Table of Contents
The Heart of Darkness
The Weird Occurrence in Odd Alley
A Revel in Rel Mord
The Five Dragon Bowl
The House in the Tree
Cats Versus Rats
Love Laughs at Locks
Cat or Pigeon?
Eneever Zig looked the part of a wizard. His robe was rusty black and appliqued with signs and symbols. The girdle that bound it to his thin waist was likewise covered with glyphs and runes of odd sort. He wore a pointed hat that matched his robe down to showing crescent moons, stars, and similar depictions of celestial objects. The willowy-shaped wizard was adorned with strange jewelry befitting a great spell-worker. Brooches, amulets, pendants, bracelets, and rings were all of unusual design and unknown workmanship. These precious gems bore arcane engravings and were set with weird minerals. A pair of ritual daggers hung from the old sorcerer's dragonhide girdle, as did a metal case that looked to be about the right size to house a wand.
There was no way to determine how many years of magic the old sage had under that girdle, but if one were to venture a guess it would be wise to start with a very high number. His beard was pale gray and remarkably less bushy than his jutting brows. His eyes were a piercing pale blue, his mouth a narrow slit barely visible beneath his bristling moustache. His face was drawn and gaunt, an open confession of many years of suffering.
This picture-perfect wizard entered the tavern and slowly made his way through the crowd, his eyes darting from one face to another. He smiled inwardly as he spotted the two he sought and then quickly made his way across the room to the table they occupied. He sat down and stared at the two men seated across from him. His beard stirred and the thin lips began to open. But before he had a chance to utter a word, the barbarian staring back jumped to his feet, slammed his fist down hard on the table, and loudly exclaimed, "You must be a wizard!" The look on the massive barbarian's face resembled that of a young child seeing his first oli-phant at a menagerie.
"No, Chert, he just likes dressing up," the huge hillman's companion mumbled sarcastically. Then he stood and half-bowed in the wizard's direction. "Our pardon, good sir. My companion is somewhat awestruck by your appearance. We will leave now, begging your forgiveness for the intrusion and banal remarks." The small, leather-clad man grasped the barbarian by the arm as he spoke, trying to pull the giant to his feet. "Come on. Chert! We are annoying this gentleman!" Gord said, still trying to budge his uncooperative friend.
"Hey! Let go of my arm! This is the first wizard i’ve ever seen up close!" the big hillman bellowed without taking his wondering gaze from the figure seated across the worn table.
By this time the other patrons of the Bird in Hand were beginning to stare. The barbarian was so wrapped up in the unusual sight seated across from him that he was oblivious to the attention he was receiving. His companion, however, was not. The slender young thief continued trying to hoist the six-foot-six mountain of muscle from the seat to which he seemed to be glued at the moment.
Throughout this whole episode Eneever Zig remained silent, his eyes betraying no hint of emo-tion, as he stared at the bumbling barbarian and his embarrassed friend.
The hillman hunkered down farther into his seat, resisting the attempt at making him stand. Chin thrust into hands, elbows firmly planted on the worn table, he continued to stare at the gray-bearded man across from him as he shouted. "Get away, Gord!"
"Yes, sit down." Eneever said in a soft tone of voice that, despite its lack of volume, cut through the surrounding noise with a sharp-edged ring demanding obedience. Startled, Gord let loose his hold on the barbarian and slid back onto the bench.
"I am Eneever Zig," the pointy-capped man said to the two. "You are right, barbarian. I am a wizard. And you are Gord and Chert The descriptions I was given match well." The last sentence was uttered in the same, even tone as those spoken before it, but there was a somewhat bemused quality accompanying it.
"Hey! How does a wizard know my name?" Chert sat up straight and scratched his head in a confused, rapid motion.
Gord was puzzled too, but for entirely different reasons. The young thief eyed the spell-caster differently now. trying to discern the man's motives and designs. "Descriptions can err," Gord said, trying unsuccessfully to stare down the wizard. When the spell-caster continued to return his steady gaze without so much as batting a single eye, Gord sat back in an attempt to at least appear to be at ease. "Men can bear the same name. Who do you seek?" he asked casualty.
"A pair of able assistants to accompany me on a dangerous quest."
"That's us!" Chert said, his head bobbing up and down in ridiculous fashion. Gord shot his careless-tongued friend a quick, threatening look. "Shut up. Chert! This is no casual encounter," he warned through clenched teeth.
"Well put, young man," Eneever Zig said, his eyes twinkling with something akin to mirth. "I am not offended by your intrusion, barbarian, nor your unseemly words, thief, because I am in this tavern seeking you."
"What made you think we'd be here?" Chert inquired innocently.
"When I take the time to do research, I do it well," Eneever answered, his tone beginning to take on an impatient edge.
"Why seek us out?!" Gord asked with an equal lack of tolerance, for he didnt like this situation in the least.
The wizard ignored the question and addressed the tavern's proprietor instead. "Barkeepl Bring these two whatever they wish, and be quick!" There was a flurry of activity, and then the wizard tossed a silver noble to the sweating ostler, telling him to keep the change. A small goblet of wine appeared before the black-leathered Gord, and Chert was delighted to find himself the recipient of a huge horn filled with a mixture of stout and ale. Eneever Zig nodded, looked squarely at Gord, and then finally explained: "I am a stranger to Greyhawk, but the fame of its wealth and treasures extends eastward a great way. I come from there seeking a special item, and I am in need of skilled associates to share the rewards."
"And the dangers?"
"Oh, hell! Who cares about dangers?" Chert said, punctuating his question with a loud belch.
The wizard slid his gaze from the black-garbed thief to the brawny hillman. "I quite agree," he said.
"With what? My friend's question or his crude display?" Gord asked sarcastically.
Chert shot his friend a hurt look and the wizard continued, ignoring Gord's remark. "When I came to the city, I made careful inquiries as to able men of fearless disposition who might be a part of a bold undertaking. Your name was foremost amongst those mentioned to me. Chert."
"You know it! I’m the one to handle tough opposition," Chert said proudly, his great chest expanding and a grin appearing on his face as he spoke. Then he leaned over the table and said in a no-nonsense tone, "But unless we get our fair share of the spoils, neither of us are interested!"
"Money is not of interest to me," Eneever Zig said to Chert with a wave of dismissal. "I spent close to a thousand zees just locating you two. This mission is sure to bring a wealth of gold, gems, and other riches as well. You and your associate are welcome to all such stuff. I seek but one thing; gaining it, I am satisfied, and all else is yours."
Gord was not pleased. "Why us? There are scores of capable adventurers in Greyhawk. What made you select our names?"
"Scores?" Eneever Zig countered. "More like a half-dozen of real capability and renown. I need no idling mercenaries in this venture. It is far too important to trust to weaklings and no-talent hirelings such as those who hang around the Foreign Quarter seeking employment. I mean to succeed in my quest. To assure this I am offering untold wealth in return for your fighting prowess. Chert, and such talents as you possess, Gord."
"Count us in!" Chert said, banging his fist on the oaken-planked table.
Delighted, the wizard extended his hand. "Excellent, heroic hillman! Your boldness is to be commended. Still. I note a look of uncertainty on your friend's face. I am in need of both of you, so I will take a moment to try to convince him of my honesty and sincerity in this matter. Agreed?"
"Sure, Wiz — er, Ziggie — go ahead and talk." Chert said expansively. "Only how about another round? I’m going to be doing some hard work soon, and a horn of brew is sure to make me better at it!"
The wizard signaled for another draught of the stout and ale combination and then explained his story carefully, looking at Gord and not sparing details. "I dwell near Syldartown, a place adjacent to the Ferrous Mountains on the border between the Southern Marches and the state of johied. As a worker of spells, I adhere to the teachings of Kabbak, and likewise the works of his sole disciple, Gigantos, are not unfamiliar to me. It was in the latter, and particularly in the veiled references to so-called ‘Mad Archmage’ of similar name, that I first discovered a clue to what I seek. The nature and form of the item I quest after is of no import to you. It is of magical power and, unless one is a dweomer-craefter steeped in the arcane arts, useless. In any case, learning what I did. there was but a single course open to me. Deciphering the clues given, I traveled west to Greyhawk, for in the ruins of its former master's fortress is hidden the prize I seek. Is what I say clear so far?"
"Go on." Gord told the wizard.
"It is well known that the labyrinthine dungeon, catacombs, and maze of subterranean passages beneath the ancient castle once held a conglomerate of monsters and plethora of treasure — all there at the whim of the lord archmage who ruled within. In bygone years many sought to plumb the depth of this underground for glory and riches. And why not? With the master gone, who could say them nay? it's widely known that fabulous beasts and incredible treasures were found and disposed of. Of course, the stream of adventurers bound to become wealthy or die trying was so heavy that not even the fiercest of guardians could forever prevail. Expeditions came, some succeeded, and Greyhawk City grew rich from them. Now, years later, who ventures to the ruins? Few," the wizard said in answer to his own query. "And this is no surprise. Tales told of even greater treasures deep beneath the fallen fortress were shown to be untrue. Vast, empty complexes of passages and chambers, bones, and deserted mazes speak louder than stories told in alehouses."
"You are yarning in such a place yourself," Gord interjected dryly.
"Just so," Eneever Zig said humorlessly. "I have frequented such places as this for a fortnight, seeking vainly for associates able to meet my demanding standards. After paving over sufficient stiver, your names came to the fore. Your repute is high, and if your true qualifications come anywhere near the whispered attributes I have been told, then my — our — venture is assured!"
"What can we hope to find, mage, in a subterranean labyrinth you yourself have just said is bare of wealth but possibly not of undesirable creatures?"
Eneever Zig compressed his thin lips into an invisible line, shaking his gray locks as he did so. "You listen well, young thief, but you hear not. Recent explorers report naught; that is not a statement of condition, but rather their own ineptitude. My information is such that we will delve far deeper than those without such intelligence could ever hope to do, into the very heart of the lightless domain beneath the castle. Many untouched places remain — crypts laden with gold, chests filled with pearls and gemstones. even magical stuff suitable for swords- All of that is yours, all! Only one prize must I have, and will have. My spells and powers and your skills as fighters will clear out any who should think to prevent us from attaining our goal. The fruits of all such labors are waiting for you. Let us off!"
"I'm ready!" Chert bellowed in his eagerness, his eyes shining with visions of hoarded loot.
"Not quite so fast," Gord said, sitting calmly. "What assurance do we have of the truth of your claims?"
The wizard's face darkened at the suggestion that he might be dealing in lies, but he visibly brought himself under cold control again. "I understand. You must hear words which are mere fabrications in order to persuade you to join schemes of uncertain merit. My sincerity, and the truth of my assertions, is demonstrable only in the doing. Yet. I can show good faith. Agree to accompany me, and I will here and now pay over a sum sufficient to make even a fruitless quest worthwhile."
"How large a sum?" the young thief asked suspiciously.
"Ten gold orbs. . each!"
"We are your men!" Chert cried, nearly upsetting the table as he rose and eagerly thrust forth his huge palm. "Come on, Gord, it is high time to stop this useless bantering and be about our questl"
Gord rose slowly to his feet and, against his better judgment slowly extended his right hand. There was something about this wizard that made the young thief more than a little uncomfortable.
The once-magnificent castle could be seen from any vantage point in the city. It was on a high hill about three miles away from the northern verge of Grey hawk. The only road, at one time smooth and easily accessible, had slowly deteriorated into little more than a rutted trail that was seldom, if ever, used any more. Local folk shunned the area, claiming that the things that dwelled beneath the pile of stones came forth at night to waylay the unwary. The land surrounding the castle for approximately a mile in any given direction was a tangled wilderness, save for that to the north of the castle's great mound. There lay a great bog with pools said to be bottomless and mires of deadliest sort.
Gord and Chert had, in fact, been to the deserted ruins before. They had dared the dungeons underneath, and after considerable exploration had decided their time was more profitably spent in other endeavors.
That adventure had begun when, by sheerest chance, the two had stumbled upon the lair of a small group of outlaws. It was a confrontation neither side expected, but Gord's lightninglike reflexes had enabled him and Chert to have the advantage. The hard-fought combat that followed earned both the young thief and his hulking companion numerous wounds. The surviving outlaws begged for quarter and received it from the two. In return, Gord and Chert took all the holdings these brigands possessed in ill-gotten gains. The sum was trifling, but the haul included a map showing a place far below the castle where other bandits had hidden a vast store of loot.
Gord and Chert had enlisted the captive outlaws into their ranks, followed the map, and ended up finding nothing but horrors and disgusting things that haunted the stony tunnels and rooms there. It should have been more than a sufficient lesson for both. But…