The party returned to the waterfall cavern, deciding to follow the stream southwards, searching for the remains of whoever may have fallen into the waters from the waterfall above. They soon arrived in the next cavern, consisting of little more than a ledge overlooking the rushing waters of a narrow, but fast moving, subterranean river some twenty feet below. The stream flowing from the waterfall and the previous cavern dropped suddenly here, forming a dangerous rapids, to meet this faster-moving current, before disappearing at a break-neck speed in a shallow cave farther downstream. A sturdy dwarven-crafted stone bridge crossed from this ledge to another on the opposite side of the river. The opposite ledge appeared to run eastward following the course of the river.
Gideon was certain that anyone carried by this stream, should they manage to survive the fall, then survive the rapids, would have faced certain death when swept downstream, driven below the surface and finally carried through this cave opening. He didn’t share this thought with the rest of the party, still remaining hopeful that their quest to find Holmag and his party of dwarven delvers would not end in vain.
The party, growing on edge, crossed the bridge, weapons at the ready. They were greeted only by the sound of the rushing water below them, churned into a chaotic white-capped tumult, by the deep waters rushing over smoothed boulders protruding from the water’s surface. The cavern ledge followed along the southern edge of the river, ending in a steep rocky set of stairs that appeared to form a natural bridge over the river, leading back to the distant northern bank. As the party traversed this cavern, making way towards the stone stairs, Maur noticed another set of such stairs descending to the south, into a flooded passage below.
This flooded passage ended abruptly at a wooden door, half submerged, hanging ajar. The water was stagnant and still, giving no clue as to what may lay beyond the door. The party gave it some thought but decided to explore further along the ledge, returning here, only if necessary.
The party made their way to the far end of the cavern, climbing the steep rocky stairs, which turned north, over the river, before turning abruptly to the east and descending just as rapidly down again. They found themselves in a cavern much like the one they had just left, but smaller. The ledge they now stood upon continued east a short distance, leading to an open door, while the river rushed to the right, separating them from yet another ledge on the south side. A large, strange-looking stalagmite caught their attention on the southern ledge.
The party, having encountered such creatures previously, soon realized they were looking at the largest roper they had ever seen. It was almost ten feet in height, and at least half that in girth. Maur, suddenly picked up a rock and threw it at the beast! The rock harmlessly bounced off the creatures stony hide, causing the creature to shudder and move. Abruptly, it opened a glaring red eye and gaping maw. It then shot out a long sinewy strand toward Maur. “Well, well,” the roper roared. “Another delicious dwarf! Dinner has arrived!”
Maur, forced to go fully defensive, narrowly avoided the roper’s attack. He thought about trying to reason with the beast, surprised that it could speak, but just as quickly realized that it likely saw him and the rest of the party as nothing more than food. He readied his bow.
The rest of the party fired arrows, threw darts and daggers and cast spells, trying to defeat the beast, doing little damage against its stony body. The roper sent it’s sinewy strands towards them, striking Gideon and Ian. One of the strands wrapped tightly around Gideon’s leg, causing it to instantly go numb, toppling him to the ground. He grabbed hold of a nearby rock formation, holding firm with all his might as the roper tried to pull him towards it. Ian, likewise, had a tendril catch his wrist, jerking him forwards, nearly dislocating his shoulder.
Once everyone was momentarily free of the ropers attacks, Maur produced a scroll from his pouch, inscribed with an ancient soul magic spell. Uttering the words of power, at first spoken in his own voice, but quickly changing into a different, more powerful tone. It was as if the spell itself had taken control of him, demanding to make its power known. Maur suddenly found himself helpless to resist the pull of eldritch energy, tracing an arcane symbol in the air. This symbol, glowing and expanding lunged across the chasm, being absorbed into the base of the ledge beneath where the roper stood. The river suddenly surged upwards, cleaving away a large chunk of stone, setting in motion a chain reaction. Slowly at first, more pieces of stone fell away, then larger pieces, hollowing out the ledge beneath the roper, reducing it to a thin shelf. Then, with a lurch and a roar, the roper toppled over, the arcane power trapped within Maur’s scroll fully released as the entirety of the ledge collapsed, sending the enraged aberration into the foamy river. It was instantly washed away.
Maur suddenly blinked, glancing about as if he was suddenly restored to his senses. The party was amazed at the display of power. Maur explained that he recalled looking down at the words on the scroll, but as soon as his eyes focused on them, it was as if he was standing outside of himself, unable to control his mind or body a mere spectator of the casting. Only when the casting of the spell was complete did this strange sensation pass, as instantly as it had started.
The party took some time to rest before proceeding to the open door at the far end of the cavern.
Ian scouted ahead. The open door led into a small hall with three cells. It was obviously a cellblock or some sort. A gaol, as Thygrim would say. A small holding area for convists or those accused of crime, rarely used in dwarven society, but prepared for none the less.
The first two cells were empty, their doors hanging ajar. The last one, however, held a skeleton slumped in the back corner. Ian could see it was donned in a suit of rusty half-plate armor, clearly the remains of a dwarf left here to rot ages ago. Although the door was closed, he could see recent scratches and chips around the lock, indicating that it had recently been picked. He entered the cell, quickly searching the fragile remains.
There was nothing of value on the body, but lying, as if carelessly tossed, on the floor nearby was a rotten silk purse. Ian could tell from the broken leather strap dangling from the purse’s edge that it was likely once worn around the dwarf’s neck, protection against any would-be thief or pickpocket. The purse still bore the faint impression of having held a heavy key. Such a minute detail likely would have escaped all but the most well-trained eye, but thankfully Ian had gone to great lengths to notice such things.
He returned to the rest of the group, who were now searching the area for any secret passages, sliding walls, or so forth. Thygurn’s locate object spell was still telling the party that Holmag was somewhere to the east of their position, but they could see no way to continue in that direction. Unless the dwarf had somehow managed to dive down into the river, swim against the impossible current and emerge in some distant cavern, they were at a loss.
“This spell is foolproof. Teun would not lead us astray,” Thygurn insisted. He was just as confused as everyone else, but could not deny that his goddess was directing him somewhere, somehow, farther east.
“There must be another section to this cavern that we just can’t get to from here,” he concluded. “Perhaps we need to go back to the level above and see if there is another way down.”
“There is still that flooded passage back the way we came,” Maur said quickly, already striding off in that direction. “Maybe there is a hall or passage leading east through there,” he called back.
“And there is that one door we couldn’t force open earlier, maybe we can hack it down,” Ji-Geoman said with his thick, native accent, patting his handaxe that was tucked at his waist.
The rest of the party quickly followed Maur back to the previous chamber. They formed up and Gideon, torch in hand, moved down the steps into the flooded tunnel. The water was still and ice cold, nearly taking his breath away as he descended the short flight of stairs. Standing before the door, hanging ajar, the water was up to his waist. Peering in, he saw what appeared to be another storeroom, much like the previous ones they had found on this level. The many crates and barrels, rotted and water logged. A thin film of muck floated atop the otherwise, still, stagnant water. It was clear no one had been here in centuries.
Gideon moved deeper into the room, the others falling in behind him. Ji-Geoman held back, guarding the party’s rear, bow drawn, alert. The water was up to Maur’s and Thygurn’s chest. Realizing the water would be up to Ian’s chin, Maur offered to let him climb atop his shoulders. “Here, don’t let these get wet,” he said. handing Ian a bundle of scrolls and documents he was carrying in his pouches.
At last the party, guided by Gideon’s torchlight, made their way to the back of the chamber. In the far corner, he caught a glimpse of a blackened skeleton slumped among a stack of barrels. Cautiously, Gideon took a moment to don his mask of invisibility to undead, just in case. Drawing closer, he could see the skeleton was too large to be a dwarf. It was much like a human skeleton in size and proportion, but more stocky. The skull was brutish in appearance, filled with pointy fang-like teeth. The mouldy remains of a crude backpack were draped across the skeleton’s side. Gideon poked the skeleton with his staff, causing it to tilt forward, dislodging its arm, which slid down into the water. The backpack slinked forward. Looping the strap with his staff, Gideon lifted the pack clear of the skeleton. From its weight, he could tell it still held at least a portion of its ancient contents.
Finding no exits from this room, the party returned to the cavern and inspected the contents of the backpack finding two small vials of colored liquid. With Ian’s skill in alchemy, the party identified them as two potions, one of invisibility, the other of waterbreathing.
A short while later, Ji-Geoman hacked down the last remaining door in this area of the caverns, only to reveal yet another ruined storeroom. Seeing no way to proceed, the party took Thygurn’s advice and backtracked to the level above.
Returning to the Glitterhame, the party considered their options. While there were a few tunnels they had not yet explored, they felt drawn to the small rusted iron door on the far eastern side of the expansive cavern. Thygurn’s spell behaved oddly, jsut as it had before, directing him first towards this door, then back to the lower caverns they had just returned from. With this, they approached the small door.
Ian was prepared to pick the lock and move forward, only to find the door was unlocked. The rust around the handle and lock was recently disturbed, as if one had used a key on the door then opened it. He also noted the hinges had been recently oiled. Beyond the iron door, the party then came to a stairway, unexpectedly, leading up. Shrugging, they continued.
At the top of the stairs, the party came to an odd octagonal chamber. The floro was inlaid with cracked, dusty blue tiles, and the walls were dressed with polished marble. Large ironbound doors of oak exited to the northeast and northwest. Three cast bronze statues almost ten feet in height stood on the west, north and east walls, flanking each of the doors. Each statue was of a dwarven warrior armed for battle; the east and west statues carried an axe and shield, while the center statue was armed with two axes, one in each hand. Looking up, the domed ceiling rose nearly thirty feet above the floor. Somewhere, faintly, they heard the ringing of hammer on anvil.
The party hesitated, fearing a trap. Maur, Thygurn and Ian studied the room carefully, finally concluding that it was most likely that each of the statues was designed to drop it’s axes upon anyone who stood at one of the two doors. From the statues positioning, each door was covered by the axes of at least two of the statues. Thanks to Ian’s keen eyes, sure enough, recent splatters of blood before one of the doors seemed to confirm this. As Thygurn then pointed out, one of the dwarven axes had dried blood along it’s edge.
Armed with this information, Ian moved towards one of the doors hoping to find a way to disarm the trap. Carefully looking about, he found no way to go about it. The dwarven craftsmen on this room had obviously built all the trigger mechanisms in the walls making it impossible for him to remove them. Giving up, he slowly back out of the room, when he noticed a smear of blood that he had overlooked earlier. This smear moved towards the east wall, behind one of the statues. Looking closer, he noticed it disappeared under the wall. On a hunch, he inspected the fine marble wall, finding a cleverly hidden pressure plate disguised among the natural patterns of the stone. Pressing it caused an entire section of the wall to slowly shift open, revealing a stone stairway leading down. The ringing of hammers, while still muffled and distant, echoed up towards them.
At the bottom of the stairs was a massive set of double doors carved with the same ominous dwarven face they had seen on doors previously. The door was unlocked, and upon opening them, they found themselves in a great dwarven hall.
The room mighty in size, fully one hundred feet in length and at least half that in width, lined with ten great pillars carved into fantastic images of dragons straining to support the massive vaulted ceiling, thirty feet above. Guttering orange torches set in scones ten feet above the floor illuminated the room, and a mighty throne sat upon a dias at the opposite end. The walsl were once covered with tile frescoes, but those were long gone, smashed into tiny fragments and replaced by orcish graffiti. They saw five doors, not counting the one they stood in, leaving this room – on the south wall a door stood at the top of a short flight of stairs, a set of double doors were south of the throne, a third door was directly behind the throne, and two doors were set back in a pair of short alcoves along the north wall.
The bodies of two large black-skinned orcs lay in pools of blood near the center of the room. The kills were fairly fresh, no more than a day. Looking over the bodies, it was clear they had been killed by both sword and axe blows.
Past these orcish corpses, a small fire smoldered on the floor in front of the dais, and a half-dozen sleeping pallets lay empty here, surrounded by packs and supplies. Atop one of these pallets lay the bloody remains of a dwarf, clearly a casualty from the battle with the orcs that no doubt occurred here recently. Hammers rung on iron somewhere beyond the doors to the south, but Maur took a moment to cover the body, respectfully, with a cast aside blanket, as Thygurn muttered a prayer of last rites.
As the dwarves mourned the loss of one of their distant Stonelost cousins, Gideon and the others took defensive positions about the room, finding a third dead orc near the throne. This one had died from an arrow to the throat. It lay slumped against the wall, in a pool of blood.
With the prayer completed, the party moved towards the double doors south of the throne – the source of the ringing hammers sounded to be just beyond it. To Ian’s pleasure, the door was unlocked. He pulled it open, carefully and peered in.
Beyond the great doors was a barrel-vaulted foundry almost as long and as wide as the dwarven hall, although the eastern end of the chamber continued into a large, dark cave. A stream of water rushed through the center of the room, crossed by two stone bridges. A blast of cold wind moaned through the foundry from the east. Directly across from him, on the other side of the stream, three massive Black OrcsW worked at a roaring forge, beating a white-hot blade into shape on an old anvil. They did not appear to notice the intruders.
Ian quietly closed the door, certain he had not been seen and relayed what he saw to the party. At first, Maur and Thygurn were intent upon rushing the orcs, slaying them outright for daring to invade a dwarven hall. At last, though, Gideon convinced them that battle could wait until after the rest of the dwarves had been found.
Gideon stood guard at the door to the foundry, frustrated that he had no means to bar in shut, as the rest of the party made their way towards the throne and the door behind it.
Nearing the throne, Maur noticed dwarven runes engraved in it. He learned that this was the throne of Durgeddin, Lord of Khundrakar. “Who was that?” asked Thygurn. Maur, having studied much of the history of Dwarvenhearth, explained that Dwarvenhearth had been sealed 1040 years ago, when King Stardelve had fallen in battle against the forces of Ghul the Half-God. Rather than seeing the great dwarven city conquered, the Stonemight dwarves had sealed it off and abandoned it. Many of the dwarves fled to the hills and mountains nearby, becoming the Stonelost. But, there were those who refused to run and they flocked to Durgeddin’s banner. Durgeddin chose to continue the fight, not only for dwarven honor, but also to do all within his power to make sure King Stardelve’s death had not been in vain. He and his followers must have carved these halls soon after the sealing of Dwarvenhearth.
“So all those storerooms we found,” Thygurm realized, “must have been war supplies to provision the dwarven army. And the tombs…” His voice fell silent, realizing that he was standing in a sacred place, a last ditch effort by the Stonelost to save their honor. He knew from the histories that Durgeddin’s efforts had all been to no avail. Ghul had swept over these lands and ruled them in darkness for almost 400 years, before finally being driven back and defeated by the Brightfather’s Pact, an alliance of men, dwarves and elves.
“If this is Durgeddin’s Hall, as it appears to be, then we can’t be too far from Dwarvenhearth!” Maur exclaimed. He patted the dwarven cog key in his pouch, confidently. “Surely the last stand of the Stonemight would have been close to the city.”
With renewed zeal, the party pressed forward. Thygurn opened the door behind the throne and was instantly rushed by a Black Orc.
The roo mbehind the throne appeared to have been a small council chamber. A large stone slab, which would have served as a table, dominated the center of the room, and the remains of old tapestries still clung to the walls. The black orc stood watch by a single door in the far wall, carved into the image of the fierce dwarf that they had seen on many other doors in the complex. The foul creature, sword already drawn, rushed towards Thygurn, leaping across the stone table with a bestial snarl.
Thygurn, almost in a panic, swung his heavy cog-like mace, wildly, getting a solid blow in the side of the orc as it lunged for him. The force of the blow was such that the orc was temporarily dazed, dropping to one knee. The creature slid towards him, swinging his crude, jagged sword which bounced harmlessly off Thygurn’s heavy dwarven plate.
Maur was instantly at Thygurn’s side, chopping down at the orc with his bastard sword. The black orc, long corrupted by the foul magics of Ghul the Half-God, suffered multiple blows that could have easily killed a normal orc, but he kept coming.
GIdoen remained in position, fearing the noise of battle may alert the orcs working in the foundry, drawing them into the fray. Ian and Ji-Geoman (who had an embarrassing start to the battle, becoming entangled in his backpack straps and pouches) stayed near the throne, scanning about for any other creatures that may be drawn by the sounds of battle.
Thygurn slammed the head of his mace into the head of the black orc, a mighty blow that should have caved in its skull. The black orc was only momentarily stunned, then roared fiercely at Thygurn, slashing at him again. This time, the blade, driven by the creature’s rage, found its mark, cutting deeply into Thygurn’s arms, sending him reeling backward.
Maur, now having more room to use his bastard sword, swung fiercely at the orc, slashing it deeply across the chest. The beast, rapidly losing blood from his many wounds, raised his sword in a feeble effort to deflect the dwarf’s attacks. Maur chopped downward knocking the orc’s sword aside, then with another mighty swing, cleaved the orc from his shoulder to his stomach. The creature slumped forward, dead.
At that instant, the door north of the throne burst open, as another black orc charged forward. Ji-Geoman, directly in its path, fired a volley of arrows into the creature’s chest, as Ian hurled a barrage of darts. The orc cried out, continuing it’s charge across the great hall towards Ji-Geoman. Gideon, reacting swiftly, rushed forward to intercept the deranged humanoid, hurling a magical dagger, embedding it deeply in the orc’s chest. As the orc barrelled forward, already near death, Gideon slammed it to the ground, catching it in the throat with his quarterstaff. It would move no longer.
As the party hastily regrouped, an eerie silence befell the ancient dwarven hall. The sound of ringing hammers had ceased. Turning to look back at the doors leading to the foundry, the door on the far side of the council chamber behind the throne burst open. A massive black orc, easily a foot taller than the last two, wearing a suit of crude platemail and bearing a wicked two-bladed sword strode out. Seeing it’s fallen brethren, its bulbous white eyes flashed in anger. With a ferocious roar, it launched towards them.