(TOSK sez: hope everyone is enjoying this little series as much as I am. I'm taking a few liberties here and there, but for the most part the storyline runs true to the world of Sundar that my brother, Corey King, created several years ago to guide several friends and family through a play by e-mail D&D campaign. The game ran for a good long while, as I recall, despite the shortcomings presented by the PBeM format. Eventually many of the players ended up migrating over to other role playing options like World of Warcraft, but the Sundar game--played according to 2nd Edition rules--still ranks among my favorite of RPG memories.)
The small gas station set into a deserted stretch of southern forest appeared so ancient that the party spent their first couple of minutes after arrival arguing whether they should have stopped at all. Tarn won the argument quickly; his scooter had a smaller tank, and thus a shorter range, than the motorcycles piloted by the rest of the party, and he was in need of a refuel.
Aerandir nosed his Harley up to the pump first, and then called, "Of course, there's no credit card swipe on the pump. Sam, you go in and get the pump working for all of us, and try laying your bard skills out there and find out about the dungeon up ahead while you're at it."
Samanthia's drawn-out sigh could be heard by the entire party. "Looks kinda creepy in there, Aerandir. How about one of you big burly fighter-types go in to pay instead?"
"You be the bard, though, lass. It be yer job te gither the infermation," Andouille, the dwarf warrior, said. "I'm good at bashin' heads 'n findin' traps, is all I kin do."
"So how do we know the proprietor here even has information?" Samanthia objected. "It's just as likely that there's a bar right up the road. You know barkeeps are traditionally the source for parties to learn what we need to for our adventures. That, and they're better places for drinking."
"Yes, but it's mid-morning now, dear, and I for one have no intention of sticking around till night for the bar to open, if this hypothetical bar even exists at all," Aerandir said. "Besides, we are blessed with a progressive Dee Emm, one who realizes that these days barkeeps are really only good for tossing bottles of beer around or for making drinks with names like Sex on the Beach or Screaming Orgasm. He's much more likely to have stuffed the information into a noble worker at a service station close by."
Samanthia measured the small convenience mart with her eyes, and then shook her head doubtfully and said, "Well, you haven't convinced me, but I suppose if anybody can find something out, it'll be me." She pranced into the service station, swishing her hips back and forth as she did.
"Ah, the fine work of a bard is never done," Aerandir said as he watched her swish away.
Tarn echoed, "Nor is the work of a fine bard."
"Dude, Tarn. Remember she's played by a dude. Besides, you're a priest."
"So? I'm looking at her, not her player, for one thing, and for another, Talam, the great and noble earth god whose wisdom I merely project here on the mortal realm, is happy when his followers are happy, and he recognizes that we are all made of earthly flesh and thus are subject to the requirements thereof."
The pump chose that moment to spring to life, its white numbers all springing back to zeroes. In silence, Aerandir and then Tarn filled the tanks on their bikes, followed in turn by each of the rest of the party. Filling all of the bikes cost a little over a hundred dollars, and when the last one had been topped off and moved away from the pumps Samanthia flounced out and re-joined the party. They jumped back onto their bikes and rode down to the next pullout area to talk.
"So what did you find out, my lovely friend?" Aerandir asked.
"Would you believe that the proprietor of that last station happens to have been an unlucky rogue in the past?"
"The proprietor of nearly every gas station we stop at has happened to have been an unlucky rogue in the past," Tarn objected. "I've come to wonder if that's on the job application as a requirement."
"Well, my friend Tarn, the guy at the last station happens to have been in the very dungeon that we're going to be entering today. It was there that he was unlucky, in fact, when on their third dungeon his entire well-balanced mid-level party except him was killed. He fled, and only barely escaped with his life and a small fraction of the loot and ex pee he would have normally received."
"He left his party to die and fled with what loot he could carry, in other words? Yes, it definitely does sound like he was a rogue," Azo, the party's senior mage, intoned drily.
"'Live to fight another day,' is the rogue credo, Azo, so stuff it," Aerandir replied. "And I have to object to our characterization, also, Sam. He made it out of the dungeon alive while the rest of his party did not. Doesn't sound unlucky to me, not in the slightest."
"Lucky, unlucky, who gives a crap what we call him? Sam, how did his party die?" Yslea asked.
Samanthia shrugged and said, "They ran out of hit points." Aerandir snickered and Yslea growled, leading her to continue, "Okay, fine. He wasn't very clear. They entered a room and triggered a darkness and silence trap, and he could sense people just--going down around him. He was hit by a blade, himself, causing a scar on his shoulder that he showed me. But he made it back to the door by making his stealth check, and on his way out looked back into the room they'd entered. Everybody he could see was already dead."
"What was on the door? Any descriptive marks?" Tarn asked.
"It was a brown wooden door, and the first he remembers seeing. But no, there wasn't a big sign warning of future doom or anything. That only happens in the movies."
"Fine. Did the Dee Emm plant any other information that you retrieved, then?"
"They ran into a lot of undead early on. Something about these southern hills being ancient burial mounds, he said. Tarn, keep your turn undead ability handy," Samanthia said.
"Will do," Tarn said.
"Anything else before we head for the field of mounds?" Aerandir asked. When there was no comment, he leaped onto his motorcycle and kicked the Harley to roaring life. Samanthia climbed on behind him, and they roared off down the winding country road with the rest of the party behind.