(Contributed by Ross)
You could, I suppose, trace our story back to our first great adventure… though I sincerely doubt the story of our tramp through the woods in search of a dire boar will ever be an epic tale. You could even go further back, to when we first met in a tavern and decided to travel together, but I don’t believe any of us even remember that night! The formation of our group was ill-advised, and I daresay we were doomed from the start, but in a way it was misfortune which has bound us even tighter together.
No, the true story begins as most good stories do: in a freshly-dug pit full of corpses. We were all there, the four of us; profusely injured and without any memory of who or where we were. This allowed us an excellent opportunity to meet each other anew, though I must confess that at the time, I was fairly sure that our half-orc friend was the cause of our injuries, and of the lifeless bodies piled around us.
We would later come to remember each other, and our adventures together. The half-orc’s name was pronounced “Oglok”, although nobody knew how to spell it (including Oglok, for he could neither read nor write). He was a prolific warrior… as strong as an ox, and as smart as an ox.
Also with us was Poppy, a wee halfling. He was fiercely intelligent and astoundingly clever, and his intellect led us through those dark days until our memories returned.
Frank was a dwarf, and a priest of St. Cuthbert. Luckily, he was a practical follower of a practical god; the dire times ahead of us would call for dire measures.
And, although I didn’t know at the time, I would later remember that my name was Deathreaver, and that I was a minstrel. Deathreaver, from the ancient Eladrin words ‘deathre’ meaning ‘happy’, and ‘eaver’ meaning ‘breeches/britches’.
There we found ourselves, in a pit. It was clear that we were in a predicament, but we were quite unsure of what was going on. Clearly, the bodies must have come from somewhere, and so we realized that we may be in danger. Oglok lifted Poppy above the pit, who then reported that we were in a hole in a pumpkin field, and that a house and barn were visible nearby. Evil men were milling about the house, presumably saying evil words and performing evil deeds as they are wont to do.
After some debate, we decided that we would rather not be buried in the pit, so we climbed out and snuck away. For defense, we grabbed a pair of shovels that were propped next to the lonely pile of dirt (which had been waiting to cover us, and was therefore now somewhat disappointed).
The others entered the barn, while I hid in the field. In truth, I had been fairly sure that they would be seen, so I opted to take my fate into my own hands instead of throwing in with them. But our supposed murderers did not come running, and after a few minutes I joined them in the barn.
Oglok was busily preparing some horses, and Poppy and Frank were nowhere to be seen. The half-orc had armed himself with a rusty scythe which he must have found in the barn. As I helped him prepare our escape, I heard hushed voices from up above us; evidently, Frank and Poppy were hiding in the hay loft and had discovered a local boy who had been hiding nearby.
Through the slats of the barn, we spied on the men milling around the farmhouse. At various times there had been screaming and shouting, and we hoped that they would remain distracted long enough for us to escape. The house was situated by a road, and a caged cart was parked next to it. As we watched, the men led a hooded figure out of the house and into the cage.
We got the horses ready just in time, because through the shouting we knew that the men were about to dump another body in the hole and then fill it in. They would surely miss the shovels!
With our new horses and young ward, we snuck out the back of the barn to the nearby treeline. Luckily the horses were extraordinarily stealthy and cooperative, so we escaped without being noticed. From the darkness of the woods, we watched the men discover the missing bodies and shovels. They searched the barn, but fortunately did not notice our tracks. One of them shouted something about “losing 800 gold.” Apparently, there was a price on our heads, and these evil men intended to be very honest about the number of bodies they were burying.
Eventually, the men finished their dastardly deeds and drew their wagon away. The boy told some sort of tale, but his presentation skills were lacking so I ignored him. Instead, I tried to remember anything about myself, but I still had no memories. Poppy was starting to get his own memories back (due to his heightened intelligence) but the rest of us were still in the dark.
Eventually, we headed to the now-abandoned farmhouse. The boy had lived here with his family. His parents had been killed only hours before, and his sister had apparently been the hooded figure we saw being captured and caged. The boy said that she was a priestess, which was very interesting… perhaps she had been captured due to her faith or abilities, instead of being slaughtered like the others?
We decided to rest the night. The cottage was cozy and pleasant, but the boy was a little disturbed. We tried to get him to stop thinking about the murders of his parents, and even tried to cover up the bloodstains, but there was only so much we could do. Some kids are just high maintenance.
By the time morning greeted us, Poppy had remembered a lot. He knew who he was, and that we had been attacked in the nearby town. The men – the same ones that we hid from the night before – had used some sort of gas on us. We decided to head toward town in order to see if anyone still needed our help. In our unequipped and injured state, we would surely succeed where we had failed before!
The village was mostly deserted, except for a woman drawing water from a well. As soon as she saw us, she screamed and ran into a nearby tavern. Indeed! Let the town be dead, but as long as there still is a spark of life in the alehouse, I will be happy!
Well, no, that’s a little morose. But it was still a small sign of normalcy, and jogged some memories in my mind. I knew we’d been there… and I had stayed in a house nearby. I struggled to remember as we followed the frightened woman.
We entered the tavern, and a crowd of villagers began to emerge from the shadows. They looked scared and beaten. Each of them carried a fresh mark on their forehead; a sick-looking brand that had been burned into their flesh. Although I wouldn’t realize it until later, it depicted an adaptation of the skull of Nerull (god of necromancy). When regarded directly, it looked simply like a hideous brand. But when seen out of the corners of our eyes, it seemed to glow, or waver, or… something. It seemed sinister and willful and just plain wrong.
A man spoke to us – I remembered he was the tavern keeper, but I couldn’t recall his name. He glanced at our foreheads and commanded us to leave. We were not branded, he explained, and if we were found in the village, the townsfolk would be punished by “The Overlord’s men.” They had allowed themselves to be branded into the service of this entity called The Overlord; he would allow them to live, but they would need to pay him tribute and follow his orders.
I had little respect for these people – after all, it is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees! But it is MUCH better to live on your feet than to die on either your feet or your knees.
After a brief conversation, we decided to leave them in peace. We gave them the boy, and they told us we could loot their homes. It seemed like a fair trade to me!
We had a jolly fine time pillaging the village. I somehow remembered where I had been staying, and found the trusty dagger whip that I’d hidden away for a rainy day. We also found some armor, bows, and ammunition. Once we were equipped, we started down the road toward the next settlement, to see if we could help them (or pillage them). It seemed wrong to leave this town without setting a few houses on fire, but we’d actually been invited to loot, which isn’t as fulfilling as the normal type of pillaging, from what Oglok told me.
Poppy remembered the local geography fairly well. We were headed toward a town that was on a major east/west road, which in turn ran alongside a river. We weren’t sure if the town had already been attacked by The Overlord, or whether it was even going to be, but we needed to get there quickly.
As we drew near to the town, we stepped off the road and snuck through the woods. Eventually, we saw a large clearing that contained a number of orderly houses. The Overlord’s men were, in fact, attacking the village even as we watched. There were wagons on the main road, including cages. Some of The Overlord’s soldiers were guarding the cages, while others were rounding up villagers and branding them. There were also two groups of men, with two soldiers each, systematically searching the houses.
How opportune, I thought! We could surely pick off two of the soldiers. Then when the other pair came to look for them, we could kill them as well! Two by two, our enemies would deliver themselves to us, until we had saved the town.
We picked a house that seemed to be in the path of one of the duos. We hid our horses behind a farther house, and snuck into the house that would form the trap. I made sure that we opened a window on the far side so that we could run out if things went poorly, then we barred the back door. The men would need to come in the front door, and then we would ambush them.
We all hid in the back room (and on the stairs leading to the second floor) in places which wouldn’t be seen from the windows. Eventually, we heard the men approach the front door and then enter the house. They rummaged around the front room while we waited anxiously; then, as one of them stepped into the back room, we sprang!
The soldier was caught unawares as we beat at him. He tried to escape, but we chased him back and cut him down. Oglok and I tried to encircle the remaining man, in order to prevent his escape. But he was a skilled soldier, and I was just a happy minstrel! With one stab he nearly gutted me, and I fell to the floor as the world faded into darkness.
When I awoke, the party was safely camping in the wilderness. Frank had remembered that he was a healer, and had cast a spell to revive me. I actually felt better than I had previously… strangely more powerful, and I realized that I could now cast more powerful spells than ever before. Near-death experiences were apparently very educational, and I vowed to fall unconscious more often. I must admit, being an elf I had never been unconscious before, and I regretted having missed all those wonderful opportunities to become more powerful.
Around the campfire that night, Oglok told me the story of how they had killed the last guard, and how he had posed the guards together in a compromising position. He got a big kick out of that. Afterward, he’d carried me back to the horses and they watched from the woods as the soldiers eventually discovered their dead. They saw a soldier talking to some guy in a robe, so they decided to retreat: guys in robes are usually bad news.
The next morning, we were feeling pretty well rested and fairly well healed. But before we had decided what to do next, we spotted some figures approaching through the woods! We barely had time to prepare ourselves before one of them – the man in the robe, as it would turn out – cast a spell at us. Sticky strands exploded among the trees, holding us in place. I squirmed away and hid behind a tree as the others tried to free themselves as well.
Poppy had been near the edge of the web and was able to escape it. He approached the mage, throwing tiny metal stars at him. Sure he can! The mage, in turn, started casting magical missile spells and making a nuisance of himself. The other man, who we supposed was a tracker, hung back and fired arrows at us.
Eventually Oglok and Frank broke free as well. Oglok rushed the wizard, and Frank chased down the tracker. I began an inspiring bardic chant while firing my shortbow. But then I saw an arrow streaking toward me, and I passed out to the vision of the arrow sticking out of my chest.
Gradually, the world swam back into view. It was another morning, and Frank had healed me again. I took a quick mental inventory, and I found that once again the near-death experience had made me more powerful! I could now cast two good spells each day instead of one, and I could sing better! The others seemed to have benefited from my unconsciousness as well, and we all celebrated our newfound abilities. Fight by fight, we were quickly gaining the power we needed in order to take on The Overlord. It would be a long, arduous journey, but I was looking forward to almost dying many more times, and helping my friends almost die as well!