Voting is now closed. Thanks everyone!
This is the sixth part of a Vote Your Adventure story. More information is here. If you need to catch up, check out the Vote Your Adventure link at the top of the page. I have links to all the previous entries setup there. Because I’ve taken so long to get this written, and because of its gigantic size, I’m going to let the voting go a little longer. Voting will close early Monday, April 30, 2012. Enjoy the tale!
Bardulf gazed at the fire, thinking about the trap. A strange stone was perched atop the wood. The dark smoke that had emanated from it was now gone. The flames and heat had burned off the crimson coloring, revealing a marbled blue and orange pattern.
He cursed the snake who did this. Bardulf suspected that this was the same one that he fought in Lord Belmont’s manor. There was too much coincidence.
The fire suddenly blazed, bringing Bardulf out of his thoughts.
“The stone looks like it is melting,” Malic said with a frown. “Watch, it is dripping.”
As Bardulf looked closer, he understood what Malic meant. The stone seemed to be sweating. But, it wasn’t easy to notice due to the light. One drop grew larger and rolled down to the bottom of the stone. The drip let go, and descended into the flames, causing the fire to blaze again.
Malic’s eyes widened. “That stone is a dragon’s tear.”
“Dragon’s tear? I’ve never heard of those.”
“They are extremely rare, so I am not surprised. I actually thought they were all destroyed. They are a stone that soaks up the energy of the fire. It will explode after enough time. It must be releasing some power as a drip as it gathers more.”
“Explode?” Bardulf looked at the wall of fire at the cave entrance, and back to the dripping stone. A plan formed in his mind. “If it’s going to explode, we should use that to our advantage.” A wry grin cracked Bardulf’s face.
“What are you thinking?”
“That we should use the explosion on the entrance over there. I’m hoping that it’ll either break the fire wall, or blast a hole that we can crawl through.”
Malic retreated to the back of the cave where Bardulf was. “How do you propose to do this?”
Bardulf picked up the pouch that lay at his feet and opened it up. There was a scrap of parchment folded up inside. “Not with this. I was hoping it would be filled with dirt, or something.” He tied the pouch to his belt so he could look at the parchment later. Then he pulled out his dagger. “I’ll have to do with this.”
“You know you are risking the chance that the cave will collapse? We do not know how big of an explosion that stone will create.”
Bardulf nodded. “You’re not worried that I’ll miss?”
“I am more worried that you will hit it.”
“Me too.” Bardulf held the blade of his dagger with a light hand. He wanted to hit the stone with the hilt, not the blade. He was fortunate that the ceiling was taller here. Otherwise, this would be a bit harder. As he raised his arm and cocked his wrist, Bardulf closed his eyes and envisioned the flight of the dagger. It would fly through the air with a slight curved arc, not spinning at all. The hilt of the dagger would strike the stone, sending it flying across the cave. Bardulf opened his eyes and in one smooth motion, threw the dagger.
The dagger struck as he had intended, and sailed off to the far side of the cave. The dragon’s tear sailed a short distance before crashing to the ground with an audible thud. As it hit the dirt floor, an orange glow emerged from deep within. Sparks flew from it in every direction.
Malic and Bardulf exchanged a frown. “That should have gone further, not fallen like a giant boulder,” Malic remarked.
Before Bardulf could agree, the stone shifted on its own and started to roll towards the fire.
“It doesn’t just absorb the fire, it’s drawn to it,” Bardulf whispered. “I think it’s time for a new plan.”
Malic stepped forward and picked up a small stone from the ground. He threw it at the flaming wall. It passed through and landed with a clack on the other side.
“I sense an ill power fueling that wall of flame, but I would rather be burned by that than killed,” stated Malic. Without hesitating, he rushed forward and leapt through the wall of flames. There was a grunt and a clatter of stones as Malic hit the ground.
Bardulf could see the elf’s form on the ground through the flames, it didn’t move. “Malic!?”
There was a groan from the other side. “I am alive. Burnt in a number of spots, but alive.” He struggled to his feet. “Do not hesitate. Just jump.”
Bardulf glanced at the stone. The stone had picked up speed, and was now working its way through a crevice in the logs. The dragon’s tear glowed even brighter, and now looked like it was on fire. Without knowing how much longer before the stone exploded, Bardulf sprinted forward and leapt through the flames.
The pain of the heat from the flames was immense. Bardulf had been burned by fires before, but this was beyond that. He crashed to the floor after what seemed like an eternity of searing pain.
He grunted in reply.
“Get up. This is no time to nap.”
Bardulf glanced behind at the flames while he struggled upright. They seemed brighter. As he got to his feet, he realized that it wasn’t the wall of flame, but the fire in the cave. The two began to make their way out as fast as they could.
Malic was able to sprint ahead easily. The short ceiling hindered Bardulf’s movement. As he approached the light of the forest outside, the ground began to rumble. Malic’s voice shouted from outside, “Run!”
A roar erupted from deep within the cave. A hot wind rushed past his face, pushed by the explosion. A heartbeat later, he was lifted off his feet and thrust out from the cave amid a mixture of rock and flame.
Bardulf crashed to the earth. He could feel dirt and rocks pelting him. His heart was pounding, and his chest and ribs throbbed. It would be a miracle if he hadn’t injured them more. He just lay there as the dirt fell, not daring to move.
“Bardulf, it is safe to get up now.” Malic’s voice was muffled, and Bardulf became aware that his ears were ringing. He winced as he struggled to his feet.
The mouth of the cave and the surrounding area were burnt from the flames. Rocks and dirt from the cave littered the forest floor.
Malic walked over. “Are you all in one piece there, Bardulf?”
“I think. I might have injured my ribs more. My face and hands feel like they’re burnt. How about you?”
“A few burns, nothing more.” Malic stepped up and placed his hands on Bardulf’s chest. “I do not have any talent in healing, but I think I can help with your ribs.”
Before Bardulf could speak, Malic closed his eyes, and Bardulf felt a thread of warmth work through his chest and around his ribs.
Malic opened his eyes and stepped back. “It does not seem that too much more damage has been done. There is no bleeding. I have reinforced your ribs. I can not do much more than that.”
“Thanks. But could you have asked first?” Bardulf shivered. “You elves and your magic, I don’t think will ever get used to that.”
Malic shrugged. “It is who we are, you know that. And you would not have allowed me if I asked.”
“You’re right about that.” Bardulf brushed pieces of rubble off his clothes and out of his hair. “I doubt my dagger made it through that explosion, no use searching for it.” He looked in the direction of the road. “You said that the tracks led to the road?”
“I can’t say that this has been a complete loss. I know that whoever this snake is came through here, and probably visited Ruelinthal’s Edge. Maybe they looked for a physician there. At the very least, someone would have noticed an injured person missing an eye. Lord Belmont wanted me to talk to the blacksmith as well. I should leave if I want to get there tonight.”
“Yes you should.” Malic reached into the pouch he carried and pulled out a small wooden box. He tossed it to Bardulf, who caught it.
He opened it and took a sniff of the yellow colored cream. “What is this?”
“An ointment to help with the burns and numb some of the pain from your ribs. I carry one with me all the time, you never know when you will need it.” Bardulf moved to object, but was interrupted. “Do not worry about me. I have more at my home. Just remember to come find me after all this is done.”
“I will.” Bardulf looked around, and realized that his horse was gone. “The explosion must have scared him off,” he mused as he mentioned it to Malic.
Bardulf began looking around for tracks in the brush. Malic just stood in place with his eyes closed. Bardulf kept glancing up at Malic as he looked, getting frustrated. Finally he stopped and turned to Malic. “What are you doing?”
“Listening. Now be quiet.” Malic began to turn in place while he listened. His eyes snapped open after a moment, and he pointed. “That way.”
Bardulf silently questioned Malic, but followed along anyway. It wasn’t long before he heard the sound of a horse, though. They ran forward and found themselves in a small clearing.
The horse was stuck, the reins had become tangled in some brush. He was pulling at them, trying to get free.
Bardulf untangled the reins and stepped closer. “That was quite the explosion, wasn’t it, boy?” He scratched the horse’s nose to reassure him. “You are lucky that I forgot to tie you up in the forest.” The horse nickered in response. “So, what do you say we get back on the road?” Bardulf asked his horse. The reply was a shake of the mane.
Bardulf smiled. He checked all the saddlebags, but nothing was missing. “I’ll return as soon as I can. We have matters to discuss.” He turned to look at the elf.
“Before you leave, what about that parchment?” Malic pointed to the pouch hanging on Bardulf’s belt. “I am curious what it is.”
“Oh, I actually forgot about it.” Bardulf opened the pouch and pulled out the parchment. He unfolded it, and read it out loud.
I sincerely hope you escape my trap, Bardulf. Otherwise, you are not worthy of being the Ranger Lord.
I am returning to my Master to report on Lord Belmont’s death. Don’t worry, though. When that is done, I will return so we can finish our battle, and I can repay you for my eye. We will finally determine who the greatest Ranger truly is.
He finished reading. “No signature at the end.” Looking up at Malic, he wondered aloud, “How did he know I was coming this way?”
“Because he knew that you would answer my request for assistance.” Malic looked back towards the cave. “The tracks left the cave.” He frowned. “He did not return to the cave. I had those markers out before this person crashed through the forest. I have been seeking Rangers for a while now. Did he somehow sense that? Only a Ranger should be able to sense those.”
A thought tickled the back of Bardulf’s mind. “Lord Belmont told me that a Ranger went along on this expedition. It was Calyn Solym.”
“Calyn? You two were always competing.”
Bardulf read through the letter again. “Yes, but I always thought it was a friendly rivalry. If this really is Calyn, then it seems he didn’t think it was so innocent.” He folded the parchment, and put it back into the pouch. “What mysteries did they unearth out in the Wilds?” he wondered with apprehension.
Malic shook his head. “There are powers that have been lost since the ancient times. I just ask that you be careful.”
Wincing with the anticipation of pain, Bardulf mounted the horse. He leaned forward, trying to block out some of the pain.
“Are you alright?”
Bardulf took a few deep breaths. “Yes. I will just be glad when I am healed.” He closed his eyes, and took another breath. “Time to be on my way. I should have just enough time to make it to Ruelinthal’s Edge.”
“Take care, Bardulf.”
Bardulf pushed his horse through the rest of the day, a dull ache lancing through his body as he rode. The forest sped by, and as evening fell he approached the village of Ruelinthal’s Edge.
The most obvious feature was the wall that surrounded the village. It was built by standing logs and setting them side by side. Each log was as tall as three men, and pointed at the top.
The other major feature snaked around the far edge of the village. Bardulf caught a glimpse of it as he approached. To the people of Karathon, it had become known as the Heirslayer River. The legend said that this river killed the heir of the king when he tried to cross it. Bardulf suspected that the tale was just a story, but there was some truth to it. The river rushed through the foothills to the ocean at an alarming pace. Scores of rocks and boulders made their home in the river, creating dangerous rapids that had sunk many a boat.
Ruelinthal’s Edge was built as an outpost in the foothills of the Ruelinthal Mountains. It was the last stop for information and supplies for those venturing into the Wilds. The expedition would have passed through here on their way west.
As Bardulf approached, he saw that the guards were preparing to close the gates to the city.
“Just in time, traveler,” one of the guards called out as Bardulf passed through.
“Is there somewhere I can get a room for the night?” Bardulf asked one of the guards as they barred the doors behind him.
“The Lost Minstrel Inn is what you want.” The guard pointed in the direction of a two-story building not too far away. The door was open, and music and laughter could be heard spilling from it.
Bardulf thanked the guards and led his horse to the inn. He tied the horse up outside and walked in.
The common room that he stepped into was roomy. Tables and benches filled the room, and most of the benches were taken. The minstrel skipped a note and a few of the patrons turned to look. Most did the same as Bardulf, appraising each other out of the corner of their eyes.
Bardulf walked over to the counter where the innkeeper stood, wiping his hands off. He nodded in greeting. “Good evening. Not many travelers come through at this time of night. How can I help?”
“I’m looking for a place to stay for the night,” Bardulf said quietly. He had no doubt that there were ears listening.
The proprietor lowered his voice a bit as well. “I do have a bed or two available upstairs. They are in an open area though. No private rooms available right now, you see,” he added with an afterthought.
Bardulf nodded. “That will work.” He gave a brief glance around the room. “I can take care of myself.” He looked back to the proprietor, whose smile was now gone. “Do you have a stable where I can let my horse rest?”
With a nod, the man answered, “Yes, I can have my stable-boy bring your steed to stables. That’ll be 5 coins for the night, and another 3 for your horse.”
Bardulf placed the coins in the man’s large hand.
“Thanks. The place will be locked up in a couple more hours. I ring a bell before I do to alert those who are out in the town. Your loss if you don’t make it back.” He turned and went into the kitchen.
Inventory: bow, 4 quivered arrows, hatchet, flint & steel, traveling cloak, heart necklace, 80 coins in a pouch, food for traveling, 5 packets of healing herbs, rope, compass, small wooden box of healing ointment
Health: broken ribs, minor burns
What should Bardulf investigate first?
A) Search for the blacksmith that Lord Belmont mentioned
B) Ask about any recent visitors who were injured
Well, hmm. It seems to me that we would very much like to complete both of these before leaving the town, and an inn full of people is a reasonably ideal place to inquire after the injured visitor. Then again, the business with the blacksmith may take some time or need the smith to do something after our meeting before we can leave. Being caught out when the inn is locked wold be foolish, and cutting the meeting with the smith short because we’re worried about same would be annoying. Asking after the visitor raises our suspiciousness profile considerably more than asking after the blacksmith, which argues for smith first. If we did the smith first, we’d like to get back to the inn while there are still a lot of people socializing, to have a decent chance of getting good information.
Whatever we do, it seems best if we leave sufficient time for the other mission — if we don’t find the smith / get visitor information with reasonable speed, to try the other tack. Of course, being not a local, we don’t know how late the night life goes at this inn, or how long it would take us to find the blacksmith.
On balance, I’d go with (B), ask after the visitor, on the grounds that we can meet the smith in the morning (and may indeed have to wait until then regardless of what we want), where we are unlikely to have a good opportunity to gather information on the visitor until tomorrow night if we miss this one. Also, the visitor information route is more likely to yield a lead that we have to wait until tomorrow to follow up on.
I vote B) Ask about any recent visitors who were injured
Since it is already evening, it may be too late in the day to seek out the blacksmith. Plus, it would not be good to get locked out of the inn. I think that it is better to ask about injured visitors.
A. I sense the innkeeper is dodgy – didn’t seem to like the fact you can ‘handle yourself’. Ordinarily I’d say, never get locked out of an inn when there’s beer and good food on the other side. But in this case – I sense the idea of a lock-in might have a different meaning. Or maybe I’m just the suspicious sort… I’d check out the blacksmith even though it sort of goes against what I’d naturally do.
I vote A. Searching for the blacksmith might yield more results than an unfriendly, unfamiliar inn.
I’m going with B, for the same reasons the other B commenters mentioned.