This post will be a little different from the usual here, it’s going to be part of a new series called ‘Tales from the Campfire”. These will be stories told by characters living in my currently ongoing D&D world. Hopefully I will be posting more, and I may even get guests to write some.
The fire burned low, creating long shadows for those who were sitting around it. The small party had been sent out on an exploration expedition, and were currently encamped just outside of a large, ruined building. They had been out in the wilds for a few days, and were preparing to head out to a new location in the morning. For now though, the ale was flowing quite freely, and stories were being traded back and forth.
The group in question was quite diverse, a total of fourteen people. They ranged in races, while some were human, there were dwarves, elves, teiflings, and even a goblin gathered around the flame. The sounds of their laughter were still echoing after the last story died down. One of the members looked to their leader. “What about you, Jason? You must have some stories of your time in the academy?”
The man in question, the leader of their expedition, Jason Balmonte, looked up. He had been lost in his thoughts. “Huh?” he said helpfully. A moment later he caught onto what was meant, and added “Oh. Uh. I don’t know if anyone would be interested in my stories.” he said. This was met by a chorus of disappointed cries from the group. He sighed a bit, and said “Alright, well, I have one story. It’s of my graduation day.” he said. He sat up, and began his tale.
“So, first thing I should note, and Nutt can confirm this,” he gestured to the groups other paladin member, a gnome in heavy armour. “That I am a bit of an oddity amongst paladins. Not unique, but odd. When I was drafted into the order, and began my training, I was rubbish. I could barely use a sword, and most of the armours were far too heavy for me to even wear. They tried so hard to train me, but eventually gave up,” he said.
“But there was a new group of Paladins gaining traction. They called them Wild Paladins, and they were far more like traditional rangers, than paladins,” he said. “They used bows, and much lighter armour. That was where I found my niche. Turns out I’m actually a pretty great shot with an arrow,” he admitted. “But, that did nothing for my popularity. I was already a bit of an outsider, being from Kilkara and a street punk. I was actually bullied, by an older boy named Chadwick,” he said.
Here he paused to take a drink from his canteen. The whole group was listening attentively, as Jason hadn’t opened up about his past at all before this. He was a hero in the town, so the idea he was bullied clearly hadn’t once occurred to any of them. He continued on then, lowering his canteen to speak. “So. Chadwick and his gang of city-boys would miss no opportunity to mock me. It’s not really all that surprising. You take a bunch of rich boys who have been spoiled all their lives, and put them in an enclosed space with no girls, then tell them they are superior to most because they were chosen by a higher power…then arm them and teach them how to fight? Honestly it’s a wonder any of us survived our training.” That made their cleric, Kari, interrupt the story. “Wait, no girls?” she asked. Jason shook his head “They were in a separate building, and I didn’t see them until I was almost graduated,” he clarified.
“Anyway. Six years,” he continued. “We trained. Night and day, any hour we weren’t asleep. Every day we’d wake up before dawn, do our chores, eat, train, and then before we knew it, it was night again. Somehow we survived though, after all of that, and then it was time for our final test, and this is the actual story. See, our final test was pretty simple, and yet shockingly hard. We were assigned to a team of five potential graduates, and sent into the crypt under the academy. Inside the academy was a flag, and the team that retrieved it would have a shot at graduation,” he said. “…There were a few catches. The crypt’s were a labyrinth of tunnels and passages, including some secret ones that were not on any maps. If that wasn’t enough, we didn’t get a map, we only got to glance at one and hope our memory was good enough,” he glanced around at the group. “And you all know exactly how bad my memory is,” he reminded them.
“I was assigned, of course, to Chadwick’s team. He only had four members, and no one else wanted me on their team. The instructors probably had it out for me. So we go into the crypt. we go down a spiral staircase that seems to go on forever. I was in the back, ‘So I don’t have to look at you’ as Chadwick explained. He took point, which honestly worked for me. There were two other paladins, a cleric, and an inquisitor, a girl who clearly Chadwick had known for ages. Thank Abadar for her too, because without her we would have gotten lost for sure. She directed us through room after room, each one looking exactly the same, filled with the tombs and bones of long forgotten paladins and holy warriors. The entire time, Chadwick was just tearing into me, saying stuff like how I was lucky I was getting a free ride, and how when they were done here, he was going to make sure everyone knew I did nothing. That was when we found it.”
Here he paused for just a moment, just long enough to see everyone’s reaction. They were all clearly on the edges of their seats. Even the fire seemed to be holding it’s breath for the next line. “A skeleton. An animated, skeleton. That may not sound much, indeed we had been trained in the various types of undead and how to deal with them. But it’s one thing to read about a skeleton shambling at you, and quite another one to experience it. The books don’t cover the smell, for example. It didn’t smell of rot, as you might expect. More like dust, and mold. definitely smelled like mold, I can still remember seeing it cling to the things joints. The books also don’t cover the sound they make. That is to say, they make no sounds at all. The only sound is sorta this creaking noise. That, and a bit of clicking when they walk. I tell you, some nights I can actually still hear it, even years later,” he shuddered as he ended that line.
“I wont pretend I was suddenly the hero. None of us were. No one told us undead would be down here in the crypts. All of our training was forgotten instantly. Hell, Chadwick dropped his weapon on his foot and broke his toe,” that seemed to bring him a touch of satisfaction. “None of our spells worked, it’s impossible to cast while your voice is cracking. It, meanwhile, was slowly advancing on us. It had a sword so rusty it looked like it would fall apart if it tried to use it. I was sure, then and there, that this was it. I was going to die in a hole in the ground, surrounded by people I couldn’t stand. They’d never find my body,” he breathed in, before continuing. “At that moment, I felt this confidence surging up through me. This power. I’d never felt it before. It was this rush, a surge,” Nutt was nodding his head along, knowing exactly what Jason meant. “I felt the touch of my god. The touch of Abadar.”
“I was no longer afraid. I stood tall, even as everyone else cowered behind me. I notched an arrow, an arrow which all our studies and even my common sense told me would never damage bone. I pulled back the bow. Chadwick said something, but I couldn’t hear him, it was like nothing else mattered but me, and that arrow. The skeleton got closer, so close that it raised its weapon to strike. At that moment, the tip of my arrow glowed, and I released the string,” he sat back in that moment, remembering it so vividly he felt like he was there once more.
“The arrow struck it right between the eyes, and the skull of the thing exploded. Actually exploded, in this burst of light. The rest of the bones turned to dust shortly after, and in the rib cage we found the flag we were sent to retrieve. Chadwick was healed by our cleric, as I picked it up. No one said anything, for quite a while if I am honest. Or maybe they did, honestly, I don’t remember anymore, all I remember is how I felt. I felt complete, whole for the first time in years. With that done, I looked to the Inquisitor. Seriously, without a word, she led us back out of that place.”
“When it was all said and done, and I handed the flag back to the instructor, he simply said ‘Abadar has made his choice. Congratulations. You are now a paladin’. See, they planned the whole thing like that. They wanted us to go down there and face that danger. Or rather, think we were in danger. They were actually watching the entire time and saw the whole damn thing. They knew that if it was meant to be, Abadar would protect us. Abadar chose me,” that said, he went quiet for just a moment, to let all of that sink in and take another drink from his canteen. A moment later he spoke again “I was the only one who graduated. Shortly after I hopped on a boat back to Kilkara. I never found out what happened to the others, all I know is they weren’t chosen that day. Maybe they would be some other time, but not then.”
When his story concluded, the various members of the expedition talking amongst themselves in hushed whispers. Jason however was somewhere else. His mind had returned to that crypt, and had returned to that fear he had once felt. The fear of failure, the fear of not fitting in. He could remember it perfectly, and also remember it fading away like water washing off a rock. He had not mentioned a part of the story, one he wouldn’t tell. Not long after he had been christened a proper paladin, Chadwick had pulled him into a classroom in the dorms. “You cheated.” he had sneered, glaring daggers into Jason. “I know you did. No way a punk like you, with a stupid arrow like that could do anything!”
Jason had, way back then, been far too weak to fight off the larger man. He was pinned down, and unarmed. “I didn’t cheat!” he had hissed to the bully, “The instructors saw it all. I felt Abadar-”
Chadwick cut him off “Cut the shit. You and I both know that’s bullshit. Tell me how you did it,” and the bigger man produced a dagger from his belt. “Or I’ll carve it out of you.”
“You wouldn’t,” breathed Jason, surprised by how calm he was given a knife was just pulled on him. “You’ll never graduate then. Hell, you’d be thrown in prison for so long you’d never see the light of day!” Despite his words, Chadwick was grinning, a look Jason had never seen on the man.
“It wouldn’t be the first time. It wont be the last. Don’t you know Jason? with enough money, you can get away with anything.” he lifted the knife, preparing to drive it down onto Jason’s forehead. “A filthy cheat like you? No one will miss you. Hell even the instructors will probably say it was an ‘accident’…”
A voice shook him from his thoughts. The cleric, Kari, was looking at him with concern. He glanced around the group, all of them were looking at him now. He rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I got caught up in memories. Uhm. Kari, why…why don’t you tell the next story?” he asked, shifting a bit to sit in a more relaxed position. Apparently he had also bunched up without knowing. Kari did not look convinced, but then, she never did. After another lingering look, she started to tell a story herself.
But Jason was lost in his own thoughts again.