Evergreen Vale

14 Mercy and Judgement

The surviving wererat underling squealed to its master “You said they would be defenseless!” The master angrily hissed back, “We have been tricked! Fight on!” As the battle continued, the rat horde pressed in with greater savagery. Sir Eric was nearly buried under the weight of the frenzied rats before Lady Kiri arrived with her shining fey blade. Other knights joined them and dispersed the swarm. Elsewhere, Delba, surrounded on all sides, called on the magic of the Scimitar of Feather and Bone, disappearing in a cloud of ethereal crow feathers. Within the magical darkness, the monstrous rats soon found themselves to be the hunted. Helo, skipping between the planes via his fey heritage, hacked into the master wererat, while Pieter calmly shot down rat after rat, and fired an alchemically prepared arrow at the master, spraying him with acid. The monster savagely stabbed Pele, who fell bleeding, and then fled into the cloud of feathers.

Terrafina arrived, part of the vanguard of reinforcements from the main keep. Threading her way through the battle, she ministered to the injured and dying, saving the lives of Sir Balon, Lady Gwynn, and finally Sir Kyburn. Kyburn’s wounds were festering from the diseases carried by the vermin, and he was feverish and delirious. Leaning close, the dwarf cleric felt a chill when she heard him whisper “it wasn’t supposed to be this way.”

Lady Kiri led a mass charge by the rallied knights, cutting a swath through the hordes surrounding the rest of the party, and Pieter quickly dispatched the remaining halfling wererats. Helo cut his way through the rats attempting to drag away Pele, while her kobald companion managed to return her to conciousness. Climbing unsteadily to her feet, she hurled a blast of fire into the cloud of darkness, killing several of the creatures that had taken refuge there.

All eyes turned to the cloud of darkness, where Sir Delba struggled with the master wererat. There was an abbreviated scream, and the bloodied, scorched head of the master wererat rolled out into the light. The feathers evaporated, and Delba was revealed, flicking the blood from his scimitar. The last wererat underling dropped his sword with a clatter and fell to his knees at Delba’s feet, begging for mercy. Grim Pieter drew one of his silver headed arrows and rushed at the ratman, plunging the arrow into his shoulder. He screamed as the arrowhead burned in his flesh. Pieter scowled. “He won’t heal his wounds now. Do what you want.”

When Kiri went to check on the wounded, a disturbed Terrafina warned her of Sir Kyburn’s fevered ramblings. Suspicious of the knight, who was begining to regain conciousness, Kiri harshly questioned him, but he denied any knowledge or involvement in the attack. Sensing duplicity, Kiri roughly hog-tied the protesting knight. His brother and sister knights of the Fifteen gathered around, murmuring, and Terrafina explained their suspicions. Shock turned to outrage, and Sir Balon and Sir Eric took charge, marching Kyburn off to the dungeon, while he shouted his innocence all the way.

Meanwhile, Baron Ironblade had finally arrived with his guards, having armed himself and fought a pitched battle elsewhere within the walls. After honoring the party’s heroism, he inspected the prisoner. The prisoner called out that he was Ort, a servant from the stables, and that he had been kidnapped and forcibly turned into a wererat. He begged again for mercy. Baron Ironblade put his fate in Sir Delba’s hands. Kiri stepped in, asking permission to question Ort. She learned that Ort had been abducted by the master wererat five days earlier and turned into a were creature at that time. The master had manipulated Ort, telling him that he was now an irredeemable monster, who could never go back. Filled with fear and self-loathing, Ort had obediently aided the master in kidnapping and turning several halflings, before preparing the attack. He shared what little he knew, including that the master had privately met with an unknown ally, who had assured him that the knights would be unable to defend themselves when the rats attacked, and that the rats would have control of the keep afterwards. He expressed remorse, and said that he did not wish to die now, but did not know what he had to live for. He put his life in the hands of his captors.

Sensing the truth in his words, Kiri advocated for lenience, so that perhaps her order could break Ort’s curse, and he could be made to make amends for his crimes. Grudgingly, Delba placed Ort in Kiri’s care, with the warning that if he made one false step, it would be his last. Pieter agreed, and said that he would be watching as well.

Later that evening, Pele and Pieter both fell ill from the diseases the rats carried. Father Higgins was able to successfully treat Pieter’s illness, while Terrafina prevented Pele’s condition from worsening. The next morning a depressing report was presented to the baron. Many recruits had been burned, injured, or killed in the panicked stampede that occurred when fires broke out in the military camp outside the town. The fires had consumed nearly a third of the army’s food supplies, and with the heavy raids that had occurred in the last few months, there was little enough food remaining in Evergreen Vale already. The food would have to be replaced from outside the Vale. Baron Ironblade determined to send the party to Enigma keep with a caravan, thousands of gold pieces, and a strong armed escort, to purchase more food. The army would march on without them.

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13 Rally Cry

The party split up as they prepared to gather the Baron’s army, Lady Kiri and Pieter taking a boat from Ironhome to visit the manors, camps, and settlements across Lake Starmere, while Sir Delba led Pele and Helo in a loop to the eastern holds. Some of the knights and commoners were more accommodating than others, but by the end of the two weeks allotted to them, they had amassed a considerable force at Ironhome.

Sir Delba the Black Hood: 12 knights and 300 levies

Lady Tessa: 3500 gold pieces

Sir Kyburn: 8 knights and 180 levies

From Foxtail Hunting Camp: 100 archers and 10 rangers

Sir Polton: 4 knights and 145 levies

From Poshkazyr Mine: 10 sappers and 12 levies

From Silverhook: 20 swordsmen and 100 spearmen

Sir Gregory: 11 knights, 55 levies

From the Sisters: 200 levies

Sir Balan: 10 knights, 70 levies

Lady Menda: 6 knights, 55 levies

Sir Linton: 9 knights, 100 pikemen

Sir Eric: 8 knights, 80 levies

Sir Darien Foss: Defense of the southwest of Evergreen Vale

Sir Corbin: 9 knights and 75 levies

From Squatter’s Cove: 72 rogues

From Birch Tree Camp: 40 axemen, 80 carpenters and woodcutters

From Griffin Feather Camp: 100 archers, 40 rangers

From the Old Mines: 10 sappers

Lady Gwyn: 4 knights, 100 levies, and 1200 gold pieces

From Splinterwood Camp: 150 axemen

Sir Amory: 4 knights, 60 levies

In addition to this, the Baron gathered 300 levies from Ironhome, and 830 levies from his various personal manors. The Baron was also able to field his personal guard of 50 light cavalry and 100 swordsmen. Blackleaf’s followers of Bane amounted to 50 crossbowmen and 100 pikemen. Thus the combined host amounted to:

85 knights

200 archers

50 rangers

100 spearmen

120 swordsmen

72 rogues

200 pikemen

200 axemen

20 sappers

80 carpenters and wood cutters

2262 peasant levies

The party returned by the start of the autumn Harvest Feast. By that time, about two thirds of the host had gathered, and the Baron held a great celebration in Ironhome. Food, wine, and ale were carried out to the sprawling camp pitched in the Slabs outside the town walls. Inside the town, revelers celebrated the harvest, though some worried at the crop losses to banditry during the summer. Inside the keep, the heroes and the Baron’s most important knights and guests were entertained in the courtyard. Wine and ale flowed freely, dancers, jugglers, singers, and pipers performed on a raised stage, and dwarven alchemists sent by Gurvin the Ingenious set off pyrotechnics displays to honor the renewed friendship between the valley’s lord and their own order.

Pieter entered an archery contest and won the purse of 100 gold pieces. Pele, accompanied by her small kobald ward, bedecked in the finery that she had ordered, joined in the festivities, levitating five dancing maidens and causing them to float about above the tables, tents, and stage. Later, Helo stepped in alongside the knife throwers to impress the onlookers with his skills- splitting a melon into six perfect slices, and continuing by splitting two melons held by one of the dancing maidens. Lady Kiri followed Father Higgins and Master Blackleaf in delivering religious addresses to the troops. Her inspiring words on liberation and valor led several dozen of the recruits to publicly swear to serve Bahamut’s ideals during the coming war. Finally, the Baron spoke to the assembled guests and lifted a toast, whereupon his knights drank deeply.

Moments later a runner arrived and spoke to the Baron, who dispatched most of the guards out through the gate. When Kiri went to ask him what had happened, he told her that several small fires had broken out in the camps outside the town, and that he had sent men to contain the disorder. As they were speaking, the two lifts that led to the silos below the keep rose to the surface, carrying a terrifying cargo. A great tide of vermin, ordinary rats in their thousands, and even many massing as much as a human being, poured off the lifts and swarmed over the terrified guests. The heroes were separated by the panicked mass. Sir Delba the Black Hood and Sir Corbin dragged away the protesting Baron to safety. The other knights, unarmored, and unsteady from their revels, nevertheless drew their blades and plunged into the melee. As the lifts cleared, three figures remained, scruffy, hairy men with thick yellowed fingernails and teeth. Their leader gestured with a black shortsword and the other two darted forward, morphing into fearsome ratmen as they leapt at Pieter and Delba. Other vermin attacked the rest of the heroes. From the direction of the gatehouse, four grubby Halflings wielding bloody daggers plunged into the fray, and turned into wererats as well.

Kiri fought to aid the knights, and successfully cut through the dire rats surrounding Sir Polton, but Lady Gwynn, Sir Balon, and Sir Kyburn were all overcome by the press of furry bodies, and more of the vermin advanced on the rest of the party. Helo quickly shoved one of the wererat minions into a bonfire and struck out at the master wererat, before feystepping to safety as he was surrounded. Pieter feathered the master rat with several arrows before warily giving way as a wererat attacked. He soon put arrows through its neck and an eye, killing it. Sir Delba dueled the other wererat while directing the battle, and soon the rest of the pary closed ranks against the tide of attackers. Pele unleashed incredible power on the rat horde, first a freezing cloud, and then raging flames that killed many. Rats swarmed over her, biting viciously, but her tiny kobald friend, clinging to her back, grabbed as many as it could and hurled them to their deaths against the flagstones of the courtyard. Helo’s shortsword flared with magical fire and set the fur of the master wererat aflame, overcoming its body’s magical regeneration.

The tide began to turn as Lady Menda, Sir Gregory, and Sir Polton broke free of the crush and advanced to join the heroes. The next moments would determine how high a price would be paid for victory.

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12 Webs and Banners

A thorough search of the forge revealed that the only other exit was a descending staircase, which was flooded. Pieter and Helo thought that the pump and waterwheel in the lake grotto might remove the water if activated, but the party decided to leave well enough alone for now. Instead, they pursued the last dwarven guard that had fled with one of the guard drakes through the vault door.

Marching through twisting tunnels and climbing multiple staircases, they followed the trail left by dwarf. They found themselves in the neighboring silo, which was filled with pits and brick rooms containing tools, workshops, and even stables and a horse track. Passing three cylindrical stone bunkers, the party entered a warehouse filled with sealed pottery.

The wary heroes threw lit torches around the warehouse floor to light their way, and readied weapons when they saw thick spiderwebs stretched across one of the racks of shelving, and several web wrapped bundles hanging there. They could hear a scuttling off in the shadows, and finally a shout by Kiri flushed out the hidden foe.

Immense two hundred pound scorpions with glossy black shells rushed towards them. Their claws crackled unnaturally with electricity. Behind them, a man-sized monster that looked like a cross between an ant and a spider clutched a longspear. It launched webbing at the heroes even as they fought to avoid the grasping claws and stinging tails of the scorpions. Kiri and Delba held a battleline against the scorpions, while Pele fought back with fire. As the tide turned, Pieter, Delba, and Helo used their superior mobility to chase down and kill the spider creature before it could escape.

A search of the room turned up several unusual things. The pottery contained countless varieties of seed, all preserved by magical enchantments on the pottery. Some pottery had been broken up and the seed consumed by rats, which had in turn served as food for the monsters which had attacked the party. Among the monster’s victims were the bound and drained corpses of the final dwarf guard and its drake companion. With this resolved, the party returned to the surface.

Work crews moved down to clean up the secured areas, and to haul up several lenses discovered by Helo in a glassblower’s workshop. His friend, Garren, the Steward’s assistant would use these for their project to restore the keep’s telescope, including several magical eyepieces. The dwarves began a great celebration as they moved to reactivate the lost forge, and reunited with their estranged brethren, the alchemists. Helo gifted several steel weapons to Blackleaf and the followers of Bane, in thanks for Devon’s faithful service. Pele had a rude return to her chambers, having found the kobald hatchling had run riot while she was gone. It had ripped the stuffing from several cushions to make a nest. It tore up one of her books, then left ink clawprints all over the pages, floor, and walls, before folding a tiny wizard’s hat for itself and finally going to sleep, content.

The following day, the party mounted horses and set out under the Baron’s orders to visit various villages, hunting and logging camps, and the manors of vassal knights to rally them for the coming conflict.

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11 Forge of the Eternal Flame

As the party took the opportunity to rest from the ordeals of the day, Gervin approached Terrafina and offered to instruct her in some of the principles of magic, and to teach her new alchemical techniques. Terrafina was amazed at Gervin’s breadth of knowledge in magic, religion, healing, and nature, as he drew from multiple disciplines to build on her existing training. “There is power in magic, power in the divine, and power in the natural world. The greatest power comes from mastering them all,” Gervin told her.

The alchemists curtained off an alcove and provided her with equipment and ingredients with which she made a pair of tanglefoot bags. They also gave her a flask of alchemist’s acid and three glass arrowheads filled with acid for Pieter to use. As she departed to sleep, Gervin complimented Terrafina on her potential, and assured her that he had more to teach her when she had time, and that there was a place for her in his order, if she were willing.

The next morning, watchful alchemists led the refreshed party down to the dormitory level, where the main mess-hall had been curtained off and turned into a great alchemy lab. The air was choked with chemicals and burned the eyes. The alchemists explained that they had originally used the workshops in the main shaft where the master forge was located, but that they had moved up because of a shortage of space, as well as due to tensions with their brothers in the forge below. They also ominously mentioned ‘things’ that entered the forge from one of the adjoining silos.

Leaving the alchemists behind, the party descended a freestanding iron spiral staircase onto a landing at the top of a one hundred eighty foot shaft that was two hundred feet across. Two one hundred fifty foot tall statues of imposing dwarven crafters dominated the room, along with the immense chimney of the master forge. The room was dim, hot, and stuffy, and molten iron smoldered in the pit below, while the chamber rang with the clang of hammers intermixed with the rush of bellows. Around the shaft, stairs descended to various workshops, while cranes and rails were in place to move heavy loads of materials around. As the party took in this imposing sight, they heard footsteps approaching on the stairway that led over one of the statues.

As they readied themselves for negotiation and the possibility of battle, two surly looking dwarves armed with crossbows and holding the leashes of scaly, two-legged guard drakes came into view. “Intruders! Lay down your weapons!” one shouted as they readied their crossbows. A tense parley followed. Most of the party refused to comply, but Pieter laid down his swords and approached as a gesture of good faith. At the mention of interest in purchasing services from ‘the Forgemaster,’ the dwarves became intrigued, but were adamant that the party must disarm themselves to proceed. Kiri insisted that she be allowed to keep her shield, and finally, Terrafina displayed the gilded hammer from the grotto above. It flared up with an inner light, and the dwarves drew back in fear. It was finally agreed that Terrafina and Kiri would proceed, with ‘the Hammer of the Forgemaster,’ hastily wrapped, and Kiri was allowed to keep her shield. The others would remain with one guard.

Terrafina and Kiri were led past or through multiple workshops, including one with a curious subject object- an unfinished golem like construct of stone, wood, and iron. Its cranium and chest were empty, and a small glass bauble of enchanted fluid and gears lay on a pedestal next to it. Its chestplate was embossed with the word “Odom,” the dwarven word for “first.” Continuing on, they noted a great vault-like door that hung ajar and seemed to lead out of the shaft.

Reaching the bottom of the steps, one hundred forty feet below, they found the great forge with its matching anvil on a raised dais. Below it was an open pit where molten iron flowed into channels to be cooled into pig iron girders. Around the room were lesser forges, flickering with odd shades of green and purple. On weapon and armor racks, midnight blue steel armaments flickered with green, red, blue, and purple enchantments. Five dwarves, including the ruddy-skinned, bare armed Forgemaster were at work.

The Forgemaster was surly, and unimpressed by Terrafina’s claims of kinship with the Cinderbeards. He told them that he served the Eternal Flame, and that the great forge needed life to fuel its magics. Once there were more dwarves among his number, but those whose work was unworthy fed the fires. He told them that he would produce armaments for the baron, but that the baron would have to provide sacrifices. Terrafina was disturbed to realize that the dwarves here had forsaken Moradin, and dedicated themselves to the worship of beings from the Elemental Chaos, despite the dwarven race’s long enslavement by the giants and titans of that plane.

Attempting to stall, Kiri said she would take the Forgemaster’s offer to the baron, but he refused to allow both of them to leave. Terrafina offered to remain, and Kiri reluctantly returned to the stairs with the guard. As they passed one of the workshops halfway up the shaft, however, nearly a dozen skeletal warriors poured out and attacked. Cursing, the guard unleashed his drake and fired into the mob, while the weaponless Kiri, cut off from the rest of the party, sounded the alarm and ran back down the steps. The annoyed Forgemaster called for his followers to retreat to the forge, and Terrafina seized her chance while he was distracted. The true Hammer of the Forgemaster blazed with light that set all the dwarves cringing as she brandished it and charged the false Forgemaster.

As the lone guard remaining with the party moved to engage the skeletons, Pieter, Delba, and Devon leapt into action. Delba and Devon jumped into the basket of the crane that was above one of the two statues and Pieter pulled the lever and dropped them at dizzying speed to bottom of the shaft. When they were safely down, Pieter readied his bow and began picking off targets. Desperate for a weapon, Kiri pulled an enchanted blue longsword off of the weapons rack and moved to aid Terrafina. A dwarven smith piled into the rapidly expanding melee as Delba led the attack against the Forgemaster. On the other side of the pit, Devon grabbed a glowing green halberd and used its reach to attack a dwarven bolter who was targeting Terrafina from below.

The heroes were dismayed to learn that their opponents were warped by their time in the forge, and sprayed burning blood when injured. Devon beheaded the bolter and defended himself against a smith, while Pieter shot down another. The skeletons overwhelmed one guard and his drake, and moved on to the other. Aided by Pieter’s arrows, Delba, Terrafina, and Kiri badly injured the Forgemaster. Kiri dazed him with radiant light, but the dwarf staggered away and rushed toward the open maw of the master forge, shouting “feed the flames” as he evaded his foes and threw himself into the fire. The forge blazed in a great inferno, driving back and scorching Terrafina.

As the surviving dwarves wavered, Terrafina, Delba, and Kiri pressed the attack. The magic of Terrafina’s hammer proved to be a bane against the chaos touched dwarves, and Kiri finally plunged her sword into a smith’s heart and froze his burning blood. No sooner had he fallen than the Forgemaster returned in a monstrous form of fire, stone, and magma. The heroes reeled under his smashing fists and hurled magma. Meanwhile, Devon watched in dismay as his opponent threw himself into the ominous green fires of one of the lesser forges.

The heroes rallied once again. Terrafina drank the protective fire-beetle potion given to her by the friendly kobalds of the Island Refuge and rushed back into the flames. Kiri fought the Forgemaster head on, warding off his attacks with her shield, while Delba bombarded him with dwarven-forged javelins. With a last, mighty thrust of her icy blade, Kiri brought down the monster, who went cold and crumbled.

It was merely a matter of mopping up to deal with the amorphous cloud of corrosive gas that attacked Devon, but it did provide a distraction for the last surviving guard and his drake to escape through the vault door. With the battle over, a thorough search revealed records of the dwarve’s descent into madness. Terrafina determined that the dwarves had channeled the raw power of the elemental chaos to fuel their magical forges. The runes of binding had weakened over time, allowing a malevolent extra-planar influence to warp the minds of the smiths.

After planning to investigate a way to strengthen the runes of binding, so that the forge could be put back into use, the heroes helped themselves to the enchanted, elemental weapons and armor the dwarves had crafted. Carven tablets around the forge revealed the lost secrets of forging steel, ensuring the success of the party’s mission. Also, Kiri and Terrafina found a magical, fist-sized gemstone in the debris left by the Forgemaster. It carried a spark of life, but to what purpose, Terrafina could not tell. Pieter discovered a kennel for the handful of guard drakes, and considered the possibility of training one as a pet. With the dwarves defeated, the party made preparations to search the remaining nooks and crannies of the forge’s silo.

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10 Breaching the Forge

Returning to the sewers after a night’s rest, the party re-examined the levers that they had discovered and puzzled out their usage. One was a security mechanism, that would cause the walls to slide shut. The remaining lever would cause the floor of the shaft to slide open, allowing access to whatever lay below.

Exploring the sewer system further, they found another shaft, this one containing imagery relating to Moradin, the dwarves, and their great lost city of Titan’s Fall. Their furthest journey into the complex turned up something even more curious- the final chamber they discovered contained imagery related to the 17th Imperial Legion, stationed in Evergreen Vale in the time of the Empire of Nerath. The Legion was said to have been destroyed defending the Vale during the Dark Years. More disturbing were the signs that the chamber had been used for meetings and rituals by a death cult of the demon lord Orcus some time after the room’s construction. A search of a rotting pulpit turned up a tattered copy of the blasphemous tome “Maesters of ye Veil of Death,” which Kiri took into her safe keeping.

Returning to the room which the party had determined to be the entrance to the forge they sought, the party succeeded in opening the shaft, and using ropes, made their way to the level forty feet below. They found the cargo lift at the bottom of the shaft, as well as great stocks of steel smithing tools. The heroes regarded the ornately wrought stone halls and black and white marbled floors with great interest, until they began running afoul of the dwarve’s traps. Pressure plates triggered gouts of flame until Delba and Kiri puzzled out the pattern of plates. Rounding a corner, Delba smugly hopped over the dangerous stones, only to discover that the pattern was reversed in this hall! The players fled as the entire wall at the opposite end of the hallway moved toward them, the clockwork sculpture of a charge by bronze dwarven soldiers advanced to skewer them with lowered spears and hack them with chopping axes. Luckily, they were not fooled into fleeing straight into the flame traps, since they had already been down that route.

Having learned how to evade the traps, they gained access to a display room for some of the weapons the dwarves had crafted in times of old. They were very impressed by the fine workmanship of the steel weapons, and intrigued by some of the more exotic designs, such as the dwarven urgrosh. Pieter began to help himself to a pair of shortswords when he triggered the room’s defenses- six metal clockwork constructs made to look like armored dwarves wielding hand axes and hammers. They advanced on rails set into the floor, and unleashed a hail of thrown axes and vicious hammer blows, injuring both Devon and Pieter.

The heroes struck back, cleverly using using weapons pulled from the racks to jam the rails and immoblize several of the clockwork guardians. Pieter recovered from the dazing hammer blows and smashed out the magical eye crystals of one of the guardians, but Delba was surrounded and hammered to the ground, while Devon took a serious gash from an axe and collapsed. Knowing that there must be a way to deactivate the guardians, Terrafina rushed through the doorway at the end of the room and discovered a switch that reset the guardians to their original positions.

Completing their interrupted looting, the party explored further, finding the forge’s strongroom and records storage. The vault had been hurriedly and incompletely emptied- a ripped bag had scattered a great number of coins on the floor, and their were several scrolls and parchments, some partially burned, which Terrafina secured for later examination.

As the party left the strongroom, a group of figures carrying torches approached from around the far corner of the hallway. A half dozen strange dwarves were accompanied by two more clockwork hammerers. Terrafina rushed forward to prevent a battle. In the exchange that followed, the dwarves revealed themselves to be part of an order of alchemists who had remained locked within the forge for a hundred years, having refused to abandon their ‘Great Work,’ during the Dark Years. They had survived on food pilfured from the neighboring ‘silo’ where one of the old barons had constructed an emergency shelter for his family and servants.

The dwarves remembered Terrafina’s uncle, Borgin Cinderbeard, as a child, and expressed a halfhearted interest in events in the world above. Throughout, they were very secretive about the nature of their ‘Great Work,’ other than to say that it would guarantee the ascendancy of the dwarves. They continually deferred to a silent dwarf wearing a goggled, breathing filter equipped mask, heavy armored apron, and thick gauntlets.

The dwarves eventually led them to an old conference room, and served them mugs of old, very potent ale, and discussed the possibility of trade with the surface. Kiri finally directly addressed the mysterious, silent alchemist, who removed his mask and revealed himself to be none other than Gervin the Ingenious, Master Alchemist, and possibly the last of the dwarven fathers remaining in Evergreen Vale. The party agreed to help secure various alchemicals and supplies that the alchemists might need, and the alchemists granted them safe passage to the main workshop levels, warning though of the hostility of their estranged ‘brothers’ deeper in the forge. The party resolved to rest from the injuries and exertions of their day and plumb the depths of the Forge the following day.

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09 Sewer Rats

Having driven off the hungry stirges in the lake grotto, the heroes continued down the tunnel, soon finding themselves in an ancient sewer system below the keep. They stopped in a large chamber where water flowed into a central pool from several directions, then out toward the grotto. Several wheels could be manipulated to open and close sluice gates, contolling the flow of water. Kiri was able to just make out what looked like a metal hatch and extendable bridges hidden not far below the surface of the pool. Delba and Helo tinkered with the gates for a few minutes, but could not drain the pool without beginning to flood the rest of the sewer, and so everyone decided to explore further.

Meanwhile, Pieter slipped away to investigate an ascending stairway and found himself in the wine cellars, which had been untouched for many years. Feeling oddly thirsty and choked by the dust in the cellars, Pieter squirreled away a bottle and made his way back to the party.

Kiri, followed by Devan, who held a torch, advanced along side one of the channels. Around the corner, she found a side room filled with debris. As she inspected a pile of rags, hordes of rats scuttled out of the debris and from cracks and holes in the walls. Kiri desperately defended herself with a blast of lightning, as Devan hefted his axe and moved up to help her. Hearing their cries, Pieter, Helo, and Delba rushed down the tunnel. Just as he reached the bridge across the channel, Pieter was brought up short as an enormous dire rat leaped down from a culvert above his head and attacked.

Kiri and Devan desperately hacked left and right as the rats climbed their bodies and searched for openings in their armor through which to deliver vicious bites. To make matters worse, four dog sized rats followed their smaller brethren out and surrounded the beleagured pair.

Just as Pieter and Helo surrounded the dire rat, an amorphous ochre ooze as big as a horse drooled out into the tunnel and heaved itself toward Helo. Calling upon his fey nature, Helo stepped into the mists and reached saftey. Blindly groping for food, the ooze engulfed the squealing dire rat and dissolved its flesh, then flowed toward Pieter.

Kiri and Devan soon killed the oversized rats and drove off their tiny cousins. The tide turned as Delba arrived to organize the counterattack on the ooze. The combined teamwork of the party members soon cut apart the ooze, and its fragments slipped down into the water.

Returning to investigate the side chamber, they discovered that the floor was a single slab of stone- the same nearly impervious, smooth black stone that the upper keep was constructed from. Etched into it was the Ironblade sigil. The pile of rags contained a few oddements- crusts of bread, candles, a wooden cup, and other items that might have come from the keep. On the wall were three stone panels, carved with the Ironblade sigil, a prayer to Erathis, and a symbol of protection. The heroes soon discovered a set of three levers behind the panels. The one behind the symbol of protection was protected by a combination lock, which Helo was unable to bypass. The lever behind the prayer caused a faroff grinding sound when pulled, but the artifice seemed to be damaged, and Helo and Pieter were unable to reach the damaged parts to repair it. The lever behind the Ironblade sigil was initially jammed, but they succeeded in freeing it, inadvertantly triggering it without knowing what to expect! Two great slabs of stone retracted in the shaft above them, dumping one hundred years of accumulated stone and earth from the courtyard above! Fortunately, all survived without major injury.

Several guards saw the sinkhole form and lowered a rope to the heroes. Dusting themselves off, they resolved to bring in experts to try to glean further information and repair the damaged lever before moving on to explore deeper into the sewers.

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07 Fire and Darkness

The reverberations of the explosion at the foundry were fading as the heroes rushed outside at the keep and in the town, but within seconds burning debris began raining down around them. As horns sounded and bells tolled around the town, Borgin, Kiri, and Terrafina hurried up the hill to the foundry, joined by Pieter on the way, while Pele and Delba made their way down to the courtyard of the keep. A second huge bolt of lightning struck the windmill that powered the foundry’s great bellows, and for a moment, Pele could see a silhouetted figure standing on the roof of the foundry, briefly visible through the swirling smoke and burning cinders.

As Terrafina and the others reached the foundry square, they found their path blocked by strange black brambles that had sprouted from between the cobblestones and grown with unnatural speed. The brambles were defended by wicked, six inch long barbed thorns. Borgin, mad with worry, yelled “my kin!” and tried to climb the brambles, heedless of the terrible lacerations he took from the barbs. Terrafina and Kiri struggled to pull him back down, but as he reached above the brambles, a black fletched arrow took him in the shoulder and he fell back. As Terrafina treated his wounds, Pieter strung his bow and climbed to the second floor of one of the buildings overlooking the square.

At the keep, the baron’s guards were scrambling to arm themselves. Sir Corbin gave Delba and Pieter hasty orders to take mounts and meet up with their comrades at the foundry while he took the remaining mounted troops to Grove Hill to confront the elves. Pele protested his assumption that the elves were responsible, but Corbin overrode her. “Who else would wish the foundry ill? We have not enough men left to defend the whole town from an attacker already behind our walls. You must go to the foundry – I will hold them on the hill and prevent them from causing any more mischief. GO!”

Delba and Pele mounted horses and plunged into the chaotic streets of Ironhome, forcing through the press of panicked commoners, fighting through the choking smoke of the many smaller fires set by the debris falling from the sky. Meanwhile, Kiri and Terrafina took up axes and set to clearing the unnatural brambles, while Borgin weakly pleaded for Terrafina to save their family. Pieter began a deadly duel with hostile archers taking cover on the roof of the foundry, scoring a few hits as Kiri and Terrafina cleared a path through the brambles. Just as they finished, Delba and Pele arrived, and the brash knight rode clear into the square, where he found himself unhorsed and pinned down behind a market stall.

Around that time, the heroes became aware of a steady chant in the distance – “Bane, Bane, Bane! Bane! BANE!” Blackleaf arrived at the head of a column of eighteen devotees armed for battle. With these reinforcements, the party went into action. Six of the followers of Bane went to the buildings with crossbows to cover the remainder, armed with shields and spears, who would ward the heroe’s as they crossed the burning square.

A handful of spearmen were injured or killed crossing the square, but the party soon arrived at the far side. Delba and Pieter climbed the ladders on the side of the foundry to overrun the archers on the roof. The remainder burst through the front door and did battle with the cloaked raiders inside. While the raiders proved to be little challenge, lurking in the foundry pit below was a deadly spined devil. The monster had been battering at a door behind which the surviving dwarves where hiding, but it quickly spread leathery wings and flew up to fight the heroes, launching poisonous, burning spines, and tearing spearmen apart with its gore-slicked claws. Meanwhile, a spellcaster waiting on the second floor used his magic to summon yet another great lighting bolt and blew apart the second of the three blast furnaces.

On the roof, covered by crossbowmen and Pele’s magic, Pieter and Delba made short and bloody work of the archers, and subdued one for questioning. The spellcaster then climbed out of a hatch, and seeing the captive archer, casually killed him with a bolt of magical energy. Delba charged toward him, but was alarmed to recognize the face of the mysterious Vex as he closed in. Briefly obscured from Pieter by a billow of smoke. Vex whispered to Delba “If you want to know why your father died, don’t get up.” With that, Vex unleashed a deafening thunderclap that threw Delba to the slate roof and made his escape.

Below, in the burning foundry, Kiri and Terrafina, along with a handful of courageous spearmen, pitted all their holy might against the infernal powers of the devil. Their devotion finally proved too much, and it flew out through the hole in the roof, bleeding smoking black ichor. Pieter, however, would have none of it, and knocking one final arrow, fired a shot at the distant target that took it fully between its wings. The devil dropped, stone dead, into the deeps of Lake Starmere. The Battle of the Foundry was ended.

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06 Smoke Over Iron Home

Synopsis: The heroes receive a warm welcome in Ironhome, but stormclouds gather as elven refugees protest the delivery of iron tribute to their oppressors, the hobgoblins. Negotiations fail, and violence erupts as the dwarven foundry of Clan Cinderbeard comes under magical assault.

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05 Iron Tribute

Synopsis: The critical ore shipment, ready due to the efforts of the heroes, departs in halfling river barges for the journey to Ironhome. The party escorts the barges, defending the halfings from an attack by a monstrous wolf pack, and later from a ambush by a mysterious group of elves who are desperate to stop the ore shipment. The ore arrives in Ironhome, where it will be refined for delivery to the Bronze Kingdoms of the hobgoblins- a yearly tribute that maintains an uneasy peace.

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04 DEEP CROW!

Synopsis: The heroes reach the corrupt heart of the forgotten fortress after closing a planar breach to the Shadowfell. They engage in an epic battle with a Deep Crow- a monstrous invader from the Shadowfell. In defeating it, Sir Delba’s infernal heritage awakens as he steals the monster’s essence to enchant his scimitar. The party’s journey through the Underdark comes to an end as they return to the upper levels and are reunited with the dwarves of Poshkazyr.

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