Week Four – Dark Dwarves, a Xill and a Sphinx

A bit more travel and it’s becoming apparent that it must be getting late above ground because you’re all getting tired and hungry.

Other than the skittering of small animals in the darkness beyond your light, your rest passes by undisturbed.

You march on for another three hours. The cross-tunnels and mine shafts are numerous. Then, without warning, you’re taking fire from in front and behind. There appear to be a half dozen or so dark dwarves, forty feet in either direction, dropping crossbows and pulling out war hammers.

Zef wastes no time dropping his biggest fireball from his necklace on one of the two groups, devastating all of the rank-and-file dark dwarves. A few more fatalities and the Duergar are focused on trying to retrieve their dead, and doing poorly at that as well. Finally, a rare few manage to escape, though they are unable to drag off any of their kinsmen.

The Duergar seemed well-equipped and organized. It is likely that there are others down here in the mines, and that they will soon know of your presence from those that escaped. You resume your journey with a renewed sense of urgency, making good time for the rest of the “day”, inasmuch as you can distinguish day from night.

You make good time as you march, having passed eighteen cisterns in total since breakfast. If you have the map figured out, you seem to be just shy of an old and rather large cave-in of a sizeable side-tunnel.  It is noteworthy in that you’ve seen quite a number of cave-ins, most showing evidence of having been intentional (scorch marks, chiseling of support structures, etc.), and most were not indicated on the map. In fact, every north-side tunnel in the last few miles has been caved in, and most of those appear deliberate.

Grimnar and Zef spend much of their travelling time studying the map. Much to their astonishment, they find a spot on the map marked “Mines of Odo Stoneheart”.

The Lost Mines of Odo Stoneheart are a legend every young Dwarf and many others as well are aware of, if not necessarily the degree to which it is based on fiction or fact. For Dwarves, it is the call of lost treasure and a connection to an identity long-past–a time when the Dwarves were fierce and war-like. To others, it s a metaphor for the possibility of recovering something precious that was lost. Over the centuries, the legend has been pared away to just those elements and nothing more.

Stoneheart’s mine became a great Dwarven gathering place and something of a museum of Dwarven history in the century following the founding. It was well-situated near major tunnels in an area rich in granite, a stone highly prized by the Dwarves for building fortifications. Once the granite was mined out and used for the grand fortifications at Gammeldine, Bandurin and Olan Halle, what was left was a large area, solidly structured and supported, deep under the mountains. Dwarves began settling there, and the Dwarven High Council at Bandurin moved to place the mine in the care of the Priesthood of Guydan. The Church moved many of their most sacred and valuable relics, along with all manner of artwork and other items of cultural relevance to the Dwarves to the mines.

For the next few centuries, a journey to the mines became an annual pilgrimage for many Dwarves–a chance to explore their past and reconnect to their foundations. Then, in 489 Fnd, something happened. An ancient evil descended upon the mines and slaughtered hundreds. Those who escaped did so by collapsing tunnels as they fled, and told tales of a horror wandering the mines, killing all it encountered by ripping them to pieces. The stories were wildly divergent, and no clear picture of the exact nature of the threat was forthcoming. Terrified, the Dwarves systematically collapsed every tunnel that led to the mines in all directions. They set guards at each of these collapsed tunnels, but eventually this practice subsided. Historians disagree whether this was a result of lost interest or if there was a problem with these sentries going missing, but within twenty years, the vast tunnel complex in North Orandell fell into disuse and the Dwarves focused their energies on more-localized mining. As use of the Power became more prevalent among the Dwarves, their focus on engineering crowded out their war-like past.

In 808 Fnd, a fire in the Dwarven capital of Bandurin destroyed all known remaining maps of the mines, along with a large amount of other early post-foundation documents. It was a terrible loss to the Dwarves. The event is referred to as “Dunadin”, which is Dwarvish for “death of memories”.

Since that time, many expeditions have headed off to remap the tunnel network and rediscover the lost mines of Odo Stoneheart, but all have come to grief, with few returning. All manner of evil creatures and savage beasts now wander the deep places.

There is much discussion of this, but in the end, you decide it is best to go forth and warn Arbordan.

You make good time as you march, having passed eighteen cisterns in total since breakfast. If you have the map figured out, you seem to be just shy of an old and rather large cave-in of a sizeable side-tunnel.  Every tunnel you’ve come to that the map indicates might lead to the lost mines has been caved in. By the scorch and chisel marks on the stone, you suspect they were collapsed intentionally. The map has proven quite accurate, with each tunnel appearing where you expect. The tunnels south are not collapsed.

This place you’ve stopped should have a tunnel according to the map, but while you see the south tunnel, there is nothing on the north wall at all except smooth, stone blocks. It is late, and you are weary from fighting and marching. A distance away from the intersecting tunnel seems to be a perfect place to camp.

No long after the party stops, another refugee from Dunmar happens upon you, a two-weapon fighter named Damit. He seems mentally slow, but not cripplingly so, and he makes up for his disabilities with size and strength. He is soon sitting among you, happily eating the food.

Beans and biscuits are dull fare, but filling. As you settle down for a pipe before sleeping, a raspy voice speaks from the west tunnel.

“Halo in de comp. I am AmuAn an I wud like to share yur fire. Plees do not be scared by me. I’m not harm you.”

Into the light steps a bipedal creature with four arms, hands open and presented as you would to show that you are not a threat.  But the creature itself looks like something out of a nightmare. It is seven feet tall and looks vaguely dragon-like, but it also has features reminiscent of an insect. Black, chitanous armor covers its torso and legs. There are twisty-curvy looking swords at its belt and a pair of longbows strapped to its back. It looks like the personification of “something bad about to happen”.

The paladins attempt to detect evil on AmuAn but they come up blank. Grimnar’s initial reaction to the Xill is quite negative, but it is not easily dissuaded from hanging out with the party and Grim soon learns that AmuAn speaks Dwarvish, which makes it much easier to communicate with it.

AmuAn reveals that she knows a secret entrance to the lost mines, and offers to show it to the party if they will accompany her through the mines to a “bad place” where there are two black scimitars that she wants. You agree, reluctantly perhaps. AmuAn promises she will show you the entrance in the “morning”, and after the Duergar attack again.

Her warning proves prescient as the dark dwarves soon attack, this time using whiptail centipedes and crysmals to buttress their strength.  The fight is less lopsided, but still a rout. Grimnar kills a crysmal almost immediately, and the other wisely concludes that he is better off somewhere else. He dimension doors well away from the fight and not seen again.

The centipedes are much tougher and disinclined to retreat, but the Duergar are nearly ineffectual and the battle is soon finished.

After everyone has rested, AmuAn shares your breakfast with great delight and amusement.

AmuAn takes you down the corridor about fifty paces and traces one of her clawed fingers around the joins between some stones. “Gate here.”

When the stone is depressed, a rumbling sound comes from the wall. A section of the wall roughly ten feet high and ten wide slowly thrusts forward from the corridor and then slides to the left, leaving a five foot gap to on the right. The secret door does not include the bottom course of stones and the door itself doesn’t scrape the floor. Inside, the dust of ages lies thick upon the paving.

The hall continues a good half mile, then abruptly turns right.

At the end of the narrow hall is a large, black-iron door. Slashes of red rust mar the surface, but the air down here feels too dry for the rust to pose much of a danger… at least not for now. There is no handle.

Domi pushes on the door and it starts picking up speed until it slams against the wall it’s hung on.

Suddenly, bathed in the light is the oversized face of a creature with man-lion features, lion body and white wings. It is the legendary sphinx! The room itself is small, but odd. Only twenty feet deep and fifteen wide, the ceiling is so high that your light is insufficient to reach it. To the left is a broad opening to a descending stair. Another iron door centers the wall behind the sphinx.

The majestic creature looks upon you with silver eyes. When he speaks, his voice booms in the small space.  “I am Met’anra,” he says, seeming impressed with the sound of his own voice, “I am the guardian of the western gate. My duty is to guard these mines from looters and grave robbers until the dwarves return to reclaim them. Yes… I am quite bored.”

“To pass through this room, you must answer a riddle. But be forewarned, answer incorrectly and I will slay you all and eat your flesh.”

You accept the challenge.

“Here is the riddle. You are travelling to Bandurin. You come upon a fork in the tunnel, but there is no sign to tell you the correct path. There are two Duergar at the fork. One of the Duergar cannot tell the truth. The other Duergar cannot tell a lie. You may ask each Duergar one question, but it must be the same question for both. What question will you ask them to determine the correct path? You may confer amongst yourselves, but you may only offer one answer.” Met’anra takes out a steel file and begins sharpening his claws, making a loud, raspy noise while looking at your with an expression that tries, but fails to be terribly menacing, sort of like a toddler trying to look fierce.

You consult with each other for a time, and Grimnar seems to know the right answer, which is “ask them both what the other will say”. That answer is presented to Met’Anra

“That is of no matter. If I am to perform my duty correctly, I must ask you each who you are, and why you are here. I will judge your answer and determine if you may pass, or if you must be killed.”

Each of the party members recites their stories, though one or two tend toward flourish and arouse Met’anra’s annoyance before returning to the place broadly known as “truth”.

“I believe that you are men of good heart and honor. I will allow you to pass, but be warned. There is great evil that lives within. Each chamber has its dangers. No place is safe. But if you return here, I will watch over you. You may come here as often as you must, but you may not leave with any item you find here until you have completely cleansed the mines of corruption. Do you accept my terms?”

You do accept the terms, but decide you still must journey to Arbordan and give warning.

You reach the great intersection and turn north. The idea arises that you can take one of the tunnels directly beneath Arbordan and climb up to the city to warn them directly, instead of journeying to Gammeldine. That appeals to everyone and the map proves to be accurate as to the top-side exit.

Domi climbs a series of metal rungs through a tight tunnel. He comes to a vented cover for the tunnel made of stone, but is able to see through the vents to the city outside. What he sees is a veritable army of nukks and currs walking around, along with ogres and a type so hairless black dog with yellow eyes. These dogs are wandering around, sniffing at things, and the one closest to the tunnel becomes agitated as if it smells something. Domi quickly climbs back down before he is discovered.

An argument breaks out about next steps. The matter is not settled, but when you reach the intersection, you turn right to the north and toward Gammeldine.

A few hours pass and you come to a place where the tunnel widens. On the east, several branching tunnels lead off from the main chamber. The tunnel you’ve been following, White Ennox Tunnel according to the map, leads off to the left, almost due North.

You’re getting close to where the map shows another split when you hear the sound of distant shouts and the ring of metal on metal that is the familiar signature of combat. As you hurry and arrive at the split, you find a battle engaged between a dwindling troop of Dwarves and a small horde of burly humanoids with a hide of overlapping plates and thick, claw-like hands encased in metal gauntlets.

The Dwarves are putting up a spirited fight, but they are poorly armed with picks, shovels and walking sticks. Dwarves are nearly born with mining tools in their hand, and they are quite proficient in their use, including how to fight with them, but there is a reason that warriors don’t fight with shovels and put long handles on a pick before calling it a weapon. The Dwarves aren’t faring well and several already lie upon the ground, unconscious or dead.

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