- As the party leaves camp a man in the loosely draped clothing of Thaotrem approaches. They do not recognize him as one of the men in the camp. He introduces himself as Franz Mahteze, a guide from the capital city, Kalūtān. He speaks common better than Thaotrese, and the group can tell he is not a native of this land. Franz says he guides merchant parties back and forth across this stretch of road, making a fair amount of money. After guiding a group down to Thaotrem, he was on his way to return to Kalūtān and was hiding outside the camp, sizing up the merchants before he made his proposal to escort them on the road. When he overheard what the adventurer’s were planning to do, he had to be a part of it. He wanted to explore the dark dwarf lands further, but knew it would be foolish to do alone, so this appeared to be a perfect opportunity.
- Now with Franz in their company, the party of adventurers travels into the arid hill country. They find a small cave for shelter to sleep during the day, and while on watch Landen hears a Dragonne in the distance, roaring aggressively. He can tell the sounds are battle cries, but he is unable to spot the creature on the skyline. Soon, he hears the Dragonne give it’s final cry: a screech as it dies. Gvados takes to the sky in vulture form and locates the battleground, spotting bloodstained ground surrounding a Draggone lying on the ground. After their rest, Gvados leads the party toward the slain Dragonne.
- When they find the carcass Sapphira examines its wounds. She discerns that it wasn’t slain by a beast, edged weapons rather: axes and swords. As Durgyn walks the perimeter of the battleground, he’s ambushed by a Duergar warrior. Suddenly, eight of them appear from the nooks in the hills and from behind the shrubs that cover the landscape. It’s an ambush, and the party is thrown into battle.
- The party clashes steel with the dark dwarves they’re seeking, and Gerard cries out “time to get paid!” The battle is fierce. The Duergar launch throwing axes as they charge in from their ambush positions, one landing firmly in Durgyn’s hide. Largo fires his crossbow but it overrun by a pair of the Duergar, and he avoids their attacks by tumbling over the Draggone carcass, using it for cover. Of course, while doing so he tumbles and rolls through its blood, becoming covered in it. Gerard slays the first with his flail, breaking its neck. The Duergar body falls to the ground and Landen’s sell-sword draws his longsword with his offhand and decapitates his slain enemy, shouting the sound of money with joy “ca-ching!” The new member of the group, Franz, sends his animal companion into the fray: a badger. The small beast flies into a rage and jumps onto one of the enemy, grasping into its neck with his sharp teeth. The Duergar fell, and the badger opened his throat. Landen decapitates a foe with one smooth strike and with great dexterity, knees the falling head towards Gerard. Gerard deflects the flying melon with his shield, “I was on my way over there, I could’ve got paid for him!” Gerard falls in by Landen’s side and the two fight together. The minotaur is surrounded by three of the little menaces. Many of the adventurers have their share of wounds, but Durgyn is starting to bleed heavily. With a strength that harkens back to the ages of Voalrikar, Durgyn runs his sword through the dark dwarf before him and rends it out his side, swinging the blade around to sink another savage blow into a second enemy. He hacks the other into death and continues the relentless attack. The third and final Duergar near Durgyn is brought to the minotaur’s mercy. Bloodied and near death, he falls and drops his weapon. Meanwhile, the other adventurers capture the last of the foes attacking them: he drops his weapon and yields. Durgyn looks down at his foe lying on the ground, while the dark dwarf looks up at the minotaur with hatred. His gladiatorial days flash into his mind, and Durgyn is filled with the thrill of battle. Near to loosing consciousness himself, Durgyn tosses his enemy a healing potion and bashes his sword against his shield. The minotaur tastes the hunger to fight til last blood. Durgyn also slides the Duergar’s axe towards him. The dark dwarf just stares at him. Durgyn grunts and spits on one of the other slain Duergar. The dark dwarf’s rage flares, and he downs the potion. The dwarf the reveals another potion from his small pack and pauses, looking to the minotaur’s reaction before placing the vial to his lips. Durgyn gestures for him to drink it, and with an evil grin the Duergar drinks the second potion. Now revitalized, he graps his axe and cautiously rises to his feet. The dark dwarf shouts, attempting to intimidate the minotaur, but Durgyn just roars beastly in return. The Duergar charges and lands his axe into Durgyn’s side, leaving himself exposed. Durgyn chops down with his sword and buries it into his enemy’s shoulder, slicing all the way down into his chest.
- With one of the dark dwarves captive, Sapphira casts comprehend languages to interrogate their captive. Landen provides assistance with the edge of his scimitar at the Duergar’s throat, but the dwarf refuses to talk. Landen wipes the blood of his slain companions on the Duergar’s shirt. Gerard offers his methods of persuasion, yet it still yields no cooperation. Landen suggests they let him live… but horribly disfigure him. “Do you even know what you’re getting yourself into?” The Duergar asks Sapphira. “If you find the fortress you will surely die. How large do you think my clan is? I don’t speak and you will kill me, I tell you and my clan will kill me. I am dead either way and I will not betray my clan.”
As the others look on not understanding the words spoken, Sapphira turns to them and says, “he wants us to kill him.”
“Then kill him!” Landen says.
“No, we keep him alive,” Sapphira replies.
“Okay,” Landen steps up and lines his scimitar with the dwarf’s thigh. He raises his blade and Sapphira grasps Landen’s arm. “No!”
The duergar laughs. “You are weak! I am your enemy yet you don’t have the guts to let something so brutal happen. You will surely die by my people.”
Sapphira whispers in Landen’s ear, and the rogue lowers his blade, grabs a handful of the Duergar’s beard, and slices it from his face. Still in vulture form, Gvados digs his beak into an open wound on the duergar and gnaws on his tendons. The duergar kicks the bird from his leg and looks at his beard on the ground. “I have been shamed… I cannot return to my clan…”
Landen cuts the ropes that bind him, setting him free. The duergar looks to Sapphira with a concerned face. “If you plan to follow me that will not work. I cannot go back to the fortress or any of our settlements. I will die out here in the hills.”
Sapphira just replies, “Go, you’re free.”
The duergar turns to Landen and screams at him, grabbing at his scimitar. Landen stops the duergar’s rage with a firmly planted knee to the groin.
Sapphira tosses a small potion to the dwarf crumpled on the ground, “good luck out there.” The party begins to leave the area, then Sapphira hears a gruff voice call, “wait.”
She turns back and the dark dwarf just stares at her with hate and discontent. In that same gruff voice, the duergar tells her “I’ll show you the way.”
- As they travel, Sapphira and Hillfort cast the needed spell to communicate the the duergar’s language. He points off into another direction and tells them there is a decent size settlement of his people that way. Franz is curious, and tries to convince the party that they take him there. The party debates if they should go, but they end up agreeing there would be no purpose, as it is the fortress they seek. In vulture form, Gvados flies off in the direction the dark dwarf pointed. 8-10 miles away he finds a small settlement. There are 8 well hidden, small structures.The party makes camp. When it is time to continue on, Gerard wakes the uneasy to rouse duergar with a boot crushing his finger.
- As the days of travel pass, Hillfort talks with the duergar occasionally. He offers to take him back to his home country, offering a new start at life working for his brewing business. The dark dwarf laughs. On the next day Hillfort mentions his offer again. The duergar replies, “You will not leave this land. You will die here.”
“Okay,” Hillfort retorts. “In a perfect world, what would you choose?”
“I would have chosen to kill you and loot your bodies,” the duergar frankly replies.
Uneasy, Hillfort chuckles, “let me rephrase that.”
“Not going to happen,” the dwarf says. Hillfort continues to press the matter, and resigned, the duergar tells him, “in this fantasy world of your imagining… sure, I would go to your land.” Hillfort then determines to himself that as long as they are not betrayed by him, he will protect this dark dwarf with his life.
- The party begins to discuss camp, and the duergar suggests against it. He says they’re close to the fortress and should continue on. Landen comes to Hillfort and whispers to him. He requests that the wizard translate a couple questions for him and Hillfort obliges.
“Is there another way into the fortress?” The duergar pauses, and answers, “Impossible.”
“Is there treasure inside?” The dark dwarf grins, “great treasure.”
“Is there a mine?” With pride, he replies, “much, much more than a mine.”
“Who is your king?” At this the duergar tensed up. “I will not speak of him.”
Landen pats Hillfort on the shoulder and steps away. Hillfort tells the duergar, “We want to be unseen.”
“Not possible, the fortress is in a canyon, there are three towers.”
“Surely there’s another option than walking up to the front gates?”
“Well,” the duergar says as a thought comes to his mind. “There is another possible way…”
Hillfort casts a spell to read his thoughts, wanting to know the true intent the dark dwarf has as he shares this information.
“The fortress is mostly maintained from the inside, but not all supplies can come that way.” Hillfort reads violent thoughts towards him and his companions as the duergar speaks, but his statements are truthful. “There is a supply wagon that comes through the front gate. Fresh meat cannot be obtained underground, so one comes on a schedule to supply the fortress with livestock.”
Hillfort shares this information with his companions. Largo gets excited, “If I only still had my wagon!”
One suggests they return to the settlement to steal a wagon, but Gvados says he say no stables or wagons when he observed the settlement from the sky.
Landen adds to the hatching plan, “Gvados, you’d be the perfect spy! Change into a chicken, or a cow…”
Gvados becomes unsettled, “I don’t think so.”
“But it’s perfect! You could scope out the inside, snoop around, and no one would…”
“No!” Gvados sternly shouts. Thoughts of being eaten by a ravenous band of Duergar did not sell the plan for him.
“Well I’ll drive the wagon,” Largo says. “I wouldn’t even have to bluff: I am a real merchant.” A grin covers his face. The rest of the party is unamused as they ponder how to find the components for this plan to work.
“What are you all arguing about?” the duergar asks Hillfort curiously.
Hillfort explains they’re debating on how to get a wagon and livestock so they can sneak into the fortress.
The duergar gives Hillfort a dumbfounded look. “Are you stupid?”
Confused, and taken off-guard by this, Hillfort replies, “umm, no?”
“There will be a wagon… with livestock, on the way to deliver. Isn’t that what I just told you?”
Hillfort laughs and mentions this overlooked fact to the group. They decide to wait in ambush and steal the supply wagon. The duergar suggests a hidden, rocky area on a hill just near the entrance to the canyon. He says they could watch the route the merchant takes to approach the canyon and be hidden from raiding parties leaving the fortress. Hillfort detects that he’s telling the truth, and something a little more. He reads in the dark dwarf’s thoughts that he hates this merchant and wishes to kill him. The duergar tells them although the rocky place is very close to the canyon, it will not be checked by duergar parties. His people have become complacent of the land since they have had such a firm grasp on it for years. No one has ventured into their hill country for as long as his clan could remember.
Hillfort tells his companions what the duergar was thinking about the merchant who brings the livestock and suggests they let him have the opportunity.
Someone asks why, and Hillfort suggests it could gain them a little favor with their captive, bringing him closer to their side. Hillfort continues to explain that the duergar said he’d come back to Calimshan with him and work in his brewery. “If he does not betray us,” Hillfort tells them with an honest gaze, focusing particularly in Landen and Gerard’s direction, “he is under my protection.”
Landen asks, “If he betrays us, THEN we can kill him?”