Khevoran 2 Session Notes: 25 September 2010

The party arrives at the cavernous city of Karak’Ven.  The people they come across seem both surprised and appalled to see the non-Dwarves and shocked to see Gronk, but they are very obviously in the cusp of an evacuation and most just continue on about their hurried ways.  It doesn’t take long before a band of the local constabulary arrived and, recognizing Gronk, ushered the party through the city to a small command center.  They were greeted by Dorn Heavyfoot, chief advisor to Prince Borin Ironfist, who was in Karak’Ven overseeing the evacuation.  He, like nearly every other Dwarf encountered, recognizes Gronk and seems delighted to see him, but remained aloof as decorum would demand until all of the Dwarves had left the room, when he warmed up.  The party also meets Uldan Bloodpick, the General of the Dwarven Legions, who is overseeing the defense.  The party informs Dorn of their mission, and he describes the current situation in the Dwarven network – which is dire.  There has been a steady state of retreat for several years, though the losses were strangely bloodless, relatively speaking.
The plans for High Guard fortress had already been evacuated from the Archives, so Dorn sends a runner to retrieve them while the party talks and dines.  He had never heard of the Ari Stonehand artifacts before, and assumes that they remain in the Archives.  He gives the party his blessing to proceed to the Archives and retrieve anything they need.  Unfortunately, the Archives are South of Karak’Ven in the Great Way, beyond the Dwarven lines.
The party heads off towards the entrance to the Great Way.  At one point, Gronk informs the party that they’re about to enter a sacred place of the Dwarves and it would be a mortal insult if the party looked at the statues in the hall – he seems strangely adamant.  Most of the party accedes to his wishes to keep their eyes avertsd as they pass through the hall of statues.  When beyond and moving through some of the poorer sections of the city, they encounter writing on the wall of the passage, in Dwarven it says “The Woman Is A Lie”, just as the phrase in the cell in Leitus’ compound.
When they arrive at the entrance to the Great Way, they find the Dwarven unit there preparing to surrender their position.  This comes as a surprise to Gronk and the others, as it seems like the entrance to the Great Way is a natural choke-point and could be defended for months with very few men.  The Dwarves tell Gronk and Banagher that they’ve been ordered off the line by Uldan.  They go on to describe how they’ve been repeatedly pulled from strategic positions at the cusp of great battles, and, in fact, his unit had lost almost no men in months – a very un-Dwarflike situation.  The party takes note and moves into the Great Way.
They arrive at the Archives with little incident and begin to scour the index for the Ari Stonehand artifacts. They move down into the vaults and are confronted by a Deep Elf who appears to be using an Etu’Sauri-like fighting style.  After a brief, but intense conflict, they defeat the deep one and discover the artifacts.  They retrieve a tiny music box, seemingly created from a single piece of stone, more delicate than any hands could ever have carved, it plays a mournful lullaby when opened.  They also find a cylindrical device with a single switch on the top.  When flipped, it begins to narrate a tale (below) with accompanying visions forming as a zoetrope in the very stone of the walls around them.  The party notes that the images of the individuals in the apprentice’s story seem to be human, as opposed to Elves as were previously suspected.
The party proceeds back to Karak’Ven, discovering a goblin scout poking throught he rubbish int he now-abandoned position.  They report their findings to Dorn and confront Uldan, who, it seems, had been orchestrating a series of tactical retreats in order to prevent more Dwarves from being slain.  Dorn relieves the General and orders troops back to the line, much to Gronk’s approval.
As the party is climbing the road back to the surface, they hear footfalls gathering behind them, and when they finally stop to confront the crowd, they find around fifty Slayers following them.  They say they’re following Gronk, who seems to be their best bet for finding an honorable death.
The party and their small army of Slayers continue on to the surface.

1 Comment

  1. Patricia
    Oct 9, 2010

    They made their way down the tunnels, and after a while, they started hearing sounds of a muted city. At least it sounded like there were Dwarves alive down there.

    As they exited into the city, they noticed Dwarves scurrying about, obviously preparing for an evacuation. Some stared, but they all kept going, their business obviously far more important than the visitors. And, she noticed, everyone, down to the children, were armed.

    A couple of guards approached them. Moriel watched as their leader spoke to Gronk, then told them all to come along, to meet some old Dwarf, probably some kind of leader. The room they were taken to was empty, and Moriel took up a place by the wall, trying to look unaffected as they waited.

    After a while, a very old Dwarf, older, even, than Gronk, entered. As he saw Gronk, he gasped. Moriel narrowed her eyes slightly, quietly piecing together the information she had gotten so far; mostly the reaction of the Dwarves they had met so far. She wanted to ask, but decided it was not that important. Gronk did not want to talk about it, and so she would respect that, for now, at least.

    The old Dwarf was clearly glad to see Gronk, though he was trying hard not to show it. The way they spoke, however, and what they said, and not said, just helped strenghtening her suspicions. The comment about the king being dead clinched it. That was not the truth, since there obviously was a prince. And since they called him _the_ prince, it meant there was only one. Still, it was becoming more and more clear that Gronk was not just another Dwarf, that he had ties to the royal family. Close enough that he could mock the king without being contradicted. The other Dwarf did not even look like he _wanted_ to protest.

    One of the humans then started talking as if he thought they could do something about the horde. Typically human. Here, the Dwarves had fought for something like three decades, for longer than most of them, possibly everyone except she and Gronk had lived. And here comes the human, thinking he can do what the Dwarves could not do for the past thirty years.

    Dorn asked them if they were hungry, then set out a meal that showed clear signs of the Dwarves’ isolation. Fungus, bread, but nothing fresh. She hesitated for a moment, then added some of her own rations, a couple of fresh fruits. The look on Dorn’s face when he bit into it was payment enough.

    Gronk and Dorn spoke for a while, and then one of the guards came back from an errand, carrying some scrolls. Dorn told them they could not bring the scrolls with them, but they were free to copy them, a task that was casually delegated to Banagher, who marched off. He seemed upset for some reason, and Moriel wondered why. She followed him into the other room, not entirely sure what to do or say.

    “What?” He _sounded_ annoyed too. She was not sure whether it was because he was told to do the copying, or some other reason. There was no reason he should be the one to do all the work, if nothing else, anyone able to draw a little bit should be able to copy at least the maps.

    “Anything I can do to help?” That, at least, she could do. And she doubted Banagher was willing to talk now.

    “Can you draw out those caverns on this sheet of paper?”

    She looked at the map. It should not be too hard. She nodded. “I can do that.”

    “Then, please do. SHE wants us to hurry.” So, that was it? His goddess was pushing him, obviously. Moriel had no idea what to say. While she did not share the humans’ view of gods, this was not the time to question his faith or his goddess. So instead, she concentrated on her job. It was not exactly difficult, all it took was some patience. She could not help but wonder why none of the others offered to help, especially since they seemed eager to be off.

    Eventually, the two of them finished, and Moriel handed the finished maps to Banagher. As they headed out, Gronk told them he had gotten permission to bring them through a hall with statues, but that for surface dwellers to look upon those statues would be an insult to his people.

    She was not sure she believed him. It made no sense. Statues were, after all, _meant_ to be seen. So, what was it that Gronk did not want them to see? A statue of himself, maybe?

    Then she suddenly had her hands full trying to keep Poppy from shooting Gronk. Not that she blamed the Halfling; the Dwarf was way out of line. Maybe it was different for the humans, but to fish for sympathy for his people, who might be dying, from Poppy and herself, that was an insult. She was of half a mind to grab her bow and shoot the Dwarf herself. But the only ones who would profit from that were their enemies. It was not worth it. Besides, deep into Dwarven territory, shooting someone who was obviously important among the Dwarves was not exactly a good idea.

    She walked over to Poppy, crouching down in front of her.

    “Poppy, I think we should do as he says.” Well, not really. She wanted to confront the Dwarf, but Poppy had already said what needed to be said. Moriel had nothing to add to it.

    “He’s too high and mighty. He thinks his people are the only ones that suffered.” The Halfling was right. Moriel’s own people were dying, but that was different. They were an ancient race, and like any living thing, her people had reached the end of their lifespan. They, Moriel herself included, had accepted this, at least to some extent. The idea of being left all alone terrified her, though. And at some point, it would happen. But she had centuries still until she needed to worry about that.

    Her greatest regret was that there would be no more children. To her knowledge, Moriel was the youngest, the last to be born, eighty, no, eighty-one years ago now. There might be one or two more, perhaps, but she would never have any of her own. Poppy was probably the closest thing to a child she would ever have. And maybe that was why the Elves had not objected when she took Poppy in.

    A far greater tragedy were the Halflings. They were just children, in more ways than one, perhaps the youngest of the races. And they were being hunted to extinction. The Elves had lived a long, full life, for tens of thousands of years. The Dwarves had, after all, caused their problems themselves, first by digging too deep, then by not asking for help. And she wondered what role Gronk had played in those decisions. The Halflings had done nothing at all to warrant what was being done to them.

    “I know, dear. But now is not the time. We are in his lands now, so we follow his rules.” Much as it bothered her. Maybe she was being unfair. Maybe she was expecting more from the Dwarf than she would have from the humans. Still. She remembered how she had found Poppy, just a child, covered with ash, hiding beneath some bushes, the only one to survive the attack on her homestead. _That_ had been the fate of the Halflings, ash, destruction and death.

    At least Poppy was willing to listen to reason. Moriel breathed a sigh of relief as Poppy took the piece of cloth from her, tying it over her eyes. She just hoped Poppy would forgive her this. And she hoped that Gronk had told the truth, that this was not just an attempt to hide something from them, out of pride, or shame, or some other stupid reason.

    When they reached the other side of the hall, and she and Poppy removed their blindfolds, she realised that they were the only ones who had been wearing them. She just hoped Poppy did not notice.

    She tried to give the Halfling a hug, but Poppy just pushed her away, then headed down the tunnel. Sighing, she followed, hoping that Poppy would eventually forgive her.

    As they passed through the tunnels, they spotted something written on the wall. It looked out of place, and judging from Gronk’s expression, it was not supposed to be there.

    “The woman is a lie.” The same words they had found in Leitus’ cave. And for some reason, that seemed to anger Banagher. Odd, that. It was as if the writing on the wall was talking about his goddess. Perhaps it was, but there was still no reason to get angry, she thought. Even if it were her the unknown writer had been thinking of, it was just a writing on the wall.

    She did not have much knowledge or experience with human religion, but the only reason she could see for his anger would be that he had been having the same thoughts himself, and did not like to be reminded of it. Or that the words simply fed his own doubts.

    On the way to the vaults, they passed a group of Dwarven soldiers, clearly abandoning the chokepoint they had been guarding. That seemed odd to her. Moriel would have thought that this would be a perfect place to stop the goblin hordes. Unless, of course, the goblins had found another way through; in that case, it might not matter.

    They reached the vaults without trouble. It was an impressive sight, and it might be the third largest library, or rather, collection of artifacts, in the entire world, only overshadowed by the two Elven archives, one in the south and one in the north.

    Poppy scampered off in a random direction, clearly curious. Moriel sighed, and followed, just to make sure Poppy did not get into any trouble. She did not think the Halfling had forgiven her yet, so she kept back, not saying anything.

    She noticed Gronk and one of the humans continue downwards, past her and Poppy. The Dwarf, at least, seemed to know where he was going. Hopefully, he knew where to find what they were after.

    Then she heard the yell. It sounded like someone had attacked Gronk and the human who had gone downstairs with him. She ran downstairs, closely followed by Poppy.

    The sight of the person fighting Gronk and the human almost brought her to a halt. The first thing she noticed was the way he moved. And he was, from what she could see, a master. Even before she let her arrow fly, she knew what would happen. But still, even an etu’sauri had his limits, and every arrow from her he had to deflect would take attention away from the others. And etu’sauri or not, she doubted he could defeat them all.

    Only then did she truly notice that it was an Elf. Unlike any she had seen before, but she knew exactly what he was. A Deep Elf. At least his sword, that much she could see even from here, was not a true etu’sauri blade.

    Then Gronk got in a lucky, or skilled, blow, and the Deep Elf collapsed, his head crushed. She lowered her bow and walked over to the body.

    The sword was a cheap fake. Its balance was all wrong, it was heavier than it should be. But the fact that they had even tried was worrying. Even more so was the fighting style. Someone had to have taught him, after all. And the idea of more Deep Elves with those skills was chilling.

    Searching the body, she did not quite know what she expected to find. She very much doubted she would find anything useful; he would certainly not have carried anything that would have given her a clue as to where he had learned to fight like an etu’sauri.

    He did not have much. A few coins of different kinds, and some other stuff, nothing of interest. Except the coins. She looked at one of them. A Dwarven coin. With the head of the Dwarven king on it. And all the pieces fell into place.

    She pocketed the coin, wondering what to do about it. She would not tell the others just yet. Not even Poppy. Not until she had decided what the best course of action would be.

    After all, she could always tell the others if she thought it was important, but she could not unsay the words, should she speak too early, and then find that Gronk actually had had a good reason for keeping quiet. Besides, she was still angry with him for what he had said to Poppy, and making a decision while she was angry with him would be unwise.

    She sheated the Deep Elf’s sword, tying it to her pack. If she could, she was going to bring it home. If nothing else, the knowledge might be of interest to her people. She was not sure what the etu’sauri would say when they heard of this.

    While she had searched the body, Gronk had obviously found what he was looking for. A strange, cylindrical device with a switch, and a small box made out of stone.

    One of the humans flipped the switch on the device, and the walls seemed to fade, to give way to images.

    The images told the story of Ari Stonehand. Of how Kishara had come to him and demanded his service. How he refused, and they tortured his wife before his eyes, for months, using magic to keep her alive. And every night, his daughter sang for him, a sad lullaby.

    And when even the Kisharans’ magic could no longer keep his wife alive, when they started on his daughter, the first time his daughter did not sing for him, he went mad. They put his daughter’s soul into a ring, gave it to him, and forced him to serve them. Then the pictures faded, and the walls were just walls again.

    Moriel pulled her hood up, not wanting the humans and the Dwarf to see how deeply the story had touched her, not wanting them to see her tears. To live for tens of thousands of years with these memories, a terrible fate, not one she would have wished on her worst enemy. And the humans _wanted_ immortality. They really could not understand what they were wishing for.

    As she headed for the exit, she noticed Gronk opening the small stone box. A tune started playing; quite possibly the lullaby Ari’s daughter had sung for her father. She pulled the hood further down, desperately wanting some privacy.

    She wished they had been closer to the surface. She wanted to be alone right now, with nothing but open sky above her. She wanted, no _needed_, time to think about all she had seen and learned.

    There were so many things that did not fit. According to the images, Ari was not an Elf, but a human. Not that it mattered at all for the story itself, and there might be a logical explanation for it. Maybe the artifact had been created much later. Maybe it took on a form that the viewers would sympathise with, and used the race of whoever flipped the switch. Maybe this had happened somewhere else. It was impossible to say. She wished she could have shown the artifact to her people, wondering what the Elves at Sidarth’minwe would have made of this story.

    As they reached the room with the statues, she walked over to Gronk. She was not entirely sure why; it was rash, but she wanted him to know that she knew.

    She pricked him on the shoulder to get his attention, then held out her hand. “I have something of yours. Here.” She placed the coin in his hand, then stared at him for several heartbeats before putting the blindfold on. She was not sure if he would understand. She was certain the humans would not have, had they noticed. But at least he did not argue when Poppy this time refused a blindfold.

    They returned without incidents to Karak’Ven. Poppy was clearly still annoyed, and started asking questions about why the Dwarves were leaving the chokepoint they had seen earlier. And courtesy aside, she did have a point.

    She listened as it became more and more obvious that one of the leaders had acted outside of his authority. He wanted to retreat, to save lives. But it seemed Gronk was dealing with it, no need for her to say anything.

    Not that it did not anger her. That they had managed to release the deep-dwellers was one thing; that was, after all, a mistake. Everyone makes them from time to time. But they had kept quiet for decades. And any day, the deep-dwellers could break through to the surface, and any edge they might have gotten against the Kisharans might no longer matter. And Gronk? Gronk had been right in the middle of things, might even have made the decisions himself.

    She half expected Gronk to stay with his people. Why would the king leave his people in a time like this, especially when it was obvious he was welcome back? Had he not been, they would have crowned the prince. Or perhaps the Dwarves had different customs. But as they headed towards the surface, he joined them.

    As they walked, she heard footsteps. Someone was following them. Several someones, making no attempt to move silently. It did not sound like goblins. Most likely Dwarves, she decided. Possibly an escort of a kind, more likely someone who wanted to join their fight, or rather, follow their king into his self-imposed exile.

    They stopped, and turned to face whoever was following. And as they came slowly into view, she had to laugh. There was nothing funny about half an army of trollslayers; there had to be around fifty of them. Nothing funny at all, really, but she was on the way out of these tunnels, into the open again. They had just gained a group of new allies, and whatever she might think of Gronk, she had to admit that he could at least fight.

    And she wanted to chase away the memories of the story they had seen, and the lullaby from the music box, if only just for a while.

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