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The Westgate Campaign Chronicles - serial

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
After several minutes, just as Rahnee and Dermot were beginning to get worried, a shout from Shanni was heard. She yelled up the shaft, informing them that there was a big cavern and a hole with stone that Darrow said was funny-looking; she then asked if they were coming down. Before her two companions had a chance to respond, sounds of fighting were heard below and Shanni’s torch vanished from sight again. A minute later, she shouted and tugged on the hanging rope for attention.

In response to a query from Rahnee about bringing Shanni up, Darrow shouted back that there were a few little pests down there, but nothing big...yet. The dwarf was in favor of the other two joining them below, but Rahnee insisted they come back up so everyone could coordinate their plans, telling Shanni to rope up first. A minute later, Shanni tugged on the rope and yelled up that there was trouble. Despite not wanting to leave Darrow alone, the dwarf insisted that she get moving. Rahnee and Dermot, tired from their earlier efforts, slowly and jerkily pulled Shanni up the shaft to the top. The diminutive rogue urged them to get the rope back down quickly, as there was a “sodding great big stone like thing” coming for Darrow. They dropped the rope end back down the shaft and were relieved when they could feel the dwarf tying it around him.

Rahnee, Dermot and Shanni then braced the rope and tried to haul Darrow up. The rope slipped from Dermot’s tired fingers and the other two on the first try could not get Darrow up to the shaft at the top of the cavern, with Rahnee taking most of the strain. Dermot grimly grasped the rope again and heaved along with the others, getting Darrow to a point where the dwarf could use his own strength to brace himself on the side of the shaft.

Rahnee yelled for Helrud’s help, but the dwarven scout retorted that there were too many big folk in the way for him to assist. Rahnee, Dermot and Shanni braced themselves as Darrow decided to manhandle his way up the rope. Rahnee’s grip gave way, but Dermot provided sufficient anchor for Darrow to make his way out of the shaft. The dwarf, still cheery, said that it was faster for him to climb up himself rather than be hauled up, since they all had the strength of punch-drunk moon elves. Darrow received no arguments from his exhausted companions, but did get a tired grin in response from Rahnee.

Darrow related that there were lots of “little beasties” and then one big beastie that seemed to have been attracted to their shouting; it was huge and looked like stone, according to Shanni. They killed it, but she warned there might be more of them, standing on tippy-toe and gesturing to show how tall it was. Darrow said that it was a big cavern – large enough to be a dragon’s lair - and thought it would be worth further exploring, in response to a question from Rahnee.

All agreed it would be best to locate Aerikoth and explore the cavern as a group. Helrud declined to go down with them, saying that someone needed to keep an eye on their gear; he was also unsure if a “mature” dwarf like him would fit down the shaft, which drew a smile from Rahnee. She and Dermot then re-examined the old winch and collaborated to rig the rope to it to better support their descent. Dermot tied it with a complicated knot to ensure it would not unravel under the strain.
 

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Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
At this point, the early afternoon of Ches 14, there was still plenty of time remaining in the day for the party to gather their strength and reorganize before attempting another foray into the cavern. First, Rahnee headed out to see if she could locate and bring back Aerikoth. As Helrud watched her go, Dermot proposed that on their next sally, he should go down the rope first, then have his and Darrow’s equipment lowered separately, after which Darrow would join him and they could ready themselves as Shanni descended. Helrud would remain above to ensure that the rope stayed steady and nothing untoward happened up top, while waiting for Rahnee and Aerikoth. All agreed with this plan. Darrow grumbled that he’d prefer not to be separated from his armor, which however was impossible given the narrow space of the shaft.

Dermot divested himself of his equipment and dexterously clambered into the hole, but then nearly lost his grip on the rope while descending and had to halt in order to stabilize himself against the shaft walls. The ranger then relied on his strength to get down the rope safely, with Darrow and Shanni carefully letting it play out from their end. Once he was on the cavern floor, they lowered his pack, but it wobbled during the descent and loudly clanged against the shaft wall. Darrow and Shanni winced and grimaced in reaction; the petite rogue expressed concern over the loud sound and advised Darrow to hurry down. The two of them hauled the rope back up, attached Darrow’s pack and then lowered it to the cavern without further incident.

The dwarf told Shanni that he would climb down on his own, so all she needed to do was keep the rope steady. She and Helrud both did that as Darrow made the descent for the second time, moving more slowly and carefully. Despite some wobbling by Shanni up top, he reached the cavern floor easily and began putting on his equipment, having been warned by Dermot that something was out there. Shanni then made her way down the shaft, more quickly and assuredly now that she knew its dimensions, sliding down its final length and gracefully landing like a dancer.

As Darrow picked up his axe and shield, he warned Shanni that Dermot had heard something moving, which prompted her to check the string on her bow. The dwarf then showed some curiosity about the papers strewn about the chamber, which Shanni had not been able to decipher. Neither of them touched the papers, which were falling apart; Darrow could only make out some impressions left by faded black ink on them.

The three adventurers readied themselves to head out into the main cavern. Shanni first suggested that someone sneaky lead the way, but quickly discovered that she could not see anything in the inky darkness; evidently she did not want to march ahead with a torch announcing her presence. Darrow offered the alternate suggestion of him marching up front to be loud and attract attention; Dermot agreed with this. Shanni turned to him, surprised, but then acquiesced as the ranger explained they could stab anything that showed itself in the back. Darrow, now fully armed and armored, then stomped forward past the broken doors, his two companions following with much softer treads.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
The three passed through a carved-out stone chamber a little larger than the prison they had started in, then entered a vast cavern whose walls and ceiling were lost in darkness. Darrow chose to follow the right-hand wall, to make it easier to find their way out if they needed to. They soon came upon the large pit that he and Shanni had discovered earlier, that had a strange-looking type of stone forming its lip. While examining some bones near it, the three of them were attacked by two large creatures with stone-grey flesh, who managed to painfully claw Darrow and Shanni before they were killed. The dwarf said be would be all right, with his ring. Shanni for her part refused a healing potion from Dermot, with a bright grin, mentioning she already had one. The petite rogue then took a couple of swigs from a potion bottle and hastily patched her tunic.

Turning back to the bones, Darrow thought they could have been that of a dragon, but also perhaps not, as they were rather small. Dermot pointed out that they definitely were not those of whatever creatures had attacked them. Shanni wondered if they were made of rock, but Darrow indicated their grey color was how they hid themselves.

Moving forward again and exiting the huge cavern to the west, they entered a small network of stone corridors and were about to cross into another chamber, but halted as Darrow hissed and pointed ahead. The three beat a quick retreat back into the corridor, where Dermot said he had spotted at least four of the stone-colored creatures; Darrow had only seen two, and the dwarf was not happy with the prospect of taking them all on at once. Dermot brought out some bear traps and asked Darrow if he could attract the monsters’ attention towards the spikes.

The dwarf cheered up at the prospect and headed forward into the dark cavern as Dermot finished setting the tripwires. Shortly afterwards, Darrow came running back to where Dermot and Shanni waited, positioned strategically behind the traps. Despite this advantage, the four creatures still fought savagely and injured Dermot during the battle, before being dispatched. Darrow insisted on passing the ranger his ring of regeneration afterwards, in order to save on healing supplies for the group.

The three adventurers caught their breath as they explored the chamber, which Dermot said appeared to be a den of some sort, given the bones scattered around. So far they had encountered seven total of the stone-grey creatures in the cavern, by Darrow’s count. Dermot, while handing Darrow’s ring back, theorized that those might be all that were down there, given that their den had just been cleared. The dwarf expressed his hope that the ranger was right.

Moving ahead, they found another cavern chamber with signs of previous occupation, including bone piles that Dermot thought had belonged to large rats. Shanni also pointed out some old, broken furniture pieces and an unusual-looking stone pillar. She then discovered a pressure plate in the floor and Darrow stepped on it, wondering out loud what could go wrong; the dwarf frowned when nothing happened. As they moved to exit the cavern back to the east, they noticed a large door set in a northern passage, but it was secured and they thought it best to wait for Rahnee and Aerikoth before attempting to open it.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
The three adventurers then headed toward the southwestern corner of the cavern and found a large pool fed by water flowing from a crack in the wall. Some oozes and animated mushrooms made it their home and the group decided they were more icky than of interest. Darrow had a quick look at the water and then trundled off after the others to the east, nearly colliding with a stealthy Shanni in the natural stone corridor.

Dermot, ahead of them, pointed out a small chamber with a ladder heading up to the ceiling, which Darrow declared had potential. Dermot wondered if it led to the frozen hatch on the surface; Shanni thought that would make it easier for the others to get down. Darrow agreed they should search the remainder of the level before trying the ladder, after Shanni pointed out they should make sure there was nothing left down there to attack them.

Further east, they found a long corridor with a series of doors lining the southern rock face. The first set of doors were open and led to a small, rough-hewn stone chamber. Darrow’s keen eyes observed that the door was warped and old, which Shanni said meant something had come in or out. The next two sets of doors were locked, but opened to Shanni’s nimble fingers. The only things inside the chambers behind them, however, were skeletons on the floor; the first possessed a single one and the second chamber had two of them. Shanni examined the pair of skeletons more closely and paled when she realized one of them had teeth marks scoring its bones – marks that matched the jaw of the other skeleton. She observed they must have starved while locked in, Dermot commenting that they were many years too late to help.

The next set of doors were not locked and led to a large chamber with a number of cots strewn about in a disorderly manner. Darrow said it looked like a barracks, but in response to a question from Shanni, did not think it was for dwarfs, unless they had a very sloppy sergeant. Dermot wondered who would build a place like that, which Darrow confessed he did not know, although he speculated some Underdark race might have done it.

The last chamber on the southern side was also open, but had several large rats in it. The three killed a few, but the rest scampered into a crevasse in the wall. Darrow declared they must be the source of the “rock-beast” food and speculated they grew big eating the mushrooms.

Having explored the entire level, Darrow, Dermot and Shanni quickly took stock of their findings, which Darrow enumerated: two locked rooms with skeletons in them; another room with two starved skeletons and crates, along with writing papers. The dwarf wondered if that meant slave traders, noting that whoever had the keys to the locked chambers must have died or taken off. Dermot and Shanni agreed that it would be best to go check out the ladder. (I shudder to think of how those in the locked chambers met their fates - left abandoned by their cruel masters, whether by choice or some outside force. When I let minor annoyances creep into my mind about my own life's demands and constraints, remembering the tortured lives and deaths of these creatures will be enough to dispel such trivial concerns. --C)

They arrived back in the small chamber and more closely examined the ladder. It looked sturdy enough, but Shanni still volunteered to go up first, since she weighed the least and was “sneaky” as Darrow said. After testing the first rung and finding it solid, she nimbly climbed up the ladder into the darkness. The petite rogue paused, having gone over twenty feet up, and called down a request for some light. Dermot lit a torch in response and she was able to further ascend, reaching a round hole in the ceiling. The ladder entered the hole, which became a shaft heading toward the surface, with metal rungs set into its wall.

With the encouragement of Dermot and Darrow, Shanni entered the shaft, although she had to turn down Dermot’s offer of the torch, since she could not climb and hold one at the same time. Exclaiming about the cold of the metal rungs on her hands, the rogue carefully made her way up the shaft, to a point where sunlight trickled down and she could see a grate above her, with layers of ice encasing it. Calling down to the others as she descended back to the cavern, she told Darrow that he might be able to make it up there without armor; the dwarf intended to try and force the grate.

Out of prudence Darrow first removed his armor, although Shanni as she reached the floor told him the shaft was wide enough. Without the extra weight, he easily scrambled up the ladder and into the shaft. Reaching the top and within arm’s length of the grate, the dwarf attempted to find enough purchase to press up on it. The angle gave him little leverage, however, and the grate failed to move after much grunting and straining from the dwarf. Darrow called down to inform them of his failure and said that they might be able to get at it from the other side, if they could find it; Dermot pointed out that it must be the same ice-covered grate they had discovered earlier.

Stubbornly, Darrow refused to give up and took it as a challenge to get the grate open. Shanni, concerned, called up to the dwarf to take care not to get knocked off. Loud cursing in dwarven was heard below, followed by a muffled thump and a trickle of rocks. More cursing followed as Darrow descended the ladder, clearly upset at being unable to achieve his goal.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
The dwarf shook his fist at the top of the ladder as he descended it, still grumbling as he stepped onto the ground. Despite some calming words from Dermot and Shanni about the usefulness of his efforts, Darrow refused to let it go. Talking animatedly, more to himself than to the others, he said he would shoot it with a crossbow, since he couldn’t miss the grate with a quarrel.

Darrow went over to his pack and angrily pulled it open, spilling a mess kit while grabbing and loading his crossbow. He then walked over to the ladder, aimed the crossbow up the shaft and fired, yelling defiance at the grate. Without bothering to wait for the results, the dwarf loaded up another quarrel and again took aim as the first one, which had been shot true up the shaft, bounced off the ice-covered grate and fell back down. The second shot was not as steady, however, and glanced off the bottom of the shaft.

Dermot, seconded by Shanni, gently suggested they should be getting back to the rope. The petite rogue also pointed out that Darrow was just wasting bolts. Grumbling to himself, the dwarf pulled on his armor, gathered up his gear, and followed his two companions towards where they had first entered the cavern, vowing that the grate would not defeat him. As they walked, Shanni remarked that there was no gold so far, but Dermot reminded her that they still had one door to go on that level.

Once back in the old prison chamber, Shanni called up the shaft for Helrud. The dwarf made sure the rope was braced properly as the three made their way up to the surface, where he eagerly inquired about gold, jewels and other treasure, only to be disappointed. Shanni mentioned the unopened door, which Helrud enthusiastically declared must lead to a dragon hoard. Darrow gave him an abbreviated summary of what they had found so far in the Hidden Peak cavern. Dermot then indicated they should go try to find the grate entrance on the surface. Helrud volunteered to stay put, in case Rahnee or Aerikoth returned.

After getting his bearings, Dermot led Darrow and Shanni back to the site of the grate, which was covered with several inches of solid ice. After examining it, the ranger said that having walked the roads of wintertime, he had learned how to deal with ice, and pulled out a bottle from his pack. Darrow confirmed it was alchemist’s fire and mentioned he had used it once to collapse a tunnel by burning the supports. Shanni watched, fascinated, as Dermot used his small hatchet on the ice, attempting to cut grooves in it for the liquid to follow. The thick ice meant that he only managed to scrape some of the surface, however. Darrow volunteered to assist and after making a bit of headway with the hatchet, decided to take out his waraxe and bash the grate. The weapon made more of a dent, but also rebounded dangerously, prompting Dermot to tell the dwarf to ease up. Muttering in dwarven under his breath, Darrow complied, backing away.

Dermot then poured some liquor from his hip flask onto the grate, followed by smashing the bottle of alchemist’s fire on top of it. An unnatural-looking flame burst from the top of the grate, beginning to melt the ice. Darrow started chopping off branches from a nearby small tree to use as kindling, with Dermot’s encouragement, as the ranger joined in with his hatchet. Shanni also contributed by gathering some loose branches on the ground. The wood, however, failed to catch fire, being immediately soaked by icy meltwater.

As the chemical flame grew smaller, Darrow took his axe to the tree, which resisted his blows for a short time, then fell. The dwarf dragged it back to the grate, but by that point the fire had gone out, having melted all of the ice off the grate. The grate was still stuck, so they tried various ways to lift it. Darrow attempted to use the tree as a lever, but it was far too large to fit in a grate hole. Dermot worked at its seams with a knife, attempting to pick out any remaining ice. Shanni suggested running a rope through the grate and then pulling it up. Dermot thought for a moment, then took a small branch from Darrow to tie on the end of the rope, to use it as an anchor. The ranger attempted to shove the branch and rope lengthwise through the grate, as Shanni watched. Dermot failed, but Shanni’s more nimble fingers eventually succeeded, turning the branch horizontal after getting it through.

Dermot threw the free end of the rope over a nearby wall, to provide leverage, then joined Darrow in giving it a strong pull. The dwarf, clearly motivated to finally defeat the stubborn grate, heaved with his full strength. The grate groaned and screeched as Darrow slowly manhandled it up, while Shanni wedged a branch under it at Dermot’s suggestion. Suddenly, it popped open and Darrow let out a stream of triumphant cursing in dwarven.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
The Hoard

After placing the tree over the grate to ensure it could not close again, an act which Darrow especially appreciated, Shanni eagerly ran over to Helrud to inform him of their success. Upon her return, Darrow and Dermot pointed out the rungs set in the side of the rock shaft under the grate, which they assumed was the same one they had climbed from below, using the ladder. Darrow expressed his curiosity about the door with the nearby pressure plates, but agreed with Dermot that they should not get in over their heads without Rahnee and Aerikoth. Shanni pointed out that they now could run back to the ladder and escape the cavern much more easily.

As Darrow started climbing down the rungs, he observed that the meltwater had made them slippery, which would be a problem when iced over. Just as Shanni was mentioning that they should set the rope up, in case the ladder below them fell, Darrow uttered an oath and slipped off the rung he was holding, starting to fall down the shaft. The dwarf flailed his arms, attempting to grab a rung, but caromed off the side of the shaft as his companions rushed over to the entrance and yelled at him to take care. They then saw him suddenly reach out and seize the last visible rung. Huffing and agitated, the dwarf said it was just like he planned it.

Dermot knelt down to tie a rope around the top rung as Shanni, with the relief evident in her voice, asked if Darrow was hurt. He indicated he was fine, although could barely see anything in the shaft. The dwarf then prodded the top of the ladder below him with a foot, to make sure it was stable. Dermot finished tying off the rope and threw its free end down to Darrow, who missed catching it and had it smack him in the head, which forced Shanni to suppress a giggle.

After the dwarf had secured the rope around his waist, he easily climbed down the ladder to the dark cavern below, tugging the rope twice to signal success. Dermot managed to relight his torch and tossed it down the shaft, following it himself shortly afterwards. Shanni, left alone for a little while, seemed nervous as she called down to ask if she could descend as well. Darrow gave the rope another two tugs and the petite rogue quickly entered the shaft, putting her hands on the still-slick rungs. Her grip failed her, however, and she squealed as she slipped and started falling straight down the shaft. Like Darrow, she managed to grab the last rung before reaching the ladder, letting out another squeal and a shriek of pain at the impact.

With the encouragement of her companions, Shanni managed to slow her panicked breathing and transferred herself to the ladder. Visibly shaking, she made her way down to the cavern floor. Although she had wrenched her shoulder a little, she was still game for Darrow’s suggestion of going to have a look at the remaining sealed door. As they approached the northwestern end of the cavern where the door was located, they were unexpectedly attacked by a pair of the same stone-grey creatures previously encountered on that level. Shanni ran off as Darrow and Dermot handled them in melee. Dermot got a bit of a scratch, as he put it, but was otherwise all right. Shanni observed that they at least now had something to put on the two pressure plates in the area near the door, if they needed a weight on them.

With some experimentation from Darrow and Dermot, they determined that each of them standing on a pressure plate caused a grinding sound to be heard off to the east. Shanni confirmed it was coming from behind the sealed door, which itself however remained jammed shut. Darrow tried to drag a corpse of one of the creatures over, but it was too heavy for the dwarf. He came to the conclusion that he would have to knock down the door to see what was behind it. Dermot and Shanni both pointed out that they might need to shut it again, but Darrow gave his axe a few good swings at the lock anyway. Shanni came over to see if he had managed to loosen it any. She was able to peer through the keyhole and told the others that there was a closed portcullis about twenty feet past the door, on a downslope.

Darrow took this as a sign that he needed to get back to bashing the door. A good number of swings later, it finally buckled around the lock and opened, to the satisfaction of the panting dwarf. Darrow then went back to join Dermot at the pressure plates, while Shanni made her way down the slope to the portcullis. After a few abortive tries, Darrow and Dermot managed to properly balance on the plates and raise the portcullis long enough for Shanni to use the parts from one of her spike traps to jam the metal gate’s mechanism open. The way was now open to the next level down.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Darrow and Dermot joined Shanni by the raised portcullis, shoving aside the remains of the door the dwarf had bashed open. A short discussion took place among them about whether to wait for Rahnee and Aerikoth before going further. Their curiosity proved too strong, so the three followed the sloping tunnel downward. Shanni offered Dermot the use of her magic cloak to better hide as he scouted ahead, but the ranger shook his head and said he felt better when she had it; he could always fight his way out of trouble. The petite rogue gave a sheepish little grin as she fell in behind the two warriors.

The second level of the Hidden Peak cavern proved to be just as dark as the one above. After slowly making their way down the initial corridor, it turned to the left and opened into a huge cavern, similar to the level above. Scouting ahead, Dermot made out at least five of the grey rock-colored creatures they had previously encountered. When the ranger reported back on his findings, Darrow said he was up for it. Shanni asked if there was a choke point they could use to their advantage in battle; in response, Darrow pointed at the traps Dermot had started setting up around their position.

Once the traps were ready, Dermot carefully sneaked ahead, with the intent of luring one of the creatures to their prepared position. He was successful the first time, as a lone monster followed him back and was quickly trapped and finished off. The next time out, however, all of the remaining creatures took off after the ranger, who barely made it back to his companions. Between the other traps and some intense fighting, the three adventurers dispatched their foes, although Darrow’s shoulder got banged up in the process and Dermot suffered a deep scratch. The dwarf, evidently having a high pain threshold, offered his ring of regeneration to Dermot first. The ranger hesitated, then took it and put it on as they moved deeper into the cavern.

Their explorations led them to the central chasm in the cavern, which on this level had warm air coming over its lip. Dermot returned the ring to Darrow as they speculated on where the creatures had come from. Some bones of large rats were found, which they concluded was what the grey stone-like creatures had subsisted on. Shanni peered over the central pit and remarked that the stone appeared to be smooth, black and glass-like. Darrow told her that it was called obsidian and made by volcanoes, which would explain the warmth.

Carefully spreading out around the area, they noted the freestanding remains of what appeared to be stone supports for a door, although nothing remained of it, along with the presence of additional large bones on the floor. Darrow shared his observation that the cavern had evidently been made for something larger than humans. When Shanni queried further, he explained that he could tell the natural cavern had been enlarged, but the rough stonework meant that it was not done by dwarven hands. With their exploration of the area around the central chasm completed, the three companions moved towards the southern end of the cavern level.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Darrow, Dermot and Shanni entered a wide stone corridor that ran west to east. Shanni was first to notice and complain about the cold air wafting towards them from the east, which caused Dermot to shiver. The ranger scouted ahead as his two companions held their position in view of the cavern entrance ahead. Shanni could see that the floor seemed to be moving and Dermot, once he returned, confirmed that there were ooze-like creatures on it, along with what he described as a tall, man-like figure made of ice. Darrow, somewhat incredulous, asked if it were moving, which was confirmed by the ranger.

Dermot remarked that normally this was the sort of encounter they would use Aerikoth for. However, he thought that even without the mage, they could defeat the creatures, as long as they were ready to back off quickly. Darrow grinned and suggested that Dermot try to draw off some of the mindless creatures, to give them an advantage. The ranger said he would see if he could outpace their targets.

The plan worked, as the three adventurers were able to defeat the crystalline oozes and two of what they assumed were ice elementals; Dermot had not seen the other one while scouting. Moving forward and wondering out loud how the elementals had gotten there, they searched the ice-rimmed cavern, noticing more large bones near a central rock formation. Darrow found another dragonscale near it. This prompted Shanni to produce a couple more scales from her pack, handing them to Darrow. Dermot half-questioningly raised the idea, previously discussed, that there had been a fight between a white and a red dragon at the site a long time ago.

Just as Shanni was complaining about the lack of gold to be found, both she and Dermot saw something glinting in the ice field covering the back of the cavern. Shanni confirmed that they still had one rope left, then divested herself of most of her equipment, including a few previously hidden blades, save for a dagger in her boot sheath; Darrow had suggested she have at least one on her, to use as an anchor on the ice. The petite rogue tied the rope around her waist and Darrow picked up the other end, giving her a small amount of slack as she moved toward the ice field, which was at a short drop below the cavern’s stone floor.

As Dermot held up his torch, Shanni squealed at the contact with the cold surface and slid a short distance, moving forward on her belly. It soon became evident to her that several inches of ice covered a rock floor, rather than it being water underneath. Wriggling forward, she discovered that the shiny thing they had spotted was a diamond. Squealing again from both pleasure at the find and the coldness of the ice on her body, Shanni reached for the precious stone, then triumphantly waved it in her hand.

She was obviously eager to continue the search for treasure and moved along the edge of the chamber, ignoring the occasional involuntary shiver of her body. Darrow and Dermot each spotted another sparkling gem in the ice field for her. The first one she had to chip out with her dagger. As she did this, she merrily thanked Darrow for suggesting she bring one along. The last gem, which she identified as a star sapphire, was on the edge of the ice field and was more easily retrieved.

Shanni sat for a moment on the ice, regarding the gem with a faraway look, and mentioned that her da’ used to say that star sapphires matched her eyes. This prompted Darrow to ask how he had come across such gems, as well as to remind Shanni she should get back off the ice. This snapped her out of her reverie and she wriggled back to the edge of the ice field, where she easily climbed back up with the aid of her friends. Grinning brightly, the petite rogue displayed the three gems on the palm of her hand, declaring that they were not as good as a mountain of gold, but not bad.
 
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Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Now that the action was over, Shanni started shivering in earnest from the bitter cold of the cavern. She untied the rope from around her waist and handed it back to Dermot. As she recovered her pack on the ground, she commented on how useful the ropes Dermot carried were and half-jokingly wondered what else he had in his pack. The ranger responded thoughtfully to the question, saying that other than what he was wearing, he was carrying his life in his pack. Shanni became equally thoughtful and said she was the same way. (Such is the way of our Order as well. This is an interesting insight, as I had not thought that what we consider as part of the practice of asceticism could be reflected in the lives of such kinds of adventurers. While the ones described here are not ascetics, they are similarly wanderers with no fixed abode, or at least not one they return to often. Once I leave this house of the Order, I shall be in a similar position. I should meditate more upon this commonality. --C)

Departing the cold chamber, the two humans struck up a discussion about their original homes as Darrow tramped ahead, aiming to return to the central chasm. Dermot and Shanni were still talking as they arrived, while their dwarven companion looked over the rim of the chasm wall, impressed by how deep it was. Darrow decided to drop a quarrel over the edge to try and gauge the depth, since the bottom was not visible in the dark. As the cavern was mostly silent, after about a five-second wait all three could hear the soft plink of the item landing on a stone surface.

Darrow observed that it was a long way down and wondered if Aerikoth had any spells that could levitate them to reach the level below. Dermot guessed that it was at least an eighty-foot drop, from the time it took the quarrel to fall. The three companions all moved to stand on a rock shelf above the chasm, which seemed the most convenient place to survey its depths. After a short period, all of them noticed that the shelf itself was more smoothly worn than the rest of the cavern floor. Shanni observed that it was as if something had been going backwards and forwards a lot on that spot.

Given that they had explored all of the cavern by this point, with the exception of whatever was at the bottom of the chasm, Darrow started going over with the others what they knew about the place, holding up a finger with each statement. He mentioned the prison cells on the upper level with prisoners who starved to death – Shanni helpfully reminded them of the people who ate each other in the one room - crates in the entry room that looked like they came from the Underdark, and the white and red dragonscales scattered around the area. The dwarf was less sure what the large bones belonged to inside the cavern, perhaps either a white or red dragon.

Dermot, having done some thinking about the situation, opined that at one point whoever lived here either served a white dragon, or had built the place first and the dragon had come along afterwards. He then speculated that a red dragon had come along, fought the white, and both had died, the red somewhere outside and the white crawling back inside first. Whoever else had occupied the place left, perhaps due to the rock-colored creatures they had encountered. (It is a plausible story, but it is also premature to declare the death of a dragon until you have in fact seen its bones. They recall this fact soon enough. --R)

Shanni, as she peered over the chasm rim looking for claw marks, thought that made sense; the dwarf said it fit with what they knew. As he and the ranger were talking further, Shanni excitedly called them over to look at the chasm wall, where she had spotted some handholds carved into the rock. Darrow had trouble seeing them in the torchlight, until Shanni moved to stand directly above where they began, leading down into the dark.

Both Darrow and Dermot thought it would be a hells of a climb, although perhaps doable; the dwarf suggested real climbing tools would be helpful. As the three talked about how best to go about it, gusts of hot air started coming up over the lip of the chasm. At first Shanni appreciated the warmth, but she soon started backing away as she and the others realized something new was happening – and that they had not actually found a red dragon corpse. Dermot suggested that they run and Darrow agreed that it was time they got back to the others.

Shanni scooted ahead, stopping when she reached the room on the upper level with the portcullis mechanism. Once Darrow and Dermot joined her, they agreed with Shanni’s suggestion to remove the spike holding the iron gate open, in order to keep anything from below from coming up, as they knew how to get back down. The three adventurers made their way to the small chamber with the ladder to the surface and emerged into darkness, the sun having gone down while they were exploring the cavern below.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Darrow, Dermot and Shanni walked the short distance back to the original shaft entrance and greeted Helrud, who was eager to hear how their second foray into the cavern had gone. The dwarf scout also expressed his concern at the lateness of the day and the presence of wolves in the area. They were about to respond when they heard footsteps crunching on the snow. Shanni spun around and Dermot leveled his crossbow towards the sound, just as Rahnee called out that she was coming in. The ranger lowered his weapon as she strode forward, commending her companions on their reflexes. She told them that she had lost the wizard’s track in the snow earlier, then had spent the rest of the afternoon keeping an eye out for him as she covered their backtrail.

Just as Darrow began explaining about how they had succeeded in opening the grate entrance, Aerikoth walked up to the group and then stopped, standing calmly and holding his staff while he regarded them with unblinking eyes. The others expressed their relief at his presence. Shanni also called their attention to the fact that the wolf calls in the surrounding area had gotten louder, with the fall of night. Darrow asked if Aerikoth had one of his “house” spells available and the wizard confirmed this, saying he could cast a spell for shelter if they desired it. Shanni then observed that the wolves had gone silent and asked Dermot if that was better or worse. Dermot thoughtfully answered that he didn’t know, since he had usually found shelter by then.

Darrow resumed his summary of their underground discoveries, telling Rahnee and Aerikoth that they had found evidence of two dragons, a red and a white. The dwarf said they had found the white’s lair, guarded by some sort of frost elemental, but not much in the way of a hoard. Shanni, appearing more nervous about the wolves in the area, suggested that since it would take some time in the telling, they should do it somewhere safe and warm. Darrow acknowledged the practicality of this and Rahnee asked Aerikoth to cast his spell.

The wizard glanced around and settled on a spot near the statue of the dragon, which he said he had determined was of the red species. The others followed him to a point near the statue, where Aerikoth stopped and began bringing forth various objects from his robe. In response to a question from Shanni, the wizard said that he would not place the shelter over the visible large bones on the ground, but just to the north of them. He then stood quietly for a moment, appearing unaffected by the wind and cold, and began speaking words of magic and holding up the objects as the spell required. Shanni stood and shivered while the wizard continued to cast; Dermot, meanwhile, scanned the ridgeline.

With a final gesture, Aerikoth pointed at the ground and a large hut appeared, to the surprise and delight of Helrud, who had never seen anything like it. The dwarf put a hand on it and exclaimed that it was solid, appearing not to have believed it at first. Aerikoth announced that the hut door was open to all who wished to enter, and the group eagerly filed into its warm interior.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Inside the conjured hut, the party shed their cold, wet outer layers and took advantage of the magical torches inside to start warming themselves. Teeth still chattering, Shanni looked to Dermot to summarize for both Aerikoth and Rahnee the results of the exploration so far of the Hidden Peak cavern. As usual, the ranger cut right to the chase, describing the first level as not much but rock monsters, rats, empty cavern-rooms, and the occasional skeleton, with a portcullis and door going deeper. On the second level, he mentioned they had found the resting place of a white dragon, along with a few gems. In response to a question from Rahnee, Dermot clarified that the cavern with the dead dragon had naught but a few bones and some white dragon scales, along with the cold elemental guarding it. He then went on to describe the big hole in the center of the cavern with warm air coming out and handholds cut into the side of the lower-level pit. He concluded by mentioning they had exited the cavern when they thought something might be coming up the hole.

Helrud interjected, assuring them that there was no (live) dragon around, as he would have seen signs of it hunting in the area. The dwarf eagerly speculated that the hoard might just be there for taking, with the previous white and red dragon occupants of the cavern being dead. Dermot, Shanni and Darrow confirmed that they had killed all of the rock-like monsters and the elementals they had encountered in the cavern, along with some oozes. They also commented that the white dragon’s hoard must have been thoroughly looted or moved from its resting place, which puzzled them given the presence of the elemental.

Having absorbed all of this, Rahnee turned to Aerikoth and queried if the wizard had found anything special during his study of the surrounding ruins. In his usual emotionless tone, Aerikoth reported that the area had architecture from more than one culture, all being at least several hundred years in age. He said he did not recognize most of them, being unfamiliar with the lands they were in, but did note some Netherese runes on an old pillar making reference to a “deep mountain of fire” which Dermot interpreted as a volcano. As the wizard had mentioned previously, he also determined that the nearby dragon statue was that of a red.

Rahnee asked Helrud if there were any Ironhelm clan tales of an underground volcano. The dwarf said there were none that he knew of, but there were stories of a red dragon that once had ruled a kingdom in the mountains, which he thought must be the place where they were. Conversation turned back to locating the hoard, as Darrow wondered if it had been hidden in a secret area they had missed, or perhaps with a spell. Aerikoth confirmed that he would be able to detect the presence of magic in the cavern. Helrud, convinced that the hoard was located in the cavern, thought it must be buried at the bottom of the pit they had found.

Rahnee declared, with a merry smile, that unless her three companions were lying thieves and bandits and keeping the hoard to themselves, they had more exploring to do on the morrow. This prompted Helrud, apparently not getting the joke, to look suspiciously at Darrow, Dermot and Shanni. He then had to admit, however, that they could hardly be hiding that much gold, especially “scrawny” Shanni. The petite rogue pouted a little at this, but then joined the others in preparing to bed down for the night, although she first related the story of finding the bones of trapped people who had to eat each other. Rahnee, startled at first by the macabre situation, commented that it must be horrible to have to eat your friends. Darrow, ever practical, pointed out that who knew if they were friends.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
With that, Rahnee finished polishing the armor she had taken off and bid everyone a good night, with the Lady’s blessings upon all. Helrud had already drifted off to sleep and could be heard mumbling something to himself. The others found comfortable spots on the hut’s floor, improvising bedding and pillows – in Darrow’s case, a cloak and a bottle of ale – before quickly falling asleep as well. Darrow’s snoring proved to be little obstacle to that, as everyone had experienced a long, exhausting day in the cold mountains.

By early morning, most of the group had slowly roused themselves, with the exception of Shanni. She was mumbling something about jewels in her sleep and merely wriggled into a more comfortable spot in response to Rahnee softly calling her name. Aerikoth began discussing the defensive spells he would prepare for their expedition, prompting Darrow to advise that any offensive ones not be fire-based, given that whatever lived at the bottom of a volcano probably bathed in magical fire. The wizard acknowledged the wisdom behind the dwarf’s words, which Darrow, grinning, observed happened maybe once a tenday.

Rahnee pulled out some iron rations from her pack and offered to share, but Darrow declined and consumed a liquid breakfast of ale instead, belching loudly when done. Dermot was already finishing some jerky in his possession, then went over to wake Shanni, shaking her by the shoulder. The petite rogue suddenly jerked and rolled away, her hand going to her boot, before she realized where she was. Rahnee looked over to Helrud and asked if he was awake. The dwarf scout, sitting by the door, replied that he was just waiting for everyone else to get ready, not being used to lazing around warm huts in the morning.

The other adventurers pulled on their outerwear and prepared to sally forth from the hut, as Aerikoth began studying his spells. The wizard mentally unlocked the door to the conjured hut and his companions moved out into the daylight. Overnight, it had been snowing, but the weather was currently clear for them. Darrow and Helrud got down to business changing the color of the snow, while Rahnee and Shanni moved off for some privacy.

A short while later, Aerikoth departed the hut and joined the others by the grate entrance, declaring he was prepared. Darrow, bending down to open the grate, warned them that the transition from the metal rungs to the ladder below was tricky and a little slick, which Shanni seconded. Rahnee asked Helrud if he were going with them; the dwarf was now enthusiastic about the idea. Darrow confirmed that he should be the first one down and clambered down the rungs. Rahnee attempted to impose some discipline on the expedition by listing off who should follow in what order, with Shanni being next, but Helrud had already started down after Darrow called up that he was safe. The rogue slung her bow over her shoulder and followed the dwarves down, after which Rahnee carefully descended, then Aerikoth and finally Dermot.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Once all had reached the cavern floor, it was decided that Rahnee should stay by the ladder and guard it, to protect their only escape route. Dermot then took the lead as the others moved into the cavern complex, advising them to keep a weather eye out. Aerikoth asked to be informed when they wanted his protective spells to be cast. Dermot thought it best to first see if any creatures were down there.

The group soon reached the site of the broken-down door and the two gray render corpses, which Aerikoth spent a moment studying. Dermot observed that the portcullis blocking the way to the level below was closed again; Shanni reminded him that she had removed her spike on the way back up. Darrow, who was happy to see that no hostile creatures were slavering at the portcullis, said he would go over to the far pressure plate. Shanni this time deferred to Dermot to jam the portcullis mechanism once it was raised, while she moved onto the nearer plate. The portcullis raised as before and the ranger immediately spiked it open.

There was some confusion over what was happening, due to the distance and darkness in between the chamber with the pressure plates and the portcullis area. After some shouting back and forth, Helrud relayed that Dermot seemed to have disappeared past the entrance, so they all descended to the next level, joining the ranger, who had scouted ahead. Helrud stuck close to Aerikoth, deeming it the most sensible place to be, and marveled at the extent of the cavern as they made their way to the edge of the central pit on the lower level. The dwarf asked the wizard if he had seen anything like the place and was surprised when Aerikoth answered in the affirmative, stating that the dwarven clan’s deep delves were similar to these underground warrens. Helrud said that he had not been there himself, of course, and Aerikoth advised against trying to visit them.

Darrow, Dermot and Shanni meanwhile were trying to locate the spot along the pit wall with the handholds, which were difficult to see in the gloom. Dermot eventually spotted them and Darrow suggested they wrap a safety rope around a nearby pillar. Aerikoth started down into the dark pit while Helrud wiped his brow, commenting at the hot air coming up out of it. Darrow wondered if it were a volcano, explaining to Shanni that it was where the earth opened up and hot rock from below bubbled to the surface; the dwarf had not seen one himself, but had heard tales.

Shanni asked who would be first down, prompting her, Dermot and Darrow to all look at each other. After some hemming and hawing, Dermot asked Aerikoth if he had any spells to see what was down there. The wizard answered in the negative, indicating that most of the ones he had memorized involved protective magic. Cursing, Darrow told the others to rope him up and he would go down first. Shanni pointed out that he might clank in his armor, but Darrow just joked that anything underground should know not to mess with a dwarf.

Dermot rigged their two ropes together with a slipknot, at Helrud’s prompting, and one end was secured to the nearby pillar by Shanni while the other was wrapped around Darrow’s waist in case he fell. The dwarf commented that he had always wanted to climb down a bottomless pit into a pool of molten rock, then hoisted himself over the side and began descending using the carved handholds. Before he disappeared from view, he told them that one tug on the rope would signal that he was safe and two would mean to pull him up quick. Dermot acknowledged this, but also advised Darrow to do his best to climb up on his own if needed, since there was no way they could pull him up unaided.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Darrow carefully and steadily used the handholds to descend the side of the pit, pausing only briefly when he reached the slipknot tying the two ropes together, in order to gauge how far he had traveled. Dermot and Shanni kept hold of the rope on their end and played it out as the dwarf kept going, until finally it went slack and they felt a single tug on it. His companions at the top of the pit were relieved and also curious; in response to simultaneous questions from Aerikoth and Shanni about the distance, Dermot indicated that the rope length had been fully played out.

After a short debate, it was decided that Aerikoth should go next, in part because the wizard in any case lacked the physical strength to help support the others, should something go wrong. Darrow, after some delay and tugging back and forth, untied the rope from his waist and it was hauled back up to be fitted around Aerikoth. Somewhat regretfully, the wizard mentioned that he had not prepared a spell that would make his descent much easier. He stowed his staff in a magical bag and moved to climb over the rim of the pit as soon as Dermot and Shanni had signaled they were ready with the rope. Just as the wizard began descending, Helrud exclaimed that he thought he had heard a noise, but then said it was nothing.

Aerikoth did his best to climb down the face of the pit, carefully looking and reaching for each handhold. Shanni was distracted enough by Helrud’s comment that Dermot told her to go take a look, as he was up to the task of anchoring the wizard’s descent. Helrud wondered if it might be Rahnee, coming to find them, but then dismissed the idea of her abandoning her post. As Shanni strung her bow and moved off, Helrud picked up the rope slack, trying to be helpful. He commented that the wizard was almost as light as a feather as the rope went slack and Aerikoth untied it. Expressing his eagerness to see the hoard for himself, Helrud brought up the rope and tied it around his waist as Shanni returned. The dwarf then started descending the handholds, leaving Dermot and Shanni up top. He reached the bottom, undid the rope and pulled on it to signal that he was down.

After a bit of discussion, it was agreed that Shanni would go next and Dermot would be the last. As she attached the rope around her waist, the ranger joked that if anything happened while he was climbing, he could just jump and figure out something on the way down; she gave a lop-sided grin in response. The petite rogue, to her own surprise, made the descent down the pit wall relatively easily, although she had to stretch for the handholds, which were placed far apart for someone her size.

Seeking some additional insurance against a fall, Dermot looped the rope around some rock outcroppings, but lost about ten feet of length in doing so. The ranger tied the free end of the rope around his waist and then climbed down using the handholds, finding them easy enough to use, but ended up about ten feet above the bottom as the rope reached its full extension. He undid it from around his waist and clambered down the remaining distance, joining the others a short distance away.

Shanni had lit a torch by this point and everyone was standing around, in awe of the piles and piles of gold in view. Hot gusts of air periodically blew at them from the far side of the cavern, although the source was not yet visible. Darrow exclaimed happily that he was up to his waist in treasure, while Shanni knelt and dug her hands into the coin piles, which extended as far as they could see in the torchlight. Aerikoth, having been occupied placing spells of protection on the others, offered to do the same for Dermot as he arrived. The ranger asked if there was a fight in the offing, to which the wizard was noncommittal, saying that he at the very least wanted to be prepared. Once spells had finished being cast on Dermot and then on Aerikoth himself, the party was ready to further explore the bottom of the cavern and its mighty treasures.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Starting from the eastern end of the hoard chamber, they moved slowly west, with Dermot in the lead. A dim orange glow was visible ahead and the ranger confirmed that it was a river of lava bounding part of the western end of the cavern, the heat increasing exponentially the closer one got to it. Darrow got close enough to see it with his own eyes, then joined the others making their way along the side of the chamber, towards its southern end; the north end was sheer rock. As they clambered over and through the gold piles, Shanni grabbed fistfuls of coins with each step.

A rock-hewn corridor led south, but the chamber at the end of it was blocked by the image of a large mouth. It shouted a query in an unfamiliar language as the party approached, which at first dumfounded Dermot and Darrow, but Aerikoth then recognized it as Draconic. The wizard informed them that the magical mouth wished to know what were their orders from the Master.

Shanni, her pockets bulging, initially stayed silent as Darrow shrugged and recommended telling it to stand down. Dermot thought this would be a good idea, as the mouth repeated its query and then said an additional phrase, which Aerikoth interpreted as “Trespassers will be punished.” Shanni then brightly suggested they tell it that they were there to move the gold, as the Master had a new home, and that he had given them one of his scales as proof.

Darrow peered past the mouth and along with Shanni noted the presence of a large, iron man-like figure standing in the chamber beyond it, which Darrow recognized as a golem. Dermot readied his weapons, given that combat was a possibility; the ranger observed that if this chamber was guarded, that meant the gold was not the most valuable thing down there. Meanwhile, Aerikoth had been having an exchange in Draconic with the magic mouth, neglecting to translate it for his companions.

After Shanni demanded to know what was being said, the wizard glanced at her briefly and told her that he was attempting to ascertain the purpose of the voice and the metallic construct, which had been set there to guard and challenge. Shanni then asked if he had told it they were there to move the gold. Without answering her, the wizard resumed speaking with the magic mouth. Darrow chimed in and asked the wizard to give a heads-up if he thought they would be fighting the iron golem. Aerikoth had another exchange in Draconic, then told the others to be patient, as he was attempting to ascertain whether they would have to use violence at this time. This provoked Shanni into doing a jig of frustration, as she looked back and forth from the gold piles to whatever might be in the new chamber, past its guardians. (As occurred with his extended study of the ruins in the area above the cavern, the wizard appears fascinated by what he has found and to be wrapped up in his own thoughts and experiments, rather than being concerned about the others with him. Understandable for someone of his intellectual curiosity, but also potentially dangerous. --C)

The wizard further explained that the magic mouth was still following the orders of its master to protect this area from all who were not the master. Dermot, who was getting creeped out by the mouth, suggested that Aerikoth get rid of it, if possible, by hitting it with some magic. As the wizard resumed speaking in Draconic, the ranger rummaged in his pack, pulled out a tripwire and some spikes, and began setting them up on the ground and making ready for combat. Shanni pulled back a little to position herself more strategically.

After a while, Aerikoth ceased talking with the magic mouth and turned to the others, explaining that it was a programmed mechanism that only reacted to a limited range of responses. The wizard said he thought he had convinced it they were not enemies, but could only hypothesize about what the correct response would be to have the guardians either deactivate themselves or ignore the party. Shanni suggested again that he tell it to deactivate or, per Dermot’s suggestion, that Aerikoth shut it down with his own magic. The wizard turned back to the mouth and spoke to it, then informed the others that it had not understood his statement that it no longer needed to guard the area. As Aerikoth started up yet another exchange with the magical apparition in Draconic, the petite rogue became increasingly frustrated at her inability to understand what they were saying, looking back and forth between the two, as the party failed to make further progress.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
Just as Aerikoth started explaining that the magic mouth was limited in its responses and had been placed there by the red dragon Edullisufanxar, which had dwelled there long ago, everyone was distracted by a loud thump from behind them. Dermot said it sounded like it had come from the northeast, near to where the handholds were placed in the cavern wall. He told the wizard to keep trying and went with Darrow to see about the noise. The dwarf let out an exclamation when he saw it was Lady Rahnee, lying on her back on the cavern floor and looking dazed.

As Darrow bent over to examine her, Rahnee asked him why he looked sparkly. He told her that it was either Aerikoth’s magics or the fact she had hit her head. Dermot, concerned, told her to take it easy and asked how far she had fallen, while Darrow asked her the sum of two and four, in order to check her mental faculties. In response, she groaned and managed to get up on her hands and knees. Shanni and Helrud then came over and saw Rahnee, the dwarf scout remarking that she looked kind of banged up and not so happy to see them. Dermot admitted that it was a tricky climb, as Rahnee was complaining about her critical climbing failure. The ranger said it was worth it, though, as Helrud eagerly talked about gold beyond their dreams. Dermot helped Rahnee up and then led her over to the huge gold piles, to see for herself.

Aerikoth was still jabbering with the magic mouth, as Helrud put it, when they walked back over to the southern stone corridor. As they brought Rahnee up to date on their discoveries, Aerikoth further expounded on having read about the red dragon Edullisufanxar in the Ironhelm library, it having laired in the region centuries ago. Helrud referred to it by its popular name “The Burning Blaze”, saying he never could pronounce the name in the fairy stories. As the others explained that the magic mouth so far had not done anything except warn them, Rahnee asked if anyone had tried to pick up any of the gold yet. Darrow answered no, while Shanni carefully maintained an innocent expression.

The wizard stated that the mouth was following its master’s final instructions to guard the chamber. If they wished to continue on, he believed they would have to destroy the iron golem guardian which loomed in the corridor behind it, in the absence of knowing the particular commands that governed them. The party – including Darrow, for once – was reluctant to face the golem in combat unless absolutely necessary. Aerikoth tried once again to talk to the mouth and said he was going to tell it their commands were to continue into the master’s area, unless anyone had a different suggestion. Shanni pointedly said that she didn’t know what Aerikoth had been saying until then, so was a bit stuck for suggestions on saying anything different.

The result of the next brief exchange between the wizard and the magic mouth was, as Aerikoth put it, intriguing. He said it would allow them to inspect the area, but warned them not to touch anything of the Master’s. This stoked the party’s curiosity and prompted Shanni to be the first to go down the corridor to the guarded chamber, although she was sure to carefully edge around the large magical construct. Dermot called out to her to be careful, as there might still be traps. Aerikoth meanwhile had moved only a little further down the corridor and was raptly studying the iron golem. Rahnee stayed with him as Dermot, Darrow and Helrud hurried to catch up with their petite rogue companion.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
The wizard, after some prompting from Rahnee, eventually tore himself away from examining the still-inert iron golem and joined the others in the secondary treasure room. Several chests, which Darrow had identified as being of Underdark construction, were lined up in a row against the far wall. Rahnee and Shanni both checked for traps, but found nothing – other than the obvious killer golem one, as Dermot pointed out. Shanni started babbling about opening just one chest to have a look, but was sharply rebuked by Rahnee, who said she would get them killed before they were ready. (I am uncertain whether this was a grammatical slip of the tongue by the Waterdhavian noble, or perhaps an inadvertent reflection of a hidden death wish. --R) Helrud declared that the gold would be good enough for him, although he - along with the others - was forced to wonder what was in the chests.

The party fell to discussing how the iron golem could be defeated. Darrow pointed out that the iron hide would be difficult to pierce, but Dermot was willing to try; the ranger said that it was metal, but they were stone, thanks to Aerikoth’s defensive spells. The wizard indicated that he could summon a beast to help fight, but also warned that he understood from his studies that the golem would have a poison attack and significant reduction to damage inflicted on it. Furthermore, it would be immune to any magical attack, which disappointed Shanni, as she had hoped that the wizard could melt it with acid or zap it. Rahnee, after multiple tries to catch “Aeri’s” attention, finally got the wizard – bemused by her unexpected use of a nickname - to cast his remaining defensive spell on her.

Dermot, who was looking back down the corridor at the stationary iron golem, gave Shanni the go-ahead to open a box, if she was ready. He leveled his crossbow at it as the diminutive rogue bent over the left-most chest and moved to unlock it, her stoneskin protection vanishing as she did so. Rahnee interjected, wondering if they could rest there prior to opening anything, but Shanni had already lifted the lid in front of her. (The lure of treasure evidently proved too much for Shanni, although it seems Dermot's curiosity had been fired as well. The normally cautious ranger became ready to take a deadly risk, even more so than others in the company. It seems the sheer scale of the dragon hoard affected all of their minds in various ways. Something I must ponder further, should I find myself with companions in a similar situation. --C)

She expressed disappointment at only finding some potions, as Helrud eagerly queried what was in there. The rogue continued opening chests, finding a fine suit of magical armor in the next one, then nothing but rotted clothes in the one after that. The fourth proved to have several potent-looking magical weapons, including a dagger and magic swords, which Helrud eagerly craned his neck around Shanni’s shoulder to see.

Dermot called over to Shanni to ask if there was anything in there that could kill a metal golem. Still inventorying items, she told him there probably was, without raising her head from the chest. Darrow, who had been watching the corridor opening with Dermot, then cried out that the iron golem was coming. Dermot just had time to say “ah dang” before it was upon them.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
The charge of the iron golem brought it into the secondary treasure chamber. The party scattered to combat it as best they could, as it released a cloud of foul-smelling gas into the air. Darrow hefted the ancestral Clan Ironhelm axe Haelgrim and immediately closed with the huge construct, his blade cutting through its surface with every swing. In contrast, Rahnee's weapons and Aerikoth's magic were ineffectual, while Shanni and Dermot tried to use special ammunition in their weapons to damage their enemy's iron hide from afar.

After seeing Darrow take a few blows, Helrud got out his battleaxe and engaged the iron golem from behind, successfully distracting it. The dwarf scout was struck hard in return and he quickly limped off, circling away from the construct. Darrow's axe continued to swing, however, and the golem soon was nothing more than a pile of unmoving parts on the ground.

The party, particularly Helrud and Shanni, were jubilant at the prospect of now-unopposed looting. The petite rogue quickly went back to the treasure chests to finish seeing what was in them. After bandaging himself, Darrow turned to pay attention to the treasures, along with Dermot and Rahnee; Dermot suggested they make a pile of everything in the center of the chamber, to better organize it. Aerikoth meanwhile was silently studying the remains of the construct. Dermot called to him to help identify the magical items from the hoard. The wizard responded, but first stooped and picked up several small pieces of the iron golem.

Shanni and Rahnee took the lead in emptying the chests and placing items on the cavern floor to be examined. Shanni remarked that the non-magical garments had not survived, as Rahnee pulled out some rotted clothes from one chest and dumped them. She then took out a suit of full plate armor, which she said appeared was only enchanted to low levels, although it was well made. Helrud came over to take a look, but quickly lost interest when he saw the armor was not meant for dwarves. The dwarf scout, disappointed, observed that was mostly the case for the other items they had found, as well; there was not even a good axe.

Aerikoth began looking at the collection of weapons, first picking up a dagger and divining that it dealt additional cold damage, along with having what the wizard termed a decent level of enchantment. Shanni waved the short sword she was holding and told the others it had cold magic as well, also being very sharp. The wizard then examined the long sword, which he said was a very nice blade and likely better enchanted than what the others currently possessed. Helrud stroked his beard and expressed curiosity as to why there was so much cold gear in the hoard of a red dragon.

Next to be organized was the collection of boots; Dermot remarked that he had the impression the dragon liked shoes. The ranger pointed out ones that appeared to be elven made, which Shanni said were also very light. Helrud interrupted, pointing to a brazier and asked what it did, Aerikoth replying that it summoned fire elementals. The wizard finished examining another short sword, which he said would require further study, due to the level of its enchantment. Helrud eyed it and remarked that it looked more dwarven-sized.

Shanni rummaged in the potions they had found and brought up one she thought might help Aerikoth identify the short sword. The wizard drank it and then studied the weapon again. After a short time, he arched one eyebrow and displayed, uncharacteristically, a slightly impressed expression.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
As Aerikoth continued to examine and admire the heavily enchanted short sword, Dermot brought up the subject of dwarven law and asked if the Ironhelm clan would have a claim on the hoard. Helrud stated matter-of-factly that the hoard was on clan lands, so it would claim the right to judge its disposition. Specifically, a dwarfmoot would be called to decide it. Shanni protested that they were the ones who had found it and Rahnee went even further, saying that when the Clan stood beside them to fight to the death then yes, they would have a claim, otherwise no.

Helrud, in response, rather shortly pointed out that he was the one who had led them there. Dermot tried to placate his companions, as Rahnee acknowledged that Helrud had taken the risks along with them. Somewhat mollified, the dwarf scout observed that there was plenty for all of them. In response to a question from Dermot about collecting a few “mementos”, Helrud stated that since the gear was not made for dwarves, there would probably be little demand for it. (The party manages to avoid a major falling out among themselves, but only by ignoring whatever legal claim the clan might have until later and grabbing whatever they want in the meantime. Of the two Ironhelm clan members with them - whom Rahnee chose to ignore in asserting the party's property rights - Helrud, as we shall see, can be satisfied by allowing him a piece of the hoard, while Darrow is not inclined to argue the matter. To be fair, it all works out satisfactorily in the end...at least for the adventurers. --R)

Aerikoth set the enchanted short sword down, remarking that it was an impressive weapon, but he warned it could only be wielded by certain individuals. Shanni eyed the sword but Helrud was the first to pick it up, frowning after taking an experimental swing. Shanni curiously asked Aerikoth if it needed you to learn how to use it in some way. As the wizard was explaining that it required someone to have knowledge of the ways of shadow, Helrud dropped the sword, saying that it felt wrong to hold. Shanni then picked it up, declaring it hard to hold, as if it wasn’t really there.

Attention turned back to the collection of boots, which were identified as dragon slippers – prompting a guffaw from Helrud – boots of elvenkind, and gargoyle boots. The dwarf scout thought the dragon slippers might actually fit him, so he tugged off his boots and put them on, saying there were a little big but they still fit. He declared that he felt like nobody could knock him down now. Aerikoth noted that the gargoyle boots would allow the wearer to cast a stoneskin spell on themselves, which Rahnee thought would be handy for Darrow.

The last of the items to be examined was a magical lantern, which the wizard told them revealed and purged invisibility as far as its light reached, with unlimited uses. Darrow thought that would be very useful, as Dermot cracked that it was a light for the paranoid. As a demonstration, Aerikoth picked up the lamp and activated it. Helrud, unimpressed, said that he didn’t see anything invisible. The wizard acknowledged that a better demonstration could be made and asked Rahnee if she would oblige. As Rahnee took out a ring and placed it on her finger, Shanni said she would go and check the other treasure room, to make sure everything was all right. The petite rogue’s departure was ignored by the others, as they watched Rahnee slide the ring on her hand and turn invisible, then promptly be rendered visible again by the lantern. Rahnee laughed and said that they should make sure to point the thing in the other direction, whenever she was sneaking around invisible somewhere.

Shanni returned after a short while and joined the others in divvying up the magical items. Rahnee picked up the longsword and went through some stylized combat motions with it. She graciously asked Dermot if he would benefit from it, after mentioning that her own sword was barely magical. The ranger, equally gracious, said his own sword was decent if not as great, then told Rahnee to take it. She then suggested the elven boots for Dermot and the gargoyle boots for Darrow, both of whom were pleased with their selections. Shanni interrupted, as she thought the others had said they had to give the hoard to the dwarves. Helrud replied that the clan wouldn’t care so much for the magic doodads, as he put it, and wouldn’t want the elven things around anyway. Darrow affirmed that the gold from the hoard would be what interested them the most.

Helrud and Shanni both already possessed what they wanted, which left the cold magic short sword and dagger, along with the brazier and lantern. Shanni encouraged Dermot to take the weapons, since he was able to fight using both of them and would get in close to their enemies, unlike her. Aerikoth claimed the remaining items, since no one else had expressed an interest. After they had stowed their new gear, Darrow hummed a happy tune as everyone trooped back to the main hoard chamber. This time they ignored the magic mouth, which was still spouting warnings in Draconic, save for a final exchange with it by Aerikoth.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Supporter
As the party passed the gold piles, Shanni longingly ran her hands through the coins, wondering if any of them would be missed, but then said she was willing to bet that the dwarves would shake them by their heels when they were back in the Ironhelm citadel. Darrow chuckled, pointing out that whatever they took out, they’d have to climb back up with. They reached the pit wall and decided that Darrow would be last, so the others could help him up as needed. Rahnee nagged Aerikoth to come along, as Dermot readied himself to be the first to attempt the ascent, with his new boots of elvenkind.

The ranger made his way up, dexterously using the handholds with no problems. Shanni was next, roping herself for safety, but also not having any issues on her climb. Aerikoth dismissed the bear he had summoned earlier with a wave of his hand and ascended without difficulty, although the effort left him gasping for a little while after. Rahnee then encouraged Darrow to go next, so the dwarf stowed his gear and started up, using the handholds. After a few feet, however, he slipped and lost his grip, tumbling to the ground with a crash. Cursing and grumbling, the dwarf dusted himself off as his companions winced at the fall. On his second attempt, he seemed to be fighting the handholds as he climbed, eventually muscling his way to the top.

After Darrow was safely up, Rahnee stowed her weapon and shield and tackled the ascent with aplomb, in contrast with her earlier descent. At this point, Shanni was the first to realize that Helrud was no longer with them. The petite rogue recalled that he had gone on ahead while they were in the treasure chamber. Rahnee remarked that it was fortunate they no longer needed him to mark their trail. They assumed that he had gone before them to bring news of the hoard to his clan.

Dermot suggested they make tracks back to the citadel. Aerikoth volunteered the use of his teleportation spell, but Darrow pointed out the wizard would need three of them to take everyone and their gear. Aerikoth admitted to having only one prepared, and pondered the usefulness of having three such spells memorized for future such situations.

The party made their way without incident to the surface, expressing their exhilaration as they finished climbing the ladder up and reached the open sky. At Rahnee’s suggestion, Dermot checked for any fresh footprints, but they had left too many earlier for any new ones left by Helrud to be noticeable. Making their way back along the trail, they came to the boat by the stream, where Shanni spotted some fresh tracks, made by footwear bigger than dwarven size. At first they thought someone else must be in the area, but Shanni recalled that Helrud was wearing his new boots from the dragon hoard. The five adventurers then made the boat ready to cross over the swiftly flowing water.
 

COMING SOON: 5 Plug-In Settlements for your 5E Game

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