Excerpt from the journal of Hammah Pashar
Life is many things to many people. I look back at my youth and marvel over some of the things I had done, thinking myself immortal as only the inexperienced do. I remember my first real adventure very distinctly. Every sight, every smell, every sound is etched in my memory bringing about the sort of nostalgia that makes me sometimes wonder if the good old days would still be good if I went back knowing what I do now. The forces that shape a person’s experience and perceptions are unique to each individual and, depending on the person, can either make or break them. Castle Whiterock was definitely one of those special places that exerted life changing forces.
I remember that we had just cleared the first level of this foreboding place and took a quick break before heading further into the depths. After taking stock of our objectives, we decided to continue down the stairwell in earnest. Too earnest in fact, as we witnessed our favorite shyster, Wiynn, tumble headlong down the stairwell leading to the lower level. To this day, he will swear that it was all planned, and tell us that we reacted too quickly charging down after him while he was flat on his back. His, shall we call it, creative imaginings of events puts a smile on my face every time I remember one of his stories. Despite the less than graceful tumble, he appeared unhurt and we all had a chuckle until we noticed a slew of Orcs advancing upon our fallen companion.
The holy warrior Cole and I bounded down the stairwell, shields leading and formed a defensive perimeter around the hapless Wynn assessing the situation quickly and it was grim indeed. We were flanked and outnumbered. The Orcs held the positional advantage and had us lined up in their sights neatly like a carnival archery gallery. As the sing song twang resonated from the multiple crossbows being fired, I thought that we were hopelessly outmatched. The fighting was fierce and bloody. We must have been in the good graces of some almighty being, because we won that fight and did not notice any clarions sounding loudly. Of the two doors in the room, we decided to take the one on the right and our resident locksmith, Wiynn, opened it for us.
Not wanting to be surprised again, Wiynn decided to scout the hallway leading from the door to the room at the other end which glowed faintly and radiated quite a bit of heat. Upon his return to our position, he told us that something large was in the other room. We asked him to describe what it was that he saw, but he said that he had never seen a creature like it before in his life. Curiosity got the better of me and I tried to imitate the silent footsteps of my companion. My failure at stealth was all too apparent as we heard deep rumblings from the creature in the other room. The sounds resonated through the corridor, sounding like an attempt at communication. I stepped into the room and saw before me a massive bovine headed monstrosity wielding a javelin in its hand that was more akin to a ballista bolt.
“We can do this one of two ways: the hard way, or the easy way!” I stated boldly to the creature before me. What I can only assume was laughter, came from the creature’s barn sized chest and was immediately followed by a thrown javelin which pierced my side badly. Gritting my teeth, I muttered under my breath “Ok, hard way it is” and advanced into the room to engage the creature. Seeing me advance into the room, my companions made haste to do the same. They slightly balked at the sight of what it was we were fighting but steeled their resolve and came out swinging. It was a glorious battle! Arcane blasts from Karion flew past my head and flashes of steel worked in tangent with each other as Cole and Wiynn helped me surround the beast as it bellowed in rage and pain from multiple wounds that would have felled the hardiest camel.
When the hard fought battle was over, we were all breathing hard and thanks to Cole’s medical expertise, were none the worse for wear. A tiny glint caught my eyes as I bent over the bloody corpse at my feet and extracted a key that was hanging from the creature’s side. Since there was only one locked door, I assumed that this key was tasked with opening it. I offered the key to Wiynn but he scoffed at my offer as an insult to his prowess and examined the lock on the door. He fiddled with the lock on the door for a while, and seemed stumped by the trick to the lock. He approached me and took the key with which he opened the door. We all gave a hearty laugh at this turn of events which was stifled by the grim realization of what was on the other side of that door.
The room could only have been described as a slave pit. We had found the captives we were looking for at last. Misery hung in the air mixed in with the thick fetid scents of unwashed bodies and rotting food. Punctuating the misery were silent groans, moans and sobs coming from the caged pits which lined the floor. We knew what we had to do and burst into action. Cole and I approached the first pit, rope in hand, and lowered it to the floor for the startled but grateful captives. I was covering him with my shield as he tried helping the unfortunate trapped souls to freedom when Wiynn attempted to traverse the top of the cages to the other side. Unfortunately, his footing did not hold and he slammed down, crotch first, onto the crossbar of the cages. We all collectively winced (or is that Wiynnced?) in sympathy for our companion as he plummeted into one of the cages.
While trying to climb out of the cage, Wiynn noticed two elven ladies in the cages beside him and being the rascal he was, turned on the charm. At this point, we noticed some activity across the room on the other side of the cages as the slaver Orc guards became alert to our presence. Crossbow bolts flew at us and of the volley, only one struck me in my shield arm as I was trying to cover the prisoners who were being pulled from the pit by Cole. Karion leaped into action and started blasting the guards with considerable arcane energy that was so potent, it started knocking them backwards and causing more than a few misfires which undoubtedly saved more than a few escaping prisoners. Karion’s immense power however, was dwarfed that day, by his quick thinking.
We were trapped on the other side of the room with heavy portcullis gates between us and the hail of bolts which kept flying our way. Karion spotted a hidden lever in the stonework and yanked on it which raised the portcullis gates and made me grin wickedly on the inside. Covering myself with my shield, I dashed through the now opened gates and attempted to engage the guards. Cole followed closely on my heels and we clashed in the middle with morning star wielding guards who charged at us bellowing curses and profanities meant to intimidate and demoralize. I leapt into battle, shield leading and proceeded to knock the guards into empty pits while clearing a path to the other side. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Wiynn yell something to Karion and throw him an object as he rushed through the door we had just come through. As I turned to see what was going on, my eyes widened in surprise and not inconsiderable shock as bearing down on me and Cole was, well, a bear!
I turned toward the bear assuming a defensive posture, shield in hand, and looked in amazement as the animal barreled past me and into the waiting crowd of Orcs who were just as surprised as I was, but much more frightened as they discovered that they were the objects of its ire. The fighting here seemed to go on forever and my arms were starting to get tired. I thought I was going crazy when I saw the bear leap a good 30 feet to land into the mess of archers that were trying to kill it before it got to them. I noticed a lot of broken shafts from crossbow bolts sticking out of the bear’s hide and felt a pang of sorrow for this unusual battle companion. I was determined at this point to make sure that it lived hoping that it didn’t try to eat me at the end of the battle. I rushed over to its side and started working alongside it to defeat the archers, when the door in front of us flew open and out charged three of the most hideous looking blobs I have ever seen, snapping their jowls while wading into battle.
The bear, in its frenzy knocked me aside with its massive paw and descended upon the disgusting creatures, in a fury of fur and fang. Naturally, I was a bit perturbed by being knocked away from the fight and used the bear’s expansive backside as a makeshift springboard to vault nimbly over it trapping our foes between blade and claw. We had easily dispatched the surrounded minions and were once again fighting side by side when through the open portal we spotted the creatures’ master. An Orc stood there, massive long bow in hand, as he set his sights on the bear and fired.
The shot was unerring and struck my bear companion in the neck as I let out a cry of dismay as a fountain of blood sprayed forth from the fatal would. The bear did not fall over dead amazingly enough, but changed forms into that of one of the elven ladies Wiynn had rescued. I immediately pulled her behind me as a second arrow bounced off my intercepting shield and started my dance of death with the remaining minions in front of me trying to get this seemingly helpless elf some breathing room. The battle tide turned when Cole made his way to us and we decimated the enemies. The elven lady had now changed forms yet again into a giant spider and proceeded to wrap up (Ha!) the fight.
As the dust settled, and we took stock of our situation, I noticed that Karion was no longer by the entrance door which was now open and saw what looked like the remnants of a massive funeral pyre. One of the prisoners, a gnome, told us how to get the rest of the prisoners out and we followed her plan. After getting everyone out, we learned that the gnome’s brother was being held captive in another area of the castle and told her we would rescue him. As we approached the door, Karion was making his way back to us and told us what had happened.
He and Wiynn had seen a large force (presumably the now blackened corpses) heading toward us and Wiynn told Karion to lock the door and dashed through. Apparently Wiynn’s quick thinking saved us from a painful death as it seemed he had trapped the horde in this room and then used the lanterns in the room to burn them to a crisp. It was then that we saw Wiynn trotting back to us nonchalantly as if he didn’t have a care in the world. I looked on in wonderment as he went back to one of the elven ladies he had rescued and pulled out a bottle of wine in quick order. I chuckled in disbelief as the woman was quick to snuggle up with her rescuer and offer physical thanks for his actions.
While we were discussing our plan to rescue the gnome’s brother, Wiynn overheard us and mentioned that he happened on a gnome in another room not too far from where we were now. We told him to lead us there but he told us to stay here and wait for him to come back. We shrugged and he left, coming back soon with the gnome’s brother in tow. We started the process of escorting the prisoners out, and putting the weaker ones on our horses as we made our way back to Phent. Toward the early morning, I was on watch and sparring with Cole so we could keep our fighting skills sharp when we heard Wiynn cry out and point to the tree line. Out of the trees, a glowing being appeared and proceeded to advance upon us with nothing but pure hatred shining in its eyes.
This creature was terrifying, and shamefully I panicked and tried to lead the prisoners to safety away from the abomination which was now approaching. A horrendous wail pierced the morning air and made us all feel bitterly cold to our core. Karion, Cole, Wiynn and our new elven friend were buying me time to get the prisoners to safety and were paying for that time with their blood. The fight was tough. I saw Karion and Cole fall, as Wiynn and the elf fought the creature. I ran over to Cole to do what little I could to take care of his wounds and the elf cast a healing spell on the fallen Karion to bring him back into the fight. Wiynn, kept chipping away at the creature and eventually it dissipated in a cloud with a gut wrenching shriek.
Shaken by this encounter, we made sure that everyone was good to travel and set out on the road to Phent again. I had wanted to get as far away from that cursed area as soon as I could. I still ache when I think of the terrifying visage of the undead creature that almost ended us when we had faced down a veritable army in the castle. I prayed that day to whatever gods were listening that I would never have to encounter something like that ever again. I was so utterly helpless and afraid of the unknown when I was young. Knowing now what I do of my history and travels, I would not have wasted my prayer to the gods. Banshees were the least of my problems.