© 2009, Kevan Hashemi

Voisson Village

NPZ Home
Old Hills
Outland Politics
Mid-West Idonius with Nations Marked


Cast of Characters
The Outsiders
The Duel
Various Outings
Thieving Kobolds
A Letter Home

Cast of Characters

Rikard Le RichSon of Baron LeRich of North CaravelM 20
Ping PongWizard of Noc, Native of VoissonF 24
Nignog GateauxKnight of Gebong, Native of VoissonM 18
Zar QueznelWizard of Noc, Son of ZarquonM 17
Sheriff TromboneBig, strong sheriff of VoissonM 41
Claude BezieuxAdventurer, a big strong fighterM 24
Jacques MusieurAdventurer, a tall fighterM 21
Marc RagenielleAdventurer, an assassinM 28
Philippe EcsisieAdventurer, a fighterM 18
Minuit FistinAdventurer, a wizardM 55
Joe HansonOne-time adventurer, now plumber of VoissonM 36
Jeane MalliusOwner of the Trollhammer TavernM 52
Bradley ButchermanButcher of VoissonM 32
Julia ChildeSheriff of MachayF 46
Helene MalletEditor of the Voisson Village NewsF 48
Ralf MalletBlacksmith of Voisson VillageM 45
Judith Mallet (The Inebriated)Artist for Village NewsF 45
Gene ClairmontWealthy Man of MachayM ?
Table: Cast of Characters. Ages given on 1st May 2482.

The Outsiders

Nignog, Ping, Zar, and Rikard spend the week after the bank robbery resting, recovering from their injuries. They make a deal with Prestor the Prospector. He buys their shares of the load of crystals for 225 gp each, so that he gives them 900 gp in all. Where Prestor got the money to pay them, they don't know. Maybe he was carrying all that money in his pocket all along. He says goodbye to them as soon as he has purchased the crystals and goes on his way.

"I hope to work with you again," he says.

"Us too!" Ping says.

With their money in hand, they go to Machay and buy some new equipment. Nignog trades in his banded armor and buys a set of better banded armor. Ping trades in her leather armor and buys some better leather armor.

Meanwhile, Voisson Village is angry. One reason they are angry is that most of the money they had saved over the past twenty years was stolen in one night from the First Bank of Voisson by an arch-villain called The Elementalist. Another reason is that there is a gang of thieves loose in the village, and there has been since the night of the bank robbery. Some people think it's teenagers run wild. Other people think it's goblins and kobolds who crawled out of the tunnel. Every night several shops are broken into and food has been stolen. And every night another house in the village is broken into and jewelry or clothes or swords and armor are stolen.

And now, a week after the robberies, they are angry for yet another reason. There is a gang of five adventurers staying in the Trollhammer Inn. They are rude and loud and violent. One of them got into a boxing match with a young shopkeeper and bashed up the poor young man so that he has to take a week off work. The adventurers are staying in Voisson because they heard that there is treasure in the tunnel below Old Bess's house. They want to dig down into the tunnel and find it.

It's the morning of the 10th of May, 2482 when Rikard meets his friends in Aunt Mildred's Tea House and tells them how the sheriff and the village council are trying to persuade the five adventurers to leave town.

"You should come right now. Two of them are the guys who were rude to Zar and Nignog in the Spittoon Tavern. Claude and Jacques are their names."

We ask our readers to recall that Nignog's father's name is Claude also, but this is not the same Claude. Claude is a common name in Caravel, just like Jacques.

When our heroes arrive at the Trollhammer Inn, the five unwanted adventurers are standing at one end of the common room. The sheriff and thirty other villagers are standing at the other end. Three of the unwanted adventurers are wearing ring armor. One is wearing leather armor. The last is wearing a gray robe. On his head is a pointy blue hat with stars and crescents on it.

"They have a wizard," Rikard says.

"Maybe," Ping says, "Or maybe just a fake wizard wearing a silly hat."

The biggest man in ring armor is Claude. He's talking now, in a loud voice. "Hah! You think you can throw us out? You can't. This is a public village. We can come and go as we please. We paid for a week's lodging in advance. Not even the landlord can throw us out. What are you going to do about it?"

The sheriff clears his throat. "You boxed one of our young men."

"That was a duel. He accepted. That's not illegal. He was a fool!"

"We won't allow you onto any private property," the sheriff says. "You can't go onto Old Bess's property and dig there. We won't allow it."

"If you won't allow it, then we'll just have to stay here doing nothing for a week. Maybe we can have a few more boxing matches to keep us busy."

"We want you to go," the sheriff says.

"I'll tell you what," Claude says, "You find a few lads brave enough to fight for your village, and we'll challenge them to a duel. If they win, we'll leave. If they lose, we get to dig."

An old man waves his walking stick in the air. Nignog recognizes him as a friend of his grandfather's. The old man waves his walking stick in the air. "If I were twenty years younger, I'd see you outsiders off, I would."

Claude laughs.

Judith the Inebriated, who seems to be only slightly inebriated at this hour of the morning, says, "But who do we have who can fight with professional killers like you?"

The sheriff looks around. He sees Nignog's head above the crowd, and Rikard's too. "They will fight for us!"

The crowd parts so that our heroes are standing in open view. The sheriff points to them and speaks to Claude. "Here are our village champions." He turns to our heroes. "Will you fight for us Nignog? Ping? Rikard and Zar?"

"Um..." Rikard says. "There are five of them and only four of us."

Our heroes huddle together for a moment. Claude laughs again. "Those clowns? We eat kids like that for breakfast. Why should we even waste our time?"

Ping steps forward. "We'll do it!"

The villagers cheer.

The Duel

It is a sunny, spring day with a slight breeze blowing from the north-west. Most of the population of the Voisson is gathered along the edges of the village common. These amount to around two hundred people, including fifty children. At one end of the common, in front of the Old Oak Tree, are the five unwelcome adventurers. Jacques, Claude, Philippe, and Marc stand shoulder to shoulder. Just behind them is Minuit the Wizard. Maybe the villagers don't like the adventurers because they are rude and frightening. Maybe they don't like them because they are from outside the village. The villagers call them the outsiders.

On the other side of the common, fifty paces away, and with the village pond behind them, are the village champions: Nignog the Knight of Gebong, Ping Pong the Wizard of Noc, Zar the son of Zarquon, and Rikard Le Rich.

The two parties are about to fight a duel. Fighting duels is legal in Caravel, so long as both parties enter the duel freely and agree to the terms of the duel. In this case, the terms are that the parties will start fifty paces apart, they will use no missile weapons, and they will not strike after an opponent has surrendered. The duel will be over when every member of one party has stopped fighting, and that party will be the losers.

Ping and Zar have their Circle spells ready, buckler arrangement. Ping has a Poison Cloud ready also, with a sleep stone in place.

"Okay," Ping says, "Are we all agreed? We stand together until they come to us. Zar and I will cast spells until they get here."

Nignog, Rikard and Zar nod. Rikard has cold sweat on his forehead, but nobody sees because his helmet comes down to his eyebrows. Nignog grips his sword tightly. He wants to fight well today. His grandfather is in the crowd, as well as his father and step-mother. Ping holds her Poison Cloud in her hand. Her parents are on vacation, so they are not here to watch. And Zar's parents died long ago, and Rikard's parents live far away, so they are not here either.

Sheriff Trombone is standing on the edge of the common. He has a red handkerchief in his hand, above his head. "Ready?"

"I'm not ready," Rikard says to Zar. "There's five of them and only four of us."

Zar says nothing. He is looking into the back of one of his Circle Spell bucklers, and seeing the side of his face through the back of the other buckler.

"Ready!" Ping says.

"Ready!" Claude says.

The sheriff throws the red handkerchief on the ground. "Begin!"

The villagers are silent. Zar casts his flash spell. The point of the flash, still invisible, moves out from his head at five meters per second. The four armored outsiders move apart across the grass of the common and run towards the village champions. The outsiders have fifty meters to cross before they can engage the champions in hand-to-hand fighting. They are running at five meters per second. After four seconds, they have covered twenty meters. Ping throws her Poison Cloud stone at Claude. It flies through the air.

After five seconds, the outsiders have gone twenty-five meters and they are more than five meters apart.

There is a flash of light and a bang in front of Jacques. The light is blindingly that even on this sunny day. A cloud of sky-blue smoke explodes near Claude, and he must leap and cover his face to avoid it. Despite these terrifying spells, which make the villagers gasp out loud, Jacques and Claude keep running.

The blue smoke drifts across the grass and gets in the way of Philippe and Marc. They slow down and go to their left to get around the cloud. This puts them ten meters behind Jacques and Claude in the race to get to the village champions.

Minuit the Wizard is still standing where he started. He is waving his hands and talking to himself. Just as Claude and Jacques run up to the village champions, Minuit releases a flash, over the heads of his comrades. The searing white light startles all four of the village champions at once, but they raise their weapons to defend themselves, even as the noise of the flash startles the villagers.

Because Philippe and Marc have been left behind, Jacques finds himself fighting Nignog and Ping at the same time, while Claude faces Zar and Rikard. Neither Claude nor Jacques have seen the mirror-like bucklers of the Circle spell before, but Minuit told them not to stab at the mirrors just before the duel began.

Minuit releases another flash, this time a Grand Flash, over the heads of his comrades, and once again the searing white light startles the village champions and dazzles their vision. Philippe and Marc arrive on the right side of the champion's line. Ping moves to attack Claude, because she believes that Nignog can handle Jacques on his own. As she does so, Zar moves behind her and attacks Jacques along with Nignog. But this leaves Rikard on his own on the right, and he is faced with Philippe and Mark at the same time.

Nignog and Zar assail Jacques, and he falls back. Claude stands his ground against Ping, even though the mirrors she carries are terrifying. Rikard decides that he is sure to be horribly wounded in some part of his body that he will sorely miss later in life.

The air around them fills suddenly with a thick, gray, fog-like substance. None of the combatants can see more than a meter in front of them. Nignog and Zar crouch down immediately, thinking it the safest thing to do. Ping backs away and leaves the cloud. She wonders what it is. Could this be Obscuring Cloud? If so, it will float away in a moment, and it is otherwise harmless. Rikard backs away also, and as he emerges from the cloud, Marc is there waiting for him, and attacks him from behind. Rikard turns in time and parries the blow with his sword.

"You blackguard!" Rikard shouts. He attacks Marc with repeated, vicious blows, paying no attention to defending himself. Marc moves back, his eyes wide.

The gray cloud rises up and drifts away. Claude raises his sword. Before he can attack anyone, Zar casts Fear upon Claude. Claude stops and stares at Zar. He steps back. He raises his eyebrows. "No!" he says. He covers his face. Who knows what he sees, but Zar is sure it's scary. "Ah! No!" Claude shouts. He turns and runs away. He almost bumps into Minuit, who has walked up to be closer to the fight.

Zar smiles. What a great spell that is, he thinks to himself. Minuit is staring at him. Oh, Zar thinks, what's he up to? Zar moves quickly to the left and stands up. There is a hiss beside him. A ball of transparent conjured sponge rises into the air. Minuit frowns. His effort to choke Zar with a spell has failed.

Nignog fights with Jacques. Ping attacks Philippe. Zar joins Ping, and the two of them, with their Circle Spell mirrors, drive Philippe back until he stumbles. Ping holds a mirror in front of his face. "Surrender!" she says.

"I surrender!" Philippe says, and drops his sword.

Nignog smashes Jacques sword aside and pushes him backwards. Jacques trips and falls. He, too, is lying on the ground. Nignog jumps forward and holds his sword to Jacques chest. He scowls at Jacques through the openings in his new adamantine helmet.

"I surrender!" Jacques says.

Ping looks back and sees Rikard fighting Marc. He is fighting without caution. She prepares her Enveloping Sponge Spell. This leaves Zar on his own, staring across ten meters of open grass at Minuit the wizard.

Zar feels a twinge in his mind, and a moment of confusion.

"Run!" Minuit says.

Zar does not run, even though, for a moment, he wants to. Minuit is using the Beguile spell upon him. Zar stands up and casts Choke. Minuit steps aside.

"Turn around!" Minuit says.

Zar shakes his head. "No." He casts another choke at Minuit. Minuit steps aside and wipes his forehead.

Ping envelopes Marc with conjured sponge. One moment Marc is defending himself against Rikard, and waiting for his chance to kill Rikard with one swift blow, so foolish is the young man being in his assault against a trained assassin, and the next moment, Marc is falling backwards and floating in mid-air, unable to move, about a meter off the ground.

Rikard holds his sword above his head. "What did you do that for?" he says.

"I saved him from certain death at the hands of our great warrior," Ping says.

Rikard lowers his sword. "Well, I suppose that was the right thing to do." He adjusts his helmet. "I was very angry."

Minuit looks around. He sees that Jacques and Philippe are lying upon the ground. Claude ran away. Who knows how far away he is now, but the Fear Spell lasts for around a minute, so Minuit figures that Claude will be at the edge of the village before he realizes that he was fooled by an illusion. Marc, meanwhile, is floating in the air in what looks like a sponge ball. This young fellow in front of him really is a wizard, unbelievable though it may seem, and a good one too. He sighs.

"You fought well, village champions," Minuit says, "I surrender and concede defeat."

Ping raises her mirrors in the air. The villagers cheer.

Various Outings

One house in Voisson was broken into in the middle of the night in an extraordinary way. Rikard, Ping, Nignog, and Zar investigate. There is a hole in the base of the chimney. Mr and Mrs. Bodine heard noise in the night. They came downstairs. They saw that the back of the chimney had fallen out, and there was soot all over the floor. They covered the hole with firewood and went to bed. The next morning they woke up and Mrs. Bodine's entire jewelry box was missing. The firewood in the living room had been moved out of the way from the inside of the room, not from the outside.

"The thieves were inside the house when we blocked the hole!" Mrs. Bodine says. She wipes her forehead with a handkerchief and leans upon Rikard. He helps her into a chair in front of the fireplace. "And there were sooty footprints about the house, like those of a dog!"

"What became of these footprints?" Rikard says.

Mrs. Bodine stares up at him. "I cleaned them, of course, with my daughter, right away! Pah! To have the prints of animals or monsters in my house."

Rikard frowns. "We shall look outside for prints."

Rikard finds kobold footprints in the dirt outside, and even a kobold bowel movement in a bush.

Figure: Voisson Village, showing sink holes from the Elementalist's Tunnel, and also lines of Rikard's searches for kobolds.

"At least four of them, I'd guess," he says.

Our heroes search the town for the kobolds for the next few days, but find nothing. They are unlucky with the weather: it rains a few times. The kobolds are responsible for most of the stealing, but not all of it. There are some boys stealing things too, hoping to blame it on the kobolds.

On the 16th May, Ping and Nignog decide to go into the Hills of Doom and see if they can get past the green slime. They uncover the pit beneath the road. A veloceraptor is waiting inside, and jumps out. Nignog chops its head off with one blow. They descend into the pit. Ping picks the lock on the door in the pit, and they go down the passage to the chamber of the green slime, holding their luminous stones up high. Ping tries a new conjured wood spell she has prepared. With the help of a conjuring wand, she makes a tunnel of conjured wood within the chamber. The green slime flows down upon the top side of the tunnel and begins to ooze around the end where Ping is still working. She and Nignog back away.

"I need to make the tunnel faster," Ping says. "Let's go home now. We'll try again another day."

When they leave the pit, they are attacked by four kobolds with bows. They struggle out of the pit and Nignog drives the kobolds away by charging them and brandishing his sword. They carry the veloceraptor head home with them. Ping walks in front of Nignog because the kobolds are still firing from the forest. Their arrows bounce off his new adamantine banded armor.

While Nignog and Ping are in the Hills of Doom, down the pit in the road, Zar goes to the pub and asks about them. Jeane Mallius, the owner of the Trollhammer Tavern, tells Zar that they went off to the Hills of Doom. Rikard has gone into Machay Town to see a friend. Zar goes to the bridge of fallen logs. Where are his friends? He crosses over the bridge and wanders down the far bank of the River Boome, looking for the trail that leads to the kobold lair. He walks away from the river. He does not see his friends.

Zar decides to go home, and cuts through the forest. He walks down the gravel bank of a stream. On his right are three long, skinny humans with dog-like faces and ragged clothes, lying upon the ground, sleeping under blankets in the shade. He moves slowly across the stream. When he gets to the other side, he steps on a twig, which cracks. He looks back. One of the skinny humans is staring at him.

Zar runs. He hears barking noises from behind him, as if dogs are talking to one another. He looks back. The three humans are running through the forest behind him. They are running faster than he has ever seen a man run. They stand two and a half meters tall. Their long legs carry them over the ground while their heads stay level. Their cloths flutter behind them. They each carry a two-meter staff for fighting. They are gnolls.

Zar stops. He cannot escape these tall fast-running gnolls. He stands to face them. They separate and run at him from front, left, and right, even as Zar casts his Poison Cloud spell. He throws his bridge ring at the middle gnoll and rams a sleeping stone through it. A cloud of blue smoke bursts out. He casts Enveloping Sponge. As the middle gnoll runs around the cloud of blue smoke, Zar envelopes him in a sphere of sponge two meters in diameter, and the gnoll freezes and falls forward, where he hovers above the ground.

Disturbing though this sight must be to the other two gnolls, they still keep running at Zar. They attack him with their staffs. Zar draws his small swords and defends himself, but the gnolls are fast and tall and their armor is thick. Zar moves back and casts Flash. The gnolls strike at him, but Zar is able to step out of the way and cause a blaze of light in front of the right-hand gnoll, who is blinded, and staggers back in surprise, covering his ears and blinking.

The other gnoll swings his staff. Zar defends himself, but once again, he cannot penetrate the gnolls thick metal armor. He stands still. The gnoll strikes. Zar ducks and releases his Choke spell. The gnoll is nearby, and Zar is certain he will be able to place the ball of conjured sponge in the gnoll's lungs, but somehow he misses. He cries out in dismay. The ball of sponge forms with a hiss in front of the gnoll.

Zar fears that his death is upon him. He has no more fast spells to cast, and the gnoll is too strong and quick for him to fight. If the gnoll keeps fighting, he will surely be overcome. But the gnoll is frightened by the ball of sponge that sticks to his staff and waves around in front of him, unseen, but scratching against his head and chest. He does not want to end up like his comrade, floating over the ground and unmoving. He turns and runs away.

Zar considers attacking the two remaining gnolls, one blinded and one in sponge. But he turns and runs away as fast as he can instead. Half an hour later, he crosses the bridge of fallen logs and sits down, panting. He survived.

Thieving Kobolds

On the 18th May, Ping and Rikard investigate a break-in at the Butcher's shop. Bradley Butcherman shows them the small window the kobolds removed from beside his back door, and the cold chest they opened to remove twenty sausages.

"They took the glass too!" Bradley says, with his hands on his hips and his big, blood-stained apron covering his tummy.

Rikard tracks several kobolds out of the butcher shop's back yard and along a street, but then loses the tracks. The two of them spend the rest of the day searching the area for kobold footprints, until they are rewarded in the afternoon with the sight of tracks leading along a street and through a fence into the garden of Green Gables, an old house belonging to a man who comes to Voisson only in the summer, for vacation. He is not at home today.

Rikard and Ping go to see Sheriff Trombone. They tell him about the tracks. He gives them badges that say "Deputy Sheriff, Voisson" and pins the badges upon their shirts.

"I hereby deputize you to search for the kobolds in the Green Gables garden. If you see tracks leading into the house, you can enter the house also, but don't break anything to get in. You are deputies until tomorrow."

Ping and Rikard are delighted with being made deputy sheriffs. But they don't find any kobold tracks around the house and trees in the garden. The sun sets and they decide it best not to look for kobolds at night.

Figure: Green Gables, the home of a mysterious man who visits only in the summer, when he does a lot of digging and planting.

The next day, the 19th May, Ping and Rikard go to get Nignog, but they find that he is lying in bed sick, and his step-mother absolutely forbids him to go out. They go looking for Zar, but he is not in his conjured wood house.

"He must be hunting," Ping says. "We may never find him."

They find the sheriff in the Trollhammer Tavern and he deputizes them for another day. They hear from Joe the Plumber that he fought off four kobolds through a window the night before with a broom.

"They wanted to come and get some more of my brass fittings, the little devils. They know what they are up to."

Joe the Plumber used to go adventuring himself, although he never talks about what he got up to, and he's known about the village for not being afraid of anything. So Ping is not surprised that Joe fought off the kobolds with a broom.

Ping and Rikard walk to Green Gables, followed by ten or fifteen people from the pub, and the sheriff. Boys and girls come along too, and some of them cross into the gardens on either side. Ping and Rikard look for tracks. They find some near the outhouse. They open the outhouse door.

"Kobold!" Ping cries, for she sees a kobold tail disappearing out of a hole in the back wall of the outhouse.

Two boys scream in the next garden. Five kobolds have jumped the wall and are heading out across the neighbor's lawn, each carrying a heavy sack over its shoulder. Ping and Rikard run after them. Another kobold fires at them from a tree in the Green Gables garden. The kobolds jump the next garden hedge and turn to fire back at their pursuers. Ping casts a Flash at them. The kobolds keep running. Ping and Rikard run after them. She casts another Flash. The kobolds reach the gravel-covered road that leads to the Bridge of Fallen Logs. The kobolds are thirty meters in front of Ping and Rikard. They are joined by their sixth companion, and start running. He has a sack too.

Rikard and Ping are running in their armor, and carrying weapons. They are covering five meters per second. The kobolds are running with sacks over their backs. They are covering four meters per second and they are thirty meters ahead. In thirty seconds, Ping and Rikard have caught up with them. The kobolds run off the road and into the forest. They turn and nock arrows. Rikard and Ping throw themselves on the ground. They listen. They don't hear any arrows. What are the kobolds waiting for? Rikard looks up. The kobolds are fifty meters away, running into the shadows of the forest.

Ping and Rikard run to the Bridge of Fallen Logs. The kobolds are not there. They wait. The kobolds do not come. After a few hours, Sheriff Trombone arrives with some helpers and a picnic lunch. Ping and Rikard have decided to wait until night.

An hour after sun-down, Ping and Rikard are hiding behind a bramble bush at the end of the bridge of fallen logs when they hear and see, by starlight, the six kobolds coming along the road and turning towards the bridge.

Figure: Fight at the Bridge of Fallen Logs. The fallen logs are brown, crossing the River Boome. The river flows between steep, rocky banks. The gravel road from Voisson to Machay passes close-by, and there is a footpath from the road to the bridge, through the clearing made by the felling of the trees. Ping's sponges are in purple in the clearing and on the bridge.

Ping casts Surrounding Sponge. This takes twenty seconds. During this time, the kobolds rush towards the bridge, their sacks over their backs, clanging with metal objects and other treasures. The leader is half-way across the bridge when Ping throws her bridge ring into the clearing in front of the bridge.

Her surrounding sponge is ten meters in diameter. Two kobolds are trapped in it. Three others rush off to one side or another. The leader turns on the bridge and looks back. Ping takes out her luminous stone. Rikard jumps up onto the bridge and rushes the leader.

Ping casts Enveloping Sponge. Her two-meter diameter sphere envelopes the logs of the bridge, but the kobold leader is too quick for it, and gets out of the way. He touches it and backs of.

The kobold leader turns, with his sack over his shoulder, and faces Rikard in the light of the luminous stone. The River Boome rushes by beneath them between its sheer and rocky banks. Rikard can't see the water, but he knows it's deep, and with his ring armor on, he does not think he would stand much chance of swimming if he fell off the logs. The kobold has no weapon in its hands, only a stick at its belt and a bow on its back, and it's small.

"What shall I do?" Rikard says.

"Charge it!" Ping shouts.

He charges. The kobold turns and scrambles over the invisible ball of sponge. Rikard catches up with the little scaly gray-green creatures, with its leather straps and quiver and sack. He grabs the sack and pulls. The sack comes away in his hand and the kobold escapes.

"I've got it!"

Rikard walks back to Ping. An arrow clatters against his back. The kobold leader is firing from the far side of the river. He fires again. Now he shouts in his high-pitched kobold voice, speaking the language of the Western Outlands. His voice is loud enough to be heard over the rushing river. Other voices answer from the forest around Ping and Rikard.

Rikard and Ping move around the Surrounding Sponge and Rikard starts cutting his way through towards the two kobolds that are trapped in the sponge. The three kobolds on this side of the river who are not trapped in the sponge fire upon Ping and Rikard, but the sponge stops the arrows in mid-air. The leader fires from across the river, but few of his arrows hit their targets. Rikard recovers the two sacks from the sponge. The trapped kobolds are scared but unharmed.

Ping casts Poison Cloud and throws her bridge at the place where the three kobolds are firing, which is somewhere next to the bramble bush at the end of the bridge. The kobolds turn and run from the blue smoke, but one of them goes only ten paces and falls down. The other two return and try to help him up. Ping and Rikard charge forwards. The kobolds shout, and an answer comes from across the river. The two kobolds take their fallen comrade's sack and run. Rikard and Ping follow them. The kobolds turn left, go here and there, hoping to lose Rikard and Ping in the dark, but Ping has a bright light, and the kobolds are not fast enough. When Rikard and Ping are upon them, the kobolds drop their three sacks and race away, now fast enough to disappear into the darkness and the bushes.

"Six sacks!" Ping says. "Our work is done."

They carry the sacks along the gravel road to the village. In the Trollhammer Tavern, they find several people up and waiting for them. They empty the sacks. All the heavy stuff that was stolen by the kobolds is there, but not the Bodine's jewelry, nor any other jewelry.

"The leader must have had it in his pockets and pouches," Rikard says.

"Nevertheless," Sheriff Trombone says, "A job well done, Ping and Rikard. You drove the kobolds out of town and you recovered most of the stolen goods."

"And all my fixtures," says Joe the Plumber. "I will give you a day's work as payment for your trouble, some time you need plumbing work done."

"Thank you, Joe," Rikard says.

A Letter Home

It is the evening of the 29th May, 2482. Rikard is sitting in a tub of water in his room at the Spittoon Tavern, Machay Town, in the nation of Caravel. He scrubs his back with a washcloth and sings a song.

"When knight won his spurs, in the stories of old, he was gentle and brave, he was gallant and bold."

Zar is standing in front of the writing desk in the room. Rikard always rents a big room, wherever he stays at the Spittoon Tavern. He makes no secret about how rich his parents are, and he's always happy to share his room with Zar. Tonight Zar is going to sleep on a cot the landlord put in the corner, while Rikard sleeps in a big, soft bed.

"With a shield on his arm, and a lance in his hand, for god and for valor, he rode through the land."

There is a letter on the writing desk, in Rikard's handwriting. Zar stares at the letter. He likes Rikard's handwriting.

Dear Mother,

We arrived in Machay Town today. I hope you have received my letter of the twenty-seventh. I mailed it from Voisson, so it may not arrive until after this one, which I will mail here in Machay tomorrow. Thanks for your letter reminding me of your anniversary this summer on the fifteenth August. Yes, I will come. I would like to bring my friends. I have not invited them yet. Let me know if it's okay to bring them. I thought we could spend a few weeks staying with you, going hunting. I don't want to leave them behind, because I'm afraid they will go off into the Hills of Doom and get into trouble and I'll come back and find they are gone and dead, and I was not with them at the end, like I left Sally behind.

A few days ago some guy in the common room of the Spittoon Tavern, which is where I'm staying now, tried to persuade me that Sally was still alive, a captive of the orcs, and all I had to do was to pay him a hundred guineas, fifty in advance, to get her back. He knew someone who knew the Lord of the Black Tower. Well, I may be a coward, but I'm no fool. And yet I wanted to believe him. I thought how great it would be to give this crook the fifty guineas and pretend for a few days that Sally was still alive, and I'd see her again.

I didn't get angry at him, because for a few minutes, I let myself think that he might be telling the truth. I saw Sally's neck crushed by an ogre. I saw what looked like part of her leg, smoked so it would keep longer, in the ogre's larder. I don't know, Mother, I'm not sure it's good for someone to see things like that. I'm not sleeping that well. Anyway, that's all to say that I don't want to come back and find my friends are dead. Most likely we are going to get killed doing this stuff. I read in Adventurer's Gazette that three quarters of the people who go into treasure-hunting in the Old Hills, of which the Hills of Doom are just a small part, die before they reach the age of thirty.

"Hey, Zar!" Rikard says. Zar looks up from the letter. Rikard is frowning at him. "Are you reading my letter to my Mother?"

Zar shrugs. Yes, he was reading the letter, but it seems as if Rikard is not happy about him reading the letter. Why is that? People are strange. Zar does not have a mother or a father. Maybe if he had parents he would understand. Nignog does not have a mother, but he has a step-mother who loves him, and when he was a child, Ping's mother was like a mother to him. He and Ping are like brother and sister. They have their own room in the Spittoon Tavern, and they sleep in the same big bed to save money.

Zar is staring at the floor. Rikard waves a hand at him. Soap bubbles fall on the floor. "Hello? Are you there, Zar?"

Zar nods and looks at the letter.

Rikard shakes his head. "Oh go on then, read it."

Zar stares at the page. He has read to the end of the first page. He turns the page over and reads the other side.

I don't tell you all this to scare you. I want you to know that I am choosing this life of my own free will, knowing the risks. I'd rather die with my friends than leave them behind. I think my gang is the best there is. We don't fight with one another, only with the enemy. Even though I'm just as much of a coward as ever, I play my part in the group. I think it's my job to be the coward. I may have saved their lives because I'm a coward, and I think they know that.

So, let me tell you about our latest adventures. First of all, after I wrote you my last letter, Nignog and Zar came home to Voisson from Machay, having just survived a fight with ten armed ruffians. That's right: it was ten against two on the road into town. The ruffians wanted Nignog's new adamantine banded armor. Nignog and Zar ran into the forest. Nignog led them down into a stream bed, through a pool, and into a defile between two rocks. There he turned and faced his enemies, with a rock wall on his left and right, the pool in front, and Zar behind.

The ruffians come splashing into the pool. Zar is casting all kinds of spells. He already flashed the ruffians on the road, then while they were running down into the stream, and now again, as Nignog is waiting for the ruffians to close upon him. The gang leader attacks Nignog, and there's another couple of them in the pool, trying to get to Nignog. A couple of others are climbing over the rocks to come at Nignog and Zar from above. But they don't have a chance, really, because Zar can cast eight spells in a row now, and with Nignog to protect him, there's nothing these guys could have done to get the better of the fight.

In the end, Zar enveloped the gang leader and the guy behind the leader, with invisible stuff called conjured sponge (I have described it to you before). Nignog could have cut off the leader's arm at that point, because his arm was sticking out. The other ruffians, seeing as how four of them are blinded from the bright flashes, two are enveloped, leaving only four still able to fight, decide to run away.

Zar and Nignog run out the other end of the defile and come home. I don't think they believed they were going to get through that encounter without Nignog losing his armor. In fact, Nignog tells me he was considering giving away his armor to the ruffians and buying a new set, but he didn't have enough money for another good set, which made him decide to fight. Isn't that funny? He's such a big strong, tough guy, and yet he doesn't get angry when someone tries to steal from him.

The page ends. Zar picks it up. There is another page underneath. He starts to read.

The news from Machay is that Nignog and Zar went to the library looking for books on Elementals. In Monsters of the Western Outlands they read about Fire, Water, Air, and Earth elementals. In the Earth Elemental section, they found a piece of paper with a hand-written note. At the bottom of the note was the four-color sign of the villain known as The Elementalist, who robbed The First Bank of Voisson. The note had a poem in it, which I will write down for you here.

Well, hello intrepid investigators
How diligent of you to find a book
For the secret behind the goblin miners
And within it to look

For what? You may have found something
But to what end, ultimately
No victory over me will it bring
For I know my destiny

Yes, I know an old villain's fate
And of you in it there is no trace
You'll always be a shade too late
And you'll never know my face

What do you make of that? Well, we think it's meant for us to read, so Nignog took it and showed it to the Sheriff Julia Childe. She kept it, but not before Nignog had written out a copy. The next day, they go back to look at the same book, which they had asked the librarian to set aside. His daughter takes it out of a cabinet beneath the counter. Later, they look upon the shelves for other monster books. Three books are missing and a card is in their place. This is what the card said, in large and perfect handwriting. "These I have borrowed, and I shall return them on the night of the gibbous moon. Abacuscraft."

Apparently it's not the first time someone called Abacuscraft has borrowed books from the library. The cleaning lady gets grumpy when Zar asks her questions about how a thief might have got in. The librarian says he was in the streets that night, going back to the library to lock the cupboard, which he says he forgot to do earlier, and he saw ten tall, ragged-looking creatures rushing away from the library in the dark. Some fellow adventurers in the tavern say that Abacuscraft is the Lord of the Hills of Doom. Ping thinks Abacuscraft may be Dunken the Drunken, who we met in the Outlands a few weeks ago, and that the Elementalist may be the Lord of the Black Tower. I don't know what to think. But we are back in town because tomorrow night is the night of the gibbous moon, and we're going to hide out and ambush these creatures, which Zar tells us are called gnolls, and teach them a lesson they won't forget. That's what the sheriff wants us to do. She's going to deputize us for the night.

"This is a long letter," Zar says.

Rikard stands up and steps out of the bath. He picks up a towl that is hanging on a wood stand and wipes his face. "I like to write to my mother. I figure it's like keeping a diary, so later in life I can read these letters to my kids and they will know what we got up to, or if we all get killed, my mother can re-read the letters, and my sisters."

Zar looks at Rikard for a while. "How many sisters do you have?"

Rikard smiles. "Four, all older than me. And not particularly beautiful, in case you are wondering. But I love them."

Zar nods. Rikard rubs his chest with the towel. "Go on. Read the rest. Let me know if I have missed anything out."

Today we explored the library and started reading through old newspapers, looking for articles about the Elementalist and anyone called Abacuscraft. In yesterday's paper, we read about how someone is digging up fresh graves in the graveyard. It happened last week. So the next thing we know, we are wandering into the graveyard, and I find tracks near the grave that was dug up: barefoot tracks, leading deeper into the graveyard.

Now this graveyard turns out to be huge. It's bigger than the town. It goes on and on into the forest on the west side of town, with the trees and the tombs getting older and older as you go further. We walked around a swamp that must have been a pretty pond two hundred years ago, or longer.

Even though the sun was shining up above, it was dark beneath the trees. And let me tell you: these trees were huge and creepy, with the tombs underneath, and little rocky hills here and there so you could not see far. I'm terrified. I'm certain there are undead creatures living nearby, hiding in the tombs. So we're looking for grave-robbers. What kind of person would rob a grave? I hardly need tell you what a state I was in.

We come to a wall of rock with several crypts dug into it. Their doors are stone, and some have cracked. There is a hole in one. It stinks like rotting meat. It's quiet in the forest. I can't hear a bird singing. The sun is near to setting outside.

"Okay," I say, "I'm so scared I can hardly stand up. I really, really, want to go."

You see? That's how I talk to my friends. I'm not ashamed any more. So Ping says, we should look around. Grave-robbing is a terrible thing, think about the young woman's parents (it was a young woman drowned), and so on. Nignog is looking a bit pale. Zar is staring about the place.

Suddenly I see a face in the hole in the door to the crypt. A face surrounded by bedraggled, knotted, filthy black hair. I think it's a man's face, or the face of something that was once a man. The skin is coated with dirt. It's teeth are not human. They are triangular, with points, all of them, and stained. It's nails are long like claws, where it puts one hand around the door. It scowles and hisses. It's wearing rags.

"What's that!" I shout.

My companions turn and look. They see the creature, some kind of ghoulish monster, an undead thing. Ping screams. As one, we turn and run. I am in the lead, because I'm a fast runner, as you know, and when it comes to running away, I'm the leader, and my job is to make sure that we run away in the right direction. We don't want to run away and get lost in the graveyard for the night, now would we? If you're going to run away, you'd better do it right, that's what I say. And I do my job and we get out of the graveyard.

We tell the sheriff what we saw. She shakes her head. "A terrible business. A terrible business. I don't know what to do about it. Nobody will go in there to take care of the problem." She looks at us. We don't say anything for a while, and she's still staring at us.

I shake my head. "Not me. Oh no. Give me gnolls to fight."

That's how we left it, Mother, but I have a feeling we're going back into that graveyard.

Say hi to the family. Let them read this letter if they like. I want them to have the news. My respects to Father.

Love, Rikard.