Staying at Anvil (or Forge?!)

The Undaunted’s stay at Forge caused a mix of emotions amongst its members. There was an initial awkward period as the dwarves, who had been so used to the story of Puki’s exile, tried to avoid eye contact with him, or worse, nervously make small talk. As well, although cordially treated and recognized as the best option against their ancient enemy, the Stone Thief, the inhabitants of Forge were uneasy around Nidalru and Legion, albeit for different reasons. The heroes who received the most positive attention were Idris and Merrian, who found rapt audiences when they shared their tales of battle, especially against the Stone Thief.

The Undaunted learned of the many different names the dwarves had for the Stone Thief: Makh Miz Adaor, She Who Undermines. Makh Adaz Akor, The Howling Pit. Khazar Vuk Varag, Oldest of Hatreds. What the heroes learned is that long, long before the Stone Thief broke through the underworld to the surface, she was a bane of the dwarves in the deep. (You also noticed that the dwarves always refer to the dungeon as ‘she’.)

The Undaunted were not the only guests in Forge, however. Representatives from most Icons were present, to form a sort of war council to determine how best to finally deal with the living dungeon. Great respect was afforded the Undaunted; it was made clear that any plan they came up with would need to be vetted by the heroes themselves.

You manage to have a few conversations with some of the delegates, learning about them a bit. Present were:

(Archmage) Isali Istar, Lady of the Blazing Book: Isali is one of the masters of the wizard’s college in Horizon, and she is more used to dealing with lecture halls full of rambunctious apprentices than councils of state. Initially, she comes across as a little nervous and forgetful, but once she gets into the swing of things, she forgets where she is and starts treating the other delegates as disobedient students and fires off spells of silence and Istar’s chastising finger.

Her Blazing Book is an item she created. Isali’s area of expertise is in the preservation of knowledge, and the Blazing Book is supposed to magically copy any unique written text anywhere in the world if that text is destroyed. So, burn the only copy of a scroll in Drakkenhall, and the Blazing Book magically gains another page across the sea in

Horizon. Unfortunately, there’s a civilization somewhere within range of the book that seems to burn an awful lot of unique books, and their language is both untranslatable and demonically potent, so for every normal book the Burning Book rescues from oblivion, it sprouts another thousand pages of maddening, incomprehensible blasphemies. Still, if she times it just right, Isali can tell you about the Stone Thief’s latest attacks by listening for the rustling of pages, and opening it at the newly added sections. If the Stone Thief’s attack destroyed a unique book—say, a diary or a ledger—then parts of it will be recorded into the Blazing Book to give clues about the dungeon’s whereabouts.

(Elf Queen) Laurende the Starseer: Laurende is one of the Elf Queen’s court astronomers, and she has first-hand experience of the dungeon. She was one of the custodians of the spire the treetop observatory that was swallowed by the Stone Thief. Laurende and the other high elves fled using a teleport circle, leaving the other elves to perish in the dungeon. (As it turned out, only the wood elves died; as you well know, the dark elves under Nioba Shieldspinner survived, but Laurende doesn’t know that). Her escort is the familiar Serin Vi, the drow that knows Nidalru.

(Emperor) Lady Atala Caevor: The Emperor’s aunt. Immensely old, thoroughly self- possessed, and absolutely no patience for dilly-dallying. She pretends to take the threat of the living dungeon in her stride, but once you got to know her, you learned that she’s tired—helping her dear nephew hold the Empire together against all its many foes has exhausted her. She’s already died once, you know, but arranged to be brought back. Things to be done, no time to be lying in state.

Caevor is especially worried about the Cult of the Devourer. External threats unite the Empire, bringing the full might of the seven cities together against a common foe. The cult, though, is ultimately an internal threat since it was born within the Empire from the actions of her ancestors. It is a rot that must be burnt out of the land.

(Priestess) The Oracle Shroud: The Priestess sends a divine treasure to the aid of the Empire. The shroud is a gray burial cloth. One person can be wrapped in it and sent to the other side to seek out a spirit among the dead. Unlike other such rituals, which tend to be limited in reach, almost any deceased soul can be found if the traveler is willing to risk a deep expedition into the lands of the dead. The shroud only works once per year, however.

The Oracle Shroud’s guardian is an aasimaar whose name translates as The Dazzling Shield Who Reflects The Heavenly Light That Inspires the Host Upon the Walls of the Last Citadel When the Final Battle Is Joined; he fell in love with a mortal man, Thalus, who died, and desperately wants to use the shroud to send word to his former lover. The holy one cannot use the

shroud himself, since his soul is the shard of a god and will never go to the same afterlife as mortals, therefore he would have to use a mortal as a courier.

When the heroes were not enjoying the hospitality of the dwarves, they were engaged in their own plans to find the missing citizens of Hildebrande. Greyface the orc warlord of Deep Keep had promised them safe passage to the surface, and Puki tended to believe that the orc would have kept his word (Nidalru unsuccessfully tired to hide a snort at this). If the cleric was right, however, it meant that some other force had captured the residents of the destroyed town…or had them killed, though that was not said out loud.

After several rituals performed by Legion and Puki, it was determined that the answer to the missing citizens lay in the mountain range known as Giantwalk, not far from the dwarven fort of Anvil. For some mysterious reason, nothing more could be gleaned, to the consternation of the shade and dwarf.

Finally, after several days, the war council called in the Undaunted to outline their plan to assist in putting down the Stone Thief, once and for all.

Lady Atala Caevor was the one speaking, though the others all nodded their heads and different times in response to statements she made. It was obvious she was in charge, both by her icon and rank as well as through force of personality.

The plan was as follows: Isali Istar and Laurende (and their respective organizations) have begun “poisoning” likely targets of the Stone Thief. It seems that the Archmage had devised a kind of magical essence that could be imbued in these targets that would acts as a sort of narcotic to the living dungeon; Caevor is quick to point out that this narcotic will in no way kill the Stone Thief, but will render it “…sluggish, for lack of a better word.” Most importantly, while it will not stop the Stone Thief from moving, it will stop it from escaping deep down into the Underworld; it will be forced to stay at ‘surface level,’ though not necessarily at the site it just consumed.

Isali Istar has placed a simple journal in each of the trapped sites; when the living dungeon consumes one of the sites, she will be made aware by virtue of her Blazing Book. That will give the Undaunted a much more limited place to look for it…using the Telluric Lens of the Inverse Observatory.

“So! Once we give the Stone Thief a tummy ache, you proceed with all haste to the Inverse Observatory, steal away inside, and determine the precise location where it will be incapacitated, waiting for you.” While the representative of the emperor seemed done speaking, the others looked to Caevor to finish.

“Of course…all of this is only to find the bloody thing; we haven’t addressed actually getting inside.”

“The problem,” came the calm, sad voice of the aasimaar, “is that the Stone Thief, for all it hates you, fears you as well…and for good reason. It will not permit you to enter it again.”

Silence. More silence.

“Unless…” said the Lady Caevor finally, “you were to have something the dungeon couldn’t resist. Is there such a thing?”

Nidalru thought she saw Serin Vi smiling at this…


Author: Eric