Witch Queen of Perrenland

Kirk and Aaron were just two travelers hoping to find adventure in Greyhawk’s most notorious drinking establishment. Little could they have known that adventure would find them just a few feet from the Green Dragon. Joined by the mysterious and tight-lipped merchant Rarsirrien, a female thief, and a disgraced Paladin, they become caught up in a plot to thwart the infamous and evil Iggwilv from obtaining the secret to immortality. To do so, they must breach the magically protected borders of the secretive Valley of the Mage. If they succeed, they will have to find Iggwilv’s agents while avoiding detection by the most powerful spell caster on the continent. Discovery will mean capture and death, and failure will mean the loss of countless lives to Iggwilv’s cruel experiments. But in the Valley of the Mage, not everything, nor everyone, is as it appears. Along the way, our heroes will have to confront the demons of their past and a few in the present. If they succeed, their reward will be freedom, fame, and the riches that come from it.

Dread Naught

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Rarsirrien checked on Kirk, then gently touched Aaron’s shoulder to wake him for his watch. Desprae had retaken her place and was feigning sleep under the light blanket she had been given. Aaron rubbed his eyes and got up. He sipped from the water and joined Rarsirrien a short distance away.

Rarsirrien showed Aaron the manacles. “She’s evidently a good pickpocket. She got the keys off me earlier when she fell from the horse. That was my mistake. I’m not sure what to make of her. She could have taken off or killed the pair of you. Yet she didn’t.”

“I’m not sure how I should feel about that.” Aaron looked at Desprae, her eyes closed and huddled under the blanket. He wondered if she was really asleep or just faking it.

“You will need to keep your wits about you now. Not only do we have to watch what’s out there, but she also. If you start to feel tired, wake Kirk or me. Don’t risk dropping off with her free.”

Aaron nodded, and Rarsirrien found a spot where he could watch the Drow from a distance. Aaron had gotten much-needed rest and could remain vigilant for the remainder of the night.

Kirk woke to the sound of rolled blankets and gear tied to the horses. Aaron handed him a piece of bread with a bit of fat smeared from last night’s meal. He was grateful for the long night of sleep. He hadn’t realized how tired he was from riding the past few days.

Everyone had mounted up, including Desprae, this time without being bound. Kirk glanced at the Drow and then asked in Rarsirrien’s direction, “When did we decide we trust her?”

“When she removed the manacles last night and didn’t slit your throats.”

With that, the four of them set out, with Rarsirrien leading them southward toward the stream he had seen last night. He figured they could follow that west and then parallel the main road south. The day passed without incident; the only creatures they saw were woodland.

Rarsirrien and Aaron noticed that the path they had been following was gradually becoming broader and seemingly more traveled. Rarsirrien looked up at the thick canopy from the trees. That must be how he missed spotting it last night. Now he wondered what else he must have missed. He would not have to wait long for the answer.

The trees thinned, and the path led into the middle of a group of about twenty structures. They were all well maintained, and there were several where smoke was rising from the chimneys and even one that resembled a tavern. A group of women and children who had been gathering salad and vegetables from a garden appeared to be just as surprised at the site of the four of them as they were.

Desprae drew the hood of the cloak Rarsirrien had given her low over her head. She didn’t know who these people were, but she was sure they would know what she was.

They rode slowly, making no sudden moves and not reaching for any weapons. It was late afternoon, and there were already sounds of drinking coming from the building Rarsirrien guessed to be a meeting place. A few faces appeared in the windows of the other homes, but no one came out to challenge them.

“This could be interesting,” Kirk said in a quiet tone.

“Indeed.” Rarsirrien dismounted and tied his horse to a post near the building where the sound of tankards clinking came from. The others followed suit. “Let’s be careful but not threatening.” The three loosened their swords but left them in their scabbards. Desprae drew the cloak tighter around her and pulled the hood low to try and obscure as much of her face as possible.

Rarsirrien knocked and opened the door, and daylight flooded into the open room. Everything stopped. There was an open fire pit in the middle and a bar on the back wall with several medium-sized casks set. Next to them was a small stack of metal tankards. Sitting around two tables were about a half-dozen men.

Rarsirrien broke the silence,“‘Ware and were, friend.”

From the reaction, it was apparent they knew the greeting. The group of men relaxed slightly. One stood, a large man with a black apron draped over the back of his chair. His face, hands, and arms still had traces of soot. Rarsirrien guessed he could be the blacksmith. “The greeting of the Rangers of the Gnarley forest is known but seldom heard here. You’re closer to the Welkwood now than the Gnarley. You’re also far from the main road. Is that because you wish not to be found, and the greeting is a way to put us off guard.”

Rarsirrien took a small step forward. “Indeed. Your intuition is partially correct. We were fleeing from a group of half-orcs and men and thought it safer to try and hide in the wood than follow the main road.”

One of the other men, still seated at the table with the blacksmith, whispered something to him. “My friend here says that a group you described was spotted heading northeast out of Welkwood a few days ago. If you come in peace, then you are welcome to rest here and then leave in peace. If your intentions are less than peaceful, then you would do well to know that we are survivors and descendants of survivors of the Battle of Emridy Meadows.”

“So your ancestors were from Hommlet,” asked Rarsirrien.

“And Nulb. We have remained here, hidden and safe. We want nothing to do with the outside world. We would ask that you honor our desire to be left alone. In exchange, you may rest here for the evening, then be on your way in the morning.” “You have our word.” The others nodded in agreement.

The blacksmith gestured to a worn, stained table against the wall opposite the door, and the four went and sat down. After a moment, a young boy brought them four pewter tankards of beer. They sat in silence for a moment. Desprae kept the cloak as close to her face as possible, trying not to reveal her features. A few minutes later, the same boy appeared with four small bowls of a hot soup made with what appeared to be beef broth and vegetables.

Rarsirrien thanked the boy, and Kirk slipped him two copper pieces. His eyes widened when he opened his hand and saw what Kirk had given him. Two copper pieces with the mark of the city of Greyhawk were more than he had expected. For the rest of the evening, their glasses never ran dry. As the other men left, the blacksmith brought out several blankets.

“It’s the best we can do.”

Aaron took them from him. “It’s better than we have had in days. It will be more comfortable than sleeping on roots and leaves. Thank you.” The blacksmith nodded, turned, and walked out into the night, closing the door behind him.

Desprae pulled the hood back and inhaled deeply. “I thought they would never leave. I felt like I was going to suffocate in that thing. It was so warm.”

Aaron looked at her, “I thought you might be used to closed places coming from a race that dwells below ground.”

“Yes, but underground it’s cooler.”

Kirk and Rarsirrien spread out the blankets around the fire. Rarsirrien put two small logs on to last a few hours. Aaron and Desprae tidied up and took care of the last tankards. Aaron found a small room behind the door where the boy came and went. There was a barrel with water and a shelf where their bowls and the other tankards were set, still drying. He washed theirs, set them with the rest, returned to the main room, and rejoined the others.

Kirk woke first. The fire was now just a few glowing embers amid a pile of ash. Aside from that, the room was completely dark. There were several windows, and it appeared it was still dark outside. Then he heard a dull thud like a heavy axe biting into a tree. He listened momentarily, unsure if he had actually heard or imagined it. After a few seconds of silence, he closed his eyes and decided it was his imagination and to go back to sleep.

CLANG. That was the sound of iron on steel. All four were suddenly awake and scrambling to their feet. There was another thud, something heavy crashing against the door. Then the sounds of a skirmish outside. Aaron and Kirk stood on both sides of the door, swords ready. There were several more sounds of sword fighting outside; then the door crashed inward, the result of a large, heavy object being thrown against it which was now lying beside the fire pit. In the doorway stood a large man clad in plate armor, his skin and face pale white and his eyes pupilless. He held a two-handed sword in his right hand, but he appeared to be able to handle it single-handed.

Kirk and Aaron had swords raised and ready to strike when their attacker entered the room. Their opponent would have difficulty wielding such a large weapon in the confined space of the meeting hall, giving them the advantage. Desprae cried out to Aaron. Her sudden warning cry shifted Kirk’s attention away from the towering man to the object he threw against the door and crashed against the fire pit. The object was now moving, and as it got to its feet, Kirk recognized it as the half-orc that had escaped from the battle two days ago.

They now had two adversaries, and Aaron moved to strike as the man advanced through the doorway. The man, unable to raise his sword due to the low ceiling, took a sideways swing at Aaron, who blocked it with his sword. Still, the force of the blow sent him staggering backward several steps. He was surprisingly quick for his size and armor and moved past Aaron towards Kirk and the half-orc.

To everyone’s surprise, the figure struck at the half-orc, who somehow managed to retain his two-headed axe. The half-orc dodged the blow, and the man’s two-handed sword bit deep into the floor and became stuck. The half-orc spun the axe around to strike, but Desprae sprung onto the creature’s back before he could, yanked its helm back, exposing its neck, and shoved a dagger through its throat.

One threat had been dealt with, so Aaron returned to the man in armor. He was surprised to see the man collapse backward, grabbing a table to steady himself, and then lean against the wall breathing heavily.

“I’m awake now. Thanks for asking.” Rarsirrien moved to Desprae, who still had a firm grasp on the dagger protruding from the half-orcs throat. He put his arm around her shoulder and helped her to a chair where she could sit. They could see the hate drain from her eyes. Rarsirrien hoped that exacting this tiny bit of revenge on one of her former captors would help bring her some peace. But he doubted it. He would let the question of where she got the dagger wait.

Their attention focused on the pale man in armor, but he was gone when they turned to face him. Aaron ran to the doorway and glanced around, but there was no sign of him. By now, several of the men were coming from their houses. One of them was the blacksmith they already knew.

“Did you see which way he went?” Aaron asked. Two shook their heads, no, but the blacksmith nodded. “Which way then?” “Best to let him go. He’s no threat to us.”

“Who or what is he?” Kirk had joined Aaron outside while Rarsirrien was dragging the half-orcs corpse outside. Desprae was still sitting where they had left her. Her eyes closed.

The blacksmith looked out into the wood toward the early dawn sky. “If I’m right, he’s called Dread Naught. I’ve heard tales of him from various villagers when I have had to travel for supplies or tools. Legend has it he can’t die.”

“I hate the undead.” Kirk made a sound like a person about to be sick.

“He’s not undead. I heard that he’s a fallen Paladin who is cursed until he can redeem his honor. He’s not dead, but he still feels pain, thirst, and hunger, but even so, he cannot die.”

Rarsirrien had joined them, “That’s a hefty punishment. He must have committed an especially heinous crime to have had such a curse put upon him.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not. As far as I know, he’s no threat to anyone except those who threaten him, or so I’ve been told. This is the first time we have seen him in the village. I trust you will be on your way now?” he had read the expressions of his fellow villagers as they came out to investigate the commotion.

Rarsirrien leaned in between Kirk and Aaron. “I think we may have worn out our welcome,” he whispered.

The three returned inside and found that Desprae had folded the blankets and stacked them in a neat pile. She was wearing the cloak again, keeping it as low over her face as possible. The only real mess aside from the broken door was the large pool of half-orc blood on the floor.

They found the horses secured outside. The boy who had served them the previous evening had tended to them and fed and watered each of them so they were ready to travel. Rarsirrien gave the blacksmith a silver piece and thanked him again for the hospitality, and then the four set out, the rising sun at their backs.

Not far away, on a slight rise, a pair of pupilless pale eyes watched the four through the trees. Aaron thought he heard something in the distance, and he stopped and peered intently through the wood.

“What is it?” Rarsirrien asked.

Aaron strained and scanned the woods as best he could. After a moment, he sat back in the saddle, “Nothing.” With that, they started out again.

D A STEMPNAKOWSKI

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