The Rod of Ruin

Chapter 3

Winterhaven

Amon had left the Inn early and gone, Light Above knew where, but Valsharress would not waste the day looking for him. She was too curious as to the possible magical properties of the staff she had liberated from the Kobold Mage. And so, De-Val and Grumble in tow, she inquired of the Inn Keeper of Rafton’s if there were anyone likely to be knowledgeable about such things in town.

The same woman that had served them previously was again behind the bar, and Valsharress briefly wondered if there were any other staff at all, and if this woman ever got any rest. But she was keen enough to help them with their inquiry.

“There is Sister Linora, at the Church of Avandra.” she answered, her voice wavering much less so talking to the strange woman as it did the huge automaton who had yelled at her the other day. Don’t stare at it! She thought, her eyes darting back to Valsharress. “A-and an elderly gentleman, Valthrun, who lives in the tall tower. He knows more than anyone, I’d wager.”

Thanking the Inn Keeper and turning to her remaining companions, Valsharress sighed to herself to think of these two… beings as comrades, but it is clear I cannot fulfil my mission alone.

“I will go to Sister Linora first, you two may wait here if you wish or…”
“We’ll come too, Churches are often wealthy places. Eh, Grumble?” smiled De-Val, and elbowed Grumble in the side. “Besides, perhaps this Linora will know about… dreams.” he finished, frowning.

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Grumble had travelled with treasure hunters for years and had cultivated a certain sense for riches. This Church did not trigger that sense. Like the town, it was obviously well built but had fallen on hard times. With no traders getting in or out, the town was suffering, and the Church with it. Although people obviously still worshipped, as a large congregation was just leaving as they approached. Valsharress gestured for Grumble and De-Val to remain while she approached Sister Linora.

There were children among the flock, and two of them came running up to Grumble. One of them started climbing up his back.
“What are you?” asked the other, wide eyed.
“I am Warforged.” Grumble spoke and reached behind him to pluck the child from his back. “I am not for climbing.”
“Are you here to kill the zombies?” asked the climber.
“Zombies?” began Grumble but De-Val had stepped forward.
“Hey kids, want to see a magic trick?” he asked grinning.
He waved his hands around theatrically –
“Hocus-pocus!”
- and pressed his thumbs upon the two children’s foreheads. They turned to each other.
“You’ve got Avandra’s luck on your face!” exclaimed one.
“So do you! Mum, mum!” The children ran off laughing.

Valsharress had finished talking to Sister Linora, who had turned out not to know anything about the staff other than that Valthrun might be able to identify it, and turned to see Grumble striding up.
“The children spoke of zombies.” he boomed. Valsharress wondered if the big automaton realized just how loud he was.

A clearly shaken Sister Linora tried to compose herself. “I wish I could tell you that was just the imaginings of a child. But the fact is Winterhaven has had many troubles in recent times. Whilst Kobolds have been the more direct threat – now vanquished I understand…” she nodded thanks to the two warriors “More sinister events have started… our dead have… begun to rise.”

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De-Val and Grumble shared a brief look as their minds turned to the disagreeable, homicidal man they’d recently freed from a coffin, and the three of them made their excuses to leave.

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Ever since they’d entered Winterhaven, they’d been told to seek out Valthrun. Of course, being the somewhat motley crew that they were, it had taken many days and countless battles to finally reach him. He lived at the centre of town, in a tower that extended into the air a few levels, before ending abruptly.

Valsharress had seen Trees, great ancient Trees, older than the oldest of her kind, similarly mangled by lightning; leaving little more than a proud, curtailed stump. She wondered what forces must have been at work to destroy so solid a thing as this tower.

De-Val knocked at the door, and after a moment of shuffling and creaking, it opened.

Valthrun was thin and stooped, but he had sharp eyes nestled under wild, silver eyebrows. He was clearly not surprised to see them.

“He sent you, then?” He questioned as he ushered them in.

“Who sent..?” De-Val replied, but it was too late. Valthrun was already half-way up the stairs. Just as he was about to disappear from view, he looked back over his shoulder at the trio.

“You have to stay downstairs!” He waved distractedly at Grumble, “The stairs are too old.”

Grumble agreed; this old tower was not built with his kind in mind.

“But I want an etching later!” Valthrun cackled as he disappeared to the first floor.

Somewhat taken aback, Valsharress and De-Val followed.

On the first floor was a study, piled high with books and caskets and chests and papers. A small stove fed out the small window and candles encased in glass were scattered about, casting haphazard shapes across the room. Something about them seemed to Valsharress to recall a deep bruise, and the idea made her somewhat uneasy. At the centre of the room were two big, old, worn chairs and Valthrun gestured for them to sit as he busied himself with making tea.

Valsharress sat, but De-Val was otherwise occupied. His eyes fairly span in their sockets as he looked about the room. His hands began to involuntarily twitch Who knows what could be upstairs!

“We were…” Valsharress began, but she was interrupted by Valthrun thrusting a cup of tea into her hand.

“The other one didn’t have any.” He said to no-one in particular.

“We were sent to talk to you.” Valsharress pressed on.

“Yes, yes. I know. But I don’t know.” He shuffled papers as he talked.

“Don’t know what?”

“I know why you’re here, but I don’t have any answers. Douven Stahl… he might.”

“Who is Douven Stahl?”

“Who is… Who is Douven Stahl? He’s…” Valthrun was briefly focussed by his annoyance enough to top shuffling about the papers that lined many of the shelves. “He’s the one who can help you.”

“Yes… Right… Where can we find him then?”

“Yes, exactly. Find him. That’s what you need to do. He’s at the dig site. I think.” With a flourish, Valthrun produced a map of and laid it down between them.

“Here!” He thrust a bony finger at a point on the map in the near south. “Tell me…” He began.

“Yes?”

“Is your Genasi friend going to steal anything?”

De-Val was snapped back from his scheming by mention of his name. “I wasn’t!”

A mad grin spread across Valthrun’s face, exposing yellow, crooked teeth. “There’s a treasure greater than those within this Tower. Douven Stahl knows this.”

Having oriented herself in regards to the map and the dig, Valsharress stood, placing her tea aside, untouched. “We shall find your friend. But I also need to know about this.”

She produced the Kobold mage’s staff from… somewhere… and held it our for Valthrun’s inspection.

For a moment, he stopped moving and his attention was locked on the jewel embedded in it’s gnarled end. He reached out, slowly, before drawing his hand back. “Put it next to the stove. I’ll tell you what I can when you find…”

“Find Douven Stahl, yes…” Sighed Valsharress.

“Excellent!” Valthrun span away from from her as she settled the staff in the corner and whipped a roll of paper from a shelf before heading for the stairs. De-Val lingered for a moment as Valsharress followed, then he too headed down.

Just inside the door, they found Valthrun placing a rickety wooden step at Grumbles feet, before climbing it unsteadily and slapping the blank paper right in the Warforged’s face. Valthrun fumbled in the pockets of his tattered robe for a moment before producing a bright red stone, and set about taking a rubbing of Grumble’s etchings.

“You’re the first Warforged I’ve ever met, you know” He happily exclaimed.

Grumble began to reply, his voice muffled by paper, but was cut short. “Don’t move! You’ll ruin the etching!” cried the scholar.

After a moment’s further rubbing, Valthrun drew back the paper and considered the markings. “I will find out what I can about this.” he declared as he climbed down off the stool. He tapped his etching stone against Grumble’s chest; the sound was sharp and clear. “I will find out what I can…”

He opened the door and ushered them out into the warming morning air. “I’ll be here when you get back. And then we’ll talk some more!” And with that, he closed the door.

“We didn’t get to talk to begin with…” De-Val murmured.

“What is our objective?” Grumble asked.

“We are to find a man named Douven Stahl. Valthrun seems to think he’ll have the answers we seek.”

“All we do is chase our tails for the eccentrics of this stupid town.” De-Val’s kicked at the dirt as his hair sparked petulantly.

“Shall we find Amon before we leave?”

Valsharress tilted her head and squinted at the sun. Her mind was briefly drawn back to the deep shadows on Valthrun’s study.

“He was here before us.”

“How do you know?” Asked De-Val.

“I just…” A brief shudder skipped through her body. “Valthrun has only one thing on his mind. No doubt he set Amon the same task. If we leave now, we can catch him.”

“Then it is settled. What is our destination?”

Valsharress looked to the South. “A big hole in the ground.”

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Out on the road, Amon moved quickly and quietly towards the dig site. Valthrun’s words echoed in his head. “Who will you then kill when you’ve killed the whole world?”

He doubled his pace.

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