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Library: Old Bard's tale

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Author: Bleezuz
Date:Nov 29 2002

It was a dark and rainy autumn evening, but inside the Inn of the Four winds
it was cozy. A huge fireplace brought warmth to the large main room of the inn
where several  parties were sitting at the tables.  In the most remote corner,
a group of five was huddled around a small table discussing about something. 
This group consisted of a dwarf, obviously some kind of a fighter, a human
with holy symbol of Tarmalen around his neck,  an elf wearing robes of mage
and a sly looking hobbit.  At the head of the table sat a young, well-dressed 
merchant with a rolled up parchment in his hands.  Despite of the noise that
all the patrons caused, the bunch at the corner table was speaking in hushed
voices.

"So..you claim that this scroll of yours is a map to dragon's treasure hoard."
said the elf.
"And you're willing to give it to us..for a price?" continued the shifty-eyed
hobbit.
"Indeed.." the merchant replied "and I'm not asking for much, just one item
that rightfully belongs to me."
"Ah, naturally", the dwarf said sarcastically. "If you ask me, this whole deal
doesn't sound very convincing."
"At least you could let us see that map before we make any decisions", the
priest said.
Very well" the merchant said and feigning hesitation opened the scroll to the
table. "There it is.

As everybody stood up and leaned in to get a good look at the map they they
suddenly heard a hoarse voice  behind them. "Good evening gentlemen, wanna
offer me a dinner? I'll get a full stomach and you'll get to hear a fantastic
story."

The group turned to face an old, ragged looking man. "Shoo old beggar..Can't
you see we're busy? We have no time for your tales." grumbled the dwarf. The
young merchant however surprised everyone as he clapped the old man at back
and offered him a seat at the table. Some food was ordered and when everyone
sat down the old beggar spotted the map. "Aie!" he shouted and looked quite
pale. Cursing, the hobbit started to roll the parchment but the elf stopped
him.  "What is it old man? What spooked you so much" he asked.

"That map, I've seen it before..long time ago" the beggar replied. "And it
doesn't bring me pleasant memories."
So it's a real map?" asked the priest and continued "A map to..
"Dragon's lair, yes" the beggar said in a fearful voice.

Suddenly everybody was listening more carefully.
"You'd better bring me some beer, if this is the story you want to hear
tonight" the old man said and sighed. Short time later he had a tankard of
strong Shadowkepian beer in front of him and so the tale telling begun.

"It happened over four decades ago. I was a young bard and back then my songs
and tales actually contained some might and power, other than the entertaining
value of course. I did belong to a small adventuring group, very much like
this party of yours. We were young and full of confidence or perhaps young and
foolish is a better description. Still, our group had many adventures and
those were relatively successful. We stayed alive and gained bunch of magic
items, lots of experience and some fame, life was good.

Then..one day, this thief who had just recently joined our group showed us the
map. Yes, the very same map as this one on the table or an identical copy. I
don't think he ever really explained how he had acquired the map but the thief
was certain that it was a real deal and would lead us to dragon's lair and
it's treasure pile. Sadly, nobody ever bothered to question the method we had
gained the map, we were so eager to get going as mountains of gold and other
loot waited for us! We prepared hastily for the trip and left soon after.

We travelled north towards the colder climates for several weeks, crossed the
great river and continued to the  land of barbarians. The lair we were seeking
was on highher slopes of certain mountain, well hidden from casual wanderers.
We saw this mountain from afar, raising ominously at the midst of the plains
we were walking.

Nothing bothered us on our trip, the barbarians we encountered let us pass
peacefully without any problems, we tried to talk with them and ask about the
mountain but they were clearly fearful and wouldn't say a word about it.

Soon, we had reached the base of the mountain and started to climb up. We
didn't run into any trouble, the mountain seemed to be devoid of any life save
for a few scrubby tree here and there. At this point we were already quite
nervous but we continued our journey. I didn't realize the reason for our
anxiety until much later for it wasn't any event that made us nervous..it was
the lack of any trouble. Everything had been too easy so far and for any
adventurer that's a sure sign of great danger ahead.

After a few days of climbing we reached the spot where the entrace to lair
should have been and indeed there it was, well hidden inside a large crevice.
We weren't going to back down at this point anymore so in we went, our thief
taking the lead this time. We expected to find some nasty traps and dragon's
slaves guarding the cave but found neither. We wandered around the lair trying
to find the main chamber and the dragon's resting place. The place was a huge
maze of tunnels, easy to get lost into but we made maps and carefully marked
our route by drawing chalk marks on the walls.

Eventually we stumbled out from the maze into a huge cavern and what a sight
it was. The cave was full of piles of gold, platinum and mithril, magic items,
swords and armours. There we stood silently and gaped in awe, no one dared to
say anything. Something was missing.. the dragon, there was no sign of it. We
didn't move for a several minutes, surely the dragon couldn't be far away. But
after ten minutes of waiting we finally dared to take few steps further into
the big cave. Still no dragon. Finally our greedy dwarf warrior couldn't
contain himself any longer, he ran forward and dived to pile of gold. Others
soon followed the example, only I and our thief stayed behind. Something was
horribly wrong, I just knew it.

Unfortunately, I was right. The map, the journey, the mountain and now that
cave, everything had happened too easily and we were about to learn why. I
took a few steps further glancing nervously around and started to examine one
pile of interesting looking items. Suddenly we heard a thundering laughter. We
looked around in panic, most of our party was caught totally off-guard because
their attention had been in the riches. Then we saw it. Our thief was no
longer a human but something else. His mass was rapidly growing, changing
shape and colour. The transformation took only few seconds and then a huge red
dragon stood in the cave. "THIS HAS BEEN MOST AMUSING." the dragon roared "BUT
NOW IT'S TIME TO END THIS!". I dived for cover as I heard the dragon draw
breath, the others were less fortunate and were quickly burned to death by the
power of the fiery dragon breath. I tried to quickly think of some spell to
get me out but I panicked and could only think of one. Luckily it turned out
to be just what I needed. I created a stinking cloud of gas around the dragon
causing it's eyes to water and making it cough uncontrollably. I took this
chance and quickly darted past it into the tunnel where it couldn't follow me
in dragon form.

I ran like hell my heart beating faster and faster. Luck was on my side that
day, I had been the one holding the map and our chalk marks on the walls
helped me to find out fast. After that, I took a small break to catch some
breath, the dragon fear was starting to wear off but I was still immediate
danger. I searched my backbag for a certain scroll, scroll of recall that
would take me off from this cursed mountain, I hastily read it and teleported
to safety.

That trip ended my adventuring career, from there on I have only told tales
about my adventures but this is the first time I told anyone about this
unfortunate voyage. Of course I had to do it after seeing that map, to warn
you. I have often wondered why the dragon was playing with us like that, but
in my years of travelling and wandering I've heard stories about one dragon
who likes to lure foolish adventurers to his lair, only to slay them there and
add their equipment to his treasure piles. Maybe it's some sick game of their
kind, to first pose as a friend and then suddenly strike from behind. Who
knows the ways of a dragon. "

And so the old man finished his story and started to take a sip from his
tankard only to notice he had already drained it empty. Shrugging, he got up
from the table and prepared to leave. "I hope you have enough sense to forget
you ever saw that map now that you've heard my story." he said.
"To forget?!" bellowed the dwarf "After hearing about those treasures dozen
dragons couldn't keep my away from that mountain!" The other adventurers
nodded in agreement, apparently words of warning had fallen on deaf ears. The
treasure part of the story seemed to be the only one they were interested in.
Resigned, the old beggar sighed and left the inn. 

He hadn't made it far when he heard someone call his name. He turned and saw
the merchant from the table.
"Don't worry." he said "I believe your story." 
Ah, maybe you could persuade them to forget the map and the mountain.
"I could do that." replied the merchant "But that wouldn't be fun, would it?
You see, it was I who gave them the map." he continued and smiled.

The old man's eyes widened in horror as he realized who he was facing, he
opened his mouth to scream but it was too late. The dragon's hand grabbed his
throat and with a one swift move snapped his neck. Humming contently  the
dragon in disguise threw the corpse to nearby bushes, turned around and
started to walk back towards the inn. "This new group of adventurers didn't
look like much" he mused "but they should provide enough entertainment for a
while. Just like countless fools before them."



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