Friday, February 21, 2020

Mirabar Run

Over the course of the day and through normal rumormongering at The Rusty Sword, the party becomes aware of a three-masted caravel being constructed by a makeshift shipbuilding company along the north bank of the River Mirar, inside city limits. The endeavor is significant because, in addition to river travel, the vessel is said to be equipped for seafaring, even reinforced to test treacherous waters where seasonal ice floes are abundant.

Hearsay is that, when ready for launch, a bolstered crew will cast off downriver and attempt to press through and beyond the ruins of Illusk, which various orc hordes are known to yet occupy. If successful, the ship’s cargo of furs, armaments, and winter goods will be trafficked to the mining town of Fireshear, north along the coast amid the Frozenfar.

A highly dangerous but potentially highly profitable undertaking, the prospective voyage has been monikered “Mirabar Run”; until recently, it was not believed that the capital to fund such an effort would be achievable, but the combined investments of a conglomerate of local merchants have turned what may once have been little more than a lofty vision much closer to reality.

With the landbound expedition to Icewind Dale nearly stocked and set for imminent departure, tavern-banter has become aglow with talk of Mirabar Run, and the aftereffects that success (or failure) might yield.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

#36: A Father Scorned

On the day before our planned departure, a skiff with two men arrives from upstream to the east.  The men were fisherman that had passed through earlier in the week and had moved on past Dagger’s Deep to seek out prime fishing spots upriver.  While fishing at night, with one of the fishermen on watch, they heard a sound like something getting ravaged or torn apart coming from the shore.  Unable to see that far with the light of their small lantern, they rowed slowly away from the disturbance towards the opposite shore.  Not more than 50 yards from the skiff, something splashed into the water and was coming quickly for their boat, so they started rowing frantically downriver.  At least once, they felt something under their boat jarring it, so they rowed in a panic and didn’t stop until they reached Dagger’s Deep. 

Perhegan is concerned over the revelation, but we explain that Dagger’s Deep is no more able to defend itself with him present than not, and that we can’t derail our plans every time there’s a potential threat.  If a town like Dagger’s Deep is to survive, it must weather these kinds of dangers.

The following morning, we set out for Mirabar.  Perhegan has allowed the use of a wagon to cart the scaled hide of the creature we killed beneath Dagger’s Deep and has plans to return with goods for the settlement’s use.  The first leg of our journey is uncontested, and we decide to camp early as opposed to pressing on with no good reason.

As we begin to set up for camp, we hear approaching traffic.  A pair of men on foot are walking next to a cart being pulled by a mule, piled high with hides.  Not feeling threatened, we hail the men and greet them.  The leader of the pair is a tanner, traveling with his brother from Mirabar to Xantharl’s Keep.  They are young, perhaps in their twenties, and don’t appear to be too well off.

“We’re just from Dagger’s Deep on our way to Mirabar, have you heard of it?” I ask the men.  They both nod, saying they’ve heard of “some goings-on up that way”, but nothing beyond that general recognition.  They ply their goods along this route three or four times during the season, typically having little to fear from robbers due to the mundane nature of their haul.  We invite them to share our camp and they accept gratefully, the night passing uneventfully.

When we wake up the next morning, we find Perhegan having a few quiet words with the men, likely trying to steer their trade towards Dagger’s Deep, our tanner having perished in the barbarian attack.  We part ways amicably and continue our trip towards Mirabar.  A few hours before sundown, we arrive at the gates of Mirabar, having made good time.  Perhegan announces our purpose, telling the guards that we are from Dagger’s Deep to buy goods, and they let us pass.

As the first order of business, Audric attempts to find a craftsman who would be willing to work the serpent’s hide.  Before long, we wind up at a stall called “Detrius’ Armory.”  It’s not a grand structure, but it contains a smithy, a large courtyard with several anvils worked by men covered in soot and grease, and a small building with a large hearth and fire.  Before they close shop for the day, we win an audience with Detrius himself.

Audric explains our burden and his intentions for the hide, and Detrius hops onto the wagon to inspect it.  He takes a good look at the hide, feeling several of the dried ends, a rather fetid stench emanating from the wagon.  Detrius takes it in stride, however, and seems impressed with the trophy.

“Is it a dragon’s hide?” he asks with a raised eyebrow. Audric explains that the creature was large and serpentine, but wingless so perhaps not a true dragon.  He listens intently.  “The scales are strong,” he remarks, and while he thinks it would take a fair effort, he believes we have enough material to craft a suit of mail.

As long as we level our expectations, he explains, knowing that much of the hide will be unusable or waste, he thinks he can craft a suit of armor, but that it will take all of the hide we have to find enough quality pieces to work into the armor.  He needs a few days to determine the labor cost and how long it might take.  Audric agrees to a modest fee for Detrius to assess the task, and we leave the hide with the craftsman and his apprentices.

We decide to pursue rooms at The Rusty Sword, as it’s an establishment that Zargon is familiar with, and start to realize how expensive this trip could be if we decide to stay too long.  Rooms are procured without much issue, Zargon trading a few performances to cover his own costs; lodging is scarce due to heavy trade traffic in Mirabar at the moment, but we find a set of rooms that suit our purposes well.  In the morning, we decide to head to the Undercity and meet with Arion to tell him of Corin’s fall.  After some discussion, we decide that as it was Selben’s initiative to seek out Arion and contract Corin’s services, he should be the one to deliver the ill news.

The entrance to the Undercity is familiar, but we can’t help but notice how eerily similar the construction of the dwarven tunnels are to those that lie beneath Dagger’s Deep.  When questioned by the guards at the Undercity entrance, Selben speaks up.

“We have business with Arion,” Selben states, his voice shaking a little.

We are granted passage to board the lift, and we are taken down below into the tunnels which lead eventually towards the Hall of All Fires.  One of the dwarven ushers accompanies us, and along the way, asks us why such a large group of outsiders would have business with one such as Arion.

“Our business is grave, and for Arion alone,” Selben responds flatly, putting an end to the line of questions.  The dwarf grunts, unsatisfied, but troubles us no more.  After several twists and turns, he stops again and states that we will have to leave our weapons if we’re to continue.

Zargon reminds us in a whisper that he can’t relinquish the magical pick, and we decide to split the group, not wanting to press the matter of Zargon’s apparent compulsion, and not wanting to start a riot over keeping weapons.  Selben, Audric and Perhegan decide to go forward while the others stay behind.  The dwarf grunts again, apparently satisfied, and we are allowed access to the Hall of All Fires, our escort remaining behind with the rest of our party.

After Selben, Audric and Perhegan depart, the usher turns towards me and the others.  “So you’re the allies of Thrur Dalgin?” he asks suspiciously.  Having not actually met Thrur, we all look at one another, and it’s actually Lom that answers.  “We’ve made his acquaintance,” and another practiced dwarven grunt is earned in response.

* * *

When we enter the Hall of All Fires, we are once again taken aback by the sheer massiveness of the underground structure.  Yet another dwarf asks our business, and upon providing Arion’s name, he leaves to go fetch him.  Arion arrives a short while later with grease in his beard, apparently having been in the middle of a meal when called.  “Pleased to make your acquaintance again,” he says in greeting.  “Have you returned with Corin Redbeard?”

My response is flat, emotionless.  “Our news is grim.  Corin Redbeard perished in the tunnels beneath Dagger’s Deep.”

Arion’s eyes go wide, the dwarf stuttering as if struggling to force out words, and asks, “How?”

I explain our breach of the tunnel entrance, our brief exploration and of Corin bravely leading our group into the dark tunnels beyond, and finally of our encounter with the serpent.  I tell the tale of Corin’s demise, having been struck down by the creature’s electric discharge.

Arion is taken aback, nearly speechless, and asks what proof we have.  Audric steps forward and produces Corin’s pouch, handing over what was taken from the dwarf’s body.

Arion examines the contents briefly, then turns to a dwarven runner.  “Tell Corenar Redbeard that his son is dead.”  The dwarf nods and leaves quickly back down the tunnel from which we entered the Hall of All Fires.  We wait in silence for whatever comes next.

“Wait here,” Arion instructs.  “You’ll have to answer to his father.”

Audric asks who Corenar might be—besides the obvious—and what standing Corenar might have among the dwarves of the Mirabaran Undercity.  Arion answers, “Will ‘stature’ matter when a father learns of his son’s death?”

I cringe a little at the statement, ruthlessly delivered, and an indeterminable amount of time passes as we wait in silence.  We can’t help but feel the scrutiny of other dwarves passing by who are curious at the activity we’ve stirred up.

* * *

A dwarven runner comes down the tunnel, passing us by quickly, and a short while later another party of dwarves returns, this one led by a particularly staunch dwarf with a brilliant crimson beard and hair, his resemblance to Corin obvious.  While anxious, I decide not to intervene on Selben’s behalf and let them pass unimpeded.

The dwarves are in conference as they march through the tunnel, before the lead dwarf, Corin’s father, cries out in pain and anger.  “My son is dead!  I demand to know who is responsible!”  The runner rapidly tries to explain the situation though we are able to overhear little before Corin’s father roars out, “Thrur Dalgin, blasphemer!  I’ll kill him!”  They rush past us, passions stoked to a frenzy.

While worrying, this kind of reaction was not necessarily unanticipated, so we let them pass, trusting Selben and Audric to handle matters within the Hall of All Fires.

* * *

“Dagger’s Deep bears full responsibility for Corin Redbeard,” Perhegan explains to an irate Corenar Redbeard, sharing details about the tunnel, the expedition, and ultimately his son’s death.

“How did you come to know Thrur Dalgin?” Corenar roars at the end of Perhegan’s explanation, the dwarf’s emotions obviously raw.

Audric steps forward, explaining his connection with Thrur through his faith in Mystra.  In response, Audric catches a face full of spit as Corenar rages, drawing up his axe in anger and pounding the head onto the ground.  “This goes deeper than blood and honor!” he calls out, rushing off with his contingent of dwarves deeper into the hall, presumably towards Thrur’s chamber.

Arion turns towards us gravely.  “I would advise that you leave the Undercity while you can,” he says.  “And that’s the last piece of advice I’ll offer you.”

Selben turns to Audric.  “We have accomplished what we came here to do, we should leave.”  Audric doesn’t seem so sure, hesitating, and I add, “If we don’t leave now, I’m going to get Zeb.”  I don’t know what else to do.

* * *

Selben, Audric and Perhegan return, escorted by Arion, and I breathe a sigh of relief.  While trusting Selben and Audric to handle matters, that hasn’t made waiting any less tense.

Audric explains his intention to remain in the Undercity and try and defuse the situation, feeling responsible for all that has occurred.  While I hate leaving a member of our group alone in such a foreign environment, I can tell from the set of Audric’s jaw that he intends to stay whether I agree with his plan or not.  “We will wait for you above,” I tell him, patting him on the shoulder.  Audric withdraws the ring, the bloodstone and his coin purse, passing it off to me, and we part ways.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

#35: Loose Ends

In the wake of our battle with the serpentine creature in the tunnels beneath Dagger’s Deep, we are presented with a decision over how to handle the corpse of Corin.  We discuss the possibility of returning his body to Mirabar but it is quickly dismissed, as we have no way to preserve the remains.  Instead, Audric collects the dwarf’s effects to return to Mirabar when we can, and we decide to bring him back above ground for a proper burial.  The dwarves of Mirabar, if we are failing to adhere to their customs, can arrange to exhume him if they desire.  Our way back through the tunnels is uncontested, and we begin discussing plans to keep vigil over the entrance overnight.

We decide against blocking the entrance with boulders again as we plan to reenter the tunnels the next day, so instead we intend to camp in the river keep itself, at the top of the stairs leading to the cellar.  With that plan set, we leave the river keep and head back into Dagger’s Deep, bearing the body of Corin. 

There are still crowds around Odesia’s tent as the excitement over her child’s birth has not yet waned, and we use this welcome distraction to inconspicuously carry Corin from the river keep, not wanting to stir a panic.  In a quiet moment, Audric addresses the group, speaking of his concerns over the enchanted footman’s pick, and how he felt compelled to use it when I asked him to remove the serpent’s head with his axe.  He casts a divination upon it and the longsword recovered from the tunnels, finding a faint aura of indiscernible magic on the footman’s pick and powerful aura of evocation magic on the longsword.

“I’m glad you’re able to discuss it, because I had half a thought of murdering you in your sleep tonight, thinking you might be possessed,” I say dryly.  Our history with mysterious magic items is not easily forgotten.

Audric tries giving the pick to Zargon to see if he’s able to part with the weapon—but he feels a mental resistance to relinquishing it.  After a few moments of concentration, however, he conquers the feeling and passes it along.  Zargon expresses a desire not to keep the pick and tries to place it on the ground, leaning forward to drop it, but finds himself unable to give it up.

While we discuss potential ways to deal with questions the townsfolk will surely have, both about Corin’s death and the serpent’s severed head, which I have been dragging behind me, the conversation proves pointless as Perhegan comes to greet us, curious about our endeavors.  He’s remorseful over Corin, but relieved that the rest of us are unharmed.  He expresses concerns over what the dwarf’s demise might mean to authorities in Mirabar, and we do our best to allay those fears, letting him know that we intend to deal with it.

His greater concern, however, is over the beast itself and its proximity to the settlement.  We tell him we intend to further investigate the tunnel complex, determine the scope of the potential danger, and then decide on a plan of action.  He is clearly more distressed than he has ever been, and the urgency of danger to the settlement and the potential reaction from Mirabar is great.  Perhegan has no objection to our plan to bury Corin, and after some consideration, the settlement’s leader shares his intention to address the guardship of Dagger’s Deep with the others in town.

We keep to ourselves for the next couple hours, having little need or desire to interact with the townsfolk, our thoughts instead focused on the tunnel and the threat of the coming day’s adventure.  Later that night, Perhegan hosts a town gathering, and shares the details of our encounters and findings with the rest of the settlement.  He explains that the settlement must remain on alert, but that we intend to guard over the river keep and see to the tunnels tomorrow.  A few townsfolk and guards offer to assist with Corin’s burial, and he is interred by twilight in a somber ritual.

We prepare our camp in the river keep, setting up a defense both practical and magical, laying caltrops on the stairs as I place a magical ward at the entrance of the tunnel to alert us of any intruders.  We settle in for the night, and it is both crowded and uncomfortable, though our rest is undisturbed.

We acquire a lantern from Dagger’s Deep to provide light on our return trip to the tunnels the next morning.  Lom sees no sign of disturbance at the tunnel entrance, so I climb through the rubble back into the chamber beyond.  We return to the first branch in the catacomb system, and Lom examines the earthen passage that branches off to the left.  He doesn’t find anything noteworthy.  We decide to continue down the worked tunnel to see if the beast’s corpse is still there, hopefully undisturbed.

We don’t hear or see any signs of danger at the following intersection, and again don’t find anything noteworthy.  We follow the second worked tunnel back to the site of our encounter with the creature and find it apparently untouched.  We decide to devote time to skinning the creature, with both Audric and Zargon interested in fabricating a suit of scaled armor.  Dividing the work between us while Bonie watches over the group, we commit to our bloody task.  The skinning and hauling takes the bulk of the day, but it is an effort that we think worthwhile.

Upon returning to the surface, Audric consults with Tarrsh about constructing a suit of armor, but the smith admits that it is a task beyond his abilities.  Unfortunately, the settlement’s tanner perished in the battle against the barbarians, but we are hopeful that we can lay the scales out in the sun to preserve them well enough for a trip to Mirabar.

Zargon shares an awkward gift with Seirsha, giving her one of the beast’s scales.  She seems to be overwhelmed by the transition to Dagger’s Deep, and while the gift isn’t greeted with the eagerness that Zargon perhaps hoped, he smooths it over and they part on a positive note.  Audric cleans a scale and presents it to Odesia’s child, explaining that the beast was slain on the day of young Laerch’s birth, and that it is a good omen.  The gift is well received, Odesia having a strong belief in such things.

We pass another uncomfortable night in the river keep, and it again passes without interruption.  We return to the tunnels, with me in the lead.  At the first fork, and Audric looks to me to decide on a plan of action.  I decide to investigate the earthen passage, the others following behind.

The tunnel’s height is inconsistent, and we are at times forced to crouch.  The texture of the walls is rough stone, and we’re not able to tell if it was dug out a long time ago or if it is a naturally occurring cavern.  I decide to scout perhaps a mile, not wanting to delve too deeply.  The rough nature of the walls and floor makes it difficult to discern any notable details, but near the end of my patience, we are rewarded with a trio of branching tunnels, all also of rough-carved stone.  Unwilling to attempt an unmapped cavern, we decide to return to the dwarven passage and continue our exploration there.  There is yet another fork not far past the site of our encounter with the serpent, and similar to before, one is rough stone, the other carved dwarven handiwork.  Zargon refers to the dwarven-made tunnel as “Dwarf Avenue,” a moniker that fits very well.

We pass another pair of forks, eschewing them to continue along the dwarven passage.  After a brief discussion we decide to follow it for one more hour before turning back, not wanting to risk needing to sleep underground.  The corridor finally leads to an opening in the floor—a mineshaft, apparently.  The tunnel ends abruptly, and there is a gaping hole in the floor perhaps 20 feet across, a dead-end except for down.  Looking into it, we cannot see the bottom.  There appears to be the remnants of a pulley system with bits of chain or rotting ropes, but nothing we can use now.

We are in agreement to abandon our expedition and return to Dagger’s Deep.  Upon our return, we spend the few remaining hours of light at the tunnel entrance, piling boulders and rubble to block the opening.  The toil is hard, and the release from the tension of the tunnel exploration leaves us exhausted.

We describe our findings to Perhegan, and he seems relieved that we didn’t encounter more danger.  While that does not mean the settlement is necessarily safe, we think the chance of a new threat surfacing remote.  Perhegan expresses concern over what the dwarves’ reaction may be upon learning of such a sizable tunnel complex, fearful for what it may mean for the burgeoning settlement.  The way we present this information to Mirabar needs to be discussed.  He doesn’t want to invite a “platoon of dwarves” to invade the town and investigate the catacombs.

He is supportive of our recommendation to more permanently seal the opening, and in that time, he asks—not demands—for us to stay in town while the masons work.  We commit to stay for a week, allowing time for us to train and resupply, after which we can reassess if the construction is not complete.

Audric asks if Perhegan will accompany us on our trip to Mirabar, not feeling completely comfortable speaking on his behalf.  He seems agreeable to the notion, and while he may not have necessarily been planning a trip this soon, he tentatively agrees to the plan.

We spend the following days in training and preparation for the journey.  In my free time, I work with the serpent’s skull, burning what remains of the flesh off it to reveal white bone beneath.  It will make a worthy trophy to the shared shrine of Mystra and the Beastlord.  From the beast’s claws and straps of leather, I fashion two pairs of claw bracers—the followers of the Beastlord refer to these as “Claws of Malar,” their use being restricted to members of the priesthood.  The first set I make for myself, the second I intend to keep for Selben until an appropriate time to gift them to my apprentice.

With the remnants, I use bits of twine and leather to string them together in two rows, jointed at the middle, creating a decorative bone breastplate which I gift to Bonie.  Combined with the various fetishes I have given her in the past, she makes a striking and intimidating figure.

On the third day of our training, a contingent arrives in Dagger’s Deep overland—a small band of humans, Mirabarran guards, led by Rale Cotchen.  A second soldier we recognize from the last time we met Rale, the group totaling a half-dozen in all.  Audric, Zargon and I stand to watch their approach, Selben a few steps behind me, and my heart begins to race in anticipation of the possibility of spilling Rale Cotchen’s blood.

Rale leads them straight into Dagger’s Deep on horseback and dismounts.  He exchanges a few words with his contingent, instructing them to stay back, as he walks directly into the center of town alone like he owns the place.  At our questioning glares, he speaks his intentions.  “I have come to pay respect to my cousin’s grave.”

Audric throws me a look, as if we should leave him about his business.  I look around for Odesia, not wanting an unwelcome encounter to occur between the two, and as she seems to be cloistered in her tents, I defer to Audric’s lead, and hold my tongue.  Perhegan escorts him to the site of Laerch’s rest and, nearby, the freshly dug grave of Corin Redbeard.  Selben and I wait near Rale’s guards, my apprentice staring at them with a slight knowing smile, my posture inviting conflict.

“We can set up our camp here.” Rale calls to his guardsmen upon his return.  “We are likely not to stay more than a day.”  Audric anticipates my response, trying to calm me.  “If he’s going to be reasonable and civil, we will let him do that.  We will remain civil.”  I disagree, and Zargon seems to share my feelings on the matter.

“Why are you staying at all?” I ask.

“Our party has been on the road and need a place to rest,” he responds.  “This place is as safe as any.  We have not the time nor inclination to attempt Mirabar before the sun sets.”

“Let the men make their camp,” Audric pleads, “they are weary from travel.”  Zargon (the traitor!) joins Audric, attempting to convince me to avoid escalation.  I confront Perhegan later, and he explains that he doesn’t know much of Rale, nor were any ulterior motivations for Rale’s visit discussed.  Rale did make a remark over the fresh grave, but Perhegan explained it away as an untimely death.  I decide to drop the matter, as my allies clearly do not share my eagerness to flay Rale Cotchen.

Rale’s men keep to themselves, sharing a watch over their small camp.  The night passes, and in the morning, the soldiers pack up and make to head out.  Perhegan seems relieved, but I can’t help but feel like an opportunity to do violence on Rale Cotchen was missed.  I look to Selben and sense the young mage’s own lust for the Mirabarran captain’s blood, and I am proud.

The masons get the stonework into state where Perhegan feels reasonably safe leaving, and there have been no other signs of disturbances in the days since.  He has requisitioned a wagon so that we can haul the serpent’s heavy hide with us, and will use the empty wagon for a minor resupply.  We spend the last few days in final preparations for our departure.