast forest known as the Elkrich. She turned around with out saying a word and she disappeared into the woods, and never reappeared. The party started forward through the forest, pushing their way through the emerald leaves. They eventually came to a small field. Suddenly they heard a little chattering and four giant rats jumped out of the forest, along with a swarm of rats and two dire rats.
Berrian, who was standing in front, unsheathed his sword and brought it down on one of the giant rats, impaling it through the back, his blue, orb-like eyes glinting with the hunger of battle. Jumping next to his friend, Budda brought his warhammer on top of rat’s head, smashing it to bits. The swarm of rats surrounded Berrian and begin to bite him all over, he slashed somewhat ineffectively at them.
Hokima brought his warhammer along in a sweep knocking a dire rat in the chest. The dire rat jumped out at him and tried to bite him, but Hokima dodged out of the way. Stanislav brought his hands back in concentration, then sent a ray of sparkling frost at the dire rat which had hitherto only been standing there. The blast hit it full on and Stanislav could see, with satisfaction, that the dire rat had been badly hurt. Out of the a nearby tree, Dante jumped, his blade shimmering as the light caught it, he stabbed the dire rat which had been attacked by Stanislav in the back. The blade cut deep into the rat and it fell over, dead.
Meanwhile, Budda and Berrian were still fighting the giant rats. The two heroes had worked out a goods system and soon had cut down moat of the rats from the swarm and only one giant rat was left. The giant rat began to retreat, Budda followed it. Hokima was busy fighting with the remaining dire rat, he hopped back a few feet and heaved a white lance at it. In a brilliant radiant burst of light the rat was destroyed.
Berrian took another sweep at the swarm, knocking a few more dead. He kept swinging and swinging, until finally all the rats had been killed. When the remaining rat tried to run, it ran right over a piece of grass colored canvass and into a dark pit. Budda and Dante looked over the edge and saw the rat clawing and squeaking at the sides of the pit. Dante pulled out a torch, lit it, and dropped it into the pit.
“Shall we continue?” asked Dante in an even voice, as the high pitched screams of the trapped rat resounded throughout the field. Dante got up and continued through the trees, the other party members following him.
After a few hours of traveling through the wilderness, the party came to the entrance of a large dark cave. They peered inside the cave, listening carefully.
“Who wants to go first?” asked Budda.
The party headed cautiously into the wide cavern mouth. They passed under some low hanging vines and began to ravel further into the darkness. Along the stony, uneven walls grew a variety of fungus that was largely unfamiliar to the party, this fungus emitted light from under its round top.
Stanislav stopped the party at one point and asked to light their armor with a magic light. All except Dante conceded and the party continued down through the cavern, glowing. The ceiling was low through the passages, Budda’s head just clearing the top. Hokima breathed deeply, this was where he belonged, with the stones. He could almost feel Moridan’s spirit in the earth.
The cave, which had hitherto been liner with its passages, came to a fork. The right passage went straight while the one to the left curved around a corner. The Wolverines! talked amongst themselves, their voices seeming loud in the silent cave, and finally decided to take the left route. When they went around the corner, the passage opened up into a large cavern.
The cavern’s ceiling was higher than the passages had been, about twenty feet, various stalactites hung from the ceiling. The glowing fungi littered the uneven walls and floor. Next to some of these fungi loitered a small group of goblins and kobolds.
The nearest goblin let out a cry of surprise as it reached for its short sword and tried to thrust it into Berrian’s chest. Berrian caught the sword with an upward block of his armored arm as he brought his other arm around to his belt and withdrew his katana. Budda ran past Berrian and brought his warhammer on top of a goblin’s head, shattering it. Hokima gave a dwarven cry as he ran into the cavern, a lance at the ready in his hand; the lance flew through the air and exploded onto a kobold in the back of the cavern. The kobold stumbled and aimed a quick shot at the dwarf with its crossbow, but the bolt hit the wall instead.
Dante cautiously entered the cavern, sword scarping against his scabbard as it was being pulled out. A moment after that the blade found a spot in the back of a goblin that Berrian was in combat with. Berrian was surprised when he saw the goblin slump over with Dante behind it, but he whipped around just in time to dodge an incoming crossbow bolt.
Stanislav crept into the cave and aimed a ray of frost at a kobold, the blast hit the wall behind it and the wall began to freeze over. The kobold jerked its little head Stanislav’s way and launched a javelin at him; it caught Stanislav in the arm, but didn’t go in very deep. Stanislav pulled it out and threw it aside. Budda was surrounded by three goblins; his warhammer wasn’t quite fast enough, so he stepped back from them and opened his big mouth showing his large, sharp teeth. What started out as a roar quickly turned into vast amounts of lightning enveloping the goblins.
The lightening shocked its way through its surprised victims. Three of them fell to the ground, convulsing uncontrollably. Hokima brought his warhammer in an upward cut across the stomach of one kobold. The kobold flew into the air like a rag doll and fell back to the ground. The last kobold looked around fearfully before it tried to run, but Dante was too quick for it and slashed its throat as it tried running past.
With the room cleared, the party took a moment to apply bandages where necessary. As they sat there they heard a strange chanting in goblin. It sounded like many voices at once so Stanislav could not hear exactly what they were saying, but he heard Orcus mentioned. But slowly Orcus’s name changed to Tharizdun instead. Dante carefully slipped around the corner to see what was going on.
Around the corner, Dante found himself on the upper part of this new cavern. The cavern floor was ten feet down and filled with goblins, 16 of them, and then one in the middle. The one in the middle was holding a large staff and seemed to be leading the group. In his left hand he was holding a black stone, the center was red. Dante crept back to his friends. “They have our stone in there,” Dante said, pointing to the cavern entrance.
“How many are there?” asked Budda.
“We should go in there and try to get the stone back,” spoke Berrian, his blue eyes shining surreally in the dark. “Budda, are you up for another blast of electricity at these guys?” Budda nodded his scaley head. The party gathered their things and snuck into the next room.
Budda jumped down from the ledge and smashed into the ground, breathing lightning onto three of the goblins. Stanislav waved his hands around and near the middle of the room a great icy mist was created, freezing another five goblins solid. Another one was blasted away by lance thrown by Hokima. Dante and Berrian jumped down and ran towards the goblin with the staff. They then entered into a strange battle where the goblin began to look worse for the wear.
After the last small goblin had been disposed of Dante ran his sword through the main goblin, catching the stone it was holding as it fell. Dante peered at the stone. Something strange happened to him as the swirling red center drew him in. Small, whispering voices filtered through his head. The presence of other voices wasn’t unusual too Dante as a general rule so he wasn’t too concerned with it. He put the stone is his backpack and began to look for anything interesting on the bodies of the fallen.
Night fell upon the forest as the party made their way back to camp so they decided to stop for the night and rest. In the morning they packed up and continued on the road. When they were not more than fifteen minutes outside of Shouren, a great red light came from behind Stanislav. He looked behind himself and saw the stone they had picked up in the cave rolling on the ground and Dante was gone.
“Comrades, “ Stanislav called before him, “Dante has disappeared.” The party spun on their heels to look. They stared at the stone, unsure of what to do.
“Someone should go touch it,” offered Budda.
“I’m not touching it,” replied Berrian. “I don’t know what it’ll do.” Budda turned to Stanislav who was busy inspecting a nearby tree. Hokima sighed.
“All right,” he huffed, “I’ll go see what it’s all about. Bunch o’ coward.” He stood over the stone and bent his face over it. Inside of the stone he saw Dante looking out, knocking sullenly on the inside of the stone.
“What’re you doing in there, Dante?” he hollered at the stone. Dante tried to answer, but Hokima couldn’t hear anything. “It’s no use,” he said. “What should we do?”
“We should find out if anyone knows how to get him out,” Budda said. “We should check the bar first.” They nodded in agreement and Hokima bent down to pick up the stone. As he bent down he muttered a quick prayer to Moridan, and wrapped the stone up in his bedroll.
The Wolverines! wandered around the city, asking people if they knew anything about the stone. Finally, they found a wizard. The wizard took the stone and said some words into it which brought Dante’s spirit out of the stone. He looked around a few seconds before saying,
“I’m not picking anything we find, ever again.”
“I see you have quite the problem,” said the wizard. “However, I know of a man who might be able to get your friend out for a price. But I do now a ritual and all I need are a few ingredients for it. Bring these to me, and I will get your friend out for free.”
“What ingredients?” asked Stanislav.
“The tooth of a drake, the skull of a goblin, the paw of a wolf, the needle of a stirge, the eye of a bullywug.
“A large swamp frog, about the size of you,” the wizard said, pointing at Berrian.
“This should be fun,” muttered Dante. “How do I help?”
“Your friend takes this stone,” the wizard said, handing the stone to Stanislav, “and you cannot be more than five feet from him. Watch the stone carefully, if it breaks, I’m not sure what will happen to you. You can still deal damage to any enemies you may encounter, through powers I do not understand. I wish you well in your journey, if you need me, I shall be in the Serpent’s Snare.”
With that the wizard turned away and went back with the crowd to the tavern. The party went to the market place to stock up on supplies before heading out of Shourn, to the north. They went this way because earlier they had heard that some spiretop drakes had taken refuge at the top of a guard tower a little ways down the road.
When they got there, they heard a roar of a drake from the top of the forty foot high, stony, tower. They climbed cautiously up the stairs to come face to face with three large drakes. The party fought tooth and nail, literally, against these drakes until the last one finally fell.
Budda pulled a tooth out of one of the bloody mouths of a dead drake. As he pocketed it he found a small goblins head already in his bag.
That’s strange, he thought to himself, but he said to his friends “Check to off the list, I found a goblin’s head.”
“Nice,” Berrian complemented. They climbed back down the stairs and made their way to a smelly smelling swamp. The muck pulled at their boots as they walked through it and eventually they came to a small tribe of bullywugs.
One of the bullywugs croaked, and threw a spear at the group, it missed but the rest of the frogs came bearing down anyway. After dispatching of the bullywugs and taking one of their eyes, the group looked around for some stirges.
Dante recalled that he had heard of a sap in a tree that could summon stirges. Finding a tree, the group but the sap in the middle of the swamp and waited for the fluttering of angry wings. Four bug like things flew out of the marsh and swarmed around the party.
One of the stirges lodged itself in Stanislav. Stansialv reeled back and Dante floated around and tried to break the stirge off of his friend, the stirge was also hurting the stone. Another stirge stuck itself in Berrian. He teleported out of the hold and wound up behind it, bringing his sword down as he reappeared. Hokima swatted the nearest one with his warhammer, knocking it back through the air.
When the last stirge had fallen the party caught off its needle like mouth, which they used to suck blood. The party composed themselves and went off to the Elkrich forest.
In the forest they found a pack of sleeping wolves. Stanislav and Dante sneaked up on the wolves with the intention of cutting one of its paws off and running. When they loomed over the sleeping creature, Dante suddenly sneezed; the wolf jerked its head up, saw the adventures, and barked, waking the other wolves up.
Stanislav and Dante were quickly surrounded, but Budda, Hokima, and Berrian came to the rescue. Hokima brought his warhammer down twice on the back of one wolf, letting out a fearsome dwarven war cry as he did so, the wolf’s back broke under the pressure and it died with a whimper. Berrian and Budda each fought off one wolf. Budda brought his warhammer across in a sweep, knocking the wolf prone, then he spun around and brought his warhammer down onto its exposed chest. He heard the cracks of ribs with pleasure. Berrian, when the wolf attacked, thrust his blade up into its mouth, killing it.
Berrian cut the paw off of his kill. And the party went back to Shouren with some hope.
When they got back to the Serpent’s Snare they found the wizard there, thinking.
“Ah, you have the ingredients, quick give them here, and we mustn’t waste time.” He took the ingredients and the stone and he and Dante went up the stairs to a private room.
Sometime later, he emerged with a corporeal Dante following him. They cheered as he walked down the steps. After some celebration the party decided to go and give the stone to Red Eye at the Courier’s Stop.
When they got to the dimly lit entrance hall of the inn and told the landlady whom they were looking for, she glanced up and down the entrance before leading them upstairs. They stopped before a private room and the landlady knocked. A moment later they heard a gruff voice call them in.
The Wolverines! stepped in carefully. The room was bare besides a fireplace, bed, and single chair. In the chair sat the dwarf, staring out the window. His eye patch was off, but they couldn’t see what was underneath it because his right side was facing away from them.
“Ye got me stone,” he said as they entered, it was clearly not a question.
“Yes,” Hokima said, handing it to him. Red Eye moved his head to look up at Hokima, revealing his empty eye socket. A scar, in the same symbol as was on the staff of Kelandra’s and on the books they had gathered from the ruins, ran around his eye. The rest of his empty socket was bloodied over so they couldn’t see much further than his skull.
Red Eye took the stone reverently in his hands, before putting it on the window sill.
“There’s a bag o’ gold on the table over there,” he said indicating a small nightstand sitting unnoticed by the bed. “Has 1,000 in’t. Thanks for yer help.” Stanislav noticed a tattoo of the same shape as was around Red Eye’s eye, on his hand.
“What is with that tattoo?” he asked.
Red eye glared at him before answering, “I don’t see that it’s any business of yours,” he said hotly. “Now why don’t you take your prize and be leaving?” “Before I do,” Stanislav said, “why don’t you take a look at this.” He produced Kelandra’s staff, and showed the mark to him. Red Eye jumped out of his chair and snatched the staff out of his hands.
“Where’d you git this?!” he roared.
“I don’t see how that’s any business of yours,” replied Stanislav with coolly. Red Eye glared at him a moment before shoving the staff back at him.
“Take your prize and leave. And tell that cowardly bastard Brinker he don’t have to fret anymore. Darkriders ride tomorrow.” With that Red Eye turned and slumped in his chair, softly stroking his stone. The Wolverines! let themselves out, the bag of gold safely in hand.
When they arrived back at the Serpent’s Snare, they found Brinker sitting at the bar. He started when he saw them approach.
“Oh. Did you d-do something about it?”
“He won’t be bothering you anymore,” Hokima assured him. Brinker broke out into a happy smile.
“Oh thank you! Thank you so much! Here is some gold for your troubles. Oh thank you so much!” he said all of this happily, his stutter fading away. “Please come by my wagon whenever you have the chance, you’re sure to find something you might want.” He turned around and happily walked out of the tavern.
The party sat down at one of the tables, exhausted from the day’s work. It was good to be back in the job of strangeness. Stanislav excused himself from the group and headed to his room. He sat down at his desk. He opened one of the books, which now had dust on it, and started to decipher the words.