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The Westgate Campaign Chronicles - serial

Carlo-One

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The next morning, on Ches 11, Darrow and Dermot arrived in the common room of Kablin’s Inn to find Rahnee already heading out the door. She had already gulped down some iron rations and said she wanted to spend more time on the town’s defenses, but encouraged the others to get on the road. The dwarf and the ranger wished her luck and settled down for a meager breakfast, with Aerikoth soon joining them. Darrow suggested they head to Turnton to see Baron Pahar and let him know how things had fared with his soldiers in Tallwell. Patting his legendary axe, Haelgrim, he said had no pressing business, other than to go forth and do great things in the clan’s name. However, he mentioned he did want to pick up some supplies in Westgate for his brewery project.

Dermot was amenable to this, saying he wanted to buy some things in the city as well. He told the others that he had picked over the Beast’s corpse at the manor house, but had only found some “cheap magics” and a couple of potions. Aerikoth had little to add, only noting that he needed to study some more spells before departing, including one of his shelter summons. Darrow and Dermot stopped by the barracks to say goodbye to Pahar’s troops, then Darrow left a note for the Mayor about their plans. Back at the inn, they rejoined Aerikoth and the mage cast a series of defensive spells on them before they left the village, heading back to the forest path to Glees.

The path was overgrown and even Dermot had trouble marking its direction. After a bit of wandering, the three were finally making progress when they heard faint shouting towards the west, in their general direction of travel. After approaching the area and hearing more loud yelling, they spotted Shanni up a tree with two black bears evidently trying to get at her. The three dispatched the animals, only to have their erstwhile companion then point out a much larger bear that had been attracted to the sounds of fighting. Its bite inflicted significant damage on Dermot, but eventually it was brought down as well, with the aid of Aerikoth’s own summoned dire bear.

Following some banter about her predicament, Shanni decided to try climbing down the tree unassisted, but it looked as if she slipped on a branch and tumbled down the rest of the way. Pouting and appearing miserable after complaining about straining something in her leg, she nonetheless managed a civil exchange with Aerikoth. The mage for his part was willing to offer her assistance with his magics and was even complementary about her skill in avoiding the bears. Shanni seemed to swallow her pride and said she would accept the others’ help. After some discussion, it was decided that Aerikoth would teleport ahead to Glees with Shanni, leaving Darrow and Dermot to make their way through the forest; the wizard was not able to take all of them at once via the spell. (It seemed fortuitous for all concerned that the company happened upon their former companion in this manner; Shanni evidently was under dire threat by the forest creatures, while her skills with locks, traps and a bow would certainly be missed. Her at times intense skepticism of the others, however, I fear will not so easily be put aside. --C)
 

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Carlo-One

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Chapter VIII: Dwarven Depths

Another Message in a Box

Some time later, the dwarf and the ranger arrived at the Glees inn and saw Aerikoth and Shanni deep in conversation. Shanni had already arranged for an ale for Darrow, knowing his proclivities, while Dermot went and got something for himself. The four sat together and – this time, more calmly – discussed how they had felt about the assault on the Beast’s manor, clearing the air among them. Undt, who had been solicitously attending to his important (for the village) guests, suddenly exclaimed he had (almost) forgotten something had been delivered for them. The innkeeper went to the back and soon returned to present them with a medium-sized box.

Just as Undt was about to speak further, Rahnee walked through the inn’s door. She hung up her cloak, glanced in surprise at Shanni, then a brief look of horror came over her face as she contemplated the box – no doubt remembering a previous such delivery, which had contained the head of their former companion Aratae. The innkeeper explained that two dwarves had left this box for Helm’s Shadows, saying that the adventurers would know what it was about. In response to a question from Darrow, Undt said he could not tell if they were Ironhelm dwarves or not. Aerikoth queried when it was delivered and the innkeeper said it had been left with him just the day before, with no further explanation. He also indicated that the box’s seal was still intact.

After Undt stepped out of the way, Dermot drew a small knife to open the box, but at Rahnee’s urging deferred to Darrow to perform the task. The dwarf picked the box up and from it removed a gleaming axe which was a copy of Haelgrim, the legendary clan weapon that Darrow carried. After Darrow had examined it more closely, he saw dwarven runes that read: “The true one is needed for the clan, to save us from a pretender.” He explained to his companions that it must mean Haelgrim was needed at Ironhelm. Undt peered at the axe and commented that the two dwarves who delivered it were acting strangely, not wanting to give their names or to stay overnight. The innkeeper then wandered back to the kitchen as the party speculated as to what exactly was going on and the meaning of the axe.

Dermot questioned why the dwarves had not stayed to speak to Darrow, a point which Aerikoth concurred was important. Darrow told them that he had learned long ago not to try to understand the priesthood or the delve’s leadership, evidently not considering them practical thinkers. Rahnee wondered if this was a way of calling Darrow home as the Ironhelm Prince’s champion. Darrow explained to Dermot and Shanni that he had been allowed to carry Haelgrim after digging it up, in order to do heroic deeds with it. There had also been a political angle, with the dwarf describing the axe and his own presence in Ironhelm as a “hot potato” while the clan leader was sick and had no obvious heir. Regarding the runic message, Darrow perspicaciously observed that who was a pretender and who was rightful “might depend on where ye sit.”

Aerikoth observed that it had been close to a month since Darrow had departed Ironhelm with the axe; the wizard also noted the extravagant method of delivering the cryptic message. Rahnee said it appeared they had a trek to make to Ironhelm lands and welcomed Shanni back. The small rogue sniffed, looking a little contrite, and informed Rahnee that she’d had to be rescued again. Darrow and the others continued to speculate over who had sent the axe, its symbolism, and why they had chosen “Helm’s Shadows” as the recipient rather than Darrow. Darrow offered to take on the issue alone, since the axe was his responsibility, but the others quickly demurred and insisted on accompanying him to Clan Ironhelm territory. Aerikoth mentioned that the only business they had pending in Westgate was with Losifan Urdo at the Mercenaries Guild, and he was not expecting them for perhaps another six days.

The wizard offered to teleport the group to the inn in the village of Mountaingate, located near Ironhelm in the Giant’s Run mountains. Darrow grinned evilly and noted that the inn’s proprietor there would no doubt be glad to see them, the dwarf alluding to the last bloody encounter there with a group of mercenaries. Aerikoth explained, however, that he had only one such spell memorized, so the group would therefore have to strip all weighty items off and place them in bags of holding for the spell to work. Shanni mentioned that she unfortunately did not have one, then started sorting through her inventory along with Dermot. Rahnee and Darrow took out their magical bags and the party attempted to work out a method of pooling their items, but in the end they were unsuccessful. (In popular accounts of great wizarding adventures, mundane details such as these are either overlooked or deliberately ignored, in favor of grand magics that occur instantly and without apparent cost. The grubby reality of adventuring is rather different and even strong magic has its limitations, however un-epic that may be to relate. --R)

Aerikoth then offered to take Darrow alone with him, returning later for the others, but the party was uncomfortable being split in this manner. It was decided that there was no immediate urgency for traveling to Ironhelm, so the wizard declared he would hole up in his room for the day and study the necessary spells, in order to transport everyone that evening. After some drinks at the inn, the others decided to trek back to Tallwell in the interim, although not before Darrow tried to peek into Aerikoth’s room and was chased off by Zeluth, the wizard’s raven familiar. After making it to Tallwell, they left some of their excess equipment with the local garrison, including weapons previously seized from the Night Masks, to aid the village’s defense. Rahnee chose to remain in the village and ensure that the defenses were strengthened to her liking, while the others returned to Glees.
 

Carlo-One

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The evening of Ches 12 found Darrow, Dermot and Shanni finishing their dinner at the Glees inn. They overheard a conversation between two of the villagers concerning the rumored bandit hoard hidden in the forest, leading Darrow to remark that news travels fast. In response, Shanni emphasized through words and ferocious gestures that there were also bears out there. Dermot remarked that tales of a bandit hoard would at least attract additional travelers to the area.

Aerikoth descended the stairs and announced he was prepared to depart whenever it was desired. It was decided that he would first transport Darrow to the Mountaingate inn, then return for Dermot and Shanni. The mage rapidly did so with Darrow, having the dwarf touch his sleeve and then speaking a word of power, to the amazement of the villagers in the common room. They were even more surprised when he reappeared and teleported away again with the other two.

After arriving inside the new inn, Shanni appeared disoriented. Darrow explained to them that they were close to his Clanhome and would need to bundle up due to the mountain chill. Allie Grimblegort, the gnomish proprietor, emerged from a back room and warmly greeted Dermot and Shanni, mentioning with some puzzlement that she had not heard the door open. Her smile of welcome quickly turned to a one more resembling a death rictus, however, as she then recognized Darrow and Aerikoth. She inquired if they wanted to stay the night, appearing relieved when Darrow said they were just passing through. The dwarf passed her a few coins for using her fire to warm up, as he put it.

Glancing around the main room, Aerikoth in his usual neutral voice remarked that Allie seemed to have done well enough at removing the bloodstains. Dermot asked for a flask of spirits and the innkeeper retreated to the back room, as Aerikoth mentioned that Darrow had ‘tried to help’ a group of mercenaries during an earlier visit. Looking somewhat sheepish, Darrow explained that he had mentioned to them he had been inside the clanhome, which the mercenaries took to mean that he was rich and must be loaded with coin. The dwarf had declined to share his presumed wealth, so was forced to defend himself and his elven minstrel companion at the time. The bodies of the mercenaries were buried out back, Aerikoth believed. Allie returned with Dermot’s spirits, received a couple of coins in payment from the ranger, and told them where to take the path to Ironhelm. Shanni wondered if there were bears and Allie assured her that it was too cold for them still, although winter wolves could sometimes be found near the path.

After exiting the inn, the four adventurers were challenged by the militia at the village gate, who had no recollection of their entrance to the town. Darrow brazenly asked “So?” which confused the guards enough to allow the four to pass without further incident. Once onto the path to Ironhelm, Aerikoth offered to cast defensive enchantments on the group, in case they encountered anything dangerous. The mage then did so, although Dermot declined to receive a stoneskin spell, saying he did not want to be mined by accident by the dwarves. They spotted a winter wolf at some distance off the path, but were otherwise unmolested during their trek to the valley of Clan Ironhelm.
 

Carlo-One

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"The Redeemer"

At the outer entrance gates by the head of the valley, the group was challenged by the dwarven defender sentries. They welcomed Darrow’s presence with shouts of “Haelgrim returns!” and “The redeemer comes!” Darrow then introduced his companions and they were allowed to proceed to the inner gates. There the scene was repeated, although one of the gate guards notably remained silent rather than hail Darrow’s coming. Since Dermot and Shanni were newcomers to the clan halls, the guards stated that formal instructions would have to be received from the Clan Greeter before the visitors were allowed inside. Aerikoth explained that this was normal and Shanni said she had no problem waiting, given the presence of a warm fire and Dermot’s flask of spirits.

The guards indicated that the group could wait by the gates or in the guest cave. Aerikoth observed that the cave was comfortable and had a hot spring in it, which sounded good to the others, so Darrow borrowed some fire from the guards and they set up camp inside the cave. As the others settled in, the dwarf went back to the gate for a private conversation with the guards, whom Aerikoth had observed would be more likely to talk freely without outsiders present.

After some time, Darrow returned and shared what he had learned. Prince Dalgan still ruled, although his health was weak and continuing to deteriorate due to an unknown cause, so some Clan members wanted to replace him. This faction spoke about “redeeming” the clan, although Darrow was unsure how Haelgrim factored into it. The dwarf cautioned the others that these were clan secrets, as they could not afford to appear weak and confused to outsiders, which meant the adventurers should keep their mouths shut about it.

After some additional time passed, Clan Greeter Rumnaher unexpectedly arrived at the cave entrance and started a heated exchange in dwarven with Darrow. In a few minutes both calmed down, after Darrow denied being part of a conspiracy. Rumnaher then formally greeted Aerikoth and also welcomed Dermot and Shanni as visitors to the clan. Darrow explained the mysterious circumstances behind the delivery of the axe message and their decision to come forthwith to Ironhelm. He mentioned that they might have even beat the unknown dwarven messengers back, since the adventurers had used magical means of travel.

Rumnaher accepted Darrow’s explanation, but reminded him of his previous pledge to return only after three months had passed, with tales of valor to prove his worthiness of carrying Haelgrim. Darrow said they had at least two tales, but admitted that he was back early, it only having been a month since he was last in clan territory. The clan greeter was blunt about the political implications of Darrow’s return, as a faction had emerged within the clan who wished to have “the Redeemer” placed on the throne to replace a weak Prince with no heir. The story of Darrow’s retrieval of the axe in the deep delves and the charge by the ghost of Relan Ironhelm to use it to “redeem the clan’s fortunes” was being used by this faction to justify their actions.

As Rumnaher continued to relate how Darrow was viewed by some as the clan’s savior, Darrow suddenly burst out laughing. After Rumnaher chided him, Darrow explained that he could think of no one less appropriate for the role, he being the most rash, direct and foolhardy dwarf in the place. He said that the priests must be going crazy and Rumnaher admitted that the high priest, Iskar, was about to rip his beard over the prospect.

The clan greeter said he was satisfied that Darrow was not there to claim the throne and depose the prince. He cautioned them that this faction had taken to making replicas of Haelgrim as a sign of their faith in a new order. Rumnaher said that he needed to consult with Iskar and other clan elders, and asked the four adventurers if they would not mind remaining in the guest cave for the night.

After the clan greeter departed, Shanni quizzed Darrow about the circumstances of his previous quest for Haelgrim. He explained that he had wanted to do something important with his life and that no one had honestly expected him to be able to retrieve it. Aerikoth mentioned that their previous expedition into the deep delves possessed an additional purpose, to ensure that a lich they had destroyed was truly gone and could not return. Shanni asked if Darrow had been conned into coming back now, when it might have been better for him not to. The dwarf acknowledged that this sounded like what had happened, as someone evidently wanted him to overthrow the Prince. Dermot observed that this faction likely thought Darrow would make a convenient puppet, given his less-than-serious prior reputation.

While the group was discussing the implications of what they had found out, a dwarf in guard mail appeared at the cave and greeted Darrow in dwarven, appearing glad to see him. Darrow introduced his big brother Nurbir to the others and jested with him about some family matters. Nurbir confirmed that some in the clan wanted to have Darrow replace the Prince. He said he would tell their parents Darrow was well and had a brief follow-on exchange in dwarven with Darrow while leaving the cave. Darrow returned and told the others that his brother had said to watch their backs while in the clan halls, also advising them to talk to High Priest Iskar before anyone else. Aerikoth then conjured a magic hut outside the guest cave, so they could spend the night in greater comfort.
 

Carlo-One

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The next morning on Ches 12, Darrow and Dermot rose first and started preparing a soup for breakfast, each contributing ingredients and know-how from their travels. Shanni continued sleeping as Aerikoth teleported to Tallwell to retrieve Rahnee, but she then woke with a gasp and a start as the two magically returned inside the conjured hut. As Shanni stretched languidly, Darrow and Dermot offered up the results of their labors, a hearty broth with dried meat, carrot, and some ale mixed in. Over breakfast, Darrow caught Rahnee up on what they knew so far about the situation in Ironhelm.

Once the meal was finished, the party exited the hut and noticed one of the dwarven defenders inspecting its outside. Gruffly, the dwarf requested that the hut be taken down, now that they were all outside, since it was blocking their view. After confirming that the others no longer had a need for it, Aerikoth waved a hand in dismissal and the structure vanished. Since they still awaited a formal answer from the dwarves in order to enter the clanhome, Rahnee entertained the others by describing how one of the Tallwell villagers thought he had found the Beast’s buried treasure in the forest, but only succeeded in uncovering a rotted leather bag and some silvers. (Rumors of buried treasure seem to be a powerful attraction for greedy, hopeful, adventurous, or simply bored folk. Of course the dangers of such a quest usually outweigh the returns that one can expect to receive in the end. --C)

Clan Greeter Rumnaher appeared and greeted Rahnee as a dwarf-friend. Warning that they faced a difficult day ahead, Rumnaher informed them that they were to be brought directly to High Priest Iskar, with Darrow’s word serving as the bond for Dermot and Shanni’s behavior inside clan halls. As soon as Darrow had formally given his word, Rumnaher escorted them past the guards, officially declaring the party as two dwarf-friends, along with two unknowns to the clan under Darrow’s bond.

Once inside the underground citadel, an apparently fascinated Shanni looked around as the Clan Greeter led them towards the temple. He attempted to move them quickly through the halls without stopping, ignoring various whispers and stares from the Ironhelm dwarves, but was foiled by Darrow running into his mothe Nurina in the tavern area. She offered a crushing hug to her son, then sent him on his way, as he made faces at an exasperated Rumnaher. After entering the temple, Darrow and his younger brother Andin, the temple acolyte, then made faces at each other as High Priest Iskar welcomed them. Rumnaher collected Andin and the two departed, on the way out also collecting a stray dwarf who had followed them into the temple, shouting about the Redeemer.

The dwarven high priest expressed his surprise at Darrow’s return so soon after pledging to depart Ironhelm for three months. However, after examining the copy of of the axe Haelgrim with its runic message and listening to Darrow’s explanation, Iskar softened; he acknowledged that the message had been ambiguous, and that Darrow had simply acted out of concern for the clan. In response to a question from Aerikoth, Iskar said that he did not know for sure who was behind the faction aiming to put Darrow on the throne, but the name of Toran Goldfinder came to mind. He explained that Toran, the clan’s treasurer, was greedy and pushing to change many things about how the clan was run.

Iskar then began to outline the plan that he and the clan elders loyal to Prince Dalgan had debated the previous night. They believed that Darrow should not simply depart, as their enemies could then whisper among the clan that he had been forced to go, further inflaming opinion against the Prince. At this point Darrow enthusiastically interjected the idea of challenging Toran Goldfinder to a trial by combat. He reluctantly backed down after Iskar told him not all problems could be solved by force of arms; Shanni and Dermot also pointed out that they did not actually know if Toran was the one responsible. (The adventurers at this point, admittedly rather logically, are being reasonable and giving Toran the benefit of the doubt. This approach will soon change, however. --R) Darrow then volunteered to publicly pledge loyalty to the Prince, but his idea was again rebuffed by Iskar, who stated that loyalty to the throne was assumed. Shanni perceptively observed that if Darrow did that kind of a public pledge, it would imply that people were questioning their loyalty to the Prince - a subtle political point which impressed the high priest.

Iskar then asked Darrow and his companions to venture into the Deep Delve once more, which would be a pretext for his presence in Ironhelm. Iskar in addition admitted that there might be some real cause for concern, as recently he had felt the wards established on the Deep Delve’s entryway being tested. Rahnee expressed her understanding that this expedition had the benefit of keeping Darrow away from the clan, but a more suspicious Shanni questioned whether the clan leadership might be looking to solve the problem by having Darrow not come back from it. (Not an illogical consideration, although perhaps more suited for a thieves guild leader than a dwarven priest of Moradin. This question it seems reveals more about the nature of Shanni's background, of which we know rather little, than it does about Iskar's trustworthiness. --R) The high priest assured her that he had every confidence in Darrow’s ability, with Haelgrim and his companions, to handle anything in the Deep Delve, as they had done before. Iskar then switched into dwarven and had an exchange with Darrow, who laughed at the end of it.

After a brief discussion about supplies, along with declarations from Rahnee and Shanni in support of the clan and Darrow, respectively, Iskar thanked the party for their assistance. He suggested they spend some time in clan halls, talking about Darrow’s deeds on the surface with Haelgrim and their plans to enter the Deep Delve. Rahnee asked about the health of the Prince and was told by Iskar that there had, in fact, been a slight improvement in his strength. This was the first time such an improvement in his condition had occurred, so the high priest was hopeful. The cause of the malady remained a mystery to Iskar, however, who had already attempted all of the healing magics he knew.

Aerikoth inquired about the reasons for the deeper delves being sealed. The High Priest looked to Darrow for the tale of how the axe Haelgrim was originally lost, then chided him for not remembering his school lessons. Iskar explained that Relan Ironhelm, the last bearer of Haelgrim, had been part of the clan’s rearguard in fighting off an Underdark invasion. Legends were contradictory about what exactly he had fought – demons, drow, duergar, or other creatures – but all agreed that he had borne the legendary clan weapon alone into the corridor facing the door to the Underdark. Before that, he had dismissed his companions and told them to flee to the upper levels, sealing off the Deep Delve to protect the rest of the clan. They spoke of Relan carving his way through a wave of foes before being lost to sight. Rahnee noted that they had found Haelgrim in that corridor during their last visit.

Iskar further related how afterwards the clan priests had sealed off the entrance to the Deep Delve with powerful wards; he was responsible now for maintaining them. He cautioned that the story of Relan remained a legend, rather than true history, also observing that the clan still knew relatively little of the Deep Delve even after the last expedition. Iskar said he had nothing more specific in terms of objectives for their next attempt at exploring the area, other than to check the Underdark door once again. After Aerikoth clarified some points with the High Priest regarding the testing of the wards, the companions decided to spend the rest of the day preparing for their descent.
 

Carlo-One

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An Unwanted Gem

Darrow’s presence caused something of a stir as the group made their way through the clan halls, but eventually they made it to their destination, the smithy of Lorn Ironbeard. He greeted Aerikoth and Rahnee as dwarf-friends and was introduced to Dermot and Shanni, visitors present in the citadel under Darrow’s bond. The smith declared that was good enough for him. He mentioned that they could speak to his apprentice for any purchases, mentioning with a bit of worry that his prices were lower than usual, due to less trade. He also mentioned rumors of dragon sightings in the mountains, saying that a long time ago the clan had trouble with a dragon called “The Burning Blaze”.

While the group was looking over the smith’s wares, another Ironhelm dwarf came in and chatted with Lorn and Darrow in dwarven. The newcomer seemed to be curious about what the outsiders were looking at, particularly Shanni, although she failed to spot anything untoward about the dwarf. After he departed, Rahnee pulled Shanni quietly aside with the others and asked her to check her belt pouch. Darrow was visibly incensed at the idea that one of his clanmates might have stolen something. After checking, Shanni said there was nothing missing; however, there was a gemstone in her pouch that she was sure had not been there before. The others found that odd and when she produced the stone, a black opal, Darrow recognized it as part of the clan treasure.

Shanni immediately said she wanted nothing to do with it and gave it to Darrow, who then briefly passed it to Aerikoth, so the mage could determine there was nothing magical about the gem. Darrow went over to Lorn and asked him who the other dwarf was. The smith told him that it was “one of the young hotheads” named Yarran who was big on all the Redeemer talk. After a further exchange in dwarven and a big laugh, Darrow led the group back to the clan temple.

There he had hoped to be able to speak with High Priest Iskar, but was told by his brother Andin, the temple acolyte, that Iskar was in a council session and not to be disturbed. Darrow then showed the gemstone to him and explained that Yarran had come up to Shanni – someone Darrow had vouched for – and surreptitiously put it in her pouch. Shanni offered to approach a guard and return it, saying she had seen it drop out of a dwarf’s pocket, but Aerikoth thought that unwise.

Darrow said that they were obviously meant to be found with it, suggesting that they could just leave it in Iskar’s office. Andin had a sudden inspiration and pointed at the crotch of the Moradin statue, excitedly talking in dwarven with Darrow. The idea to hide the gem there was not supported by Shanni, however. Dermot came up with the idea of planting the gem back on Yarran, which Darrow liked.

As Andin went to find where Yarran was, the others discussed how best to accomplish that. Shanni initially was in favor of hiding it in his residence, but Darrow explained that the clan homes were strictly off-limits to outsiders and considered very private, so Darrow would run a risk of being caught there. Andin returned and informed them that Yarran was in the tavern. It was decided that Darrow would chat him up to distract him, while Shanni did the deed. Darrow said that he could use an ale anyway.

The party decamped to the clan tavern, a large area with several groups of tables, with plenty of room for them to spread out. Darrow sat down with Yarran and bought him an ale, having an extended chat in dwarven with him. Shanni and the others apparently paid no attention while this was going on. The petite rogue wandered around the room admiring the architecture, just happening to pass by Yarran. Taking her chance, she successfully placed the stone on him with some sleight-of-hand while the dwarf was oblivious in his cups. Darrow continued talking with him about clan doings as the others sat at another table with their Ironhelm ales, which Dermot had purchased. To pass the time and not seem suspicious, the adventurers had a conversation about what the drinks were like where they were originally from. Eventually Darrow finished his talk with Yarran and went over to the others, saying it was time they went to the guest quarters.

In the guest hall, while Darrow talked with the guard to ensure they would not be disturbed, the others divided up the available rooms, allowing Aerikoth the one single-bed chamber. Darrow returned and informed them about his conversation with Yarran. He said that the dwarf’s hero-worship seemed genuine and was based on Darrow’s recovery of Haelgrim; Aerikoth and Rahnee found that plausible. Yarran was indeed part of the “Redeemers” faction. He refused to give up any more names, but notably fell silent when Toran Goldfinder was mentioned, according to Darrow. He found it puzzling that Yarran genuinely seemed to want him on the throne, which did not seem to be consistent with the act of planting a piece of the clan treasure on Shanni. Darrow explained that he would share any punishment she received, if the gem were “discovered” on her.

Shanni opined that it was a double bluff – someone wanted Darrow to replace the Prince on the throne, but then be removed himself, paving the way for whoever was behind the opposing faction. She said the thing they needed to know - the most important thing for telling them who was responsible - was who could gain access to the treasury unnoticed. Dermot added that such a person could also be above suspicion. Darrow admitted that he had not paid much attention in school to such subjects, though he expected the Prince, Iskar, Toran Goldfinder and maybe some of the other top nobles could enter the treasury. Darrow mentioned that Toran had been making a lot of noise about opening the clanhome and bringing in more coin in trade, something that Yarran was agreeable to.
 

Carlo-One

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Dragonscale

Aerikoth sequestered himself in one of the dwarven guest rooms, in order to concentrate on studying the necessary defensive spells for their upcoming expedition. The others meanwhile gathered in the largest guest room, eager to be headed for the Deep Delve, but also cautious about taking any further actions in the tense environment of the clan halls. A knock came at their door and the visitor proved to be Darrow’s younger brother, the acolyte Andin. Darrow made quick formal introductions and then informed Andin that they had been able to place their “little problem” back where it had come from, meaning the unwanted gem. Andin was relieved to hear this. He mentioned that they should go see Lorn Ironbeard, since he understood that the smith had something more to tell Darrow. Andin then exchanged a few comments in dwarven with Darrow before departing.

After a short discussion, it was decided that it would do no harm for the others to accompany Darrow to the forge. Lorn greeted Darrow with a salute and some friendly jibes about picking up surfacer ways. Then, with some hesitancy, the smith brought out something to show them: a crimson metallic scale, that reflected the light from the forge like a jewel. Darrow failed to identify it, but Rahnee appeared to recognize it and Dermot voiced what she and he had both been thinking: dragonscale!

Darrow asked how the smith had found it; the group had to be sworn to secrecy before Lorn would tell them. He explained that a dwarf named Helrud, considered by many to be mad because he preferred to live in the mountains rather than the clan halls, had recently come to Lorn with it. He told Lorn that he needed some help, but did not know anyone in the clan who would be willing to venture into the mountains. He also warned the smith to show the scale only to someone completely trustworthy.

Lorn suggested they seek out Helrud in a small cave near the trail to the village of Mountaingate. The smith said that that Helrud often used it, although it was shunned by the rest of the clan, for some reason. Helrud also had another camp, further away, that could be reached by climbing the ridge near the cave. The smith, carefully tucking the crimson scale back into his pouch, also alluded to a willingness to make a special suit of armor for the bearer of Haelgrim, should enough such scales be found.

The party decided that it was unlikely any of the Ironhelm dwarves would disturb Aerikoth at his magical work, so they could take the opportunity to go for a walk outside the citadel, hoping to find Helrud. Darrow went to put on his armor while Rahnee scribbled a note to pass under Aerikoth’s door, explaining they would be out for a while. They sallied forth from the citadel gates and headed for the ridge path and the cave described by Lorn. Darrow explained on the way that Helrud had been mentioned by his parents as a crazy dwarf living in the woods, keeping Darrow in check by saying that he would end up just like Helrud one day if he didn’t obey.
 

Carlo-One

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After some searching, the group located and entered a small cave near the trail. It was empty of any creatures. However, they could see that an unnatural-looking group of rocks glowed red near a tall crystal in the back of the cave. Darrow examined the crystal, which bore dwarven runes. Meanwhile, Dermot and Shanni carefully inspected the glowing rocks, which appeared to have once been a statue; the rock did not appear natural to Dermot. Darrow read the crystal’s runes aloud to the others: “Let the Chosen come to me and I will give them what they richly deserve.” Dermot and Shanni then managed to reconstruct the rock fragments to reveal the original statue’s face, which was that of a godlike, supremely handsome dwarf. Darrow could shed no light on the subject, beyond saying that the cave had been taboo for the clan as long as he could remember.

Exiting the cave, they decided to continue their search for Helrud. Dermot initially found nothing in the area besides animal tracks, but then a short distance away the ranger located what appeared to be a climbable part of the ridge, with a lot of marks on it. He had no luck scaling it barehanded, so he used a coil of rope offered by Rahnee and a tied-on hatchet – lacking a grappling hook – to fashion a way up, with help from Shanni. Eventually the four adventurers all made it up the ridgeside, with Rahnee going last and wobbling a bit as she climbed.

Moving along the open path further into the mountains, they spotted some crumbling stone ruins and found another cave. Entering it, they discovered a stirge nest and had to deal with its occupants before exploring further. Some old humanoid bones that looked to have been cracked by giants’ teeth lay near a dug-out firepit. The pit seemed to have been relatively recently used, with remnants of burnt wood in it. Nothing else was there, however.

Making their way further up the mountainside towards some ruins, the four companions finally encountered Helrud. The dwarf had a tent and a campsite inside a walled area and greeted the group with a gruff “about bloody time!” After they had introduced themselves, Darrow pointed out that Helrud could have just stayed in the nearby cave. Helrud in response said that it gave him the creeps. The dwarf then greeted and welcomed the others, indicating he would tell them of how he found the dragonscale and what he wanted to ask of them.

Rahnee, not feeling secure in their exposed location, chose to do a short patrol of the area. As she walked off, Helrud pulled out a crimson scale that was twin to the one Lorn had shown them at the Ironhelm forge. The dwarf mentioned that there had not been any dragons living in the mountains in living memory, but the dragonscales meant that one had been there, at some point. He said he had been out exploring further than usual and found them. He would have explored further, but a pack of winter wolves deterred him.

At this point Rahnee rejoined them, not having found anything untoward near Helrud’s camp. He told them that he did not want to distract them from whatever business they had with the clan, but that if they were willing to get rid of the winter wolfpack, he would show them where he had found the scales. Darrow immediately said he would be up for exploring, while Shanni was more hesitant; she was less sure that there was not, in fact, a dragon in the area. Ignoring this, Darrow said that they would be back after they had a chance to reunite with Aerikoth. They said their goodbyes to Helrud and hiked back to Ironhelm, with Shanni still dubious about the idea.

Re-entering the clan halls shortly before dusk, Darrow first went to talk to his mother Nurina while the others searched out Aerikoth in the guest quarters. The wizard had finished studying his spells, in preparation for their planned descent to the Deep Delve. He and Rahnee informed Dermot and Shanni about some of their previous encounters in the depths, including one with Umber Hulks. Aerikoth assured them that with his spells, they were more than capable of handling the monsters. Since High Priest Iskar would need to remove the wards on the entrance first, they went to the temple to seek him.

Iskar greeted them and stated that it was likely, as had been mentioned during the previous conversation, that the wards to the Deep Delve had been tested - from the side of the clan halls. The dwarven high priest commented that it perhaps had been one of the clan’s young hotheads. He said he thought it unlikely the group would find much, but the expedition would be an excellent cover for Darrow’s presence in clan halls. Despite his professed lack of concern, Iskar then presented the group with a gift of healing and restorative potions, should they need to recover from any encounters in the depths. (It is unclear to me whether Iskar was simply being prudent, or if he had some inkling of what they would encounter this time. --R)
 

Carlo-One

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A Spectre in the Depths

With their business regarding the Deep Delve concluded, Darrow chose to tell Iskar about Lorn’s dragonscale, saying the clan should know about it in case there was any danger from a dragon in the mountains. Iskar in reaction looked skeptical and asked if it was one of Helrud’s jokes. Darrow said he hoped so, although Dermot had verified the scale’s authenticity; they would plan to see about it after going to the Deep Delve. With Iskar’s blessings, they then headed for the entrance.

Upon entering the clan mines, Darrow stopped to talk in dwarven with some of the miners, to ensure they were on the right path and to get the latest news. Past the working area of the mines, but not yet at the entrance to the Deep Delve, the party encountered a group of giant fire beetles. Aerikoth cast some protective magics on himself and his companions and they ended the beetles’ lives, although Darrow complained that it had already been more of a workout than Iskar had led them to believe. Shanni was scorched by one of the beetles and had to use some of her healing potions. Aerikoth observed that he had failed to prepare any magics involving protection from fire, unfortunately.

Moving further on, the adventurers arrived at the outer door to the abandoned area of the mines leading to the Deep Delve. Darrow could not locate the proper key, so Shanni used her skills to unlock the door. As they proceeded through, Aerikoth observed that they had previously encountered Umber Hulks there. Moving along the main corridor, Shanni was distracted by a side door. Rahnee informed her that it had sealed off a flooded area and should not be messed with. In a dark cavern, the group encountered first one, then another Umber Hulk, defeating each in turn.

At the end of the corridor was the main door to the Deep Delve – unlocked, as Shanni informed the others. This caused some consternation, although Darrow – who had the appropriate key - could not remember if they had locked the door behind them when exiting the last time. Upon reaching the lower level of the Delve, the group moved ahead cautiously, being careful to have enough light to see ahead of them. Darrow pointed out the rift where he had found the legendary axe Haelgrim; Shanni remarked on the number of skeletons that still filled the corridor. At the end of it was the door to the Underdark. As Shanni, Rahnee and Darrow examined it to see if it was still sealed, Aerikoth called everyone’s attention behind them in the corridor, where a spectral figure had appeared.

It greeted them with a voice that sounded deep in their heads: “Mortals!” and then asked why they were there. Rahnee and Shanni spun around and faced the apparition. Darrow gripped his axe and told it that something had disturbed the wards to the entrance of the Deep Delve; they were to find the threat and eliminate it, if necessary. This gave the being a brief pause. It then said it now understood they were from the dwarves above, and not sent by its former master – whom Aerikoth informed them must be Ashnakzeroth the lich. Darrow confirmed they were not serving any “rotted husk” and the spirit gave a wintry laugh in return. It said that the last echo of the master had departed the Delve. Unanin, the name the apparition gave, stated it had been “the master’s greatest creation”, in response to Darrow asking what it was.
 

Carlo-One

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The spectre asked Darrow if he intended to stay in the deeps, of which it declared itself master. Darrow in response challenged it further, asking Unanin if he threatened the dwarves above. It replied that it had no interest in them, then told Darrow that someone had tried to enter his realm from above, but had been prevented by the wards. Shanni meanwhile had perked up and went to check the door to the Underdark, which she informed the others had its lock and door mechanism both jammed. The spectre said that none had come through there since Haelgrim was lost.

With that, Unanin declared that it was satisfied they had not come to reconquer the deeps. Dermot commented that there would have been more of them, if that were the case. The spectre then disappeared, but not before warning against the return of any dwarves to the Deep Delve, where it would be waiting. Darrow was unsure exactly what to make of the apparition, but decided it was at least not hateful. (All such abominations to Kelemvor's sight are to be distrusted and destroyed with no mercy. One must admit that circumstances do not always permit this, however. --C) Rahnee wryly commented that Unanin would be able to “entertain” any dark elves who came through the Underdark door. Aerikoth observed that the clan would have to expand elsewhere; Darrow did not believe they would be looking to enter the Deep Delve for some time, in any case. At Darrow’s suggestion and with Rahnee’s agreement, they planned to look around some more before heading back up, to make sure there were no other surprises.

Shanni and Dermot first checked to see if Unanin had left any traces behind, but the creature had simply vanished. The group carefully went back through the Deep Delve’s dark corridors. When they reached a bricked-up passage, Darrow explained that some of the construction had been done while the clan was enslaved by a lich. The wall seemed solid, so they moved on, reaching a cavern where previously there had been an illusionary wall and behind it the lich’s throne room.

After they fought off some undead skeletal bats, similar to those encountered on the previous expedition, Darrow went over and plunked himself down on the lich’s old throne to rest, while Aerikoth related to the others how it had been defeated. Ashnakzeroth’s corporeal form was killed and then its phylactery, a rare gemstone holding its spirit, was destroyed. The wizard explained to a curious Shanni that the runes inscribed on a nearby pillar were a repeated phrase, praising over and over the lich as master.

Finding nothing else, the party exited the Deep Delve and checked in with the guards outside the dwarven mine, who were glad to see the party come back without a visible scratch on them. Shanni confirmed that the door to the abandoned part of the mines had been tampered with, and the Deep Delve door was unlocked, but the guards said they had seen nothing; only fools would try to go down there, they believed. The adventurers then made their way to the temple to report to High Priest Iskar, who was surprised to hear their expedition had in fact been an eventful one.

Shanni reported to Iskar what she had found with the doors. The high priest said that nothing had made it past his wards, which did not rely on the doors’ locks, but that the act of unlocking them and trying to enter could have been what he had sensed. Darrow and Aerikoth described their encounter with Unanin the spectre, which called itself the greatest creation of the lich Ashnakzeroth.
 

Carlo-One

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Dwarven Intrigue

Iskar said that their news from the Deep Delve would have to be debated before the dwarven clan’s council. A meeting had been called for the following evening, to which they had all been invited. In response to a question from Dermot, the high priest indicated that the decision to call the council had been made while they were exploring the Deep Delve. Rahnee immediately expressed her belief that this was part of the plot against Darrow. Shanni and the others agreed with this assessment, given what had happened with the unwanted gem.

This was all news to Iskar, so Darrow and Shanni explained what had happened with Yarran planting one of the clan’s treasures on Shanni. The high priest immediately understood that it would have meant death for her if found in her possession. The priest thought it was just that Shanni had stealthily returned it to Yarran. The diminutive rogue said she found it quite odd that the dwarf – who Darrow confirmed was a vocal supporter of the “Redeemer” faction – seemed to want to cause harm to one of Darrow’s friends. Darrow brought up Toran Goldfinder as potentially behind it, which got a black look from Iskar; the high priest had not thought Toran would stoop so low as to steal from the clan treasury. (Toran could no doubt justify to himself such an act, given his alleged plan to later fortuitously recover the gem from Shanni and embarrass Darrow - perhaps fatally? - in the process. I share some of Shanni's confusion and skepticism regarding the intent of the ploy; however, Yarran seems like a true believer and therefore, sadly, could be easily manipulated by someone who couches their actions in terms of the greater good for the cause, regardless of the faulty logic behind it. I do not ignore the lesson for myself, either, being a member of an Order with strong beliefs and rules. Perhaps this serves as a warning - an example from a different time and place - of what may happen if one does not think for oneself when dealing with a person of authority. --C)

All agreed that the upcoming council meeting was likely when the plotters would try to implicate Darrow and his companions. Iskar asked them if they would attend, which elicited various reactions. Darrow said he did not wish to, again asking if he could just challenge someone to single combat and have done with it. Shanni also was quite reluctant, while Dermot was pensive about the prospect. Aerikoth, for his part, expressed eagerness at the prospect of participating in such a rare occurrence for outsiders. Rahnee agreed with Iskar that it would be difficult to decline the invitation, in any case, and said that it would be good to use it to turn the tables on their enemies. The high priest asked them to meet with him the next evening, shortly before the council session; they were free to do as they wished before then. The group then retired to the guest quarters.

The next morning, on Ches 13, Rahnee and Shanni, somewhat disappointingly, sorted out what they had on hand to wear for the council meeting. Darrow and Dermot came by, with the dwarf suggesting they head to the kitchens for a breakfast ale, although Dermot and Shanni were more interested in food. Darrow then knocked on Aerikoth’s door and after a pause, the wizard appeared and joined them. They made their way to the clan’s eating hall, where Ironhelm ale was the first to be served to all, with water for the ladies and food coming rather later. At Rahnee’s prompting, Darrow taught the others how to say “thank you” properly in dwarven.

Having finished his prodigious meal early, Darrow went off to find his father Boirin, one of the senior guards for Prince Dalgan, while the others wrapped up their breakfast. He returned a short while later, explaining that his father would come visit them in the guest quarters before the evening meal, once he got off duty. Darrow was optimistic that his father would have some useful information for them, as the guards heard a lot of the noble talk.

With the whole day before them, the party eventually decided to head back to the mountains and continue pursuing the matter of the dragonscale. The first task would be to eliminate the pack of winter wolves on the trail Helrud had mentioned. Telling the clan greeter on the way out that they were going for a stroll, they made their way back to the cliff face by the cave, which they ascended again with relative ease – this time including Aerikoth, as the wizard had been busy studying spells during the first trip.

The group made their way to Helrud’s camp, where the dwarf was pleasantly surprised to see the addition to the party of Aerikoth and his glowing staff. He warned them not to take the wolfpack lightly and said that he would wait for them to bring back news of their victory. Assuming they were successful, Helrud could then explore further into the mountains. He asked them to return at dawn the following morning, assuming everything went well, and he would then show them a secret path.
 

Carlo-One

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After some discussion about the best tactics to use and then provisionally agreeing to Helrud’s request, the adventurers headed west towards where the winter wolf pack had last been seen. Dermot’s tracking indicated that the pack was near, so Aerikoth cast his available protection spells on himself and the others. The winter wolfpack and its leader were soon encountered a short distance away. Following a running fight, in which the adventurers were able to use the terrain to channel their foes, the wolves were all killed. The party came through in good shape, although Dermot had to spend some time bandaging himself.

Shanni meanwhile had found some old bones nearby and Darrow discovered a rusted battle axe, indicating that the area had been occupied at some point in the distant past. As the party did some further exploring, Shanni became perturbed after spotting some humanoid skulls mounted on poles and Dermot uncovered what looked to be an old, large reptilian skull. An old mining road was chanced upon after they forded a cold mountain stream, but it only lead to a dense, impassable forest.

Upon their return to Helrud’s camp, they were greeted effusively by the dwarf. He was pleased to see that Dermot had lugged the carcass of the pack leader back with him as proof of their deed, as well as being a gift for the dwarf if he could get some use out of it. Helrud promised to show them the secret trail into the mountains at dawn the next day, which he said was the best time to be traveling. The group then headed back to the Ironhelm hold, mindful of the audience with the Prince scheduled for that evening.

Once they were back underground, Aerikoth headed for the clan library, to which he was allowed unfettered access as a dwarf-friend, saying he wished to spend the afternoon there doing research. The others also found their individual pursuits. Dermot visited the smith, Lorn Ironbeard, to get a professional opinion on a sword the ranger was carrying. Rahnee prepared her gown for the evening, as well as spending time sharpening her sword. Shanni and Darrow eventually joined Dermot at the smith’s shop; Shanni tried out various pieces of equipment, occasionally with comical results.
 
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Carlo-One

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Shortly before the evening Clan Council meeting, the company gathered in the Ironhelm guest quarters. Rahnee had been unsuccessful in making her packed black velvet evening dress presentable – Darrow, upon arriving, playfully mocked her inability to get along without servants – so she resigned herself to wearing her leathers. Shanni was openly considering not going at all, but was reminded by Aerikoth that such an act would be an insult to the clan elders. Dermot more subtly gave her a look that said if he had to go, so did she.

Darrow said he had spoken with his father, who told him there were to be extra guards at the meeting. The dwarf had no further information, other than the meeting’s topic would be opening up trade to the outside world. In response to a question from Aerikoth, Darrow said there had always been a bit of trade, but that had ceased during the Prince’s illness. The dwarf stated he was thinking about recommending Teziir merchant Queron Ulanthar as a trading partner, which Rahnee encouraged. Shanni, still grumbling, wanted to know why the extra guards and their presence were required, for which Darrow did not have an answer.

With some good-natured and encouraging banter, Darrow got Shanni and the others headed for the Prince’s audience hall, which was only a short distance away through the citadel’s tunnels. Walking in past the guards, they saw an expansive chamber with a large gathering of nobles wearing their finery, along with a good number of the other citadel inhabitants. Dwarven defenders were prominently posted at the entryway, along the side of the chamber, and behind the Prince’s throne at the far end. As they advanced into the hall, Dermot muttered that he felt under-dressed. Darrow replied that no one there besides him knew what human formalwear looked like anyway. (It is easy to forget that humankind is not the center of existence, if one does not leave human lands. We must remember that other places with different rules exist, especially if - like these adventurers - we may find ourselves as unusual visitors among them. --C)

The group stopped a short distance before Prince Dalgan, seated on his throne, the room falling silent except for some whispering among the nobles. Rahnee curtsied toward the throne, evidently knowing something about court protocol, while Aerikoth tilted his head and spoke a few words under his breath. As usual, the Prince was flanked by several dwarven nobles, including the clan war leader, Koll Wallbasher, and the sergeant of the guard, Darrow’s father Boirin. The smith Lorn Ironbeard, who greeted the company as they arrived, quietly explained that everyone appeared to be awaiting High Priest Iskar’s arrival.

As they continued to wait, with some in the crowd murmuring in anticipation, the librarian Maximar Thrax approached Aerikoth. Thrax evidently was excited to be at the Council meeting and mentioned that the last one attended by outsiders had occurred ten years previously. During that ceremony, the warrior Thessar had received his promised award from the clan for his mercenary company’s defeat of their hill giant enemies. Aerikoth dryly acknowledged having heard about this from Thessar. According to Maximar, this was, however, the first council meeting attended by a human wizard, something he found invigorating. (It would be a mistake to assume that all dwarves, or even those of a particular clan, normally think and act alike in their preferences. Clan Ironhelm is obviously one of the more insular ones, with relatively limited contact with the world outside their valley in the Giant's Run Mountains. However, clan members like Maximar Thrax or even the "mad" Helrud display a very different attitude towards outsiders. As we shall see, such differences can offer opportunities for adventurers, but equally can be mortally dangerous. --R)

Rahnee meanwhile had been studying Prince Dalgan’s appearance and softly remarked to Darrow that he seemed a little better, although was still pale-looking. Maximar finished his chattering, remarking that it seemed the meeting was about to begin, and moved off. Dalgan had a brief, inaudible exchange with Koll Wallbasher, then announced, in a soft voice that nonetheless carried throughout the room, the official start of the Council meeting. High Priest Iskar still had not arrived in the hall, but it seemed the Prince did not feel he could wait any longer.

The Prince formally welcomed all the clansfolk, dwarf-friends and guests, stating that anyone present was invited to speak, if they had words to share with the Clan. A murmuring went around the room at this, and Lorn explained that often only the clan nobles were allowed to speak at the Council. Shanni appeared about to say something, but an elbow nudge from Dermot and a worried look from Darrow led her to sulkily hold her tongue. The Prince continued by saying that the meeting would be conducted in the Common tongue, because of the presence of their guests, which briefly elicited louder murmuring from the crowd before silence again reigned.

With the meeting officially opened, Dalgan asked that the guests and dwarf-friends approach the throne and introduce each of themselves to the assembled clan. Rahnee stepped forward first, graciously acknowledging the Prince’s welcome and stating it was her honor to be called dwarf-friend and be invited to attend the Council meeting. As she curtsied and backed away, Dalgan formally recognized her previous service to the clan in the fight against the Abomination, what they called the ancient lich Ashnakzeroth. Aerikoth glanced at the others and then approached in turn, formally bowing to the Prince. He introduced himself as a practitioner of the Art of magic and stated it was an honor to be at the meeting. As with Rahnee, Dalgan recognized the wizard for his service against the Abomination and in helping recover the legendary axe Haelgrim.

As Aerikoth bowed again and returned to his place, Rahnee under her breath reminded Dermot and Shanni to keep their introductions short and sweet, patting Shanni on the shoulder. Dermot grunted and nodded, stepping forward to clear his throat. He introduced himself as Dermot Kenner of Iriaebor, saying it was a rare thing to be there and thanks. The Prince then welcomed him as an honored companion of the wielder of Haelgrim. The ranger bowed his head in response and resumed his place with the others. This left Shanni, who straightened up and stepped forward, a sweet and innocent expression on her face. Dipping a curtsey before the throne, she stated she was proud to be there, and then backed away to rejoin her comrades. Dalgan declared her welcome as well.
 

Carlo-One

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The Prince then formally introduced the visitors to the other Clan notables present. They had already made the acquaintance of Clan Greeter Rumnaher, who was pointed out first. Dalgan then gestured toward his right, introducing Toran Goldfinder as the custodian of the clan’s wealth, and to his left, where Koll Wallbasher, the clan’s war leader, was standing. Boirin was the last one introduced, as sergeant of the guard, and he and Darrow exchanged winks. After another whispered exchange with Koll, Dalgan said that he had expected the presence of High Priest Iskar, but would nevertheless move to introduce the subject of that night’s Council meeting, the clan’s relations with the outside world.

With that, the Prince asked Darrow to step forward and be formally recognized as the bearer of Haelgrim. Dalgan publicly proclaimed that Darrow had been sent outside the clan walls to bear the clan’s legendary axe, for its honor and glory, for a term of three months. Although only a month had passed since then, the Prince invited Darrow to speak to his experiences so far.

Darrow acknowledged, as he put it, that the tale was only half-written, but said he would be most happy to relate what had been done so far. As Darrow began telling the story of how the party had defeated the Astorians thieves guild and rescued Teziir Council Member Queron Ulanthar’s daughter Janatha, High Priest Iskar arrived and moved to stand with the other notables in the front of the room. Rahnee breathed a small sigh of relief, but otherwise stayed attentive along with the others as Darrow finished the tale. Shanni took a fast look around the room, checking for crowd reactions, and muttered something to Dermot.

Dalgan said that Darrow had borne Haelgrim against many foes deserving of their fates, rescued worthy companions – giving Shanni an appreciative look – and done good for many. As the Prince finished his compliments, Toran Goldfinder stepped forward and clapped three times, slowly. With an expression just short of a sneer, he accused Darrow and his companions of comporting themselves as mercenaries and slavers – having admitted to passing themselves off as such in Starmantle while on Janatha’s trail – while bringing neither glory nor gold to the clan. Darrow muttered an imprecation in return and Shanni protested at being called a slaver. Rahnee held her tongue and calmly stared at Toran, putting a hand on Shanni’s shoulder in a gesture of restraint.

After the Prince called on Toran to explain himself, over Darrow’s interjection that they had freed half a hundred slaves destined for the Underdark, he launched into a speech. (No doubt prepared and rehearsed in advance, to achieve maximum impact on Toran's listeners. The sarcastic clapping at the end of Darrow's account of his deeds was a nice theatrical touch. --R) The richly-attired dwarf claimed that like all of the clan, he had rejoiced at the recovery of Haelgrim. Yet he questioned whether the clan should be known to the surfacers through Darrow’s tale of skulking and thievery, as the clan should be proud to declare itself to the world and not lurk in the shadows.

Given a chance by the Prince to respond, Darrow asserted that without their discretion, they never would have been able to liberate those folk. Nor would they have earned the trust and respect of Queron as a member of Teziir’s Council, who thereby owed the clan a debt. Darrow appealed to his clanmates, saying that as any who knew him would recognize, if there had been a straightforward way to do it, he would have taken it.

Dalgan commented favorably on the debt owed to the clan by Queron, which could in the end be more valuable than looted gold or jewels. As Dermot seconded Darrow’s words, the Prince had a whispered exchange with Koll. Once Dermot had finished speaking, the clan war leader addressed Darrow and asked him to recount the odds he had faced in battle. Joking about never bothering to know the odds, Darrow turned to Rahnee and bantered with her about the two score pirates defeated on land and ship, and another score in their underground lair. Koll declared this to be a noble deed against great odds, worthy of the bearer of Haelgrim. Dermot further commented that their enemies had been well-trained and equipped.

Toran, who was gritting his teeth, was further refuted by Aerikoth, who asked permission to speak from Prince Dalgan. The wizard in his emotionless manner dismissed the significance of the numbers of enemies, stressing that the true importance of their deeds was the defeat of a nefarious organization that the Teziir ruling council had been unable to deal with. The Prince acknowledged that bravery was not simply a matter of numbers, as Boirin exchanged a prideful look with Darrow. (The wizard, by seemingly deprecating the large numbers of enemies vanquished, at the same time highlighted their quantity again to the audience, while making the argument that achieved results are what truly matters. A subtle point for some, perhaps, but not wasted on the Prince. --C)

Rahnee declared that their freeing of the Astorians’ slaves should be a deed that also spoke meaningfully to Clan Ironhelm’s history. High Priest Iskar, speaking for the first time, stated his agreement, saying that the shame of the clan’s historic slavery to the Abomination had been put to rest, thanks in part to the efforts of Lady Roaringhorn. Iskar then declared he believed they had put to rest the matter of Darrow’s deeds and the Prince concurred, saying that they should move on to discussing the future of the clan, rather than past events.
 

Carlo-One

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Toran, evidently undaunted by the previous exchange, requested to speak again. Taking a different tack, he stated that the deeds mentioned – regardless of whether they were considered shameful to the clan – served to illustrate the wickedness of surfacers and the dangers faced when trading with them. Calling slavers and thieves but a small part of what was outside the clan walls, Toran said they nonetheless should not simply shut themselves in and rot, but should find partners with great care with whom they could do business. Dalgan called this a reasonable stance, one that he did not find fault with. Dermot, brow furrowed, meanwhile was trying to figure out Toran’s angle. Shanni privately commented that he must have something rigged up, and in a low voice advised them to call his bluff.

Darrow raised his voice and asserted that, despite their recent disagreement, he agreed with Toran – and could think of no better partner than Queron Ulanthar. He then ticked off the positive aspects of a trading relationship with Queron on his fingers. Toran in response said that the word of the bearer of Haelgrim carried much weight, and that he would be pleased to speak with Queron, to see what business could be done with the clan. Darrow showed obvious puzzlement at this benign reaction. Dermot and Rahnee in turn then spoke to the positive impact the clan could have in opening to trade in the region. Rahnee also mentioned her recent marriage into the Cassalanter family in Waterdeep, should the clan seek contacts even further afield. (?? - I do not believe this was mentioned before in the chronicles. A rather important point to ignore, I would think. --C)

After the Prince indicated his agreement with the sentiments that had been expressed, Iskar finally asked leave to speak his piece. The high priest began by mentioning the dangers as well as opportunities involved with relations outside the clan. He then apologized for his delay in arriving, as he had been researching an old danger involving the Deep Delve. Iskar said it had once provided the clan a route to the outside world through the Underdark. The priest baldly stated that in the past, the clan may have traded with Duergar and others in the dark. He then speculated that some might consider doing so again – a prospect the Prince immediately rejected. Iskar nonetheless expressed further concern about possible Underdark links to the surface and the dangers of such evil influences, as had occurred with the Abomination, warning that the clan must not follow such a path again. (It is interesting and yet at the same time somewhat tiresome to read about - or directly experience - these types of meetings, where matters of policy are discussed. Words are carefully crafted and caveated, so as not to cause offense, when their actual meaning is stark and clear - although perhaps some miss these subtleties and take them at face value. What Iskar is actually saying is that he knows the clan traded with evil Underdark races in the past and believes that Toran wishes to renew this practice, although the high priest does not have enough proof yet to directly call out his fellow noble. --R)

Toran asked and received leave from the Prince to close the discussion. He stated that Iskar was correct, in that the clan must be careful with any outside adventures, having before trusted outsiders and been betrayed. He continued by saying that if it happened again, those responsible should be punished by clan law and tradition, a sly smile briefly stealing across his face at these words. Prince Dalgan in response declared that of course the clan would uphold its traditions and formally concluded the meeting.

As the crowd started breaking up, with many of the dwarves in hushed conversation, Rahnee curtsied deeply to the throne and gathered her companions, warning a still-muttering Shanni to save her comments for the privacy of their rooms. Toran Goldfinder smiled at the group as they passed, prompting Darrow to return it to his face, but then transform it into a mocking expression as soon as Toran turned his back on them. As the company exited the hall, they exchanged friendly goodbyes with Lorn the smith and Maximar Thrax the librarian. While walking toward the guest quarters, Aerikoth raised the fact of Rahnee now being married to another Waterdeep noble, something which she airily said she must have forgotten to mention before. Once they reached their rooms, they exchanged views behind closed doors on how the meeting had gone.
 

Carlo-One

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After a dream-filled night, the companions regrouped in the guest quarters on the early morning of Ches 14. The humans in the party were somewhat out of sorts, their sleep patterns disturbed by the lack of sunlight underground. Darrow, for his part, had already merrily made his way to the tavern for a mug of ale, which he swigged in front of them. Aerikoth was the last to join the group, walking up just as Darrow was mentioning having received some information from Andin, his acolyte brother. Apparently High Priest Iskar had discovered that the clan had indeed traded in the past with the Duergar - and possibly worse – in the Underdark, and thought that Toran Goldfinder wanted to reopen the old route.

In the absence of further word from either Iskar or Prince Dalgan, the company decided to suit up and go meet Helrud in the wilderness, as the dwarf had promised to show them a secret route into the mountains. As they reached the entry hall and approached the exit to the inner citadel gates, they were halted by Clan Greeter Rumnaher, looking troubled. He informed them that he had received instructions not to let any outsiders enter or leave the clan halls. This did not apply to Darrow or the two dwarf-friends, Aerikoth and Rahnee; left unspoken was the implication for Dermot and Shanni.

Dermot appeared to take the news stoically. Shanni however seemed to start panicking at the thought of being forcibly cooped up underground. Rahnee politely indicated they did not want to cause trouble and asked where the order had come from. Rumnaher, appearing somewhat apologetic, said that the order had arrived from the Council late the previous night. He then regretfully refused Darrow’s request to let his companions just walk outside for a bit and get some air. In response to a question from Aerikoth, Rumnaher said they could speak to the watch commander if they wished, as he was the one who had delivered the order to him.

The companions appeared resigned to the situation, at least for the moment, and were headed toward the tavern area for breakfast when Rahnee noticed that Shanni was not with them. They turned back to the entry area and found Shanni desperately pleading with Rumnaher to be allowed to leave. The Clan Greeter was trying to reassure her that she would be safe underground, but was unsuccessful in getting her to agree to return to the clan halls. Rahnee and Darrow intervened, with Darrow talking to Shanni in a playful manner until she calmed down. The dwarf declared they had priorities, the most important being ale and food, and led the group to the tavern. Dermot agreed, saying they could worry better on a full stomach.

At the tavern, Darrow’s mother Nurina heartily served them, with a cuff or two aimed Darrow’s way, although she also seemed to be a bit troubled. The company settled into the meal, except for a visibly nervous Shanni, who was sucking her thumb instead of eating. Rahnee mentioned she had experienced a troubling dream the previous night, as had Shanni, and wondered if the dreams might have a bearing on their current situation. Darrow asked if any of the others had dreamed of cleaving Toran Goldfinder in half, which he seemed quite pleased about doing; Dermot indicated not. Nurina continued to pile food on Darrow’s plate and chattered with him in dwarven, keeping a smile on her face. However, as soon as she walked away, Darrow softly let the others know that she thought something was afoot and they should go see his father, Boirin, before doing anything else.

Once the meal was finished, they headed for the barracks, Darrow in the lead. As they arrived, they could see that Boirin was uneasy. He had the others shut the door to his chamber before having a long conversation with Darrow in dwarven. This did nothing to pacify Shanni, who started to hug herself and mumble about being locked up. At the end of the their conversation, Boirin hugged his son fiercely and Darrow told his “pa” in Common that they would be fine.

After returning to the guest quarters to speak behind closed doors, Darrow informed the others that Toran had dropped his little bombshell. Apparently he had informed the Council that something was missing from the clan treasure and fingered the outsiders as responsible. Dermot observed that they had seen this coming and Rahnee shared this sentiment. Shanni however started to hyperventilate and protested that she had given it back, looking at the door as if longing to sprint past it for the way to the exit.

She calmed somewhat after Darrow said that Aerikoth could always teleport her away, and the dwarf and Rahnee exhorted her to use her skills of observation and plotting. Darrow then mentioned offhandedly that his father had also told him that he would end up dead as well, if the others were found guilty, since he had vouched for them. Darrow seemed unconcerned and pointed out that since they did not have the missing treasure, how could they be convicted?
 

Carlo-One

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Supporter
Further discussion among the companions led to the idea of comparing dreams from the previous night, in hopes that it might shed some light on their circumstances. Rahnee shared that she had found herself, accompanied by current and departed friends, at an audience with the Prince; evidently they had been successful in some endeavor and were being saluted for it. Suddenly, they were then attacked all around by gray dwarves.

As she struggled to remember further details, Dermot related how in his dream, they were in the Clan’s council chamber listening to some voices, some of which caused him to worry. Shanni was there and was scared of something, while Darrow waved his axe around. Then, the Prince took out a giant ale mug and told everyone to drink up. That prompted Rahnee to remember that the gray dwarves had suddenly disappeared after attacking, and everyone was drinking from ale steins.

Shanni shared her dream, which had her wandering around the clan halls, quiet-like, then she was suddenly with the Prince. She could not understand what he was saying and was also frozen in place. Dermot and Aerikoth were there as well, then the scene shifted to the dark tunnels of the Deep Delve, where a gong sounded. None of them understood its significance, although Aerikoth speculated that it might signal an attack, a victory, or an ending.

Darrow then shared more details about his dream. He was in the council chamber with the others, as dwarven nobles chattered away in the background. Toran Goldfinder stepped forward, wearing a golden robe, and sneered at Darrow. This got Darrow angry and he snapped, cleaving Toran and his smile down the middle with Haelgrim. Aerikoth just watched it happened without expression, while Shanni was incensed that Darrow had lost his cool. Darrow had a big grin on his face as Rahnee apologized to the Prince, although she also said that Toran had deserved it, at which point Darrow awoke, in a good mood.

Aerikoth was next encouraged to share what he had dreamed, although the wizard protested that he put little stock in the phantasms of slumber. He said he had found himself in his room at the old Gatereach guest house, before it had burned down, with his familiar Zeluth. Zeluth shared with him that there was some kind of destruction going on outside, so Aerikoth descended the stairs and entered the main ground floor room, which was shared by Rahnee and Brok-Tul. There, he discovered them in a state of coitus, then awakened. In reaction to Aerikoth’s description, Rahnee blinked her eyes a number of times, Shanni stopped panicking long enough to look vaguely puzzled, and Dermot took the opportunity to move the conversation along. (Almost all of the party's dreams seem natural enough under the circumstances, given their concerns with what has been going on in Clan Ironhelm. The dream the wizard related had nothing to do with that, which meant he was completely unconcerned with their current situation, or perhaps was just pulling their collective leg. Impossible to prove, of course, but I would not be surprised if it reflected a rarely-shown and nasty sense of humor. --R)

At this point, Boirin opened the door to their room, causing Shanni to jump and clutch at her dagger sheath. Darrow took the opportunity to joke that they were plotting their escape and would be able to tunnel out in several months, before the Council had a chance to come to a decision. Boirin in response cuffed Darrow, gave him a fatherly look, and told him that the Prince had called for an audience with them in fifteen minutes, suggesting that they be there on time. As the sergeant of the guard walked off, Shanni anxiously started sucking her thumb again.

After some joking about Darrow challenging everyone to a trial by combat – which the dwarf seemed thoughtful about – the group discussed their options. Although there might be some question about why they did not come forward earlier when they detected Yarran’s attempt to plant the jewel on Shanni, they decided to finger him if she and Dermot were accused. As a defensive measure, they also tossed all of their rooms in the guest quarters, to make sure no new incriminating treasure had been planted there. With their fifteen minutes up, they headed for the audience hall, Shanni looking the most reluctant. Darrow told her and Dermot to stay close to Aerikoth, in case he needed to teleport them out
 
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Carlo-One

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Supporter
In comparison with the previous night, the audience hall was much less crowded. Prince Dalgan and his advisers were present as before, along with the guards and several dwarven nobles. As the company made their way toward the throne, Darrow smiled toothily at Toran Goldfinder, before bowing to the Prince along with Rahnee. After brief greetings were exchanged, Dalgan – choosing his words carefully – informed the group that something had occurred that they might be involved with, thereby warranting their summons. He asked Darrow if he was aware of the implications of his bond for both himself and his guests. Darrow immediately replied that he was and that he stood by it, smiling again at Toran. Dalgan praised Darrow as a dwarf of his word, as shown by his deeds for clan, which is why his guests had been allowed in the citadel.

Toran Goldfinder then was allowed to speak. He recounted, using flowery language, how the previous night he had gone to the clan treasury to inventory it and had discovered that one gem was missing; the guard who was with him could attest to that. Toran described it as a valuable black opal, one that could not be mistaken for a lesser gem. His eyes resting on Shanni, he rhetorically asked what could have happened to it. Darrow interjected that he had knowledge of this matter and began speaking, but was cut off by the Prince, who told him that he would be able to have his say after Toran was finished. Darrow acknowledged that etiquette had never been a strong point and graciously bowed to the Prince, ceding the floor once more to Toran.

Toran continued, snidely commenting that perhaps both Darrow and his companions lacked an understanding of clan rules. In any case, the clan treasurer had ordered the closing of the citadel until the matter of the missing gem was resolved, which Dalgan agreed was a prudent measure. The Prince then asked how he proposed to find the gem, if not by attempting to search the entire citadel. Toran stated that he believed things would progress most rapidly if the two strangers – meaning Shanni and Dermot – were searched first. Dalgan asked Darrow if he and his companions would agree to submit to this. Darrow immediately said that he would, looking over at Dermot and Shanni, who apparently were less enthusiastic about the prospect. Rahnee also stated that she would be willing and dropped her cloak in preparation, starting to unbuckle her armor.

In a patronizing tone, Toran said that he would not ask such a renowned dwarf as Darrow to submit to a search, nor the two dwarf-friends – leaving by implication only Shanni and Dermot. Dermot sighed and said he was ready to get it over with, but Shanni immediately started protesting. Rahnee intervened, describing how Shanni had been recently rescued from mistreatment in captivity; she requested that a female warrior do the searching. Dalgan declared that, in the interest of putting the matter to rest, the two “honored guests” would be searched, with a female noble performing this task for Shanni, under the eyes of the guards. Following further protests from Shanni, Dalgan allowed the searches to be done in a private antechamber.

As Boirin and two guards walked Dermot to the antechamber, Toran protested what he called Shanni’s insulting words to the Prince. He soon had cause to further protest Shanni’s insults to him personally, as the diminutive rogue pointed at him and said some additional choice words. Dalgan chose not to respond, instead looking uncomfortable and gesturing to Boirin to get on with Dermot’s serach. The ranger emptied his pockets and removed his armor, cloak, and boots, the guards taking a thorough look through his gear. Meanwhile, despite further audible insulting comments about the “honored guests” made by Toran to High Priest Iskar, who gritted his teeth and remained silent, Rahnee and Darrow managed to keep Shanni from any further explosions.

The guards having declared Dermot clean, Boirin summoned a female noble to conduct Shanni’s search. Rahnee asked leave to accompany Shanni to the antechamber, which Prince Dalgan granted. Shanni demanded that the male guards depart; the female noble asked them to wait at the door, saying that she was in no danger. After a thorough search of Shanni’s clothes and person, the noble declared her clean. Walking back to the others, Shanni could not resist indulging in some more rude language and asked for an apology. Although Toran complained further about the insults, Prince Dalgan diplomatically stated that the Dermot and Shanni could remain as guests of the clan or go, and that the audience was now over. Shanni had more to say, but was dragged away by Darrow, Dermot and Rahnee as they took their leave of the Prince.

As they returned to the guest quarters, Shanni slammed the door behind them and started pummeling pillows in anger and frustration. As the group discussed the outcome of the morning’s audience, which they generally felt had gone about as well as it could have despite Shanni’s outbursts, a loud pounding was heard at the door. Darrow opened it and saw his father Boirin, who stepped inside. The sergeant of the guard explained that he did not have much time, as he had made an excuse to leave the audience hall while an argument was still going on; Toran was insisting to the council that his personal honor had been sullied by the visitors. Darrow explained briefly what had actually happened with the gem. Although Boirin supported the company and thought that Toran was a brat, he was an important one, and Boirin said that now might be a good time to leave the citadel. He then took off to head back to the audience chamber, giving Darrow a fatherly hug as he departed.

Shanni, instead of desperately wanting to get out of the citadel as before, now was all for staying and getting revenge on the dwarf Yarran, who had planted the gem on her in the first place. Rahnee, pointing out that both Iskar and Boirin now knew about Yarran’s role in the matter, instead counseled a tactical retreat. Dermot indicated his heart wished to stay and clear things up, but his head said to get out. Rahnee asked Aerikoth for his thoughts, but the wizard was indifferent to staying or going. Dermot brought up the fact that they still had an appointment with the dwarf scout and Rahnee seconded the idea of going to meet with the “crazy dwarf” who lived outside in the fresh air. Darrow eventually came down in favor of trusting Iskar to handle things in the meantime. The group therefore headed to the citadel’s entry hall, Darrow taking a brief detour to say goodbye to his ma first. Clan Greeter Rumnaher said he had received word to let them pass and wished them well on their journey.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
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Hidden Peak

The company made their way from the citadel’s entry gates up the winding trail to the ridgeline, where they roped their way up to the plateau without incident. They had been expected by Helrud to be at his camp at dawn, but the adventurers hoped the dwarf scout would still be around after their unavoidable delay. By his tent they found a note in dwarven runes, which Darrow read: “Had to leave at dawn. Track me if you can. Seek the crystal.” As the designated tracker, Dermot thought that the message was less than helpful, although the snow – the subject of earlier complaints by Shanni – was on their side.

Despite the wind having largely filled in Helrud’s footprints, Dermot was able to find enough depressions in the snow to follow the dwarf’s trail toward a large crystal protrusion on a hill. On the way, the group had to pause briefly, as some snow cats took an interest in Aerikoth after the small wizard had fallen behind the others. Darrow frightened the animals off by clashing his axe and shield together. They observed that sunlight striking the crystal pointed towards a particular area, which led Darrow to surmise that Helrud had needed to be there at dawn, to see where the light was directed. (An intelligent observation. In such a difficult wilderness area, some sort of reference point would indeed be useful or even necessary to find otherwise hidden terrain features. I wonder if the crystal's placement was accidental in that regard, or if it was originally intended to serve as a signpost by whoever - or whatever - occupied the mountains in the past. --C) Some searching then turned up a narrow passage through the rock wall leading further into the mountains.

Navigating the passage led them to the bank of a broad and deep mountain stream, where the tracks ended. Remnants of a broken bridge provided no help in crossing, but an overturned rowboat was visible on the other side, apparently having been used by Helrud to cross. Darrow and Dermot located a small tree nearby and, after some effort, chopped it down and placed it across the bridge foundations. Its narrow and slippery bole would make it challenging to traverse, however.

Shanni went first, her dexterity allowing her to cross the makeshift bridge while carrying a rope, with only a minor wobble or two. Dermot had trouble mounting the tree bole, however, and it was decided that Shanni should tie the rope to the boat and then use it to cross back over the stream. The diminutive rogue struggled mightily to turn over the boat and then leverage it back across the stream using its oar, succeeding eventually with much effort. An exhausted Shanni then let the others rig up the boat, Dermot acting as ferryman to get everyone to the other side.

By this point it was late morning and there were no more tracks to be seen, so the party spent some time investigating the area. More ruins were in evidence, as was a collapsed mining cave and an overgrown oubliette, whose circular entrance in the ground was big enough for an elf or perhaps a human without armor. Eventually they encountered Helrud near a large statue of a dragon, as the dwarf was standing there admiring it. He greeted them and showed them more red dragon scales, while Shanni noticed and collected a few white dragon scales. The group speculated that a nearby skeleton could be that of the losing dragon, while the winner could have occupied whatever lair was nearby. Helrud then showed them an iced-over, jammed trap door, which he excitedly thought could lead to a dragon hoard. Shanni’s eyes lit up at the mention of a hoard and she suddenly became more enthusiastic about the venture.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Aerikoth, more interested in the significance of the nearby ruins and whatever civilization had created them, wandered among the statues studying them. Meanwhile, the rest of the party chose to more closely examine the cave and the oubliette hole. The cave entrance had been narrowed by rockfalls inside, while the hole appeared to be unblocked, unlike the other potential entrances to the underground. Shanni, a gleam in her eye, volunteered to descend the narrow shaft. Helrud for his part said he preferred to remain aboveground, pointing out that someone would need to keep an eye out on guard. The dwarf then moved off to a place with a good vantage point of the surrounding area.

Between Dermot, Darrow and Rahnee, they managed to rig a rope harness to fit Shanni, so they could support her from up top during the climb. A nearby winch with a block and tackle, evidently the original method for accessing the oubliette entrance, was no longer in working order, although it still had a solid frame. Rahnee expressed some concerns about the endeavor, but Shanni said she was equipped with a torch and that her cloak would hide her from anything below. The petite rogue carefully sat on the lip of the shaft entrance, probing for any footholds, before slowly lowering herself into it.

She was soon out of sight of her companions, who were bracing the rope supporting her. Darrow groaned and wondered out loud what Shanni had been eating, then observed that if they were smart, they would have tied the rope to the block and tackle; Rahnee agreed. Shanni carefully descended ten feet, bracing her limbs against the side of the narrow shaft, then called up, saying she could see “bugger all” down there. As the others played out the rope, she continued her descent, calling out to inform them that the shaft remained narrow its entire length; no one wearing armor would be able to fit.

After about another fifteen feet, Shanni yelled up to say that the walls had stopped, giving her no more footholds, and it was pitch dark below. Her three companions braced and felt a jerk on the rope as it took Shanni’s full weight. They carefully lowered her another few feet, then the rope went slack. Shortly afterwards, they heard a shouted “’S’ dark!” followed by the faint glow of a lighted torch, barely visible from the surface.

Shanni began shouting a description of her surroundings. She noted some dead skeletons in cages, some scattered papers, empty crates and...a big door! Darrow shouted down for her to stay on the rope and advised her not to test the door. As she continued to examine the room, the others had a hasty conference and decided that it might be necessary to try the door after all. Shanni agreed, then relayed that the door appeared to be locked and maybe rusted shut. She also informed them that the skeletons looked to be those of a human and a gnoll.

Rahnee, Darrow and Dermot conferred some more amongst themselves, as it became clear that Shanni would not be able to get the door open on her own. They were considering how to better stabilize their end of the rope, perhaps by attaching it to the old winch, when they were interrupted by a plaintive cry from Shanni, who tugged the rope and asked if they were still there. Darrow shouted back in the affirmative, then following some additional consultations told her that he would be coming down, after stripping himself of his armor.

Once the dwarf finished divesting himself of his armor and backpack, shivering a bit in the cold, he tucked a handaxe into his belt and shouted down to Shanni that he was ready. She undid the rope from around her waist and Darrow hauled it back up the shaft, tying it in an improvised harness around himself. The dwarf then went over to the hole, as Rahnee and Dermot braced themselves on their end of the rope for the dwarf’s upcoming descent. Darrow wedged himself between the walls of the shaft and began climbing down. Although he grumbled a bit, the dwarf’s strength and dexterity proved to be easily up to the task, as he quickly reached the bottom and untied the rope.

Darrow first examined the room by the light of Shanni’s torch, then enthusiastically but unsuccessfully tried to open the door. Rahnee lowered his battleaxe and shield down, which he gratefully equipped. The dwarf then tugged on the rope and shouted up that he was going to try to break the door down. Several swings with the battleaxe tore the large door from its hinges, opening the way to a large cavern beyond. Rahnee and Dermot on the surface could hear the door splintering; shortly afterwards, the flickering torch held by Shanni was no longer visible from the mouth of the hole.
 
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Halloween Horror For 5E

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