D&D Chronicles: Zillah takes the unknown path (and has a good day)

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESI fought a bear, once. That’s how my nose broke and I got the scar. I was only 16, still an apprentice, when my master and I got too close to her cubs. Our fault completely. The mother charged and disembowelled my master before I even knew what was happening. She turned to me, all claws and teeth, attacked my face, then gathered me up and squeezed. I thought I was dead.

But I am a ranger and I’ve studied all the wild creatures. Somehow I found that place of calm and gathered her gaze to mine and miraculously she let me go. I backed away, never breaking that gaze, not even to check for signs of life in my master, and waited for the mother bear to usher her cubs away. When I finally reached my master, he was still alive, although barely. I held his hand during his final minutes and sang his soul to the gods. Then, my cheek half ripped off my face, I staggered a couple of miles to the nearest village.

In the years since, I’ve learnt that a good ranger, even one with a deformed face, can make a living pretty much anywhere. I dedicated myself to the god of travellers and drifted from village to village, until eventually I found myself back home. I knew almost straight away I couldn’t stay…

The Sunless Citadel

Even though it’s dark and musty and unmistakably underground, I’m loving exploring this ‘Sunless Citadel’. There’s not so much ranger stuff for me to do here, but it’s fabulous to see my cousin Schill out from under his father’s thumb, picking locks and finding secret doors. I’m so glad I convinced him to accompany me and Ammonite on this expedition. There’s so much to discover.

Our other companions are interesting. Calwyn seems a good sort. He’s about our age and has clearly seen much of the world, with an impressive range of spells too. Alix, the cleric of Shadrath is harder to pin down. She’s older, and somewhat terse. Powerfully skilled, for sure, but I can’t figure out why they’re travelling together. I suppose time will tell.

We’ve had an eventful couple of days… First there was the treasure we found in that elven tomb. No sooner was that magical ring looking lovely on my finger, than the undead owners of the treasure came out to reclaim their artifacts. We slew most of them, but Alix is now being punished by her god for grave-robbing and has lost all her magic. This means we have no healing — which made our skirmish yesterday with some orcs and bugbears a bit more precarious than normal…

And now we’re about to kick down some old boards blocking up an archway. It looks ancient, like it hasn’t been touched in decades, maybe longer. More treasure beyond?

Rodents of unusual size

Rats! Large ones, like those ones we encountered on the steps on the way down the ravine. They’ve swarmed us in the passage beyond the barricade. It’s a bitter battle. They are not so hard to kill, but there are so many of them! I think Ammonite has gone down around the corner — I heard the clank of armour hit stone. And all I can hear from Schill in the next room is a shout every time he fends off a beast that sounds much larger than these rats.

As for Calwyn… all I can hear is panicked whimpering from the far end of the corridor. I can’t think why he’s not up here throwing his magic at these critters.

I swing my blade and kill another. The corridor now is clear, except for the one Alix has well in hand. Thank Timmeron, I think we’ve killed them all. I rush to Ammonite, who as I feared is bleeding and unconscious. I have a bandage in my belt pouch, and I bind up the worst of Ammonite’s wounds, then sprint to Calwyn. The idiot IS cowering in the corner whimpering. He’s moaning gibberish, face white as a daisy. I grab and try to drag him, but fear has made him strong and he will not be moved.

I race back to Schill, who is facing the giant mother of all rats — at least as big as a horse. We chase it down a hole, and retreat to lick our wounds.

A magical chamber

We’ve returned to the rat cave to see whether there is anything of value to be found. Once the massive rat nest is dismantled, we find gems and coins — and a potion. Schill crawls down the rat hole and retrieves a dagger and a backpack, which turns out to contain a length of silk rope.

We’ve tried to hide the existence of the giant rat from Calwyn, but he’s not stupid. It still hasn’t come out, so we can’t kill it, but we shove the remains of its nest into the hole to slow it down and turn our attention to the only other exit from this cavern. Calwyn seems appeased enough to focus on the chamber beyond.

There’s magic at work here. The rat dung stops abruptly at a row of red dots across the opening, and Calwyn’s magic seems to have no effect. There’s a row of blue dots too, and then two marked out paths of dots. The blue path leads to the side of a fountain with a dragon’s head. The red leads to the left and out of sight. We debate what to do… Will we die if we cross? Who should go?

It’s clear that nothing magical should cross, so I volunteer. I’m not wearing the magic ring anymore. I’m here for adventure, aren’t I? Timmeron, god of travellers, will watch over me.

Zillah steps over the line

Taking a deep breath, I step over the first line. The red line.

The rope the others have tied around my waist unravels and vanishes from my perception. All is silent. I dare not turn around. But I am alive and unharmed. I feel a thrill of excitement.

I step over the blue line.

A disembodied voice speaks to me. Calm, dispassionate, female. The path of wisdom. The path of valour. Or the unknown path… Choose.

I remind myself why I’m here and I choose the unknown path.

I find myself walking towards the fountain, which is no longer dry and dusty, but now brimming with cool, clear water. I yield to the compulsion to kneel before the fountain, which now seems like an altar, and drink deeply of the waters. They course within me, refreshing and vibrant, suffusing me with a feeling of blessed wellbeing.

When I emerge from the trance, I know I have just experienced something profound. Emrys, god of the forests, has claimed me for his own. He has blessed me with enhanced wisdom and intelligence, and bestowed his divine grace on my ranger skills.

A chamber of bounty

I stumble back to my companions to find them beside themselves with worry. I had disappeared from their sight, as had Calwyn who followed me into the chamber. They are relieved to see us. But there is another door in this chamber, and I resolve to look behind it. Surely after my transformation, it cannot harm me. Calwyn, brave as long as there are no rats, accompanies me.

Of the chamber beyond that door I will not speak, except to say we emerge with gifts — whether from the gods or the past inhabitants of this place, I do not know. For me, a new longsword (+2). Braces for my forearms. A necklace with four exploding beads.

Today has been a good day.

The others eye my new accessories — and Cal’s — askance. They are curious and not a little covetous. But I know in my bones that the chamber of bounty is not to be taken for granted, and they trust me and Calwyn when we advise them to leave well enough alone.

We leave and continue exploring the citadel.

***

OK, Ellen here. There should actually be a tiny bit more, but I’m going to break with tradition and save that for the next post. Anything after that would be an anticlimax!

Hope you’ve enjoyed your introduction to Zillah. She’s a bit more outgoing, I think. Or at least she was before Emrys claimed her. And she’s hands down the wisest ranger I’ve played. Will be interesting to see how it all pans out.

For the story so far, read all D&D Chronicles.

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