The dwarf citadel of Highhelm, in the Five Kings Mountains
The 20th day of Lamashan, 4713 AR – late morning
The truth of the matter is that few of you have ever been to a dwarven city before, save for Igmar (who was born here) and Omari, who has traveled far and seen much.
Thusly you each stand and gape at the sights around you. You have left the Out-Towns behind, and passed through the Second Wall into the city quarter known as Stonewrought. Above you the “sky” is night-black, save for the tens of thousands of magic lanterns that hang from the stone ceiling of what is basically a hollowed-out mountaintop. Brilliant shafts of sunlight pierce down from one of two massive openings in the mountain above – these openings provide sun- or moonlight to illuminate the cavern at the appropriate time of day. At the moment the so-called dawnhole is brilliantly lit, and casts certain streets and neighborhoods into brightly lit contrast.
The street you are on, however, is dark and overcast. The only light to be had comes from more magic lanterns, which in turn are kept lit by a wizard’s guild known as the Witch-Light Guild. The buildings in this section of the city neat, tidy and kept in excellent repair. The streets are broad and clean, and are relatively empty at this time of day – most who live here are at work, or sleeping in preparation for the coming nightshift.
“Here. This is the place.” Igmar gestures to one of dozens of signs at the front of the nearest building. All are written in Dwarvish, so you are forced to believe him.
“What do we do now?” Sanaya asks. She stands and gazes up at the cold stone structure with more than a little trepidation in her demeanor.
“We knock, of course.” Kymrych climbs the steps to the large oaken door, and grasps the bronze doorknocker. It is crafted in the style of a leering stone giant. He gives it several strong bangs, which echo far within.
Long minutes pass, and Kymrych is forced to knock once more. He is considering knocking again then a viewport at his waist-level clatters open, and a pair of dark brown eyes gaze out at you in clear annoyance.
“Well? What is it? What do you want?” the voice growls. You spend a few minutes explaining to the voice why you have come here.
“A taint, you say? Shadow stuff, straight from the Plane of Shadow. Interesting. Very interesting!” Door locks clatter, and bolts are thrown. Then the door opens, and you gaze upon a dwarf of middle age, younger you would have thought, but still older and more experienced than most. He is clad in dirty but well-made robes and has ink-stained fingernails.
“Which of you has been tainted? Hmm? Which one?” He bangs his cane on the flags and glares at you each in turn.
“Tis’ I, sir.”
“A human, eh? Don’t see many of the Tall Folk hereabouts.” He peers at Akorian through squinted eyes. “Well, get in here. Just the sickly one, and one or two others. The rest of you make me nervous.”
Akorian, Sanaya and Igmar head into the sage’s abode, and the rest of you head off to the market to purchase supplies, and inquire about the so-called sky-ship you heard about earlier. You arrive at the nearest market to find it crowded with a distinctive assortment of people from all over the world – including some folks from places you have never heard of before! (You may now stock up on any equipment you require. Please send me a list.)
It is nearing midafternoon when Akorian, Sanaya and Igmar meet with the rest of you in front of a large statue of a long-dead dwarf hero. Akorian says that he has been cured of his shadow-affliction, and is feeling much better. You then continue north, through a twisting labyrinth of streets until you reach the Runnerton district of the city, and see an amazing sight indeed.
For obvious reasons the sky-ship hangars are located outside the main portion of the city, under the open sky in a neighborhood known as The Winches. Here stand towering derricks and gantries, most crafted of stout lengths of wood and stout iron bracings. Beneath these strange (and very large) contraptions stand two large wooden frameworks: one is empty, and the other contains a long, sleek ship-like vessel without a proper sail, and far, oh so far from any normal seaport.
Her name, you know, is the Manticore. As one you stand and stare at the vessel; her hull is long and graceful, and pointed forward, like a racing dolphin. Her aft section is fish-shaped as well, and seems to have fins designed to stabilize her in flight. Atop her hull is a massive conical balloon as long as the vessel itself – you assume this huge cloth bag is filled with some sort of mystical “float gas” designed to bring the ship aloft. Or so it would seem: none of you have ever seen a functioning airship before, save for Omari who claims to have seen a ship of this type crewed entirely by gnomes. That ship, however, burned at her moorings just before her maiden voyage, and was never rebuilt.
At the moment dozens of dock workers swarm over the Manticore to prepare her for an immanent departure. Most are dwarves you notice. Tall cranes haul up large parcels of food, warm clothing and other survival supplies. Armed guards stand close to the dock entrance to make sure no one who is not authorized approaches the ship or its handlers.
“Let me handle this.” Talathel smiles and approaches the closest of the guards. The dwarf is terribly scarred, nearly toothless, and is covered head to foot in all manner of tattoos denoting his many adventures abroad. Twin hand axes are settled in his belt.
“What do ye want, High Pockets?”
“Hello, friend!” Tal smiles brightly at the mutilated dwarf. “We’re here to see your captain. I know we’re not expected, but…”
“Get lost, Pointy Ears.” The dwarf fingers his axes. “Cap’n Stonethrower is busy with cargo loading and doesn’t have time to waste with the likes of you.”
“Now listen, I—”
Tal never gets the chance to finish spinning whatever lie he has in mind. Instead a dwarf clad in expensive ermines and bedecked with a fortune in jewels appears at the head of the gangway, and peers down at you.
“What’s this, then?” he bellows.
“Just some sightseers, Cap’n.” The ugly dwarf bows slightly. “I was about to see them off the dock.”
“No. Hold on, Mykrin.” He scowls a bit. “What is it you want?” he asks.
“To discuss passage, sir.” Talathel doffs his hat and bows low. “We hope to journey to the Golden Citadel, and were considering using the services offered by this fine vessel.”
“More fools seeking gold, eh?” He rubs his beard, and then seems to reach a decision. “All right. Come aboard. We can talk business in my day cabin.”
With that you are ushered aboard the ship, and head below decks to the captain’s cabin. It tidy but cramped. Upon entering, Captain Clovis Stonethrower offers you some fine Andoran brandy before getting down to business.