And so it was our heroes came to repose in the vaults of Thar Azak, the domain of King Gripli Longbeard. And for days on end they rested, and supped on the strange fungal brews and heavy stews of the dwarves, and by day wandered its vaulted halls and beheld great miracles of stone, iron and engineering, and listened to the songs of pickaxe on granite, the roaring of great furnaces, the hammer on anvil and the rasp of file on precious stone.
They were led before King Gripli Longbeard, who regaled to them a tale born 500 years ago. Of the war against the Great Wyrm Asharadlon, after which the race of Dwarvenkind became diminished and waned on the earth, and of the removal of his golden heart from his beating chest and taken to the Halls of King Berelas, within the Hills of Flaming Pillars. How fire and fear returned to the halls of King Berelas, and how as a boy, King Longbeard had fled, whilst King Berelas and a host of his loyal men remained behind, to face an uncertain doom. And how the halls, once buried, were now, once again revealed by a freak storm, and how monstrous tribes were on the move, drawn by some fell impulse.
Impressed by the Kings passion, the Champions agreed to make a foray into the halls of King Berelas, to learn of his fate, and recover his Great Axe Grimtein, for they suspected the Cult might be there also, and they had few friends in this foreign land. Skein the wizard and Nortain the hunter remained behind, fearing some evil power in the hill. The party was thus composed of Isidoro the Knave, Father Bell, Father Paisisco and with them three of King Longbeard’s men; Snorri the Scout, the Roadwarden Ruger and Gori the Strong. They purchased supplies and set out via the Underway, a series of tunnels that connect the disparate kingdoms of the Dwarves, though many of these passages had collapsed, and some were no longer safe.
For three days they marched, unopposed, through the underway, noting abandoned outposts that had fallen into ruin. At the beginning of the 4th day they emerged into the Hills on Burning Pillars, once part of the mighty kingdoms of the Dwarves, now overrun with all manner of chaotic creatures and races. They marched now for the hall, on the first day being regarded by some unknown power or menace, but after they had readied weapons it allowed them to pass by, and they continued on, led by the Dwarves.
Night fell, and during their second watch, three strange felines, with six legs and whiplike tendrils above their shoulders, came upon their watchfires inquisitively. These had come but recently in the lands that were once the dwarves, and the old legends made no mention of them, but it was known they were ferocious killers, and upon them was some fell power that distorted the air. Warily, they left behind some of their rations, and marched away while the creatures gorged themselves on their rations.
By day, after an interrupted rest, they groggily made their way to the halls once more, while in the distance they heard the distorted roaring of horns, and the beating of drums. They doubled their pace then, and arrived at the Halls.
A gaping maw in the overgrown hill gave egress into marble halls, fluted columns and stonework such had not been seen in the Dwarven kingdoms for long centuries. The tiled floors were littered with the mummified bodies of the dead, their armor and weapons corroded, their bodies unmarked, though dessicated, drained of life. Warily, the party moved into the great western hallway, whose walls were carved with the lineages of ancient kings.
They found within a throne, stripped of all wealth, a compartment with a waxen tablet, upon which was scrawled a hastily written message. ‘The Heart in the Deep. It Beats. It has awoken. Alas, for we are its guardians. It beats, it beats.‘ They espied then, a group of robed creatures dragging some of the bodies from a passageway to the north. ‘Who dares defile our sacred dead?’ asked Snorri.
The creatures paused, and begged for mercy. Ratlike, smaller then halflings, they were driven by some nameless instinct to bury the dead, and had been collecting the bodies for days. The party asked to see their work, and the creatures acceded. In an eastern room, where they startled two more of the creatures in their business, which smelled awfully of charnel and rot, they saw their dead, respectfully laid out, and upon inquiry, the creatures informed them they would take them to an ancient mausoleum 5 days travel from here to Northwest. Nodding, they moved from there further to the halls in the north-east, and went through the belongings of the dead, finding only corroded weaponry that crumbled to dust in the hands, and upon them not a single piece of gold nor jewelry. In the west too they found a great stone door, set with an intricate lock, and upon inquiry, the creatures revealed they had found a key for it, but had stowed it away when the hideous corpse eaters had come into the southern hallway, and quickly retreated.
Steeling themselves, the party back, but first investigated the hallway from which the creatures had come originally, and found there the walls set with beautiful geometric patterns. The Dwarves recognized them as songs, and they soon gathered together, and sang the ballads of old King Berelas. The lines and angles glowed with silver fire, and from the wall emerged the Great Axe Grimtein, and which the Dwarf Roger took upon himself, and was soon invested with its great purpose. Thus arrayed, they ventured South.
In that crumbling hall, amid the dessicated and cob-webbed bodies of the Dwarven Slain, they espied a vast iron portcullis to the east, untouched by rust. As they contemplated their next move, from among the bodies of the dwarven slain, a loathsome corpse eater emerged, and assailed them. As they looked upon it, meeting its gaze, they saw it was not dead, but rather a hideously cursed living thing. Isidoro shot it with a crossbow but it continued undeterred. Roger and Gori fled screaming before its hideous gaze, and only Snorri held firm, warding off the creature’s bite, but sustaining a nasty wound. Father bell laid his hand on Roger, and with a touch removed the fear that gripped him, and he returned to the fray, and not too soon, for against the creature’s claws and teeth, Snorri was poorly matched and already he bled from many wounds, and even Isidoro’s spear was of little avail.
Father Paisisco rushed to apply the staff of healing, and roaring Roger the Dwarf raised the Axe Grimtein, but before he could do so the Dwarf Snorri was all but slain, felled by a vicious bite. Raising the Axe, and invoking the names of his proud lineage, Roger the warden smote the fell beast, and silence returned to the halls. In a concealed cavity, they found a pouch containing the key, an old scroll carven with spells, and a strange amulet of gold and gemstones that stank of the Corpse Collectors.
The magic of the staff stopped Snorri’s bleeding and restored him to some semblance of consciousness, though his wounds were dire, and they stored him in the northern hall where the axe had been concealed, and sojourned to the door, and with the key, opened it noiselessly on hidden hinges. Beyond lay a great garden of minerals and rocks in all the colors of the rainbow, and for minutes on end all the champions marvelled at its beauty. Later they searched it, but found no hidden passageway or treasure therein.
Returning to the halls to the south, they examined the massive iron portcullis, at first considering to lift it, but later finding a concealed lever that opened it on grinding hinges. As they propped some debris beneath it, to prevent its sudden closing, they espied two Kobold scouts, arrayed for war, entering the hallway from the north, and hailing them, caused them to flee. Taking the time to prepare oil flasks, they moved out to the north, but the creatures had long since fled. They did hear, upon the wind, the distant rumble of drums and horns. It seemed they were no longer alone.
They informed the creatures of the arrival of the Kobolds, and gave them the key, so they could use the garden as a place of succour, though their stench was a poor match for its unearthly beauty. Taking their injured comrade they departed, with the rumble of drums and horns at their backs.
By evenings fall, as they ventured across a canyon with steep walls of rock, they espied at 70 yards some hideous beast with three heads, one of lion, one of bull and one of dragon, and with great wings. It gazed upon them imperiously, and they quivered in fear, and laid before it all most of their rations as an offering and then departed. And by some strange quirk of fate or demoniac whim the Chimera, that primordial beast of chaos and slayer of heroes, did not persue, but merely regarded their retreat.
The next day, as they approached the concealed doorway into the rock, they espied a hill giant ambling along his path, garbed in filthy hide, and with a look of stupidity upon its brutish face, ambled past the rock. As they had come upon it unawares, they were able to hide amid the rocks and the creature did not spot them, merely continuing on its way.
4 days with the injured Snorri they ambled back, out of supplies, tired but undaunted, and arrived back at the halls of King Gripli, and there made their report. King Snorri praised their heroism, and was much impressed by their recovery of the weapon, and asked that they return with a larger expedition, to ascertain the true fate of King Berelas.
[Temporary Retainer status] Isidoro the Knave (Thf 3, hp 12)
[M] Father Paisisco (Clr 1, hp 6) –> (Clr 2, hp 6)
[P] Snorri the Scout (Dwr 1, hp 9)
[Q] Roger (Dwr 1, 8 hp)
[S] Gori the Dwarf (Dwr 1, hp 9)
[Retainer] Father Bell (Clr 2, hp 12(?))
[A] Otso (MU 1, 3 hp) – Slain by Treachery
[B] Hardroc Sansaxe (Dwr 1, 4 hp) – Died on his feet against the Goblin Foe
[C] Buddy (Ftr 1, 6 hp) – Died in the rearguard against Kobold treachery
[D] Valen (Thf 1, 2 hp) – Felled by Kobold arrow in the Battle of the Warrens
[C] Brother Buddy (Clr 1, 3 hp) – Felled by a bandit’s spearthrust
[E] Quinton RumbleBreeches (Hal 1, 6 hp) – Felled by a bandit’s arrow
[B] Sazar Thistleborne (Thf 1, 4 hp) – Ripped apart by a Mountain Lion in the Perilous forest
[C] Brother Buddy Jr. (Clr 1, 4 hp) – Drained of life by monstrous Stirges
[F] Hardy the Dwarf (Dwr 1, 6 hp) – Clubbed to death by Ogre
[B] Zed Fauxgivvin (Hal 1, 4 hp) – Fell to a hobgoblin sword, but he did not go alone
[G] Colemeier Stonesaw (Dwr 1, 8 hp) – Fell to hobgoblin sowrds
[E] Father Kane (Clr 1, 6 hp) – Fell to Hobgoblin swords
[H] Ludwig Andros (MU 1, 4 hp) – Charmed and eaten by Harpies
[I] Derek de Chitsville (Ftr 1, 8 hp) – Charmed and eaten by Harpies
[J] Vinnie Jones (Ftr 1, 10 hp) – Charmed and eaten by Harpies
[K] Johhny Longfingers (Thf 1, 4 hp) – Charmed and eaten by Harpies
[L] Vitus the Southron (Ftr 1, 9 hp) – Eaten by Harpies
[I] Father Theodore (Clr 1, 6 hp) – Struck down by skeletons
[J] Box the Fighter (Ftr 1, 9 hp) – Struck down by Valgard, breaker-of-horses-and-men
[A] Diggory Class (MU 1, 4 hp) – Slain by Poisoned treasure
[M] Pajeje (Ftr 1, 9 hp) – Slain by poisoned treasure
[B] Chinning Poofter (Mu 2, hp 6) – Rent asunder by furious Griffon
[N] Grog (Ftr 1, 10 hp) – Drowned in armor in the bay of the Flooded Temple