11th Day of Meloramensis – Part I

Hogar’s Journal (Translated from Giant)

Year 781 of the founding of the City

11th Day of Meloramensis – Part I

Thunderspire Mountain – The Seven Pillared Hall

I was roused from my slumber after what seemed the merest blink of an eye by the ever fretful Charrak.  I waved the diminutive kobold away as he babbled something about a visitor.  Stumbling outside to the well I drew a pail of water and dumped it over my ale-addled head.  As I sat to drink the remaining water I was grateful that as bad as I felt Glen must have been much, much worse.

As I raised a handful of water to my mouth Charrak bustled out of the shop waving a scrap of paper at me.
            “Mister Hogar, Mister Hogar.  You must read the letter.”
I have learnt over the last few days that it is not worth attempting discourse with Charrak when he gets excited.  This was doubly true in my hung-over state so I simply did as I was bid and took the parchment from him.  Gradually a letter in the common tongue coalesced before my blurred vision.

Your actions against the duergar are commendable. I am in a position of power in the evil organization behind the bloodreaver’s actions, and I wish to help you defeat my comrades. I have been seeking a way out of the organization, and I believe you can help me. Follow the attached map so that we can meet in secret.

A friend

Together with the note was a map directing us to a location deep in the labyrinth.  Sighing I hauled myself up and went back to the shop to kick the others awake from their stupor.  Eligos had still not returned from her dalliance with Brugg and Vic was nowhere to be seen.  Glenn, much to my dismay was soon strolling about the shop and whistling to himself without a care in the world despite imbibing gallons of ale the previous evening.  His cursed dwarven constitution was not an endearing character trait first thing in the morning and I told him so.
            “your human side makes you weak ranger,” he replied.  “to make you so grumpy after no more than a barrel of ale or so.”
            “It’s my human side that allows me to tolerate the company of dwarves, so perhaps you’re right at that.”  I growled.  He chuckled and set to searching through cupboards for something to eat.  As he clattered about I bade Charrak to tell us where this note had come from. 

Another kobold had delivered it to him whilst Glen was testing his strength against Brugg.  Charrak was convinced of his sincerity, knew the way to the location shown on the plan and offered to take us there.  Minron pointed out, with an apologetic glance at Charrak, that Kobolds are rarely trustworthy and this could easily be a trap.
            “We have no other leads on the location of the missing slaves.”  Rodney pointed out.  “Friend or foe this Kobold may know their location if he has an involvement with them.”

We agreed that we would go to this kobold trap or no trap.  All that remained was to wait for our erstwhile companions to return.  It was not long before Eligos strode in.  It may have been my imagination but I could have sworn she had a slight limp.  Glen made a suggestive noise in greeting.
            “Well devil-lass I hope the numbskull brute didn’t disappoint too much!”
            “Do I look disappointed master dwarf?”  She replied.
            “Perhaps not.”  He admitted.  “But you’d not be looking so bright eyed and bushy tailed after a night with red blooded dwarf!”
            Eligos chuckled.  “Hardy though you folk may be its not stoutness of heart that leaves a tiefling girl satisfied in the morning.”  I guffawed and slapped my hand on the counter in appreciation.
            “I don’t know what you’re laughing at,”  Glen replied morosely.  “a milksop human with less pecker than a dwarven babe in arms.”
            “Oh that half of me is all orcish I assure you.”

We waited another hour or so for Vic to rejoin us.  Eventually we lost patience and Rodney and I went to the Halfmoon Inn to try and pick up his trail.  We entered to find Mrs Halfmoon busy behind the bar cleaning up after last nights revelry and in preparation for the one to come.
            “Come for your friend have you?”  She said.  “He’s in the store room.”  She led us through a door behind the bar, through the small kitchen and another door into a cool windowless room piled with barrels and crates.  In one corner was the foetal form of Vicrael snoring his way through a fitful sleep in a straw filled pallet.  I walked over and kicked his booted feet, no more than a nudge really.  His eyes opened and swivelled to regard me without recognition.  I crouched down and put my face through a miasma of alcohol breath to address him.
            “We have places to be.”  I said.  “Time to get up.”  He mumbled my name and rolled off his pallet with a moan.  He tried to get to his feet but had to pause to vomit all over Mrs Halfmoon’s floor.
            “Have you been drinking full pints again?”  I asked as I hauled him upright by his collar.  I’d noticed a bowl of water in the kitchen.  I dragged Vic over to it, his feet dragging limply on the cobblestones and dunked him.  I held his head under for a couple of seconds until he began to struggle.  When sufficient sign of life had returned I released him to slump to the floor with a wet slap.  It turned to Mrs Halfmoon.
            “I'd get him to clean that up.”  I said to her.  “But he wouldn’t do a very good job hopefully this is enough to compensate you for the mess and any other trouble he’s caused you”.  I produced a gold coin which Mrs Halfmoon was only too eager to accept as compensation.  Then Rodney and I each took one of Vic’s arms and helped him back to the shop.
            “This behaviour is not befitting someone of your status within the Praetorium.”  I told him.
            “I was gathering information from the local populace,” he replied “that sort of thing can prove very useful.”
            “Yes well, perhaps next time you reconnoitre the local tavern you should stick to your usual half pints.”  I said.  We returned to find everyone ready to leave.  After allowing Vic some time to gather his things and sober up a bit we all followed Charrak into the labyrinth.

After another trudge through the tunnels we emerged at the location shown on the map.  It was a spacious natural cavern with several large boulders strewn around the floor.  Around the edge of the space there was a narrow raised ledge about 10 feet above our level.  Standing impassively in the centre of the room was a large bronze minotaur, a twin of the bronze warder kept by the mages in the Seven Pillared Hall.  As we passed out of the caves and into the cavern Charrak noticed his kobold acquaintance standing atop the ledge at the far end of the room.  He was shrouded and hooded in a black robe and carried a staff.  Before I could stop him Charrak bounded into the centre of the cavern calling to the creature;
            “We’re here, we’re here.”  We bustled in to try and stop him.  As we came nearer to the Kobold mage a bright glow emanated from beneath his robes.  Upon seeing us he raised his arms above his head and shrieked.
            “Now.  Get them now!”  Two purple auras of magical energy began to glow and pulse on the ridge at either end of the cavern.  Bones, previously hidden from view atop the ledge levitated into each aura and coalesced into humanoid skeletons wielding bows.  As this was happening the deafening clank of machinery sounded from the Bronze warder.  Its soulless eyes glowed ruby red and steam shot forth from its minotaur nostrils as it slowly turned its head to regard us.

Before anyone could react the two skeleton archers drew back their bow-strings.  Magical arrows appeared, nocked in place on the string.  As the skeletons loosed the arrows split into countless copies of themselves showering us from both sides with shafts that had become altogether real.
            “You must kill the mage.”  I heard Rook’s voice echo in my head as he took flight from my shoulder to flutter around the head of the enemy kobold.  The kobold summoned some form of energy from his staff with the clear intention of causing the raven harm.  If it had any effect on Rook he did not show it as I loosed four arrows at the kobold in quick succession.  The first missed but the second took him in the shoulder.  This did little harm in its own right but it did spin the mage around so that the third and fourth arrows slammed into his chest the last striking him through the heart and killing him before he’d even lost his balance.

The hail of magical arrows continued as the others, with the exception of Vic moved to engage the Bronze Warder.  Jets of steam screamed from the statue's nostrils.  His roar could have been powered by the bellows of Moradin’s forge.  The heat of his inner furnace twisted the air around him.  His metallic bovine features shimmered in the haze, as a refection in a pool of water disturbed by the breeze.  As flail, sword, axe and magic bounced from the creatures bronze hide with seemingly little or no effect the beast burst forwards scattering all who stood before him.  Minron bore the brunt of the assault and was flung backwards into the tunnels through which we had entered the cavern.  Continuing his forward momentum the Warder crashed into one of the boulders and shouldered it into the mouth of the tunnel blocking Minron’s path back inside.

As the bronze beast swatted our swarming friends from pillar to post Vicrael and I turned our attention to the archers, striking them with magical bolts and sinking arrow after arrow into their decrepit forms.  Before long both fell one to me and one stolen from under my nose by the ever opportunistic Old Vic.

Minron clambered over the rock to rejoin the fray and one after another Minron, Eligos, Glen and Rodney threw themselves upon the beast.  Each attack was met by the swipe of a giant metallic arm which sent the progenitor flying across the chamber.  Alone as he was even his considerable strength and prowess could not save the creature from us.  A massive blow from Eligos in ram form sent the creature ponderously toppling onto its backside.  Minron quickly took advantage of the warders vulnerability to strike a telling blow to its neck.  His bronze hide was finally pierced and a violent jet of steam erupted from the gap.  The creature strained to regain his feet but sensing victory we rained a storm of blows upon him.  An eruption of rings and clangs together with the heat of the life-force draining from the Warder turned the cavern into a makeshift smithy.  Eventually a fine strike from Glen’s axe separated the beasts head from its shoulders and ended the confrontation.

We retrieved Charrak from a corner where he had been hiding for the duration of the confrontation.  I clambered up onto the ledge where the unfortunate kobold mage had fallen and searched his belongings.  He was holding and an amulet and three pieces of parchment.  One of them neatly rolled up and sealed with a blob of wax, the others mere scraps.  Rodney took the amulet and identified it as a command amulet, though he could not activate it, probably because the warder it controlled had been destroyed.
"You did well to kill the mage so quickly."  He said.  "He was powerful indeed to be able to wield this."

I opened the sealed parchment and read the contents to the group.

To Maldrick Scarmaker, Exalted Chieftain of the Blackfangs and Chosen of Yeenoghu:

Paldemar offers you the corpses of these champions as a gift of ongoing friendship, that our arrangement might continue to be mutually beneficial. May you savour their blood.

Your friend and ally, Paldemar

The first scrap was a more scruffily written note:

I don’t care how you do it, but deal with these adventurers. Take one of the bronze warders if you must. If they remain in the Labyrinth, they could disrupt my plans. Once you’ve dealt with them, deliver their bodies to our gnoll friends, along with the enclosed scroll.

And the third was a hand drawn map directing the bearer to “The Well of Demons.”  The location of the well was annotated with a single word “Blackfangs”

Vic took the notes from me for a closer inspection and became visibly excited.
            “I’ve heard of this Paldemar.”  He said waving the notes at me.  “Some of the locals were discussing him at the Inn.  He’s one of the mages that run the Seven Pillared hall but he’s been missing for months.”
            “Did they have any idea where he went?”  Eligos asked.
            “Not really.”  Vic replied.  “There was speculation about the Well of Demons.  ” He said pointing vigorously at the location marked on the map.  “Apparently he had been researching the place.  It’s some sort of mythical shrine to Bahamut built by the minotaurs.”  He glanced expectantly at Minron hoping for some further explanation but the big minotaur simply shrugged.  “Anyway, apparently lots of adventurers have set off looking for the place over the years.  The legend is the shrine is a test to prove your devotion to the Dragon God with a great reward promised to any who succeeds.  Many of those who set out for the shrine have ever come back and those few that do take many months to return though they could swear that they had only been gone for a few hours or days at the most.  The locals presume that Paldemar is the latest to join them.”
            “If he wrote a note calling for our capture then he’s been alive until a few days ago at the very least.”  Glen pointed out.  “The kobold mage knew of our encounters with the duergar.”  I took the map back from Vic and studied the markings signifying the Well of Demons.
            “Who,” I asked.  “Is Maldrick Scarmaker and what are the Blackfangs?”  Vic grinned white teeth at me.
            “Didn’t I tell you I was gathering information from the local populace at the inn?  You should learn to trust your old commanding officer more.”  He regarded me for a second before chuckling at something or other he found amusing and continuing.  “They are more slavers I think; at least they have a reputation for abducting those who wander deep enough into the labyrinth.  The locals seem to think that they are a clan of gnolls.”
            “Didn’t the surviving humans say that the missing two were taken by gnolls?”  Eligos asked.  She was right of course, which means that we know where we are heading next.

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