You who are even now sitting rapt with attention to hear of the legends of Geminara Locke straight from the source herself, let me be the first to say how humbled I am by your devotion to my success.
Let me also say that I—the greatest traveler, adventurer, and legendary tomb ranger to have ever lived in this or any other age!—would be nothing without you. I thank you from the bottom of my generous and heroic heart.
And for those readers faint of heart, beware! The events laid out within are taken directly from the pages of my diary and yield a meticulous recounting of the harrowing circumstances I have survived through wits, guts, and no small amount of brains. Any with weak constitution should heed this warning to set this book aside now or face the consequences of reading such an incendiary narrative…
But for those readers of my own ilk… may you rest easy knowing that your purchase of this fine volume of epic tales shall surely guide you in your own Grand Adventures should you have the courage to embrace your destiny – as I have.
“WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE?” was the question I was finally able to ask when at last our mutual foe was hunted down across the winding back alleyways and treacherous rooftops.
I stared at this grouping of murderers before me and felt a keen sense of confusion at how this night, the night of Firetime, at the greatest Festival of Spice yet, could have gone so horribly wrong.
It started off grandly as I had just sold the last of my wares from my previous expedition (see The Crypt that Never Was) and was gifted a fine cask of Western Spine Ale from an admirer over at Krak Mordraw, the Dwarven encampment. Knowing that to leave such a fine ale unfinished would be a dire insult to my new diminutive fan, I valiantly managed to finish the whole of it (using an ancient technique taught to me by the Monks of Cha’Ug) before he had even turned back from his conversation with another passerby.
“Thank you my friend, what a wonderful gift you have given me!” I said as I clapped him on the steel-clad shoulder, “What was it you said your name was again? Wait, no, don’t tell me I remember- Gaard! Thank you again, Gaard, it is simply always a pleasure to meet an-” At this I released a mighty belch (a common sign of appreciation in Dwarven), but sadly my admirer had shrugged away from my embrace and had his attention diverted elsewhere.
My senses still keen, for even the strongest brew cannot dull my natural intellect, I knew at once that something was amiss! The crowd swelled around me and I heard a noise – a KABOOM, and a great big KABOOM again!
Why it was the Krak Mordraw Ninth Night Fireworks display! Known for being more and more extravagant and more and more elaborate each time they are displayed at the end of Wheldrakes “Bazaar of the West”! And this year, dear reader, would be remembered above them all…
The light show was simply stunning, but alas I cannot describe it to you, for I was immediately drawn to a far more curious sight. For there was a MUMMY wearing fresh clothes lying on the ground at my feet. Or rather it was what I thought was a mummy, for you see I have seen so many of them in darkened tombs and ancient passages (see the short story compendium “The Dark Tombs and The Ancient Passages”) that my mind leapt straight to the conclusion. Sadly, it was not a mummy, but only the first of many to fall that fateful night to the Poison Plague.
For you see there was a dark hand at work that night, one that eluded even my sharpened intuition, and as I stood befuddled by the sight of the denizens of Wheldrake’s fete falling one by one into the arms of loved ones with their flesh withering away in a matter of minutes… it was then that Lady Fate played her fickle fiddle and placed the dastardly villain within my grasp!
What I had mistook for a weathered corpse of ages was in fact only moments ago a young human lad, and his father, distraught, picked up his fragile frame and rushed past me. I galantly followed, though it seemed as though the world tilted beneath my legs with every step (from heartache at such a terrifically saddening sight), and when I moved to help part the swiftly swarming passersby to help the grieving man seek shelter I was suddenly joined by more of my heroic ilk – or so I thought… And perhaps still do…
The first I saw was disarmingly beautiful, an elf with fair hair almost to the shade of snow but layered with every pale color of the azure spectrum. Her eyes, huge saucers of sky that seemed to take in all the world at once, and her figure swathed in silks and what looked to be sticks and twigs and such. The second, equally fair though human, covered in black leather with darkened spikes and weaponry tucked into every corner of his personage, with a focus that would rival a wild bowerbird. These two I noticed first, for they were as quick as I to act upon this strange new information.
The elf, poor thing, thought to try and cast spells of healing upon a newly fallen man who collapsed upon his friends upon a nearby bench. It was to no avail. The sharp-strewn human rushed to the side of the man who once held the body of his young boy in his arms… but now held only scraps of cloth as the lad’s body collapsed completely into naught but ashes.
I pause here, dear reader, to remind you that what you read is the truth of the encounter. One moment there were grand festivities… the next… a devastation that would shake the foundation of each sentient creature’s very soul. Across the whole of Evindale, a greater tragedy could not have hit so many innocent, so quickly… for the poison targeted the weak, invalid, elderly… and the very young. While those who loved them stood in shock as the unthinkable devoured them wholly within minutes of their final breath …unto husks, unto dust, unto naught but memory…
I knew I had to act decisively! There was no helping those who were already stricken, but there must be some source of this foulness – some villian who, even now, watched as their vicious and vile deed unfolded. I scoured the crowd searching for any who seemed to take undue enjoyment from the event, for you know (if you have read my tales before) that the particularly dastardly ALWAYS remain at the scene of the crime to gloat over their success! However, my eyes laid upon another figure, one that I recognized instantly as particularly heroic for of course one kind likens to another as they say. He was tall, human, Mutvian (do not hold that against him) and clad in shining armor emblazoned with a starry symbol and a diamond wreathed in flame! He, like the other two, seemed at a loss for what action to take next… But I could tell he was ready for action and simply needed, like the others, a strong leader to bring clarity to the situation.
I, faithful fans, was ready to oblige. For although you know that in my epics before I have been known to be a solitary adventurer (see the Bardic drama “Lone Ranger”) I had recently found that the road I traveled too often contained far too few heroic walkers, and that there are devastatingly too few courageous countrymen to help take up the mantle of responsibility when danger comes calling! It was these thoughts that I had begun to ponder even before the events described in these past paragraphs, but only in this singular moment did I crystalize what my true dream was… I would gather up a group of nascent adventurers and nurse them into full fledged heroes! With my words of wisdom, and purity of spirit, I knew that I could make clear the path of righteousness for the next generation (just as I have now done with you, by including you in my breath taking tales, though certainly you would benefit far more from my tutelage courses in heroism 101 which you may apply for by sending a raven with 7 gold to the port town addressed in the back pages of this novel).
Clarity indeed, did I bring forth, both for my own goals suddenly within reach and for the goals of these blundering folk who sought to stride upon my well-worn path of Adventure! For in that moment some pure fool spoke aloud that they believed that the ale was to blame for the poison now spreading rapidly, since we happened to be standing near a fine establishment of liquor procurement. Now I, of course, knew very well that this was untrue – through the experience of having drank quite an amount of the various ales to offer only mere hours before (though my constitution is naturally more robust I must admit). However, this simpleton’s assumptions procured from within the crowd a reaction that triggered my finely tuned senses, for there was a single personage who heard the words “it must be in the drink” and smiled…
Her sharp teeth, glinting in the bursting light of the continuing explosives show, belied her lack of empathy at the startling situation unfolding around her. Also her facial tattoos which filled around her eyes and mouth made her complexion one unmistakable with villainy! At once I knew that she knew something that no one knew and I needed to know more.
I moved to entrap her, and possibly startle her into immediate surrender and confession (as does sometimes happen with those who recognize my visage and know that their luck has run out), but my new compatriots finally noticed her starkly contrasting attitude and made bold moves to attempt to capture her and thereby gave away the game I had set into place. But, of course, this did not worry me for I am a woman of many plans and can adapt to even the worst of circumstances. A chase was had!
The scoundrel bolted – attempting to flee the scene, and forsooth I gave chase, my as-yet unknown counterparts running alongside me, like a wolf pack having gained a fresh scent. And as I led the way, weaving through the massed crowd by using my proficiency in The Dance of Drunken Dragons, the three new heroes followed suit and soon we chased her out of the main square and down the alleyways of the East-West company marketplace. Leaping obstacles, bounding bridges, and scampering up the sides of buildings – she finally took to the roofs to escape my sight.
Foolish choice! For as you, my loyal followers, know very well, some of my very first adventurers were rooftop-based!
I bounded easily to the roofline using my trusty grappling hook, avoiding the slipshod tiles that would loosen and collapse under a less agile sort. My suspicions of the heroic capabilities of my compatriots were instantly confirmed as they too found purchase on the roofline beside me (granted the armored bloke took a bit longer and didn’t seem as steady, but it’s the effort that counts!)Thusly the four of us were hot on the trail of the malevolent blackguard, following the path of broken shingles up to the peak and then back down again as she continued her escape by leaping to the next building… which is where her goosechase met a precipitous end.
Here is where I met the final member of the rag tag assemblage of survivors who had been drawn to my champion’s cause – or so I thought. For quite sadly this was where I realized that I would have a very long journey ahead if I wished to turn these talented youngsters into True Adventurers (and albeit understandably since we had not yet exchanged a single meaningful word let alone the first lesson in my trademark Code of Heroism)!
From out of the alleyway below came a flash of light, for our group had been followed surreptitiously by an elf with ashen skin, jet black hair, and a look in his eyes that told of a deep wound within his soul -carved by a very sharp edge. It was he who had unleashed a bolt of energy that struck the madwoman as she was mid-leap. Like a rag doll thrown by a tantruming child, she fell abruptly and slammed her skull upon the side of the building, sliding limply to the dirt and leaving a schmear of black liquid on the side of her face and all along the brick.
Looking to my left and right, I realized that the pale elf and the spikey human had readied weapons and incantations themselves that looked like they would not have aimed to wound… I tutted to myself. What a shame, that such instant violence was their modus operandi. Truly, I blame society, for the world has been a dark and terrible place and many have had to resort to drastic measures to protect themselves and those they care for. Which is exactly why in that moment my mission crystalized: with the fateful words “WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE?”
The others had jumped down from the ledge to join the newcomer, and surrounded the now lifeless body of the culprit, even picking through her pockets. Ick. (I shudder at touching dead bodies… unless they are a very very very very very old, of course) These four, so very different in appearance, seemed not to know each other and now – as I asked the obvious question – it appeared they did not even know themselves, since not one answered my question.
My mission for my next adventure had become clear indeed, and would prove to be the most difficult challenge I had ever and perhaps will ever face… I would need to help these proto-protagonists find their true purpose by taking charge as their leader and shoving them down the path of HEROISM!
First stop on the Road to Heroism is to, naturally, get on the road! Literally. Which is why my new troupe immediately followed my lead and took to the street again, abandoning the body and only just barely avoiding the cloud of dark gasses that was sweeping down upon Wheldrake’s festival grounds. It was clear to me now, and I graciously informed my new followers, that “The fireworks were poisoned! Do not breathe the smoke cloud or you’ll turn to ash like-” I snapped my fingers (dramatic gestures help important lessons stick).
The five of us, still strangers to each other, could ill afford to take the time for introductions when so much suffering was still saturating the citizens. Thus I hatched a plan that we seek help from the only section of the festival that would have avoided any part of the fallout from the fireworks – that area filled with folk who don’t deign to discuss with Dwarvish sorts. Why the elves of course! They would have healers and magic and elvish wisdom, far out of harm’s way in their enclave in the trees across the Darbalt Run known as Iri L’il.
Here in our tale is a beautiful example of how in-tune my pupils had already become with me, for the elven blue-haired lass spoke before I had voiced the thought just described, and suggested the exact idea! This was certainly a good sign, although not such a good sign was how the rest of our party was staring up at the roofline for some strange reason. Perhaps they were reflecting on their recent actions and how they’d bravely followed me up those heights only moments before, and how shocked they were that they could plump the depths of their courage to such extent when lead by my shining example. I smiled, knowing that a simple roof chase would be nothing compared to what I would eventually show them of my prowess!
“Keep sharp, comrades.” I reminded them, “Do not let yourselves be distracted by death or fear or fear of death. Come, let us sally forth!”
To get to the forest, we had to navigate down the road and across the bridge. Now those of you who are devoted patrons of my novels will know that I am welcomed among the Elvish community with open arms, not an honor given to all who are half-human (I like to think that I’m more half-humor, ha ha!) and as we approached the elvish guard who had blocked the path into the trees I knew that I could easily identify myself and gain us passage. However consider this, how would I be able to assess my new disciples’ skills if I took all agency from them? Nay! I had to start letting them prove themselves at every opportunity, and this little transaction was the perfect training ground for a little social tact. One false word and we would be banned from the premise…
Unfortunately even as my Mutvian friend began to utilize charms… as best he could poor thing… it seemed my reputation had proceeded us, for we were shortly joined by an elf in richly embroidered flowing robes who stood with a stature that belied his important nature. He had been sent to intercede and invite me, and my pupils, to have an audience before the highest of grand oracles herself. I graciously accepted and motioned for the other four to stay in tight formation as we were granted entry to Iri L’il.
As we walked into the elven encampment, my newfound roguish student – the scowly one covered in black spikes, not the murdery one with the sad eyes – informed me that he had seen something earlier, after I had instructed him to keep an eye out, and that it was a mysterious figure who appeared to be sucking dust from the dead of Wheldrake. Now this sounded incredibly odd to me, but villainous actions could never truly make any sense to one so full of heroic thoughts as myself.
This figure, my spiked-clad fellow said, was pale as death’s skull, but with flesh and pointed ears and hair. He continued by saying that this figure had given him the chills down to his soul, and had simply disappeared within the blink of an eye after being noticed. I immediately remembered: I too had seen this figure! Only the strongest of warlocks could it have possibly been, to wipe my mind of his presence in such a thorough fashion! My skin crawled, for one of my greatest dislikes (besides vermin, ugh!) is to have my mind meddled with. Thankfully it seems as though this pale-skinned poisoner underestimated my foundling follower and had left his memory untouched. What fool! For now that my novice had reported the sight, I could recall his ghastly visage in picture perfect detail – and I swore that I would not rest until the cad had been brought to justice!
Our guide, robes still flowing magnificently, had brought us to just outside the Oracle’s hut by this time- and here was where yet another bright young apostle awaited my future tutelage!
This one, unlike the others, was quick to stand and take my hand upon being introduced. Sweeping a leg back and gazing into my eyes with adoration as he bowed low before me, the handsome yet hairless monk introduced himself, “M’lady, I am Ja’Fi Mayu, and I am humbled to be before one of such stunning visage as yourself!”
I should note that it is a common side effect that gentlemen, and gentlewomen, and gentle-identifying people will very often fall in love with me at first sight. Much like one falls in love with a gorgeous, once in a lifetime sunrise! Meeting a true life hero can be downright life changing for some, and I believed it to be the case with Ja’Fi as he barely paid a whit of attention to the rest of the group as they made their introductions.
“Tamberil, kind to meet you” the elf with moon-pale skin and sea-blue eyes spoke kindly as she began introductions.
“Zeli Schaede” the weapon-sharp fellow with hawk-like attention acknowledged Ja’Fi with a nod.
“…Hallion.” The shadow-skulking lad with the haunted resting-expression muttered, “Hallion Rhys.”
Lastly came the turn of the Mutvian-mountain-of-metal, who was staring at the tent flap to the Oracle’s hut and not paying us any attention.
I graciously stepped in, “and that’s Gravel!” I frowned for a second, “or was it Gerbil…”
Tamberil coughed politely, “His name is Gavriel, dear.”
“Really?” I raised my eyebrows in shock. (To this day I’m still not certain of his true name. That’s the problem with those strong-but-silent types.)
Our elven guide had returned from his meeting with the Oracle and ushered us to go inside, “She wishes to behold you, please enter.”
The poor paladin suddenly looked as though he’d swallowed a mouthful of that poison smoke, his expression was soured so. He even pulled his shield up between himself and the entry.
“Gavel,” I went to his side, patting him nobley on the forearm, “my boy, fear not! I’ve dealt with oracles and soothsayers, fortune tellers and swamis, they are an innocuous lot. But if she is able to provide us with the help we seek – then any danger should be braved with open arms!”
As true as my word, I stepped forward to lead the others into the darkness just beyond the entry. My bravery inspired the others who lined up behind me to find a cautious seat on the floor of the hut.
I remembered the words of our guide, that she would wish to behold us, but looking around in dismay all I saw was a small brazier with embers dully burning. I sat close to it as possible but I still doubted the the Oracle would be able to notice me there. Tamberil could see my dilemma and instantly provided a solution! (Such an inspiring pupil) She placed a hand upon my shoulder and illuminated my short leather sleeve with a brilliant white light that instantly allowed me to survey the scene – and more importantly it meant the Oracle would now be able to behold me, as requested! (Naturally the others, now taken under my wing, could remain in shadow as I would fully represent them in our heroic goals. Such is the duty of all leadership.)
The Oracle, on the other hand, was… not so wonderful to behold…
Hag would be more accurate. She crouched low, wearing layers of thin grey robes, her hair piled in a tangled mess draping down her shoulders and in front of her face. She, and honestly I assume “she” based off the voice since the body was naught but rustling rags to my eye, moved her arm as if it were a separate thing from her and used it to pick up a large shining golden platter. This platter was piled high with red gemstones, marvelously glinting in my light, and I tell you that for a single half second I imagined that she was to simply give us these as a gift – to perhaps help our future journey? Of course I would have had to magnanimously turn down such an offer, one cannot simply take precious gems from one covered in dried mud.
But neither of these actions took place for, like a mirage, the gems melted into the form of a black rabbit. The creature wiggled it’s nose at us, it’s eyes the same red color as the stones, and appeared to not have a care in the world suddenly being surrounded by creatures not native to its forest habitat.
The Oracle then started ranting in tongues, using her other arm to light a pungent incense burner and fill the confined space with thick tendrils of smoke. I dared not to look away for it is known that Oracles are known to attack those weak of spirit… (see “The Outraged Oracle” issue #7 of 9) nay I watched firmly even as she proceeded to grip the hare by it’s long, soft ears and in a FLASH she had gutted the thing.
The steaming entrails splattered back onto the platter as the waterfall of gushing blood was added to the noise of her chanting! It was then, as my comrades looked away (I kept my gaze firmly on hers) that I could finally understand what she was saying:
“Brave adventurer, your actions have not gone unnoticed… a dark force is growing like a rot upon this world… his face you know, and his fouls deeds you have borne witness to… he has marked you for DEATH!”
A tightness clenched my chest, for in that moment I accepted a truth which I had been only barely aware of previously this night. Now it was clear as day – the world needed saving, and it needed Geminara Locke to save it!
Just as soon as the revelation hit, the Oracle ceased to speak and lifted the platter to slurp the rabbit’s entrails into her open gullet. I shuddered at this and the spell was broken! The Oracle’s servant from earlier, sensing that the wisdom had been imparted, stepped into the tent and sagely bowed (an indication that we should depart). I was more than happy to oblige as I did not wish to find out what would happen to the rest of the rabbit’s corpse…