“We have accumulated a lot of wealth in a short time,” declared Maur. He was sitting on a hard wooden chair in the downstairs parlor of the party’s rent house, thinking over the party’s recent excursions against the Ennin slavers. Gideon, who was standing at a nearby window, glanced thoughtfully out towards the intersection of Pirates Street and Posey Street. “We have, Maur,” he replied, “but this life as a Delver has not been what I thought it would be, not yet, at least.”
“What did you expect, tea cakes and parasols?” Ian asked, emerging from the secret room beneath the stairs, where the party often cached their treasure before depositing it at Hammersong Vaults in Old Town. On most days, Ian would make at least one trip to this secret room to look over the pile of coins and items they had accumulated over the past few months.
Gideon cast Ian a slight glance, tinged with disgust.
“Seriously,” Ian continued, “What did you expect? The life of a Delver is not meant to be easy. We do the things no one else wants to dirty their hands with and we get paid well to do it. We get paid very well! It certainly beats living on the street, scrounging for every meal.”
“No need for that, Ian,” Feruch mumbled. He was seated on a wooden bench across from Maur, hunched over slowly gliding a whetstone across the blade of the long sword. “If Gideon is done, no one can fault him for it.” He glanced to Gideon sincerely, “Not everyone is cut out for this.”
“I’m not saying that I’m through, nowhere near it!” Gideon exclaimed, still glancing out the window. He looked upwards, past the rooftops towards the setting moon, Lunas. “It’s just that I spent most of my life doing as I was told, and I damn well didn’t expect to be a flunky for the rich and powerful when I came here! I thought that…” He sighed deeply. “I thought that here I could find freedom, that I could find opportunities and a means to make my own way, my own way.”
“We are doing that,” Maur grunted, hopping up from his seat. He walked to the cast iron furnace in the corner of the room, tossing another log onto the fire. Amber embers flared out, singing his hands. The sensation reminded him fondly of the forges back home at Khomlodir in the distant Hotash Mountains.
Maur turns his backside towards the glowing furnace, letting its warmth renew his spirits and vigor. Glancing up, he notices he still commands the attention of the rest of the party. “Listen, lads, I see it like this. We came here with nothing but ideals and hopes. One of us came here for glory, another for wealth, another came here for opportunity, and then I came here for…”
“Pride,” Ian interrupted.
" Huh? No, not pride." Maur locked eyes with the rogue. “I came here for a name.”
“A name?” Ian scoffed, “You came here to find Dwarvenhearth before anyone else did.” Ian closed the secret panel to the cache under the stairs, then leaned against the wall, “That’s pride right there.”
“That might be true, if that was the reason I had actually come here.” Maur said.
“Well what did draw you here, then?” asked Gideon, “And I doubt it has much to to with running away from a nagging wife.”
“If you knew my wife, you’d reconsider that,” Maur grinned, “but I’ll tell you. Among the dwarves there comes a time when each of us must find our name, our purpose. My ancestors, each, found their names either in battle, in craftmanship, in service to the clan, or in some other way.”
“Oh, I get it,” Ian said quickly, “You mean you are looking to make a name for yourself.”
“You can stop interrupting, but yes! That’s exactly what I mean.” Maur continued, “The great wars are over among the dwarves. The Empire has brought a stagnant peace, and though this is all well and good, it does little to afford us dwarves an opportunity to find our names. True, I could have stayed home and devoted myself to bowcraft, and likely made a name for myself in that, but…” Maur looked to Gideon, “I understand what you mean, lad. I understand the need you have to leave behind those who expect less of you than what you aspire.”
Gideon nodded, “You do understand, then, my friend. But this place is vile. Ptolus is wretched! We have assassins and thieves skulking about in every alleyway. People die in these streets every night, and no one hardly cares. We have slavers working with crime lords, working with crazed cultists who are trying to awaken some sleeping demons, these…Lords of Chaos, that are supposedly under this very city. Think about that for a moment…demons…sleeping…under… the…streets! Just what the hell are we supposed to do about something like that?” Gideon’s voice raised as his passion grew, “And we have a few people that give a damn and they make us do all the work because they are worried about enemies. Enemies! There are people out there trying to actually put a stop to those of use that are trying to save this miserable hive. And where is the Commissar, where is the Watch, where are the valiant knights and hosts of law that are supposed to be dealing with this head on?” His voice trailed off as he considered his next words carefully.
Everyone was silent, not sure what to say.
Finally, Maur walked up to Gideon, reaching up to pat him on the shoulder. “The Empire has fallen, lad. The days of fabled knights riding in to save the day are gone. But I tell you this: The history of the dwarves goes back long before the rise of men. Long before this Empire of ours, there was greatness. There was greatness that founded it, and there will be greatness again. And what does it matter that we have few friends, less allies, and fewer resources.” He glanced to the others, with a widening grin, “We have each other! So, I say, let us be like those heroes of old! Let us be the ones who save the day!”
“Now listen!” Maur continued his rousing speech, “I have a dwarven key and while I do not know where it leads, I have an idea. And I hope all of you stand with me when the time comes to pursue this. Meanwhile, though, yes, we’ve had a setback, we’ve been captured, tortured, robbed and enslaved, but we have broken free. The slavers base is now a smoldering ruin and it’s leaders have fled for their lives. I say we start there, we track them down and put an end to their depravity! For glory!”
“For honor!” cried Feruch.
“For justice!” cried Gideon.
“For revenge!” Ian’s eyes narrowed.
After a good nights rest, and a hearty breakfast, the first in several weeks, the party set about the next day making a withdrawal from Hammersong Vaults and spending much of the morning and afternoon on Delver’s Square re-equipping themselves. Glancing at the broadsheets in town, they reasoned that they must have been held captive by the Ennin for almost six weeks!
Again armed and armored, the party decided to pay a visit to Keira Swanwing in the hopes of trying to use her influence to gain access to the Commissar. They hoped to try to speak with him about gaining access to one of the city’s notorious slaver criminals – Sturm Buckholtz. If anyone knew where the Ennin Lords would lay low, certainly it would be him, and perhaps, already being imprisoned, he would be willing to talk with them.
No longer having the luxury of their thoughtstones, they took a growler to Swanwing’s house in Oldtown, hoping they may find her there. Luck was with them, and the party was soon seated in Keira’s parlor, surrounded by her many pet birds. A fresh pot of tea sat on the coffee table, with Keira avidly listening to them relate the hardships they had endured at the hands of the Ennin over the past month.
At last, Keira informed the party that Buckholtz had already been tried and sentenced. While the Commissar had it well within his power to have imprisoned Buckholtz immediately, he felt that the citizens deserved a spectacle. It had been a very public and very quick trial, with many people demanding he be hanged. At last, the magistrates conceded that the crimes of Sturm Buckholtz were heinous, but incalculable in that there was no proof of how many people had been enslaved by the Ennin, that he alone was not the leader of the organization, and that it was impossible to determine if the victims of his crimes had been Imperial citizens or not. In this matter, he was found guilty, but only sentenced to 20 years in the Prison, instead of life in prison, or death.
Keira informed the group that she could try to get word to the Commissar, but that it could take several days to arrange the meeting. The party, however, wanted to waste no time, fearing that each day that passed would give the remaining Ennin leadership more time to get away, or go deeper into hiding. With that, there was only one option left. Pay a visit to the Prison Warden, Odsen Rom and bribe their way to Sturm Buckholtz.
Having rented one of Sard’s Boats the party arrived at The Prison near sundown. Without much ado, the party was soon seated in the Prison Warden’s office. Ian couldn’t help but note that the last time he was there, it was when he had snuck in and stolen a signet from the Warden’s desk drawer. Thankfully, Odsen Rom made no mention of it, only confirming the success of the party’s clever ruse.
At first, Odsen Rom thought the party intended to buy Buckholtz’ release. He told them bluntly that such a prisoner, being of such high profile, was not eligible to be bought out of the Prison at any price. Likewise, he had orders directly from the Commisar that Buckholtz was not to have any visitors. Unperturbed, the party pressed the issue, until finally, Odsen informed them that if they were willing to make a small donation to a fund that he had set up to help widows of members of the City Watch, he might be able to arrange for them to have a few minutes to speak with Buckholtz. Naturally, they would be expected to give him the donation and he would be sure to deposit it at the first opportunity. Seeing this for what it was, they slid him a bag of a hundred gold coins and were in.
A pair of guards led the party to a skiff, where they boarded and one of the guards used a pole to propel the small boat down a canal deep into the cliffs along the City’s shoreline. The entire experience reminded the party of their earlier forays into the sewers, just slightly not as foul smelling. After passing down several canal-like passages, the party emerged in a large chamber with a massive battlemented curtain wall blocking the far end of the passage. A great iron portcullis rested in the center of this wall, closed fast. Dozens of guards manned the battlements, patrolling the wall dutifully.
As the skiff bearing the party drew near, a guard called down. Receiving the proper response from the escorts, the gate slowly groaned open allowing the party to proceed. Beyond the gate, the party moored at a short quay and looked around. Looking past the many guards, some of which were orcs, or half-orcs, they knew immediately why the prison was often heard referred to as “the Pit”. They found themselves standing on the edge of a wide shaft plunging downwards in the ever greater darkness. A wooden ramp spiraled down the interior of the shaft, to access the many cells in the untold depths below. To one side, an ogre stood upon a platform, operating a great wench, raising and lowering a wooden platform in and out of the pit.
Ian approached the edge of the shaft, gazing down into its depths. He had heard rumors that somewhere down near the bottom, in the dankest cells of the Pit, fiendish creatures interrogated and tortured the city’s worst criminals, often just for their own, or the Warden’s, delight. Thinking this was all just urban legends or lies, having now seen it with his own eyes, he vowed that if ever given the choice, he would readily take his own life before being sent down into this accursed hell.
They were escorted to a room to one side and ordered to wait there. A group of guards were then sent to fetch Buckholtz.
Buckholtz was just a shell of his former self. He was dressed in rags, with a split lip and swollen cheek. The once haughty grin that exuded a deadly confidence was now replaced by a look of trepidation and uncertainty. He was led into the small room by a group of orcish guards. The clink of iron drew attention to the thick shackles binding his ankles, sounding with each step as he moved to take his seat before the party. “Dun ruff him up too much,” one of the orc prison guards snickered, “dat’s our job.” The guards closed the door, leaving Buckholtz alone with the party.
At first the party thought him broken, entirely, even asking him if he had any regrets. Buckholtz silenced such thoughts almost immediately announcing he only regretted getting caught before he had time to finish his plans.
Bribing him with several packets of dried rations (they didn’t have any tobacco, smokeweed, and had never even heard of gravebloom…all of which appeared to be a valuable currency in the Pit) Buckholtz shared what he knew:
Early last year, Buckholtz had been approached by Edralve, a drow priestess of House Vrama and a lower-ranking member of the Ennin’s ruling circle, much like himself. She had explained to him that the Ennin was being infiltrated by a group of creatures known as the Pactlords of the Quaan. At that time, a few of them were already seated on the powerful inner circle of rulership. The Pactlords sought to manipulate and control the Ennin to further the Pactlord’s goal of subjugating the humans and demi-humans who presently dominate the world. Buckholtz did some snooping within the organization’s hierarchy, learning little, but certainly managing to spot that some of the Inner Circle indeed bore the bone ring of the Quaan that Edralve warned him of.
Buckholtz, fearing that he would be targetted by the Pactlords, or their Pactslave servants, knew that he must find a way to make an escape, but the Ennin is not something you just walk away from. With Edralve’s help, Buckholtz began kidnapping the illegitimate children of the noble houses, holding them for ransom. Through this, he hoped to accumulate enough wealth, quickly, to leave Ptolus, flee far away and just disappear forever.
Everything was proceeding to plan, until Stallman Klim, a powerful member of the Ennin’s Inner Circle somehow managed to learn of Buckholtz’s plan. Instead of killing him for his treachery, Klim blackmailed him. Klim promised to keep Buckholtz’s plans secret, but some of the slaves that funneled through Buckholtz’s slave pits operation in the Temple District were to be diverted to Stallman Klim before they were officially logged into the organization’s ledgers at the Bottleworks. In this way, the Inner Circle would never notice and Stallman would have a steady supply of personal slaves to use for his own purposes.
It was into this scheme the party had been caught up when they were captured by the Ebon Hand and came to be enslaved by the Ennin, initially. The party, along with many other slaves had been marched off through the Undercity to parts west.
According to Buckholtz, Stallman Klim is using slaves to open some long-abandoned tunnels beneath Oldtown. He doesn’t know the true purposes or goals behind this, but the mining has been going on for some time. Buckholtz later learned that Edralve and Stallman were a lot closer than he had originally thought, and suspects that she must have intentionally decided to tell him about the Pactolords infiltration of the Ennin, knowing he would choose to flee. It was she that had encouraged him to start ransoming people, and she was likely the one who informed Stallman of Buckholtz’s plans. For all Buckholtz knows, Stallman may have orchestrated the entire scenario just to be able to blackmail him to divert slaves to Stallman in the first place.
Regardless, Buckholtz suspects, from bits and pieces of conversations he has heard through the grapevine, from cultists, slaves, and others along the way, that Stallman is looking for something called the Black Grail and, is trying to tunnel into the Holy Palace, or perhaps one of the Noble Houses, or most outlandish and unlikely of all, that he is trying to tunnel into the Spire from below!
Content, now that the party knew his story, Buckholtz finally decided to dicuss what the Inner Circle of the Ennin’s plan was in the event the Hidden City fell. He was totally surprised upon hearing the news of it’s destruction, and mentioned that the Ennin had a long-standing relationship with the Balacazar Crime Family. “While the Balacazar’s would likely have little use for the individual slave lords if they should come to them for refuge, they have had a long and profitable relationship. There are many favors owed, there.” He added that the plan had long been that if the need ever arose, the Ennin could seek sanctuary at a cavern in the Bay, south of the Docks – a flooded cavern that one could easily sail into and find a sandbar. From this sandbar one could climb up a set of stairs and enter the basements of a spacious safehouse on the edge of the Guildsman District. From there, the Balacazars could smuggle you anywhere you wanted to go.
The party suspected this flooded cavern was a place they had been to before. Only last time, they had followed the trail of Linele there, when they had been searching for her on behalf of the Balacazar’s former shivel kingpen – Linech Cran.