2nd Nightal, The Star Walkers Return (Continued)

We headed to the village of Bleeding Vines, probably around ninety miles West of Nine Oaks. Meadow and Osrin had overheard our conversation about searching for Gauntlgrym, and had pointed us in this direction.

We found our person, Ivan Bouldershoulder, at a winery in the village. He was a dwarven veteran that has served with Bruenor Battlehammer, and was a friend. It was a good bet that if we could get information from him we would find our way into the legendary city.

After some persuasion and showing him the letter I had received from Foehammer, he led us to the storage cave for the winery. The vast cavern held hundred of barrels, but concealed into the cavern wall was an entrance to a massive tunnel. He wished us luck and we struck out into the tunnel, and after some time we found the gatehouse and minecart network he had described.

We took a minecart down the twisting tunnel, which bent and twisted at strange angles. I swore at times we run across the ceiling, defying gravity. Once we reached the main cavern of the city and disembarked from the cart we had to soak up the beauty of the city for some time.

We were deep underground, in an enormous cave carved out of the rock. It had hundereds of levels, with minecart tracks sprawling all around. Twisted stairs connected levels, and the sheer scale of the city was breathtaking. Many doors were sized large enough so that not only could a giant fit through them, but indeed a dragon! The cave was complete with stalactites and stalagmites, the visible area blending natural formations with complex and massive carved structures. It contained hundreds of levels, twisting stairs and minecarts at many junctions.

We were quickly spotted by dwarven guardsmen and challenged upon our entry, and with a display of the letter I had and a firm request to have an audience with the King, we were ushered into the royal chambers.

It was some time before Bruenor was ready for us and we were escorted into the throne room. His throne stood on a dias at the far end of the hall, and a large table fit to host a feast was off to the right.

Brunenor stood and waited for us to introduce ourselves. As I began the introductions, a wizened figure moved from the shadows to stand by his side, slightly behind him as if attentive respectful. It was Hislen!

Hislen, the cause of all my families pain, suspected of all sorts of death and manipulation to line his pockets at Mirabar, stood by the king. He looked over us, not recognizing me. Why should he? I was a changed man, with a long flowing beard that would make a Dwarf blush. I was no longer a clean cut soldier wearing the colours of Mirabar.

Against my nature, I introduced myself under a fake name. I would not tip my hand to Hislen. He does not react.

He did recognize Bailey however, she was pleased to see the king. She recounted our resurection of her and he started looking over our group again, surprised we would spend so much wealth on a stranger.

Bruenor asked me for the letter, the one from Foehammer. He hardly even read it before asking me in a booming voice ‘listen here boy, do you even know what you have here?’

Confused, I listened as he suggested I take another look at the letter, another good look. I used the gem I’d found, the one that allowed me to see things as the really were. The runes on the letter now made sense. They said Final Gift.

Bruenor explained to the group the Final Gift, an almost sacred act a master smith performs before letting his forge go cold and his workshop silent. A single last work of his craft, the cumulation of the hundreds of years of work. Foehammer had granted me his final gift, his last craft, and would only need access to Bruenor’s forge to do so.

Whilst he spoke, I noted something about Hislen. With the truesight I now had, I could see he was in fact a dark elf, a drow, disguised. I didn’t let it show, and let the conversation continue.

Bruenor, having noted we all bore medals from Citadel Adbar’s king, insisted to know what deeds we could have done to deserve such an honor. He was suitably impressed when we explained our story of protecting the king there, and after everything he had learned insisted we stay and celebrate. Bailey’s return was cause for such a celebration, and I’m sure he was interested to hear more of our exploits. He reached behind his shield and pulled out a mug of ale one for each of us. Cyke looked on with greedy eyes when he noted that Bruenor was producing beer out of thin air.

The advisors scurried out to leave us in peace, but before I turned my attention back to the group I saw the true form of Hislen slip back into the room and hide behind a pillar under a cloak of invisibility.

Bruenor was indeed a surprise for such a revered figure of the dwarven race. He was quite relaxed and friendly, boisterous even. He drank and laughed at our stories,

I had managed to get Lilli’s attention, and communicated enough to her quietly about the situation. She slipped our with Bailey, insisting that she could let us speak further in privacy.

Minutes later, I could hear the little wizards voice in my mind, asking for Bruenor’s forgiveness for the magics she had used. She had liked us through our minds, able to talk to each other in complete privacy. We filled in the king on the situation with Hislen and the fact he was eavesdropping and formulated a plan to prove this to the king, and capture him so we could interrogate the drow. Was Hislen indeed a drow all along I wondered, or had he been replaced here in Gauntlgrym?

Whilst this was talking place two monks had come in and began mock combat as our evening entertainment. Lilli, insisted to join in the fun and gained permission to shapeshift Bailey into a giant ape, which she henceforth rode into battle against the unwitting monks.

The trap was now set, and I communicated to them where the drow was, and the ape jumped and swiftly landed on him, with the rest of us a heartbeat behind. The king was not far behind us, having taken the time to finish his mug of beer before joining us.

The drow’s magic had been dispelled and he lay visible to all, battered on the ground. Bruenor grunted a command to the monks, who after almost punching him in the chest region with a strange, almost ritual like combination of their fingers, dragged him out to a cell.

Bruenor who commended us on exposing a traitor in his midst, but lamenting the loss of his advisor. I broke my silence and explained to him the backstory with Hislen and my real identity, and the events that had befallen me at Mirabar. He was shocked and dubious having trusted Hislen, but respected my honesty and allowed us to investigate Hislens tower in the city for signs of his advisor, with my pledge that if found we would bring him to the king for questioning unharmed.

The tower was full of traps and magics protecting it, but we managed our way past the front door with only a small incident of Cyke storming through the magically trapped door impatiently. The first two stories were empty, but we encountered a group of drow on the third floor. Sialia had gone on to to the fourth floor, putting us in a position of being split and pincered in between the two sets of foes.

We dispatched the foes and moved our way up the tower, through more elementals and demons, to find at the top of the stairs what was clearly a wizards study.

Across the room, full of alchemy works, dusty tombs and strangely a coffin, lay ornate mirror. Upon glancing at it I felt a strange feeling pass over me, a urge to inspect the reflection more, but I instinctively fought it. I looked to the other and saw a confused expression on their faces, indicating it wasn’t just me that felt something weird.

Except Lilli and Sialia, who had vanished.

We turned the place upside down looking for them, inspecting for trap doors, the mirrors frame, books. It wasn’t until we shouted their names that we discovered the mirrors properties, as it shimmered and showed us a otherworldly cell, with nigh invisible barriers that held a trapped and confused Lilli. We spoke to her through the mirror before trying to cycle the mirror through to Sialia, confirming we could control it.

During our search for a way to get them out we inspected the coffin, which contained a duplicate of Hislen in it. I ensured the body was mortally wounded before we closed the coffin back up, suspecting Hislen may have some way of moving into the body if he was killed. We also found plenty of wealth and gold containing the stamp of Mirabar. He was wealthy, far beyond his means to acquire. I was now certain he had manipulated his position at Mirabar for his own greed, turning against his own kind on the council at Mirabar. Had he used his magiks to convince the other councilors to make decisions to line his pockets? Lilli’s gramps accusations of Hislen and the listing of the tunnel collapses within were too coincidental to Hislen’s activities, and the wealth he had accumulated was proof.

We had to search the room and the books before confirming we had the keyword required to recover souls lost to the mirror, and we managed to get our our companions. I had a niggling suspicion, as it seemed clear Drow had infiltrated the building and were using it an base of operations, and I thought I knew where Hislen was.

I approached the mirror and uttered the one word I needed know know for sure. Hislen. His visage appeared, sitting in a cell, in there for gods knows how long. The mirror was indeed a prison, with many cells within, a portal to another plane with separate cells for each prisoner..

He tried to get us to let him out but I merely smiled and told him who I was. He didn’t remember me, recognition only forming on his face once I described his actions.

‘Why would I remember a insignificant soldier, a pawn, fit only to solve a problem for my king’ he sneered. Despite the rage building in me, I didn’t let him go on and flicked the mirror back to a mirror state. I wanted his confession to wait until it suited me. We took the mirror and returned through the tower and back to the king.

Upon returning we interrogated the drow, using a combination of magiks to probe its thoughts. It did not reveal much, but we did learn that indeed the drow had infiltrated Gauntlgrym for the purpose of stealing Maegera.

We ascertained that the drow, Draac Xorlarrin was part of the plot, and the fire giants that we had heard about before were the leaders of the plot. It seemed they must need Maegera’s might to power the forges at Ironslag and complete the Vonindod, and had tried to steal the primordial. They had tried using the mirror to entrap him but the artifact was not powerful enough. Duke Zalto of the fire giants had sent for an iron flask to contain the primordial.

There was two entrances to Ironslag, through the adamantine doors that signaled the front or through the mines, with a mineshaft entrance at a yakfolk village.

There was little more to learn from the drow, and we spared him no quarter. Sialia swiftly ended the drow, who was defiant to the end and refused to rise to her challenge to fight the drow on an even field for his life. He simply accepted the end we gave him. It was clear the elves and the drow were hated enemies, even If I hadn’t had heard such things around the pubs in the past.

I let Bruenor in on the details of my past and my real name. Whilst he was frustrated that I had deceived him, he did quickly recover as we explained the extent of Hislen’s deceit. We showed Bruenor the piles of gold, diary and other items we aquired from his lair, as well as filling him in with Lilli’s gramps suspicions from the pages of his diary that we had thus far decoded.

Knowing I had to go a long way to prove to him that us, a group of ragtag adventures were worth listening to over his trusted advisor, suggested to him that to prove the situation to him without a doubt that he let me interrogate Hislen. He readily agreed.

Quickly we emptied a room near the throne room, a storage room, one Hislen would not recognize. We knew enough about the mirror to know how far away to stand from it to avoid being caught in the lair, and it was easy to set it up in the middle of the room facing a wall, in such a way that I could be visible to the mirror with the King and others standing aside, out of view of the mirror but able to hear the conversation.

‘Hislen!’’ I commanded, and the mirror blurred and brought him forth. He scowled and spat. Brushing off the fact we had cut off the conversation, I got him to start talking again.

I led the conversation as if I was grieving and wounded. allowing his ego to come out. I was but a nobody, a useless soldier, fit to only be a pawn in my liege’s desire’s. In Hislen’s view, the plague was easy to stop. Setup a situation where the infected peasants were killed to stop the spread. Never mind the pain or consequences. A soldier, one blindly loyal would suffice. A small sacrifice for the greater good.

I seethed, but did not allow it to show. He followed on unprovoked, reveling in the glory of his crimes. It was clear to us he had manipulated the council at Mirabar for his own profits, and had manipulated the minds of others to his whim. The cave-in’s referenced it Lilli’s gramps journal was all but confirmed to be him.

Asking of the Dwarvish King, the one Hislen was unaware that was standing behind the mirror, Hislen smiled. It was obviously wasn’t it? Why wouldn’t it work again?

At this, Bruneor could wait no longer. He stormed forward, in view of the mirror but out of its magical reach. He fumed at the trapped Hislen, who was shocked to see his King standing before him having heard the conversation. He was so self assured that he didn’t see the deception we had setup.

Bruenor was done with him, and when questioned on his fate, he waved his hand. He would be for us to do whatever he wanted with. I didn’t get the impression that he wanted to deal with a long term prisoner, especially one with such magical talent.

I stared directly at Hislen as I commanded the mirror back to a inactive state, his panicked face being cutoff and he started to berate me. He still hadn’t realized that I was the soldier he talked so lowly of.

I had not spent years of my life tracking down this waste of life to take any chances. He was contained in a perfect prison, and Lathander be damned if I let him out before I was ready for him.

I discussed his fate briefly with Bruenor, and it was not much longer before we made it to our destination, Maegara’s lair. We made it to a platform well above the magma, one overlooking the fifty foot body of the primordial. The heat was intense, and I was certain anything that came near the primordial would be incinerated, magical resistances or not.

The room had huge volumes of water pouring into it, which may have been the only reason it was tolerable being in the room at all. The primordial stirred and moved, but seemed sluggish. Bruenor explained how a number of water elementals provided water to the cavern, cooling down the room and keeping the primordial trapped and weakened, and thus able to safely power the great forge.

It was the perfect spot, and at the edge of the ledge I pulled out the mirror and set it up on a rock so I could see it. Calling forth Hislen one more time, I revealed to him who I was. That lowly soldier he send to his death, and then after I did not die, to exile.

In the light of Lathander I sentenced him to death for his crimes. Not just what he had done to myself and my family, for the subsequent death of my brother, for the people killed in the mining shaft cave ins, for the gross misconduct he had done for his own financial gains, and for however many more things he had done that we were not aware of.

He cried and screamed, and swore that he would kill me, drain me of my blood, bring destruction to my family. I had already picked up the mirror and swung it as hard as I could toward the primordial and the magma below. I was sure the wizard within the mirror would try some of his tricks to escape, and I wanted to make sure that he did not. With the destruction of his clone in his tower we had reduced his options, but it was not impossible he would have other tricks.

I had to make sure he had no time to move a hand or utter a word before he was overwhelmed.

The mirror flipped end on end, the face of Hislen shouting, and then screaming as he realized where he was, shrinking to a tiny speck. Magera saw the object and started to slowly but powerfully swing towards it. As the mirror hit the magma there was a violent clap of thunder and flash, as the entire contents of the mirror was deposited into the air just above the magma.

Suddenly there was a remoraz, elementals, goblins, ogres and other creatures of which some we could not recognized. They began to crawl up on top of each other, fighting to stay out of the lava and pushing down the creature below them, subsequently getting climbed on themselves. , We could see Hislen trying to weave a spell amongst the conflagration, wriggling to get out of the writhing mess of limbs. The din was deafening and eerily creepy, as the anguish from all the creatures drowned out all noise but the steady clangs from the forge.

Maegera’s fist firmly collided into the mass of creatures and they disappeared into his fiery fists, the noise being cut short and replaced by a deafening thud as the massive fist made contact. Maegera lazily inspected the area they creatures had been, as the shattered parts of the creatures briefly formed floating fires as they combusted quickly. I could see Hislen, having being flung from the mass directly into the magma, was engulfed in flames and wildly waving his arms around for anything to grab on to. The noise of the first strike was barely fading away before the primordial stomped squarely on the wizard, ending him.

Shortly, the magma came to rest and Maegera turned disinterestedly away from the area. Ironfang sang through my mind, relishing in the triumph and violence of the end of my sworn foe, one I had sought vengeance on for so long. He may have been only one foe, but the realm was a little safer today without his like in it.

As I write this back on the airship I still relish the feeling of satisfaction that washed over me. We left shortly thereafter, having uncovered the plot by the fire giants Duke Zalto to steal Maegera. Bruenor tasked us to rid the lair of the fire giants, and we had set sail immediately to do so.