Entry 5. 12th day of Tarsakh, 1492 DR.
The vanguard of the party cautiously edge into the antechamber, Balkris in the lead and drawn to the statues like a moth to a flame. As they advance the sound of hammering on metal can be heard echoing down the stair way on the far side of the chamber. Whilst Balkris, Veth and Homte check the first two statues, Alwin, Lamb and Thanatos do some quick mental arithmetic. Calculating only one possible answer to (Veth + Doorway) + (Balkris + Statues) = ?, the trio remain on the threshold waiting for the fireworks to start.
Thanatos attempts to lighten the mood as Homte begins to search around the pedestal of the third, axe wielding, statue. His cheerful tales of legendary calamity only infuriate Homte. The gnome hisses a testy “shut him up” at the tiefling as he simultaneously treads on the pressure plate he has been searching for. Two gigantic axes swing down with mechanical precision but by complete fluke Homte’s half turn toward Thanatos takes him out of the line of descent and he escapes with a minor cut.
Whilst Homte disarms the trap Lamb outlines the tactics he has been ruminating on to the Company. Rather than charging headlong into every engagement, the Northman suggests, the group have been more effective when they have allowed the enemy to close with them. He proposes that in future their scouts fall back to Thanatos’ position in the event of hostile contact and let the trained warrior dictate the ground. To the nodding of heads the idea of moving Balkris to the front of the party, to best take advantage of his preternatural reactions to unexpected events, is also accepted and the Company begin to ascend the far stairs.
Halfway to the stone door now visible at the head of the steps they trigger an alarm, a dwarven voice repeating the same four words over and over. The sound of hammering stops.
At a loss, Homte knocks politely on the door.
To everyone’s considerable surprise a dwarven voice replies, in Common, “Go back the way you came. This is the only warning you’ll get.”
Identifying the speaker’s duergar accent, Homte casually sidles to the rear with an encouraging, “Not my job anymore, you deal with him” to Thanatos as he passes.
At the back, Lamb and Alwin are updated by Homte. They remain more concerned with the possibility of camouflaged troglodyte attacks from behind as they hear negotiations start above. After all, Thanatos is to the fore and the charming devil can be silver tongued when he puts his mind to it. So far so good with the new plan, what could go wrong?
With an impressive flourish of his robes, Veth strides confidently through the door.
As the Company’s most erudite and eloquent member he is clearly best qualified to bring the negotiations to a satisfactory conclusion, he thinks, and is excited at the prospect of flexing his peerless diplomatic skills. It will be refreshing, for once, to find a solution that doesn’t involve the brute application of force by Lamb, Thanatos or Balkris.
“We are merely weary travellers on a pilgrimage to pay our respects to the great Durgeddin”, Veth begins.
“There ain’t nothing for you here”, the duergar warrior replies, “There’s nothing left of the treasure, go back. What are you doing here?”
Veth takes in the vaulted chamber in a glance, pillars lining the approach to a dais and throne at the far end and a makeshift encampment of sleeping rolls and packs in front of it.
“Getting rid of orcs.” Veth continues to establish their credibility.
The duergar is dismissive, “The ones upstairs? There’s other stuff down here worse than orcs.”
“What’s worse than orcs?”
“Dead things, a black dragon that lives below in the dark lake, even we had to sneak past it. Now what do you want?”
“We only come to pay our respects, are you with Durgeddin?” Veth enquires.
“He’s dead, orcs chopped him up years ago.”
The duergar eyes the party speculatively as two compatriots join him, all three identically equipped with scale armour and spears.
“We’ll let you through for trade, but not to the forge. It’s ours, it’s a dwarf forge and nothing to do with you.”
Homte briefs Lamb and Alwin on the duergars’ abilities to turn invisible and enlarge themselves at will and Alwin, alarmed, begins up the stairs to warn the others. “And magic resistance”, Homte whispers as the druid passes.
Alwin’s hurried approach catches the duergar’s eye, as does the delicate half elven cast of his features. The dwarf breaks off haggling and spits on the floor in contempt, “Elves, are you?”
It will never be satisfactorily established who is more surprised at the response to this insult; the duergar or the party. All are stunned to slack jawed inactivity for several seconds as a suddenly enraged Veth responds with a swift invocation of magic missiles directed at the dwarves.
Initially puzzled by the unmistakeable crack of arcane energy from above, Lamb turns in time to see Thanatos draw his scimitars in the face of a swiftly ogre-sized duergar. He spots Veth in the doorway, outlined in magical power, and with a philosophical, “By Valkur’s salty balls”, moves to salvage the situation as best he can.
Forced into a desperate close quarters struggle neither looked for, the combatants exchange a rapid flurry blows before the duergar quite simply vanish.
Veth is not yet mollified and strides into the hall furiously screaming, “I knew cowardly dwarfs would be full of it.”
Alwin sarcastically questions whether Veth was actually present when they discussed tactics not more than five minutes ago. The sorcerer dismisses the stunned looks of his companions with an easy wave, “He impugned our proud and ancient heritage Alwin, I simply won’t stand for it. It was a boring conversation, anyway.”
Senses straining to detect the ambush they know will come, the Company shuffle into the room. Stairs in each corner lead to closed doorways but the multitude of recent tracks in the thick dust defeat Balkris’ attempts to track the duergar. Following his instincts instead, the ranger moves to the stairs to the right of their entrance and slowly goes up. Without warning, a duergar materialises in front of him, spear extended as it lunges, and only his draconic reflexes allow him to dart to one side.
The object of his ire once again visible, Veth recklessly charges to the dragonborn’s side and unleashes an eldritch blast.
Battle is joined once again and Alwin, Homte and Lamb move to cover the foot of the steps. Moving into position, Alwin and Homte have no chance to react as a fourth duergar appears behind Lamb and plunges a shortsword toward his back.
The assassin reels in astonishment at the impossible as Lamb, razor sharp instincts preternaturally honed by battle, reacts at the last moment to deflect the blow with his shield. Shock dissolves to horror as the Northman turns on the dwarf, eyes blazing murder and a contented smile on his face. The spokes dwarf re-appears to aid his kin and the assassin darts away behind a pillar.
Alwin and Homte flank Lamb, and as they scan the room for the assassin, an enlarged duergar in splint mail emerges from a door behind the throne, great sword at the ready.
Alwin calls on the blessing of Selune and suddenly the darkness is pierced by a shining column of moonlight stretching to the vaulted ceiling above, and where the iridescence touches the armoured figure pale flames spring to life.
Thanatos’ scimitars weave a web of irresistible symmetry on the stairs and Balkris’ attacker collapses in a fountain of blood. The tiefling spares not a glance, however, as he races back down to the hall in response to Homte’s warning of the new threat. Balkris takes a firing position and begins to loose shaft after shaft at the duergar leader but Veth moves to meet the warrior face to face, heedless of the dwarf’s resistance to his spells.
Alwin and Lamb have been drawn to the far side of the hall in their duel with the spokes-duergar and the elusive assassin, who is playing a deadly game of hide and kill with Homte amongst the pillars. The half elves swiftly despatch the negotiator, Lamb adding a cruel twist of his blade as sends the evil dwarf to the Abyss with the parting taunt, “How’d you like this elf?”
The pair are prevented from joining the melee around the leader by two more duergar springing into visibility as they attack.
Veth is busy fending off great sword swings. The duergar leader is single minded in his determination to bisect the sorcerer despite the fact that Thanatos’ scimitars are landing in much more telling fashion than the half-elf’s ineffective magic.
Balkris spins around in concern at a roar of pain from Shadow behind him as the third duergar they “negotiated” with earlier appears and stabs the panther with a spear. Abandoning long bow for his great axe the ranger rushes the dwarf with a furious roar.
In order to maintain the lunar flames on the duergar leader, Alwin is being forced to split his attention from the warrior in front of him and the assassin seizes the opportunity. Appearing from the shadows of a pillar on the druid’s blind side, the duergar lands a vicious blow that forces Alwin from his bear form and leaves him vulnerable to a killing blow.
Lamb sees Alwin’s difficulties and chooses to ignore his own defence in order to land a fatal strike. He takes a stinging cut with a chuckle but cuts down his opponent in return and leaps to shield his friend.
The leader’s focus on Veth, one the combatants on both sides empathise with, proves fatal. Magically aflame in a pillar of moonlight, he leaves his guard open for a moment, but that is all Thanatos needs.
Homte has abandoned his rapier and remained concealed in the darkness around the pillars. As the assassin breaks cover to backstab Alwin, the gnome’s patience is rewarded as he applies a dose of the duergar’s own medicine to him with a well-placed crossbow bolt.
Lamb also takes a leaf from the rogues’ book and spits the dwarf facing Alwin from behind, allowing the druid to move the deadly moonbeam to illuminate the assassin. Veth takes the hint and blasts the duergar away with a bolt of fire.
On the stairs, the last duergar is giving a fine account of himself, matching Balkris blow for blow. The explosive extinction of his last companion, however, is too much and he flees.
Unable to escape the fury of Balkris, nor the drilled cavalier’s instinct of Thanatos to ride down the breaking foe, the last dwarf falls on the threshold of the kitchens.
Even Balkris is taken aback as a large kitchen table flies into the air of its own accord and smashes Thanatos in the face.
The cavalier and the ranger are quite nonplussed by their inexplicably animated attacker. Balkris’s attempts at communication are totally ineffective and he is left with an abiding suspicion of furniture that haunts him to the end of his days.
The Company cluster into the stairwell to observe the show but as Homte begins to laugh, the dragonborn loses patience and cleaves the table in two with his axe.
Immediate danger passed, the group look to secure a safe perimeter to dress their wounds. And loot.
A brief exploration of the door behind the throne reveals a suite of rooms that were clearly once the meeting chamber and living quarters of the Durgeddin, but no valuables.
The bodies and packs of the duergar yield some coinage but they appeared to have carried their wealth in their armour and weapons.
Concerned with resting in an unexplored area, and with mention of a dragon and the dead stalking the halls, Alwin and Homte venture back to the antechamber to reset the axe trap and secure the door to the sepulchres.
A quick peak through the north east doorway by Lamb reveals a debris strewn junction with a fountain in the centre. A weird moaning in dwarven echoes through the passages and he swiftly closes the door.
The Northman turns to the Company and sums up the recce with the slightly worried, “Shit”.
Alwin is worried Veth might be more of a lunatic than Lamb.
Balkris blames his own inattention for the injuries to Shadow. Probably should’ve let the sorcerer get skewered.
Homte is checking his rapier. It looks fine, but he might as well have been swinging a celery stick for all the damage it did.
Lamb is wondering where Brynvan Battlehammer is when you need him.
Thanatos really thinks they should have rested before opening more doors.
Veth is proud of the blow he has struck for equality, a small step toward a brighter world with no tolerance for speciesism. Or dwarfs, vicious little bastards, the lot of them.