The Westgate Campaign Chronicles - serial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Return to Ironhelm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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