Belgae Achren's Story
Belgae sat on a log, listening to the sounds of the woods as he turned a broken branch into a carving of a cat. Nearby, several merchants sat around a crackling fire as they drank ale and quietly told stories. Occasionally, Belgae would glance over the merchants and sigh. So far the journey was uneventful, and profitable, which was just the way he liked it. So why was he sighing? Belgae couldn’t place it but something felt wrong.
Belgae turned his attention back to the cat. As he carved, he paused in mid cut. The night air had suddenly became stil. The sounds of the forest ceased. The crackling fire and murmuring voices seemed so much louder against the silence. Belgae quickly grabbed his bow and readied an arrow. One of the guards, sitting with the merchants, noticed Belgae’s quick movements and drew his sword. The merchants quickly quieted down and two of them doused the fire before retreating to their wagons.
Everyone sat in silence as Belgae scanned the trees for any signs of movement or shaded enemies. In the distance, a branch snapped with a loud crack and the sounds of running filled the woods. Belgae faced the sound, ready to loose an arrow. A lone figure came into view, wildly running through the brush. The stranger, clearly in distress, kept looking over his shoulder and stumbled into the clearing. A guard went up to the figure and Belgae went back to scanning the woods but nothing was moving. Belgae moved forward looking but seeing nothing. What was out there?
Moments passed and the woods remind eerily silent. As Belgae watched, the trees seemed to get fuzzy and even disappear from sight. He realised that A thick fog was moving in, consuming everything in its path. In this fog, Belgae started see slowy moving shapes. As they got closer, his keen eyes and experience told him that he was looking a mass of skeletons moving towards the camp. With a shot of warning to the others, Belgae started to fire arrows into the advancing hoard. His powerful shots, shattering bone and dropping the evil creatures.
By this time a couple of guards had engaged the skeletons, their blades flashing in the moonlight as the chipped away at the foe. While they fought, arrows would fly around them, sometimes so close the could feel a feather, yet tips never touched their flesh. Suddenly, as quickly as it began, it was over. The fog lifted and the night sounds returned to the forest.
In the moonlight, Belgae counted thirty corpses newly returned to the dead. He wondered where they came from but he knew they were save for the night. He could feel it in his bones. He decided answers could wait til the morning. For now he needed to return the camp to calmness and maybe grab a couple of those ales.
Nilkka had just finished her pub sales for the day. She was was rooting through pub flyers and listening to conversations around her about what was happening in the world. She climbed up to the bar and ordered a pint. Sifting through the flyers Nilkka noticed that Anna Lynn was traveling again. She LOVED Anna Lynn, and having been working so hard on her brew and sales, Nilkka decided it was high time she take a break and follow the lovely Bard’s path. As the bar keep returned with her pint she pushed up and leaned forward to ask the fellow a question. Nilkka lifted the Anna Lynn flyer and shoved it as close the bar keep’s face as she could (tiny arms and all).
“Do you know where this next location is?” Nilkka asked excitedly.
“Aye. Up the road and through the woods. About two days travel by the path. One day off the path, but that’s sketchy at best.” The bar keep answered as he breathed and fluttered the flyer.
“AHA! Good man!” Nilkka shouted, dug in her dirty apron and paid the man by slamming her coin to the bar. She quickly jumped onto the bar and frenziedly hugged the bar keep. He muffled a small protest from between her bosom, but that didn’t stop her.
She jumped from the bar to the stool to the floor, gathered her belongings and rolling sales keg and made her way out the door and up the road towards the wood. Nilkka’s rolling sales keg was fitted with a looping straw, for when she traveled by foot she was often thirsty. As she made her way to the edge of the wood she sipped and slurped and finished her brew. The woods became fuzzy and her straight away towards to the path became crooked and off path. She left her keg behind – there were others like it for her sales trips – this had been her fifth.
Nilkka was vaguely aware of the path even as she moved further away from it. She thought from time to time returning to it, but a beer coma was coming upon her. Nilkka found a log in the middle of a small clearing. The leaves on the ground would make a perfect blanket, and with her back against the log and her trusty rat smashing pipe in her wrapped hands, she would be able to sleep safe and sound.
But, only for a moment.
Only a short time had passed before Nilkka found herself covered completely by leaves the wind had blown about her face and shortly there after surrounded by a small group of men-sized folk. They spoke in whispers around her and seemed to be peering through the darkness looking for something or someone. Tracking (Nilkka referred to it as Paranoia) wasn’t something she was good at. Getting herself into trouble was, so she tucked her self closer to the log, pulled her pipe up towards her breast and slowed her breathing as to not draw attention. Before long she heard the distinct sounds of a panicked run. If there was talking it was muffled by the leaves. She was curious and poked a leaf from her eye to peer out into the wood.
Nothing was happening, and then… fog. Nilkka stared hard at the fog trying to make out shapes and sounds – but nothing was coming to her. She heard the commotion in the clearing and then the whizzing of arrows as they passed over and around her safety log. Nilkka gripped her pipe even harder and peered out of her eye hole. Skeletons. She was staring at foggy, boney skeletons. She may need her battle axe for this. A rat smashing pipe is not quite the right tool for skeleton smashing. As she reached for her battle axe handle she giggled to herself thinking about smashing the skeletons with one of their own bones. Her giggle, gave her away – she could tell by the sound of the feet in the clearing. It was time to stand up!
Nilkka grabbed the handle of her battleaxe and rolled away from the log, leaves flying off of her like she just jumped into a pile of them. She hurriedly jumped to her feet, battleaxe in one hand and rat smashing pipe in the other – she looked fierce, if groggy, and ready to smash some skeletons. As she looked around she noticed, the fog had cleared. The skeletons were gone. She turned, slowly to face the men-sized folk in the clearing.
“Just in the nick of time.” Nilkka balked as she tucked her tools of destruction away in her apron and reached out a bandaged hand to the closest to her, an elf. As he reached out and down, confused, to shake her hand she noticed barrels of ale behind him. Her eyes lit up and her now light pink hair began to darken.
“Is that ale?” She removed her hand, walked past the elf and slapped him on the butt as a greeting, moving towards the ale with a grin on her face and her stein in her hand.
“I’m Nilkka Bitter. Buxom Brewer and Rat Smasher. Just a sip, and I’ll head back towards the path. Care to join me?”
The small group looked confused but let down their guard as Nilkka poured ale for the lot of them, grinned and started to share her dream about smashing skeletons with their own bones.
“Master dwarf, I like poking around ruins as much as the next gal, but I have taverns to play, and this doesn’t look like a tavern.” Anna Lynn stopped and plopped herself down on a large rock. She pulled off her coin purse and shook it in the air theatrically. “Do you hear that? Neither do I. It should be jingling!”
Tormach’s ears perked up. “Two nobles, fifteen pennies, and a button,” he remarked, commenting on the contents of the bard’s coin purse.
“How did you…” Anna cocked her head, regarding her companion with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion.
“It’s a gift,” Tormach replied, with a sly smile.
Bryn Mawr ignored his two traveling companions. They had been wandering about in the wild for several days now, trying to locate an old ruin that a few locals had told them about. The directions were cryptic and often self-conflicting, but Bryn seemed confident they’d find it. With an enthusiastic <clap>, Bryn suddenly snapped shut his book of notes. “We’re here,” he declared. “Or very nearly, at least.”
Anna looked around dubiously. This bit of the forest looked much the same as every other league of it they’d seen over the past few days.
“He’s right,” Tormach added, striding over to where Anna had sat down and brushing away some moss with his hand. “This isn’t a random boulder—this is a bit of masonry.”
“C’mon, lads, just a bit further!” Bryn dashed excitedly forward into the underbrush, Tormach not far behind. Anna sighed and lifted herself back up, but she couldn’t deny being a little excited at what they might find.
Not far ahead the trackless forest abruptly gave way to a large clearing. The ground was mostly barren, and hard, and the clearing was littered with large chunks of masonry and debris. At its centere, partially reclaimed by the forest and weathered by time and the elements, stood the remains of what must have once been a tower.
“Here she is, just as I had hoped! Marvelous!” The dwarf’s enthusiasm was palpable. He made his way quickly across the clearing and began picking through the ruin without hesitation. He pulled out his ever-present book of notes and began scribbling in it. Tormach and Anna joined him, but soon found the pursuit a bit more academic, perhaps, than they imagined it might be.
Anna found a low section of wall to perch upon and did so, pulling out her lyre to tune it. “So, what’s the deal with this tower—or what used to be a tower—anyway?”
“That’s a good question, lass,” came the dwarf’s voice from behind a pile of rubble. “The stories vary, but they all agree that some kind of battle was fought on this ground long ago. Many died trying to take the tower, and just as many trying to defend it. Some say it was eventually toppled by a stone-thrower built from the very forest around us, others say a giant was coaxed into doing the dirty work (though I doubt it). Still others say powerful magic was at work, blowing it apart from within. Many of the tales tell of the poor souls who were crushed below the falling tower, or worse, trapped in the chambers below by the debris.”
“So, what are the chances they left some treasure behind?” prodded Tormach, peering under random bits of masonry in the vain hope of finding something interesting.
“I dunno lad,” replied Bryn, with a smile. “Help me move some of this rubble, and we might be able to go down below and have a look for ourselves!”
The two began to excavate what they could from the rubble strewn about the tower base. To Tormach it seemed they were randomly moving stones about, but Bryn assured him there was a method to it. The work was slow and tedious, and by now darkness blanketed them, their only light provided by a mal that Anna had wedged into a crack in a nearby wall. A light fog began to roll in.
“Play us a song, dear bard,” Tormach requested after awhile. “Something to make this work go faster.” Bryn made a face—this was barely what a dwarf would even consider “tidying up”.
Anna tuned her lyre a bit more, and thought about what the dwarf had told them about the tower and the men trapped below. After a moment, she strummed a few chords.
“There must be some kind of way out of here,” she sang. “Said the joker to the thief—”
“Look lad, we’ve broken through!” interrupted Bryn, excitedly. He tossed aside a bit of stone, revealing a dark pit partially filled with rubble. “Grab the mal, let’s have a look!” Anna hopped off the wall as Tormach grabbed the light to shine down into the darkness. There wasn’t much to see, but it was clear there was a chamber below, and enough room to scramble down into it.
Bryn was the first one down, followed by Anna, and finally Tormach who brought the light with him. The floor was littered with debris and the footing treacherous. With their meager light source it was difficult to make out much of anything save each other.
“Gods, what do I keep tripping on?” asked Anna, after nearly turning her ankle for the third time.
Bryn, who was leading the way, replied simply, “You don’t really want to know, lass.”
“No reason to get excited,” quipped Tormach.
They made their way deeper into the chambers beneath the tower until Bryn stopped. “I need more light, Tormach,” he said, and Tormach obliged by passing him the mal. Anna, feeling a bit claustrophobic and tired of stumbling pulled another torch from her pack and lit it.
“That’s better!” she said, and then gasped as the mal’s light illuminated the floor. All around her lay humanoid bones. Some sprawled across the floor, others in haphazard piles.
“I think we should go, Bryn,” remarked Tormach.
“Just a moment,” replied the dwarf impatiently. “There’s much to uncover here!”
And then there was a sound, a wailing moan, following by rustling, clattering noises from all around them. “Now, dwarf!” cried Tormach, backpedaling to where they had come in. Bryn was about to object when something cold and unnatural wrapped around his ankle. He looked down to see the bony fingers of a skeletal hand grasping at his boot.
“Yes, right you are, now is good!” came Bryn’s reply as he swatted at his boot. From the piles of bones, skeletons rose around them, closing off their exit. Bryn, grabbed his hammer and smashed the ribs of one lunging their way while Tormach tumbled to safety. Behind them, Anna dropped her mal and produced her trusty lyre. With an energy she usually reserved for her final number, she windmilled her arm down across her instrument whilst unleashing a powerful wail. There was a tremendous clap, like thunder, that reverberated intensely in the tight quarters. Before her, a throng of skeletons exploded into dust and bones, clearing the way for their escape.
“This is not our fate. Let’s go!” she said.
The three quickly scrambled out of the tunnel and above ground, where they were met with a similar predicament. From the hard ground, boney hands thrust forth, and skeletal soldiers pulled themselves from the places they fell so many years ago. A thick fog had rolled in, and the wind began to howl.
“What do your books say about the walking dead, dwarf?” asked Tormach, launching a blade at a nearby skeleton, burying it deep in its skull.
“It says to bury them in stone coffins with heavy lids to keep them from popping back up. And when that doesn’t work, RUN!”
And so they did.
The three crashed through the forest, a small army of undead hot on their tail. Bryn lead the way, despite his stature, proving true the rumors that dwarves are natural sprinters. He looked repeatedly over his shoulders to make sure his companions were with him and their pursuers weren’t too close behind, to the point of nearly bowling someone over when he unexpectedly burst into a merchant camp.
Through exhausted gasps he tried to relay the dangers that followed. From somewhere in the camp, an arrow whistled into the darkness and a call to arms made. Guards rushed into the darkness to meet their foes, and Bryn could see out of the corner of his eye an elf warrior dressed all in purple loosing flight after flight.
And then, it was over. When Bryn had finally caught his breath, he made his way around the camp to tend to the wounds of the brave men who came to their aid. From out of the woods strode the elf he had seen earlier. Bryn watched as he strode to a pile of casks and pulled a mug of ale, before heading his way. Bryn was about to put out his hand to accept the kind offer, but watched instead as the elf downed it in one long draught. Finally, the elf said, “That is strange company you keep, master dwarf.”
“Perhaps, lad,” replied Bryn, “but her songs do cheer me up.”
“I was referring to the undead.”
“Ah, well, they are not quite the music fan that I am, apparently. Thank you for dispatching them, I am Bryn Mawr.”
The elf cracked a slight smile, “Belgae. Belgae Achren.”
From behind the casks they heard a squeal, and a voice exclaim, “ANNA?!” Bryn watched as a familiar flash of pink charged past him, tackling the bard and wrapping her up in what could only be described as a “frenzied hug.”
Bryn regarded the elf again. “And you question my taste in company.”