The Green Devil Face is a sort Oracle, or so it is rumored. The face can be asked questions and it will answer truthfully, well mostly. Anyhow they have been told the Devil Face knows where the missing Helm of Ever-full Tankards is currently located. Now with that knowledge the Double Chin clan has a chance to regain their honor. This is a chance they cannot pass up.
It is a bright and cloudless morning as the stone-hold door opens and the Heck Ridge Six greet the day. Our intrepid band is made up of the following dwarves:
Dren Hammerhand - a Loan Shark by trade, wears a Viking style helmet, his beard is long & dangly, has 11 remaining teeth, and claims Broken Nose Beer to be the best!
Irdle Doorbreaker - a linguist that speaks fluent kobold / Ogre / Lizardman, wears a long heavy light brown dyed scarf, his beard is really really long, has 1 tooth, and claims Yellow Snow Beer to be the best!
Bonk Shallowgrave - dwarf poet by trade, wears an open face helm adorned with baby red dragon wings, his beard falls in flowing locks, has 3 teeth in the back, and claims Iron Swallow Beer to be the best!
Tobuscus "Ole Tobi" Barrackbomb - dwarf linguist that speaks fluent Pixie / Ogre / Orc / Minotaur / Green Dragon, wears a bedouin style head wrap, his beard is short and curly, has 7 teeth, and claims Iron Swallow Beer to be the best!
Chen Chan Walla-walla Bing-bang - dwarf sous chef trained in the far-east, wears a demon-masked samurai helmet, his beard is frilly & fragrant, has 5 teeth all in the back, and claims Firewater Full Beer to be the best!
Warmen Stonemill - amateur stargazer & zealous ancestor worshipper, wears a forest green head scarf, his beard is spiked and awesome! Not missing a single tooth (considered quite the milksop by the others), and claims Firewater Full Beer to be the best!
|Heck Ridge Hall|
The journey from Heck Ridge to the ruins of Marqest is about a three day trek as a dwarf marches, and our band will be travelling on foot as any respectable Double Chin would.
The days travel started slow, but just around mid-morning Irdle, Bonk, and Chen Chan broke out their instruments ( a cittern, tin whistle, & drum respectively) and had the party join in on a dwarf journey song that goes like this:
Dawn has broke
the cock has crowed
The packs are full
our backs are bowed
With leagues to go
and a short stride
We don't like horses
no need to ride
The day is hot
and night's are cold
Dwarves will march
complaints we'll hold
This song we'll sing
to pass the time
Our cloaks be wet
our boots have grime
At day's end a nice hollow was found just off the trail, and a campsite was set up for night. As Chen Chan prepared the evening meal (he had recently returned home from culinary retreat in the Far-east), Warmen heard the soft tinkle of metal and spurs. Spying on the trail from a hedgerow the dwarf saw a group of heavily armored men heading the same direction they had been. However it seemed they were pushing on through the night.
|Men on the road|
Dawn of day two found Bonk and Warmen suffering from a bout of "goblin-gut", which they presumed to have been from Chen Chan's cooking! The party set off and despite numerous stops for stomach-distress they made good time. Come midday the party comes upon the ruins of a cottage that had the signs of being burned months ago. The trail showed signs that the large group of men Warmen had seen the day before took rest here. Both Irdle and Warmen spotted a refuse pile behind the ruins and the glint of sunlight off of something there intrigued the pair.
As the bulk of the group takes a break by the cottage ruin, both Irdle and Warmen head over to check out the rubbish pile.
"What do ya reckon Cuz?" mumbles Warmen.
Irdle sniffing the air and flicking his nose with a forefinger replies, "I got scent of coin cousin, I'm sure of it! There's a fair bit o' food scaps an some vermin too I'm smellin."
Warmen gripped his double handed hammer tightly, "You scentin' house vermin or Swerting?"
"No, no just regular ole' rodent kind." smiled Irdle suddenly stopping short as the rubbish heap itself seemed to move slightly. "You see that?" Irdle hefted his own double handed hammer.
"Yup, thinkin' this here might be one o' them Otyugh nests, mayhap we should..."
The rubbish heap exploded with movement as a half dozen rodents of unusual size burst forth and charged the dwarves!!
Bonk, Chen, Ole Tobi and Dren were partakin' of some trail-snaks when they cries of Irdle and Warmen alerted them to trouble. The pair of dwarves came around the corner from the backside of the cottage with a baker's dozen of giant rats in tow! Bonk quickly drew up his shortbow and knocked an arrow waiting for his cousins to give him a clear shot, Ole' Tobi drew forth a ragged sling and began to try and remember where he had stowed his sling stones!! Both Dren and Chen took a defensive stance beside their cousins as Irdle slid to a stop and spun to face the rodents! Warmen made it to the dwarf line and drew his own bow knocking an arrow and yelled "Loose volley!"
Arrows flew, hammers smashed, fists punched, teeth gnashed, Ole' Tobi was still looking for sling stones... Irdle was bitten and a terrible gash was opened on his leg. Bonk however skewered a rodent before it bite Tobuscus! Dren and Irdle worked in concert using the "Gob-ball special" to obliterate one of the beasts, as Chen Chan and Warmen held the line. Soon all but one giant rodents was dead or dying and the last one smelled the urine of defeat and turned to flee back to the rubbish heap. It was at this moment Ole' Tobi had finally set a stone in the sling pouch and twirling it over his head sighted the fleeing rat! "Gonna git ya varmit!"
Swish! Crack! Thump!
The final rat lay quivering in the grass, Ole' Tobi's bullet having killed the creature in one blow!!
"Dang Tobi!" shouted Dren, "You done killed that one with a shot right in the butthole!"
Tobi smiled and put his sling away, "Yep, dat dere's a weak-point!"
True to Irdle's senses a hidden stash of copper & silver coins were found as well as a severed and gnawed upon human arm still clutching a grimy hand axe.
The coins were were buried in a new spot for retrieval on the way home, and the arm and axe were taken by Chen Chan who was very intrigued with it.
That night passed without incident, and by mid-morning of the third day the party saw their destination just ahead of them. The ruins of Castle Marqest, quietly awaiting those who dare to enter its depths. A pair of gulls winged by overhead, calling out to the dwarves for any scraps they might offer. The breeze was cool and salty as the ruins were set upon a promonotory jutting out into the sea. This was a new sight for all but Chen Chan who had recently returned from travel overseas, and had actually learned to swim!
|Ruins of Marqest|
Not wanting to dally around the group marched straight up towards the dilapidated Gatehouse. It wasn't until the bulk of the party had passed through and into the inner courtyard that anyone realized Ole Tobi and Warmen were missing!!
"Well bust my stones how'd we lose two of us just walkin' in here!" complained Dren.
The group then spotted the missing pair about 50 yards off to left, they had gained entry to the same courtyard by passing through a large gap in the wall.
"What'r they looking at?" quipped Bonk.
It seemed both Warmen and Tobi were transfixed by something only they could see in the tall grass.
|a Marqest chicken|
"Bawk, bawk!" the chicken sceeched then continued to peck the dirt.
Ole' Tobi held himself as still as he could and whispered, "Don't make no sudden moves Warmen, I hear these things are dangerous."
Squinting at the fowl and then back at Tobi, Warmen was sure the old dwarf was havin' a spell again. "Now Tobi, that there is just a chicken, ain't nothi..."
"Bawk, ba-gawk!!" the chicken screeched and stepped a few feet closer to the pair.
Beads of sweat rolled down Ole' Tobi's brow, "Were dun fer!"
As the party watched their cousins from afar, it was Chen Chan who heard the tell-tale call of the fowl creature. With the speed of a cracking whip he dashed across the distance between the groups and from his belt he retrieved the "Hand-axe" which he began to twirl in his hand!
Warmen began to suspect there was something more to this chicken from the way its gaze seemed to burn into your soul. He realized also that no matter how much he wanted to, he couldn't seem to look away much less move! Was this it? he Tobi would end the journey here, slain by a .....
The tall grass waved in the sea breeze, and like a butterfly Chen Chan suddenly appeared flicking his wrist and releasing the "Hand-axe" towards the stalking beastie! With supernatural quickness the devil-fowl reacted to the threat and turned to face Chen Chan screeching in defiance.
"bawk, bawk, Ba-Gawk!!"
Their seeming paralysis broken Warmen and Tobi ran away towards the rest of the party leaving Chen Chan to his culinary duties.
|Chen Chan, Master Chef|
Time seemingly slowed, Chen Chan could see each particle of sand the chicken had kicked up, he could hear the tone of each blade of grass as the breeze whispered upon them, he could feel each fiber of his robe as it caressed the skin of his body. The techniques of the secretive Eastern culinary masters were not easily learned, nor were they given to just any pupil. Chen Chan Walla-walla Bing-bang was no ordinary dwarf.
The sun glinted of the blade as the still attached hand and forearm rattled in the air, the chicken sensed it's doom in that split second before axe kissed its neck like a young maiden to her first love.
Blood spurted into the air, each droplet a ruby red gem of life spilling out upon the grass. The dwarf Chef snatched the fowl's body before it could even hit the ground and began to drain the crimson liquor of life into his whiskey flask* as the head landed in a clump of dried grass eyes glazing over.
As Warmen and Tobi joined the others they all realized there were some odd things going on around the castle grounds. The Keep itself stood just about fifty yards ahead of them across the courtyard, and at the midway point was a small stone well. What had everyone's attention though was the glimmering hole in the sky about about 200' feet up. It was like a tear in the cloth of reality and a burning mountain range could be seen beyond. Also a chittering horde of bat-winged children about the size of plump newborns with cherry red skin were dancing about in the air like a flock of devilish birds!
|Screaming Devil Babies!|
"I don't like the looks of that!" said Bonk pointing at the demon-babes. "Let's get inside that Keep!"
The group began a mad dash across the courtyard towards the ominous central building as the flying horde let out a wailing and began to swoop down!
What followed was much teeth gnashing, running, swinging of weapons until the party found themselves inside the main keep.
After calming down and taking stock of warning that Dren was spouting (something about a ghostly suit of animated armor!) they realized Chen Chan was missing!?
It was assumed the Devil-kin must have killed him, and the group took a moment to grieve then they set about leaving their marks on a large trestle table that was upended in the chamber where they were resting. There were also marks here from prior visitors to the Keep as well.
In this same chamber there was a set of stairs descending down to what was surmised to be the first level of the dungeon. The group readied themselves and began their descent into the unknown. Dwarves have a knack for exploring underground constructions, caves, lairs etc. And these preternatural abilities helped the group make quick headway in the lower dungeons. Surprisingly they found the missing Chen Chan who had jumped down the well to avoid the winged devils. An underground resevoir was connected to the first level and it was through this the wayward Chef had been able to rejoin his kin. Also they came upon a barrel full of assorted teeth! From which Irdle claimed a large Orge tusk.
The group set out to find the stairs to the next level down and quickly came upon a mortally wounded fighter in battered armor. The unfortunate victim was quickly dispatched by an expertly thrown iron piton from Irdle that mistook the man for an undead creature.
The dead man's blood trail led our party to the steps to descend to the second level.
Level 2: the scent of death...
Level 2: the scent of death...
The descent was quick and the landing on the second level was directly across from a large chamber and adjacent to steps going down again. At one time the chamber had probably been a storeroom of some type but more recently had been used as a base camp. The encampment however had been the site of a terrible battle, as evidenced by the blood and shattered weapons. The dead man's trail led back to this abattoir. There was a slight urge from the group to search the area, but the freshness of the scene hinted at discretion and moving quickly!
The party took the steps heading down to the third level, they could all feel the excitement of knowing they were very close to where they needed to be!
Bonk, Irdle, and Dren reached the landing of the third level first. The steps ended in a tight hallway that stretched off into darkness. A grating noise behind them made the dwarves turn in unison just in time to witness a trap-door in the stairs open up under Tobi, Chen, & Warmen!
Level 3: things get spicy!
Though dazed the three cousins hadn't suffered any debilitating injuries from the fall into the pit. Luckily Ole' Tobi landed on top of his fellows and was able to react the quickest to the new threat. From their vantage point, the other three could see the pit was only about ten feet deep and had no spikes at the bottom. It was however the giant pit-viper that dropped into the pit from a murder hole in the wall that worried them!
Ole' Tobi began waving his hands about and shouted at the snake to draw it's attention. In the meantime Warmen and Chen scrambled to get to their feet and face the serpentine foe in a united front. The snake lunged and just missed Tobi! Chen attempted a spinning kick that spoiled Warmen's swing with his handaxe! Above Bonk had drawn an arrow and was thinking about firing when Dren let out a war-cry and leaped into the pit his hammer over his head!!
"Broken Nose Beer rules!!" the warrior bellowed as he dove into the pit attempting to squash the snake beneath him! Unfortunately the tight confines of the pit and the errant kick of Chen Chan had actually caused the snake and Warmen to swap positions!
"Look-out!"cried Dren, descending like boulder cast from a Hill giant's hand. CRASH, THUD!!!
Both Dren and Warmen went down in a tangle of limbs, Chen pressed himself against the wall of the pit narrowly missing the game of twister his cousins were now engaged in.
The snake reared up and eyed Ole' Tobi, as the feeble dwarf swung his hatchet! "take this ya varmit!" his swing was slow but true and sliced a seam of red down the creatures length!
"Bonk, now's yer chance shoot it!" cried Irdle as he held up his lantern to give good light for all to see by.
Bonk released his arrow and it would have struck true had Dren not chosen that exact moment to stand up from his failed jump. "Hang on Tobi, I'm gonna hel... OUCH!" Spatang!! The arrow caromed off the sturdy helm worn by the warrior and shattered harmlessly against the pit wall.
The viper lashed out and bit Tobi on the upper arm, before recoiling to face the the others in the pit. Ole' Tobi, looked down at his arm, then at the snake, then at his cousins and said "Ah, dang!"
He turned pale and dropped to the floor like a bag of rocks!
"Tobi! NOOOO!" cried Warmen rising and swinging madly at the viper with his hand axe! Dren and Chen lent a hand and in seconds the giant viper was dead!
Having extricated themselves from the pit using the viper itself as a makeshift rope and grapnel. The dwarves circled around Warmen who was cradling the the limp body of Tobi, tears streaming from his eyes. "Oh Tobi, please don't go. I will have failed my oath to Gran'ma to keep you safe!"
[ Before setting out on this journey, Warmen had promised Gran'ma Double Chin he would take extra care of Ole' Tobi because of his zealous pre-occupation with ancestor worship. And Tobi being the oldest amongst the group made him a good focus for Warmen.]
"The whiskey, maybe it'll work!" whispered Irdle as he dried his tears with his scarf.
Warmen fumbled for the flask on Tobi's belt. Held it near the pale lips dribbled some into the mouth of Ole' Tobi.
**Tobi found himself seated at a table in a large hall of dwarven make. Before lay a feast befit a King!!
|Art by Nightblue|
A voice to his left caused him to turn and see a wondrous dwarf maid reaching out to hand him a large wooden tankard overflowing with foam! Taking the offered drink Tobi tipped his head back and was overcome with the metallic tang of Ironswallow beer! "There's more where that came from and all you can eat as well!" beamed the bearded lass, "I'm here to serve you for eternity!"
Ole' Tobi leaned back and let out a belch that shook the stone supports. He made it at last, the Heroe's Hall!! This journey hadn't turned out so bad after all he thought.**
Warmen sighed, "It's no use. He's gone..." large tears streaming down into his spiked beard.
"Gan'ma will never let us off her grudge list if we lose Tobi. You hear me old timer? Get yer' ass back here!!" Dren tugged the lifeless form out of Warmen's grasp and with his right hand he open-palm slapped the elder dwarf with the force of, well... a hammerhand!
[ Now there will always be an argument as to whether it was the potent dwarf whiskey in league with hardy constitution of the race, or just the overwhelming force and shock of the slap delivered by Dren that brought Tobuscus back to the land of the living. No one will ever truly know I suppose...]
A ripple of shock spread through the dwarves as the sound of the blow echoed in the dungeon hall. Before anyone could react Ole' Tobi opened his eyes wide, sat up and hacked up a wad of greenish-black phlegm and uttered a mournful wail of ....
There was no time to waste as roaming denizens could come upon them at any moment. The group formed up and followed the only path they had. The cramped hall that led away from the trapped stairwell. Making good speed even with the still reeling Tobi, the party entered a larger wide hall of the dungeon's third level that ran perpendicular to the way from which they came.
In their haste however, they found they had also blundered into the midst of a group large Canine-headed beasts that seemed to be patrolling this area!!!
"Oi! What's this then?!?!" grunted the creature with a barbed spear.
The second creature with a spiked club leaned in and sniffed the dwarves, "smells like snake they do!"
"What're you lot up too, eh?" barked the third creature.
[ The dwarves were all taken by surprise, and not a one of them had any idea what these creatures were saying. But they all knew this could turn bad unless something was done quickly! It was here that inspiration struck Irdle, like hammer to anvil!!]
Irdle put his fists to his hips and looked straight up into the faces of the three creatures, the tusk he found earlier was set firmly in his lower gum. In Ogre tongue the dwarf said,"We just come from eatin' viper bar-b-que back by the stair pit. Might be a bit left if ya get over there quick!"
The spear-wielder squinted at Irdle, "Seem a little short for an Ogre ain't ya??"
"Them's is ogre-pups!" said the club holder, "see how hairy n' ugly they is!"
"Pit viper Bar-B-Que?? Let's go!" barked the third excitedly!
The creatures headed off down the passage the dwarves had emerged from. Looking at each other excitedly the dwarves chose a direction and headed off along the wide hall hoping they were near the end of their quest!
After tense moments of navigating the dungeon, and being wary of any more patrols. The group finally found the chamber they sought. The room of the Green Devil Face, oracle of the Marqest dungeon!!!
This was no ordinary stone sculpture, it was indeed a magical, perhaps even demon possessed piece arcane architecture. And it awoke as the dwarves piled into it's lair.
"Who disturbs my slumber?" bellowed a deep voice from the face in the wall.
The group proclaimed their identity and the reason they had sought the Oracle of the dungeon. For this the Green Devil was pleased and a bargain was quickly stuck. The party would sacrifice an Arm as the price to gain audience! To this the dwarves offered up a dagger to the Devil!!!
"For is not one ARMED, with such an item?" claimed Dren, when the Devil looked perturbed. At this though the face did laugh heartily! "You have done well dwarves, I will give you an answer to what you seek but my price is a meal fit for a King!!"
At first the party was stunned, how would they accomplish such with only their rations. It was the skilled Chen Chan who stepped up then!
"Cousins, give me all your rations and the pit-viper meat we took. My skills can perhaps save us from ending badly!"
Indeed in the end, not only was the meal Chen Chan prepared greatly appreciated by the Oracle, but it even gave the dwarves the location of a hidden exit to escape the dungeon!
With the location of the Helm of Ever-Full Tankards now revealed, they party made good their escape from the dreaded Wine Cellars, and after a bit of carousing they eventually made it home!
The party did indeed make it home, and eventually it was discovered that not everything was as fortuitous as first thought. As the new moon came round a rash strange events rattled the halls of Heck-ridge with a resounding "Ba-Bawk!!". Sightings of a giant rooster rampaging the Hold were met with much consternation.
Soon a party would be sent to retrieve the long lost Helm of Ever-full Tankards, but that is a tale for another time......
*** Big Thanks to James V. West (Doomslaker) for all the crazy Red-neck Dwarf stuff!***