North Point, in Korvosa
The 17th day of Lamashan, 4713 AR – one hour after midnight
On a whim, Akorian breaks out his crystal ball and uses it scry your enemies: the mists clear, and he sees a richly appointing sitting room that would be welcome in any high-born manor house. A warm fire blazes in the hearth, and he sees the one-eyed elf assassin seated at a trestle before the fire, taking wine with a lovely Tien woman Akorian recognizes from other visions he has had in the past.
The two women seem very at ease with one another.
“I’m not sure how they spotted me, Xue-Wei.” The elf frowns. “It was that loutish fellow, the Varisian. He pointed me out to General Vourne, and I was forced to flee.”
“It is of no importance.” The Tien girl smiles slightly and pours herself another cup of wine. “The mission was successful, despite what happened. With luck Lord Akorian and his people will be pariahs here in Korvosa, and our plans can proceed without further delay.”
“I suppose so.” The elf pushes her cup aside, and winces a bit as the freshly bandaged gash in her side pains her. “But what of the Night Swords? We know the Chelaxians are tracking them. Do we add our people to the hunt? It should be a simple matter to run them down, and see them put to the sword.”
“A tempting consideration, to be sure.” Xue-Wei leans back in her chair, and stretches languorously. “But I think not. Let the Hellknights track them to Hell and back; I care not. They are neutralized. That is the important thing. For now I want you to focus on making sure our war efforts are doubled. See to it that our agents seed certain ideas to those in charge. If we play things right the Fleet will set sail in the spring with murder on their minds, and a siege planned for our friends in Magnimar.”
Little more is said between the two women, who soon bid each other goodnight. Akorian sees nothing else of interest, and soon breaks the connection.
Next he takes up the letter, and uses it as a connection trace for the person who sent it. The mists clear once more, and you see a thin, middle aged man in rather plain clothing seated at a cluttered writing desk. He is perhaps 45 years of age, and of dusky complexion. His graying hair and wide, almost almond shaped eyes suggest he is of Taldan blood.
You watch him for a time, but he does little more than read a few letters, and then pen one of his own – the subject matter is unclear, however. From what you can see the entire missive is written in some obscure code. Then he blows out the candles, and heads off to bed. As the image fades you hear a lonesome series of bells in the distance, striking out the hour.
Akorian tells the others what he has seen. You consider this for a moment, and then have a brief conversation about where to go, and what to do next. Some of you wish to visit Harse, and seek out Talis the White. But others believe this is just another trap, and in the end you all agree that returning to the Quest for the “Shards” is probably the safest bet. Omari in particular is very relieved. Akorian then takes out the Horn of Asmodeus, and gives forth its clear, clarion call. Moments later you find yourselves elsewhere.
It is still dark where you are, and the air seems thinner and cooler. A chill wind blows down off the mountainside, and thick stands of fir trees can be seen in the near distance. The moon shines down from a clear, star-filled sky. Omari gazes into the dark sky, and notices that the stars are very different from earlier; apparently you have come many hundreds of miles to the east. Snowcapped mountain peaks rise up all around you, suggesting you are in the midst of a deep, forested valley. You find a quiet spot to make camp and settle in. Needless to say, guards are posted, and a fire lit to keep the cold at bay.
Dawn comes far sooner than expected. With the sun you rise, and cook some meager rations over your fire. The sky dawns blood-red, and stands silhouetted against the far mountain peaks. Igmar rises, stretches, and begins his morning prayers. Then he grunts excitedly, and points at one particular peak a great ways off to the north.
“By the Dawnflower’s Grace! I am home. That is the Emperor’s Peak, the mountain in which my home city of Highhelm is built! Its all just stone’s throw away!”
“Really?” Kymrych peers at the distant mountain, and grunts as well. “I’d say we’re at least twenty miles away from the place. You certainly can throw stones a great way!”
There is laughter at this, save from Evelyn. She peers at the mountain, and scowls. The thought of an entire city filled with dwarves sounds like her own special version of the Hells. Still, there is work to be done, and no time to waste. Soon you have saddled your mounts, and ride up and out of the valley at Igmar’s direction. A broad, partly paved mountain road is found just outside the valley, headed north. Within minutes of following the road you encounter the tail end of a long merchant caravan, and pause a moment to treat with its rear guard. They are a mixed bag as most mercenary units tend to be, but the caravan itself is out of Druma, and is hauling fine cloth, salt, wine, preserved food items like salted beef and raisins, and other sundry goods.
The white-clad caravan master has little interest in bothering with you, but does allow you to join in with his party as long as you behave yourselves. His Master of Guards is careful to keep a watchful eye on your band as you continue north for the next two days. As always Evelyn keeps mostly to herself, and is careful to hide her true parentage! Those two days that pass without incident, however. It is nearing noon on that second day when you first spy the outermost walls of the city, perched above you on a steep mountain trail.
Known as the Plummet Wall, this massive 40’ thick stone wall completely encircles the peak of the mountain, and is topped all along its length by daunting military fortifications. Myriad banners denoting dozens of ancient dwarven noble families flutter from these battlements. All are manned by elite dwarf infantry, armor clad and well-armed with axe, pike and heavy crossbow. The Druman caravan is stopped at the gate, and checked for contraband. Luckily the merchant’s tax permits are in order, and you are passed through without incident. The city beyond the gates is known as the Out-Towns: here non-residents can rent properties and trade goods of any sort within the city proper. This area of Highhelm is open to the sky, and crowded with all sorts of different kinds of people. With that in mind no one pays you the slightest bit of attention as you enter the city, check your horses into the nearest reputable public stable, and then find an inn to stay at long enough to catch your bearings.
The name of the place is the Golden Nugget, and it is owned and operated by one Gladen Dorn, a retired dwarf prospector of great renown – or so he claims. Whatever the truth, Master Dorn runs a clean and quiet establishment that serves fine ale, roast mutton, and other tasty treats that are welcome to your palate after two days on the open road. Soon you’ve paid the man and rented three large rooms, and are in the common room of the place, feasting on a hearty dinner. The common room is moderately crowded by visiting merchants, drovers and other non-locals, all tired after many days in the wilderness. As yet no one seems to have taken an interest in you.
As this is going on you quietly discuss what is to be done next. You know that Master Rayhan had written to a local guide and mountain climber known as Dwalor Brimbottle regarding an expedition to the Golden Citadel, an ancient and long-abandoned dwarf-hold deep in the mountains. Rumors that the place has long been cursed are known to you, but details of these tales are not. Igmar recognizes the address for Master Dwalor is located inside the section of the city that is underground, in a small, tidy neighborhood known as Helmsborough. Here reside many mercenaries, guardsmen and soldiers. If Dwalor is to be found, this place is where he shall be.
Igmar also tells you that maps that show the exact location of the Golden Citadel are easy to find; the well-known and well-stocked markets of Gatebreach should boast a number of legitimate mapmakers. And while some merchants are greedy criminals out to fleece the gullible, Igmar feels fairly certain he would be able to spot a forgery. So buying a map to avoid bringing in yet another unknown party to this endeavor is certainly a possibility.
As the rest of you chitchat about the coming expedition, Igmar extricates himself from the rest of the group, takes up a pitcher of ale, and engages a team of dwarven drovers out for a boisterous night on the town. Curious, Sanaya decides to join him, and keeps a keen eye on the events at hand. Meanwhile the priest provides the dice, and they provide the coin. Soon ale flows and dice are tossed. The game is knucklebones, and the stakes are very low. Igmar cares not whether he wins or loses; what he is interested in is any rumors regarding the Golden Citadel. To his surprise there is a great deal to be learned.
“The Golden Citadel? Oh, aye lad! We’ve heard of it. Abandoned long ago, it was. But recently its been reopened. After a fashion, that is. I hears that some human bloke stumbled back into town after exploring the place, and said he’d found gold. Piles of it. Mountains even. So the race was on; folks from all over came to the place, seeking easy loot.
“But its never quite that easy, is it? Disease set in. And bloodshed. Men murdered each other over loaves of bread. But there is gold there, just waiting to be claimed. I’d just rather not have to knife someone in the back to get ahold of it. No payout is worth the pound of flesh you have to offer to get it.”
To summarize: ever since a human explorer returned to Highhelm with a fortune in gold in his pockets, settlers have been pouring in from the city, eager to strike it rich. Before the late autumn snowstorms blew in, many miners returned with pockets laden with gold. Many more did not return, however, and dark rumors hint of the desperate measures those trapped at the Gold Citadel take to survive. Deceit. Murder. Even cannibalism.
The only way to take aid to the stranded miners is by airship, and the news from the survivors was positive until the airship Drake failed to return several weeks ago. Another desperate rescue mission is being planned, but hopes are not too high. As difficult it is to find food and stay warm in the old keep during the winter, many citizens of Highhelm are already assuming that their loved ones trapped in the mountains are dead. Others cling to hope, knowing that the Golden Citadel may provide the shelter they need to survive.
You are stunned to discover that the dwarves have mastered the arcane lore needed to create ships that fly! So far only two of the vessels exist – the Drake and the Manticore – and know that the first so named has already gone missing. Soon the Manticore will be “setting sail” with relief supplies as well. You also know that you can simply teleport to the site of the Golden Citadel, but you would be smart to stock up on winter furs and mountaineering gear first. The terrain there is very inhospitable, so bringing horses or mules is ill-advised at best. Before you teleport you should acquire a good map of the region to use as a guide.
Finally, bringing Dwalor Brimbottle along will guarantee your finding the Citadel, if you think there is need of his services. The drovers tell you the Citadel is located about 115 miles to the northeast of your current location. The land between here and there is rugged and mountainous, and filled with certain death.