|The Sonedal Ravine|
Designed by Ardothica
Lifespan: 60 minutes
Medium Groups: 22-25
Large Groups: 18-21
Ergale paused for a moment to catch his breath. He had been traveling through the Sonedal Plains for nearly a week, and his supplies were running low. The sun was high overhead and his clothing was sticking heavily to his skin. According to his map, he was approaching a large ravine and, if the recent storms were any indication, a sure source of water. He gently sloshed what remained in his waterskin and hoped his map was accurate.
Hours later Ergale was deep within the ravine, his waterskin full and his mind and body refreshed. He gripped his shortsword tightly in his left hand scanning the terrain warily. He had already fought off two packs of wild mongrels, and the tracks and droppings indicated that there were many more. A dusty trail led through the ravine, winding its way around the dense shrubby foliage.
Ergale sat down on a large boulder near the edge of the trickling stream to make a few notes on his map. That was when he heard an odd noise echoing through the ravine. It sounded like metal clanging and scraping together.Quickly, he stuffed his map into his pack and rose, tightening his grip on his shortsword. When he saw the source of the strange sounds, he chuckled quietly to himself. A withered old man, bent over from the weight of the enormous pack on his back, was shuffling along the trail toward Ergale. The pack was bulging and hanging from it was a seemingly random collection of supplies tied to the pack with small bits of twine.
"Hail, traveler!" Ergale shouted.
The old man did not startle or slow his pace. He merely gazed at Ergale and nodded a greeting. When he finally made his way to where Ergale stood, he stopped and removed his pack, which fell heavily to the ground with a comical clanging sound. Immediately, the old man stood upright, and Ergale was surprised at his considerable height. His eyes were the lightest shade of blue that Ergale could ever remember seeing, and they were exceptionally clear.
"Greetings," Ergale said lamely, when a few moments of uncomfortable silence had passed. "My name is Ergale, and I am on my way to Trellor."
"Greetings, traveler," the old man finally responded. His voice was quiet and deep. "I am Dulen, and you have found yourself passing through my home."
"Your home? My map shows no signs of civilization for tens of miles in any direction. How is it possible that you live in this place?"
Dulen did not answer him. "Have you need of any supplies?" he asked Ergale.
Ergale looked down at the enormous pack on the ground. He could see metal pots and pans, several pickaxes, coils of rope, thick glass jars, bundles of parchment, and brightly colored scraps of fabric. And those were only the items tied to the outside of the pack. The gods only knew what was within.
Ergale thought for a moment. He decided to humor the old man. "Have you any torches? I will need to begin traveling by night if I am to make Trellor in two weeks, and I seem to have exhausted my supply," he said.
"Indeed I do," Dulen said, quickly producing a bundle of ten torches from a pouch on the side of his pack. "This will cost you 10,000 gold coins."
Ergale laughed, thinking it a joke. Dulen, though, was not laughing. "Surely you jest! You ask 1,000 gold coins per torch! How can you justify such a thing?"
"I have my reasons . . . and my prices. Will you pay?" Dulen asked.
"Absolutely not, old man. Find some other fool to swindle."
"I will see you soon, I think." With that, Dulen loaded his pack onto his back and continued shuffling along the trail.
The ravine grew wider as Ergale made his way along the trail. He was again startled when he came upon a small wooden shack. A rather large pack of wild dogs encircled the shack, many of them snarling at Ergale's approach. A dozen yards from the shack was a small tree, and Ergale nearly fell over in surprise when he saw the old man resting in its shade. He made his way over to Dulen, keeping his eyes on the mongrels.
"Hail," Dulen said, chuckling softly.
"How is it possible that you are here? There was only one path . . ." Ergale trailed off, scratching his head.
"Young man, you should know by now that there is never only one path. You must keep your eyes open at all times."
"Is this your home? Shall we kill the mongrels?" Ergale asked.
"If you wish to kill the dogs, it is your choice. It is not my home though. This is Yelkan's house, though Yelkan has obviously been gone for many days. He would never allow these dogs to grow so bold."
"A friend," Dulen said. "I fear that his experimentation may have gone awry."
"What experimentation? What was he doing?"
"Yelkan is a concoctor . . . a mixer of potions. He was making progress . . . yet, I doubt that he was successful."
"What was his intent?" Ergale asked.
"Yelkan said that he had knowledge of a potion that could altar one's physical dimensions."
"You mean allow someone to grow larger?" Ergale asked incredulously.
"Or smaller," Dulen responded. "Though on a scale never before imagined."
"This is ludicrous . . . impossible!"
"Perhaps," Dulen said, "but Yelkan is a very wise man. If anyone could succeed, it would be him."
"You said he was making progress?" Ergale asked, still not believing what he was hearing.
"According to Yelkan . . ."
Just then, Ergale felt a painful prick on his ankle. He pulled his foot away and looked down. He could barely fathom what he was seeing. On the ground, snarling and barking was one of the mongrels. But this one was only two inches tall.
Ergale looked at Dulen, who smiled at him and then threw back his head and cackled wildly.
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