572 CY (Common Year)
The wooden stairs creaked underfoot as Tenser and Ehlissa descended into the cellar. The smells of fresh wood and old wine hung as thick as cobwebs in the air. They could see their way clearly by the light of an oil lamp in the room below. The lamp sat on a table next to the man they had come to see, Yrag.
The older man's lazy eyes drifted to the staircase. He sat down the piece of wood he had been carving into a figurine, but kept his hand on the knife he had been using. He leaned back and took the pipe from his mouth with his now-free hand.
"Well, now, neither of you are the guests I was expecting," Yrag said. "But you are welcome, nonetheless. Come down. Pull up a stool. Young lady, I will assume you are honest, but you, sir – I ask that you open your outer vestments so I can verify you have no concealed weapons on you."
"Of course," Tenser said, opening his vest. He showed there was only one dagger sheathed in the folds of his robes, but he took that weapon from its scabbard and sat it on the table. Then he joined Ehlissa in finding a stool and sitting down before the veteran fighter. Yrag, admittedly, looked less than intimidating in the simple cote and hose he wore and with only a knife in his hand. Yet they both knew of his reputation and did as they were told.
"Have you two come to hear your elders talk of castles and crusades tonight?" Yrag asked at last. "When my friends and I gather here once each week, it is usually to wax nostalgic on wars fought long ago."
"In truth, we had something similar in mind," Tenser said, still speaking for the pair, "but not of castles long ago. We came to speak to you of Castle Greyhawk in the here and now. We wish to see it. We wish you to guide us there."
"Castle Greyhawk?" Yrag chuckled. "Why on Oerth would you want to go there?"
Tenser and Ehlissa exchanged glances, but Tenser continued speaking for them. "If you think us not up to the task, you are mistaken. We are both trained in the mystic arts."
"Training and doing, though, are entirely separate things. Tell me, have you ever taken a man's life?"
"No," Ehlissa replied.
"Ah, the maid has a mouth," Yrag said with a smile.
"My name is Ehlissa," she continued. "This is Tenser."
"Named for a famous queen, no doubt. I mean no disrespect to either of you or whatever master released you as journeymen. Perhaps you are even college-educated, for you are well spoken, Tenser. And I do not mean to startle you, but caches of treasure do not lie unguarded in Castle Greyhawk. There are men, beasts, and monstrous things there that will fight to kill in order to protect what they have. Ah…but I see by the look in your eyes that my speech is merely whetting your appetite. Yes, I can see you two youths crave adventure. Best you have your first taste of it, I suppose, with an old hand like me than going off on your own or finding someone untrustworthy to guide you."
"So you will do it?" Ehlissa asked.
"For you? Aye, I will. We will toast on it with some Velunan Fireamber. That should test your mettle…"
Tenser had asked Yrag if he had a warhorse, no doubt anticipating the fighter to ride astride a great, barded steed while bedecked in shining armor. Instead, Yrag walked before a mule loaded down with saddlebags. Yrag had winked and said in a low voice that his armor was in the bags and would remain there until he had reached the castle. "There is no point in drawing attention to us," he said. "Besides, brigands love adventurers, and I'd rather you not get in over your head on this adventure before it's begun."
Greyhawk was a sprawling city, but the rough wilderness of the Cairn Hills to the north curtailed its sprawl in that direction. Because of this, Yrag, Tenser, and Ehlissa had quickly left the city's suburbs behind and even the furthest villages were passed after an hour and a half of walking. The most remote manor houses and fief-like hamlets were now heavily fortified, like small keeps. This was the borderland and beyond it was dangerous wilderness. Somewhere in the midst of that wilderness stood the lonely ruins of Castle Greyhawk.
"I have heard it said," Ehlissa commented along the way, "that the original town of Greyhawk was built out here, only to be swallowed up by the wilderness. Only the castle remains."
They were only on a trail now, one that they followed single file even though they might have followed it comfortably two abreast. The hills rose low around them and were only lightly forested, so they could see quite far, but there was still a palpable sense that the trail was narrowing and the safe world it represented was narrowing and when it was gone they would be in a different place. There were hints of it already. Large rats, rather than fleeing or remaining still at their approach, followed and seemed to be stalking the three humans and their mule. Birds that resembled no breed living in the city circled overhead and gave piercing shrieks. Green things slithered over moss-covered rocks, so camouflaged that only their motion betrayed their presence. To Tenser and Ehlissa, these things were unnatural and unnerving. Whether they bothered or portended anything to Yrag, he gave no indication.
"There may be some truth to that," Yrag conceded at last. "I am sure there may have been at least a village around the castle at one point. But bear in mind that the wizard Zagig, who built the castle and founded the city we just left, was mad. He may have intended for the castle to remain in the wilderness all along. Or some intentions we can only guess at."
"This Zagig was a powerful wizard," Tenser said.
"And you would love to add his spellbooks to your own, I suppose," Yrag said. "Like I warned you, the monsters of the castle will not give up their treasures easily."
The next hill they crested revealed a valley of thorns and thistles below. Young trees shot up into the air sporadically, their roots hidden amongst the tangles. All this growth was fed by a spring in the hillside on the north side of this tiny valley. The ground here was muddy where the spring water pooled.
Yrag stood cautiously before the field of tangles. He looked around in every direction and unsheathed his sword. He took up his shield from where it had hung beside the saddle.
"What's wrong?" Ehlissa asked.
"I don't know," Yrag said calmly. "Can your spells tell us anything?"
Tenser and Ehlissa both nervously fingered their lightly encumbered pouches of spell components, but it was Tenser who said, "No, we came prepared with offensive spells."
"Apprentice magic-users," Yrag grumbled under his breath. He waved his sword low over the nearest thorn bush, paused a moment, then crushed as many branches as he could under his boot. When nothing happened, he crushed more, gradually trampling a path around the outside of the shallow valley to where the now-narrow path continued on the far side.
"Did you think the brush back there posed a danger?" Ehlissa asked at last.
"I didn't know," Yrag said, "and that's what was dangerous. I know it's been awhile since I was through here last, but those were not here before and could have been placed here to conceal a trap."
"This far from the castle?" Tenser asked.
"Be cautious," Yrag warned. "I will keep my shield on me, and my hand on my sword hilt, from here on. I advise you do the same with either your dagger hilts or your spell pouches, whichever you place the most trust in."
Shortly, the only danger the valley had posed to them proved to be muddy boots. Ehlissa asked if they should stop and clean them, if indeed bandits might be about and follow their muddy trail. Yrag told her it was a good idea, but that there was little they could do to conceal his mule's trail and that their best course was speed over stealth. "Walk briskly," he instructed, "and don't stop to rest unless you absolutely have to."
was true to his word, setting a pace for the others they had
difficulty in matching. In this manner, though somewhat breathless,
they covered ground quickly until at last Yrag slowed first as a
wooden palisade came into view.
"Who lives here?" Ehlissa asked, as they drew closer to the palisade.
"Who knows?" Yrag replied, as he started to give the area a wider berth. "Woodsmen? Bandits? Both, or either, depending on their luck. Maybe no one lives there now, but the monster that came along and ate whoever built those walls."
"Is this another urging for caution?" Tenser said sarcastically.
Yrag gave the young man an icy glare. "This close to the dungeons, I consider any stranger a monster. If you do the same, you'll be less likely to be caught off-guard."
The enclosure was not mentioned again. Instead, the three travelers and their animal companion moved down a hillside and followed a long gully at the bottom. This allowed them to travel over flat terrain in a straight line longer than they would have over the tops of the hills. The gully was home to a flock of crows that was startled by the approach of strangers and took to the skies -- 30 or more crows all cawing loudly at once. Yrag considered this a dangerous omen and contemplated for awhile turning around and finding another route to the castle. Tenser and Ehlissa, though, felt they were too close to the castle already to backtrack and talked Yrag out of the delay.
Indeed, the way there continued to be safe and Yrag said the castle was no more than a mile away now. But the hills themselves were taller and steeper now, so that they had to choose carefully which ones to climb over as they moved between gullies and ravines. Once or twice, they found themselves atop one with no good means of descent on the other side and had to turn around and try another hill. Again, they came across a natural spring, this time producing a small creek that soaked the gully they had begun to follow. They drank their fill of water and topped off their waterskins, then followed the less steep west bank of the little creek. The sides of the gully were thick with vegetation and navigating the brush seemed much like running a maze. Above this ravine, the hills were more thickly wooded. A copse of fir trees stood before them like a wall at the ravine's northern end and they had to search for an opening.
The small band of travelers startled the occasional kestrel and hawk on their way through the grove, but the birds were busy hunting and did not raise a ruckus as the crows had done earlier. The fir trees gave way to strange, unknown trees that appeared bloated and misshapen. Yrag was actually relieved, as he said the castle was quite near now. The copse was wider than it was deep, so that they soon reached the other side. Here, both trees and hills seemed to part before them. In this clearing were the remnants of ancient structures, mostly just the stone foundations of buildings. At the center of this large clearing was a single hill that rose over one hundred feet in height. What stood atop that hill was surely their destination!
Gleaming in the late afternoon sun was the crumbling remains of a great citadel. Three towers still stretched into the sky over the height of the ruined curtain wall. A cavernous dry moat circled the hill on which the castle ruins stood, with a tall, narrow stone bridge leading across it and to a winding path that cut back and forth up the steep hillside to the castle gates.
The area around the castle was a "clearing" only in the sense that it was mostly treeless. However, it was a tangled thicket of vegetation, and the brambles continued past the moat and up the side of the hill almost to the castle walls. The brambles were a feeding area for a flock of at least two score gulls that had flown here from the Nyr Dyv, the lake to the north of the Cairn Hills.
Yrag circled counter-clockwise around the edge of the grove and soon they spotted a faint path leading out of the hills towards the castle. It was only now that it became clear to Tenser and Ehlissa that Yrag had lost the trail some time ago and some time had been lost finding a parallel course. Yrag backed them into the woods at this point and lashed the reins of his mule to a tree branch.
"Help me with my armor," he said in a hushed voice to Tenser. "From here on, we will have more need of it."
Yrag was soon dressed for battle, and truly did look every inch the warrior Tenser and Ehlissa had expected. Heavy plates were riveted to the long mail coat he wore, while bracers and greaves brought extra protection to his arms and legs. He wore an open-faced helm with nasal guard over a mail hood. His shield went back over his arm, and his scabbard hung from his side empty for he did not intend to leave his sword sheathed. A coil of rope hung over his shoulder. Lashed to the inside of his shield was a brace of torches. To Tenser and Ehlissa he handed each a sack to carry. "Provisions," he explained.
They followed the path across the bridge, up the hillside, and under a gatehouse in the curtain wall at the top. The portcullis in the gatehouse was only half-down and leaning badly. There was no sign of any inhabitants, except by smell.
"What made that awful smell?" Ehlissa asked.
"Ogres, most likely," Yrag said. Barely did his eyes part from the crennelation atop the old, cracked, stone wall of the gatehouse. "I have seen a few lurking about the upper ruins before."
"Ogres," Tenser repeated. "Giant shape-shifters?"
"No, lad, only in fairy tales. Ogres are no more magical than most folk, just a lot bigger and uglier."
"I'm not sure if our spells can handle ogres…" Ehlissa said, shrinking back from the gatehouse.
"We'll avoid them entirely, if we can help it," Yrag said. "I promised to bring you out here for a little adventure, not to see you killed. For a pair of cantrip-tossing journeymen like yourselves, I think we'll try the westernmost tower. There were kobolds down there last I heard."
"Mining spirits?" Tenser asked.
"Gods, lad – is all your learning from storybooks? Kobolds are small men the size of children, with scaly, rust-brown skin, dog-like muzzles, red eyes, and horns. There's nothing ghost-like about them; you can kill one with a dagger thrust or a few swift kicks with a hard-toed boot. Now…quieter, the both of you. We're going in."
Yrag stopped and swung his sword as if in practice. Tenser, mimicking him, checked his dagger to make sure it slid easily from its scabbard. Ehlissa murmured something quietly, but whether it was a prayer or a spell was hard to say. Yrag led the way into the gatehouse, keeping a close eye on the arrow slits and murder holes that, if the castle was better defended, would have meant their demise already. No attacks came, nor did defenders rush to block their entrance. Yrag hugged the wall of the entrance to the inner yard and looked around carefully before emerging from the tunnel. The others copied his movements and soon they all emerged into the sunlit courtyard of the castle.
The hard-packed ground of the courtyard was littered with scraggly weeds that had been crushed flat. Glimpses of bone could be seen jutting out of matted tangles. Flies buzzed about their delicacies found in the spoor of unknowable castle denizens. The remains of small, wooden structures around the inside of the curtain wall were smashed and in ruin, with large pieces missing. The remains of a stone, mostly-intact keep was at the back of the courtyard. On three sides of the keep stood tall towers, each as faded and worn as the rest of the castle, yet oddly whole.
Crossing the yard took considerable time, as Yrag would take a few steps, then motion for the others to stop, and listen for a minute before taking a few more steps. He never heard anything that gave him longer pause, so ten minutes later they were standing at the foot of the westernmost tower. Vines covered the tower wall like a lattice of green snakes. There was a pair of double doors set in the wall of the tower at ground level that were clear of vines, as if the result of deliberate pruning. The doors appeared to be oak bound with iron, but in remarkably good condition given the shape of the surrounding castle. The doors had high-hanging iron rings set in them, though the doors were made to push open.
"So far, things go well for us," Yrag whispered. "It's been long enough since anyone invaded the castle that the ogres have become lazy again. We will descend quickly in case they yet rouse themselves. Here," he said, holding the inside of his shield towards them. "Each of you take a torch and light it. Quickly now."
Tenser and Ehlissa were both invigorated by the sense of lurking danger Yrag imparted on them. They unfastened the torches from inside Yrag's shield and laid the sticks on the ground. Producing flint and steel from her belt pouch faster than Tenser could, Ehlissa handed him pieces before taking some in hand for herself. Ehlissa bent low over the torch, striking steel on flint as fast as she could over the burlap covering the pitch on the torch. Tenser took the time to pull up a handful of weeds and spread them over the end of the torch for tinder. He dawdled as he worked at his torch, glancing up after every other strike to see if an ogre had appeared yet in answer to the noise. Ehlissa quietly scolded the flint for taking so long to spark. As if in answer, a spray of sparks set her torch to smoldering. Tenser gently laid some of his tinder atop it, and the fire was lit. Ehlissa gingerly picked up her torch and held it against Tenser's until the wrappings on his burned as well.
"You'd think your mentor would have taught you something more useful with magic, like how to start a fire quickly," Yrag hissed. "Now, stand back."
Yrag himself took a step back, then rushed at the door and threw his shield into it. The doors budged and opened slightly. One more rush at the door and the doors were unstuck, swinging wide into a circular room. The room was strewn with debris, and a staircase followed the outside wall up to the ceiling and through a hole there to the next floor. This much, and only this much, could Tenser and Ehlissa see clearly before Yrag motioned them to quickly follow him in.
Spiders skittered out of the light into the shadows, and Ehlissa thought she saw something longer slithering into the darkness as well. The room was uninhabited, but had been inhabited and the debris was further littered with odds and ends like a tin mug here, a rusty dagger there, and a broken shield propped against the stairs.
Yrag tugged on the rings set on the inside of the doors with his shield hand, making sure to never lower his sword. The doors creaked painfully, as if not wanting to close again so soon. The light flooding the room from outdoors shrank into a rectangle, and that rectangle grew thinner with every scrape of the doors across the ground until it winked out of existence. The colors had fled from the room, save the yellowish haze of the flickering torchlight. All was yellow and shadow. As the torches were moved about the room, the shadows shifted and altered so that one moment they looked like solid things and the next moment were revealed as empty air, or vice versa. Tenser and Ehlissa walked about the room, following the shadows with their eyes, and made a sort of game out of chasing the shadows about the room with their torches. While they did this, their eyes slowly adjusted better and they could discern more in the yellowish light. There was a gap in the floor opposite the stairs going up, and this gap was filled by a staircase going down.
"Which way?" Ehlissa whispered to Yrag.
"If you two are ready, we go down," Yrag replied.
Trailing wisps of smoke behind them, the two young magic-users lined up behind Yrag, with Tenser at the rear. Yrag's armor jingled malevolently as they marched towards the stairs, as if trying to alert the kobolds below. Because Yrag seemed not to care, Tenser tried not to care too, though Ehlissa was increasingly unsure about having not hired someone stealthier.
The stairs were not in an open stairwell, but closed off on either side with walls of sheer stone. The steps were also hewn from the rock the castle sat on. The stairs were not overly narrow, yet there was a strong sense of confinement. They were descending underground now, and the walls seemed as thick as the world was wide. The torches gave some comfort, but belched up clouds of black smoke that hung overhead and reminded them of a storm brewing. Every step on the stairs seemed to grow louder, as if announcing their presence. And still the staircase continued to spiral ever downward.
Finally, after what seemed far too long a descent, the staircase ended and opened into a corridor. The corridor was 10 feet high and the same width, extending into darkness. The walls, floor, and ceiling here were composed of smooth flagstones instead of being chiseled smooth from solid rock like the staircase. Further down the corridor was an empty torch sconce mounted on the right hand wall. The floor was littered with rotting matter and bones, all scattered widely. Yrag moved into this hallway and bade the others follow him. More corridor continued to open up before them as their torchlight reached it. It was not long before they reached their first side passage and there Yrag stopped.
"Here," Yrag whispered to Tenser. "This is where you should start mapping."
Tenser fumbled with a scrollcase tied to his belt. He handed his torch to Ehlissa, opened the case, and unfurled a sheet of parchment from inside it. He then reached into the pouch on his hip and produced a piece of charcoal. He began sketching lines to represent the corridor they were in up to the intersection. "Is this what you had in mind?" Tenser whispered back.
"It doesn't matter to me what it looks like," Yrag whispered. "I already know my way this far into the dungeon. The map is for you if we are separated."
"What do you mean separated?" Tenser asked. "There wasn't anything in the plan about separating."
"Not by choice, lad. This dungeon is tricky. Tricky like a maze. Zagyg wanted people to get lost in it."
"But if we stick to areas you know, won't we—" Tenser began a little louder, but Yrag hushed him.
"Quiet. Do you hear that?"
Tenser and Ehlissa both strained their ears to detect what Yrag had. Then they heard it too – a scuffling sound of light feet on stone.
"Gods!" Yrag spat between clenched teeth. "They know we're here already! But which way…?"
"From up ahead," Ehlissa whispered.
Sure enough, the main passage they were following turned right after twenty paces, and when they reached this corner they could see the source of the shuffling! Child-sized warriors in long coats of tough, cured leather, leather skullcaps, and leather-wrapped feet were running from them. They could have been mistaken for children at play if not for their three-foot long spears and inhuman faces. Kobolds!
"They mustn't be allowed to alert anyone," Yrag said. "If either of you can stop them with a spell…"
"Say no more," Tenser said. He stopped short, reached into his spellpouch to grab material components, and began his magical incantation. He moved his body like in a ritualistic dance in time to the words he spoke that sounded like language and yet not language, nor even words. They were primal, powerful, and immediately effective. As Tenser uttered the last magical sound, the kobolds dropped, asleep, to the floor.
The sleeping kobolds made more noise hitting the floor than they had while running away. Their spears rolled out of their hands and clattered across the flagstones. Everyone stopped and listened to see if the sound was answered by any of these kobolds' companions, but nothing seemed to stir in the dungeon. There had been four kobolds, out wandering or perhaps a guard patrol. As inhuman as they looked, they seemed peaceful in their repose. They slept with their mouths hanging open, showing rows of small, sharp teeth and long tongues. One drooled, its spittle mixing with a puddle of slug slime under its head.
"Tenser," Yrag whispered, "put your torch in that last sconce we passed. Then come back here and help me." Yrag knelt down on one knee, laid his sword on the floor, and drew a dagger.
Tenser ran back as he was told. The wall sconce was rusty and the bracket spiked into the wall that held it in place was loose on one side. A long black centipede was crawling over the sconce. Tenser didn't give it a thought, but thrust his burning torch into the sconce and squished the bug. However, when he returned to Yrag he was taken aback to see he was slitting one of the kobolds' throats. The dagger tore easily through the creature's neck and left what looked like a second mouth across it, but one that quickly began to leak reddish-black gore.
"Come on and help me," Yrag whispered. When Tenser hesitated, Yrag looked up angrily and hissed, "Come on! You don't want them to wake up and give us trouble later, do you? Or am I going to have to ask the girl to come do this?"
"I can do it," Ehlissa whispered.
"No, I'll do it," Tenser said, feeling his manhood was now in question. His own dagger was near at hand and he unsheathed it with a little flourish to show his comfort. He bent down before his first kobold while Yrag dispatched his second. Tenser poked the kobold in the neck with the sharp tip of his weapon, but found he had to will himself to push harder. Once the skin was punctured, the task proved easier. Indeed, Tenser had found whittling candles to be more difficult than exposing this monster's life-blood to the open air. The kobold gasped once, and then stopped breathing altogether.
When Tenser looked up, he saw that Ehlissa was bending over the fourth kobold. She had watched Tenser do the deed instead of watching Yrag, and imitated his actions. She gasped a little once it was done, but said nothing. She slowly rose, not taking her eyes off the kobold dying at her feet.
"Well done," Yrag said. "They likely aren't carrying anything worth taking, and there's no place around here to hide them, so we'll leave them here." Yrag looked up and down the corridor. "Unless…Ehlissa, bring your torch closer. Tenser, go get yours."
Once Tenser was again reunited with his torch, he could see what Yrag and Ehlissa saw. A short way further down the right hand wall was a door. The door was made of stout timbers, but warped and half-encrusted in lichen and looked so old that perhaps the iron band around it alone held it together. Yrag approached the door and tried it, finding it firmer than it appeared. He stepped back and whispered to the others to note how the lichen was scrapped away from the lower half of the door.
"Cultivated," Yrag whispered, "for when meat is scarce. Be ready. Tenser, can you cast that sleep spell again?"
"No…" Tenser responded sheepishly. "I feel the energy in me is already spent."
"Spellcasting," Yrag said sarcastically. "Reminds me of something I used to do on lonely nights when I was a young man. Keep your dagger handy. Ehlissa, be ready to back me up." Yrag raised his shield, lowered his head, and charged into the door. The impact flung the barrier open and Yrag went barreling through it. He let out either a cry of surprise or an intentional battle cry, or perhaps a bit of both. Small creatures in the room cried back like yipping dogs. Then there was a clash of steel on steel as spearheads clattered and scrapped against Yrag's shield.
Yrag closed with the kobolds inside faster than they expected, bashing their shields to one side and moving in so close that the kobolds had to fall back to bring their spears to bear again. By the light from the hallway, and a candle or two in the room, Yrag counted five kobolds. He kept his shield between himself and most of them, hugging the open door and the wall with his right flank, and engaging the kobold closest to him. The reach of the spears was difficult to counter, but the kobolds were not particularly strong and Yrag could knock the spears aside just by swinging his sword wildly. When they did hit him, their weapons glanced off his armor – for now. Yrag was too far into the room now, and they were starting to move around him. He needed to bring down their numbers faster. Desperately, he hurled his sword right for the chest of the kobold he was hounding. It tried to duck, which only succeeded in making the thrown weapon strike it in the head rather than the chest. There was blood, but not excessive gore – the kobold dropped backwards, apparently stunned. Yrag used his now-free hand to catch the spear of his foe as it fell, and turned the spear on his remaining enemies.
One of the remaining four was harassing Tenser and Ehlissa back at the doorway, leaving Yrag with three-to-one odds. Yet it was now Yrag who had the longer reach, and the kobolds were wary of closing in too tightly with him again. With a series of vicious lunges he managed to back all three of them off. Once he had some breathing room, he yanked the shield off his left arm and chucked it at the head of the kobold on his right. Then he bent down and grabbed the stunned kobold, which had made it back up to its knees, and held it tight by its filthy tunic. Before the kobolds could react, he hoisted his prisoner up into the air with both his free hand and the one holding the spear, and thrust his prisoner as hard as he could into two of the spearheads pointed toward him. The kobolds drew back again in surprise, but it was too late to keep their comrade from being impaled on their spears, and when their comrade dropped to the floor their spears came down with its body.
Yrag was now free to deal with the remaining armed kobold and his borrowed spear quickly found its way into the chest of his new victim. Tenser was in the room now and was burying his dagger into the back of the shoulder of the kobold on Yrag's left. The remaining kobold was freeing his spear from its comrade when it saw how the odds had turned against it. It dropped its spear and fled to a door at the back of the room, but before it reached the door it took a thrown spear in the back and collapsed on the floor.
Yrag and Tenser looked at each other and then around the room to see what they had missed. There was one kobold unaccounted for, who had left the combat earlier and was now sitting quietly on the floor next to Ehlissa while she fed him a piece of jerky out of her hand.
Ehlissa looked at the two men looking at her and said, "I'm going to have to learn how to speak to this thing before my charm spell wears off."
Tenser was busy with wiping the blood from his dagger with a rag he had found in the room – or rather, with what he had assumed was a rag, but was actually a spare tunic. That left Yrag free to look around. The room they were in was a barracks, but with only the back half of the room still furnished as such. The front half of the room, where they had entered, was cleared away and was dominated by a crude fireplace built of iron rods and stones laid out in a big square shape. There was a lot of white ash in the fireplace, but not much fresh wood. Apparently, the room became too smoky when the fireplace was in use, for the kobolds had since switched to candles and one lone candle was burning on the other half of the room. At any rate, the occasional burnings on this half of the room had done much to mask the odor of the defecations made in the corners – or on the walls themselves. The more all three of them looked around, the more appealing the other half of the room looked.
The other half of the room proved no less appealing. The straw scattered on the floor was moldy and infested with huge lice and millipedes. The remaining bedsteads were filthy, warped, sometimes broken or tipped over, and half their cots were ripped open and the straw stuffing was mixed with the loose mats on the floor. Both Tenser and Ehlissa shivered at the sight of this place, for it was a filthier den than any they had ever seen before. While they remained fixated on the squalor, Yrag had already begun crossing the room to its fixture that had caught his eye. Upon moving one bedstead out of his way, the others could see it clearly too. It was a large, iron-bound chest – luggage so fat and heavy-looking that it would break a porter's back to try and lift it. The iron bands were faintly engraved with swords entwined in vines and the lock on the chest was a simple wooden lock engraved with the image of a barbarian warrior on horseback.
"The lock is not broken," Yrag called out, "so the kobolds must have the key. Check their bodies."
Tenser bent down over the kobold he had stabbed in the back and hesitantly felt through its blood-drenched clothes. The kobold squirmed a little, making Tenser jump back in surprise that the monster was not yet dead. He looked up at Yrag who was kicking over beds.
Tenser was relieved when the kobold seemed to expel its final breath, but still so jittery that when he reached into the small pouch the kobold was wearing he drew back his hand and gasped. Opening the pouch more cautiously so he could see its contents, he saw a piece of moldy bread crust and a handful of animal teeth.
"Mine doesn't have a key," Ehlissa said, after checking the clothes of her enchanted prisoner. The charmed kobold took it as a gesture of friendship and hugged Ehlissa back, but cast a sad eye about the carnage that had been, until a few minutes ago, its bunkmates. It bared its fangs at Tenser and Yrag.
"You don't have to announce when you haven't found it," Yrag said impatiently. "Just let me know when you find it. Here, I'll search the bodies. You two check this straw and make sure it wasn't dropped on the floor."
The condition of the floor was very much like the floor of a barn, so they were both relieved when Yrag chuckled and held up a little iron key he had lifted off one of the slain kobolds. "Best luck we've had all day," Yrag said as he moved towards the chest, eyes on his new prize. "It even looks like it would fit."
His three companions (counting the remaining kobold, who really didn't care for all this, but did not wish to leave his new master's side) stood around Yrag as he inserted the key in the lock and turned it. He placed his hands on the lid of the chest, paused, and then looked at the kobold standing there. "It could still be trapped," Yrag said. "Best let the kobold open it for us."
It fell on Ehlissa to communicate this to her prisoner. Unable to say, "So sorry we killed your friends. Would you help us loot your room?" she had to settle for motioning with her hands in a lid-lifting way several times until the kobold seemed to get the gist of her meaning. The kobold made an uglier face, but then sank its shoulders in a universal sign of resignation. The kobold lifted the lid and allowed them to see its contents.
There were many sundry things in that chest, but they were as invisible to Tenser and Ehlissa's eyes as sorrow is invisible to those newly in love. Mainly, the contents of the chest consisted of a huge heap of copper pieces. Neither of them had seen so many coins of any mint stacked so deeply. There was great variance amongst them, so that some bore familiar stamping upon their faces, while others were clearly of considerable age and bore stampings that must have seemed more familiar to Yrag's parents in their youth.
"There must be thousands of them!" Tenser exclaimed, his eyes never leaving the contents of the chest. Somewhere in his riches-addled mind remained enough competence to calculate the conversion of each score of copper pieces to a single coin of gold, and still the sum seemed impressive. Gone was all recollection of how difficult the stabbing and the killing had been. This money now seemed easily won, as if Tenser had won it in a game instead of earning it through daily toil.
Yrag was keeping an eye on their kobold prisoner, lest the creature run off or perform some other treachery, but he also cast a knowing glance at Tenser and Ehlissa's faces. He smiled, remembering the rush that came with winning his first plunder years ago.
"How are we going to transport it?" Ehlissa asked.
Tenser blinked and looked over at his dear friend and companion, admiring her analytical mind. He began to consider possibilities himself.
"The chest must weigh over a hundred pounds," Ehlissa continued to think aloud. "We could carry it between us."
"If you're both out of spells now," Yrag said, still grinning, "you might as well change vocation to porters."
A short debate ensued, in which Ehlissa asked Yrag if he couldn't carry it alone and Yrag responded that such was well outside the range of tasks for which he had been hired. Tenser suggested having Yrag's mule haul it out, but the logistics of the plan were unfeasible and, Tenser inwardly admitted, had been suggested only to match the number of suggestions Ehlissa had made. Finally, it was agreed that the chest would be left here a short while and they would return to carry it out after they made sure there were no more lurking kobolds in the vicinity first.
The door at the back of the room seemed as likely a place as any to start exploring again. This door was not lichen-covered, nor as warped as the last one, though it was of identical construction. Yrag removed his helmet, pulled down the chain coif from his head, and placed his bare ear to the door for a minute. He apparently heard nothing that bothered him, for he silently returned his coif and helm to the top of his head, gripped his sword tight once more, and charged into the door.
The door gave way rather easily, forcing Yrag to halt his momentum and keep his balance. The room beyond was smaller than the first and appeared unoccupied. The air was much fresher in here, benefiting from a ventilation shaft in the ceiling. There were empty torch sconces opposing each other on this wall and the far wall. Next to the sconce in the far wall was an archway that appeared to open into a corridor that turned left. What stole their attention from these details was the sculpture dominating the right half of the room. The sculpture was sculpted from copper and consisted of a statue of a man standing in front of and holding onto a tall basin. The basin was made to look like a squat tower, carved with fake stonework and windows and topped with crenellation along the rim of the basin. The inside of the basin was a smooth copper bowl and resting in the bottom of it was a handful of copper coins. The statue was of an old, bearded man wearing a wizard's conical hat and flowing robes, all with an odd wavy design on them. The copper was starting to turn green, particularly on the basin.
Yrag turned around and moved back into the kobold barracks quickly enough that Tenser, Ehlissa, and her kobold had to back out of his way. He went to the closed, but not relocked, chest, opened it, and scooped out a handful of coins. He looked to the others.
"You should do as I do," was all Yrag said before he walked slowly back into the smaller room, stood before the sculpture, and gently dropped the coins into the basin. Then he stood there with his head lowered, as well as his sword and shield, and his eyes closed.
It was almost a full minute that Tenser and Ehlissa stood there marveling at his behavior. Then Tenser said, "You're a Zagyg worshipper."
"Yes," Yrag said, opening his eyes. "Though even if I weren't, I would consider making a tithe to the lord of this castle. It might bring good luck."
Tenser remained flabbergasted. Zagyg, who in life had been the founding mayor of the City of Greyhawk, renowned adventurer of his time, and the alleged creator of this very castle, was both a respected historical figure and a bit of a bogeyman for children as far away as the Wild Coast. Tenser knew Zagyg enjoyed a cult following, but had never actually met a worshipper of this "demigod" before. This bothered Tenser for one reason. "They say Zagyg was mad," Tenser said boldly, "and is now the demigod of madness."
"Lad," Yrag said, turning to face Tenser with a weary look. "We just killed eight kobolds for a chest full of copper pieces. Who here isn't mad?"