The well was large as far as wells went. Almost a yard across with a foot high rim. There wasn't even a road nearby just miles of forest in all directions. Yet the well had been there as long as anybody could remember. A solid structure of dressed grey stone, fitted together so precisely that the mortar was not visible between the interlocked courses. The problem, however was not the wells construction but the sudden lack of water.
The news that the well had gone dry reached Lambford only the previous day. Moreover Lars the tinker reported strange sounds coming from the now dry well. This was reason enough for John and Paul to play hooky from their duties for the day.
John leant on the rim of the well and looked down. Even with the shade of a large oak the shaft was well lit, and clear a good ten yards straight down. he shifted around the rim. If he wasn't mistaken, there was a door down there, cut neat as you please into the stone, "well, the tinkerer was telling the truth, its dry."
"You think there's something down there?" Paul asked without looking up. He'd plonked down at the foot of the oak tree the moment they reached the clearing and showed no inclination to get up.
"Well, there's a door for a start, it's got to lead somewhere," John said, "It'll be a hard climb, good thing we brought enough rope."
"So we're seriously doing this?"
John flicked the mental switch that everybody had, the one that brought up his Character Sheet. For as long as he could remember it had looked the same:
John Greenway, Human villager (M)
Skill: 4/4 Stamina: 8/8 Luck: 7/9 Magic: 0/0
Age: 15 Social class: 1 experience: 10
Special Skills: Climb 1, Craft - Wood 1
Lore: Forest 1, Religion 1, World 1
Languages: Common 4
Equipment: Rusty meat cleaver, torch, firebox, sack
Provisions: 2 Coins: 0gp 0sp
It spoke of a nice safe life on a nice and certain course. he'd get older, learn carpentry from his father and in time take over the family business. Every year on his birthday he gained another two points of experience, by the time he was twenty he'd be able to up his wood craft to level two, which was half way to being a competent carpenter. He frowned, not even trying to hide the expression. "You want to stay a villager all your life?"
The boys looked at each other. It was the path their fathers advised. Adventurers, crazy fools, Mr Greenway would say. They pass though and you never see a single one again. To which Mr Brewster would nod and say, dead in some dungeon eaten by who knows what. Then they'd both gulp their flagons of Mr Brewster's ale. Experience should grow as the gods intended, with time, Mr Greenway would continue. John wasn't convinced. Sure some adventurers died, but then there were the others. The adventurers that everybody sang about, the ones who got their own castles, and didn't have to flatten boards day in and day out.
A carpenter's life was filled with boards that where twisted, cupped or otherwise in need of flattening. John was sick of flattening boards, which was why he was standing at the side of the old well, rather than in his fathers shop. "Here, why don't you get up on that limb, and I'll throw you the rope."
Paul scrambled up the tree, somehow finding cracks he could fit his fingers and toes into on the smooth bark. He stood on the lowest limb and walked out until he was above the well. "Why do I have to do the climbing?"
John threw the rope up, waiting for Paul to tie it fast, before letting the rest of it uncoil down the well. It landed with a dull thud which was reassuring, at least they didn't have to worry about running out of rope before they ran out of well. "So you can show off the point you put into your climbing skill. What a waste."
With a deep breath for courage John swung his legs over the side, grasped the rope with both hands and descended. He bounced down the wall letting the rope slip through his fingers just a little at a time. By the time his feet hit rock again his arms were burning from the strain. The last two yards of stone where a darker grey, proving that they had been wet recently. Between the darker stone, the angle of the sun and the overhanging oak, it was surprisingly dark and sure to get darker still as the day progressed towards evening.
There really was a door down here. Made of green wood clinched together with iron nails which where already rusting. To John's carpenter's eye, it looked new and rather crude. It wouldn't last the year before the boards ripped it apart for twisting. He looked back up the shaft to see Paul's blond head looking down at him, "You coming?"
Paul swung off the branch and onto the rope, making the transfer look almost effortless. He almost slid down the rope, without even touching the side wall, then dropped the last two yards to land in a deep squat.
"Show off," John said, as he fumbled with the torch and his tinder box, striking the iron rod several times before drawing a nice big spark. The pitch soaked torch-head caught with a sizzle and burst into flame.
Paul pull the torch from John's fingers then yanked the door open, releasing it as soon as it was open wide enough to pass through. "Why don't you let me take care of that. This way."
John grabbed the door before it banged against the stone. "Paul you idiot, you just announced our presence, nice."
The passage ran rimwise for three yards before ending with another green wood door. Like the well the passage was dressed stone. John scanned the walls and floor as his friend walked blithely forward. Always check for traps, he'd heard an old adventurer say once when he was deep in his Cup. His father had shaken his head at that, his gaze lingering on the man's peg leg.
"George will be kicking himself when we get back with sacks full of loot." Paul said.
"More treasure for us, and Becca doesn't kill him, what with her almost ready to pop and all." John squatted before the door and pressed his ear against the rough wood. "Now quiet I'm trying to listen."
"I dodged a bullet, when I let George have her."
John sighed and rocked back on his heals, glaring at his friend. "Firstly, Becca said she'd horsewhip you if you came anywhere near her again. Secondly, shut up while I listen at this door, or we'll be here all day."
Paul kicked the door. "We're adventurers not sneak thieves. stealth is for losers."
The door didn't so much open as disintegrate, reverting into a loose pile of boards and bent nails. Beyond it was a rectangular room half filled with smoke from the torches wedged into brackets on the walls. There were three more doors and a pile of old rags in one corner. Paul stepped over the rubble and paced around the room. he poked at the rags with his leather covered toes, "You worry too much, there's nothing here. See"
The rags grunted in response, then the pile exploded scattering scraps of cloth and leather in all directions to reveal two goblins. They were squat, green skinned things with large ears and thin greasy hair. One squealed a warning to its fellow and jumped to its feet brandishing a blade even rustier than John's.
The second jumped up almost as fast with a stream of unintelligible bellows and grunts. Whatever he said, there was no doubt that he was male, it sounded rude. Before John realised it, the two goblins had Paul backed into a left rear corner of the room.
"A little help here." Paul called, his voice rising as he flailed with the flaming torch.
John unhitched his cleaver and lunged forward at the goblin on the left.
The goblin turned at the last moment meeting his swing with the flat of his blade. Metal clanged on metal jarring John's arm to the shoulder. The handle turned in his hand, and slipped free, sending the heavy blade tumbling towards his foot.
John yelped in surprise and jumped to keep his feet clear of the falling knife. "Shit!"
The goblin chuckled and circled to John's right, placing itself between him and the door to the outside. Before he realised it he was beside Paul again and the pair of them were boxed in the corner as the goblins traded quibs in there bestial tongue.
"Hit him with the damn torch!" John yelled.
Paul listened for a change, shoving the torch at the goblin on the right and getting the flames into his face. While the thing swatted at it with its sword, John ducked behind his friend and shoulder charged the nearest door, it also shattered. He ran, paying no heed to where he stepped. "This way!"
The short passage was not booby-trapped, or if it was John and Paul avoided whatever pressure plate may have triggered their doom. A few steps brought John to yet another door. Adventuring seemed to consist of opening a lot of doors. Unlike the others, this one was blackened with age and far more solid. Nobody was going to open this door with one kick. An iron bolt, red with rust, had been slid through several eye holes in the wood and into the stone frame, sealing it closed. To make sure it stayed closed someone had wedged a long wooden staff against the end of the bolt.
John pawed at the staff and got it dislodged after two sharp tugs. He spun around in time to see that Paul had managed to follow him and was keeping the goblins at bay. A notification appeared, floating in mid air between him and the approaching goblins.
SPECIAL ITEM FOUND, NEW CLASS AVAILABLE.
Accept, accept, accept John thought without scanning the rest. Any class would be better than villager right now. The notification dissolved with a sharp DING that onlyJohn could hear. He shifted forward, moving up Paul's left, well clear of the torch and thrust with the staff.
One of the goblins had just ducked that way to avoid Paul's swing. Wood met flesh with an audible thwack. The goblin tilted back pinwheeling its arms for a moment before falling onto what remained of the door. John pulled the staff back and readied it for another swing.
A wave of vertigo consumed him. Notifications flashed through his mind too fast to read. It reminded him of the morning after last year's harvest festival when he, Paul and George had got a bottle of Mr Brewster's triple distilled special. They shared the bottle until all three of them passed outC come morning John had wished he were dead.
The lead goblin grunted again, only now the noises made sense. "lunch is fighting back, I hate it when lunch fights back."
"Shut up and get them," the other one replied.
John's intestines twisted. He heaved, spraying vomit across the floor. Some of it flew far enough to hit the two goblin's feet. He staggered toward the wall, holding the staff up in a basic blocking position.
"lunch doesn't look so good, maybe we shouldn't eat that one?"
"A little spit roasting will cure 'im"
New ideas flashed through John's mind, one after another. Annise wasn't just for making bread taste awful, you could make a general cure for poison out of it, who knew? It was very useful information, for some other time. A litany of short sharp phrases and sights kaleidoscoped though his brain. He seized on one, and stepped forward again, using the staff to hold Paul back, while he pointed at the goblins. "HOT!"
Energy surge through him, drawing from every point in his body and shooting down his outstretched arm. His hand glowed for just a moment, then flames licked out of his palm. A ball of flame filled the doorway, engulfing both goblins. They screamed and then fell silent, collapsing to the ground.
For a moment John couldn't breathe, his heart stuttering almost to a stop before starting up again. He leaned back against the wall gasping for breath. The goblins didn't appear to be a concern anymore. John poked them with the staff, then hit one in the jaw. He thrust the staff down several times until the bone shattered. He squatted down and extracted an intact molar from the mess he had made.
"John, what the hell." Paul said.
John shrugged as he stowed the molar in his empty coin pouch." Goblins teeth are useful, I can use it to summon an ally later. Wait how do I know that?"
John's body was sending him strange messages. Everything felt wrong. his feet slipped inside his shoes and his britches seemed on the verge of falling off. The skin of his hand looked pale, almost creamy in the firelight, rather than sun-kissed brown that it had been that morning.
Paul just stared, the torch hanging from his right hand. The flames already scorching the handle and moving ever closer to his fingers. "Damn. how did you do that?"
"I don't know, I got a notification when I picked up this staff. Also you're about to burn your hand." John said, looking down at the staff, only it didn't look like a staff any more. One end had sprouted a rim of coarse bristles and making it look rather like a broomstick.
Paul dropped the torch, it rolled up against the wall and continued to burn. He Ignored it and reached for the broomstick. "Here, let me see."
The broomstick bucked as a bright blue spark arced from the wood to Paul's hand. He jumped away shaking the hand like it was on fire. "Oh hilarious, that hurt. Now give me a look."
"I didn't do nothing." John said, his voice sounded high and without the burr he'd grown into over the last couple of years. By the gods, what was going on? He closed his eyes and played back the notifications he had ignored. The gods did not like being ignored.
NEW CLASS AVAILABLE: WITCH?
CONFLICT DETECTED, WITCH CLASS ONLY OPEN TO FEMALE CARACTERS, ALTER CHARACTER GENDER?
GENDER CHANGE ACCEPTED.
ACHIVEMENT UNLOCKED: AN ADVENTURER IS YOU. AUTO ALLOCATE ADVENTURER PACKAGE?
AUTO ALLOCATION ACCEPTED.
ALL POINTS ALLOCATED.
John's eyes shot open. The sensations he was feeling now made sense. The smoother creamy skin, the way his hair brushed against his shoulders. and how his chest seemed to be moving out of time with the rest of him. He willed his character sheet to appear.
Jane Greenway, Human Witch (F)
Skill: 6/6 Stamina: 8/12 Luck: 6/9 Magic: 4/4
Age: 15 Social class: 4 experience: 12
Talent: focus (broomstick)
Special Skills: Awareness 1, Armour 1, Climb 2, Staves 2
Languages: common 4, goblin 1
Lore: World 1, Forest 2, Herb 2, Religion 1
Magic Skills: Sorcery 2, Second Sight 1
Equipment: Wood witch's Broomstick (focus, staff, ZEN)
Provisions: 2 Coin: 0gp 0sp
"I'm a witch." she said, remembering every dire warning about adventuring that her father had ever uttered. Gender change wasn't on the list. Well if nothing else she would give her father a new cautionary tale. That's when it hit her, not only wasn't she a villager anymore, but she wasn't a carpenter either, everything John had learned about woodwork was just gone. Sure she still knew that a sliding dovetail was a kind of joint, but she had no clue how to cut one, even if John had cut one just yesterday.
"You look funny," Paul said, "I think you've shrunk, and your voice."
"I'm a Witch. and witches are girls, everybody knows that!" she said shaking the broomstick. "This damn thing turned me into a girl, what am I going to do."
"Get naked by the look of it, your britches are slipping."
Jane grabbed at her britches and yanked them back up. After a few moments of struggling, she gave up and retied the rope she used as a belt, having to pull it several inches tighter before it felt snug about her waist again. She adjusted her shoes next, being little more than leather sacks, tied together with cord, it was easy enough, though it would take a while for the leather to adapt to her smaller feet. "My dad will kill me when we get back."
The broomstick remained where she had left it, hovering in mid air, without so much as a wobble. Cool, she thought. Her father and his pending disappointment could wait for later, so could freaking out. Right now she had a dungeon to explore. She grabbed the broomstick from the air and flipped it over, before catching it with the bristles pointing down. "Stop staring at my chest and let's go."
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