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The Westgate Campaign Chronicles - serial

Carlo-One

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Suddenly, from one of the side streets came a group of bandits, who attacked without warning. After their initial surprise, the adventurers rallied and began cutting their foes down; however, Dinendal fell quickly and lay bleeding on the cobblestones. With the aid of Aerikoth’s summoned dire bear, the rest of the party defeated the bandits and Darrow staunched Dinendal’s bleeding in time to save his life. Darrow, although wounded himself, appeared to be in a jovial mood, his axe having gotten some work after all that night.

Khalen asked the others to look for the spiral tattoo pattern and after some searching Darrow found that one of the bandit corpses possessed one. Khalen identified it as the same one that she had spotted on Nemar. The others also studied it, noting that from a certain perspective the spiral looked like the letter A in common script. Aerikoth stated that this was probably the symbol of the local thieves’ guild, the Astorians, whom he had heard were in the process of being assimilated by the Night Masks of Westgate. Khalen declared that they had better head back to the Two Swords.

The four reached the inn without further incident, alternately relieved and exhilarated by their experience. Darrow grabbed a drink at the bar and downed it before joining the others. Khalen indicated that she wished for them to talk in a more private place and went upstairs, the other three accompanying her. Once inside a room with the door shut, Khalen spoke about her desire to trust them and her previous love for Brindan, who she said was the only one who had cared for her – despite the way she truly looks, and who was responsible for how she looked now. She then dramatically revealed the illusion cloaking her body, removing a ring from her finger and showing her true aspect - that of a horned tiefling! (A surprise indeed, if not apparently for the wizard. It is strange to think that the plane-touched may walk among us like this, and I understand why they may be driven to such acts. Yet their reputations as being cursed or bringing trouble in their wake may sometimes be deserved. --C)

Dinendal reacted with surprised, glad laughter, evidently pleased to meet someone with blood of the outer planes. Darrow, confused by the horns, asked if she were part goat, before comprehending Dinendal’s words. Aerikoth, for his part, said that he had identified an illusion on her and respectfully asked to examine her ring. To Khalen’s relief, all were accepting of her true nature and still willing to aid her quest for revenge. After inspecting her ring for a short time, Aerikoth returned it to her, and she put it on again, once more cloaking herself in the illusion of humanity.

The following day, Alturiak 13, Dinendal roused himself early and asked to speak with Rahnee, who had shared a room with Khalen. The two went down to the inn’s common room, leaving the others to wake at a more reasonable hour. However, when the rest of the company awoke and went down, their two companions were not to be seen. Khalen, who was first up, inquired of the innkeeper if they had left a message. With a weak smile, he said that they had walked out the door earlier, but was sure they would be back. As Khalen was joined by Aerikoth and Darrow and they were served breakfast, they noticed that the innkeeper appeared to be acting strangely nervous. Darrow went up and passed the innkeeper a coin, with the understanding that he would let them know of any disturbances in town, given that they were adventurers.

Following breakfast, the three prepared to depart and Khalen stepped outside, only to find herself facing a group of the Teziir City Watch, who had evidently been waiting there. She immediately ducked back inside and started making accusations against the innkeeper, who looked helpless as a number of Watch and Helmite temple guards poured through the door. Darrow took his helm off and kept his hands away from his weapons, with Aerikoth advising that they should not resist, as they had done nothing wrong.
 

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Carlo-One

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The Watch Sergeant ordered two of his men to cover the door, then informed Aerikoth, Darrow and Khalen that their companions Dinendal and Rahnee had already been taken in for questioning, in regards to multiple murders that had occurred the previous night in the Point district. Six bodies had been found and someone had given the Watch a description of four adventurers who had been seen in the area. At this point the priest of Helm who was accompanying the Watch confirmed that the three were members of Helm’s Shadows, also mentioning that Thyxlys Jon had asked that he ensure they be treated appropriately, having done service for the temple in the past.

Despite protestations from Khalen that she was the only one to blame, the three were firmly but respectfully escorted from the Two Swords to the Teziir Council Hall, where they were locked in a back room to await questioning. Before leaving, the Watchmen pointed out where a jug of water and the chamber pot could be found in their room and said that they would bring food by later, if needed. As the priest departed, he also said that he would inform Thyxlys Jon of what had occurred. Khalen, Darrow and Aerikoth were then left alone to speculate on what had happened and why.

After some time had passed, Khalen was removed for questioning and then Dinendal was brought by a group of guards and locked in with Aerikoth and Darrow. The elf greeted the others happily and immediately began recounting his experience with being interrogated, saying that the Watch appeared to think Khalen was at the center of things. He mentioned that he had presented his sketch of the bandit tattoo to the Watch Captain and that everything was going exactly as planned. Darrow objected to this statement, observing that they were in the clink. Dinendal dismissed this detail, stating that the city guard was now involved in rooting out the city’s evil elements based on their investigation. The dwarf merely rolled his eyes in response.

Aerikoth said that based on Dinendal’s talk with the Watch, it would be of no use to make up a story. He then joined the others in discussing their options. Darrow asserted his desire, if they were released, to head directly for his clan home and let Teziir cool off for a while, returning later to take on Nemar. After time passed and further talk, including some stories of past deeds of Helm’s Shadows, the three began to grow weary of their confinement and anxious to see Khalen again.

Khalen was eventually brought back to the room, with four of the Watchmen escorting her. After the door had shut, she began scolding Dinendal for telling them everything, including about the tattoo drawing. The elf grinned slyly at her in response, saying that he had told them only the parts he wished them to know. Khalen was not mollified, indicating that the Watch Captain knew more than she wished. She was also concerned that Nemar would skip town, now that the Watch was after him. Both Dinendal and Darrow thought that was unlikely, however, given the investment that Nemar must have in his criminal operations. Aerikoth, as was often his wont, merely listened silently to the others debate.

A guard came in with a tray of food and water and left it for them, saying that the magistrate was reading the Captain’s report on them. After the guard departed, Khalen, full of nervous energy, kept track of the guards through the keyhole and tried to think of actions they could take. Aerikoth indicated that he could teleport them all out, but that the others had decided to wait before doing so, in part because that would leave behind Rahnee. In response to a question from Khalen, the mage also indicated that he could turn her into a mouse, if she truly desired it; however, she decided against it, because of the risks. She also was dissuaded from her plan of slipping out of the room, invisible, to check on the guards in the corridor, because of the commotion it would likely cause if they noticed her missing.
 

Carlo-One

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Finally several guards arrived and escorted the four adventurers into Council Hall, where they were seated facing a row of ornate chairs. Three were occupied: one by the magistrate and two by Council members Dean Shulayer and Queron Ulanthar, who had chosen to attend the ad hoc court. The magistrate then read the report on their case, reviewing the facts known and allegation made that the adventurers had participated in the murder of six citizens of Teziir. The magistrate declared that, based on information available to the Watch, the killings appeared to have been in self-defense; however, they had not been reported to the authorities. He then gave leave to the group to speak, if they wished.

After some looking around, Darrow spoke first, saying that the killings had indeed been in self-defense, the bandits having jumped them while they were on the way back to their inn. He also mentioned that his only previous experience with a city watch had been in Westgate, where it was better that the watch not know about things. Dinendal then spoke, adding that he had been grievously injured and saved by Darrow during the battle, not having been in any condition mentally or physically to report to the Watch afterwards; he was concerned primarily with ensuring that their other companion, Lady Rahnee, was safe. Aerikoth briefly added his words, acknowledging the accuracy of the magistrate’s statement. Khalen did not speak but was obviously angry, balling her hands into fists below the table in front of them.

The adventurers having had their chance to speak, the magistrate ruled in their favor on the murder accusation, but fined each of them fifty gold pieces for failing to report the incident to the proper authorities. He then departed the room, ignoring Khalen’s protests. The two Council members then came over to talk to the group. Shulayer commented that they had an interesting story and that the magistrate was known for being tough but fair. He then offered to make them a loan, if needed, but was informed that the group had enough gold on hand. Taking his leave, he said that he would keep an eye out for anything interesting related to their case and contact them later.

Queron Ulanthar, who had until then remained silent, in a soft voice let them know that they were invited to dine at his house that evening. He also informed them that Rahnee was safe and gainfully employed for the day. He then took his leave, smiling, while advising them to pay the Watch and be on their way. The four then counted out their money - Khalen doing so under protest - which was collected by one of the guards, who then guided them out of Council Hall.

Outside the building, the four took some time to take stock of their situation. Aerikoth said that he was not interested in visiting the Temple of Azuth with the others, which is what they had decided on, and would therefore meet them that evening at Queron Ulanthar’s for dinner. The wizard then departed to take care of his own business, as the others headed for the temple. (Aerikoth's aversion to clergy of all stripes, even those of the Lord of Spells, must have some hidden past motivation. It is also notable that he manages to have personal business seemingly everywhere the company travels. --R)
 

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Later that evening, Aerikoth, Rahnee, Dinendal and Darrow reassembled at Queron’s house, politely waited upon by his servant Bustable. Although Dinendal and Darrow had accompanied Khalen to the temple of Azuth, she had requested that they allow her to meet privately with the priest. Rahnee for her part explained that she had been released earlier by the City Watch and had spent the afternoon quietly drinking in the city. The others in turn caught her up on the results of their hearing earlier in the day. Aerikoth then asked Rahnee why she had spent the afternoon drinking. She thanked the wizard for his concern and replied that she had used it as a cover to gather information while not appearing nosy, and would explain more shortly.

A few minutes later, Queron arrived and greeted his guests. Darrow and Dinendal informed him that the other “young lady” accompanying them had a private engagement and likely would not be joining them for dinner. Queron politely indicated his disappointment, then motioned them to be seated at the dinner table, asking Bustable to bring a special ale for Darrow and Saerloonian Glowfire from his private collection for the rest. Dinendal, clearly enjoying himself, expressed his pleasure at the elegant yet humble setting and for the wine. Darrow chose the Tanagyr Stout on offer, while the others began quaffing the excellent wine. Bustable served the food, which consisted of roast duck, fennel with sage, and a vanilla cream pudding, then departed the room and shut the door at Queron’s order. (These passages are some of the most difficult to read, as I sit here with my brown bread and jug of water. --R)

After several toasts were made, Queron opened the conversation by inquiring about Khalen’s background. After Rahnee asked that anything they say be kept in confidence, Dinendal explained about Khalen’s heritage and the illusion she lived under, as well as her desire for revenge against the bandits who killed her male companion. (It is evident that Queron has earned the party's trust by this point, but I suspect Khalen would have been more circumspect with her own story of tieflinghood and traumatic loss. --C)

Queron then asked if they knew anything about what was happening currently with Clan Ironhelm. Darrow said that all he knew was the rumor that the gates had been shut. He also referred to tales of a secret laboratory of Ashnakzeroth’s located under the clan delvings and mentioned his own quest to recover the enchanted axe named Haelgrim, historically important to the clan. Queron confirmed that the clan had not been opening its gates to visitors lately, which had frustrated his efforts to build contacts there. He offered to Darrow to assist Clan Ironhelm in any way he could, saying that change was coming to the Dragon Coast and that outside contacts would allow the clan to continue to prosper. Darrow appreciated Queron’s words and, grinning, said that Rahnee might actually have the most pull with his kin, having saved them from a lich. Rahnee offered to bring along any message that Queron might wish to send when they attended the coronation of the clan’s new king.

Rahnee then provided the others with the results of her earlier activities that day, namely acquiring a collection of rumors around the city. It appeared that there was little doubt that the muggers the others had defeated on the wharf were indeed Astorians. From that point, the rumors divided into three popular theories. First of all, that the companions were a Harper group, sent to disrupt the Astorians' growing hold on this city. The second theory was that Clan Ironhelm was planning to muscle in on the business of Teziir, as proved by the presence of a dwarven warrior who made pointed threats against various of the Point townsfolk. This led Darrow to nearly drop his pudding and jokingly make denials. The third rumor was that the Night Masks had sent them to see how the Astorians would react and to weaken the Astorians before a full Night Mask takeover.

Queron then thanked Rahnee for providing such an interesting assortment of tales and for her efforts in collecting them, saying that he had a few personal observations to add. According to Queron, the Astorians had indeed been growing bolder and seeking to expand their activities, including an unsuccessful attempt to extort him. For this reason, he had sent his daughter Janatha out of the city, to stay with trusted friends in a remote area. He also expressed his concern over the Astorians’ reported link with the Night Masks. Rahnee, having imbibed a fair amount of wine by that point, then speculated that they might be seeking to spread to another city, now that the “Fire Masks” were moving into Westgate. Dinendal also noted the excellence of the wine and Darrow gently corrected Rahnee, referring to the presence of the “Fire Knives” in Westgate.

After dinner was finished, the group adjourned to the foyer to enjoy yet more fine wine and ale. The adventurers discussed their plans to journey to Clan Ironhelm and expressed their hopes that Khalen could finish her business in Teziir and also be accepted by the dwarves. Their drinks finished, the adventurers took their leave of Queron and expressed their appreciation for his hospitality. Once outside, they decided to head for the Two Swords inn, Rahnee ruefully blaming her confusion regarding the Fire Knives on consuming too much bad ale that afternoon while gathering information. (Considering that the young woman had spent all afternoon drinking in taverns and then took advantage of Queron's cellar at dinner, it is a tribute to her constitution that she is still upright. --R)
 

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Rahnee and Aerikoth made their way to the Two Swords and sat down with glasses of wine in hand. Innkeeper Gregs was a bit surprised to see them and obviously uncomfortable after that morning’s events, as he did his best to ignore the two. Darrow then arrived, explaining that he and Dinendal had noticed the Silver Falcon Inn on the way over; the elf had remained there to check out what the dwarf called the “fruity” tavern.

Khalen walked in shortly afterwards and joined them at their table, everyone studiously ignored by Gregs. Khalen in a low voice confirmed that Rahnee knew the tiefling’s secret, which Khalen was also told had been shared with Council Member Queron. Khalen was dismissive of him, noting that he had not done anything to help them with their 50 gold fine. (Was he supposed to? I must have missed that part. I do wonder about this tiefling's past - she seems to expect others to satisfy her every wish, which is characteristic more of a spoiled merchant's daughter than a disadvantaged, oppressed girl. --R)

Rahnee mentioned to Khalen that Melissa, the lich Ashnakzeroth’s former assistant, had escaped the care of the Helmites that morning. Aerikoth had obtained this information from their leader Thyxlys Jon earlier that day, while Khalen was meeting with the diviner Isyio. (This is a very important development, about which the chronicles lack detail. The company also does not seem to pay much attention to it, perhaps because the newcomers did not participate in the struggle against Ashnakzeroth and do not have an understanding of what is at stake with the abomination. --R) Khalen then shared with the others the results of her meeting with the diviner. He had informed her that he would require a personal possession in order to find Khalen’s target. He also observed that the bandit had probably already gone into hiding, given recent events, and advised Khalen to move on. Khalen scornfully commented that it was easier for a man alone in a magical room to preach that, than for her to do it. (I have more sympathy than my predecessor "R" for this young woman, who has been dealt a hard hand by circumstances in losing her closest companion to violence. We are taught to let go of anger, which in truth takes much effort; she did not have the benefit of the Order's training or the luxury of meditative isolation. --C)

While waiting for Dinendal, the others filled Khalen in on their plans to travel to Clan Ironhelm. There they would search for a possible lich’s laboratory and the clan’s lost treasure, the magical axe Haelgrim, in the deeper delves. Once the elf arrived and pulled up a chair, he and Darrow had a mock-serious exchange involving elven perfumes and braided dwarf hair.

Moving on to weightier topics, Rahnee summarized her and Aerikoth’s previous encounter with the lich Ashnakzeroth for Khalen’s benefit. Under some pressure from Rahnee to abandon her dangerous bandit hunt in Teziir, Khalen declared she would be willing to accompany the others on their journey. Jokull’s absence was lamented by Rahnee and Dinendal, as Aerikoth raised the idea of leaving a note behind for their missing companion. Having reached the end of an eventful day, Rahnee said she would retire to her room, leading the others to finish their drinks and similarly retire for the evening.
 

Carlo-One

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Return to Ironhelm

The next morning on Alturiak 14, the adventurers came downstairs for breakfast at the Two Swords, which was served by a now eager-to-please innkeeper Gregs. Khalen, however, was not there. Rahnee told the others that she had missed the quiet departure from their shared room in the night. The tiefling left behind a goodbye note sweetly apologizing, as Rahnee put it, for letting them down. Rahnee said that it appeared Khalen was not ready to give up on her personal business yet, while Darrow observed that like a bad copper, she was likely to turn up again. (The dwarf is correct in his statement - although as we shall see, the manner of her reappearance is not likely what he expected. --R) Dinendal observed that she could find them easily in the future if she wanted to. (Again I am driven to wonder: is character destiny? Khalen's desire to obtain revenge was not so easily overcome by her new-found friends, it seems. I like to think that she genuinely had intended to accompany the others to Ironhelm, while sitting with them in comradeship and talking of future plans, then later was unable to bring herself to even postpone her obsession. I wonder what "R" refers to above in terms of her reappearance, although my suspicion is that it will not involve happy news. --C)

As the group broke their fast, Darrow consuming yet another mug of ale in the process, they bantered over Darrow’s eating habits and, more seriously, over their planned journey to the Giant’s Run mountains. Aerikoth quietly watched the others while consuming his meal, as was his wont. After finishing breakfast, they gathered their equipment and Rahnee paid off their tab, generously tipping Gregs in the process. The innkeeper, although delighted with the extra gold, was sad to hear that Khalen was not likely to return; he mentioned that earlier he had seen her leaving the inn.

The companions departed the inn and headed first to Queron’s, in order to drop off a message for Jokull, should the warrior eventually arrive in Teziir and be looking for them. Queron’s servant Bustable took the letter for Jokull and informed Rahnee that, although Queron had not left a formal missive for them to take to Clan Ironhelm, he requested they mention Queron’s name favorably during their dealings with the dwarves. Rahnee readily agreed to do so.

Before setting out of the city, Rahnee turned over the reins of party leadership to Darrow, saying that they should not push their luck too far while traveling. After a moment’s disorientation in the city streets, the dwarf was able to locate, with Aerikoth’s assistance, the way to Traders Road, setting out in earnest on their journey. Following six hours of westward travel, the Shining Plains crossroads was reached and the group halted for a rest.

While examining her equipment, Rahnee suddenly uttered an oath and began complaining about being such an idiot for loaning Khalen her magical bow before the tiefling left. (I have observed this to be a consistent complaint among adventurers. Freely "loaning" valuable equipment to mercenaries and other unreliable types you do not know particularly well inevitably has its consequences. --R) As they headed south down the Shining Plains trail, Rahnee could still be heard muttering from time to time. After another two hours of hiking, the adventurers had a short encounter with dire wolves. It was quickly resolved, largely thanks to Aerikoth’s own summoned dire wolf and battle spells, which drew praise from Dinendal. Rahnee commented that Aerikoth’s “friend” should be fed well that night for his efforts.
 

Carlo-One

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Following a journey of another couple of hours, night had fallen and the adventurers debated whether or not to press on for the town of Mountaingate, located in the foothills of the Giant’s Run mountains. As the others declared they had had their fill of walking, Aerikoth announced that he would prepare a place of rest. A pair of brown bears nearby were noticed by Darrow, who yelled at them to go away. The animals, evidently uninterested in the taste of dwarf, slowly ambled off in response.

Aerikoth found a space facing an open field and began chanting the words of a spell. He continued gesturing for perhaps ten minutes while the others discussed making preparations for the following day. As the wizard finished the spell, a large sturdy-looking hut suddenly appeared in front of him, to the amazement of the others. After the initial shock wore off, they followed Aerikoth inside and the wizard locked the door with a wave of his hand. The hut was well-furnished and the companions soon found comfortable spots from which to sit, share drinks, and talk about their situation and plans. (An impressive example of eminently practical magic, which I wish I could have taken advantage of during my own recent sojourn outside the monastery. --C)

Dinendal was particularly interested in the magic of the hut and directed seemingly endless queries Aerikoth’s way, until eventually the elf fell asleep. The following morning, Alturiak 15, they quickly made ready and struck camp, leaving the conjured hut behind to eventually magically disappear on its own. After several hours’ travel, they reached the entrance to Mountaingate, which was clearly marked by braziers of fire placed to ward off the snow and chill winds.

The town looked much the same as it had during the previous month of Hammer, the last time Rahnee and Aerikoth had passed by it after departing Ironhelm Citadel, following the battle with Ashnakzeroth. Darrow sniffed the cold, clean mountain air and expressed his satisfaction. After a short discussion, the party decided to continue on the path to Ironhelm, not needing to rest or stop for any supplies.

After climbing a short distance into the hills, they spotted two winter wolves, who then attacked the group. Despite their cold breath, the wolves were no match for the adventurers and Aerikoth’s summoned dire bear. The bear tore the beasts to pieces, leaving nothing usable of their pelts and disappointing both Rahnee and Dinendal in that regard.

A little while later, the group descended the path into the relative warmth of the valley of Clan Ironhelm. Upon reaching the outer gates, the guards hailed and challenged them and were replied to in dwarven by Darrow, who was formally recognized by them. The guards told him that things had changed since he had departed several tendays previously and that they could let the group pass as far as the visitors’ area. However, the adventurers would then have to parley with the inner gate guards for entrance into the underground clan halls.

Once the inner gates were reached, the group was challenged again by dwarven defenders. After Darrow and Rahnee finished making their plea for entry to the two guards, who discussed the matter between themselves in low voices, the dwarves agreed to take a message to the clan leadership. High Priest Iskar, in the name of the Prince, had ordered the gates shut to all, so not even Darrow could pass without permission. However, the guards assured him that his family was well and that they would be notified of his presence.
 

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As the adventurers headed toward the guest cave to await further developments, Darrow hung back and spoke privately with one of the guards. A short time afterwards, he joined his companions in the cave and informed them that the Prince was seriously ill and Iskar had shut the gates in order to avoid having the news spread. Dinendal opined that the dwarves’ high priest, like High Cleric Carlin, might have been driven insane by seeing Ashnakzeroth’s artifact. Rahnee in response said that she did not recall Iskar being unreasonable and Darrow pointed out that a sick prince with no heir was indeed a risky situation for the clan.

After the group decided to not decamp back to Mountaingate, at least for the moment, they talked with Darrow some more about conditions inside the clan. At Rahnee’s suggestion, in order to pass the time, Dinendal provided the rest with a tale involving the discovery of information on the elven Crown Wars in a forbidden area of the Evermeet library, for which he was banished from the library grounds.

Shortly after Dinendal finished his story, Clan Greeter Rumnaher and an escort entered the cave to welcome the group. After greeting Darrow, Rahnee, and Aerikoth, Rumnaher was also introduced to Dinendal. Rahnee told him of the fate of their two former companions, Brok-Tul and Veran, leading Rumnaher to offer his condolences. The Clan Greeter then expressed his regrets that they could not be welcomed sooner into the clan halls; however, a dwarfmoot needed to decide on the matter, as no one currently was being allowed in or out. He said that he expected it to render a decision by nightfall, which Darrow remarked was moving fast, then politely took his leave. Rahnee joked that at least they had not been told to get out of town. Aerikoth observed that no one was being allowed out of the clan halls either, which he found interesting. After a little more discussion, the party decided the only thing they could do was wait.

Following several hours with no further word, Darrow became impatient and left the cave to talk to the guards once again. Rahnee and Dinendal warmed themselves by the cave pool, which appeared to be fed by underground hot springs. They spent the time discussing Jokull’s absence and Dinendal’s admiration for the absent Cormyrian warrior, tempered by Aerikoth’s observations that Jokull had not, in fact, participated in several crucial battles previously faced by the adventurers. After a while, Darrow returned with nothing new to report.

After the group had some further discussion on possibilities for entering the dwarves’ citadel, Rumnaher entered the cave again, informing them that he brought news from the dwarfmoot. It had been agreed to let them into the dwarven halls; however, their departure would require another decision by the clan. The clan greeter apologized for the decision not seeming completely hospitable, then took his leave, asking the group to present themselves in fifteen minutes at the inner gates, from where they would be taken for an audience with the Prince.

Dinendal wryly expressed his misgivings with situation, while Darrow asked the others how much they wished to tell the Prince. Rahnee said that it would depend on what they found inside, suggesting it would be best to say that they came to offer their respects to the Prince. Darrow agreed that they should play it by ear.
 

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Emerging from the cave, the adventurers made their way to the inner gates and were allowed to pass by the guards. After descending into a tunnel, they were formally welcomed in the entrance chamber by Rumnaher. The Clan Greeter stated that, since this was Dinendal’s first visit to the Ironhelm citadel, the others were expected to vouch for the elf’s behavior. Darrow jokingly warned Dinendal not to steal any cutlery as Rumnaher started to lead them toward the Prince’s audience chamber. As they made their way through the clan halls, the elf looked upon the place with wonderment. (Relatively few outsiders have walked the interior halls of dwarven citadels, and the Ironhelm clan in particular seemingly had almost no dealings with the outside world. The elf, being widely traveled, must have recognized the special nature of his visit. --C)

In the audience chamber Prince Dalgan welcomed the group to the halls of Clan Ironhelm, once they had been formally introduced by Rumnaher. One of the nobles, Toran Goldfinder, stated that he had attend to some business and he was excused by a visibly pale and weak Dalgan. (In light of later events, Toran's action here I must interpret as either a deliberate slight against the surfacers, or perhaps a desire to avoid their attention. --R) As Dalgan expressed his welcoming sentiments towards Dinendal, one of the other nobles protested having a deceitful elf in their hallowed halls. The Prince remonstrated the noble, stating that the dwarfmoot had spoken, and the other dwarf grouchily took his leave. Addressing a dismayed-looking Dinendal, Dalgan apologized for his clansman, saying that some of the clan had long memories for past wrongs. The prince wryly observed that perhaps elves had some prejudices regarding dwarves, as well. Dinendal graciously indicated his understanding of the situation.

Rahnee expressed her sadness at the postponement of the Prince’s assumption ceremony, as Aerikoth silently studied the dwarven leader. Dalgan haltingly explained that the gods did not yet deem it auspicious for him to be officially crowned as king. Rahnee then formally greeted High Priest Iskar, who welcomed her but also signaled his curiosity as to why she had returned now, and in the company of a clan member. Rahnee said that they were fulfilling their promise to return for Dalgan’s planned ceremony and explained that Darrow of late had become one of their stalwart companions, of whom the clan should be proud.

Dalgan then asked Rahnee to speak of his deeds, which she deferred to Darrow to present. Somewhat embarrassed, the dwarven warrior listed his adventures, with some prompting from Dinendal, which included defeating a representative of the Red Wizards in open battle, avenging the fallen of the company against a tyrant, battling innumerable beasts of the wild, and besting a bandit gang that tried to waylay them in a human city. As an afterthought, Darrow mentioned that they had also managed to get thrown in jail, prompting a grimace from Darrow’s father Boirin, who was there along with other members of the Prince’s guard.

Dalgan told Darrow that (almost) all of his deeds had reflected well on the clan, while Rahnee further praised Darrow’s contributions. Aerikoth then chose to speak, stating that Darrow had been instrumental to the company’s success since he joined and that some among them might not still be among the living were it not for his skill, loyalty and courage. Dinendal acknowledged that he had nearly perished during the bandit attack and that Darrow’s skill in battle and the healing arts had saved him. Although pale and wan, Dalgan spoke with determination, saying that these were noble words on Darrow’s behalf. The Prince said that, although the adventurers might be disappointed if they had come solely for his coronation, he nevertheless offered them the hospitality of the clan and they could stay as long as they liked.

Rahnee in return asked if there was anything they could do for the clan, welcoming the opportunity to serve again as they had in the past. The Prince accepted the offer and Iskar indicated that they could speak later regarding current issues, as the Prince was tired and needed to rest. The Prince agreed and weakly waved a hand to dismiss them from the audience, asking Boirin to escort them to their quarters.
 

Carlo-One

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During the walk through the corridors, Darrow and his father spoke briefly about family matters before Boirin excused himself to return to his duties. After taking a moment to relax in their quarters, the company took Darrow up on his suggestion to head for the clan dining area to get some ale before dinner. Darrow’s mother Nurina was working there and, after pulling his ears from side to side in order to look him over for any new marks, she cheerily welcomed both him and his companions. She returned shortly with several mugs of the clan’s ale, which were consumed with enthusiasm, especially by Rahnee. As Nurina bustled off to do more work, his companions asked Darrow questions about his brothers, the priest Andin and guard Nurbir, while Rahnee intently watched the faces of those around them to try and divine the dwarves‘ reaction to their presence.

After finishing dinner and escorting Rahnee back to her quarters, where she collapsed into bed, Darrow, Aerikoth and Dinendal were found by Andin, who greeted Darrow and told the adventurers that Iskar wished to see them. The three then accompanied Darrow’s brother to the temple of Moradin, where the high priest was awaiting them. Iskar dismissed Andin, who was surprised, but nevertheless complied, although with a dirty backward look at Darrow as he departed.

The high priest formally welcomed them, then had the others follow him into a private area. There, he first asked about the fate of Ashnakzeroth and whether his phylactery crystal had been completely destroyed. Aerikoth confirmed this, but also spoke of what happened to High Cleric Carlin and Melissa subsequently. Iskar welcomed the news about the crystal’s destruction and appreciated the wizard’s information.

Iskar then shared his tale, asking the others to not speak of it to anyone beyond the room except for Rahnee. The priest related how the previous king, Tagnar, had passed into Moradin’s realm a year previously. Tagnar had been considered both strong and wise, bringing great prosperity to the clan and leading them to victory against the hill giants. It would be customary to crown Dalgan as the clan’s new leader now that a year had passed, but the signs were not auspicious. The Prince was growing ever-weaker, something that had become increasingly visible over the past month. The three adventurers then discussed possible explanations with Iskar, including some form of curse by the lich Ashnakzeroth and the deliberate poisoning of Dalgan by a clan member.

Iskar said he was grateful for the adventurers’ offer of help and asked them to explore the Deep Delve, as Darrow had originally planned, to see if they could find any trace of the lich’s presence. Darrow’s desire to search for the legendary axe Haelgrim was also welcomed, since it would provide a plausible reason for the group entering the Deep Delve; Iskar said he would unseal its entrance the following morning. The priest provided the three with several magical scrolls and potions as a contribution to their effort. Iskar then excused himself, saying that he would go inform the clan smithy that they should receive a discount, if they wished to stock up on any equipment, also mentioning that Darrow’s father could likely be found there. The priest departed the temple, looking troubled.

After taking some time to examine the glowing statue in the temple, the three companions headed for the smithy, where they found the smith Lorn Ironbeard and several other dwarves, including Darrow’s father. Boirin drew his son aside for a private conversation as Dinendal dickered with the smith and his assistant over various high-quality pieces of equipment. After a time, Darrow returned and picked out a new shield, saying that his pa had lent him enough money for it. Meanwhile, Dinendal was lamenting that the “firewalker” armor being sold was far out of his price range.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
The next morning of Alturiak 16, the others awoke to find Rahnee sitting outside her room and counting the stones in the hallway floor. Darrow considerately asked her if she’d like an ale to start the morning off right, while Dinendal helpfully offered to provide a Calishite hangover remedy called “sheep’s breath.” (It is amazing that with so many adventurers afflicted, no one has succeeded in a quest to obtain the one true hangover remedy. --R) After a short time, Rahnee managed to stand and attempted to buckle her sword belt, which was only accomplished after she gave up and asked Darrow to do it for her. Once Aerikoth joined them, on the wizard’s suggestion they adjourned to Rahnee’s chambers for a private conversation, where Rahnee was informed of the previous day’s encounter with Iskar.

After breakfast, during which Darrow also asked for some lunches from his mother Nurina, the adventurers returned to their quarters and made ready for their expedition. As Iskar had asked, they first went to the temple in order to inform him they were ready and to obtain additional healing items. Darrow also rubbed the head of his acolyte brother Andin for good luck. Iskar told them that as soon as they left the temple, he would release the locking wards on the door to the deeper delves. The priest also advised them to seek out the shift leader in the mines for the latest news.

The four companions departed the temple and Darrow led them to the entrance to the clan mines. After a bit of searching in the mines, they found the dwarven shift leader yelling orders to several miners.
He readily shared with Darrow that the eastern diggings were currently not being worked and that the lower mine level, where the entrance to the Deep Delve was located, had been abandoned for some time. The shift leader wished Darrow and the others luck, although he was fearful of what they might find below and rejected Dinendal’s idea of trying to help the adventurers if they had to run away from any monsters. (This sort of behavior is why the stereotype of the 'fraidy elf' exists. --R)

The group made their way carefully across the bridge to the eastern diggings, hearing some rumblings in the distance. Once on the other side, they encountered a number of stink beetles, which had apparently moved in once the dwarven miners had vacated the area. The vermin were easily, if stinkily, defeated and the adventurers moved on to the next level down in the mines, also defeating an ooze they found by the stairs down. The lower mine level was dark and deserted. During their explorations, despite being careful, they were attacked by a number of crystal oozes that had congregated near a large underground pool. They also found a circular door in the eastern part of the mine level that was sealed tight.

Exploring further, they encountered an umber hulk in the northwestern part of the area, which was soon eliminated thanks to Aerikoth’s spells warding his companions against its confusion gaze. (An excellent piece of tactics, which I shall make a note to remember. --C) Just when they had relaxed, however, a second one appeared in a tunnel to their rear, surprising the wizard. His summoned dire bear was quick to react and protected its master, keeping the monster occupied and savaging it until the others came over to finish it off. Once the adventurers were sure that no other unwanted visitors were around, they finished exploring the tunnel complex and located a door which lead further downwards.

Darrow decided to absent himself for a short while, so the others took another look at the eastern door and then went back to the upper mine level to ask the shift leader about it. The dwarven miner informed them that it sounded like the old water tunnel, which had been sealed off to prevent an underground stream from flooding the mine.

Returning to the abandoned mine level, Rahnee, Aerikoth and Dinendal encountered some more crystal oozes by the pool. Rahnee this time used an empty potion bottle to collect some of the ooze material, to the consternation of Dinendal. Once the three made their way back to the door to the lower level, they found Darrow smacking his lips, the dwarf evidently having just finished a snack. After carefully opening the old stone door, which was unlocked, the adventurers descended to the Deep Delve.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Two old stone huts were the first structures encountered, appearing to be of old dwarven construction and long abandoned. As they started to explore towards the south, several skeletal bats attacked them, but were easily defeated. None of the group had ever seen such creatures before and Dinendal expressed his amazement that they could fly without wing leather.

At Rahnee’s urging, Darrow took point as the group moved into the next tunnel, his dwarven vision underground being superior to hers. Hearing whistling and moaning noises ahead, they moved forward with care and were able to defeat an attack of a group of undead, wraiths according to Aerikoth. The wizard comment that undead were prevalent in the area, most likely servitors of the lich. Hearing similar sounds coming from another cavern, the adventurers were able to prepare for combat, as Aerikoth cast a fireball into the chamber and his companions then made short work of the wraiths within.

Penetrating further into the southern caverns, the group fought off another swarm of skeletal bats. After entering another chamber, Darrow sensed that something was off about the stonework and started carefully inspecting its northeast wall. To the surprise of all, a portion of the wall appeared to be illusory and the dwarf was able to walk through it into a secret passage. The others soon joined him and they carefully made their way down the passage into the next chamber.

This chamber was quite large and the adventurers had difficulty in the dark making out what was in it. Dinendal was struck by some old walls with a series of runic inscriptions on them. As the group moved around the chamber, a skeletal warrior animated and attacked, but was quickly reduced to bones again. Aerikoth observed that similar necromantic traps had been placed in Ashnakzeroth’s tower. After Dinendal returned to inspecting the runic walls, he finally was able to identify them as being Netherese. Aerikoth noted that they appeared similar to the ones found in the lich’s tower, where a blood sacrifice had been necessary to reach his citadel and defeat him.

As the group further explored the chamber, Dinendal found a large wooden door and Rahnee identified a throne on top of a small hill, which Darrow had somehow missed earlier. Dinendal then approached the throne to examine it. The curious elven bard was stunned when moments later a tall, ghostly figure appeared, which the others who had seen the lich recognized as appearing similar to Ashnakzeroth. The figure appeared confused as it spoke with Dinendal and Darrow, growing ever more transparent. It called for its gem, then suddenly realized that it was gone, crying out as it faded from sight that it was but an echo or sliver from the past. (How strange and terrifying. Yet at the same time heartening, to see that even a creature such as Ashnakzeroth has limits to its works. Whatever piece of it had survived as a wraith from its past was finally overcome by the passage of time. The mere fact of its existence, however, raises questions about the methods the lich may have had to continue its existence, beyond its gem-like phylactery. --C)

The group began excitedly talking about what had just transpired. Aerikoth stated that the creature must have had multiple ways of returning, but appeared to need its gem, the one that had been destroyed by High Cleric Carlin. The mage observed that the throne was identical to the one found in the Seven Hills and noted that this time no one had been nearby to assist the lich, unlike what had occurred before with the necromancer Zagath, who had attempted to return Ashnakzeroth to corporeality. Dinendal speculated that although the creature might be destroyed, other evils could be at work in the deeper delves, now that Ashnakzeroth’s hold over the area was no more.

The elf became fascinated with the chamber and began to carefully examine the entire length of the cavern walls, seeking further clues (or perhaps just giving in to his curiosity). Rahnee checked over the throne area for traps, but found nothing. A large pair of doors was discovered at the southern end of the chamber and Rahnee successfully picked the lock. Darrow mentioned that he had found an old key, but it did not fit that particular lock. Beyond the doors, however, the three encountered a rockfall that thwarted any further progress.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
While Rahnee and Darrow checked out the old mineshaft in the chamber, Aerikoth returned to examine the runes on the freestanding walls in the central part of the chamber. Since the runes were inscribed at the top of the walls and otherwise out of reach, the wizard beckoned to his summoned dire bear and climbed its furry back. Rahnee and Darrow came over, looking quizzical until Aerikoth explained that he needed to touch the runes for his spell of magical comprehension to work on them.

The wizard then commanded the bear to rise up on its hind legs. With his companions looking on, Aerikoth attempted to stand on the animal's shoulders, but could not find his balance. Clinging to the bear's neck instead, he carefully reached out his hand to trace the rune circle on the wall, then quickly commanded the beast to settle back to the ground before the wizard lost his grip. Once safely down, Aerikoth informed the others that the runes, which were repeated on other walls in the chamber, were in Netherese and read "Ashnakzeroth - Eternity in Death and Life". (Such is the hope of those who pursue the path to abomination, but it is a false one and truly a doom instead. --C)

Deciding to leave Dinendal to finish his exploration of the chamber, the three retraced their steps and scouted further in the delves. They encountered another group of bone bats after re-crossing the dark underground pool to the west of Ashnakzeroth's chamber and taking an alternate passage to the northeast. After defeating the undead flying things, they took stock of the new chamber they found themselves in. Three curious crystal rock formations were found, one of which had an empty, human-sized alcove within it. The other two contained vaguely manlike forms, blurry behind their blue crystal facades.

After contemplating them for a short while, Aerikoth wondered out loud if they were clones of Ashnakzeroth. The wizard explained that very skilled practitioners of the Art have the ability to duplicate their bodies, transferring their spiritual essence into another one when their current body is rendered useless. Although Aerikoth observed that with its soul gem destroyed, Ashnakzeroth could no longer possess the empty vessels, Rahnee and Darrow were determined to try and destroy the bodies. However, Darrow's attempts failed even to scratch the hard crystal covering them, so the three decided to move on.

Dinendal caught up with the rest of his companions as they were starting to work their way north from the first chamber they had entered in the Deep Delve. The four soon detected strange sounds from ahead of them and carefully made themselves ready. This proved valuable, as the chamber beyond contained groups of wraiths and spectres, who threw themselves upon the living. Due to the adventurers' skill and luck, none suffered any permanent damage from the cold touch of the undead, who were all defeated.

While exploring the chamber, several sets of bones were discovered near a crevasse with a large rock formation thrusting up from its depths. A tunnel ran north and was carpeted with other skeletal remains, terminating in a circular stone door. The door, on close inspection by Darrow, was judged to have been deliberately jammed from their side and could not be opened. The dwarf also noted that the bones showed signs of axe blows, given the nature of the damage inflicted on them.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Another tunnel ran east from the chamber and the party chose to explore the series of caverns after it, but their path was eventually blocked by a rockfall in the southern exit of a large chamber to the south. While the others thoroughly explored this chamber, Darrow had a sudden inspiration and ran back to the cavern of the spectres. When the others eventually returned to it as well, they found him peering down into the crevasse excitedly. Apparently the dwarf had caught a glint of something below and was seeking the best way down to find it. A rope was tied around Darrow and he climbed carefully into the dark crevasse, straining to reach the object he had seen. He was able to grab something and with the assistance of the others climbed back out onto the chamber floor.

As Darrow finished removing the rope, a ghostly dwarven figure appeared in front of him, dressed in Ironhelm armor. The spectral dwarf stated that he was Relan Ironhelm, the warrior who had last wielded Haelgrim in the service of the clan - the very weapon that Darrow had recovered from the crevasse. Relan charged Darrow to return the axe to the clan and wield it well, then vanished, leaving Darrow both amazed and ecstatic at having recovered the ancient symbol of Clan Ironhelm. (Though our Order opposes undeath in any form, it is understood that in some cases, a spirit may not pass on for Judgment because of unfinished work of great importance upon this plane of existence. Relan's fall in service of his clan and the loss of Haelgrim must have kept him bound to that location, waiting for...redemption? Perhaps that is not the best term, but I lack the words to describe such a deed and its aftermath. --C)

After some discussion among the party, it was decided that Darrow should also bring back a set of the bones from near the crevasse, as it was thought they might help shed some light on what had happened during Relan's last battle. Judging that they had explored all of the deeper delves that they could reach, the adventurers decided to return to the Ironhelm citadel and report their findings. Aerikoth dismissed his summoned dire bear just prior to reaching the clan's mines.

At the entrance to the clan halls, the group found Boirin Ironhelm, Darrow's father, waiting. The older dwarf greeted Darrow happily, his emotions leaping even higher when Darrow brought out the axe Haelgrim. Boirin insisted that they all immediately accompany him to tell the Prince the news. Hurrying towards the audience chamber, he impatiently waited for the four to catch up, then announced to the Prince and others assembled that he brought great news for the clan.

Darrow strode forward and briefly related how they had found the axe, laying it at the Prince's feet. Koll Wallbasher, in response to a question from the Prince, picked it up and examined it with expert eyes, saying that there was no doubt it was Haelgrim and the find of the century for the clan. As Toran Goldfinder inquired whether the Deep Delve was fit for mining, one of the dwarven nobles excitedly rushed out of the chamber to inform the rest of the clan of Haelgrim's return. Darrow finished describing what they had found during their expedition, with some additional commentary from the irrepressible Dinendal, while Aerikoth and Rahnee calmly observed. Prince Dalgan, clearly animated although still appearing weak, expressed his congratulations and advised them to seek out High Priest Iskar in order to relate their tale to him.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
The four excused themselves from the audience chamber and made their way to the temple, occasionally hearing excited shouts and talk echoing in the halls as the news of Haelgrim's recovery spread like wildfire among the clan. Once in Iskar's presence, Darrow told the priest of the results of their expedition, spending more time to fully describe the various types of undead they had encountered and what they found in Ashnakzeroth's chambers. Iskar reverently listened to the tale of Haelgrim and the encounter with Relan's ghost; he also accepted the bones Darrow had brought back for further study. The priest observed that they were not dwarven and Darrow commented that he believed Haelgrim had likely been responsible for slaying whatever creatures whose remains they had found. Iskar said that he did not trust the accuracy of the legends surrounding Relan's last stand, as various different versions had him fighting Drow, undead, or even demons. (It is refreshing to read of a skeptical priest who is genuinely concerned about his charges and getting at the truth of a matter, rather than just proclaiming whatever version of a story suits his interests the most. The mystery surrounding Relan's fate and his opponents may have contemporary relevance, as we shall see. --R)

Iskar asked that they scribe a record of their findings, to aid any future explorations of the Deep Delve. As Dinendal was volunteering to do this, a drunken dwarf briefly wandered in, shouting happily about Haelgrim's return. Iskar dryly observed that word seemed to be spreading. Rahnee and Darrow expressed their disappointment to Iskar at not having found anything that was obviously related to the problems with the Prince's health. (I am not sure what exactly they expected to find in that regard, and how they would - or could - connect it to the puzzle of Dalgan's poor health. --C) Rahnee also asked about who would be next in line for the throne if Dalgan died. (She has, admittedly in a rather undiplomatic manner, put her finger on a central issue facing the Ironhelm clan. So far it has not been acknowledged openly, but it seems that the problem of succession lies behind many events in these chronicles that occur in that dwarven realm. --R)

The priest appeared uncomfortable with the question and avoided it, stating that he would re-institute the wards on the entrance to the Deep Delve and discuss with the Prince and his advisors if they should mount another expedition. As the group kept getting interrupted by boozy, celebrating dwarves, they decided that they had done their duty for the day and excused themselves from Iskar's presence. Aerikoth and Rahnee chose to head for their quarters and rest, Rahnee declaring that she was looking forward to a long bath. Dinendal, however, was dragged off to the ale hall by Darrow in order to celebrate their accomplishments.

Late on the morning of Alturiak 17, the companions roused themselves and after a time gathered in the guest chamber hallway. After greeting the others, Dinendal firmly declared that he must finish his chronicle of their adventures prior to leaving, returning to his room and shutting the door in order to concentrate. Darrow informed the others that he had received a message summoning them to the Prince's audience chamber in a few minutes and the three shortly afterwards made their way there.

Passing a line of congratulatory nobles, Darrow, Rahnee and Aerikoth approached the throne. Aerikoth hung back momentarily and whispered something before joining the other two in front of the Prince. After formal greetings were exchanged, Toran Goldfinder excused himself, saying that unfortunately business called him away, but would welcome the chance to speak later with Darrow. Clan war leader Koll Wallbasher whispered something in Prince Dalgan's ear; the Prince, in a weak but audible voice, declared that he was capable of continuing, although he thanked Koll for his concern. He said that they had weighty matters to discuss, also recommending that the group seek out High Priest Iskar in his chambers later.

Dalgan stated that the clan council had debated the significance of the adventurers' accomplishments. Although much remained to be discussed regarding the Deep Delve, they had reached some decisions. Firstly, that he who had found Haelgrim would be allowed to bear it in the name of the clan. As Boirin looked on, beaming with pride, the Prince explained that Darrow would be granted three months in which to bear the weapon into the outside world, in search of worthy adventures. At the end of this time, he must return and report what he had accomplished. Darrow willingly agreed to this.

The Prince said that naturally Darrow and his companions would be free to depart the citadel whenever they wished. Also, the clan had decided to reopen itself to outside trade, which Rahnee declared was excellent news. Darrow recommended that the clan contact Queron Ulanthar in Teziir; Dalgan in response noted that Toran Goldfinder, as head of the merchants, would be looking into such matters. The decisions of the council having been proclaimed, Koll Wallbasher then brought out Haelgrim and presented it to Darrow, charging him to accept it in the name of the clan's honor and do mighty deeds with it. Darrow accepted with reverence, taking the axe in a firm grip and shouting the Ironhelm war-cry as he raised it above his head.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Following an invitation by the Prince to speak, Rahnee eloquently described the need for doughty warriors in their recently-won wilderness land of “Veranbrok”, purchased with the blood of two companions and torn from the hand of a bad ruler. Dalgan asked where the land might be found and stated that he would not object if any of his young warriors volunteered to travel there to help, although he could not promise other assistance given the challenges that faced Clan Ironhelm. He asked Koll to make a note of the location of the nearest village, Glees, and directions for any who would venture there. The Prince, clearly pleased with things, said that Koll had reminded him of the need for rest and ended the audience.

Darrow, Rahnee and Aerikoth then made their way to the temple. Iskar greeted them and ushered them into a private chamber, in order to avoid more interruptions by well-wishing clan members. In response to a question from Rahnee about the Prince's health, Iskar explained that he had been up all night in council deliberations, so the priest had asked Koll to ensure that he get some rest as soon as possible. Iskar confessed that he was no closer to divining the nature of the Prince's problem, although he intended to turn his full energies towards it once again.

Rahnee mentioned her surprise at the quick decisions to give Haelgrim to Darrow and to immediately reopen trade with the outside world. Although Iskar was initially reluctant to comment, he was put on the spot by an observant Aerikoth, who noted the priest's pensiveness. Iskar explained that clan politics still posed a danger, with the fragile state of the Prince. Although Iskar believed that Darrow truly merited the chance to bear Haelgrim, he also viewed it as a convenient way to ensure that its possessor would be away from clan halls and not made a part of any plot against the Prince. Iskar also pointedly observed that if the Prince died, Darrow might be considered as a possible successor. The prospect caused Darrow to sputter briefly before declaring that he might lead a charge into a wall of giants, but doubted that he had the mettle to lead the clan.

Iskar cautioned that others might seek to manipulate Darrow, specifically mentioning Toran Goldfinder, although the priest had no proof of wrongdoing. He advised the adventurers to leave soon, to avoid any problems. In response to a question from Aerikoth, Iskar said he believed that there was nothing more that the adventurers could do, so Iskar would not attempt to contact them; however, if they discovered something in their travels, they could always return to the citadel.

The three then took their leave of the priest and went back to the guest quarters, in order to see how Dinendal was faring with the chronicle of their Deep Delve expedition. Darrow pounded on the elf's door and Dinendal emerged, ink-stained, protesting that he had just finished his draft and was in the process of revising its wordage. Rahnee shared the latest news with him about Darrow's possession of Haelgrim and their imminent departure.

After making a few last-minute edits, Dinendal went off to deliver his chronicle to the clan's keeping, while Darrow was occupied saying goodbye to his clanmates. Once the four adventurers had reassembled, Aerikoth informed them that, despite having stuffed Rahnee's magic bag to the brim, their equipment was too heavy for him to teleport them all out. After some debate, they decided not to leave behind any of their inventory, opting to depart on foot instead.

At the gates to the outside world, Clan Greeter Rumnaher provided an emotional farewell, telling Darrow and his companions that they had truly honored the clan with their actions. With a final exchange of the war-cry "For Ironhelm!" Rumnaher watched Darrow and the others ascend the tunnel to the surface. There, the dwarven defenders on duty saluted the party as they passed through the two massive gateworks and departed the valley into the cold of the Giant's Reach mountains.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Chapter VI: Against the Astorians
A Father’s Desperation

Moving along the trail, the group debated whether to press on toward Teziir for the remainder of the day, which would mean making a cold camp at night, or halt in Mountaingate. Aerikoth dryly observed that he would prefer to simply teleport ahead, but in any case he had no intention of spending the night in the cold. Dinendal also felt such an option would be barbaric, so the group decided to stop at the Mountaingate village inn, which was a short distance away.

Answering Rahnee's hail, the village militia opened the wooden gate to the adventurers, allowing them to come in from the snowy path outside. The group immediately made for the inn and was welcomed cheerily by the gnomish proprietor, Allie, who remembered Rahnee and her tea preference. Allie bustled over to the fire and put the tea on, apologizing to Rahnee for the lack of honey, as it had been a tough winter. The innkeeper also commented, in a low voice, about the other guests in the common room - a group of three mercenaries - who had lately been unsuccessful in their attempts to trade with Clan Ironhelm.

While Allie was discussing sleeping arrangements with the others, Darrow planted himself in the common room and engaged the mercenaries in conversation. Shortly afterwards, his three companions in the adjoining room heard a clash of weapons. Dinendal immediately rushed out, with Rahnee and Aerikoth trailing him. The elven bard moved quickly to aid Darrow, who was encircled and being attacked by the mercenaries, with Rahnee following close behind. The three managed to rapidly dispatch their opponents while Aerikoth observed the mayhem. Upon seeing the blood and bodies sprawled on her inn floor, Allie screamed and went into shock. Dinendal upbraided Darrow, who had a big smile on his face, for announcing to the mercenaries that the adventurers had been paid while the mercenaries had not. (Sigh. --R)

Allie, near-hysterical, focused on finishing preparing the tea and serving her remaining guests. In a well-meaning gesture, Rahnee provided her with some extra coin to purchase supplies to clean the blood from the floor, while Dinendal offered a flowery apology. At Rahnee's suggestion, the innkeeper then left to report the incident to the village militia, carefully stepping over one of the bodies that had been left by the door. The group then fell to discussing what had happened, with Darrow loudly protesting his innocence and the need to defend himself. Aerikoth with his usual perspicacity pointed out the body of the mercenary who had tried to flee, but had been cut down by Darrow's axe.

A short while later, Allie arrived with some militiamen in tow. After taking in the scene, including the well-armed adventurers and Aerikoth's glowing wizard staff, the militia leader said a few monosyllabic words and then departed, satisfied with the party's promise that they would take care of the bodies. Dinendal and Darrow ended up doing the lion's share of the burial work while Rahnee checked the local provisioner for supplies and Aerikoth stood outside the inn, largely ignoring the others as he familiarized himself with the location for wizardly purposes.

After Aerikoth completed his period of study on the afternoon of Alturiak 17, he teleported out, with the intention of returning in the morning. After the others finished cleaning the inn as best they could, Allie insisted that the three of them take the two upstairs rooms for the night. She fed them a hot dinner, a fixed smile on her face the whole time, while whistling the same tune over and over again and insisting that she would be quite happy sleeping down by the oven, to keep her warm.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
The following morning, Allie served breakfast and the three adventurers at the inn again went over the events of the previous day. Rahnee expressed her hope that they could do some good in “Veranbrok”, the former Hallton barony. Aerikoth returned and informed the others that he had spoken with Jandrico Swift at the Gatereach in Westgate. Jandrico had told the wizard that Council Member Queron Ulanthar in Teziir was anxious to speak with the adventurers about a personal matter. Since they had intended to stop at Queron's in any case while on their way to Veranbrok, in order to inform the Council Member that trade was now open with Ironhelm, this naturally fit in with their plans.

Rahnee mentioned to Aerikoth that she and the others had been debating a change in the name of the group - currently known as "Helm's Shadows" - given the passing of Brok-Tul and Veran. Aerikoth expressed his indifference at names, while the others came to a consensus to leave the name as it stood, which as Darrow pointed out also honored the fallen. After finishing the meal, the adventurers took their leave; Dinendal attempted to apologize to a glassy-eyed Allie on the way out.

After traveling north for around eight hours, they reached the crossroads area with Traders Road and decided to rest for the remainder of the day. Aerikoth spent time conjuring up a magic shelter, none too soon as a cold rain began to fall as he finished the words of the spell. The next morning on Alturiak 19, Rahnee rose early and went outside, saying she wished to scout the area, but the others suspected that she also felt the need for some time to herself. Upon her return, Aerikoth let down the door’s wards and Rahnee opened it, stamping her feet to remove a bit of snow from her boots. She informed the others that she had seen no obvious threats, but had observed the apparent disuse of the trail south and warned that animals in the area might be restless.

The group took more time than usual in making their way east along Traders Road to Teziir, but nonetheless managed to arrive at the city before nightfall. Once inside, they took their bearings and headed for Queron Ulanthar's home. Rahnee identified herself at the door and Queron’s redoubtable servant Bustable let them in. After being served wine, the group was joined by Queron, who wore a troubled expression on his face but at the same time was evidently pleased to see them. The adventurers followed him into an adjoining room, where Queron had several of his treasures displayed.

Fighting back tears, the Council Member brokenly informed them that his daughter Janatha had been taken. He expressed his appreciation at the concern shown by the group, as well as being impressed at Aerikoth's ability to teleport, once it was explained that the wizard had heard of Queron's need to see them from Jandrico in Westgate. Calling them friends, Queron asked for assistance from the company, sharing with them some of Janatha's background and what he knew about what had occurred.

He began by explaining Janatha's previous work at the Gatereach Inn in Westgate, where some of the adventurers had previously met her. Queron said that Jandrico, the inn's proprietor, was his greatest friend and a former business partner. After Jandrico retired from their partnership, he set up the Gatereach for his own business. Queron had not been as keen on moving to Westgate and preferred to pursue other opportunities in Teziir.

Queron said that when Janatha came of age, he did not wish her to be a useless merchant's daughter, spoiled and helpless or lacking empathy for others. He also recognized that his own wealth would increasingly put her at risk to any enemies of his in Teziir. He therefore sent her to Westgate to work at the Gatereach, where Jandrico could teach her about life and also keep her out of harm's way, which he did for two summers. Once Janatha returned to Teziir, although Queron delighted in her presence again, he knew that keeping her in the city would not be wise. After a time, he sent her to a private lodge in the countryside with no one around but his own servants. (Queron it seems possesses both noble and practical intent, as well as a sense of caution, an unusual combination in a merchant who has long-established wealth. Unfortunately it did not save him from the predations of his enemies, in this case. --R)

Queron mentioned that things had become difficult lately in Teziir with the Astorians thieves guild, which had become more aggressive. He believed that it now sought to challenge the Council, while before it had been little more than what he termed a collection of petty thieves. There were also rumors of its connections to the Night Masks. In response to a question from Rahnee, Queron detailed what he knew of Janatha's disappearance. He had sent a retainer down with fresh supplies for the lodge, who upon arrival found two of the servants dead and Janatha gone. Queron expressed his hope that she still lived, as if she had been killed, he would see no reason for her disappearance. Darrow astutely asked how many servants there had been at the lodge. Queron informed him that there had been three; of the third, there had been no word.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
After some speculation about what the kidnappers' demands might be, Aerikoth queried how far away the lodge was from the city and was told by Queron that it was a half-day's ride, far enough to be secure from casual travelers but close enough to visit in a day. In response to a follow-up question from the wizard, Queron indicated that he had received word of Janatha's disappearance four days prior, on Alturiak 15. Rahnee asked about the missing third servant and was informed that his name was Yoris, who had been in Queron’s service for two years; Queron understood that he was a suspect, but had no evidence against him.

Aerikoth then asked about Queron's enemies. The Council Member firmly believed that the Astorians were behind this incident, as he had blocked their machinations on more than one occasion. Aerikioth asked him if he suspected any of affiliation with this group. After some thought, Queron said that he had suspicions of Council Member Shulayer, noting that the group had encountered him at their recent trial. Dinendal mentioned that he had "interrogated" them after the trial had finished. Darrow, scratching his head, thought he had perhaps offered them work as well. Aerikoth interjected, stating that Dean Shulayer had offered to keep them informed of anything related to the ambush that had occurred - something which had been interpreted as a threat by their previous companion Khalen. Shulayer had also offered them a loan, in case they needed money to pay the fine, Aerikoth recalled.

Queron had nothing else in the way of information to offer on the apparent kidnapping, so they fell to discussing possible avenues of investigation. Aerikoth stated that he was not unsympathetic, but they had little to start with until the kidnappers contacted them. Dinendal asked if the lodge could proffer them some clues, a notion which Aerikoth discounted based on the length of time that had elapsed, although Darrow thought it might be worthwhile to check out. Both Dinendal and Rahnee raised the possibility of using scrying magic and contacting the Diviner in Teziir, although Queron said he knew little of him. Aerikoth commented that it was likely that anyone who had kidnapped the Council Member's daughter would also have protection against scrying attempts. Aerikoth asked Queron how many people knew where his daughter was staying and was informed that only Queron, his lodge servants, and Jandrico Swift in Westgate knew where she had been.

Appearing tired and concerned, yet hopeful, Queron invited the adventurers to stay at his residence for the night, an offer which they gladly accepted. The following morning of Alturiak 20 they were roused by sounds of activity, followed by a servant announcing that breakfast would be served shortly in the dining room. Rahnee and Aerikoth went down first, followed by Dinendal and Darrow, the dwarf complaining that it was too early. Queron joined them and over the meal discussed a new lead from one of his agents, Barakus, who had reported being approached by one Reggius Faulkner, a known associate of the Astorians. Reggius claimed to have knowledge of the missing servant, Yoris, and was willing to meet that morning to discuss things further - no doubt for a suitable reward.

The party agreed to meet Reggius later on and questioned Queron more about Yoris. He told them that Yoris had been closest to Ganea, one of the murdered servants, and had started out as a messenger in Queron's service, thereby proving his trustworthiness. (Sadly, trust once gained cannot be assumed forever, as men become corrupted by greed and other vices. --R) As they were finishing the meal, Bustable announced that Barakus had arrived and Queron excused himself.

After a few minutes, the others were asked to join Queron in the living room, where a large, sandy-haired bearded man in leather armor and a cloak awaited them. Darrow asked hopefully if this was the person who needed a beating and was somewhat crestfallen when the man was introduced as Barakus. Queron directed Barakus to tell the others of what he had just spoken. Barakus explained that Reggius had approached him in a tavern by the docks the previous night. He had seemed a little nervous and did not provide much in the way of detail, which Barakus thought normal if the Astorians were involved, but said he had information about Yoris. He asked for a meeting the following day, at a store owned by an old sailor in Traders District. Barakus noted that he had not been asked to come alone and would not be that stupid, in any case.

Queron, looking grim, told the party that their presence could be useful in convincing Reggius to cooperate; he had already discussed with Barakus what compensation might be offered for information. Barakus confirmed with Queron that the group had already offered to assist him. Barakus observed that, as one of Queron's agents, he would be too well known to be seen around the city in Reggius' company, a problem that the adventurers would not have. Aerikoth asked about Reggius' motivation, which Barakus answered with a shrug and the observation that he probably expected lots of gold. Barakus also mentioned that he had gathered as much information as he could about Reggius and was able to confirm that he had been a bone-breaker for the Astorians.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
As the time for the meeting with Reggius was nearing, the group made ready, Rahnee and Darrow changing into their armor. Queron, clearly moved by their willingness to help find his daughter Janatha, wished them success as they headed out the door. Barakus led them southeast to a dark and dingy store in the corner of the district. There they were greeted by the proprietor, Old Fenian, who sported a pegleg and a toothed grin. After a bit of small talk amongst the group, another man entered the store and greeted Barakus, the newcomer evidently being Reggius. He was on the young side and well-proportioned, with a dangerous and edgy air.

Reggius' first move was to question Barakus about the "entourage" he had brought with him, although he accepted without comment the explanation that Barakus had need of protection, given the amount of gold he had brought. Some additional verbal fencing and implied threats then ensued between Reggius and the group, although finally they agreed to move to a side room for further discussion. Reggius told them that if anyone left Fenian's before him, that could be bad for everyone. Old Fenian, grinning, hung a sign on the door to make sure no one would interrupt them and then watched the others head for the side room.

After Reggius and the others had settled into place and sized each other up some more, Barakus put down fifty gold pieces and slid them across the table to Reggius, saying that Queron was willing to pay more for results. He explained that the four adventurers were assisting him and briefly named them. Reggius, acting confident, negotiated back and forth with Barakus, although sparing some attention as well for exchanges of veiled threats and insults with Darrow. Reggius then asked for more information on the company. Rahnee, Dinendal and Darrow all introduced themselves and were acknowledged by Reggius.

When Aerikoth's turn came, in a neutral tone he informed the Astorians associate that he had no desire to introduce himself and in all candor would prefer simply to take what information Reggius had and then cast him aside. Reggius reacted poorly and then moved to leave, lashing back verbally at Aerikoth and ignoring an attempt by Barakus to calm things down. The wizard took advantage of Barakus' interposition to cast a spell aimed at Reggius, which had an immediate and shocking effect on all who watched, as they saw him morph into a toad. (For a hardbitten thug, Reggius showed a singular lack of care in this incident. His hostile personality was no doubt the result of a hard life on the streets - I have known several such individuals - but the rules of these kinds of 'business' negotiations are well known: posture for effect, then negotiate the price. He neglected the latter rule, while overestimating his own control of the situation. It is rarely a good idea to repeatedly threaten and insult a group of well-armed adventurers, especially when they include someone who could turn you into a toad. --R)

Once the shock had worn off, the party collected Reggius and hastily departed the store. Upon their return to Queron's home, the Council Member became furious, unable to comprehend why the only lead they had found to Janatha was now a toad. Aerikoth agreed to change Reggius back once he had re-memorized the spell. However, after that was done, Reggius immediately attempted to kill the wizard and would not desist until he was himself killed.

Queron was appalled by this outcome and in a frenzy of anger ordered the adventurers to leave Teziir and never return. There was little they could do in the face of Queron's rage, so the four departed the house. Aerikoth said he would join the others later, so the other three headed to the eastern outskirts of the city in order to collect their thoughts. Rahnee indicated that she would like to try one last time to talk to Queron and went back into the city, leaving Darrow and Dinendal together in the meantime.

(What a disaster! I have great sympathy for Queron, who it seems was relying on the information from Reggius to be able to rescue his only daughter. It is hard to see how Janatha can be found now. --C)
 

Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters

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